How mindfulness improves your life at work

your work plus mindfulness

[Part of a series on learning to love your life at work.]

Picture this. You’re sitting at work, doing what you do. It’s an ordinary day, just like any other. Except…today there’s a twist.

You’re still doing your work, but somehow you find yourself in the proud possession of a magic button that pushes pause on three things:

  1. The past
  2. The future
  3. Your judgment about whatever is happening right now

Think your experience might be a little different that day? Let’s take a look.

The Past

OK, let’s assume that whatever magic wand cleared out the past left all the past awareness you need to do your job intact. What it pushed pause on was all your memories and associations from the past that you have negative associations with.

So for example, on this particularly unusual day you won’t have:

  1. Regrets about mistakes you have made
  2. Doubts about yourself stemming from past failures
  3. Negative stories about your co-workers based on conflicts you have had in the past
  4. Resentments based on past perceived slights

The list goes on, but you get the idea.

Notice anything about all of these? Not a single one of them is happening in the present moment of your work day. And yet, if you’re anything like the rest of us, you spend untold amounts of energy in the suffering they create.

Press pause and – POOF – that suffering disappears.

Bottom line, we layer all kinds of unpleasantness over our experience of the present moment by bringing our negative past experiences into the present and giving them life. Push pause on that, and our experience of the here-and-now improves immensely.

The Future

Bringing the past forward into the present moment is bad enough (or rather, the perceived past, since studies show that what we remember tends to be a poor representative of what actually happened). But bringing the future into the present moment is sheer folly.

Why?

Because, while the past at least has something you can point to and say, “that happened,” (however inaccurate that might be), the future is 100%, no ifs-ands-or-buts made up. Complete fantasyland.

And yet, how often do you get your knickers in a knot about something that might happen? How often do you make yourself miserable worrying about some future outcome that may or may not ever become reality?

For most of us, the answer to that is, “Waaaaaaay too often.”

Now imagine going through your day with none of said knicker-knotting. How much more energy would that free? How much more peaceful would that feel?

Judgments about the Present

Finally, imagine that someone hit “mute” and quieted that voice that gives a running commentary about what you’re doing and experiencing.

You’ll still experience everything, both pleasant and unpleasant. But you won’t hear the comments from the peanut gallery. No commentary saying:

  • That was stupid.
  • Why can’t I be more patient?
  • I shouldn’t be so _____. (fill in the blank with your favorite self-criticism of choice)
  • I should be more _____.
  • This shouldn’t be like this.
  • When will this stop?
  • They shouldn’t be so _____.

All of those judgments add mental suffering to the picture. They add a projected pain to any unpleasantness that actually exists. They also get in the way of more fully experiencing (and enjoying) the present moment.

The “magic” of mindfulness

So you have looked all around and you can’t find the magic button to push so you can hit pause. What to do, what to do?

You’re in luck. Because you don’t need a magic button. All you need is mindfulness.

What, you might ask, is mindfulness? I’ll let Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the people behind the introduction and popularization of the idea in the West, explain:

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: On purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

So basically mindfulness is way of experiencing the present moment without all the chatter of the past, the future, and judgments about the present mucking it up.

Think that might make any difference in how you experience your life at work?

(Hint: The answer is yes.)

p.s. If you want a deeper look at mindfulness, here’s a what is mindfulness post – a short video of Kabat-Zinn giving an overview of the concept, as well as a longer one of him doing a talk and mindfulness session at Google.

[Want to get Wild About Work? Take the first step with my FREE audio course.]

–-

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

Time for a career change? Start with
The Occupational Adventure Guide

Change your story, change your life at work

change your story, change your life

The stories you tell create the lens through which you experience your world. Want to change your experience? Change your stories!

Of all the ideas in this series on learning to love your life at work, this is possibly the most powerfully and immediately impactful.

It’s no magical, mystical idea. It’s simply common sense. We all tell stories. It’s how the human mind makes sense of the world. The story you tell is the way you interpret an experience. Two different people can experience the exact same thing and, depending on the story they tell, come away with two completely different impressions of what happened.

Being conscious of your stories and working to shift them in a more positive, enlivening direction is one of the single most powerful habits you can develop.

The value of awareness

You can go at it from multiple angles, with ever-increasing amounts of nuance and awareness. But at its simplest it boils down to three questions.

  • What is the story I’m telling here?
  • How does it make me feel? Does it have an expansive or constricting impact?
  • (If it has a negative impact) Is there a more positive story I could tell?

Next time you find yourself feeling constricted, maybe frustrated, irritated, angry, etc., stop and ask yourself those three questions.

It starts with awareness. So often we react to what we see through the lens of our stories as though it were solid Truth with a capital T. It seems so obviously real that we don’t even question that it might only be a reflection of the story we’re telling.

If we don’t have awareness, we remain at the mercy of whatever constricting story is at the heart of it. Awareness opens the door to the potential for positive change.

