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Sand Pail

I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on what I should be doing with my life and work. My 8 to 5 job has been more stress than joy and it’s time to plan for the next career. There is one certainty: no more of the same. Everything else is up for grabs. The ideal is to work anywhere, anytime – work that is portable and allows for travel and adventure. So how do I find my true calling? Work that allows me to be in a flow state – that taps into my passion? What is my passion, my strength? So many interests. Which one leads to income?

Head back to childhood dreams – that time in life when anything and everything was possible. What did I do; what did I aspire to? How many times did I infuriate my mother by taking things apart to discover how they worked? There was a passion to learn and experiment. I wanted to be an astronaut and a doctor. Always the teacher when playing school and loved to write and draw and read. Enjoyed athletic pursuits and competition. Could never get enough of the beach or of any kind of water. And I was always in the kitchen – tweaking recipes to suit my taste. Wow, I was eclectic as a kid too!

Now, what is important to me as an adult? Family, relationships, purpose, learning, discovery. Don’t want to be doctor any longer. The astronaut has been replaced with intrepid motorcycle adventurer. Okay, so I won’t get to the moon on a motorcycle this year…

I still love to cook and if I’m not learning, I’m suffocating. Maybe an inventor – the next Edison or DaVinci? Most days I feel as though there is some creative genius bottled up inside me just waiting for expression. Other days I just feel dull. Find myself in the flow state most often when I am learning, creating, or discovering – or at the beach. I’ve always had a secret desire to be a writer, but ended up with degrees in chemical engineering and education.  I’m keenly interested in design-how things work and contribute to a greater whole. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with healthy eating and simple living that also reduces impact to the environment. My greatest achievement so far is raising my daughters so that they are all self-reliant, confident young women ready to make unique contributions to this world.

So what is the common thread here? I see discovery, learning, and nurturing. What do you see? What were your childhood dreams and how close you are to living them now?

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Serendipity in the Closet

I’ve been working on my morning routine – paring choices to ensure smooth sailing to getting to work on time. Simplify; start my workday with a calm, centered presence that is conducive to finding flow. No more frantic mornings.

 

Standing in my closet faced with another day of too many choices, it struck me that I have several clothes in my favorite colors. Hmm… It looks like I could wear the same color every day for one week. And so the experiment was launched. I busied myself with sorting by color groups; white, brown, green, blue, black, pink, red, and the oddballs. I found that I could indeed wear a single color scheme each week for eight weeks. Immediate liberation! Now I would only have to choose between 5 tops instead of 40 since all my pants and skirts are neutral.

 

So far I’ve had white week, pink week, blue week, and brown week. This week is black week. I’m surprised by the results so far. Reducing morning choices is brilliant. In fact, I found that I had already planned my outfits for the entire week on Sunday and I just went to the closet each morning and got dressed – no struggling over what to wear. The best part of this experiment was unintended. By challenging myself to wear all of the clothes in my closet, I confirmed the clothing that makes me feel beautiful and those that make me feel frumpy. I discovered clothing that doesn’t fit well anymore and clothing that fits better now on my menopause-induced curvy body. At the end of this experiment I’ll donate the flotsam and keep those items that inspired personal confidence in my appearance.

 

Conventional advice about closet cleaning asks you to pack away items you haven’t worn in the last six months. I found that treating this as a mental exercise did little to thin the herd. By wearing everything, the weeding becomes a joyful activity, leaving only those items that flatter and that you truly love. Who thought that you could find flow in the closet? One step closer to a simple, uncluttered, present life. Try it.

 

Conquer Enemies of Flow

Overwhelmed and frustrated. Too many tasks and unrealistic expectations. Execute flawlessly the first time – no time for mistakes. Rather than serenity of flow, I spent the last week working under tangled, choking stress. How do I free myself and find flow in the chaos? It escaped me this week. I’ll have another chance next week. At least I’ve learned more about myself and it’s a new day. These are the three most egregious enemies of flow I’ve found and what to do about them.

