Consider Changing Your Routine

I’ve probably said this before; I like routines.  It’s soothing for me to have a plan.  This doesn’t mean I won’t (or can’t) change my plans; nevertheless I enjoy making rough plans.  For years, Thursday and Friday were my prime laundry days.  I certainly had to change that for vacations and when the days filled up with other things, yet I would simply choose another more fitting day for that week.  When I started taking a class, it made sense to completely change my laundry plan.  I decided Tuesday and Wednesday would work better.

The strangest thing happened – at the end of the week I felt tremendously lighter.  It was like a load had been lifted (no laundry pun intended!).  I was no stricter with myself about being flexible.  I was simply less stressed.  And I don’t have an explanation.  Yet not understanding the logic of this doesn’t make it less true.  I feel tremendously better and months later, it holds true.

This is something I would not predict – for myself or anyone else.  We all have things we have to accomplish each week and each month.  This is true whether we plan for those things or not.  I certainly believe that we each have our own way of approaching things – from planning to how we handle our chores.

It can be amazing the effect of making some small alterations to our behaviors. They cannot always be predicted or even predictable.  This is one of the reasons I am a fan of trying things out, looking at things like an experiment and seeing what the effects are.   Years ago I did this with mowing the lawn.  I varied all sorts of factors from the basics of whether I mowed the front or back yard first, to directions and height.  This also revealed something rather strange to me – doing the backyard first left me more tired at the end.  I see no logic to this, yet it held true over and over.  If I had not experimented, I would not know this.

Have you ever noticed a difference in your energy level when you are caught up – when you don’t have tons of things left on your list to do?  This is what I think about with the “eat the frog” idea – you do the most important and hardest things first each day.  When I apply this, I feel more on top of things – I don’t have them hanging over me, knowing I still need to get to them.

These are some of the ways I notice changes happening around me.  And those changes can have profound effects on me.  As I’ve talked about before, embrace change – the freedom to play with it in your life can open up doors you didn’t even recognize before.  This doesn’t mean you need to regiment your life into routines (who wants that degree of control?), yet experiment and find your own way to be lighter and happier.

Information Collecting

You might say that I am an information junkie.  I love learning and there is so much out there I could learn.  And it seems like it’s getting easier and easier to have access to a plethora of information – at your fingertips, whenever you want.  I will hold myself back from a rant about the reliability of this information, yet with the Internet so accessible, there’s tons of information to be had.  We might not stop and think about our collecting in this realm.

Our collecting information might be fairly limited to certain topics or it might be more general.  It doesn’t matter which one it is if you have a tendency to collect it.  It’s relatively easy to collect information and physically less cluttered if it’s digital.  Nevertheless, it’s collecting in either form.  We don’t see the space in the same way when it’s digital, yet this doesn’t mean it’s not getting cluttered.

First, is your collecting of information getting in your way? How much time and energy are you spending on collecting this information? Are you referencing this information again? Can you find what you know you saved when you want it again?  Do you have guilt that you aren’t using the information you’ve collected?

Just like with most stuff that you can collect, if you are keeping it, you don’t want to be controlled by it.  It’s there to serve and help you. Period. You also want to be able to easily find it.  Since information these days is both physical and digital, it can be challenging to keep everything together.  (I’m moving strongly into the digital realm, as it’s searchable and saves paper.)  It doesn’t matter which one suits you as long you make it work for you.

Sometimes this means taking a hard look at what your response is to information.  Do you have a desire to collect it?  If you collect it and then do something with it, then there’s nothing wrong.  If you seem to have information that you haven’t even looked at, it’s time to consider what matters in your life.  Do you want to spend your time and energy going through and examining all that information? (Are you really going to make time and energy to do that?) More importantly, are you going to continue to collect information for this unknown future point when you will use it?

How much are you collecting because it “might be useful one day”? Do you lack the confidence that you could find the information when it became relevant?  Have you thought about how fast information changes, so saving something that might be relevant down the road might really be saving irrelevant information?

I struggle with these limits.  As I’ve already said, I love learning.  When I look on my computer or at my papers, I’ve been amazed by how much I’ve saved.  It’s hard to part with them – yet this is exactly what I’ve been doing – examining what I’ve kept and tossing what I can.  I’ve also made some changes in how I handle information: I’m starting to scan certain things and I’m re-organizing the digital information so I can access it more readily.