Dramatic change (with no change)

I see the effectiveness of exploring different stories all the time in working with my Passion Catalyst clients. A great example of this was Bill. By the time he reached out to me, he was so frustrated with his work that he wanted to quit immediately.

One big source of frustration was the game-playing (or, as he perceived it, manipulation) that was rife in the industry he worked in. It was at odds with his values.

As we explored that, he acknowledged that it wasn’t that the people were bad, or that their intentions were malicious – it was just the way the game was played in that particular industry. And there was pretty much zero chance he was going to change that.

I suggested that he try an experiment. Every time he noticed his button getting pushed by someone interacting that way, instead of building up a head of righteous indignation, why not just laugh internally and say, “There they go, playing that game again.”

He was skeptical, but agreed to give it a try. A week later he came back and said, “Curt, I have just had the most positive week at work I have had in months!”

He kept working with that, and it created a complete shift in what had been a major source of the steam coming out his ears by the end of the day. His experience changed dramatically, even though nothing externally had actually changed.

3 kinds of stories

As I described in my post about how to do an internal energy audit, there are three broad areas you’ll find your stories. From that post:

Stories about yourself: These might include, for example, self-criticism vs self-appreciation (e.g., “hey, I really did that well,” or, “it wasn’t perfect, but I did the best I could.”) or self-doubt versus self-belief.

Stories about others: Do you see others as basically good or basically flawed? Do you see the best in others or the worst? Are you hyper-critical of others or supportive and understanding? Is your basic default trust or distrust?

Stories about circumstances: Do you feel like a victim of circumstances or do you habitually look for ways you can improve things? Do you see the world as a fearful place or a hopeful place?

Find your limiting stories

As I mentioned earlier, awareness is key. But sometimes that can feel easier said than done. One easy way to start building awareness is to start noticing the things where you feel a constriction and contraction.

Some examples include:

  • Irritation
  • Frustration
  • Anger
  • Impatience
  • Judgment (both of others and yourself)
  • Resistance of what is
  • Stress

Any time you notice any of those, you can step back and say, “OK, what’s my story about this? What is it that is causing me to feel this?”

Another way to approach it is to ask, “How should things be?” Your irritation, frustration, etc. typically stem from feeling that things should be one way and having them be another. It’s a good bet that how things should be – as you see it – is part or all of your story.

(On a side note, Byron Katie’s process, called The Work, is an excellent tool for finding a greater sense of peace with what is.)

Yet another way to notice your limiting stories is to watch for all or nothing words. For example, phrases like:

  • They always
  • He never
  • I can’t

Frequently the black-and-white stories we tell are only a caricature of reality. If we look at them more objectively, we often see that we’re looking through a lens that encourages us to confirm that point of view.

For example, “He always rambles on in meetings” completely ignores those occasions when the person in question either didn’t ramble on or played a constructive role in the conversation.

The more aware you can be of your limiting stories, the better equipped you are to explore the opportunities to sculpt them in a more affirming direction.

I’m not suggesting that you just sit there and blow sunsine up your wazoo 24/7. Sometimes there really are negative things that need to be addressed. But if you’re like most of us, you inflict a lot of unnecessary suffering on yourself simply through stories that could easily be changed.

Find your enhancing stories

While you’re at it, it’s worth looking at your enhancing stories as well. Again, it’s about awareness. The more aware you are of the positive stories you tell (stories about yourself and your abilities, stories about where others are coming from, your optimistic view of what’s possible, etc.), the more potential you have to cultivate and grow them.

Do your own experiment

I’m a big fan of the “don’t just believe me, test it for yourself” school of thinking. With that in mind, I encourage you to try an experiment.

Find a limiting story that you tell frequently. Spend a little time looking for other stories you could tell about that situation/experience that would leave you feeling lighter. Then, for the next week, play with catching the story in action and swapping it out with the new one.

It doesn’t have to be anything big. For example, I had one client who couldn’t stand the drama and conflict he saw all too often in meetings. The drama typically didn’t involve him, but his story – unbeknownst to him – was that if drama was happening, it was real, and it affected him.

When he realized this, he started telling a new story. “This isn’t my drama.” He was able to take a step back and watch the drama, rather than get pulled in.

He even took it a step farther by starting to ponder what the story behind the drama might be for the person or people in question. “Why are they responding like that? Where are they coming from? What are they trying to get accomplished? What are they afraid of?” It added a whole new dimension of “human interest” to the meetings.

If you see any difference at all, expand the experiment. Continue focusing on the same story for the next month and see what happens. Or expand it to include other stories.

Story by story, you can change your world.

[Want to get Wild About Work? Take the first step with my FREE audio course.]

–-

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

Time for a career change? Start with
The Occupational Adventure Guide

 

How to do an internal energy audit

How to do an internal energy audit

In this series on learning to love your life at work, part of what I am exploring is how to improve your experience of life at work, regardless of whether or not you can change anything about the work itself.

