In a culture where “ADD” has become a slang word, is there actually an upside to losing focus, getting bored, or yearning for some excitement? Does life seem incredibly busy but somehow mundane at the same time?
“Novelty-seeking” is a personality trait often associated with alcoholism, gambling, drug abuse, and extreme sports, and it can sometimes lead to antisocial behavior. On the other hand, novelty-seeking can also be a key ingredient to a long, rewarding, and fulfilling life by propelling discovery, challenge, growth, and well-being. We may seek novelty by learning and reading, through travel or adventure sports, new music or “novel” relationships with interesting people.
At the end of yoga class last week, as I was savoring Savasana (Corpse Pose) and reflecting on how thankful I was that my “novelty-seeking” had led me to be right where I was at that very instant, my fabulous instructor, Stacy, made reference to our need to “balance ease and effort.” Later that evening I gave Stacy’s words more thought. Balancing ease and effort can certainly be interpreted in countless ways, yet each interpretation is relevant. Our relationships require ease (comfort, trust, affection) and effort (support, empathy, patience); our jobs require ease (confidence, experience, talent) and effort (growth, learning, stretching); so too, our lives require ease (rest, peace, contentment) and effort (exertion, exploration, novelty). Is it the balance of ease and effort that distinguishes healthy novelty-seekers from erratic maniacs? I had to know and so the research began..
In his article, “What’s New? Exuberance for Novelty Has Benefits,” New York Times columnist, John Tierney reveals that novelty-seeking, in the right combination with other traits, contributes to personal well being. He writes,
Dr. Cloninger, a professor of psychiatry and genetics at Washington University in St. Louis, traced people using a personality test he developed two decades ago, The Temperament and Character Inventory. By administering the test periodically and chronicling changes in people’s lives over more than a decade, he and colleagues looked for the crucial combination of traits in people who flourished over the years – the ones who reported the best health, most friends, fewest emotional problems, and greatest satisfaction with life.
What was the secret to their happy temperament and character? A trio of traits. They scored high in novelty-seeking as well as in persistence and self-transcendence.
So there it was: novelty-seeking contributes to a flourishing life when coupled with ease (self-transcendence) and effort (persistence). Dr. Cloninger defines “self-transcendence” as, “the capacity to get lost in the moment doing what you love to do, to feel a connection to nature, humanity and the universe.” And, of course, we know first hand that tenacity and effort are components of “persistence.”
When you say, think, or hear the dreaded words, “I’m borrrreeeddd,” do not rush to squelch it with a quick game of Angry Birds or a chocolate cookie – embrace it! Feeling bored signals that it is time to grow in any of countless ways and to explore something new within the safe confines of self-transcendence and persistence – ease and effort. Don’t allow your novelty-seeking to become a short-lived impulse – be persistent and engage in something meaningful, fulfilling, and/or exciting. Perhaps you want to enroll in a new class, plan a vacation, join a special interest club, try a new sport, train for a marathon, initiate a family tradition, or learn to cook. You are too busy to be bored! Be well.
March Madness most commonly refers to NCAA basketball but let me suggest that March may indeed invoke “Madness” on many levels. The days get longer, Spring Break ensues, college acceptance letters pour in, flip flops and swimsuits re-appear, and summer plans commence – all of this with 6-8 weeks of schoolwork left to be done. In most classes, over 50% of your grade is still up for grabs. How do you focus through your serious case of Spring Fever?
In her Los Angeles Times article “Why the spring makes us feverish,” Elena Conis explains that levels of serotonin, the mood-elevating neurotransmitter, rise in the spring and may be at the root of the giddiness, energy boost, and enthusiasm that characterize spring fever. While a serotonin boost is generally positive, it can have the unintended consequence of making it harder to sit down and get your work done. Below are strategies designed to help you honor the spring while continuing to focus on these important remaining week:
▪ Begin each day with a plan: set the day’s calendar and the time allotted to each class, activity, or assignment.
▪ Prioritize your day and outside-of-class demands in order of importance.
▪ Motivate yourself with breaks, with specific start and end times, after specific tasks are completed.
▪ Savor your time walking between classes.
▪ Eat lunch outside, if possible.
▪ Enjoy 10-minute study breaks outside to take in the fresh air.
▪ Exercise daily to release your extra energy and calm your mind.
March generally indicates the beginning of the “fourth quarter” of the academic year. Do you need “ a come from behind victory” or “ to protect your lead”? Regardless, the game is not over – you still have April and a few weeks of May to battle through and go into summer knowing you played to the final buzzer but never went “mad!” Be well.
The semester is almost over and distractions are everywhere! Winter break and the holidays are so close yet feel elusive with so much to do these final days.