As with all organizing projects, I see it as a process.  Your vision can change at any moment.  Additionally, our first step really needs to be examining what we’re collecting and considering what happens for us with collecting.  Even the most organized person collects – it’s what they do with the collecting that differentiates them.  Is the information you are collecting worth your time and energy? Challenge yourself with your answer – it can open up a new way of viewing your stuff.

The Balance – of life, stuff, everything

Many years ago I learned about the yin-yang symbol and it immediately resonated with me.  The balance of everything.  Not that life is as evenly balanced as the symbol, yet the idea that with everything, there is another perspective or aspect that we might not think about or even realize.  Initially for me it was that it wasn’t all black or white, that there is a lot of gray – the mix of the black and white.  And even if it appeared to be one thing, it didn’t necessarily make it so.

Life is constantly changing, sometimes in large ways, more often in small ways that we might not recognize.  We’re shifting sometimes from day to day.  I know I will go through phases where a temporary collection of things that are piled up will just about drive me batty, while there’s other times that I can accept that it’s only temporary and also accept that it will get done in time.  There’s a great organizing book that talks about this early on, the natural fluctuations that we all go through again and again over our lives – Making Peace with the Things in Your Life (review coming next week).

The extremes of black and white are on a spectrum, if we didn’t have darkness how would we know light.  And vice versa.  How often do we get caught up in thinking in terms of all or nothing?  Consider your language – as this can be a clue, do you say things are always or never…?  This is an extreme – how often are things “always” or “never”, if you would pause to play devil’s advocate? That’s probably why it’s called black or white thinking – it’s ignoring or discounting the gray between those two extremes.  When we’re really caught up in this, we miss the pieces that would shift us back to the middle ground.

There’s also the idea that within each of these extremes, there is a part of the opposite. Although my understanding is that the symbol isn’t about positive and negative per se, this is part of how I look at this symbol.  Even with the most negative experience, there is something positive that you can take away from it.  On some level this ties in with what I said above, nothing is truly black or white – these are extremes.  From my perspective, there’s always something you can learn from your experiences – if not about yourself, about someone else, or the situation.

I now wear a pair of yin-yang earrings at all times, an expression of my belief that we might not see the whole picture immediately, yet it’s there. This image is my reminder to look deeper, and to not stay in one extreme for too long. I was so fascinated with this idea that when I was searching for a cat to be company for the one I already I had – I picked an all white kitten, a good match for the all black one I already had. They were my yin-yang cats, a reminder that things balance and aren’t always what they appear to be initially.

It’s all about how we look at things. The perspective we take or more importantly how we challenge our perspective, looking for alternatives.  And there is a balance to life – even if it doesn’t appear to be true at the moment.

Your Needs and Values

It’s interesting how these words keep coming into my life.  A friend shared an article about living a values focused life and in the coaching program I’m in, we’ve talked about values and needs – both for ourselves as well as for our clients.  Each student was given slips of paper with words on them and we chose 3-4 words (some say values are 6-10) to identify our values and then again for our needs.

We all know that “needs” are things we can’t live without, yet in some ways it’s more than that.  These are also our personal principles and priorities – the things we need to make sure life is working for us.  These are the values and desires of what matters most to us and they help to create a meaningful life.  As you will see, this is also beyond the basic elements to keep us alive, things that we all need, and is more about personally what our individual needs are – those things that if we didn’t have, there would be a hole.

These are 4 that I’ve identified for my needs: introspection, nature, connection, and self-worth.

What are your needs?

Then we look at our values.  These are things that are your personal qualities or passions.  What is important as you live each day?  What is integral to who you are at your core?  This is a reflection of what matters as you live your life and who you really are.   These are often things that we cherish both in ourselves as well as others, when someone else shares or expresses the same value.

These are 5 that I’ve identified for my values: accountability (self), honesty, creativity, tolerance, and knowledge.

What are your values?

If your needs are not getting met, it can be a challenge to lead that a life that is fulfilling and meaningful for yourself.  These are things that you make sure are part of your life – and the first step to living a life that works for you.  Once you identify your needs, you can then integrate them into your life.

Once you are getting your needs met, you then need to focus on your values.  Our values are shaped by all of our cumulative life experiences and are our compass for directing our choices.