A great place to start is by doing an “internal energy audit.”

One of the tools I encourage people to use in their efforts to improve the here and now is an energy audit aimed at the work itself. They look at what energizes them and what drains them, and then explore ways to bring more of the energy-inducing aspects into the picture and reduce the drains.

That same idea is relevant for your internal landscape.

It’s essentially the same idea. You’re asking:

  • How do I contribute to feeling more energized?
  • How do I contribute to feeling less energized?

Another way of thinking about it (one I’m using more and more in my own life) is:

  • How do I open to the flow of energy?
  • How do I constrict the flow of energy?

One way or another, we all do each of those in umpteen different ways. For example:

Opening to the flow

  • Focusing on what’s positive
  • Gratitude
  • Expressing the positive (e.g., sharing your observations on what’s good with someone)
  • Grounding practices like meditation and breathing practices
  • Staying in the present moment instead of lost in negative stories
  • Questioning your limiting stories, assumptions, and beliefs
  • Consciously exposing yourself to what’s positive and uplifting

Constricting the flow

  • A habitual focus on the negative
  • Pessimism
  • A tendency to be critical, whether of yourself or others
  • Mistaking your negative thoughts for reality
  • A tendency to ruminate and worry
  • Getting lost in your negative stories
  • Constantly exposing yourself to what’s negative and constricting (e.g., the news)
  • Never letting yourself slow down and relax

Internal Energy Audit Framework

Here’s a framework to get you started.

1. What stories are you telling?

You don’t see the world as it is. You see it through the lens of the stories you tell. We all do. Sometimes those stories are positive, and sometimes they’re negative. Sometimes they’re empowering, and sometimes they’re disempowering. What kind of pictures are your stories painting?

You can explore three broad kinds of stories:

Stories about yourself: These might include, for example, self-criticism vs self-appreciation (e.g., “hey, I really did that well,” or, “it wasn’t perfect, but I did the best I could.”) or self-doubt versus self-belief.

Stories about others: Do you see others as basically good or basically flawed? Do you see the best in others or the worst? Are you hyper-critical of others or supportive and understanding? Is your basic default trust or distrust?

Stories about circumstances: Do you feel like a victim of circumstances or do you habitually look for ways you can improve things? Do you see the world as a fearful place or a hopeful place?

The either/or questions there are only a handful of examples to give you an idea of what kinds of stories you might find, not an exhaustive list.

2. What do you focus on?

Do you focus on the positive or the negative? Do you focus on what you’re grateful for or what you dislike? Do you focus on what you enjoy, or what grates on you?

3. Do you have room in your mind for quiet or are you lost in the noise?

A great way to tilt toward constriction is to never give your mind any time and space for quiet. Do you give yourself time to pause and be still, or are you constantly doing, doing, doing? Do you allow your mind some silent space, or do you habitually fill that space with something? (Try just being alone in silence for a while and see what happens. If you find yourself starting to crawl out of your skin, it’s a good bet you’re not giving your mind the space it needs.)

4. What input are you feeding your mind?

What do you habitually feed your mind? Do you seek out positive and uplifting input, like books to help you learn and grow or inspiring stories, or do you fill it with news about how the world is going to hell and images of violence and despair? Do you spend your time having positive conversations with people, or are you a long-standing member of the Bitch-n-Moan Club?

Do an ongoing energy audit

Taking a first look at the areas outlined above is a great way to start shining a light at what is going on in your internal landscape, but it’s not a one-and-done effort.

Try making it a habit to do an ongoing energy audit. Maybe it’s as simple as spending five minutes on your commute home reviewing the day and checking in with how things looked internally in each of those areas.

The more you can recognize what’s happening on an ongoing basis, the more you have the potential to work with those internal aspects to shift them ever-more in a positive direction.

And the more positive your internal landscape, the more positive your experience will inevitably be of what’s going on in the world around you.

[Want to get Wild About Work? Take the first step with my FREE audio course.]

–-

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

Time for a career change? Start with
The Occupational Adventure Guide

Learn to love your life (at work)

All too often, people take an either/or approach to loving their work. Either they’re in a job they love, or they have to just suck it up and accept that work is a four-letter word.

The reality is that there is an amazing amount that can be done to make positive change in our experience of our jobs, even without something big and dramatic like a career change.

When my Passion Catalyst clients come to me for help figuring out a new career that lights them up, they’re often in a high state of frustration. In order to create more mental and emotional space to move forward, frequently we end up spending time exploring the question, “How do I make the here-and-now better?”

In this series, I want to share some of what I have learned over the last 14 years so you can apply it to your own career. Whether you love your work or loathe it, you’ll benefit from these ideas.

This is the main page for this series. As I write new posts looking more deeply at each of the ideas below, I will add links here.

Learn to love your life (at work)

As I have looked at taking a more defined approach to here-and-now improvement efforts, I started distinguishing between loving your work and loving your life at work.

