November officially begins the “season of giving,” when, out of habit or reminders we take time to write a check to our favorite charity, volunteer to serve meals at a local soup kitchen, or find some other way to give back to the community.
But here’s the thing.
Community needs are always there. January through December. Yep! And you know that good feeling you get when you contribute in some way? That can be yours – all year round.
It doesn’t need to take a lot of your time. And there are charitable organizations and volunteer opportunities to suit a variety of interests, talents and skill sets. Everything from spending an hour a week helping an adult learn to read to sharing your leadership or other skills a few hours a month on a nonprofit Board of Directors.
The choices are many and the benefits immense.
Here are just some of the benefits attributed to giving back.
It’s good for your health. Studies show that people who volunteer have better heart health (because they keep active) and are less likely to be depressed.
It’s an opportunity to leverage hidden talents. Frustrated at work because your talents are underutilized? Find an organization that needs your talent and volunteer. Community organizations are always looking for people with knowledge and talents they are willing to share.
It’s an opportunity to hone new skills. Looking for some leadership experience to take the next step in your career? Volunteer to head up your child’s PTA or lead a local beach clean-up project.
It expands your network. The face-to-face kind. How much in-person connecting are you doing vs. connecting online? Think about it. Step back from your computer and get out there and connect with people eyeball to eyeball! Yes, you’ll want to add them to your LinkedIn, but the best relationships start in person.
It reduces stress and increases happiness. Spending time helping others is a good way to turn your focus away from your own burdens. It can help you look at things with a new perspective, which can lead to increased happiness.
It may help you live longer. According to a report from the Mayo Clinic, “individuals who volunteer have lower mortality rates than those who do not, even when controlling for age, gender and physical health. In addition, several studies have shown that volunteers with chronic or serious illness experience declines in pain intensity and depression when serving as peer volunteers for others also suffering from chronic pain.” Can we all say, Former President Jimmy Carter?
So now, what are you waiting for?
Till next time,
If you followed the advice in my last blog, "Look Back Before Planning Forward," you now have a plan of intentions/goals for 2019 along with specific actions that will help you achieve those goals. Bravo!
Often the work we need to do to achieve our goals involves changing our habits - either eliminating habits that work against our intentions, or creating new, more supportive ones. Either way, it involves change. And change can be difficult.
For example, maybe one of the things you want to do in the area of "eating healthier" is to limit dessert after dinner to weekends. No more weekday after-dinner sweets! But you've been having dessert after dinner since you were a kid. The meal just doesn't feel complete without it. How do you make that change (and stick to it)?
In his best-selling book, Atomic Habits, author James Clear says, "Bad habits repeat themselves not because you don't want to change, but because you have the wrong system for change...You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems."
The human brain is wired for immediate gratification. You know that piece of cake after dinner isn't contributing to your long-term health ("a moment on the lips, a lifetime on your hips") but oooooh, is it good! As Clear says, "the consequences of bad habits are delayed while the rewards are immediate."
To break or establish habits and achieve your goals, you need to change your systems. "Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results," Clear says.
Our habits are behavior routines that have been repeated so often that they become automatic. To change them, we have to become aware of them and replace them with good habits.
Clear says that employing the first three laws of behavior change - make it obvious, make it attractive, and make it easy - will increase the chances of performing a new behavior. The fourth law - make it satisfying - will make it more likely that the new behavior will be repeated, and thus become a habit. When you want to eliminate a behavior, i.e, change a bad habit, you flip the process: make it invisible, make it unattractive, make it difficult, and make it unsatisfying.
Turning the new behavior into a (good) habit comes from making incremental improvements every day. And the best way to do this is to add "a little bit of immediate pleasure to the habits that pay off in the long-run and a little bit of immediate pain to the ones that don't."
Success in nearly every field, Clear says, requires you to ignore an immediate reward in favor of a delayed reward.
"Habits are like the atoms of our lives. Each one is a fundamental unit that contributes to your overall improvement." - James Clear
Till next time,
Admit it. How many of you, as you rang in the new year, secretly (or maybe even publicly) said, "Thank GOODNESS 2018 is over!" or words to that effect?
