My House, My Home

It's honesty time: I'm feeling super emotional about selling my house. 7 years of my life have been spent in this house, designing it, making it my own. Every colour we painted, every finish and fixture that we changed was changed to make it feel like a home for us. We even chose our furniture especially for this house. We set it up just the way we liked it. Our first house. We grew and changed so much as people in this house. Even the 'For Sale' sign out front of the house triggered powerful emotions in me.

Over the past month, in getting my house ready for sale, I've shown it more care and respect than I ever have in the past 7 years. And I found myself asking why I didn't clean the walls regularly, why I didn't touch up the paint when it got marked up, why I didn't replace the door right away when it stopped working right, why I let my counters have dirty dishes on them overnight, why I didn't just vacuum the baseboards once a week when I vacuumed the floors. Because I realize now how much I love how my house looks and feels when it's at its best. And it doesn't take much to keep it that way if I do it regularly. In caring so attentively for my home in the past month I made friends with it, I thanked it for keeping me safe and realized that somewhere along the way, my funny little modular/trailer that we were only going to have for a few years until we left town became a wonderful home.

Then it really hit me. Why don't I show myself that same care and respect? It felt like cleaning and caring for my home was a metaphor for cleaning and caring for myself. When I'm the best I can be, I love how I look and feel. I am friends with myself and I love myself. And unlike my house, I will always have my body, mind and soul to call home. Like a house, I can change much about myself physically, mentally and spiritually. But unless I nurture myself regularly with special care and attention, I am not at home within myself.

I am not usually attached to possessions at all, but this house feels different. I feel different. Owning and caring for a home taught me how important it is that I need to own and care for myself. And it wasn't until I had to leave this home that I learned this lesson. Life will keep putting you in places to learn your lessons. My house is one of those places.

Thank you, house and home for your lessons. I will take them into my next home and into myself. I'm sad to be letting you go, but that's what I needed to learn this lesson. And now I know that I have a home in myself no matter where I am in the world. <3

Make Magic Happen!

We know them as the famous words uttered by all the Hollywood movie directors: "Lights! Camera! ACTION!" Upon that last word, the clapperboard snaps down and magic is made. But what if the director never said "action"? 

So often in initial consultation sessions and even in coaching sessions, people tell me how important X is to them. That X is their number one priority. "I've got to get back in shape, fitness is so important to me," or "I want to put myself first" or even "something's stopping me from being where I want to be and getting it sorted out is my priority." When we chat a bit more, they go on to tell me all of the dreams, wishes and desires tied to this priority for who they want to be and how they want to live their best life.

When talking about their deepest dreams, wishes and desires for themselves, I see people light up and sparkle. I see their eyes dance, I hear their voices become light and animated as they smile when they speak. I watch their arms move with fluidity and freedom and their whole body seems taller, confident and unstoppable. 

Then it happens.

I know it's happening even when they don't because the change is so obvious to me it's like night and day.

I watch as they talk themselves out of the very thought of even trying.

It happens in an instant and they don't even have to say a word. It happens in their minds and is immediately reflected in the sigh of breath, the shoulders that droop forward, the crossed arms, and the heavy limbs. Their eyes look downward and the light shuts off. All this happens in a millisecond and I know what's coming next.

With their voices as steady and rational as ever, I hear people say things like:

  • "I'm ready to go, but I just don't have the time to start something else right now." 
  • "I'm so busy right now. I know it's important so I'll do it next month when my schedule clears up."
  • "I just don't know where to start."
  • "I'm just not ready."
  • "I don't have any money."
  • "I have kids. I can't do that."

All these reasons are just different ways of saying the same thing: that the priority wasn't a priority to begin with and that they feel safer living in their current situation than in making their dreams into their reality. Why? Because taking action is scary.

I once read somewhere that "the distance between your dreams and reality is called action." If we don't DO the thing, we can't BE the thing. That thing stopping us from taking action to reach our dreams and be the person we want to be is fear. Fear of failure, fear of what other people might think, fear of success, fear of not being good enough, fear of what might or might not happen if we try, fear of not be able to provide for our families, fear of being a bad parent, fear of what might happen if we drop other activities to allow ourselves to pursue what makes us fulfilled. So we keep on living by making everything else more important and then feel sad, anxious, depressed and unfulfilled as we watch our dreams move further and further away from our reality. 

We don't even know we're doing it. We don't quit the committee we're on even though we're miserable with it because we're afraid of what the other members would think or what might happen if we left. So we stick with the miserable committee rather than taking that yoga instruction course. We know the course would get us closer to our dream of owning a yoga studio and then we rationalize it away by telling ourselves our schedule is too full and we can't take it on. Then we resentfully attend each committee meeting feeling more trapped and miserable than before.