If you’re in a crap job, there may be precious little you can do to improve the job itself (though there might be more than you realize). But there is a lot you can do to change your experience of your time there.

An added bonus of the ideas I’ll be outlining is that they’re all equally applicable in the rest of your life. So really it’s not just about learning to love your life at work. It’s about using work as a learning lab for how to have a better experience of life in general. Not bad, eh?

External change

The most obvious opportunities for improving the here-and-now involve making external changes. Broadly put, it involves:

  • Adding more of what energizes you.
  • Reducing what drains your energy.

This is a simple process of working with what I call the Gain-to-Drain Ratio In a nutshell, the more you have in your day of what energizes you (the gain), and the less you have of what drains you, the more energized you will feel. Simple, common-sense, and powerfully effective

[See Energize your career with the Gain-to-Drain Ratio for a basic how-to on this idea.]

[Check out a deep-dive look at this in my series How to feel more juice in your job.]

People are often surprised at how much ability they have to sculpt things for the better, just by consciously working with their gains and drains.

Internal change

Improving your here-and-now isn’t just about making external changes. You have an immense potential to make positive change at the internal level as well.

This section isn’t about changing your work. It’s about changing your relationship with your experience at work. And often, this is where the biggest potential for change is. Why? Because it’s the one thing you have control over!

Here are some ways you can sculpt that internal experience.

Do an internal energy audit

Just like you can do an energy audit of your external situation to identify the energy gains and drains, you can explore how you contribute to gains and drains internally.

A tendency to look for the learning and growth in any situation, even the negative ones? There’s a gain. A tendency to dwell on the negative? Definite drain. An inclination to focus on gratitude? Gain. A habit of seeking out people to bitch to who will confirm your negative perspective? Yep, that’s a drain.

[Get started with how to do an internal energy audit]

Check and change your stories

The stories we tell create the lens through which we see the world. The same event could have two completely interpretations (and consequently be experienced in two completely different ways), depending on the story we tell about it.

As Anais Nin said, “We don’t see the world as it is, but as we are.”

When you check your story about anything, you’re opening the door to awareness, and awareness opens the door to change. When you change your story, you change your experience.

[Change your story, change your life at work]

Practice mindfulness

Staying anchored in the present moment, paying nonjudgmental attention to what is happening without spinning off into stories about the past or worries about the future can have a dramatic impact on how you experience your time at work.

[See how mindfulness improves your life at work.]

[What is mindfulness?]

Direct your focus

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the more you focus on what’s good in any given situation, the better your experience is going to be. And the more you focus on what’s bad, the worse it will be.

Directing your focus is about consciously looking for the positive and focusing your attention there.

[Check out how directing your focus creates a more positive work experience.]

Develop a gratitude habit

Research has shown that gratitude has a multi-faceted positive impact, mentally, physically, and emotionally. And the better you feel on all those fronts, the better your experience at work is going to be.

[Here are 14 ways to change your life with a gratitude practice.]

Develop a grounding practice

Imagine how you feel when you’re spooled up and tense, or when you’re operating at mach speed with energy flying off in all directions. Both of those scenarios leave you feeling drained and depleted.

Developing a grounding practice (e.g., meditation, breathing practices, etc.) can help you minimize the time you spend in those kinds of states, not to mention help you stay focused.

[Find out why your career needs you to meditate.]

Feed your brain the good stuff

Part of what creates the lens you look through as you experience work (and the rest of your life) is what you feed your brain.

Feeding your mind positive, uplifting brainfood (e.g., listening to an inspiring audiobook on your commute or having a conversation with someone positive) contributes to a more positive, uplifting view overall.

Feeding it negative, toxic brainfood (e.g., listening to news about still more tragedy and turmoil, or having yet another habitual bitch session with a negative colleague) creates a perspective where you’ll see and experience more of that.

Build a foundation

This last one doesn’t actually have anything to do with work, but it has everything to do with your potential to experience your day positively. Building a solid foundation with your diet, exercise, staying hydrated, etc. can have a dramatic impact on how you feel, and consequently your potential for experiencing your day at work positively.

So there you have it. An external and internal approach to making the here-and-now of your work more energizing and alive-ifying. Stay tuned for more posts!

[Want to get Wild About Work? Take the first step with my FREE audio course.]

–-

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

Time for a career change? Start with
The Occupational Adventure Guide

How to improve your career by maximizing your Personal ROI

heart center

Want to create a career that leaves you feeling energized and alive? Awareness is vital! Without a detailed understanding of what feels energizing, meaningful, and engaging, your only option is to make your best guess, dive in, and hope for the best.

When you have a greater understanding of where the juice comes from for you, you have an infinitely better ability to consciously make choices – both big and small – that steer your career in that direction.

One of the exercises I suggest in my ebook, The Occupational Adventure Guide, invites you to explore your “Personal ROI.”

