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Archive for the ‘ME FIRST’ Category

For some reason I awoke this morning in a searching frame of mind. What kept emerging through this search was GRACE. I have always considered GRACE as one of the four pillars of my work and life. I define it as ‘ Being is a state of Grace with the world and within your relationships; allowing yourself to surrender and be in the flow.’

As I continued my rumination my mind tracked back, remembering a chapter in the ME FIRST Playbook in regard to the GRACE Diet. Themes repeat themselves in my life and I saw this as a SIGN to resurrect and review some of the tools and exercises I have created in the past. Memory is an interesting thing for me as I often lose sight of what I have written and taught over the years, not in a way that invalidates it, simply that my mind marches on.

Given the body of work I have accumulated, moving on at this point may mean returning to what I have known and practiced and resurrect the principles, ideas and teaching which have been the backbone of my work. Since I have been called back to GRACE, I have decided to use this as my starting point.

The GRACE Diet was created to address the junk food diet many of us feed ourselves on a daily basis. I am not referring to the food you put into your body in the context of what you consume, rather the diet you are feeding your spirit. Are your words to self spiritually uplifting or depleting? And if you have developed the art of putting yourself down, how can you begin re-programming that inner conversation. This is where the GRACE diet comes in, an acronym standing for Gratitude, Respect, Acknowledgment, Courage and Enthusiasm.

Gratitude: gratitude practices are bountiful these days, whether you keep a gratitude journal, have a daily practice of sharing gratitude with friends, or at the end of day as a before bed ritual. It is easy to assume that such a simple practice is fluffy or unsubstantial yet research has shown that those who practice gratitude regularly are more positive in their view of themselves and of life. Knowing this, why not give it a try. I can personally testify that I have had a daily gratitude practice for over twenty years and it is an activity that fuels my positivity every day.

Here is your opportunity– try the 21 day gratitude challenge, recording 3-5 gratitudes every day for 21 days in a gratitude journal and see what happens. Gratitude helps you notice what is right with your life.

Respect: I am referring to self-respect. In fact you can not elicit respect from others if you do not respect yourself. This is a simple truth. Time to check your inner dialogue and listen to the stories you are weaving about yourself. Remember that a large portion of your story was never yours; it was given to you by others – a parent, a teacher, a friend, some external source. What they saw or believed is not yours to own. Respect implies that you begin to see the truth of who you are and re-direct the inner-critic to becoming your inner-coach. Most importantly begin simply with I am enough.

Your opportunity: listen in to your inner dialogue, record the five most common things you tell yourself and, if they are not uplifting, re-write them. Now say them to yourself repeatedly. You are now in the process of ‘neural re-programming’, creating a new inner pathway.

Acknowledgment: acknowledgment marries gratitude and respect, in fact I often refer to self-acknowledgment as the highest form of gratitude. This takes respect a step deeper but encouraging you to see the gifts and strengths you possess, the impact you have in the world, the important roles you play in the lives of others. This is no small thing even though you may not feel important. I refer to it as the highest form of gratitude as self- acknowledgment means thanking your higher power for the gifts you possess, whether this refers to your abilities within your career, as a parent of family member, for your creativity or expertise. It goes like this, ‘I acknowledge my love for writing and relaying messages of hope and selfness to others.’

Your opportunity: as part of the 21 day gratitude journal, add on 2-3 self-acknowledgment statements. You might be surprised at what you learn about yourself. BTW a great source for self-acknowledgment can be harvested from the feedback you receive from others.

Courage: courage is the backbone of GRACE. The ME FIRST journey is not for the faint of heart, it is for the brave. It is easy to go through life accepting everything, never addressing your inner dialogue and riding the wave of self-deprecation. It may not be healthy yet many people will not addressing it on. Trust me; it takes courage to face yourself, go inward, re-shape the inner landscape, face the self-critic and tell him/her they are out of date, and design a new conversation. And those who choose not to join you on the journey will share their skepticism and endeavor to pull you back. Courage, listening to your heart – it desperately wants to heal, which wants to guide you forward into a more positive and beneficial relationship with yourself.

Your opportunity: create a daily practice where you pause, reflect and ask your heart, not your head, what it wants. Simply listen in.