The only way through fear is action. When we feel anxious and fearful it's about an imagined situation in the future, yet when we arrive at that future we most often find that all that suff we were afraid of never happened, or if it did, it was nowhere near as bad as we thought.

You can only bridge the gap between your dreams and reality by taking action. Take action BECAUSE it scares you. Fear can act as a sign telling us exactly what we need to do, pointing us in the direction of our goals and our heart's desires. Sign up for that class, book that coaching appointment (see what I did there?) quit that miserable committee because you were meant to live in freedom and fulfillment. 

Be the director of your own life. Shout "ACTION" and get out there and make your magic happen!

Step into the light.

Today was a day when I felt like quitting. All of it. The coaching, the business building, all of it. I felt like quitting my book.

I'm working with a writing coach who is helping me finish my book. To put it mildly, it hasn't been easy to write. In fact, it's one of the hardest things I've ever done because it demands that I commit effort every single day to something without any idea of what it will look like in the end, whether it will be good or what it will even accomplish. We humans like our immediate results and our instant gratification. Writing a book has literally NONE of that. That's what makes it so hard.

I hadn't written anything for about a week and was feeling like quitting. Today, I wanted to quit so bad. So I decided I needed a chat with my writing coach. I honestly told him I was frustrated and wanted to bail, but that there was a part of me that had to finish, and I needed help inspiring that part of me to keep going. Here is what he told me:

Of people who are asked what their top 10 life ambitions are, 83% have writing a book on their list.

Only 5% of that 83% who say they want to write a book, ever start writing.

Only 1% of the 83% finish writing their book.

He said that just by starting I'm already in the 5% and by completing my rough draft, I'll be in the 1%.

He said that no matter how well (or badly) written my book is, the absolute worst thing that can happen to me if I finish is that I will be in the 1% and will accomplish something that 83% of people want to do, and 82% give up on.

I think that's pretty amazing.

And I think that's true about life and becoming your best you. All of us want connection, love, to be seen and heard, to belong and to feel worthy. To have those things, we need to do what's hard and what scares us. We need to be open and vulnerable as we walk into the dark and the scary to own our stories and own who we are. We need to pull back the curtain on our light and bring ourselves out of hiding. All of ourselves. We must admit we are afraid, we must open ourselves to all of life's experiences and all of our emotions even when they cause us great discomfort.

Even if it scares us to death.

We have to lean in to those uncomfortable and awkward parts. We have to make peace with those parts. Because we can't have the light without the dark. When we uncover our light, our own unique light of the billions of lights that are on this planet, we give others permission to do the same. It is the hardest thing to do. So many of us keep our light hidden because the possibility of being rejected and hurt while we're vulnerable is awful and terrible. Yet it's when we shine our light despite those fears that we find love, belonging and connection.

In uncovering your light and sharing all of yourself openly, you will encourage others to shine. The darkness will vanish. You will be surrounded by the light of others and your own unique light will inspire others. Your life will be made so much brighter, and it starts when you decide to own all of yourself by shining your light.

And the more often you uncover your light and the longer you keep it uncovered the stronger it will get. It will get so strong that the worst thing that happens to you won't feel like the worst thing anymore.

You will have done what so many others can't. Just starting puts you in a wonderful place, and as for finishing? There is no end to what the power of your own light can do for others.

To the victims of Jian Ghomeshi...

Jian Ghomeshi has been acquitted of all 4 charges against him. Four counts of sexual assault and one count of choking. According to CBC.ca, in his ruling, the Judge said, that the "deceptive and manipulative" evidence given by the complainants raised a reasonable doubt as to Ghomeshi's guilt. 

I'm not surprised by this. I'm sad. Ghomeshi's lawyer did exactly what she had to do and she did a great job. Now let's get it straight that this verdict does not mean that nothing happened. I'm sure that something did happen. The fact is that his lawyer was successful in discrediting the witnesses testimony. That's the way of the law.

But I should also say that I am a victim of sexual assault. I was grabbed and fondled by a random stranger in a Halifax parking garage in 2001 when I lived the city.

I NEVER thought it could happen to me.

It happened so fast. Only a few seconds, really. I had training in self-defence but I blanked out at the critical moment. I don't remember my reaction or what I said or did as it was happening or immediately after. I just don't. I remember snapping back a few seconds after and then chasing my assailant down the street at full speed and then throwing the umbrella I was carrying about 75 ft ahead of me. Adrenaline pumping. Anger. Rage.

When the adrenaline went away, I continued my evening like nothing happened. My friend asked me if I was okay. I assured her I was completely fine. Really, I was fine. I went to see the movie with my friend and then went back to my apartment. My boyfriend at the time phoned me and asked about my day. I kind of casually mentioned the assault. He immediately got upset and told me to call the police. I wasn't going to, my brain had already filed the incident into the "never think about this again" filing cabinet and I knew that calling the cops would only bring it back.