In general terms, when we try to develop new habits and make changes to our life, it can be challenging.  We might know what we need to do to get where we want to go – yet that doesn’t mean it just happens.  How do your goals relate to your needs and values?  When we set goals and make decisions based on our values, it’s more satisfying to accomplish them.

You are more than your job, your home, your clutter, your procrastination, your health, etcetera.  Who are you down at your core?  These are the pieces to remember as life happens – your needs and values.

Clearance and Discount Items – Really a Value?

I’ve been known to be frugal.  I cringe at the price of things; lately that’s been the cost of binders.  My mind is boggled by how much they cost.  This leads me to search for items in discount stores and the clearance section of stores hoping to save my money.  I also frequently browse the dollar area of stores looking for great products at a discounted price.  And you might have already guessed this – there is often a high cost to purchases made in this way.

Let me continue with my search for 3-ring binders.  I went to countless stores searching for less expensive binders.  Some stores had binders at the same price as the typical office supply stores.  Other stores did have binders at a lower price, sometimes not at a significantly lower price.  A couple of stores had some binders in their clearance area.  I cannot tell you how much time I spent driving around and going shopping, which isn’t something I enjoy anyway.  It was all in the effort of saving money and I was motivated.  First off, how much did I really save by all the time, energy, and gas I spent on this quest?

Secondly and maybe more importantly, those less expensive binders I did buy are breaking apart – whether they came of the clearance areas or the discount stores.  I didn’t save myself anything.  Although I spent less money initially, the quality was poor and I needed to get more binders. (Thank goodness for Unikeep’s Ecobinders.)

This is one of the things we don’t always think about when we’re searching to save money – the clearance and discounted items are often less sturdy.  If we think about it, this makes sense – how can something be so inexpensive here and nowhere else?  It’s logical that the quality is less than the “normal.”

I was shopping with a friend and we were looking through the dollar items at a store.  I had stopped at a container, it was a style that I’ve been intrigued with yet don’t want to spend the money to get (at least until I have a strong purpose for it).  It was tempting; it was only a dollar.  I picked it up and was looking at it.  Then I noticed that one of the corners was all smashed up.  I put it down and moved down the aisle.  Then my friend saw the same container and got excited.  I commented how poorly it must be made since a corner was smashed in.  She too put the container back down and moved along.  If one was so easily smashed in, it really suggests the quality isn’t up to the standards of similar containers.

If you examine the discounted items at stores, you can offer discover why they are offering those items at a lower price.  Without naming a store, I was intrigued with a display table of discounted items from a familiar brand – ooh a chance to save some money.  I picked up several of the offerings to see if I needed any of them and played with them.  It quickly became apparent why they were discounted though if I hadn’t stopped to “play” with them, I wouldn’t have realized the poor quality.  It was quite unexpected, as I said, it was a familiar brand, yet whether these were factory problems or just bad design – the products were defective.  That didn’t stop the company from putting them on a nice display table in the middle of the store to tempt people into spending some money to get them.

Sometimes it’s not so easy to tell when something is poor quality, yet pausing to ask yourself, to consider the idea that if these items are being offered at such a reduced price there is likely to be something less than ideal about them.  Stores play on our desire to save money by enticing us with clearance and discounted items – “we’ll get such a deal.”  Even some of the binders I looked in the clearance areas of the office stores were there because of faulty design, which wasn’t apparent until I pulled it off the shelf and started to examine them.

Those discounted and clearance items can certainly be tempting.  I’ve been burned by an impulse decision to save some money and grabbing the item off the shelf and into my cart.  Now, I’ve learned and I closely examine each item for defects and hints of lesser quality.  (Heck this is a good idea no matter where the item is found, as I’ve found poor quality items sitting in their section.)  I haven’t stopped exploring those clearance areas – you can find good deals there – although it’s wise to approach it cautiously.

I hope you will consider “why” a company would be selling something for such a discounted price the next time a clearance item calls to you.  🙂

Cultivate Curiosity

In this line of work, I run into too many people who are busy “should-ing” on themselves – “I should have done more”, “I ought to have time for that”, “I never get enough done” and on and on.  And my heart breaks a little.  I get it, it does hit close to home for me too, yet this doesn’t help anyone get more accomplished.  Most often this can even derail our efforts to improve.  We’re too preoccupied feeling badly, angry, frustrated, whatever and this doesn’t move us any closer to our goals.  To some extent we become stuck.

