February 12, 2024
It's launch week for my Happy Starting Today book! I wanted to share part 2 of my favorite quotes from the book with you, and remind you to check Amazon for the book on February 15. I hope you are half as excited as I am! Here are the quotes and some of my thoughts about them:
“Our relationship was starting to feel a lot like my first marriage. I could see it headed in the direction of a breakup, too. I didn’t want to go through that again, and I didn’t want to lose him. I had to figure out what was happening.”
This was a confusing time in my life. I had been so happy when we first started dating and now the honeymoon had worn off. I was so disappointed. I thought we was the one I was supposed to be with, yet it felt like the relationship was going in the wrong direction. At this point I had no idea that the problem was inside me. I was thinking thoughts that weren’t good for me. I didn’t know how to manage my feelings.
“I was the source of my problems. If I wanted a different future, I had to figure out what I must do differently. That was the beginning of my personal transformation.”
What an epiphany to realize that I needed to change if I wanted to be happier. I was a teacher who always had to have the right answer. I critiqued the students on their assignments and presentations, so how could I be the one who needs to change? I was focusing outward and a little detached from reality and what I needed to be doing. If I hadn’t realized this, I would be such an unhappy person now. I may have ended my life by now, and that is heartbreaking.
“By observing myself and making the changes I need to make, I can create true and lasting happiness inside me. I can do this in the present moment, and I can reflect on the stories I tell myself about my experiences. I can grow and help others using my skills and knowledge. That is how my life can have a deeper meaning and feel more fulfilling, both of which contribute greatly to my happiness.”
Happiness to me means having skills to deal with the negative things in life and skills for creating positive experiences and emotions. It’s about being in control of what I can control and letting the other stuff go. I have had to shift a lot of thoughts and get really good at noticing my emotions. I had to be a better supporter of myself. I had to shift to creating a more meaningful, aligned life.
“Oh my,” I gasped in my head, “My whole life, I’ve been trying to gain freedom from my self.”
Here I am talking about the little “s” self which is the ego. It was creating many problems for me. I was thinking thoughts that weren’t good for me to think. I was allowing stuff to bother me that didn’t have to. When I felt that lift away from my true self, it was an amazing realization of the things that had been weighing on me.
“I can remember walking away at the end of a conversation like this, going to my desk and standing at my computer. Staring ahead, with my hands on either side of the keyboard, I said, ‘Is this all there is to life?’”
This was an event that happened at work a few years after my divorce. I thought the divorce had made things better for me, but it really didn’t. There was still so much inner work that I would still have to do. I was in a toxic work environment and staying because of the pay and benefits. It was sucking my soul, and I realized it that day. I would eventually leave that job, though I could have stayed if I would have had better skills in happiness.
“Can you believe I couldn’t do it? I could not get those three little words out of my mouth to say to myself. I got all choked up, and not in a good way.”
This scenario was about telling myself that I loved myself. It happened when I was having energy work done. My true self was tired of all the judgment and negative emotions. It felt detached and needed to be acknowledged and cared for. I would go on to see that I was playing the Outer Game and that wasn’t working for self-love or self-care.
“The more I examined my behavior and looked for my patterns, the more I could see I was not connected to my inner self at all. I could see that everything I was doing was about making someone else happy or securing my future. Everything. I could also see that when friends and family tried to love me, I was resistant. I didn’t want people to care about me. It was uncomfortable. It felt like some sort of obligation was being created. I was more comfortable isolating myself.”
How could I feel close to others when I didn’t feel close to myself? I wanted the kind of attention you get for achieving things, not the kind where you let people know that you are struggling. I had painful experiences in my life that caused me to feel worthless, and I didn’t want to open up and be vulnerable to something like that happening. I had to be strong and look like I had it all together.
“You just cannot please everyone, and many of us have developed people pleasing tendencies. Something happened in our upbringing that caused us to shy away from criticism or conflict. It’s a pattern that needs to be broken.”
One area I have had to examine is how I show up around others. I think it was Tony Robbins who said that being human is challenging because you are trying to be special and fit in at the same time. I never embraced that there was anything special about me, but I did do my best to fit in. I have had to allow myself to be my true self and see that I am on a unique journey in life and be okay with some people not liking it. I don’t have to fit in everywhere.
