If You Want to Change Your Life

Good intentions aren't enough. Reading about how to change, or dreaming about what to change isn't enough. To materialize a change–to give it existence in your material world–you have to pull the intention or dream from the realm of thought into the realm of doing.

Reaching for the Rainbow“If you want to change your life, you have to change your life.”  The first time I heard that sentence, the profundity of it struck me so strongly I almost literally fell off my chair.  It was one of the major “Doh!” moments of my life.

Oh sure, I read the truism about doing the same thing and expecting different results a hundred times.  It was one of those things I thought I knew—just because I had heard it so often.  Fact is, I had fallen into the “I already know that” trap.

As I’ve mentioned before (and, trust me, will mention again and again), “I already know that” are the four most dangerous words in the English language when it comes to genuine self-growth.

Now suddenly, this restatement of the old truth in new words hit me right in the gut.

If I wanted to change, I actually had to make changes.  I had to stop doing some stuff and start doing other stuff in its place if I wanted to make my life different.  I had to let go of a piece or two of an automatic routine in order to make room for a new behavior.  I had to trade some familiar turf for something new.

Moving into 3-D

Good intentions weren’t enough.  Reading about how to change, or dreaming about what to change wasn’t enough.  To materialize a change—to give it existence in your material world–you have to pull the intention or dream from the realm of thought into the realm of doing.  You have to usher it across the threshold from the dimension of ideas into the living 3-D world.  At it’s base, that’s what trans-form literally means—to carry something across that line that separates one form and another.

Grasp that and you have the ultimate key to creating a life that mirrors your best dreams.

In your dreams, are you feeling joy?  Appreciation?  Gratitude?  Are you strong and vibrant?  Proactive?  Creative?  Dynamic?  Is your life filled with enthusiasm and meaning?  Are your relationships intimate and alive?

What would you like more of in your life?  Health? Mindfulness? Optimism?

One Little Thing

Here’s what to do.  Spend a little time thinking about what the parts of your life that you would most like to make better.  (You can use the Dream Creation Diagram as a guide.)  Think about how it would be if your Best Self were expressing fully in that arena.  How would it look?  How would it feel?  How would it be different from the way you’re operating now?

Then commit yourself 100% to moving in the direction of your ideal.  Pick one little action you can begin today that expresses the way you want to be experiencing that part of your life.  One. Little. Action.  And do it every day until it’s a natural part of your day.  Stick with it.  That’s what 100% commitment means.  No waffling.  No giving in to the old pattern.  No days off.  And absolutely no quitting; you get right back on the horse if you fall off.

Use whatever self-development tools you know that appeal to you to move you toward you chosen ideal.  Start studying about the behavior or attitude you want to adopt.  Look for models.  If you can’t find one, make one up.  Daydream about it.  Journal about it.  Focus on it in your meditation.  Make a vision board.  Develop a tracking system.  Use affirmations and positive self talk.  Let it become your magnificent obsession.

And every day, do your One Little Action–your one little, gentle, simple action–no matter what.  Because if you want to change your life, see, you have to change your life.

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For another way to get started on making changes–and building your positivity at the same time–see our Best Self Positivity Practice.

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Let's Get Physical: One Step Toward Positively Radiant Health

Most of the time, despite the neglect and abuse we all too often heap upon them, our bodies serve us wonderfully well. But that’s no excuse to overlook them when we’re developing positivity plans. On the contrary! To be at our best, we need optimum health. Our bodies deserve our utmost attention and care.

Radiantly Happy Girl in Field of FlowersMost of the time, despite the neglect and abuse we all too often heap upon them, our bodies serve us wonderfully well.  But that’s no excuse to overlook them when we’re developing positivity plans.  On the contrary!  To be at our best, we need optimum health.  Our bodies deserve our utmost attention and care.

When you think about it, your body is your very best friend and most valued possession. It’s been down every road you ever walked, knows all your deepest secrets, has suffered your most severe pains, and experienced your highest pleasures.  It breathes your breath and beats your heart and heals your wounds.  It delivers all the sights, sounds, fragrances, flavors and textures of the world to you.  Where would you be without it!

Miraculously, the body’s needs are few: air, water, food, and rest.  It likes to move and to be kept at a reasonable temperature.  Given adequate supplies of those basics, it will take you far.

The Practice:  One Step Toward Radiant Health

To kick your health quotient up a notch, read over the list of basics below and choose one thing – just one – that you can begin doing daily that would give your health more zing.  Which basic have you been neglecting most?  Your nutrition?  Exercise?  Sleep?

First, think about where you want to put your attention.  Tune into your body and let it help you choose.  Then decide what one thing you could do that would move you toward greater health in that area.  Make it something small and specific that you can add to your daily routine with only a minor adjustment.  You’re not looking to overhaul your entire lifestyle here, simply to bring your attention and care back to your wonderful body so that you can support it in supporting you.