Your Personal ROI is the return on investment you get on the time and effort you put into your work. It takes the common remuneration, like money, benefits, etc., out of the picture and asks, “if it weren’t about the money, what would it be about?”

Imagine you’re suddenly plopped down in a parallel universe, one where money isn’t used as an incentive. Instead, your pay comes from the feeling you get from the work you are doing. The most “highly paid” people in the work force are the people who have found a career that is deeply aligned with what is meaningful and fun for them.

As you picture that, ask yourself, “What would I do to maximize my pay? What would maximize the Personal ROI for my investment of time and effort?”

Explore that more deeply with questions like:

  • What kinds of things would you be doing? Why? (As in, what is it about doing that that would give you a high Personal ROI?)
  • What kind of difference would you be making? What is important/inspiring/compelling about that?
  • What kind of people would you be working with?
  • What feelings would I get paid in? What gives me those feelings?
  • What feels meaningful?
  • What do I care about?
  • When do I lose myself?
  • When am I at my best? Why am I at my best then?

The thing I love about this idea is that it removes the piece of the puzzle that tends to muddy things up for people – how much money can I make? – and focuses your attention on, “How can I feel the way I want to feel?”

Once you have a better understanding of that, you can apply that insight to building a career that lets you both thrive and feel alive.

Ask, “How can I experience more of that? Where are the opportunities to build more of that into what I do now? Where are the opportunities to move toward more of that in my career path?”

And then create that, step-by-step, choice-by-choice.

How about you? How would you maximize your Personal ROI?

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

Time for a career change? Start with
The Occupational Adventure Guide

 

9 ways to have your best year ever (even if it sucks)

9 ways to make this the best year ever

Every New Year, a frothy chorus starts to swell in the self-help world, exhorting us all to make next year the Best! Year! Ever! It’s a message that feels increasingly like fingernails on a chalkboard to me.

Part of that is an increasing disenchantment with what feels like the self-help version of consumerism – more! More! MORE! More success. More happiness. More passion.

On the surface, that all sounds great. Who wouldn’t want more of those things?

What grates on me is the way it so often gets sold (and if I’m honest, I have to admit I’ve been guilty of this myself). The message, intentional or not, seems to be that if you want to have the best year ever, you have to have that job you love, a relationship that meets all your needs, make more money, and in general have every part of your life shine.

In short, you need to have the picture perfect life.

This isn’t a condemnation of those things. They’re all wonderful, but in the end they’re all external sources of fulfillment. And that would be fine if it weren’t for the pesky fact that picture perfect is seldom the way life works.

In the real world, in addition to the juicy good stuff, things go sideways. Sometimes life is grand. And sometimes, let’s face it, it completely blows.

So if you rely on external circumstances to have the best year ever, it’s a crap shoot. You can influence what happens, but you can’t control it.

But what if you didn’t have to rely on external circumstances to deliver your best year ever? What if your best year ever really had its source in your head and your heart?

One of the most important concepts I talk about here is the way our thoughts and beliefs create the world we experience. Not from a “manifestation” perspective, but by the way your thoughts and beliefs shape the lens through which we view the world.

What you experience has little to do with what is actually happening externally. There’s a Buddhist saying that “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” It means that, while painful things are bound to happen in the human experience, suffering only comes as a result of the story we tell about it.

In this post, I want to explore how to shape your lens to minimize the suffering and maximize the happiness, contentment, and even delight, regardless of how your external circumstances shake out in the year to come.

Build a foundation

One of the key components of the Wild About Work model is building a solid foundation to stand on. That foundation is made of the things we all know we need to do, but so often don’t. These include:

  • Healthy diet
  • Exercise
  • Staying hydrated
  • Reaching out and connecting with people
  • Getting enough sleep

None of this is rocket science. But it’s amazing what a difference it makes just making each of those a reliably consistent part of your life, regardless of what’s happening.

Develop a grounding practice

I can’t stress this one enough. I usually include this in the list of foundational elements, but it’s so important I’m breaking it out as its own topic. The winds of suckitude the world outside can deliver are strong and can blow you in any direction of you don’t have a solid ground to stand on.

Having some kind of daily grounding practice, whether meditation, yoga, tai chi, or something else, is a cornerstone to not being buffeted by the winds of suckitude the world outside can deliver.

Practice mindfulness

The less time you spend caught up in the past and the future, the less time you will have for regret and worry. Practice mindfulness, and keep bringing yourself back to the here-and-now.

Not only that, the more present you are, the more you get to experience the full juice of what’s happening in the here-and-now. (Think of it as the difference between inhaling a delicious meal with little to no awareness and savoring every bite.)

Direct your focus

Imagine your focus over a 24-hour period divided into three parts – a focus on what’s good, what’s bad, and what’s neutral. Over the course of any given day, how would your focus be divided? How much of your focus is on what’s good? How much of it is on what’s bad?