“Revisiting my past in a caring, supportive way helps me learn the lessons I need to learn, grow as a person, and make changes that help me make my life better.”
I’ve looked at many of the painful situations from my childhood, and I have been able to do that because I need to heal myself – I believe no one can do that for me. I have learned to be an objective observer of myself and learn the lessons I am supposed to learn.
“Success will bring you only periods of happiness – little shots of the happy hormones dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins – but the feeling always wears off. Success, by society’s definition, and happiness are different. We have been given a formula for success, but not one for happiness.”
It’s so interesting to learn about happy hormones, because they influence much of what we do for happiness, but it’s completely outside of our awareness. Why do you volunteer for things? Why do you compare yourself to others? Why do you push yourself? Why do you have to be in a relationship? It could be that your brain is seeking a little shot of a happy hormone. That’s fine, unless the things you are doing are not good for you.
“Happiness is a change that I want to have stick. I don’t want to go back to being judgmental and demanding about things. I don’t want my happiness to depend on people liking me or me having to succeed in something to feel good about myself. Specifically, I don’t want to be laying on a bed again one day thinking about killing myself.”
I often think of my “why” for continuing to work on my happiness. I love that I have a great marriage. I love that I have a sense of inner peace and calm inside. Nothing is perfect, but things feel a lot better than they used to, and they continue to improve over time.
“How will you know when you have moved from the Learning Zone to the Growth Zone? How will you know when your work is paying off? The voice inside your head will be kinder and less defensive. You will find that people react differently to you. You will feel lighter and have a sense of inner calm. You will feel happier more of the time. Your zest for life will be restored.”
It excites me to read this. I never had a Growth Mindset, but now that I am open to learning and growing, it’s made such a positive impact on my life. It’s not always easy to make changes in myself, and sometimes I strive to know what the right change to make is, but it’s worth the effort.
“Don’t worry if it seems everyone else is happy except you. Each person is unique and has had a different journey in life. There is no need to compare yourself to anyone. Stay focused on doing your own work and living your own life.”
Part of being more spiritual is seeing that my life is not going to be the same as other people’s. I have to work with what I’ve got, and I can’t feel bad if someone is doing something more amazing than I am. I also can’t allow myself to think that I am more amazing than someone else, because they have a specific purpose and journey, and it’s really not a competition.
“It’s unfortunate that I didn’t take a deeper look at how I felt after that conversation with my mom.”
There was this little conversation that was a bit of a cry for help, but I didn’t take an objective look at what I was telling myself. Now, when I feel something, I have the awareness to look more deeply at it.
“What have I done?” I thought to myself, “I had an amazing job, and now I have nothing,” “I will never be successful,” “I’ve made the biggest mistake of my life!”
Brains are funny! It’s honestly so interesting when you take a conscious look at the things you tell yourself. Humans are the same with these kinds of negative messages, and we can learn from each other’s experiences. When you see that you’re not the only one who battles negative thinking, it also helps you feel less alone or less like there is something wrong with you.
“My story shows that I got very disconnected from that inner voice and listened too much to society and other people. This caused me to feel empty and lost. It was only when I started listening to a different voice that things got better.”
If you have ever asked yourself “who am I?” you are probably disconnected from your true self. Your true, inner, self is not about the roles you are playing, it’s about your essence. Your true self is the one who knows what is right for you, but it can take some work to connect to that inner sense of knowing.
“In time I learned that paying more attention to my inner world and working on myself was exactly what I needed. This would help me to choose the actions that would create true and lasting happiness.”
I had been floating through life, just doing what I thought I was supposed to do. I would only feel good about myself when someone acknowledged me. I needed to turn inward and to grow in ways that would help me to be happy no matter what was going on around me. Even though some days are still a struggle, I would say I have a really good foundation of happiness.
“I find I am changing in small ways that make a big difference. I am essentially the same person I have always been I just handle difficult things better than before. I have an improved outlook on life, which affects my thoughts and actions. I push myself, slowly, toward the new things I want to be doing that will help me have a more purposeful and rewarding life.”
Reading this makes me smile. I am really proud of myself for uncovering what I had been needing and for sticking with the work on happiness. The books I read and new things I try are paying off. I have a new focus in life that is making my Soul feel really good. I highly recommend these shifts!
