Gratitude: The First Step Toward Happiness

As human beings, we are natural complainers. It seems to be a part of our genetic makeup. Spend some time listening to others Happinesscomplain, how often you complain back, and how much commercialized complaining we are exposed to. How many commercials start with the phrase, “Are you tired of…?”

What makes our complaining especially comical is just about everything we do, from work to play, our ultimate objective is happiness.

Once you are aware of how much complaining you do (even the justified complaining), try to flip your script and replace that negative behavior with the gift of gratitude. Gratitude is a simple, but effective way to shift our thinking from negative to positive and is the first step toward affecting the happiness in our lives.

Gratitude is an intentional act of positive psychology that encourages us to question our thoughts and actions. Once we become more aware of our thoughts and actions (our contributions to a situation), we can increase and develop more positive emotions, nurture relationships, and improve emotional well-being in ourselves and the people we care about.

Happy Science

Science has proven that working harder and becoming more successful will not make you happier. That is because the harder we work, the higher the success bar climbs, thus creating a happiness goal we can never attain. What researchers discovered is our brains operate in the opposite direction. We must FIRST raise our happiness level, then the positive brain has more advantages such as greater intelligence, more creativity, productivity and more energy. Check out this Forbes article* or the book The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work by Shawn Achor.

The positive psychology exercises below can bring awareness, relieve stress, or help you become happier. Try as many as you like, but do the exercise for at least one week. If you are feeling particularly daring, follow 5 of the steps below, or the 5 steps outlined by Achor for 21 days.

  • Journaling: Journaling provides a snapshot of a moment
    in time. Not only does journaling create a healthy habit of self-reflection, it allows us to document positive changes to our thinking and our actions, and it helps us transition from a bad mood to a good one. Try to journal for at least 2 minutes once a day.
  • Gift of time: Offer the “gift” of your time to three different people this week. This might be in the form of time spent, helping someone around their house, or sharing a meal with someone who is lonely. These “gifts” should be in addition to your planned activities.
  • Counting kindness: Keep a log of all the kind acts that you do in a day. Jot them down by the end of each day.
  • Meditate: Watch your breath go in and out for 2 minutes each day.
  • Three funny things: Write down the three funniest things that you experienced or participated in each day; also, write about why the funny thing happened (e.g., was it something you created, something you observed, something spontaneous?)
  • Write happy notes: Place notes around your bathroom mirror, on your fridge, on your front door to see as you leaving, that remind you of happy thoughts. Find inspirations on the web, create an affirmation, or just write, “You are doing a great job.” Writing the notes are as important as reading them. Taking the time to write them speaks to self-care; reading them is a reminder that you are worthy of the care.
  • Gratitude letter/visit: Write a letter of gratitude to someone who has had a positive impact on you. If feasible, you might consider delivering the letter to the person. (It is important to first weigh the pros and cons of delivering such a letter.)
  • Three good things: Jot down three things that went well for you each day and give an explanation as to why these good things occurred.
  • Write your future diary: Envisioning your future can be a great motivating factor to get you over the slump. Close your eyes and picture your future. Focus on how life will be different and what changes will be in place. Reflect on how you’ll feel and on how others will respond to the new, improved you. Think about how you’ll utilize the habits, skills, and talents you’re learning now to benefit others.

 

Visit www.StartHereCoachingServices.com for more information about living a happier and more satisfying life.–Renae Cerquitella

Life is filled with last times. What’s unfortunate is we usually don’t know we are experiencing a last time, until after it has happened.

About a year ago I visited my younger cousin Keri who was gravely ill and in a coma. The last conversation I had with her was in July of 2015 during our family reunion. I didn’t know it would be my last time to spend with her or to take a picture with her. She was a sweet and caring person that had incredible love for her family, children, and little granddaughter.