Certainly, there were things in the past year we'd all rather forget. And yet, you are doing yourself a major disservice if you don't pause to reflect on - from a personal and professional standpoint - some highlights of your year. What did you accomplish? What did you learn? What challenges did you overcome? What new skills did you develop? Taking stock of these items will not only improve your view of the past year, it will also help guide your thinking as you plan your goals, intentions, whatever you want to call them, for the new year.
So. Grab a tablet, a pen (or your laptop), and a beverage of your choice. Find a quiet place and allow yourself 30 minutes or so to list out the following for 2018:
What I accomplished
What I learned
A challenge I overcame and how
A new skill(s) I developed
Once you've made your list, give yourself some time to reflect on (and feel good about) all that you've achieved. Focus on the positive! Then, as you plan for 2019 (and you are developing a plan, right?) let your list help guide your intentions (that's what I like to call them) for the new year.
I think we've all figured out that New Year's "resolutions" don't work. They are typically too broad (lose weight, get out of debt, win the lottery) and not tied to specific actions or deadlines. Research shows that 80% of them are abandoned by February. So why bother, right? Wrong!
I suggest a different approach. First of all, keep it simple yet specific. Second, keep it balanced. Too often we focus so much energy on changing one aspect of our life that we totally neglect the other aspects. For example, there's that promotion you want, so you put 110% of your energy into doing the work, gaining the visibility, and finding the opportunity that will get you there. Pretty soon you're skipping the gym, eating junk food at the office for dinner, and saying "no" to time with family and friends. "Vacation? Not happening!" And do you get the promotion? Maybe. But at what cost?
Here's my guide for creating a simple plan that will help keep your life balanced and moving forward. It's called the Circle of Life. As you consider your intentions for 2019, think about the eight aspects of your life illustrated below. Where do you spend the most effort? As you look back on 2018, what aspect did you neglect or ignore? How will you change that this year?
Now make one or two intentions for each aspect. Make them simple, make them specific, and write them down! Include due dates wherever possible.
Once you've created your plan, keep it visible. Put it someplace where you can see it every day. Schedule time on your calendar once a month to assess how you're doing. Pay attention to what's getting out of balance, e.g., when work is eating into your intentions in personal growth or friends/family. Make some adjustments to get back on track.
Taking a look back before moving forward and being more intentional about creating balance in our lives are components of my GET REAL philosophy. So often we burden ourselves with what others tell us we SHOULD do - "find passion in your work," "lean in," "keep climbing that corporate ladder," - that we lose sight of what we WANT to do. We are so focused on the destination that we miss the view along the way.
Here's to an amazing and balanced 2019! I'm declaring it a year to GET REAL! Stay tuned for more GET REAL developments.
"The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can." - Neil Gaiman
Till next time,
Charlie Chaplin once said, “A day without laughter is a day wasted.” I couldn’t agree more. In this often oh-so-serious world, we need to find opportunities to take things (at the very least, ourselves) a little less seriously. Laughter is good for the heart. It’s good for the head. It’s good for the soul.
Here’s what research tells us about laughter.
Laughter relaxes the whole body. A good, hearty laugh (I like to call it a “belly laugh”) relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes.
Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease.
Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
Laughter protects the heart. Laughter improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.
In addition to these physical and emotional benefits of laughter, there are also cognitive and social benefits. Humor and laughter contribute to increased creativity, improved problem solving, enhanced memory and increased ability to deal with stress. They also strengthen bonds with family and friends, increase attractiveness to others, and contribute to happier marriages and closer relationships.
And you might also be interested to know that while you are laughing you are burning calories! A researcher from Vanderbilt University conducted a small study in which he measured the amount of calories expended in laughing. It turned out that 10-15 minutes of laughter burned 50 calories.
Perhaps the best testimony for laughing comes from those who have spent their lives helping us derive the benefits of a chuckle, a chortle, a guffaw, a giggle, a cackle, a crack up, a smile, and a big ol’ belly laugh. Here’s what a few of them have said….