If you decide to focus on breathing more deeply, for example, you can set aside ten minutes every day to practice.  If you chose the area of nutrition as your focus, you could start with something as simple as deciding to pack a healthy lunch instead of buying fast food on your lunch hour.  Here are 25 lunch ideas for you from Eating Well.

To help you stay focused as you learn to make the change a natural and permanent part of your life, track your success with it for a month.  (See Keeping on Track: Three Tools for the Road for a couple of good, free online tracking programs.)  And decide on a rewarding token or experience you can give yourself after you have successfully practiced your one thing for 30 days.

The Basics

Breathe, Baby, Breathe

Are you breathing deeply, slowly and well?  If so, you’re gaining these benefits:

  • You’re reducing stress, promoting longevity, helping yourself prevent high blood pressure, and easing asthma;
  • You’re releasing endorphins—our natural painkillers.  You’re sleeping better, having fewer headaches, backaches and other stress-related aches and pains.
  • You’re clearing your mind and helping yourself stay focused
  • You’re strengthening your abdominal and intestinal muscles.

Core Breathing

Slow, deep breathing bathes and nourishes every cell of our bodies with life-living oxygen, and carries away toxins from our blood streams.  Yet good breathing is probably the most neglected health habit of all.

Good breathing means you’re breathing from your abdomen, your core.  An article on deep breathing at Discovery Health beautifully describes how it’s related to maintaining your positivity:

“When you breathe with your abdomen, you create a center; when you have a center, you are more confident and coordinated; when you have confidence, you have much more potential and are not afraid of challenges. In effect, you are bringing back the potential that God gave you. You are not afraid anymore. ”

I especially liked this visualization in part 2 of the article that describes how to breathe from your core.  It’s from Nancy Zi, author of the book, The Art of Breathing:

To fill the lungs more deeply, she advises,  “Lower the diaphragm muscle by expanding the abdomen. When this happens, the lungs elongate and draw in air. You don’t breathe into the abdomen; you allow it to expand comfortably all around its circumference — back, sides and front. Proper core breathing is really the foundation for all things — it’s the foundation of health.”

“Where is the core?” the article continues.  “It’s below the navel a few inches or so. It isn’t a thing, you can’t see it: it’s a sensation. Zi likes to use the image of a lotus blossom when teaching people how to breathe from their core:

Pink Lotus“When you inhale, imagine a blossom opening within your abdomen; when you exhale, the blossom closes. You open from the center of the blossom, the core. What causes the petals to open is the energy from the core; the more you breathe from the core, the more you stimulate and nourish its energy, and you become more in control.”

You can find three great breathing exercises from Dr. Andrew Weil—one for energizing you, one for relaxing, and one for meditation—here.

Have a Drink

Turns out there’s a lot of urban myth and misinformation about how much liquid you need.  The best advice?  Drink enough to keep from being thirsty.  And what should you drink?  You can’t go wrong with water.  Ditch the soda pop, cut down or cut out the caffeine.  But you already knew that.  Just do it!

Get Your Moves On

Move!  Stretch, build some stamina and strength.  That’s the whole formula.  Pick whatever means you please and put it in motion.  If you don’t know where to start, here’s a good beginner’s guide.  (And whatever you plan choose, my personal hint is that exercise always goes better if you do it to music or with a friend.)

Munch Magnificently

Fresh Picked VeggiesWhole foods? Organic and locally grown or not, whole foods are the ones that come wrapped in nature’s packaging: Fruits, veggies, legumes, nuts, and whole grains. If you like, add fish, meats, poultry and dairy that’s as near the source and messed with by humans as little as possible.  (Choose grass fed meats, free range chickens, and wild seafood, for example.)

The benefits? When you give your body the fuel it was designed to run on, you’ll see your energy soar.  You’ll sleep better, heal faster, and have a stronger, more powerful immune system.  Studies prove that eating a varied diet of fresh, yummy whole foods reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease, many types of cancer and type 2 diabetes.  And as an added plus, whole foods are generally cheaper than processed.

The drawbacks? You’ll have to learn to cook.  But don’t worry, this lost art is more easily mastered than you might think.  Here’s a list of user-friendly cookbooks to get you started (or to give you some fresh ideas, if you’re already at home with the range):

The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook: Whole Foods Recipes for Personal and Planetary Health, Second Edition

Super Natural Cooking: Five Delicious Ways to Incorporate Whole and Natural Foods into Your Cooking

The Rodale Whole Foods Cookbook: With More Than 1,000 Recipes for Choosing, Cooking, & Preserving Natural Ingredients

Feeding the Whole Family: Cooking with Whole Foods

Catch the Early Train to Dreamland

In her book Happy for No Reason: 7 Steps to Being Happy from the Inside Out, Marci Shimoff quotes a study from the journal Science that says the quality of our sleep has a greater influence on our ability to enjoy our day than household income or marital status.