Enthusiasm: begin to identify moments of joy in your life; pay attention to what lifts you up; limit your access to negative news (lord knows there is plenty of that these days), and play with people who generally have an optimistic attitude. In other words, feed your enthusiasm for life. Allow yourself to dream and consider the future. Share those dreams with others and encourage them to share theirs. Create a vision board that lights you up and which, when you look at it, inspires you.

Your opportunity: back to the 21 day gratitude journal, add 1-2 things which are fueling your joy and enthusiasm each day. One of mine: I am enthusiastic about the new opportunities opening to me at this time in my life. (BTW I have no idea what they are, I simply trust they exist!).

Let me close with a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh: “ If you are capable of living deeply one moment of your life, you can learn to,live the same way in all other moments of your life.”

The GRACE diet is a recipe for emotional and spiritual health that can sustain you and lead you to a more meaningful life.

Blessings and Until Next Time,

 

Betty

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Compassion seems to be the theme running through my life and the lives of others these days. It could also be that I am noticing all the signs as I prepare for a retreat mid-October entitled ‘The Healing Power of Self-Compassion’.

So what have I been noticing?

First is Ed, a 65 + fellow who was participating in a program called Choices and where I was a guest facilitator. My topic was the importance of goals and intentions. While the class was diverse, participants of different age groups as well as reasons for being there, it was clear that Ed was struggling with his Third Act choices.

Although my interaction with him was as part of the group, what I saw was an amazing fellow who did not believe in himself, his worth or what he had to offer the world. At the end of the morning he expressed his desire to simply find his voice and identify opportunities for feeling some level of confidence in speaking.

What was really holding him back was his self-critic, literally roaring in his ear. As I have learned, this voice generally shouts: “You are not worth it” and/or “Who do you think you are”. And that is very damaging, especially when it isolates you and makes you feel like you are the only person who has this voice.

Next is Eileen who I met just last evening. A former nurse and nurse educator, you can see that this is a woman with great knowledge and a desire to share. Because she is also a survivor of coronary disease, she also has firsthand knowledge of  heart care for women. In other words, she is impressive.

In a conversation with her during a New Beginnings Workshop, she expressed her sense of being under-engaged, feeling a lack of purpose. The critical part of her was telling her that this was the time in her life for her to take care of her and that this was the most important focus. After all she had dedicated her life to caring for others. During our conversation I pointed out to her that this is not an either-or discussion. This is a trap I believe many of us fall into, that to focus on ‘ME FIRST” is a unilateral event however, by my definition ME FIRST is predicated on selfness – taking care of self so as to leverage one’s ability to care for others.

As our conversation continued, I suggested to Eileen that perhaps it was a ‘both-and’ conversation, that she could focus on self-care as well as continuing to offer her gifts to others. In doing so I encouraged her to dip into the past, her experiences and wisdom, harvest the gems and notice her passion, and attract opportunities for engaging these. As the discussion continued, I could see her simply ‘light-up’.

 

We Are Our Own Worst Enemy
For both Ed and Eileen, it was evident their self-critics were having a field day. This is the absence of self-compassion. The stories they were telling themselves, the criticism they were levying upon their shoulders, were undermining their enjoyment of life. They would never have dreamed of criticizing others in this way and this is what happens. You are much harder on yourself than you would ever be on others.

This needs to stop. All of us need to step into a role of being our own best friend and ally, that person who sits in our corner and lifts us up and stops putting us down. Trust me, self-criticism will never lead to happiness, only self-compassion can do that.

 

The Three Steps to Self-Compassion

Based on the research of psychologists Kristen Neff and Brene Brown, there are three essential components in cultivating self-compassion:

  1. Self-Kindness vs Self-Judgment
    Self-kindness is simply easing up, being gentler and kinder in your comments to yourself. You can start by considering what you might say to someone else in a similar circumstance. What words of caring or encouragement would you offer a child, a spouse, a friend or a colleague facing a specific situation. Now offer those words to yourself. You are just as deserving, just as important, just as gifted. There is absolutely no need for you to put yourself down.
    Secondly, when facing a situation where you are tempted to come down hard on yourself, think before you leap. Ask yourself what you really need at that moment. Do you really need more criticism making the situation worse, or do you need some loving kindness. Consider the difference this might make for you in moving forward.
  2. Common Humanity vs Isolation
    As someone who has great mastery in self-criticism, I can tell you that for many years I thought I was the only one who thought this way, who could be genuinely mean to myself. You see, this is something we just don’t talk about. Sometimes I wonder if we should have a party and all come as our respective self-critics!
    When I began to discuss this with other about 20 years ago, I discovered very quickly that I was not alone, that most of us had a ‘Negative Nellie’ sitting on our shoulder who was willing to jump in at any point and reek emotional havoc.
    The second aspect of self-compassion is to recognize that you are not alone, that being imperfect is part of the human experience. We all have an inner-critic – it is best to simply accept him/her, shake hands with that devil and move on. It is helpful to share his/her words and messages with others. You may be surprised at other people’s stories about themselves.
    Also recognize that making mistakes, which is the self-critic’s fuel, is normal. And, not only is it normal, it is important for mistakes are where we learn and grow.
  3. Mindfulness vs Over-Identification
    So how do you start. My experience has been that much of the critical noise in my head is like elevator music. It is playing constantly and I am not mindfully aware of it. The first step in taming the critic is to become aware of what you are actually telling yourself, to pay attention to the thoughts, feelings and behaviours that are showing up.
    Then you can exercise compassion and come back to kindness and ask yourself, “what would I rather think or feel? What other behaviors would be better for me?”

In other words, you begin learning to re-program the critic. You make compassionate choices which lift you up, which celebrate who you are, and which acknowledge your gifts.

This may seem like a lot of work, and it is, and it is important work.

A little compassion goes a long way and can help you have the most amazing Third Act journey. It no longer serves you to put yourself down, and it no longer serves anyone else either. It is time for you to live up to all the potential stored inside of you. This will be fueled by every ounce of compassion you can give yourself.

Take a look at this short video as well:

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I am back. After a hiatus from writing, accompanied by some exploration and reflection, I am exploring the possibility of pulling together a program/learning manual dedicated to Thriving in the Third Act. I always do better when I have a little structure.

In the upcoming weeks I thought I would use my blog to roll out the framework and hope that you, as my audience would offer some feedback to me. I have never written a book this way before, so bear with me. It is a new way of doing it for a new phase in life. So here is the first installment, the Forward:

Thriving in the Third Act

Forward

Tim Carroll, Artistic Director of the Shaw Theatre wrote this for the 2017 season:

“An actor friend of mine said once that all directors are either mechanics or gardeners. A mechanic solves problems so that the machine works; a gardener creates the conditions in which something can grow. Some of the most vital jobs at the Shaw require mechanics but to direct our plays, I want gardeners.”

As I read this, I could not help but reflect on how his words not only applies to plays, they applied to life. If you simply replaced the word play with the Third Act, would the same sentiment not also apply. You can be mechanical in your approach to the Third Act. You can address whatever issues you have identified with a mechanistic approach of ‘let’s fix it’, as if life were a machine that has simply broken down. In fact, this has been in my view, the way in which retirement planning has been approached, a plan which deals dominantly with finances and the practical aspects of the Third Act years.

Or, you can decide to be gardeners and create the conditions for your Third Act whereby you can thrive. And what does thriving mean: feeling curious and engaged, exploring how you might use your gifts, talents and experience differently, being of service both to yourself and others and more.

Carroll went on to say that gardening in theatre work means “a process in which rehearsals are playful and exploratory. It means we don’t try to nail down the ‘right’ version of a scene; we play inside it and allow it to reveal itself.

Isn’t that just perfect. The Third Act is not a new job, it is simply your life’s work and experience. There is no requirement to ‘nail’ it down. The experience is designed to be softer, easier, free-flowing allowing you to ’play inside it and reveal itself ’.

I think this is perhaps the most important aspect of the Third Act, a stage in life, and if you will your ‘two-thirds life crisis’, when you transition into a new phase. It need not be governed by goals as many of you have been forced to live by during your working careers. It is most likely best expressed through intentions, the knowledge of what you want with no need to understand exactly how you will obtain this. Goals nail down the results whereas intentions allow you to live into this new phase of life and let it be revealed.

That said, what you want may not be obvious. I know that has been the case for me. In fact, the ‘do not wants’ have been much more clear at times, most of them predicated on a fear of boredom, and becoming a ‘couch potato’.