February 1, 2024
It's been a busy 2024! As I was preparing to launch my new book, "Happy Starting Today: Learn the Inner Game Formula for Happiness with The Happiness Quarterback," I took some free advice to find 10 quotes out of the book that I could use in promotion. I went through the book (again) searching for what I thought was the most telling from my story and what I had learned from the most difficult parts of my life. I am really proud of what I found, and I would like to share some of them with you now, along with a bit of commentary.
"Happy Starting Today was written to help you understand why you feel stuck without answers and what kind of inner work you might need to do."
One of the most interesting things I learned is that I was stuck in life because I had done everything I thought I was supposed to do, and it was time to learn what to do next. Stuckness feels like there are no options, so know that if this is happening to you there is something you are not seeing.
"Have you ever thought of happiness as a skill that needs to be developed? Whether you call it happiness or joy, this is true for many people."
When I reflect on the soft skills development I used to teach at community college, some of the things I told the students would have been good to reflect on at a deeper level for myself. I never thought of applying some of the lessons for the workplace to my personal life.
"If you are having feelings of overwhelm, depression, emptiness, regret, frustration with others, confusion, or resentment, I want you to know they are temporary."
This quote is important, because as humans we are going to have negative emotions. When we allow negative emotions to build up instead of tending to them, we can end up in a very dark place. This isn't how life is supposed to feel, and there is a way back from feeling this way.
"Lasting happiness must be created inside of us, and we do this by making permanent changes to our inner environment."
I thought it was my husband's, and kid's, and co-workers' responsibility to make me happy, because I was working hard to make them happy. I had no idea this was not the key to happiness. I had to learn how to play the Inner Game and create happiness for myself.
"If you are overly focused on success and checking off the to-do list, you might be playing the Outer Game – it’s not your fault; society has led us to believe that success will make us happy."
I did all the things I thought I was supposed to do to have a happy life: kids, career, house, spouse. When those boxes were checked off, there were more boxes to check off. I was a high achiever and looking for more things to achieve. Sure an accomplishment makes you feel good for a while, but then you need another one. That's exhausting!
"If you want to be happy, it’s time to heal and empower yourself to create the positive emotions that lead to an overall feeling of happiness."
The more I look at this quote, the more I love it! I had given my power away and I needed to get it back, but being powerful doesn't mean controlling other people, it means stepping into your reason for living. This quote also talks about healing, and I didn't realize I had 37 years of stuff that needed to be examined. I needed self-compassion and self-love to heal.
"When I felt depressed, overwhelmed, and stuck, I didn’t know what was missing, but now I know what I needed was inner growth."
I had no idea I needed inner growth! My point of view was that everyone else needed to change. I also didn't know how to grow on the inside, like what kind of work would I have to do? I remained open to learning what I didn't already know, and I tried things I would have never tried. Hey, I'm a confident person, but I'm so glad I stopped pretending I knew everything.
"Workplaces spend a lot of time, attention, and money on professional development and not nearly as much on personal development, so many people have not experienced it. I’m not going to say it’s a company’s responsibility to grow their employees on a personal level, instead I will suggest that it is each person’s own responsibility to do this work, so they have better work experiences and better life experiences. Working with The Inner Game Formula for Happiness gives people these skills."
I stopped focusing on coaching supervisors in soft skills, and moved to teaching everyone about personal development, because we all need to do a little work on ourselves to have better relationships at work. We've got to meet each other half way and figure out how to best accomplish our shared goals.
"Happiness is a great answer to how we show up for ourselves. Every part of my life is better because I work on my happiness. Every part of my life is better because I stopped looking outside of myself for happiness and learned to create it for myself."
When you create inner peace and feel fulfilled regardless of which goal you just achieved, you are creating happiness inside yourself. This inner foundation of happiness is going to reflect on every situation you find yourself in. You will be more accepting of others, you won't push your kids to be perfect, you will argue less with your spouse, you won't have road rage.
"The purpose of the brain is to keep you afraid of dying, not to make you happy. I’m so fortunate to have learned this and to have realized that I need to consciously create happiness instead of being on autopilot and waiting for happiness to happen to me."