My boyfriend came over and made me call the cops and sat with me as I recalled the events. I forced my tears. I needed them to believe it was legit, but I couldn't cry for real. I couldn't feel anything at all. Nothing came of it, I couldn't provide an accurate enough description. Weeks later they came with photos and asked me to identify my assailant but I couldn't.

It wasn't until years later after coming to live in Yellowknife, that I realized the extent of the trauma I was suffering due to this incident. I wouldn't wear tank tops, I gained weight, I hated my body, I hated myself, I couldn't walk past the post office or the mall in Yellowknife without experiencing a panic attack that someone loitering outside might hurt me. My relationship with my husband no doubt suffered as a result. I'm glad to say that today, I have overcome the trauma related to my assault, and it wasn't without some hard work.

I'm sad for the women who had to endure this verdict today. I understand how you feel. I understand the confusion and total denial that you felt after you were assaulted. Did that just happen to me? No, let's file this away, let's not think about it ever again. I also understand how you kept in contact with him, and that you wanted a relationship. I understand that your trauma stayed buried for years, only revealing itself bit by bit in your daily life if at all. Not much to notice, as long as you didn't think about it. Until one day it couldn't hide any longer. I understand why you forgot that you reached out to him after the incidents. I understand. I stand with you, as I'm sure does every woman who has ever been the victim of an assault.

I'm quite certain that the Judge who ruled in this case has never been sexually assaulted in his life. He doesn't get it. It's not his fault he doesn't get it. How can he be expected to? And even if he could get it, the law doesn't really allow him the luxury of empathy. If the law required that only people capable of empathy gained by living through an experience could judge on another's experience, then today would likely have been a different story. I wish I had a way to make it better for the victims. All I can say is that I believe you, I understand you and I'm with you.

On Being Enough. (Thank You, Brrrlesque)

When I heard Ursula say my name for the curtain call on the last night of the show, I froze despite the huge smile on my face. I’d realized there was literally no way to turn back. The tiny backstage area was filled with other performers and zero room to walk by. I’d have to fight my way past them, and there was no way they were losing. 'Why didn't I just wear my dress like at the end of the other shows?' Too late to think about it now. My only option was the stage. I gripped the handle and stem of the open umbrella I was holding across the front of my body and stepped up and out into the spotlight…

Five months earlier, I had just quit the world of full-time employment and was looking for something fun to do to with all the extra time I had.

So having never danced or performed on stage in any real capacity in my entire 37 years, I signed up to be in a burlesque show. Brrrlesque as they call it here in Canada’s coldest city.

Because that’s exactly what every woman does when she has extra time on her hands, right? ‘What the hell,’ I thought. ‘Sounds fun!’

I’ll admit that at first I didn’t take it very seriously. Auditions were happening while I was on vacation in Hawaii and I didn’t have to know that much of the routine our group had worked out. All I had to do was Skype my face into the audition for about 20 minutes and assure everyone I was committed. ‘This is going to be a piece of cake.’ I thought afterward, as I grabbed my towel to go back to the beach, get a tan and eat potato chips for the rest of the day.

For the first few practices with our group of 6, I definitely didn’t give it much thought. It was a fun way to pass my time and meet some new people. Though as our act started to take shape and we’d get to the part where another performer and I had to be the sexy centers of attention, I giggled constantly as I cuddled with her, trying not to think about how uncomfortable I was starting to feel about all of it.

Because it was finally starting to sink in for me that the audience was expecting to see a woman who was talented, beautiful, sexy and self-confident. I was none of those things.  The one thing I did consistently at practice was miss my cue on the umbrella twirl bit. Shit. Fuck. How do I get out of this?

I was in too far to bail. I decided to ‘fake it ‘til I made it’ and that’s exactly what it felt like. I felt phony and out of place at the weekly show rehearsals. I sat on the floor of the dance studio with the other women waiting to practice their acts and hardly made conversation. I had no idea how to talk to anyone. I was so uncomfortable and definitely didn’t belong. Between our group practices and the full weekly rehearsals, my ‘piece of cake’ was turning out to be an ordeal of 9 hours a week for 4 months straight with 40 other women who were obviously much more talented, sexy, beautiful and self-confident than I was.

But a wonderful thing happens when you start spending your time with talented, sexy, beautiful and self-confident women. It happens without anyone knowing it or naming it. You start to feel lifted, held and protected.  And then you begin lifting, holding and protecting others. You are holding space for them. You are holding space for each other.

