From Type A to Type Ahh

Be the Change You Wish to See in the World – Ghandi


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Single Tasking is Possible

laserApparently what people say about focusing on one task is correct, if all anecdotal evidence is to be believed.  I have been working on cutting my addiction to multi-tasking.  I believe I waxed poetic about my love of it in a previous post.  Let me tell you it is easier to write that than to actually do it.  There is something very appealing about multi-tasking, at least for me.  Since I am often confessing terribly embarrassing things about myself in this blog, why stop now!  The truth is multi-tasking always made me feel really important.  I am not sure to who or why I cared.  The one thing I am sure of is, I did care.  Truth be told as I have started to limit that more I feel a little pang of guilt or regret.  Now people are thinking she used to do so much and be running around like a crazy person.  Now her desk is spotless every night and I see her walking all relaxed down to the copier, what a loser.  Mind you that entire conversation happens in my head.

How do I persevere despite all my internal instincts.  First I found out I was busy all the time, feeling stressed, and turns out I was mostly busy generating my own chaos.  When I stopped that and actually started to focus in, turns out I got actual things done. I had time to plan other things and side benefit, no longer feel like I might be on my way to my first heart attack (over emphasis for effect, but you get me.)  Turns out when I look all placid on the surface completing task after task that I am actually all placid on the inside.  That did not just happen. Don’t let my newly Zen attitude fool you; I was full on results driven, neurotic, self-judging, perfectionist.  I had to put some real work into setting up for success.  Mind you success for me does not mean I never slip into Super Multi-Tasker mode but it is culled way back.

What did I do:

  1. Cleared the clutter in my office.  I mean a brutal, no piece of paper could hide, merciless, gutting.  If I am being honest it was so amazing afterwards I just sat in the peace and I may have cried.
  2. Heresy be damned, I shut off my email except for a couple of times a day.  Turns out real life is not an episode of 24. No one’s life hangs in the balance if they don’t know I am available for a meeting the moment they ask.
  3. I put my podcasts on low.  This helps me tune out the office but I don’t get too distracted.
  4. Extended my clear office into a maintenance phase.  I deal with my mail right away.  I assess every professional magazine I get.  If there are one or two articles I want to read I cut them out scan them and put them in a computer file labeled articles of interest. Recycle the magazine. Bonus I now actually have down time during the week to read some of them.  Also easier to forward to colleagues.
  5. Don’t have my phone out at the office.  I check periodically because I take care of my mom.

These were not big lifestyle changes.  They made a huge difference.  I have to say before I started meditating and being more mindful there is no way that me could have done any of them!


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Sometimes Life helps you Prioritize

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Mo 17 and still going

I have not had a chance to write recently, and this guy is the reason.  Mo became very sick last Sunday and after trying supportive care at home and watching him decline we decided to take him to our vet on Wednesday and wanted to know if she thought it was time for us to say our good-byes.  So that you keep on reading, I will let you know we might have come to terms with the possibility of letting him go, but Mo had not. He has rebounded and is doing really well right now.  Things like last week, really brought our priorities into focus.  For hubby and me our cats are our family.  They are our little four footed children.  Mo’s illness and the reminder of his advancing age cast a pall over the whole week.

We love our cats.  I mean we are those kind of cat people.  The kind that when we moved the movers said, “you have more furniture for the cats than for you.”  To which hubby responded, “there are more of them.”  Seems obvious, right?  Our cats bring so much more joy than anything else in our lives.  Often the best part of our day is coming home to read or relax and pet the cats or watch them be their quirky selves.  Those non-cat people think cats don’t bond and don’t have unique personalities, but they are so wrong.  All this week my husband said “the only time Mo perks up is when you come home.”  Mo is a little bit of a Momma’s boy but that is just part of his charm.

I should do a post about pets and minimalism, but I look at it like this.  Minimalism or simplifying  our life just makes room for what is truly important.  For us, as if we needed a reminder, it is those furry family members. They also have a way of reminding me to be present in the moment and not too far in the future.  Mo is certainly focused on enjoying the here and now and as long as he is here I am committed to not missing him before he is gone.