You hear a lot about the happy hormones: dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins on social media. We are on autopilot with the behaviors that create these for us, and some actions are not good for us. Being more aware of your brain and what it's doing to you is a big key to empowering yourself, and this is true for happiness as well.
"It’s interesting to know that I used to tell my stories very differently. The stories used to be about ignorant parents, lazy co-workers, ungrateful children, and a spouse who didn’t “get it.” In those stories, I was the one who was making everyone else happy, but no one was making me happy. I was a victim."
It's no one else's job to make you happy; happiness requires personal responsibility. I've learned that the words and behaviors of others can impact us, and we need to be aware of that and have tools to help us out of those situations. I've learned that things change in life and we need to build resilience to deal with the changes.
"The interesting thing about the age 9 and 10 scenarios is that I never told my parents. I guess I thought it was my fault and that there was something wrong with me. Anyway, those experiences changed me, they planted an emotional trigger in me."
This is an example of how going back to your childhood stories to heal yourself can be really powerful. I was able to do this without therapy, but some people may need help. I had to figure out how the past was affecting my emotions, thoughts, and actions as an adult. There were some major events to look at.
"He asked me what was wrong, and I replied, “I feel like driving in front of a truck.”
This was a major warning sign that ended in me believing that "things would get better" on their own. They didn't, and at that time in my life I had no idea what I had to do to make things better. There were a few things, and they weren't buying a new couch or painting the kitchen. Inner work was what I needed at that time. A cry for help like that cannot be smoothed over!
"I pulled out that journal just now – funny I kept it – and found the first thing I wrote in it, 'I feel sick to my stomach. I feel like I just want to sleep because then I don’t have to think. I feel like my head is so full it’s going to explode. I feel like my needs and wishes have been dominated for a long time and I don’t even know where to start fixing myself. It’s too scary.'”
Journaling was very helpful in getting my thoughts out of my head where I could see them. I wish I had that tool to process stuff before it got to the point of suicidal ideation. It's so important to check in with your feelings regularly, and use some strategies to lessen the negative impact.
That was really fun to go through those quotes and give a little more insight into what was going on for me. I hope you found it useful. Next blog post, I will share the rest of the list.
December 12, 2023
The holidays can bring a lot of joy to our lives. Unfortunately, happiness based on yummy food, beautiful songs, time with others, and other traditions, is the type of happiness that is not going to last. When the holidays are gone, these outside sources of happiness will be gone, too. The good news is that we can tend to our inner environments and build a foundation of happiness that will persist throughout the year. This means we’ll be less likely to feel alone or sad when the holidays are all said and done.
One way I tend to my inner environment is with spirituality. I’ve been doing this for around 12 years now. Spirituality is about believing in my connection to a Higher Power and restoring my connection with my Soul and true self. While I have celebrated Christmas my whole life, it has only been about presents and foods, never about spirituality. Spirituality does not mean having religious beliefs, so it’s something you might benefit from too, irrespective of your culture or traditions.
With a spiritual connection, we accept things as they are and don’t worry about things we cannot change. With a spiritual connection, it doesn’t matter whether another person’s behavior at this time of year disappoints us, we will be less judgmental. With a spiritual connection, we don’t worry so much about what we get or don’t get, because we feel fulfilled just as we are.
If you haven’t given spirituality or your Soul much attention, I’d like to help you get started. Spirituality has been so important for my happiness, and it could help you as well. Here are three shifts that you can make to begin to feel more whole and at peace with yourself and others, which can be especially important at this time of year.
Shift 1: Vow to do the best you can, even if it’s not perfect or not what you usually do for the holidays.
Every year presents its challenges, whether it’s interpersonal relationships, finances, your job, or something else. Instead of holding onto the past and wanting things to be “just so,” take a fresh approach this year. It’s okay to not make all the recipes that you do every year, and if people are unhappy that something is missing from the holiday table, ask them to understand that your capacity didn’t allow for it. If you must visit for shorter periods of time or you don’t wish to participate in a game or activity, let people know that you are going to need to sit out this time or that the activity isn’t something you enjoy.
Create a vision for what you would like the holidays to look like and share that with the others involved. Just because you have done things a certain way in other years, it doesn’t mean you can’t change it this year. Make your choices based on self-kindness and listening to what you really want. If people are set on having what’s important to them, ask them to become more involved in creating these things for themselves – don’t take it all on yourself.