To make it easy, think of each day’s focus as a pie chart divided into 10 equal parts. How many slices are devoted to each of those three?

Your mind is limited in what it can hold in its awareness. The more slices you devote to the positive, the fewer you have available for the negative.

Below are a couple ways to consciously direct your focus to positive slices o’ pie.

Focus: What’s good?

Get in the habit of asking this question on an ongoing basis. It can be on a large scale (what rocks about my life right now?) or a small scale (Here I am on my commute home – what can I notice that’s good?).

The more you direct your attention to what’s good, the more your mind will start to naturally notice what’s good.

Focus: Gratitude

Gratitude is the wonder-drug for both mental and physical wellness. Research has shown that a focus on what you’re thankful for makes you happier and healthier.

Make it a habit to focus on what you’re grateful for on a regular basis. That could be keeping a gratitude journal, dedicating one commute a week to reflecting on reasons to give thanks, or just pausing throughout the day and asking, “What can I be grateful for right now?”

Develop self-compassion

If there were one thing you could wave a magic wand and create that would make the biggest difference in your life, this might well be it.

Most of us have a well-developed inner critic. We treat ourselves in ways we would never treat others, or let others treat us.

That has a constricting and contracting effect on both how we feel (about ourselves and about the world) and on what we have to give.

Commit to learning and growing from whatever comes your way

A while ago I was having a really tough time. Something happened that kind of sucked and I commented to a friend, “Yeah, I hate this – and I’m also blessed to have the chance to practice releasing attachment.”

He looked at me and said, “Curt, sometimes things just suck.” I said, “Yeah, but if it’s going to suck anyway, I might as well get something out of it.”

Your life is the biggest, most intense deep-dive of a personal growth seminar you’ll ever attend. You can read books till they’re coming out your ears, listen to all the best experts, but it’s only when you have the chance to put the learning into practice that you really absorb it.

When things suck, you can either just shake your fist at life, or you can say, “Yeah, I hate this, AND what a blessing to have this intense opportunity to grow!”

Make a difference

This one does double duty. Not only does it make life feel more meaningful, it also takes you out of a focus on yourself and brings your focus to others. It’s all too easy to create an echo chamber of troubles and tribulations when you focus overly much on your own challenges.

Don’t just limit yourself to things that will make a big impressive splash. Look for ways to make a difference in your day-to-day life. Once you start looking, you’ll notice them everywhere. Paying someone a compliment. Smiling at that person in the grocery store with a scowl. Saying thank you sincerely. Letting someone know that what they do matters. Picking up litter.

Reach out for connection & support

Reach out and connect. Have fun. Help your friends when they need it. Celebrate their joys and successes and share yours. Ask for support when you need it. Let people help you.

Humans evolved to be social critters. Take advantage of that.

Love

Finally, imagine a life where your default was coming from a place of love, both for yourself and for the world around you. I don’t mean transactional, conditional love (“I’ll love you if you _______” or “unless you ______”), which is a lot of what passes for love.

I mean simply coming from a space of love. You know that feeling you get looking at a beautiful baby, or maybe even a sweet puppy, where you just kind of melt in a loving glow? That’s closer to what I’m talking about.

I recognize this is easier said than done. It’s a natural place to come from when we get out from under the layers of stories we tend to slather on our experience of life, but for most of us it’s a challenge to find consistently.

So don’t get worked up about trying to hit the mark 100%. Instead, look at the next year as an opportunity to cultivate and develop your connection to that space. Imagine if December 31st saw you spending an additional 10% of your time connected to that sense of love. Think it might make a difference?

So there you have it. Nine ways to make the coming year the best year ever. If what’s happening outside is rockin’ and rollin’, great! This will make the experience even better. If the world is going sideways for you, the ideas I have described here will help you feel a greater sense of peace despite external events.

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

Time for a career change? Start with
The Occupational Adventure Guide

Year-in-Review Question: Would I be happy with 10 more years of this?

scales

One of the things that frequently keeps us stuck in what doesn’t work is an overly narrow view of what we’re experiencing.

Let’s say you’re unhappy with your work. You know you need to make a change, but the idea of actually taking action on that kicks up a bucketload o’ fear and discomfort.

And when that fear comes up you automatically put it on a scale. Maybe consciously, maybe unconsciously. “Which of these feels more painful? The job I dislike, or the fear and uncertainty of making a change?”

All too often the fear ends up feeling heavier, and so nothing changes.

Make sure you’re making the right comparison

Frequently, the trouble is that you’re not comparing the right things. You take a look at the knot of fear that grips your stomach when you think about making a change, and compare it to the low-grade irritation you feel spending another day at work. Guess which one feels more intense?

But that’s not an accurate comparison. Unless you’re so excruciatingly unhappy that you’re not even sure you can say, “It’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick,” the discomfort you feel any given day at work is never likely to weigh more than the fear of the unknown and potential for failure.