Interruptions

Let’s ask Kathy. I’ve become the answer source and problem solver at work for the many projects going on in my group. An endless stream of emails, phone calls, and people stopping by my office for “a quick question”. Where does it all end? I’ll tell you. It begins with no.

It’s really my own fault – I’ve unwittingly trained people for this behavior. My nature and strength is showing empathy, helping, and nurturing. In using these strengths, I have made a habit of dropping attention to what I’m working on to respond to others. At day’s end, others have finished their work and I end up staying late or taking work home so I can concentrate without interruptions. By then, I’m feeling resentful and flow is nowhere to be found. I can’t get past the daily grind tasks to my real work – the work that is creative and fulfilling; work that energizes rather than drains.

A few weeks ago, I managed to find flow in the midst of the chaos. I know it can be done. Practice eliminating interruptions. Defend your boundaries. Let go of the ego’s insatiable appetite to be needed. Say no. No to meetings. No to email. No to interruptions. Close the door. No, lock the door. Work in a remote location and assign tasks. Forward calls directly to voicemail. Turn off email. The world does not come to an end. People actually answer their own questions or find the answers they need for themselves. Others will always allow you to do their work for them – do your own work.

Give yourself permission to work without interruptions for a block of time. I need a minimum of 2 hours, but 4 is better. Train your colleagues and staff to respect your time. Set office hours, respond to voice and email messages at specific times, don’t answer knocks at the door. If you are lucky enough to be a cubicle dweller, wear headphones and purchase a cubicle door. When I was desperate to get some pressing work done and implemented these tactics, I couldn’t believe the difference. Not only did the work get done; I actually enjoyed the creative process of the work and went home to do more creative stuff in the evening. But, alas, I was a backslider this week. The difficulty is staying the course. It’s been said that it takes about a month of diligent practice to form a new habit (I find it takes me more like 3 months) – but oh so worth it!

Multi-tasking

I read somewhere that your brain’s ability to function while multi-tasking is similar to your brain in an impaired state. I believe it. Trying to constantly shift my attention leaves me feeling drained and exhausted. Not much gets done and what does get done is not my best work. When I resort to multi-tasking to be the super woman at work or for others, I find that I end up scattered, stressed and sassy. I can just imagine how I come across to others in this state – definitely not the poised, strong, confident woman I want to project.

Flow requires focus. Many women are afflicted with the idea that the only way to get everything done is to do many things at the same time– me included. Let go of this. As much as possible, focus your attention on a single task. Be present. Allow yourself to find energy and enjoyment in one thing at a time. As with interruptions, the magic word for multi-tasking is no – don’t do it.

About a month ago, I had more responsibilities than I could handle. It was killing me. I negotiated a reallocation of responsibilities with my boss that allowed me to focus on critical work. While trying to multi-task to keep every area moving I was headed for burn-out and the work coming out of my group was poor. My staff was not too happy about the transition, but their work and mine is better for it.

The irony of single-tasking is that sometimes you actually get more done. Even if you don’t get more done, a single task completed in flow results in higher quality and contributes to your well-being. This well-being then cascades through your interactions to others and that positive energy benefits everyone around you.

Breaking Healthy Routines

One area I’ve been working on this year is discipline to create and maintain healthy habits. This week I noticed that I allowed stress to derail my best healthy practices. For the sake of allotting more time to get the pressing work done that was due this week, I skipped my morning meditation and walk to get to work earlier. I also ended up cutting my lunch breaks short and chose to work while I ate lunch rather that go outside to eat and take a walk. This was followed by several late evenings. By the time I got home, I was not hungry, and craved junk food. The cumulative effect was a drain to my energy and vitality. Not only were my mind and emotions stressed, now I added physical stress.

So far, I’ve discovered flow happens when I’m feeling healthy – spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Distractions from ill health hinder flow. Do those practices that promote well-being. My morning routine sets the tone and creates a welcoming environment for flow. Meditation clears mind clutter. A brisk walk invigorates the body. A healthy breakfast fuels the brain. Quiet reflection renews the spirit. Flow comes from within – nurture and care for yourself.