Shift 2: Enjoy being with others; be in the moment with them and be happy for them.
The holidays mean getting together with family members, and you may have conflict with some of them. Perhaps this year, you can let some of your opinions, or the need to be right, go. Each one of us is a unique human being with a certain personality, and there are bound to be interpersonal differences. Each one of us is also a human being with common biology, including a brain that is wired for survival. Our brain wants us to be the best because it means we will survive. Notice your automatic brain controlling your thoughts and behaviors and don’t allow yourself to play that game.
Instead, be other-focused. Ask people about themselves and really listen. Listen so well that a month from now you will still recall the details of the conversation. This means being fully present, not needing to talk about yourself or your accomplishments, unless you are asked. When people tell you what is going well, celebrate with them. If people are struggling, allow them to vent and then ask if they want some ideas to solve their problems before you offer solutions. Let go of any need you have for a person to be a certain way.
Shift 3: Like this year’s IKEA commercial tells us, take some quiet time for yourself.
You might have kids off school and home for a couple weeks, and they might not have much to do. If you are busy entertaining them, you are going to feel spent after a few days. Encourage them to fill their time with activities that they come up with – they can learn to listen to themselves about how they want to spend their time. They probably need some downtime during this break as well, so be careful to not fill up the whole calendar.
Perhaps you are working over the holidays and people are stressed out around you. Don’t take that on. You might even physically shake that off at the end of the workday and not take it home with you. Remember that smiles and kindness can be a good response in time like that, but you never want to ignore your feelings, they need to be acknowledged to yourself. When you take some time to yourself regularly to recharge, you will have the capacity to handle negative things that some at you and also be able to create positive thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Those are three things you can do to care for your Soul and begin to grow your spiritual practice. You are a unique and valuable person who is connected to a Higher Power – learn to believe that and feel comfort and whole in that. Connect to your true self, take care of yourself, and don’t get lost in the demands of the holiday season!
December 11, 2023
This week’s blog post is especially for the people out there who have been parenting for several years while they are simultaneously building their careers. If that doesn’t apply to you, please read the post anyway, as it may help you to help others.
The time in my life where I was “doing all the things” was particularly stressful; it was like treading water for a long time – I was barely keeping my head above the surface. I was probably running on adrenaline most times. In Positive Psychology terms, I was constantly moving between Languishing and Surviving, with some weeks being better than others.
I was in my mid- to late-30s when things were at their worst. My well-being was not good, and I didn’t have the awareness to see how bad things had gotten until it was almost too late. I want to encourage you to check in with your well-being right now just in case you are not consciously aware of your thoughts and feelings.
Here is an image to help you determine where your well-being is at. There’s no quiz for it; simply tune in and think about your level of stress versus happiness.
Being in the -10 to 0 section can feel like burnout. You might be lacking social connections and feel your life has become monotonous. You might be beating yourself up about the past and unable to control negative thinking. Perhaps you are disappointed about where your life has ended up. In time, as things spiral down to -10, you can become depressed and/or physically ill.
After several years of being in Survival mode, I spiraled down to overwhelm, emptiness, and depression. My relationships suffered, because I had been trying to make everyone in my life happy and felt no one was doing the same for me. I was resentful. I felt stuck and empty; there was something missing in my life, but I didn’t know what it was. I had lost my zest for life and had no hope for happiness. I was no longer interested in living my life. That kind of feeling overall is called Languishing. Perhaps you are feelings some of that right now.
Look at the image again. Think about how you felt a year ago. Has your “score” moved down toward Languishing or up toward Thriving? If it has moved down, is it time to do something about that? Do you have any strategies to get you feeling better? There’s a lot of science on happiness out there now, and it takes just one change, one step, at a time. The goal is to get yourself into the 0 to +10 range and improving all the time.
To me, Thriving and Happiness carry much the same meaning. We build happiness by developing tools to handle the negative things in life which include our negative thoughts and emotions. When we get good at that, we can turn our efforts toward creating positive things at work and in our personal lives. When you learn how to create happiness that lasts, everything in life gets better!
Where can you start today?