“How do I get unstuck then?”

If we can cultivate curiosity about ourselves we can solve many of our struggles.  One of the key pieces of this though is that we need to rid ourselves of the judgment that comes along with looking at what we do and why.  Has there ever been a time when criticizing yourself has helped you get past a struggle or to solve a problem?

Instead, try to step back and examine what is causing your difficulties.  Sometimes this benefits from a compare and contrast – so if it’s a particular chore – what is different about this chore compared to another chore you accomplish with minimal challenge?  The answers you come up with could be a long list, as you want to consider as many different factors as possible: time of day, effort, energy, time consuming, complicated/simple, boring/interesting, dreaded/exciting, rewarding, etc.

Even if you cannot compare it to something else, you can examine what that thing brings up for you.  What is it about that thing that has you resisting it? When you start to get the clues for where your struggles are, you can then start making changes to how you approach that thing.

In trying to make this applicable to many situations, this is vague.  Therefore, let me give you an example.  I was often procrastinating mowing the lawn.  One of the major factors was the dread of lugging out of and back into the basement.  Another factor was feeling like it was extremely time consuming.  The first factor has now been dealt with as we have a garage, but until that happened, there wasn’t much I could do about it.  The second factor – time – I could discover how much time it actually took up, so I timed it.  From lugging it up, mowing the front and back yard, and lugging it back down, it took me 45 minutes.  From that point onward I could easily dismiss mowing as an option if I didn’t have that much time and could plan when I would have enough time.  I also began to stop procrastinating it as much, yes, I did qualify that, I will sometimes still procrastinate doing it, though it gets less and less as time goes on.

There are other chores I dislike because they seem dull, and I can take my iPad and play a show on it while I work or vacuum during commercials.  Obviously I don’t need to watch it intently, it’s a way to make the chores a little more interesting.  The point is that I’ve approached my quirks (my resistances) with curiosity, identified what factors contribute to my resistance to accomplishing them, and then found ways to lessen the resistance.  Even when I falter and don’t get it done when or how I would like, I work at giving myself a break.

Is there another way to look at the chore (or whatever you are struggling with)?  Much of our lives deal with perspectives – the way we decide to look at things.  Yes, it is a choice and this means we can change the way we view things.  Therefore we can decide to look at that dreaded chore differently.  This rarely happens overnight, but if we discover the reasons that matter to us as an individual, we can begin to make the changes.

For me, making the bed was one of these.  I didn’t care much if it was made or not and I struggled with wanting it to be near perfect if it were made.  This meant I spent time and energy walking back and forth around the bed fixing it.  Then I timed myself lying in bed doing a sort ‘snow angel’, slipping out from under the covers, and doing some minor straightening – under 2 minutes.  Then I started appreciating the made bed when it was time to go to bed at night.  I stopped looking at making the bed as a chore; rather it became something to look forward to – a nicely made bed –at the end of the day.

What is it about this situation that causes you difficulties?  Thinking about the answers for yourself can help lead you to the answers you need to make the necessary changes.  Don’t get me wrong, you might not find THE answer on the first try.  Nevertheless it will lead you toward the solutions you need.

Get curious.

Delaying Gratification

If you were told that you would get 2 marshmallows if you could wait for 15 minutes while 1 marshmallow was sitting in front of you – could you wait? What if you were between 4-6 years old? This was a study, called Stanford Marshmallow experiment, done in the late 1960s (of all the articles and blogs I read, the information varied a lot between all of them). This study has fascinated me from the first time I heard about it (Crucial Conversations- book & my blog), and somehow references to this study keep coming into my life.

The initial results were that about 30% of the children were able to wait the 15 minutes to receive the 2nd marshmallow; they weren’t told to not eat the first marshmallow, they could just with the consequences of not getting a second marshmallow. Yet, of the children who managed to wait, many years later were the ones who scored higher on their SATs and had longer lasting relationships – they had a higher resiliency than their peers who couldn’t stop themselves from eating the marshmallow before the 15 minutes were up.

What made the children who could wait different from those you didn’t? Often the children that resisted eating the marshmallow, found ways to distract themselves from the temptation sitting there – they looked at the ceiling and sang a song, cover their eyes, kicked the table, etc. – essentially not focusing on the marshmallow.