On a side note if you, like us, really love your pets and are worried about making sure you can always provide the best care, something we get a lot of value out of is pet insurance.  It is so worthwhile.  I always say it lets us choose the A option for our cats.  Also having five cats it gives us peace of mind if more than one was facing a medical crisis at the same time.  Enjoy your caturday.  I certainly am.


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Sometimes it is a Struggle

So I am really working on myself and for the most part I would say it is going pretty well.  I have definitely made some positive changes and reaped some surprising rewards as discussed in my previous post.  With progress and mindfulness comes the recognition of how far we still have to go and how we are always a work in progress.  I guess we should be happy to still be employed in this work, the alternative is not great.

So what am I struggling with right now?  Gossip.  It is like the national past time of my office and even when I set my intention to be compassionate and act out of kindness and gratitude I still find that I can spiral into this easily.

Thank-God-for-all-the-gossip There is some good news.  I do find that I am far more aware that I am participating in gossip than before, where it was sort  of an unconscious act.  It may be a few minutes into the session but I find I will become hyper aware that I am participating in something that brings no value and might be damaging to someone else.  I do try a few things, I am not just going along aimlessly.  If I hear friends I am visiting with descend into gossip, I try to excuse myself.  If it is starting up outside my office I will close my door like I am about to take a conference call.  For the most part the challenging times are when the gossip is about someone I am personally struggling with myself.  That does not make me proud; I think it makes me human.

So I am interested in what you struggle to improve.  If like me it is gossip, are you doing something I am not?  Do you have any tips?  Once I am done with session and I am back in my office and the contact high you get from gossiping with your friends is gone it leaves me feeling empty and a little ashamed.


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Half Way to My Goal Checking In

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This year instead of lofty or repetitive goals for the New Year I had one simple goal.  Meditate everyday for one straight year.  I started in November for very practical reasons.  In November I had an injured foot and needed to take weeks, which led to months off of running.  I picked up meditation as a way to stay married and employed.  I downloaded the Insight Timer and I have to say, after day 183 that is by far my favorite app on my phone.   Surprisingly it is also the only one changing my actual life.  Nope, not Facebook.

So this post is not to pat myself on the back but rather to reflect on a very surprising result of this experiment.  I only focused on one thing, meditate everyday.  In the weirdest set of cosmic karma I got improvement in so many areas of my life.  These are just a few things I have noticed since adding daily meditation.

  1. I have an inner calm instead of an inner critic.
  2. I have self-control!  Turns out I don’t have to say exactly what is on my mind at every moment and the world still ambles along just fine.
  3. I have time for everything that is truly important to me.
  4. I am comfortable with silence and find I crave it more.
  5. I can, for periods of time get control of my thoughts by focusing on my breath in the moment. I thought those things were wilder than a mustang!
  6. I don’t drink anymore.  I used to unwind with a glass a wine.  Now most days I am not wound so no need to unwind, and when I am wound sitting is far more helpful.
  7. I have more clarity about what is important and it helped me clear physical and mental clutter.
  8. Cut way back on TV because I want to be present with my loved ones, experiencing, growing and learning, not zoned out.
  9. Our finances were never out of control, at least not since we both got grown up jobs in fulfilling fields, but now I am more conscious of what we spend money on.  I set up an additional retirement investment account to work toward our long-term goal of retirement in 8 years and a move to the western part of the country.
  10. I am more grateful and hubby and I have instituted the three things we are grateful for exercise before dinner.
  11. I was always a doer and could get things done but there was a certain panic and inner turmoil and dialog behind it.  Now I can handle a single task complete it and move on.  I am more focused but it is a peaceful focus. Surprisingly, I get more done with less inner chaos.
  12. I am a better listener, but still have to work on that.
  13. I got back to writing and that is a creative pursuit I let drop because I thought I had no time.
  14. I increased my volunteering adding a no-kill cat shelter to coaching a run club at hubby’s school and volunteering in professional water organizations
  15. I have even said “no” and guess what?  The world did not actually spin-off its axis.

I don’t know how meditation led to all of this.  I only know that the thing I consciously decided to change was to meditate and on that road the rest of this fell into place.  Who knew all I needed to do all these years was shut up and sit down.  Well some people probably knew.