When I realized I was the common denominator in my life, and I had to start doing something different in my life if I wanted to be happier, I started with self-awareness of what I was thinking and feeling when I was around others. I became more mindful of what I thought and felt about myself. I got off autopilot and became conscious of what was happening within me.
I discovered that the happy moments I experienced when I achieved something or someone told me how great I was, did not last. I saw that negative emotions had built up inside me and my capacity to handle more was nil. My resilience was topped out and I needed new life strategies. If I wanted to feel better. I would have to grow as a person.
When you feel your life has meaning and you are looking forward to each day, that is Thriving. That’s where I am now, even though some days are more challenging than others. As a human being, I will always have inner work to do. It takes learning and practice to create happiness – to thrive – and it’s never too late in your life to work on yourself. The rewards are worth it!
December 4, 2023
When I talk to people about their happiness it’s not about positivity, rainbows, and unicorns, it’s about paying attention to their happiness and finding tools to help them create happiness when it’s lacking. Unfortunately, not everyone is naturally happy; some of us have to work at it.
When it comes to feelings of unhappiness, unfulfillment, emptiness, and hopelessness, some people need professional help, some need medication, and others can fix their level of happiness themselves. I was able to use self-help to bring myself from despair to renewing my zest for life, and now as a self-help writer and speaker, I help others do the same.
One of the tools I have used is the Mental Health Continuum model. This model shows the different states as healthy, reacting, injured and ill. I didn’t know much about mental health back when I was having problems, but now that I know, I use models like this one to help me understand myself better. Here is the model for reference:
The Mental Health Continuum shows us that having “negative” mental health reactions requires self-care and/or social support; “healthy” mental health may require the same to keep things from changing. Mental health that is “injured” or “ill” may require professional care, and someone who is conscious of their mental health state can mindfully choose their next step.
I like to reflect on the past and learn about myself so I can grow. Right now, I think back to when I was at the lowest point in my life from mid-2009 to early 2010. At that time, I chose not to seek professional help but to figure out what was going on with me by myself and using self-help. That was my personal decision. Do what feels right for you, and if you are not sure, go see a mental health professional or your family doctor.
The Mental Health Continuum model then shows us the line items of mood, attitude, sleep, physical health, activity, and habits. When I look at the descriptions and think of what was going on with each of these in 2010, my mood could have been described as anger, hopelessness, depression, and suicidal thoughts. My attitude could have been described as good performance and being in control. I cannot remember my sleep being an issue and my physical health would have been okayish, even though I had some back problems from time to time.
Regarding activity, I would say that I was withdrawing from my personal friends because I didn’t want to talk to them about how I was feeling, and I was becoming resentful of work friends for what they weren’t doing to make me happy. My habits probably included a bit too much alcohol at the time, as I tried to escape my real feelings. Overall, it would appear that I was not “healthy.”
What actions could I have taken at that time according to the Mental Health Continuum model?
Healthier lifestyle – I believe I was escaping my problems by turning to alcohol. It wasn’t necessarily problem-drinking, but it was distracting me from getting better. I believe I was exercising at the time, perhaps just walking my dog, and I don’t remember my diet, but it could have been affecting how I was feeling if it was low in nutrition.
Break problems into manageable chunks – I was having marriage problems but didn’t know what to do about them. I could have pinpointed what was going on and sought help, because what I was doing to fix the marriage – which was waiting for things to get better – was not working.
Social support – It would have been good for me to have a friend who had been through those feelings before to talk to. I didn’t tell anyone what was going on, so how could anyone help me?
Identify my stressors – I didn’t sit down to look at what was going on and how I might cope. I was overloaded at the time but didn’t look at better boundaries or choices. I didn't know how to manage my stress at the time.
See that I was in distress and know it was nothing wrong with me – I was feeling stuck and had no idea what to do about it. I didn’t have to feel that I was weak if I didn’t know the answers. I was pretending to be the strong one and that was not helpful.
I encourage you to have a closer look at the Mental Health Continuum and check in with your happiness and wellbeing. Once you have an idea of where you are at, look at what you might do to help yourself. Even if you are feeling ok now, this is a good exercise that can prevent your mental health from spiraling down like mine did.
You’re not going to have “healthy” mental health every day for the simple fact that you are a human being and life happens. When you accept that and pay attention to how you are feeling, you can use interventions like the ones in the Mental Health Continuum model.
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