“Laughter is an instant vacation.” – Milton Berle
“We need more kindness, more compassion, more joy, more laughter. I definitely want to contribute to that.” – Ellen DeGeneres
“If love is the treasure, laughter is the key.” Yakov Smirnoff
“The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.” – Mark Twain
“If Heaven exists, to know that there’s laughter, that would be a great thing.” – Robin Williams
“A wonderful thing about true laughter is that it just destroys any kind of system of dividing people.” – John Cleese
“Live by this credo: have a little laugh at life and look around you for happiness instead of sadness. Laughter has always brought me out of unhappy situations.” – Red Skelton
Till next time…keep laughing,
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, we’ve heard multiple “I’m sorry” statements from public figures who have been accused of bad behavior. Most of them sound pretty much the same. “I’m sorry for how I’ve hurt my family, my friends, my (fill in the blanks)…
Let’s get real. Just saying “I’m sorry” doesn’t cut it. Apology not accepted.
While you can’t go back and undo whatever the offense or error was, a few robo-words in response to it do not in any way compensate, nor do they make the offended party feel any better. You need to take ownership, acknowledge the impact of your error or offense, and assure the other person that it won’t happen again. In other words, you need to be sincere about it. Saying “sorry” and being sorry are not the same things.
This applies to all errors or infractions, not just the big and public ones.
Imagine this scenario. You’re on a project team with four other people. The target project completion date is looming, and your deliverable is key to hitting that target. You’ve had a hellish couple of weeks. Family issues, and “fires” in your day-to-day responsibilities have put you behind. You didn’t alert anyone, because you were so sure you’d be able to catch up. The day of reckoning – the status meeting – has arrived. How do you convey “mea culpa” to your team?
"I’m really sorry, folks. Between family issues and fighting fires there was just no way I could get it finished. I know it puts us behind, but it just couldn’t be helped."
"I realize that my slipping this deadline has put our hitting the target date in peril. I should have given you a heads up early last week when I first recognized I might not make it. I didn’t, and I know that was irresponsible. Here’s what I’m going to do to get us back on track, and how I’ll prevent things like this in the future…"
As a member of the project team, which would convey more sincerity to you?
I’m on a mission to encourage more kindness and courtesy in people’s day-to-day lives. Promoting sincere apologies is part of that. We’ve seen multiple examples of insincere apologies from politicians and other public figures. Enough already.
Let’s move the tide in a different direction by: 1) taking ownership; 2) acknowledging the impact; and 3) assuring the injured party that it won’t happen again.
Till next time,
In the current divisive and rather mean environment, I imagine many of you wake up wondering, “What is this world coming to?” I know I do. It would be so easy to just crawl under the covers with a good book and a powerful flashlight and wait until the world gets better. But then, I’ve never been one to just wait around for things to change. I think we each have a responsibility to make the change we want to see in the world – even if we can only make it one small step at a time.
I’d like to suggest that we start the change by committing to a random act of kindness every day. It doesn’t have to be big. It can be a kind word, a smile, opening a door, helping someone across the street.
“Unexpected kindness is the most powerful, least costly, and most underrated agent of human change.” – Bob Kerrey
As much as it’s about the kind things you do and say, it’s also about NOT doing and saying the unkind things that may sometimes fight to be heard. The rant against someone who thinks differently than you; the angry email to a co-worker who let you down; the horn or (admit it) hand gesture in response to a careless driver; the snarky, anonymous comment on an online article. Pack those away in a “venting box” in favor of a kinder world.
Tomorrow, instead of waking up wondering what the world is coming to, wake up and ask yourself, “How can I be kinder today?” Then commit to looking for opportunities to show someone you care. Here are some ideas.
• Do a chore or run an errand for an elderly neighbor.
• Let people merge in front of you – even when they’re rude about it.
• Call your Mom.
• Say “please” and “thank you.” Always.
• Volunteer at a food kitchen.
• Smile and say “hello” to everyone you pass on the street.
• Buy breakfast or lunch for a homeless person.
• Donate to a food bank.
• Give a blanket or some warm clothes to those in need.
• Help a stranger.
You probably will find lots of opportunities, big and small, to be kind. I’d love to hear about your random acts of kindness and how they made you feel.
“Never believe that a few caring people cannot change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.” – Margaret Mead
Till next time,