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What Running Taught Me about Marriage

IMG_2604My husband has 2 pet peeves about us as a couple.  We can never order the same thing at a restaurant and we can’t go out of the house wearing the same thing.  You might think who would?  My husband and I are runners so we race a lot and belong to the same track club so we have a number of identical shirts.  I believe my husband would stop at a mall to buy a new shirt before we would show up at a restaurant in matching couple attire.  At that restaurant there is a moment of tense silence before one of us declares what we will order, for fear the other one has eyed the same thing.

I guess this could be annoying.  It is just one of those things we have learned to laugh at, by that I mean I make relentless fun of it and he politely chuckles along at his own foibles. Long relationships require an even deeper sense of humor.  We have been together for 25 years and lived together for the last 24.  If you had asked me 7 years ago if I knew my husband I would have said absolutely.  But for his 45th birthday he made one request.  ” I want you to run one race with me.  That is what I want for my birthday.”  He might just as effectively asked me to give him a trip around the world, the latter seeming more likely.  My husband is an athlete, a naturally talented, but also hard-working athlete. He has played: soccer, basketball, done track, etc.  Me on the other hand, I believe I still hold the record at my high school for the slowest timed mile all 4 years of school.  I say this not to brag, but to set the scene for this request.  Yet somehow, following several colorful expletives, I found myself in running shoes at a 5K on his birthday.  Where I promptly declared “take a good look, this is the last time you will ever see me run.”  To check how “alterative” that fact was, see first paragraph.

Besides gaining a sense that I could do more than I thought I could, running has taught me so much about myself, my husband, and my marriage.  The first thing I learned was during that very first race.  My husband is someone who can be counted on, and who shows up.  He started that race with me and my painfully slow  12 minute mile until he was convinced I would be fine.  He went to finish his race and as I was about a 1/2 mile from finishing something I thought impossible; he came out of nowhere and ran me in, full of support.  He would demonstrate that support over and over as I pursued longer distances and he waited in blazing heat and freezing weather to meet at the last mile of half marathons and run me in. He ran his first half last December and even though I was two months into rehabbing platars fasciitis, I was there following him and I ran him in the last mile.

I have learned I am stronger than I thought and that most challenges may feel physically impossible, but are really a mental game.  Hence meditation has helped my running and my ability to handle challenges.  Watching my husband who is a streak runner, not that! Get your mind out of the gutter, he runs everyday at least a mile. He has demonstrated his uncompromising ability to commit.   Today is day 1275 of his current streak.  It really just underscored what I already knew.  Believe it or not, I am not always easy to live with or totally delightful. Yet he stays, all the time he makes the choice to stay.  I guess I am his marriage streak or his mental tolerance streak or maybe both.  My husband is a bastion of commitment, and no matter how much I have tried over the years to throw him off his game he just comes back fighting harder for our marriage.

Lastly, running is a living metaphor of our marriage.  We often run together.  If you don’t do that regularly you might not appreciate how hard it actually is.  You have to tune in totally to your partner at that moment.  Everyday every run is different.  When one partner is strong and the other weak, tired, or injured there is a real-time adjustment.  One of you has to sacrifice your run to encourage the other to finish strong.  I always say in the best marriages the partners make strong the broken parts in each other.  That is never more evident than when you are running together.  We are older now and we find that we “race” less, we still go but the competitive edge has worn off.  Now we run with the hard-earned synchronicity of 25 years of alternating between leading and lagging.  It is a fun ride.


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Family and Feeding Your Soul

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I wish I had this quote yesterday.  So yesterday was Mother’s Day, and I don’t know about all of you but one of the most challenging forks in my road to being a better, more peaceful, calmer, and more compassionate person drives right through my family.  It is a bumpy and unpaved road.  Yesterday was yet another day to prove the rule.

I won’t go into all of it.  Suffice to say my mother, who I love very much, is addicted to a certain kind of chaos and martyrdom.  She says yes to the wants of everyone and the care of every person, except herself.  My sister, who has battled depression and eating disorders, throughout her life continues down the same path she has always travelled.  When that path is on a downward trajectory her greatest pleasure is piling as many folks into the car as possible on the way down.  Sounds like fun?  Would you like to join us for a Fourth of July Barbecue?

