Limits create freedom.

2014-11-09 07.46.36Sometimes the only way to create more possibility is by saying No to something. Instead of trying to do everything or keeping your options open or wearing all of the hats by yourself, trust yourself enough to say No.

For example, for several months I was half in my own business and half wondering what else I might do instead. But that created a whole bunch of stagnation and murkiness. It wasn’t until I consciously decided to search for a job and put my business on the back burner (in essence saying no to most of what I had been pouring my energy into) that everything expanded.

Saying No to what isn’t fun, opens the door for more fun.
Saying No to all of those Maybes, opens the door to a much bigger Yes.
Saying No creates clarity and freedom.

It doesn’t mean that the thing you say No to will necessarily be cut from your life forever and ever, but when you consciously choose where not to put your energy, all of a sudden you have a lot more energy to put toward that 1 thing that is most important right now.

This allows that 1 thing to thrive (or fail) a whole lot faster. And that in turn (regardless of success or failure), moves you forward. And without movement, we are not living.

All of those little Maybes we hold onto because we might want it later or it might be important rob us of time, energy, focus, and aliveness. It’s like trying to carry water in a bucket full of holes. But when we say No clearly and consciously, we plug those holes and get the water up the hill.

And just because we say No to something today doesn’t mean it is forever No. The limit, the choice, the No, is a way to create freedom for something more right now.

What would be possible if you focused all of your time, energy, aliveness, and focus on one Yes today?

It’s all an experiment.

Photo Credit: Clement127 via Flickr
Photo Credit: Clement127 via Flickr
I’ve read several online marketing experts who say to do lots of little experiments to see what actually works for your business (start with the best practices and advice but then experiment because what works for business A won’t always work for business B).

Then sometime last year I realized that this same principle applies to life. And everything has been different for me since then.

When you approach life as a series of experiments, it expands the scope of what’s possible.

Experimenting keeps you in the learning process (which is the most fun place to be, right?). You can start with a standard or best practice or classic advice, and notice what works and what doesn’t. And then adjust. Shift. Try the opposite. But the whole time, noticing what is and is not working.

There is no one-size-fits-all life. So why not experiment to find the one that fits you best?

It’s about people.

Everything in our human lives is about people. Relationships, sales, marketing, parenting, politics, leadership, business, medicine, money, animal rights, …everything.

More specifically, it’s all about what motivates people, how they feel, and what they believe. Yet in so many areas of life, the people-part of things gets forgotten. And that’s where it gets messed up.

Businesses that focus on the bottom line while disregarding the people they employ and the people they serve with whatever product or service they create, those are the businesses we instinctively dislike. Even if we barely know anything about them.

Doctors who are more interested in time and fitting in more patients are the ones we most want to avoid. No one wants to feel like a number.

The blogger who focuses on the number of followers and comments they have without taking the time to appreciate and communicate with the people who are already following them find it hard to build those numbers they covet so much.

Sure, there are shortcuts in most of these areas. Ways to trick or manipulate or find quick gains, like the marketer who figures out all the right things to say, tugs on your heartstrings, and makes you feel like they get you. But then after you’ve given them your money, it feels like you don’t exist.

This is also why so much of social media feels disconnected and unsatisfying. We all get so caught up in the number of likes or retweets that we get instead of the people. [Nerd moment: when we get the likes and retweets, we get a little shot of dopamine which feels good and makes us want more. So of course, we like chasing those numbers.]

But for lasting success in any area of life, build relationships with the people involved.

Let them know you see them, hear them, get them. And actually take the time to see them, hear them, and get them. It’s not always easy, but it’s key to better business, better parenting, and everything else.

Why not?

Photo Credit: Dhilung Kirat via Flickr
Photo Credit: Dhilung Kirat via Flickr
Sometimes things don’t happen quite the way you planned.
Sometimes opportunities show up that you never even considered.
And sometimes (despite the uncertainty, incongruence, and unexpectedness) the right answer is “Why not?”.

Check your filter to make sure it’s not taking you completely off-course. But sometimes all of the answers to your filter come out “no” and your gut still tells you “yes”. At which point, the answer might be “Why not?”.

The fears that are likely to come up are the ones that want you to think that this decision will be forever. But there are very few things in life that require you to commit forever. Most things (sadly, including marriage) you could walk away from if it doesn’t work out.