You might be able to glean then why these “long delayers” scored higher on their SATs and in general seemed to be more successful – they had the skills to put off pleasurable activities to accomplish things. They would be able to resist going to a party in order to stay in and study. Many people are talking about how this is self-control – and yes, it is, the self- control to delay gratification.

Every day we face temptations. How we respond to these are what matters – and now I tend to think about marshmallows. I don’t know that I would have managed to wait long enough to eat two of them as a child, yet this doesn’t mean I can’t stretch those self-control “muscles” now.

The scientists are continuing to study the original group and other studies on this also are active. There is some data to suggest that we can learn how to become “long-delayers” – and focus our attention away from the temptation and avoid giving in. I think this requires enough practice to have success – we need the positive reinforcement, even internally, to have the motivation to keep stretching that self-control muscle.

The marshmallow study is motivation for me – the idea pops up periodically and I then pause to consider what self-control might be applied. Sometimes it’s walking away from a tempting purchase for a period of time. Sometimes it’s putting things away before I sit down and relax. Sometimes it’s waiting for time to pass and see if the desire is real – like the temptation to eat. Sometimes it’s exercising when I don’t really feel like doing it – not procrastinating when it would be “easy.” In essence, I try to apply this to most areas of my life.

Can the marshmallow study be motivation for you too? How would you apply it to your own life and choices?

What Type Are You?

There’s something I really struggle with when writing this weekly blog. Do you have any guesses? It’s not coming up with ideas to write about.  It’s not about making time to write and edit it (though I could be better here). It’s not worrying about whether it provides value to you, the reader, though I do want it to be helpful.  What it is for me – how to explain one way of doing something while I know that there are variants upon variants of how to approach the exact same struggle.

In the most recent coaching class we worked with processing modalities.  I learned about these in Gardner’s Frames of Mind, where he talked about the school system teaching in limited modalities and this neglected the children who learned in non-traditional ways, yet they were equally intelligent. I was fascinated.  Similarly, Meyer-Briggs (in Please Understand Me) can help classify how you interact and relate through 16t types, leaving you with 4 letters to describe yourself (the first one being whether you are an introvert or an extrovert).

Although these have interested me, they can be used to limit yourself – at least if you are willing to be boxed in by the results.  Really, they are designed to help you see the spectrum that makes you the unique individual that you are.

So, Jennifer, what exactly is your point here?

We need to embrace who we are and find those unique systems that work for you, the individual. It can be challenging for me, in this blog, to provide a specific solution for everyone since we’re all different. This is why when I come to your home, I do not advocate one way of doing something.  I love to recommend tools and tricks in order for you to learn what might work for you.

Let me give you an example: I had one client who worked from her bed.  There was no health problem to induce this approach – it was simply her preference.  Other people would be quite uncomfortable working in their bed. Does it make it wrong for her to work in bed? Certainly not. It works for her and we set things up so that the things she worked on would be nearby – easy to retrieve and put away.  I would never go into a client’s a recommend they work in their bed because it worked for this one person.  So, what works for you?

In order to figure out systems for yourself, you do need to be aware of your tendencies and preferences. It helps to look at both what encourages and discourages you.  This is something to accept in yourself, not judge or try to change.  Another client really resisted doing anything unless she could hear the television.  Happily, she wasn’t embarrassed about it and we developed some systems so her tasks could be accomplished near the TV. What are the reasons for your resistance? Too hard, too complicated, too time consuming, too _________.  What are the reasons for your successes?  Easy, simple, fast, rewarding, _________.

My cognitive strength supports me in the near constant problem solving I offer my clients, yet encompasses the clients strengths so they get systems that work for them. Although I will talk about this approach or that approach to something – there is such a plethora of choices on how to tackle any struggle.  As the modalities point out, we are all unique and this means we use our strengths to make things work for us and most importantly support us in the life we want to lead.

Negativity – Nip it in the Bud Now

A few weeks ago, I found myself leaving some client’s homes feeling very frustrated.  I realize most of you don’t know me, yet this is not typical.  To make matters even more interesting, it wasn’t about the clients. No, really it wasn’t.  It was actually about the family members I had been interacting with for a couple of moments here or there.  Part of me wanted to absolutely scream at them! Sometimes wishing I could shake them – jostle some compassion into them.