Holding space for others gives them the freedom to be themselves without judgement, control, trying to fix things or making them feel like they’re not enough. When you hold space for others, they are enough, just as they are. Unconditionally.

Every week in that space I was free to be myself.  In that space, I messed up my cues, moved too fast, dropped my props, cuddled my stage partner, laughed, and encouraged others. I took it seriously, I tried my hardest and it was all me, and all enough.

More than enough.

In that space, I claimed the sexy, beauty, and confidence that I had been searching for, yet were always with me. I didn’t know it, but I needed those women to help me discover them. And I didn’t even know I had found them until…

…I stood in the spotlight in front of 150 people for the closing show curtain call in heels, fishnet stockings, tiny underwear and nothing covering my top but an open umbrella and two trimmed peacock feathers adhered strategically over my pointy bits. 

With more than 40 women holding me in their space, I snapped the umbrella closed to a deafening roar from the crowd and I was enough.

I am still enough.

Thank you Brrrlesque.  Love, Phoenix.

Roller Derby: The Only Four Skills You Need to Succeed

The online derbyverse is filled with posts by skaters who aren't quite able to master a particular skill. Whether it’s crossovers, transitions, one-foot glides, I read posts all the time written by skaters who are (figuratively) shitting all over themselves when they can’t nail skills after only 3 or 4 practices. One post I recall reading on Facebook (or making up just now by mashing up 4 or 5 different posts) said this:

I’ve only been skating for about 10 hours in total but I totally suck. I try to get my one-foot glides and I totally fall down every time. If another skater even looks at me trying to do it I fall down. I just wanna crawl under a rock and die. This is sooooo hard. I need advice, pleeeease!

You want it, you've got it. There are only 4 skills you need to succeed in roller derby. 

1. Relax.

When was the last time you became an expert in something after only 10 hours? And how’s the pressure to do it working out for you? Show yourself some derby luv and patience. After all, this is the only time you'll ever live the journey of being fresh meat. Enjoy the scenery, it's beautiful and you don't want to miss it.

2. Let go.

Of what other skaters are doing. Of what you think you did wrong. Of what others may think of you. None of that stuff is your business. When you’re busy living in other people’s minds by worrying about what they’re doing or what they’re thinking, who’s living your life right now?

3. Have fun.

Last time I checked, learning to roller skate and play derby was all about that. Wait. Let me check again… yup, still about fun. Give yourself permission to have fun while you’re learning. Forget about counting your laps the next time you do endurance. Resist the temptation to ask how you did afterward. Skate for the sheer fun of skating, for the raw feeling of leaving it all out there and let that drive you around the track. Take that feeling home with you after practice. Wear it to bed and wake up with it in the morning.

4. Keep failing.

#Fail over and over again and do it spectacularly. Push yourself to fail. If you aren’t failing you’re not succeeding either. Studies show that people who are relaxed about failing when learning new things soon learn to do them well. In fact, they often do better than people who worry about doing things perfectly at the get go. Build your success on failure. Fail a mountain of fails to your success. When you get to the top, fail a new mountain for the fun of it. Enjoy the view. You’ve earned it.

Relax. Let go. Have fun. Keep failing.

Repeat.

Stress: Are You a Prisoner?

A few nights ago I noticed my cat seemed to be scratching an awful lot in the same place on her neck. I didn't think much about it until a few hours later while I was playing with her and she stopped to scratch the spot again. A little tuft of fur flew out. When I checked the side of her neck I found that she was bleeding because she had scratched the area raw.

Suspecting her itchiness was caused by an allergy to a new food we were trying with her, the next morning I went to see the veterinarian to pick up an E collar (also known as the cone of shame) and to get his thoughts on what might be causing the problem. He suggested we stop the new food for a few days and see if it helped. He said that if stopping the new food didn't work, the scratching could be caused by stress.

Stress did not seem like the answer. I thought to myself, what does my cat have to be stressed out about? She never has to seek out warm places to sleep because she's an indoor cat living in a nice, warm, spacious house with lots of comfy places to sleep. She never has to find food because she gets fed healthy food each day, we clean her box regularly and make time to play with her every night. She has her cat perch placed next to the window where she can see the ravens playing with each other outside and watch the cars go by. I mean, the dog is a bit of a hyperactive pain sometimes, but all that aside, what's to be stressed about?

I asked the vet about what kinds of things cause cats to be stressed. He told me that cats have only been domesticated a short time compared to dogs. Dogs have evolved to live with humans, and cat's haven't.  Cats develop stress-related illnesses because when we bring them into our homes to live with us, we are making them live in a way that is not true to their nature. We are not letting our cats be cats.