But think about what not making a change really means. It means you’re committing not only to another day slogging through the irritation of an ill-fitting job, but also to the cumulative effect, year after year, of a job that chafes.

So to make an accurate comparison on that scale, you need to keep adding day after day of not being happy at work, year in and year out. It doesn’t take too long for that to get pretty danged heavy.

10 more years?

With all that in mind, a great year-in-review question is, “Would I be happy with ten more years of this?” If the answer is yes, great! If the answer is no, that’s a good sign you have some changes to make.

Here’s one thing I know. If the answer to that question is no, if you don’t commit to making a change for the better odds are really, really good that ten years from now you’ll look back and say, “Crap! I can’t believe I just spent the last decade tolerating this.”

Even if you can’t make a wholesale change with the flip of a switch, you can start taking steps. What one step could you take today? This week? This month? Don’t get caught up in the overwhelming bigness of whatever change you’re contemplating. Just take one step, and then another, and allow them to add up over time.

While it certainly happens, the odds are against a bad situation magically getting better by itself. You can either choose to make a change, or commit to living with it indefinitely.

I used work as an example, but you can apply this question to any area of your life. Relationships, health, life balance, etc.

So what do you think? Would you be happy with ten more years of this? If not, what’s your next step?

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

Time for a career change? Start with
The Occupational Adventure Guide

Year-in-Review Question: If I could change one thing…

Year in review: What one change would you make?

In my last post with 77 year-in-review questions, I suggested thinking about the past year as a “learning lab.” You have done all the experiments, and now it’s time to review the results to see what you learned (and ultimately how you can apply that to the coming year).

You might find 77 questions a bit overwhelming, so let’s start out by boiling it down to one:

“If I could change one thing about _________ (the decisions I made, how I showed up, how I treated people, what I did, what I didn’t do, etc.), what would that be?”

Note that this is about something you played an active role in, not something like “I would change my boss so he’s not such a jerk.”

The goal of this exercise isn’t to point out some grand deficiency to give you fodder for self-flagellation about your shortcomings. It’s simply a way to look at objectively at how the year unfolded and find the juicy opportunities for learning that will help you make a change for the better in the coming year.

Another way of thinking about it is rephrasing the question to, “What one thing have I learned from the the less-than-preferable aspects of this last year that will help me make next year better?”

Benefits of identifying one change

The beauty of this is two-fold. First, it gets you thinking about what the most important and helpful change would be. We all have things we would change as we look back. That’s just part of life. This lets you cut through the clutter and put your finger on what change would be most impactful.

Second, and related to the first, it gives you a manageable amount of change to focus on. Getting bogged down in trying to change all the things you would have done differently is a great recipe for no change at all.

Approach it with kindness and compassion

As you explore this question, please, please, please approach it with a sense of self-compassion. Especially for those of us with an especially vigorous inner critic (I call mine Brutal Bart), it can be easy for this question to become an exercise in finding yet another of the bazillion ways in which we suck more than anybody on the planet.

No, no, no! Do it with kindness. Do it with love. Do it with a positive intention to harvest the results of the last year to make the coming year better.

Apply it to multiple areas of life

If you want to expand this simplified year-in-review question, you can apply it to various aspects of your life. For example, what one thing would you change…

In your work?

In your relationships (family, friends, community)?

In your health?

In your finances?

In your spiritual life?

In your fun and leisure time?

What’s my one thing?

There’s no shortage of things I would like to change about how I showed up in the world over the last year. Two things jump out at me that I think would have a significant impact if I made changes.

Create more structure: I spin my wheels and waste a lot of time. If I could change how I approached the last year, I would institute some kind of structure for my work. Something simple to start with, like scheduling a block of time for writing every day, and then developing the discipline to stay with it.

Connecting with community: It’s easy for me to isolate and stay hunkered down in my cave. That’s especially true when things are challenging, as they have been for me this last year. If I could make one change there, I would commit to spending more time actively engaged in the communities I’m involved in.

You can see where this is going. Now that I put that out there in the context of what one thing I would change about the past, it sets me up to say, “Hey, here’s an opportunity to start creating that change!”

How about you? What one change would you make?

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

Time for a career change? Start with
The Occupational Adventure Guide

77 year-in-review questions to prepare for the new year

77 year in review questions

We’re coming up on a time of year when our attention naturally turns to new beginnings and changes for the better.

By January 31st, you will have invested 365 days of your life into the last year. You can either let that time slide into the past and start focusing on next year, or spend some time squeezing every last drop of value from it.

If you want to get the most out of the last year and gain valuable insights you can carry into your new year’s efforts for positive change, take a step back, look through an objective lens, and ask questions like, “What happened? What didn’t? What worked? What didn’t? What do I want to build on? What do I want to change? ”

Think of the last year as a “life learning lab.” You have done all the experiments. Now it’s time to learn from the results.