Welcome to Thriving in the Third Act, a personal self-discovery journey for ME, as I learn to transition from my career as a coach/consultant into my Third Act and one which I invite you to share.

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In mid-June I attended the Canadian Positive Psychology Conference. One of the questions I carried with me throughout the conference is how can we engage the principles of Positive Psychology to enhance our experience of the Third Act.

It is interesting to note that, at least at the conference, there was little focus on or dialogue regarding this question. Of greater interest to the attendees is the impact of Positive Psychology in education and the workplace. Understood, as this is probably where the greatest opportunities lie. And let’s not be the ‘lost generation’ in this important field of study.

Which brings me back to the whole idea of ‘Flourishing in the Third Act’. So let me share a few of my ‘take-aways’ from the conference and explore how these apply to the Third Act.

Barbara Fredrickson, author of Positivity and Love 2.0, was the opening key-note speaker. I find her ‘Broaden and Build’ Theory very compelling, as she examines what positivity versus negativity offers us in life. Here is a synopsis of what I took away from her presentation and how I believe this applies to our experience of the Third Act.

Central to Barbara’s research regarding Positivity is what she refers to as the Broaden and Build Theory. BROADEN implies expansive. Unlike negative emotions, which narrow people’s ideas about possible actions (eg. Response to dangerous situation) and outcomes, positive emotions do the opposite – they broaden your ideas about possible actions, open your awareness to a wider range of thoughts and actions, sparking your interest and urging you to explore and learn

Positivity opens us…our hearts and our minds, making us more receptive and creative.

When I consider this concept, I see the importance for Third Acters. Here’s why. Personally I have approached this age with some reticence, largely because of the beliefs I held regarding ‘retirement’. Of course my beliefs have been fed by society’s reaction to this stage of life as well. If however, we approach the Third Act with positivity and optimism, refusing to accept what societal beliefs have been, we have this great opportunity to broaden the possibilities of what is possible, desirable and engaging for us. Key to this notion then of broadening is our ability to exercise our curiosity and explore all the possibilities that light you up and which may have been lingering for a while.

The second aspect of Fredrickson’s theory is building, or more accurately resource building.
Again, if you approach life through the lens of negativity and neutrality you will constrain your experience of your Third Act, and your knowledge, of the world. Positivity does the opposite – it draws you out to explore, to mix up your world in unexpected ways. This leads to new learning and gains in knowledge. All of this may be useful during the Third Act, giving you the opportunity to broaden your sense of possibility, leading you to curiously explore what may be next and broadening your experience and desire to learn.

The Broaden and Build Theory holds that – Positive emotions were consequential to our human ancestors because over time those good feelings broadened our ancestor’s mindsets and built their resources for the future.

Positivity broadens and builds. It transforms people and helps them become their best. And when at their best, people live longer, and they have more fulfilling lives.

In other words, they flourish.

Positivity also offers you the following:

  • It opens possibilities,
  • improves cognition (that’s important!),
  • has the physical effect of broadening and opening our posture (less stooping!),
  • and affects how you view the world.

 

Like a good diet filled with nutrients, it builds over time, improving your resilience in the face of difficulties, improving your heart rate variability and your immune systems, all essential ingredients to healthy aging.

The Third Act can be a generative time in your life and your capacity to approach it with a positive attitude enhances your ability to broaden and build your life. So let’s imagine for a moment that we all agreed to begin this great experiment where we approached each day with a few simple questions/intentions:

  • I wonder what is possible today?
  • I have always wanted to learn more about….; why not now?
  • I plan to approach each day with optimism, gratitude and wonder; to be a positive influence for both myself and others
  • What a great opportunity I now have. My obligations and responsibilities have lessened. The only responsibility I have now is ME!

Speaking about this great experiment, are you not curious about what we as Third Acters can create when we take this approach; how we may influence the future? Just sayin’!

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“You need two things to get unstuck: Clarity and Courage. And, clarity is the reward of having courage.”

It has occurred to me in the last two weeks that courage is something to embrace as the opportunities for self-expression continue to unfold in my Third Act. Why courage? I am finding it challenging to crack open the eggshell of old habits and daily routines which have governed my life for so long. One of my greatest gifts in life has been my purposefulness and goal orientation. One of my greatest liabilities in life is my purposefulness and goal orientation!