- Prioritize the exams that carry the most weight and will be most difficult.
- Create a calendar outlining specific study times and locations.
- Organize study groups, if desired.
- Add a constant stream of calm focus, remind yourself to remain relaxed, yet on-task.
- Silence all distractions for 25-minute intervals then allow yourself a 5-minute break to “check in.” After four intervals, take a 30 minute break to fully recharge.
- Sprinkle in a healthy diet, exercise, and sleep – (avoid massive consumption of caffeine which can backfire leading to anxiety, panic attacks, and insomnia).
- Plan study breaks – it is ok to enjoy coffee with a friend or go to a holiday party, as long as you plan for it.
You have worked hard all semester. Finish strong – there will plenty of time for relaxing and catching up with friends over your well-deserved break!
Live well/Be well
There is a reason that every CEO of a publicly traded company has a Board of Directors. The Board’s job is to question, inform, and support the CEO and the company. The Board is often comprised of individuals of various ages, occupations, talents, and experiences and this eclectic group is intended to compliment each other’s strengths – to be better collectively than individually. This idea is relevant in our personal lives, as well. That is exactly why I am so thankful for my personal BOD.
There are times when we have all felt proud to say, “I did it myself – it was all me!” We ask our children, “Did you clean your room all by yourself?” “Did you complete that puzzle alone?” But is that ever really true? Isn’t everything that we accomplish the result of the experiences, relationships, and opportunities that we have had along the way? Even the often mundane task of making dinner is the result of farmers, ranchers, grocers, suppliers, moms, dads, grandmothers, and countless others.
Just before Thanksgiving, my beloved 95-year old grandmother fell and broke her hip and wrist. My mom, an only child, was insistent that the responsibility for Grammy’s recovery and well-being fell solely on her, even as my sisters and I tried to share the load of discovery and decision-making. While we had no doubt that my mom would ultimately make the right decisions for my grandmother, we were committed to easing the burden that she felt. Countless doctors, nurses, social workers, cousins, and friends were on board as well and after three long weeks, her recovery has taken an upward turn! Like my mom, I have three children and as they have become young adults, I value and treasure their insights and knowledge. They often serve as my cheerleaders, confidants, and even my editors! I consider my children, husband, friends, family, clients, and colleagues to be extensions of myself and am proud and grateful for their contributions. These relationships add clarity, depth, and strength to my life! I fondly consider these treasured people my personal Board of Directors!
As the year draws to a close, it is a great time to identify your Board Of Directors. Who makes you stronger, wiser, and better than before?! Make this a time to not only identify these valued individuals but to acknowledge them. Sure there will be times when you want to exclaim, “I did it myself – it was all me!” Just remember that your personal BOD does not diminish your relevance or impact; rather it supports and enhances it!
Live well/Be well.
Are you the “smart,” “pretty,” “funny,” or “quirky” one? Are you “a hard worker,” “a slacker,” or “a nerd?” From infancy, we are defined by others: “She is such an easy baby” (compared to who?), “He is so smart” (by whose standards?). Later, we struggle to define ourselves as the athlete, the techie, the prep, or the intellect. Throughout our lives and in different environments, our definitions of ourselves change.
How do you define yourself, or should I ask, how do you limit yourself? When we try to “define” who we are and what we will become, we impose needless limitations on ourselves and our possibilities. We label ourselves so early in our lives that our perceived limitations are more likely to become reality due to lack of exposure, experience, or confidence, rather than innate talent. Can you imagine living with the same technology that you had twenty years ago? Then why should you live with the same personal limitations that you set in the 80s? As the world is changing, growing, and advancing, you can too.
What are your misguided perceptions and assumptions that keep you from stepping out of your comfort zone? By identifying and addressing our personal definitions, we bring them to a state of conscious awareness where we are able to objectively address them. Just because you have never been an athlete doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try yoga or run a 5-K. Just because you couldn’t draw a stick figure in high school, doesn’t mean you wouldn’t enjoy an art class. I have clients who are exercising for the first time in their lives, returning to school, changing careers, and quitting smoking. Personally, I am addressing large audiences and authoring a newsletter- pretty surprising for a “shy girl!” While the discovery process often brings on feelings of vulnerability and fear, it is from that perspective that growth ensues.
It is time to stop “defining” ourselves, and begin to “discover” all of our amazing, confusing, and often conflicting aspects. By living our lives in a quest for self-discovery and personal growth, we recognize that life is full of opportunities. While we may not know exactly where we will land, the fun is in the journey.