To get you started, below you’ll find 77 year-in-review questions coming at it from a wide range of angles. No need to try to dive deep into all of them (unless you’re a chronic over-achiever with no life – in which case, have at it!). Simply scan through and pick the questions that call to you.

You can ask any of these questions with a work focus or from the perspective of your life overall.

Digging deeper

If you want to go even deeper with any particular question, follow your immediate answer with questions to help you dig a layer further down, like, “Why? What was it about that? What contributed to that?” For example, for the question, “What drained me?” You might follow it up with, “Why? What is it about that that depleted my energy?”

The better you understand the specifics, the more useful the insight will be in guiding your future.

77 year-in-review questions

(Over the next couple weeks I will be writing posts taking a deeper look at a few of these questions, and will add links here.)

  1. On a scale of 1 – 10, how energized and alive have I felt?
  2. When have I felt “in the flow?”
  3. Where have I felt mired and stuck?
  4. Did I feel like I was on track?
  5. What would I have preferred to have had more of?
  6. What would I have preferred to have had less of?
  7. What was missing?
  8. What energized me?
  9. What drained me?
  10. How did I succeed?
  11. How did I fail? What can I learn from that?
  12. Where was the abundance in my life (not just financial)?
  13. What sucked? What can I learn from that?
  14. How am I glad I spent my time?
  15. How do I regret having spent my time?
  16. What mattered?
  17. What about how I spent my time this year will matter in ten years?
  18. What did I think was my top priority this year?
  19. What did my actions and choices show was my top priority?
  20. Did my priorities reflect how I want to live my life?
  21. How have I lived in alignment with what’s really important?
  22. How have I lived out of alignment with what’s really important?
  23. If someone I don’t know were to identify what I value purely based on how I spent my time, what would they say I value?
  24. What “empty calorie” activities have consistently taken my time?
  25. Where have I been in a rut?
  26. What am I most proud of?
  27. What do I regret most?
  28. How did I make the world a better place?
  29. Whose life is better because I touched it?
  30. What do I want to consciously bring forward into the new year?
  31. What do I want to consciously let go of?
  32. How did I show up as the person I want to be?
  33. How did I show up as a person I don’t want to be?
  34. What contributed to my success (in my work / in my relationships / in my contribution to the world/etc.)?
  35. What got in the way of my success?
  36. What felt out of balance?
  37. What changes did I make for the better?
  38. What changes did I make for the worse?
  39. What am I grateful for?
  40. Who am I grateful for?
  41. Who helped me? / What support have I gotten?
  42. Who did I help? / What support have I given?
  43. On a scale of 1 – 10, how kind have I been to myself?
  44. How has my self-talk been constructive?
  45. How has my self-talk gotten in my way?
  46. How have I shown myself love?
  47. Where has fear held me back?
  48. What stories have I been telling that have been limiting me?
  49. What have I been holding on to that I need to let go?
  50. What habits limited me?
  51. What habits supported me?
  52. What excuses have I made?
  53. How have I been compromising myself?
  54. What one thing would I change that would make the biggest impact on the quality of my life?
  55. What felt meaningful?
  56. What worries did I experience about things that never actually existed?
  57. What help did I need that I didn’t reach out for?
  58. What risks did I take? How did I step outside my comfort zone?
  59. What risks do I wish I had taken?
  60. What did I try that was new?
  61. How did the year contribute to where you want to be in 20 years?
  62. How did I invest in my future?
  63. How much did I laugh?
  64. What lessons stand out from my experiences this year?
  65. How have I lived from the heart?
  66. When have I felt at peace?
  67. When have I felt tension?
  68. The best thing about this year was ________.
  69. The worst thing about this year was ________.
  70. What advice would I give my last-year self based on what you learned and experienced this year?
  71. What inspired and motivated me?
  72. How did I challenge myself?
  73. Did I need to focus more on my own needs or the needs of others (or was the balance just right)?
  74. How did the people I spent most of my time with contribute to who I want to become and what I want to achieve?
  75. How did the people I spent most of my time with detract from who I want to become and what I want to achieve?
  76. What did I think was important that really wasn’t?
  77. What did I think wasn’t important that really was?

So there you have it. The past year has the potential to have a powerful impact on your future, simply through the insights you have the potential to gain. And the key to reaping those benefits is asking questions.

How do you prepare for the new year? Do you have any questions you regularly ask as you look back on the year that has passed? Do any of these questions strike you as particularly relevant for your life just now? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Brought to you by Curt Rosengren, Passion Catalyst TM

Time for a career change? Start with
The Occupational Adventure Guide

Wild About Work on Pinterest!

Truth is stranger than fiction! I took the Pinterest plunge last week and have been busily creating a Wild About Work resource there. Check it out!

I’m creating boards there focusing on a wide range of topics, ranging from self-exploration and self-awareness to mindfulness to physical wellness.

Stop on by. Tell your friends.

Enjoy!

 

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