It also had me wanting to grab and squeeze my clients, hoping I could through osmosis make them not believe the negativity.  I know how challenging it can be to contradict the negativity of others.  Especially when they come from someone you love.  My frustration was coming from seeing the insensitivity to my client.  How pointless to comment on how “easy” or “simple” this should be – at least according to them, and not considering the client’s struggles or even that they’ve asked for help.  That’s why I am there after all (and hearing the comments).

Many people have different ways of approaching the same thing – while the end goal is relatively the same.  Often the struggles of getting to that place can be overwhelming.  Every person I work with has beautiful strengths, as well as the requisite challenges (this is called being human) and follows his or her own process.  They work at different speeds and make progress in different ways.

Can you allow this for yourself?  Can you have the strength to be whom you are and where you are at without negativity filling you?

The family members aren’t always the ones being critical.  Often it is the client themselves, beating themselves up.  Labeling themselves as this or that; at least this I can try to address directly.  Negativity rarely serves any of us well.  How often does it help you tackle that project?  Or think outside the box to come up with a different solution to this struggle?

I truly wish that organizing could be easier – and easy for everyone.  Just imagine the way our quality of life would improve! Also, frustration does often seem to come from love and the feeling of helplessness – the inability to help make a difference.  In the meantime, stop the negativity – whether from yourself or from listening to it from others. There’s no easy answer to this, yet beginning to be aware of it and contradicting it.  Discover your strengths and remind yourself of these.

NCRW Huh, What’s That?

Do you know what I believe about you?  Yes, you – each and every person who is reading this (and even those who are not).  You are “naturally creative, resourceful, and whole” just as you are.  I believe this about all of us.  This is how I approach each client I have and every person I deal with from day to day (or at least as best as I can!).  It is also a major component for the International Coach Federation, where this is listed in the first sentence in their Code of Ethics.

I’ve taken the first class on coaching, where we had a group to practice with each week.  We spent time talking about NCRW (naturally creative, resourceful, and whole) and how sometimes we’re tempted to jump in and “help” people.  We inadvertently rescue the client instead of helping them find their own way.  I’ve struggled with this sometimes, not from believing that they’re not capable, but from wanting to help them.

Early in my organizing career, I had a client who kept asking me what she needed to do.  I kept responding that I wasn’t here to tell her what to do; I was here to help her figure out what she needed for herself.  I did not have THE answers for her.  I’ve always said that we’re all different and what works for one of us will not necessarily work for another one of us.  I can bring up possibilities, ideas to explore whether they fit you, and even share some observations from my experience and knowledge.

I’m good at what I do, maybe more so because I’m not going to step in and start telling you what you need to do and how to do it.  You are naturally creative, resourceful, and whole.  I want to help you discover how true this is and provide support (and accountability as needed) as you navigate your struggles.  As simplistic as these terms are, let’s look at their definitions:

  • Creative: 1) having the quality or power of creating 2) resulting from originality of thought, expression, etc.; imaginative
  • Resourceful: ingenious, capable, and full of initiative, esp in dealing with difficult situations
  • Whole: 1) comprising the full quantity, amount, extent, number, etc., without diminution or exception; entire, full, or total 2) containing all the elements properly belonging; complete 3) undivided; in one piece 4) not broken, damaged, or impaired; intact    — All from

Believing these things about yourself might be challenging, especially as you face the struggles you’re having.  Yet, having struggles and places where you are challenged, you are still creative, resourceful, and whole.  When you work or just interact with me – that is where I come from and regardless of what you are dealing with.  You can be NCRW and still need help.  Sometimes this can be the hardest step – acknowledging and asking for help.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes it seems easier to believe that about other people more than you can believe it about yourself.  At least that’s often how I’ve felt. Yet, what would the people who love you say to you about this?  What would you say to a friend struggling like you are?  We’re surprisingly more kind to others than we are to ourselves.

There’s always room to learn and grow – learn more about yourself, how you work/function, what causes you to struggle with this piece or that piece.  As we learn and grow, we recognize more and more how true NCRW is and can let go of some (maybe even all) of the negativity we pile on ourselves.  So remember, I believe that you, yes you, are naturally creative, resourceful, and whole.  🙂