It takes courage to face it down, to challenge it, to understand how I trip myself up by relying on what I have always known. It is a bit of a trap, for even though we can agree that purposefulness and goal orientation is a great thing, I also see the limitations, the blinders these habits impose.

Enough self-flagellation; this is not meant to be a critique of me. The question really is ‘now what’?

In a moment of clarity, the other day I realized that what I really wanted to release was the ‘need to work’. Yes need. I don’t know how it has been for you, but I was raised in the school of responsibility, obligation and ‘shoulds’. The reality for me is that I no longer need to work. Now on the government payroll with CPP and OAP, I may not be completely set for life and I know that our financial health is strong. So what is this need thing, this drive?

In its place I would much rather embrace the joy of work and be open to whatever that may be. I still love what I do and offer clients. I thoroughly enjoy coaching, facilitation and teaching. Am I not fortunate? And there are as many opportunities out there for me now as there were 20 years ago when I started my business, perhaps even more.

And here’s where courage comes in – saying ‘NO’ to the less than perfect opportunities, releasing the work that lingers that no longer engages me, because I don’t need to hang on. This gives me the space for clarity, the opportunity for opening new avenues of connecting with and serving people. None of this is a surprise; I have been ruminating on this for a while.

I am a person that also enjoys structure and routine and again I am asking if I need it. With summer upon us, I dream of morning walks, time on the front porch in the early morning sun, gardening and painting, hammock time with a good book, evenings in the gazebo sharing a glass of wine with friends. My usual work schedule does not accommodate these things or this life style.

As I envision the July and August landscape, I see great possibility. The second week of July is fully booked with a series of workshops we will be facilitating from Quebec City to Vancouver. Yes, it will be an intense week. More importantly, by having the courage to speak honestly with our clients, we will be engaged in work that we love and which we believe will make a significant difference for our client. Clarity was our reward.

Then guess what, the remainder of July and August is a fallow field. Will I have the courage to ‘BE’ in it allowing time for new possibilities to emerge and clarity to grow?

So onto you. Some things to consider. Are some of your greatest strengths also your liabilities? It is a great exercise to recognize this.

Is it time for you to address some on the repeating patterns that have governed your life and crack open the egg? What would you like to replace these patterns with? Remember if you can’t name it, it is unlikely you will get it.

Summer is such a wonderful time to relax and allow yourself to sink into the days. Why not do so? I plan to and hope you will join me, perhaps even share with me a few of your AHA’s that show up.

Have the courage to let go of what you have always known and create space for clarity to walk in the door.

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Here is where I am struggling a bit these days – what is it I want at this point in my life. Most days I am pretty clear regarding what I don’t want and yes, just as I teach others, I can turn these into ‘do wants’. Here is a small sampling of what shows up for me so far:

I want:

  • To be healthy and vibrant
  • To be engaged
  • To continue to cultivate my curiosity about life and people
  • To be of service in a way that is meaningful to me
  • To attract and create my legacy work
  • To remain involved with the arts community, and to new forms of how this might manifest.
  • To travel to places I have not previously visited
  • To have ample ‘being’ time for savoring, flourishing, reading, writing, painting and gardening and of course meditation
  • To care for our aging parents and see them safely through the transitions in their lives
  • To be present to and for my family and friends
  • To have clear boundaries regarding what is perfect for me

Okay! That’s not a bad list. AND why is it I feel like something is missing. I think it is simply this thing we call TRANSITION, the letting go of what no longer serves me, emptying the plate so that the new can be defined and take its rightful place. This is an important act of ‘Space Management’, something I have come to understand through years of piling too many things on this plate. Perhaps this leads to the next list – what am I prepared to let go of:

I am releasing:

  • Work that no longer engages me and that no longer serves my clients
  • Doing, doing and more doing
  • Always pre-planning the future rather than savoring the moment
  • Unrewarding and unfulfilling volunteer commitments
  • Responsibility that is not mine to own
  • Worry

That’s a start. I am sure there is so much more.

As we all move into and through our Third Act, knowing what we want, or at least asking ourselves the question, is perhaps the first step in determine our Third Act experience, or our legacy work. I have learned repeatedly that I cannot have what I don’t ask for and that If I am not clear, stuff shows up that I may not want.