Normally, I would have suffered through dinner, drank more than enough wine and actually, if I am being honest, have helped raise the discord because I have been unable to not take the bait I have been conditioned to take.  This time was different.  Their moods and idiosyncracies  became their own.  I no longer needed to respond.  Instead I focused on Mom’s big heart and how tough she is. I was able to fully celebrate all of who she is as a woman without the judgement.  For my sister I found a new profound, compassion.  I can’t imagine being that unhappy having that much pain.  Stripping the joy from even the things you love.  She was remarking how her dogs, her passion, are nothing but a burden now.  I had a flash of my cats and how they, along with so many things, feed my soul.

Today I was off of work, because I have to work through Saturday and instead of just saying “sure I will do that.”  I found a day in my calendar with nothing scheduled and told my boss I was switching days off.  No long explanation.  I don’t have to work an extra day.  That has always been a choice.  There will be times when I feel I have to, but today was not that day.  I found my sister on my mind as I got up this morning.  I saw my husband off.  I went to my mediation space did a little yoga and sat.  After that I had a healthy breakfast and went for a run and a bike ride.  While on the trail looking at people and nature, listening to birds and feeling my strong healthy body, I felt my soul recharge.  I felt that compassion for my sister and my mother.  I have not always been as diligent about these issues of self care in the past, but I have also never been like my mom and sister.

Today as I fill my soul and get ready for the week, I hope that my family can strip away the pain and find the purpose and the joy in even the difficult or mundane things.  Tomorrow I head off, for purpose driven work I enjoy.  I have a new softer place of compassion for my family.  The freedom of realizing their choices don’t have to be mine so I don’t have to be judge and jury.


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I am Just a Girl Learning to Say No!

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Growth is hard.  In fact lots of things are hard.  Especially giving up an image that you have worked so hard to portray, once you realize it is exactly that, an image.  Oh and also that it is too much work to haul that image around and put it on and take it off. Confession time, I like accomplishing things.  There was a time in my life when a neat to-do list with perfectly lined up check marks brought a tear to my eye. (Sob) Sorry I need a minute.  I am now trying to focus on being present and accepting the imperfect and sadly the sometimes incomplete aspects of life.

When you are trying to change the universal law is that you will be given plenty of opportunities.  Right now my opportunity cup runneth over.  I am in the middle of managing a drought, which means increased workload and my best employee has taken another job. Normally, I would assume Wonder Woman posture lasso of truth at my side and personal life, goals and relationships fading behind me.  Also as you can well imagine, I  would be delightful to be around.

Something is different this time, after much research I figured it out…drumroll please, me.  Turns out if you react differently and make saner choices and stop trying to navigate in an imaginary invisible jet things are different.  I just finished reading this book on the 7 essential coaching questions so I can be a better manager.  Ironically, I found a question that I not only shared with my remaining staff, but I am using it to coach myself.  “What do I have to say no to if I say yes to this?”  What a concept.  It sounds like nirvana, right?  Except that I am not great at saying no.  In fact you might say I suck at it.  I am really attached to that whole Wonder Woman thing.  You know when you walk out of a meeting and hear them say “I don’t know how she does all of those things and still runs this project.”  I am not going to sugar coat it.  Letting that go is hard.  Using the idea of what I have to say no to in order to say yes to something is helping me stick to my priorities.  Meditation has helped to, because now I find when I am asked to do something, I can consciously find a little space by taking a breath before responding “yes” as quickly as your leg jumps when the Dr. hits your knee with rubber hammer.  It helps.

All of these little things add up.  The other thing I am trying to do is be present and conscious of the benefits I notice after I have said “no.”  For example a week ago I had all of these things scheduled and someone asked me to meet for dinner with a colleague from out-of-town.  I said no after many breaths.  The night of the dinner as I enjoyed a quiet evening of healthy food and conversation with my husband at home, I took time in that moment to experience it and fully realize the gain of saying no was so much greater than if I had said yes and less stressful.  Regret can really take it out of you.

I am by no means the girl who says “no.”  I am working on it and I am all the calmer as I wade into the temporarily choppy waters of chaos.  And me without my to do list!