For example, let’s say a job you never even thought you wanted lands in your lap and you realize that it gets you excited and your gut says “yes”. The fear would say “but what if you don’t like it? Then you’re stuck.” But the reality is that a job is not forever. Why not try it for a year? What have you got to lose?

(That example is exactly where I’m at in my life, by the way. Starting an unexpected job today, in fact.)

“Why not?” opens up possibilities you might have otherwise shied away from. And keeps you playing jazz.

Life is an experiment. Why not have fun with it?

Keep your eye on the prize

Photo Credit: kenmainr via Flickr
Photo Credit: kenmainr via Flickr
There are opportunities in life (big and small) that can leave us waffling.

On paper it sounds good.
It feels like it might be fun.
I could be really good at it.
Everyone else thinks I should do it.

So how do you decide when to say yes and when to say no?

I’ve said yes to more things than I should have. Sometimes that ended with me sucking it up and keeping my commitments anyway. And other times it ended with me going back with my head hung in shame, asking for forgiveness and backing out.

But neither of these scenarios feel good. And the only way to prevent them is to know when to say No.

The trouble is that our brains like to rationalize and explain why something does or does not make sense, and this can create overwhelm or analysis paralysis.

Bypass your brain (but not in the surgical sense).

It’s helpful to do some pre-thinking about what’s important to you. Come up with 3 questions (or more) that can act as a filter for those things that send your brain into over-rationalizing.

Here’s a template:

  1. My goal is to ___________. Does this opportunity help me get there?
  2. My purpose is to __________. Does this opportunity help me serve my purpose? (Note: this could also be your “why” or mission or whatever).
  3. Overall, I want my life to be _______ (including family, health, etc). Does this opportunity help me live that life?

But that’s just a starting place. You might have other things that are important to you. Write them down. Keep them somewhere handy, and then when you’re waffling about whether to do something or not even if it does/does not make sense on paper, take out your filter and see if this opportunity passes the test.

Keep your eye on the prize. (And the prize is your best life… however you choose to define it).

Different and together

5082930676_8b0b4a78e7_z
Photo Credit: CameliaTWU via Flickr
My husband asked me the other day if I considered myself a conformist or a nonconformist? And I didn’t have a definitive answer because it depends.

For all of my talk about breaking and making your own rules, I’m also a rule-follower a lot of the time. It depends on why and what feels right and what’s important in that moment.

Life is full of choices and categories.

And it’s easy to believe that there are only 2 possibilities in each case. Not only that, but it’s also easy to believe that we have to choose one or the other, otherwise we don’t belong anywhere (and biologically, in our hearts or limbic brains, we all want to belong).

Conservative or liberal.
Feminist or patriarchal.
Pro-choice or pro-life.
Black or white.
Christian or atheist.
Good or bad.
Yes or no.
Right or wrong.
Techie or luddite.
Selfish or selfless.
Conformist or rebel.
Agreeable or contrarian.
Intellectual or artistic.
Either you are with us or against us.

But choosing sides doesn’t get us anywhere except more entrenched in disagreements. Like in politics, if you follow the media, you might start to believe that there are only extreme left or extreme right points of view. And either you’re on the right side or the wrong side. But in reality (the real kind, not the stuff on TV), most people fall somewhere in between. The land of “it depends”. The blurry middle.

For most of us, choosing sides can leave us feeling out of place (because we only sort of identify with one side vs the other). So what if we stand in the blurry middle together instead of choosing sides? That’s where we’ll find belonging and solutions.

Let’s be different and together, not the same and separate.

Rules for breaking the rules

What do Miles Davis, Henri Matisse, and Richard Branson have in common? They broke the rules in their own fields (jazz, art, and business, respectively).

But what if you’re not a famous jazz musician, artist, or entrepreneur? How can you start breaking rules in small (or big) ways?

Take cooking for example. You could just start throwing random things into a pot and see what happens. That is definitely one way to approach things. But I thought it might be helpful to have a couple of rules to help you as you start breaking the rules (or making your own):

  1. Understand the fundamentals.

    Whether in music, art, business, cooking, exercise, or anything really, it helps to know the basics. Practice the scales. Learn about color. Understand flavors. Whatever.

    Because no amount of sprinkles will cover up the fact that you didn’t know to use baking powder in that cake.