He explained that feral cats live outdoors and establish large territories. They eat what they hunt, they get to scratch where they please, they are able to climb to high places and use the bathroom where they feel safe. When we humans then force a cat to be an indoor animal, we give it only a very small, restricted territory and it doesn't get to act on its instinct to hunt. The diet that many of us feed our cats is no way the same as the mice and birds it would naturally eat if it lived outdoors, so digestive issues and bladder problems develop. Our indoor cats aren't free to scratch the sofa at will, and climbing up on top of the refrigerator is poor substitute for a tall tree, so behaviour problems enter the mix. Then there's the fact that an indoor cat only has one place to go to the bathroom and can't clean it when it gets dirty. Outside, a cat would just find a different place to do its business each time, but indoors, our cats are dependent on us to clean their bathrooms. When we don't do it often enough, they seek out different places to go, most likely where we humans would rather they didn't. Our cats can get stressed and sick because we are asking them to live in a way that is not true to their nature.

The same is true for us people. When we act in ways that are contrary to our true selves we get stressed and sick too. All too often we do the things we do because we believe that we have to. Unlike cats, we humans are capable of suppressing our true nature and our true selves by justifying our behaviour through our own thoughts and deeply held beliefs:

  • If I don't do it, no one will.
  • What would they think if I....
  • I have to do it, he/she needs my help. 
  • Blood is thicker than water.
  • Always help others before helping yourself.
  • I'm the only one who knows how.
  • I have no choice, there's no other way. 
  • I am Responsible.

We attribute our physical and mental health problems to stress. The stress is real, it's the cause that is imagined. We unconsciously build invisible thought-prisons around ourselves each day, and our stress comes from buying into the belief that we are trapped inside. When we start to tell ourselves that we actually do have choices we can choose whether or not we want to do something based on what is right for us. When we challenge our thoughts and our negative beliefs, we rattle the cage. We begin to see glimpses of the freedom that comes from knowing ourselves and doing what we know is right for us instead of what we believe in our minds is right for us. And if we persist in challenging that which we know at our deepest being is false, we start to find there are more days without bars than with. And then we realize: we're free to leave anytime we want. Because now we know that the bars aren't there. They never were to begin with.

No cats were harmed in the making of this blog post. 

New Year's Reflections, Resolutions and You: 2015 Edition

Today is January 1, 2015 and it's the day that my Facebook newsfeed goes insane with new year posts. Posts about what 2014 was like, and posts about what awaits in 2015. There are two themes (among others) that I've noticed in these posts which I will now sum up in broad, sweeping, generalized statements, followed by some life coachy stuff. (Also be warned, I seem to be into Harry Potter and Star Wars references today.) Hope you enjoy!

Broad, sweeping, generalized statement # 1:

  • Dear 2014: Every single day we spent together sucked the very life from my soul the way a Dementor drains peace, hope and happiness from the very air around it. Don't let the door hit you on the ass on your way out. Now hurry up and get here, 2015 so I can ditch this crappy year. 

If my 2014 really looked as awful as this, I'd want it gone too.

Where's my chocolate?

Realistically, many people are posting that they had a crappy year. They can't wait to write a new chapter and leave 2014 in the dust. Wait a minute... that sounds like last year. And the year before. Hmmm....

Life Coachy Stuff:

The fact is, if you 

believe

 you had a shitty year, then that's what you'll see. For the most part (with some exceptions) each year gives us its fair share of ups and downs. It's called life, and we have no control over most of what happens to us. What we do have control over is

our thoughts about what happens to us

If you choose to believe that 2014 was like being in 

Azkaban Prison

 then chances are 2015 will be no different. And who wants to spend another year in mind prison? Not me!

Want to improve the view and start off down a better path in 2015? Change the reflection in your rearview mirror. It's your mirror, you can move it around to make it reflect whatever you want. Take a few moments to really objectively reflect on your year. Grab a pen and paper and write down at least 10 instances you can recall of something good happening in 2014. Don't limit yourself to big ticket items, small things can hold the most surprises and goodness. Try not to quit until you've listed at least 10 good things. I bet you can come up with more than 10. It's easy to reflect on the negative and this path can be so well-worn in our minds that we choose it without even realizing it. This simple little writing exercise will start forging a new and different path through your mind so it might seem hard at first. Good. That means it's working. Keep at it. Hell, e

ven Darth Vader had some good in him, so I'm willing to bet there was some good in your 2014 too.

Try doing this exercise monthly as 2015 unfolds. Then at the end of the year, take a look back. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Broad, sweeping, generalized statement # 2:

  • This new year will be the best year of my life! I'm going to quit smoking, lose 150 lbs, organize all of my earthly possessions by colour, size and date of purchase, write my memoirs, find My Perfect Soul Mate, learn to play the harpsichord, and be the perfect Mom, sister, friend, daughter, Dad, colleague, brother, self that I can be! YAY!