We each have a unique contribution to the world. Can yours find expression through the cacophony? Finding flow for creative expression is about personal choices we make very day. This week, my choices thwarted flow. Next week, I intend to choose differently.

 

The smell of fresh coffee beans in the grinder. A hint of sunshine above the treetops. My favorite chair and a quiet house. Weekend mornings are reserved for nurturing my creative soul. Meditation gives way to reading and writing. Sometimes, I relax in my chair and just be. Cozy in my favorite pajamas; a steaming cup of coffee under my nose, and life is as it is meant to be – perfect.

Outside my window, birds are twittering, butterflies enjoy the breakfast bar at bright red flowers, and the cat chatters at the lizards who scurry along the window screen; her hunting instincts longing to capture the prize. I’m just happy there is a window between them or I would be getting lizard lip kisses from her later.

While early mornings on weekdays begin at 5 or 5:30 am, early on the weekend is usually just before sunrise rather than a specific time. If left to it’s natural rhythms, the body knows the brink of sunrise. Weekdays I need an artificial sunrise; on weekends, the body rules.

The benefits of early rising abound – here are my gold stars:

  • Going to bed earlier – your body needs sleep and the only way to be an early riser is to be an early go to sleeper. Most of us really and truly need 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. I know, this is nearly impossible for most of us. Sleep research shows that the body uses the hours before midnight for healing and repair. I’ve found, though, that this one change to go to bed between 9:00 and 10:00 has had a measurable positive effect on my overall health and well-being.
  • Alone time – even the most gregarious person needs time alone. Meditate, de-stress, reflect, create – each of us needs time for personal growth and creative pursuits. When my daughters were small, early morning was my only option. At this stage in my life, I have more options for alone time, but still prefer early morning.
  • Time for breakfast – no one argues the benefit of a healthy breakfast. I used to eat grab and go breakfast at my desk. Breakfast was usually interrupted by the first crisis of the day – not great for enjoyment nor digestion. Now I enjoy a healthy breakfast at home as part of my weekday morning routine and start my workday physically and mentally ready for whatever the crisis du jour may be.
  • Punctuality – even just an extra five minutes in the morning can make the difference between running late and getting to where you need to be on time. Have you ever noticed that when you’re running late every traffic light turns red just as you get there or you end up behind the school bus that makes ten stops? When you leave just a few minutes early, that little time cushion changes your entire mind-set. Instead of stressed and hurried vibrations, you tune into calm confidence that you will get there on time – and you usually do.
  • A walk at sunrise or any other form of exercise outdoors. Some mornings are just spectacular. Besides contributing to my body’s health, this practice adds to my mental, emotional, and creative well-being. Whether a bright full moon illuminates transition of midnight blue sky into fringes of daylight, or rays of sunshine pierce clouds in shades of coral, pink, and orange; every morning is unique. The trick is to remain present – allow the thoughts and constant dialogue in your head to keep moving right out on out. Tune in to your heart and emotions to feel and experience the flow of being and belonging to the world. Let nature remind you of the sacredness of life.

I’m sure there are many other benefits from early rising – these are some that bring me to flow and give me a better chance at a glorious day. Now if I could just find some secrets to flow at work…

How about you? What are the gold stars of early rising for you?

This is Olivia. She looks like an ordinary cat. And yet…

She is a great teacher. Perhaps even another Yoda.

As I was contemplating what to write, I kept shooing Olivia away – I was busy after all. She would have none of that, thank you very much. When I finally listened to her, this was her message.

  1. Now; this moment,  is all we really ever have. How will you choose to spend it?
  2. When someone offers you unconditional love… accept and cherish it.
  3. Cuddling with a loved one is infinitely better than working – or watching TV – or just about anything else that we think we need to do.
  4. Expressing your love for someone else makes you feel purry inside.
  5. The only way to experience flow is to be fully present.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the daily drama of life and let our minds go spinning out of control with our endless to-do lists. There is just so much to get done! And yet, if we take just a few minutes to slow down and allow ourselves to truly savor the present moment, we can find that contentment and pleasure that is flow.