 

On Wednesday, March 1, I attended the funeral of my Uncle Coy (Carl G. Wages). The last time I saw him was after I visited his daughter, Keri, in the hospital. His oldest daughter, Kristi, took my sister Shelly and me to the assisted living facility that he would call home until he died.

Coy on horse_TU
Carl “Coy” G. Wages

We were warned by my cousin what to expect when we saw him. He was thinner and often had a hard time remembering his family. Parkinson’s had set in a while ago, so the symptoms he presented were familiar. But the dementia was new to me and my sister.

My Uncle Coy appeared to be living in a dementia-induced Ground Hog Day (for those of you who don’t know, this is a movie with Bill Murray), where he carried out daily chores and interacted with his parents and siblings, including my mom, who had all passed away many years ago. I’m pretty sure he believed he was visiting the assisted living facility and often expressed concerns about whether his cows and horses were fed properly and put up for the night. Family and staff members assured Coy that his animals were cared for and he could go to sleep.

Kristi, honest to a fault, made a courageous decision and spared her father updates about her little sister’s failing health and later her death. It was probable that even if Kristi decided to share with her dad that Keri died and grieved with him, he most likely would not remember it the next day. I know this was hard for Kristi because she didn’t lie to her Daddy.

On that visit a year ago, my Uncle Coy immediately recognized me, his daughter and my sister. He said some things I couldn’t understand, but also many funny things I could understand. Just like my mother’s other five brothers, my Uncle Coy was a true cowboy who spoke with a colorful and delightful southeastern Oklahoma accent. The cadence of his voice differed now from what I remember when I was a little girl. My entire life he’d say, “Hello Na!” every time he saw me, with an animated booming voice. He would hug me and his eyes would sparkle as he smiled at me. On the last day I saw him, the sparkle was still there. He was still there. I enjoyed my time with him.

As I think about my last visit with my uncle I think about other last times. I reflect on the last time I hugged my mother. I remember vividly how she felt beneath our hug, how tiny she felt, the way she smelled and the feel of my lips on her cheek as we kissed goodbye.

I think of our last real talk together and how that last conversation was more like the final piece of an enormous puzzle that had remained missing despite hours of conversations and attempts at understanding each other. When she died, so unexpectedly a week after than last talk, I felt whole with her. We had mended so many fences and I understood her better than I ever had. I understood her humanness, her frailty and fears that had kept her locked in a prison created 50 years before.

There are so many last times that aren’t etched in our memory, but we know they happened. Things like, the last time you could pick up your child and carry them or the last day they stopped begging to sleep in your bed.

I turn 50 this month and I’m sure I am experiencing many lasts that I’m not even aware of. This could be a sad thought or just a thought, neither sad or happy. One beautiful part of growing older is the awareness of limited time. At 50, even if you die of natural causes, you know you won’t be around forever.

For me, that awareness brings appreciation. Although I was at my beloved uncle’s funeral, I was filled with appreciation. I got see my extended family, hug their necks and talk, even if only for just a few moments. For those of you that have never had a large family, even a small gathering consists of no fewer than 75 members and talking to each person feels a lot like speed dating.

Each aunt, uncle, and cousin have many beautiful memories and experiences connected to them. The love I feel for them is greater than what I remember as a little girl who saw them so often. My awareness is sharper now and I know how much they influenced who I am today.

I am sad that my Uncle Coy is gone from our family. I’m sad for his twin, my Uncle Charles who lost his best friend. I’m sad for his other siblings who will miss him stirring up every room he entered. I’m sad for his daughter, son in law and grandchildren who will miss his counsel and unconditional love. I’m sad for the wife who cared for and loved him his last years on earth. I’m grateful that he brought us together and reminded me of what an amazing family I have.

Complaining is a replacement for action

I’ve been reading a great book by Barbara Sher titled It’s only too late if you don’t start nconstant-complaining-about-your-life-and-situationow. At first, this book may seem like an attempt to give hope to the hopeless, over-forty dreamers that seem to have fallen into the rut of complacency and dream amnesia. However, once you dig deeper into the book you discover so many possibilities, no matter your age, wealth, health, or mental state.