There is not rush in developing this list, in fact I suggest we all take some time to slide into this zone, breathe, and take time to relax into it.

Some things to consider as you develop your wants:

  1. Remember all those things you always wanted to do/participate in and never had the time.
  2. What about your “Bucket List”? If you don’t know what this is watch the movie with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson.
  3. Remember your youth and all those values/ideals you had which vanished the moment you went to work. Want to re-visit them?
  4. What are the passions, creative endeavors you always meant to make time for and never did?
  5. What are the causes you most identify with? Is there something that you want to contribute to that cause within your community?
  6. What wisdom, learning or experience do you have to offer others?

As you take time to consider these questions, I encourage you to keep track of the answers – write them down. You may be surprised at what shows up. It is important for all of us to remember that our Third Act is a new beginning, filled with and fueled by possibility. The most important quality we can exercise at this time of our life is CURIOSITY!

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In preparing for the Third Act, an easy default position is to fill our heads with facts, expose myths and do whatever it takes to reassure our minds that everything will be just fine. Of course this approach neglects what my heart may be saying about this journey.

In life you can choose many roads, those frequently traveled and those less so. The journey into and through the Third Act of life, undoubtedly needs to be a healthy balance between understanding and feeling, a balance between head and heart. I say this as in my own experience, no matter how much ‘self-discovery’ I engage in, no matter how much I reassure myself that I still have a great deal to offer the world and others, I am still experiencing the myriad of feelings that go with simply growing older.

I have always been a very purposeful and goal-oriented individual. This has served me well, whether I was working a physiotherapist, health care manager or educator. Goals have been the back bone of my life. I suspect I am not alone.

Today, I still love the idea of purpose. I find myself more curious about how that purpose might manifest and indeed, I feel less inclined to be quite as goal obsessed, in fact, I find myself being intentional instead. Something you might also consider.

One of the perks of the Third Act is less urgency. You have the opportunity to explore and discover, to be curious about what’s next and how this might manifest. It is healthy to have a sense of what is important to you and what lights you up – that important sense of purpose AND rather than launching into a plan, why not relax, breath and wonder what this might look like.

Just for clarity, intention, by my definition, means opening up possibility. Rather than specific goals, attached to specific outcomes and time frames, I recommend simply “attracting all that is in your highest good” or “attracting what serves your purpose”. Then exercise your curiosity and pay attention to what begins to show up.

And then there is the whole issue of choice. While I am not fully ‘retired’, I have chosen to work differently. Three words keep coming up: Freedom, Flexibility and Fun. You would think that these would be natural and easy to adapt to. Right! Not so easy, especially for those goal-oriented, list-making, scheduled individuals like myself. So I am sliding into this choice, gradually. It’s all about choice I remind myself.

 

Spreading Your Wings

Spreading Your Wings

One of my Third Act choices has been a return to painting. In my late teens and twenties, I studied art and various mediums, only to leave it behind for three decades. I can’t explain why that happened. Life I suppose. Then four years ago, two of my coaching clients opened a new studio and the next thing I knew I was taking one of their courses – a happy accident (or perhaps a significant SIGN!).

As I write this I am preparing for my fist Art Exhibit (yes, this was designed to give me a goal!). Painting, like life, is a process. The feeling of paint on a brush and then the movement across the canvas, how a slight flick of the wrist can leave an image that is magical. Testing myself in both abstract and realistic forms and with each step learning more about the important triad of brush, paint and canvas.

And isn’t that what you are doing in the Third Act, painting a new life, body mind and spirit. There will be times when the paint goes on easily and the image simply grows on the canvas just as there will be times when the paint gets muddy and you have to start again. The important thing to remember is that you have the freedom to choose what you will paint. You can exercise flexibility in how you approach your creation and most importantly in you can have fun because in the end, the choices you are making are for YOU!

With this ramble today, and it is that, I simply encourage you to engage your head and your heart for your Third Act journey. As I am so often reminded, I do not want to approach the end of life with regrets, nor I suspect do you. Listen to your heart and begin to explore what is truly meaningful to YOU. Set an intention and explore the possibilities regarding which path might lead you to where you want to land. Enjoy the journey – enjoy your freedom to choose and spread your wings.

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