Many people are also posting about their fabulous new year's resolutions. The sentiment is great and I am definitely the first to climb onto my soap box to yap about the power of personal change, but gear down there, big rig. The reality is that we often bite off more than we can chew as these 

statistics about New Year's Resolutions

 from the University of Scranton's Journal of Clinical Psychology show:

The percentage of Americans who usually make New Year's Resolutions is 45%. We're off to a great start, but out of this group only 8% are successful in achieving their resolutions. The rest either have infrequent success or never succeed and fail at their resolutions each year. That's a bit of a bummer. 

Life Coachy Stuff:

The same study did show that people who

explicitly

make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don't

explicitly

make resolutions. Huh. They used the word 'explicitly' twice. So I got to thinking about what 'explicitly' really means.

The study noted that the top 3 resolutions in 2014 were to 'lose weight', 'get organized' and to 'spend less and save more'. I didn't think that any of these sounded very

explicit,

 rather they seemed quite broad and unfocussed and I found myself asking lots of follow up questions like: Lose how much weight? Ways to lose weight? Organize what area of life? Organize the entire house and everyone in it? Spend less on what? What are the savings to be used for?

The key to keeping a resolution seems to be all about how the resolution is made, and the study used the word 'explicitly' explicitly. For a resolution to be made explicitly it needs to be made:

  • in writing - committing your resolution to paper forces you to really think about how to make it into a fully formed idea. If your resolution is to lose weight simply thinking about losing weight won't make it happen. Write it down and really look at the words you're committing to paper. Ask yourself if your words fully capture what you're aiming for. Why are you making this resolution? If you succeed in keeping your resolution, what will your life look like at the end of the year? Those are the reasons for your resolution and you can reread them whenever you need get back on track. 
  • with focus - your goal to lose weight won't work if you don't focus on the real changes you need to make to get there. Again, simply writing down that you want to lose weight isn't enough. How much weight do you want to lose? How do you want to lose weight, diet and/or exercise? What other benefits besides losing weight will exercise bring to you?
  • realistically - think of your goal broadly and ask yourself if it's realistic that you will be able to make a major change in lifestyle all at once and then maintain it over the long term. It's been proven that making smaller changes over a longer period of time results in greater chances of long-term success. Try writing out your resolution as a series of steps on a ladder designed to get you to your goal by the end of the year. For example, if you want to lose 35 pounds over the next 12 months, your first month's mini goals might be to keep a food journal and go for a walk around the block after supper twice a week. Building on those goals your next set of mini goals might be to examine your journal and eliminate one unhealthy eating habit and walk for 30 minutes every other day. The process of setting mini goals makes it less intimidating to set a resolution because it gives you achievable steps to your main goal and you can use the success of achieving your mini goals to carry you forward. Don't be afraid to start small. If you find you're not meeting your mini goals, start smaller. 

We all know that the broad, sweeping, general statements aren't as extreme as I've written them out today, but we laugh because there is a part of us that relates to the 

ideas and thoughts 

behind them. Remember that you can change your view at any time by changing your thoughts.

Wishing you a blessed and happy new year in 2015.

Michelle.

Make Christmas Traditions Your Own

At times, Christmas can feel like one of the most hectic, stressful and crazy times of year. There's the decorating, cooking, baking, hosting, visiting, gift buying, doing the party circuit, card writing and family visits. The list goes on. It can be enough to make your Christmas feel like this:

Well, perhaps not with so many cops, guns or crotch-grabbing (or maybe so, I don't know what you're into). If there's a certain chaos and craziness to the scene above that you can't help but relate to, here is the first instalment to help you tame your holidays and make them something you look forward to with calm anticipation, starting with Christmas traditions.

Traditions are sets of beliefs and behaviours that are handed down from the past within a group such as a family, a society, a country, or a nationality. Traditions can continue and evolve over many years with some lasting for thousands of years. Traditions typically hold symbolic meanings and can represent a connection with a time in the past from which they originated. Some common examples of traditions include the observing of holidays and the wearing of certain clothes or eating of certain food to mark important occasions. A great example of a tradition is a birthday party. 

Many traditions are actually started on purpose, and as our lives change, so can our traditions. Some traditions we observe are relatively new, some are old, some can feel stale, others can generate fear and panic while yet others can feel comforting and warm like a familiar, well-worn sweater.

One thing you can do to make Christmas a time to look forward to and not as something to dread is to think about your Christmas traditions and whether they are helping make your holidays special and meaningful, or just stressful and daunting. Here is a way to do that:

As a family, make a list of your holiday traditions. 

These can range from simple traditions like opening one gift on Christmas Eve, to more intricate traditions, like helping to set up and host a feast for your large extended family.