  2. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes.

    Courage is a key ingredient for life. (Tweet that)

    Just because you learn the fundamentals doesn’t mean you have to be a stickler about them. Experiment.

    Because without a little bit of courage you might never try bourbon in your whipped cream instead of vanilla extract (which would be sad because it’s delicious with pecan pie).

Start living life like a piece of jazz. Change recipes. Work differently. Experiment. Create something new.

Make your own rules

13912724539_8d66732f12_z
Photo Credit: Alpstedt via Flickr
The rules of the game are clear.
Do this, not that.
Eat this, not that.
Not like that. This is the right way.
Follow the rules.
Fit in.
Be normal.

For every part of life (from diet to career to parenting to being successful), there is a set of rules. Some are written down and others are implied. And some are the cultural shoulds that keep us sticking to the script that someone else wrote.

But what if those rules don’t really apply to you?

Of course, there are those who hope that you will continue to play by their rules, but what if, in your life, you get to make your own rules?

Instead of Paleo or vegan or the diet du jour, eat the foods that make you feel good.

Instead of yoga or crossfit or whatever cool exercise trend is happening, exercise the way your body wants to (even if that means taking short walks or dancing around your house).

Instead of chasing success as defined by the media, your peers, or your insecurities, decide what success looks like for you. Maybe it means being the next shark on Shark Tank or maybe it means working just enough to support your life living in a tiny house. Or something in between and completely different.

The point is, you decide.

More ways to not live your best year in 2015

2014-09-21 07.39.44-2As the year draws to an end, I find myself thinking a lot about what possibilities 2015 holds, and why it seems so hard (for me) to accomplish what it is I want to accomplish and make real the things I resolve to do (like running another marathon). Do you ever feel that way?

So last time, I reflected on a few of the things we do that make it hard to succeed with our goals. And now that my Christmas-cookie-induced-brain-fog has lifted, I’ve thought of a couple more.

Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees.

You know when you get so bogged down in the details of something that you lose sight of what you’re even doing? Or when you get so busy doing the things that are “important” right now that you don’t think about what you might want a month or year or 5 from now?

We all do this at one time or another. Whether it’s eating whatever is available because it’s convenient (forgetting that what you really want is to lose 5 or 10 or 30 pounds), or an obsession with responding to email as they enter your inbox instead of using that time for more fulfilling things (or many other examples I trust I don’t need to list out because you know what you get yourself “busy” with).

This is why it’s important to take time to look at the bigger picture of your life.

What’s important? Where do you want to be in a year or 3 or 5? What lights you up?

Try this: Take out a blank sheet of paper and jot down whatever comes up for you when you consider the following questions:

  • What’s most important to me? (As in, if I’m 95 and never did it, I will regret this)./
  • What do you want your life to look like in 1 year? 3 years? 5 years? (There are no wrong answers, and even a blurry picture that evokes feelings is better than not taking a look).
  • What makes me feel alive?

When you have answers for those questions, consider how you want to shape the next bit of your life, whether it’s tomorrow, this month, or this year.

And sometimes we can’t see a single tree because we’re focused on the forest.

This happens to me a lot. I look at the big picture, I know what the dreams and visions are. I know the feelings and the overall plan with major milestones for getting from here to whatever the big picture is. But in the day-to-day of life, I lose sight of what needs to happen.

This is a problem because if you are only thinking big picture (strategical planning), and forget about the day-to-day (tactical stuff), nothing really gets done. At least not anything related to that big picture.

Chris Brogan says that your day is your week is your month is your year. Which means that what you do today impacts what you get done this week which impacts what you get done this month, etc.

It’s not enough to know the big picture. You also have to know what needs to get done today in order to make the vision real.

Try this: After you have your big picture laid out, take the time to consider what needs to happen along the way. The way I like to do this is to look at my goals for the year and then consider what needs to be done in 6 months in order to be on track. And then look at what needs to be done in 3 months in order to be on track in 6 months. And then 1 month. And then this week. (From there, I do my best to fit in little bits of goal-moving stuff every day… even if it as simple as sending an email to someone).

It’s the little things we do everyday that add up to the bigger goals.

At the end of the day, we need to do both kinds of planning: big picture (strategic) and front-line, day-to-day (tactical). If we are missing one, we are missing both.

How do you make sure you get done what is most important?