This book reinforces the cornerstone and central vision of my coaching practice: “Do you understand your value?” Once my clients understand their value, they see the world differently. Sher takes this notion a step further and really made me, an experienced coach, ponder where I’m going and feel proud about my own leaps of faith in pursuance of my dream of service to others.

Sher also shines the light on those of us who complain about our lives, other people, and our situation and describe it as an excuse for taking action. I can run through the Rolodex of my friends, colleagues and family members and quickly identify the ones who tolerate any behavior or demand thrown their way. Inaction is safe because we aren’t challenging the status quo. We stay in our place and watch unhealthy people continue their destructive behaviors, usually without consequences, while we passively assist with our silence, complacency, and collective pathology.

Before reading Sher’s book I had already began my journey towards mental health, self-care and well-being. I will tell you right now, if you haven’t already started your journey, once you begin, be prepared for fallout from others. People will be uncomfortable and may feel threatened by your changes. They may yell, call you names, say you are wrong, separate themselves from you, talk about you, bully you, drop you from social media and so on. But slowly and surely, they start seeing your metamorphosis as something that brings you happiness and allows you to provide better support, kinder interaction and strength.

People’s disapproval may feel crappy and lonely at first, but as you continue your self-care and self-improvements, it becomes obvious that they are emoting the equivalent of a temper tantrum and you can’t control that. I guess you could go back to the way it was, that would certainly be easier. But I believe you weren’t put on this earth just to go-along to get-along. You were put here to be your most wonderful, healthy, best. Your service to others isn’t to just do what they want, it is to be your authentic self, let your gifts develop and provide service with and through your abilities.

Think about your place in this world. Allow yourself to dream big about what you want to do. Pick up Sher’s book and allow the idea-squirrels to run free in your head.  I promise, you won’t regret trying. Who knows, maybe it will be the best thing that ever happened to you. At the very least, you fail fantastically, discover something you like even better, and have some really great stories to tell your grandkids.

If you need help uncovering your dreams, contact me at Renae@StartHereWellBeing.com. Follow me on Instagram @Start.Here.

Take care! –Renae

Understanding the price of perfection

Sometimprice-of-perfection-10192016es the expectation of perfection is its own prison

Living as a perfectionist can become a prison. It’s not the type of prison with walls you can touch or see, but it does keep people locked up and away from who they are supposed to be. The fear of failure, judgement and shame is a record that plays over and over in the mind of the perfectionist. Perfectionism and being perfect can be summed up as, “Heightened expectations based on idealized outcomes that often extend beyond useful.”

Chasing the “idealized outcome” dragon can start early in a person’s life. Perhaps a child begins modeling a parent’s behaviors or they adopt the perfectionist title because they enjoy the praise and recognition that comes with being the best. The perfectionist becomes even more imprisoned when their practices become compulsions that temporarily provide feelings of control and safety. However, the compulsions must be repeated often to maintain the feelings of security. In addition, the perfectionist can wreak constant havoc on themselves by procrastinating and living in a state of paralysis due to the fear of failure.

Most self-proclaimed perfectionists wear their moniker as a badge of honor and work very hard to maintain that appearance. Fearful of what others will think, I have seen men and women stay in unhealthy relationships, avoid getting professional help for addictions and ignore their children’s outrageous behaviors. By staying, enduring and pretending all for the sake of appearance, they add another pathology to the mix.

For those living or working with/for a perfectionist, most likely, they have experienced the damage left in the perfectionist’s wake. Because the perfectionist environment allows for little or no margin for error, creativity, collaboration and overall well-being becomes diminished. In addition, a toxic loop is created when the perfectionist sets impossible standards and then devalues work that doesn’t meet the elevated standards.

I’ve seen first-hand the pain the perfection-pursuit can cause. Without even realizing it, parents rob themselves of real sharing and deep conversations with their growing children. Children often choose to abstained from sharing failures and experiences for fear of judgement and shaming by a perfect parent.