Write down and describe the different parts of your traditions

such as decorations, food, clothes that are worn, people that are there, the location, the date, the time and what usually happens at the event.

Talk to each other about the traditions on your list.

If you have big list, choose one or two traditions to talk about. What do you like about each tradition? What don't you like? If you like driving around the neighbourhood to look at the lights on Christmas Eve, share with your family about why that's fun for you. Maybe you love spending time with your family and talking together in the car with the lights being an added bonus. 

Talk about why you observe each tradition.

Is it for fun? Does it hold special meaning to you and your family, or have you lost touch with why you observe it every year? How do you feel about each tradition? Maybe your kids love going to the children's Christmas party at your office while you dread taking them because you know you'll have to deal with the ensuing sugar bender. 

If a few of your traditions aren't big winners on the list, that's okay.

You don't have to love every tradition. You don't have to even like every tradition either. You aren't bound to any tradition just because you've been doing it forever. If any of your traditions are not creating a meaningful, special holiday for you and instead bring about genuine stress, apprehension, anxiety, fear, fighting or (inappropriate) tears for you or anyone in your family 

you may want to consider whether that tradition should change or even continue at all.

If you do decide to stop a particular tradition remember that it's perfectly okay.

Consider what you're letting go of: stress, anxiety, tears, or even fighting. Is any tradition worth keeping for the sake of appearances if it brings on arguing or crying?

If you decide to change an existing tradition,

decide what parts work and what parts aren't working and change what isn't working. Don't feel that the whole thing has to go just because one part isn't going as smoothly as you'd like.

For example, my husband and I both agree that it's important to decorate our Christmas tree together. This year he told me that he doesn't enjoy helping me decorate the tree because we have to hang what I call 'filler' ornaments first. Those are the cheap plastic ornaments I bought for us because I love having lots of ornaments on the tree. He finds this boring and it doesn't help to make Christmas meaningful to him. All it did was make it so we were both unhappy about decorating the tree. I learned that what my husband does enjoy is hanging all of the special and unique ornaments that we've collected over the years and given to one another as presents. He loves to talk about each ornament as he finds a special place to hang it on the tree. This year we agreed that I would hang all of the 'filler' ornaments while he would work outside, and I would call him in when the time came to hang the special ones. It ended up being a win-win: I got to hang all the 'filler' ornaments just the way I wanted to while listening to music I love, he got to work outside and get the deck shoveled like he wanted to, and we both got to hang up our special decorations and enjoy a beautiful tree without any frustration, complaining, boredom or arguing.

As a final thought, why not start your own Christmas tradition?

Find something you love about Christmas and build a tradition of your very own around it. Get creative and even a little silly together. A tradition based on creativity and silliness can be one of the most enjoyable parts of your holiday and one you will look forward to every year.

As another example, I love Christmas get-togethers, but I dislike the general busyness, dressing up and complicated schedule juggling that goes along with them. The social aspect also tires me out quickly and I would always feel guilty for leaving early if I got too tired. Four years ago I decided that the solution was to host our own Christmas party and invite everyone with whom we wanted spend time during the holidays. We've been hosting a party between Christmas and the new year ever since. This way we get to connect with people who are special to us and show them a great time. Each year we put out a ton of food and drinks for our friends, we play a fun party game and give away prizes, make festive milkshakes, and overall have a great time. Last year we had so many guests sitting on our couch it actually broke. I considered this a great thing: we had so many wonderful friends sharing with us that our furniture broke. I still do go out to a few other get togethers, but I make sure that those I go to are ones that I really want to go to and I've ditched the parties where I would only be going for appearances sake. 

I think it's perfectly okay to make Christmas your own. Having a meaningful and special holiday season based on what brings you and your family happiness is worth far more than the effort of maintaining any tradition that brings about negative feelings and bad memories. Talking about your traditions together can become its own tradition that brings you and your family closer together and builds happy memories that you can look forward to making year after year. 

I'd love to hear about your holiday traditions. Tell me all about them in the comments. What do you love about them? What makes them meaningful to you? Which ones would you change, and why? Are there any you'd let go of this year? 

I'd love to hear about some of the traditions you've kept up over the years and why they are special to you.

Why I'm decluttering my life.


Recently I decided that I’d like to work toward living a more minimalist lifestyle. Before taking action I decided to think about the reasons I had for making this lifestyle change and why it was important to me. Here’s a list of 6 reasons for why I’ve chosen to live a more minimalist lifestyle:

1.         For personal peace and serenity.

I work in a high-stress environment (at least to me, anyway). At home I crave peace from the manufactured urgency of work. An uncluttered and simple environment is relaxing for the body, mind, and soul, and pleasing to the eye. It is difficult if not impossible to relax if everywhere you look you see something that needs to be put away, or if something you want to do to relax requires that you first move or put other things away.  As Joshua Becker writes on his blog, Becoming Minimalist: A minimalist home is less stressful. Clutter is a form of visual distraction as everything in our vision subtly pulls at our attention. The less clutter, the less visual stress we experience. A minimalist home has a calming feel.”