Join me and together we will challenge our “definitions” and begin the process of self-discovery. Each moment, we have an opportunity to discover something new about ourselves. When we spend our time and energy on people and endeavors that interest and engage us, we create opportunities and relationships that we never anticipated. While honoring our values, the discovery process is sure to add joy, love, and excitement to our lives!
Live well/Be well.
I have been a runner since I was 15 years old. I do not just run; running is a part of who I am. It is an integral and important part of my life. Running is my zen, my peace, my balance. It gives me a sense of self and accomplishment. So, you can imagine how devastated I was this past fall when I began to experience severe pain in my right hamstring. I visited doctors, chiropractors, masseuses, physical therapists, and surgeons. I received countless recommendations and diagnoses, but they all led me to the same conclusion – I was running too much. Bad answer. I did not accept that easily.
I continuously “self-coached,” telling myself to focus on what was within my control; to focus on what I could do, not what I couldn’t do. But try as I may, I wasn’t finding anything that filled my void. I tried walking, zumba, pilates, and swimming. I found nothing: no zen, no zone. Finally, I tried spin class. I have to admit that the idea of riding a bike inside a gym with no destination was not enticing but, I was on a desperate quest. The first few classes I attended were promising—not great, but promising. I continued to go, and soon spin became my alternative to pounding the pavement. My hamstring is on the mend, and I am now back to running a couple of days a week. I feel grateful for each painless step.
July 4th weekend my family and I were in the Texas hill country, when my husband suggested a bike ride. A bike ride in the hills was something that I had previously avoided at all costs but, I wasn’t really up for a run so I agreed. We started off with cautious optimism. After all, “We can always get off and walk our bikes.” Much to my surprise, I only had to get off my bike once! Never before, even in my 20s, had I ever been able to ride my bike in the hills. My legs had never been strong enough. I was giddy! We had such a great ride, and I can’t wait to do it again!
We have all been told, “When God closes a door, he opens a window.” As we get older or injured and our bodies don’t cooperate like they used to, we can definitely feel the door closing, and it’s not so easy to find the window. We can choose to resign and accept what we are given or to press on in search of a, “new normal.” If we do nothing, nothing will happen. There is something on the other side of every disappointment and adjustment, as long as we keep looking for it.
Have you ever had an emotion jump out of no where and surprise you? I’m in the business of emotions. I study them, listen to them, and coach myself and others on how to experience them in the most productive ways. So my emotional reaction to my youngest daughter today surprised me as much as it did her. Here’s the story:
Yesterday morning one of my longtime clients came in. We had a productive session, at the conclusion of which, she asked how I was doing. I briefly filled her in at which time she volunteered that a friend of hers had recently become an empty nester. My client shared that it had been a difficult time for her friend and asked me how I was doing as empty-nesterhood approaches. I assured her that I feel really good. I feel engaged, fulfilled and prepared for my next stage. I admitted that August would be difficult for me but that I would be ok. My thoughts were honest and complete.
Fast forward six hours…that’s right, just six hours later, my youngest daughter called on her way home from school. She had gotten out early for the feared and highly anticipated “2011 Great Houston Blizzard.” Stacy informed me that school had indeed been cancelled for Friday and that she would be spending the night at her friend, Emma’s. That is when it happened. I was pummeled. I don’t know why I had such an enormous blind spot. How had I not even considered for a single second that she may not want to be home cuddling and chilling with me and her daddy on our day off. Why had I envisioned us drinking hot cocoa by the fire in our jammies together? She is a high school senior with wonderful friends – of course that was her plan. Was I delusional? What makes it worse is my disappointment came pouring out of my mouth before I could even stop it. “You’re not going to be at home?!” “ I thought you would want to catch up on your sleep.” “The roads will be bad and Emma lives so far away.” I even went as far as to say, “Last time it snowed you were at Emma’s because I was at the hospital with Mimi!.” OMG. What had I just done? I couldn’t believe that I had sunk that low. Immediately I replayed the words in my head and apologized before Stacy even had a chance to respond. It all happened 1-2-3 but the damage was done. I had made her feel guilty – something I have tried so hard never to do. We hung up and I cried.
So Stacy went to Emma’s and my husband and I went out for a delicious dinner with a darling young couple, ran into a bunch of friends and generally, had a wonderful evening. The Great Blizzard never came, but the sad feelings didn’t return either. What’s my take-away from all this? Like most things, it is all about my favorite three words: patience, persistence, not perfection. I will be patient with myself through this transition, I will continue to focus on the positive and create opportunities for further growth, engagement and happiness and will recognize that as hard as I may try, I am not perfect and will never be. And just to let myself off the hook a little bit, the worst that happened out of all of this was that Stacy was reminded how much I love her and how much I will miss her when she leaves for college in six months. We are both so blessed.
Live well/Be well.