For perfectionists who feel imprisoned or paralyzed by their behaviors, I encourage you to reach out to a counselor or therapist. They really can help.

For those who would like to learn how to move beyond their moderate perfectionist behaviors, I encourage you to spend time outside of your comfort zone. If it feels uncomfortable or makes you want to puke, then you are on your way. Being uncomfortable and lacking the ability, skills or mastery can lead to amazing growth and self-acceptance. Below are a few ideas to try that are probably beyond your comfort zone. Try to do at least a few.

Repeat out loud, “Perfection doesn’t exist. I won’t fall apart if I’m not perfect.”

  • Re-define perfectionism as one of many tools at your disposal.
  • Use your perfectionism tool sparingly as a way to motivate, improve, innovate or to create a new vision.
  • Be kind, accepting and forgiving to yourself and others.
  • Remind yourself that you and others don’t have to be perfect to be loved.
  • Try something new and difficult. If you fail, show your failure to someone else. Laugh about it.
  • Be still and enjoy the perfection of living and just being. Find perfection in simple things.
  • Watch others and be entertained by their absurdity, bravery and human frailty.
  • Only use the words “perfect” or “perfection” when describing some type of chocolate dessert-thingy.

Please remember to love who you are, right now. You are awesome just like you are and absolutely no one loves you because you are perfect. They love you because you are amazing.

If you would like to re-block your perfectionist thinking email me at Renae@StartHereWellbeing.com. I never charge for email advice and if you need one-on-one help, we can set up a no obligation discovery session.

Daily Prompt: Facade

via Daily Prompt: Facade

I have spent most of my life behind a facade. The happy-all-the how-far-do-you-bendto-fit-time persona I adopted, although captured a lot of my beliefs and essence, was starkly different than my real life.

Displeasure, disappointment and pain were suppressed and later showed-up as an eating disorder and depression. The incongruity between my reality and what I emoted created my own special kind of “crazy.” I became, what can only be described as an emotional-contortionist. Think chameleon effect on steroids!

As I grew up, contorting allowed me to create a persona that fit in, was accepted and kept me safe. Now as an adult and Life Coach, I no longer live this way, but meet a lot of women who do. They create a persona; they twist and conform until they become a puzzle piece that aligns perfectly with people who really don’t know them. Emotional-contortionist don’t allow friends and loved ones a chance to know, appreciate and value who they truly are. The fear of rejecting the “real me” is much greater than managing a persona.

Managing my persona was exhausting and I needed to shed it, but I didn’t know how. Then came a couple painful opportunities in my mid-forties that forced me to get real.

First, my six and a half year relationship ended. The entire relationship had been a sham that I co-fostered. At first I criticized the ex for his deception, however, now that I am several years removed from the pain and loss, I acknowledge we were both liars. He was lying to me and I was lying to me. Ha! I guess we had one thing in common!

Closing that chapter gifted me with new insight, introspection and understanding. Over the next year I spent a lot of time alone digging into my thoughts, growing stronger and becoming more of my true self. Then, quite by chance, I met and married an honest, kind and encouraging man named Dan.

Yeah, happy ending! No, not quite. I still maintained a facade and family pathology that I tended to, like a gardener to her prize roses. I protected and hid the dysfunction and abuse I had experienced as a child and as an adult. I lied by omission to Dan and my children. I was filled with pain and feelings of guilt and shame that often erupted into extreme emotional highs and lows.

My second painful opportunity came when I decided to expose myself and my deception. I wondered, “Will they still love me?” But it didn’t matter anymore, I had to tell my husband and children my family secrets. I had to reveal to my children that I had lied their entire lives. I had to tell my husband of two years that I had deceived him. I was terrified and knew I could lose everything.