2.         I am a messy person.

I can’t keep a tidy house. If I have too many things and it’s in any way difficult or out of the way to put those things away I just won’t do it, which in turn leads to the visual, mental, and physical clutter problem described above. It is therefore inevitable that I will reach the limit of my tolerance for mess and then go on a binge of cleaning and rearranging things the likes of which have not been seen since the last time I went on a cleaning and rearranging binge. I’d much rather the house be clean and tidy all the time instead of it necessitating a 6 hour cleaning binge every couple of months, which leads me to reason 3:

3.         I value my personal time.

I don’t want to spend my personal time cleaning the house, or moving stuff to get at other stuff or beating myself up for relaxing when I think I should be cleaning. As a busy person with many activities and commitments, my free time is important to me and I want to enjoy it free of worry and guilt.

4.         To be a part of the solution and not the problem.

We are a society of consumers. We focus on our wants instead of our needs. This is evidenced by all of the stuff we have and don’t use. Since I began decluttering I’ve come across so many items that I remember wanting so badly a short time ago only to have completely forgotten about them. Now it feels like a waste to be getting rid of many of these items, (not reason enough to keep them though) and I wouldn’t even be feeling this way (or adding to the landfill or leaving such a huge environmental footprint) had I not acquired these things in the first place.

5.         To focus on the important and the essential, not the ‘urgent’.

When you’re always putting out little fires close to you it’s easy to overlook the massive wall of flames only a few miles away. When you choose the quick fix / instant-gratification solution for a slight emotional or physical discomfort you lose the self-esteem and stability that comes with the habit of doing things that are self-nurturing. You then lose the ability to deal with the really serious stuff when it inevitably comes along.

We deal daily with the things that are the most demanding of our attention at that moment and as a result we overlook the things that burn quietly in the background, never realizing their importance until it’s too late: our personal relationships, our passions, our spiritual fulfillment, our self-love. Often, we let these important things go until it’s too late and we risk losing them forever. I love writing, drawing and painting and feel great satisfaction in completing pieces and yet I somehow never seem to find time for any of it because I consciously choose other activities or things that give me a quick “hit of happy” but don’t contribute to the foundation of my self-esteem. I cheat myself out of the lasting peace and happiness I truly crave. It is paradoxical: I do the quick fix and I am happy for a short while, yet because of this I am never happy in the long run.

I am choosing a minimalist lifestyle because I want to make time for the essential things; like writing this piece for example. It’s taken me over a month to write it simply because I’ve chosen other instant-gratification pursuits or my schedule has been too full. If I had made a conscious effort to ditch the video games or thin out my personal and professional commitments, I would have had this very personal piece of writing completed long ago.

6.         To keep from being depressed.

I am a highly sensitive person. I am easily overwhelmed by too much of the wrong kind of stimuli: sound, light, smells, etc… Sometimes it’s fast paced and stressful environments that do me in. The moods and actions of others as well as my own feelings also affect me very easily and more deeply than most people. Though it isn’t the case all the time, or in all situations or with all people, being highly sensitive does mean that these things happen a lot more frequently and more seriously for me than for the average person.

My response to these types of situations commonly manifests itself as negative thoughts and statements. This means I am at higher risk of being anxious and/or depressed which is something I need to constantly be aware of. To help keep me from being triggered into depression and anxiety, I’ve realized that I need to have access to low stimulus environments: quiet places free of physical clutter, noise and hyperactivity. Places where I can think things through and feel at ease. Places that can serve as a counterbalance and recovery space to my fast paced work life, to a crazy day spent with stressed out people or hyperactive children, to a night spent out socializing. This is the kind of space I need my home to be.

Side note: I used to think of my high sensitivity as a character defect; a liability that needed to be corrected. Now, I consider my sensitivity to be one of my greatest strengths because it enables me to sense subtle changes in my environment, in my own personal feelings, and in the feelings of other people that perhaps others might not notice. It might seem odd than an extrovert like me would be highly sensitive, however, according to Dr. Elaine Aron, author of “The Highly Sensitive Person”, 30% of highly sensitive people are extroverts.

These are just some of the reasons why I’ve chosen to lead a minimalist lifestyle. If you are thinking of taking steps to declutter and uncomplicate your life, it might help to start by thinking about your own reasons. Once you know why you need or desire a minimal lifestyle it becomes much easier to take positive actions to achieve your goals.