But I didn’t. My children, although overwhelmed, sought to understand my ongoing internal conflict and provided support during my recovery. My husband expressed pride and just kept loving me. The real and authentic me.

 

 

Daily Prompt: Stylish

via Daily Prompt: Stylish

Style can be a learned. But we all know those people who can take a burlap sack and turn it into something stunning. I gave birth to one of those people. At age three, my daughter Reanna adorn herself, almost daily, with a rabbit stole (purchased for $3 by her 5-year-old brother at a garage sale), a rainbow sundress (3 sizes too big), Christmas tree stockings, red glitter shoes, and a wig she wore backwards so the hair appeared longer.

blog-09222016
The fashionista then and now.

It didn’t matter if we were going to the sitter’s house or to the store, if the dress and stockings were clean, she put on her “best” and dressed to impress. She was naturally beautiful and drew much attention, with or without the attire. But something about her demeanor changed when she wore the things she found beautiful. She walked a little taller and smiled a little bigger. She was a star.

She is still a star to me. Today, Reanna is a teacher and still enjoys those occasional times when she gets to doll-up in an “only she could pull it off” outfit. She is still lovely and draws a lot of attention without even knowing it.

The three-year-old Reanna taught me a lot about showing up, being who you are, and not caring about what the rest of the world thinks. Because I was so busy raising my two little ones, I missed many of those lessons. I look back now with a different set of eyes and see light in a child not encumbered by societal rules and norms. She was just expressing joy through her pretty clothes. I see more clearly now the importance of that type of authenticity in all stages of life.

When we show up authentically, we walk taller and smile broader. I know I do. When my clients connect to that piece of themselves there is a shift in thinking. I like to imagine that they go back to their three-year-old selves and get to, once again,  experience the most stylish fashion: being themselves.

 

You are the dumbest person in the room and so is everyone else.

Have you ever been in the company of incredibly smart and confident people and started thinking, “What am I doing here? I’m self-confidence-cartoonsuch a fraud. If they only knew how little I know…” You get the point. Everyone feels this way at some time or another. So here is a bit of wisdom I wanted to pass along.

A few nights ago I had the privilege of being invited to a get together with some of the brightest people I’ve ever worked with. During our conversation, each of these brilliant professionals shared that at some point in their careers they didn’t have a clue about what they were doing. They used phrases like, “totally lost,” “out of my wheelhouse,” “faked it until I learned it,” and “I still don’t have a clue.” I was fascinated! You see, I’ve seen these people in action and they are ROCK STARS! Each of these individuals possess a common saving grace. Each person is acutely aware of their abilities, limitations, and know when to reach out to others for help, mentoring and guidance. This is how they are successful and proceed with confidence.

Up to this point I just figured people were divided into two groups: the brilliant people and the others. The ‘others’ just kind of stumbled through life, possess average intelligence, common sense and street smarts. I was an ‘other.’ However, upon further examination, I’m rethinking my views, because I’ve been doing exactly the same thing the brilliant people do.

I’ve known for some time that I experience what psychologists call impostor syndrome. Impostor syndrome occurs in high-achieving women more often than men, limits a person’s ability to accept their accomplishments, resulting in a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud. I can’t count the dreams I’ve had where the common theme was not graduating from high school or having my degrees taken away.

I’ve met other women who suffer from impostor syndrome. Just like me, they attribute their success to luck, timing or simply tricking others into believing they are skilled. They almost always think everyone else is more competent than they are.

Today, I bring good news: everyone, at one time or another, feels like they aren’t good enough. Someone, at some time, has looked at you and thought you were the cat’s-pajamas and they were a pile of nothing. Once we really understand that everyone is human and they feel human emotion, we can take ourselves less serious, feel more empowered, love who we are and reduce the negative self-talk that plays in our heads.

Awareness is the first steps to self-empowerment, self-love and self-acceptance. Take the time and really get to know yourself and the brilliance that you bring. And just wait, someone will ask for your expertise because they don’t have a clue about what they are doing.