Cheat yourself of sufficient sleep (meaning fewer than 7-8 hours every night) and you’ll reap irritability, poor concentration and memory, a low stress threshold, social ineptitude, and just plain tiredness.  Yuk!  Sleep six or fewer hours and you triple your risk of a car accident.

Go to bed early for three nights in a row and see how your mood changes.  (Shimoff calls this “catching the 10 pm angel train.”)  Indulge in a 15-20 minute afternoon nap.  If you have trouble sleeping, do some online research to learn what factors contribute to easy sleep.  To get you started, here are “Ten Tips for Better Sleep” from the Mayo Clinic.  Sometimes something as simple as a change in the temperature of your bedroom or removing some of its clutter can make all the difference in the world.

A Final Word

One of the very best things you can do to optimize your health is to continue building your positivity.  Adding more gratitude, kindness, pleasure, mindfulness and meaning to your day keeps those happiness hormones pumping right through your energy streams.  Immerse yourself in positivity and you give every other health practice a giant, measurable boost.  It’s a wonderful feedback loop: positivity feeds health, which in turn feeds positivity.  So pick a practice for notching up your health today.  And as you work on building it into your daily routine, smile.  Have the best of both worlds; you deserve it.

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What’s Right With You: How to Discover Your Personal Strengths

Your personal strengths reflect your core values and provide you with a sure sense of direction. They energize and satisfy you and let you feel real and whole.

Discover Your StrengthsWant to know one of the top ways to put more meaning, satisfaction and joy into your life?  Identify your signature strengths and bring them into play in as many ways as you can.

Over and over again, that’s what the positive psychologists say.  Your personal strengths reflect your core values and provide you with a sure sense of direction.  They energize and satisfy you and let you feel real and whole.  Living in alignment with them is living well.

When you put your values into action through the expression of your strengths, you’re living authentically, from your heart.  And that is where the deepest joy is.

But what, exactly, is a strength?  How is it different from a skill or a talent?  How can you discover your own top strengths?

“A Classification of the Sanities”

A little over a decade ago, when Dr. Martin Seligman was initiating the field of positive psychology, he realized he needed a way to define the qualities demonstrated by psychologically healthy, thriving people—to come up with what he called “a classification of the sanities.”

Toward this end, he recruited Dr. Christopher Peterson, director of the clinical psychology program at University of Michigan and a world authority on optimism and hope, to lead a study that would result in an authoritative classification and measurement system for the human strengths.

“One of the first tasks that Cris set,” Dr. Seligman writes in his book Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment, “was for several of us to read the basic writings of all the major religious and philosophical traditions in order to catalog what each claimed were the virtues, then see if any showed up in almost every tradition.”

To their surprise, “almost every single one of the traditions flung across three thousand years and the entire face of the earth endorsed six virtues:

Core VirtuesWisdom and Knowledge
Courage
Humanity and Love
Justice
Temperance
Spirituality and Transcendence”

But while these characteristics were almost universally endorsed as the qualities that make up the good life, they were too abstract to measure in human behavior.  So the next step was to identify the measurable strengths that were the means through which these virtues were expressed.  Dr. Seligman calls them the routes to the virtues; by walking the paths the strengths described, you become virtuous—a good human being.

Next, the Seligman-Peterson team developed criteria to define what a “strength” is, and finally ended up with two dozen traits that qualified.  At last they had their “classification of sanities,” and from this base, the whole science of positive psychology has evolved.

Strengths, Talents and Abilities

Strengths are moral traits, traits of character that people can acquire and build.  Talents, on the other hand, are inborn gifts.  If you have a talent, you can hone and refine it to some degree.  But if it’s not a part of your personal make-up, you can’t will yourself to acquire it.  You either have a talent or you don’t.

Like strengths, abilities are acquired.  But while they may provide you with a sense of competency and allow you to perform adequately in a given role, unless they’re related to one of your signature strengths, they don’t necessarily bring you satisfaction or joy.  You can learn, for example, to be a highly competent engineer or accountant or assembly line worker and discover you really don’t like the work at all.

Strengths make you feel good when you use them.  Because they represent your core values—the things you deeply and authentically care about—they give you a sense of purpose; they feel meaningful and satisfying.  They’re inspiring and elevating.  And when you put your own best strengths into action, you feel like you’re being “the real you.”

Why Should I Identify My Strengths?

Once you know your key strengths, you’re empowered to find more and more ways to employ them.  You can begin to look for opportunities to express them in all the arenas of your life, becoming more and more authentic and heart-centered in all you do.  The value-centered life is the good life—as identified across the centuries and across the world’s cultures.

How Can I Find Out  My Personal Signature Strengths?

Working OnlineYou can take the VIA Character Survey at no cost at two places online:  here and here.  You only need to register, and your privacy is assured.  The survey is nearly identical at both places, and both sites are worth exploring for their host of additional resources.

The Survey is composed of 240 questions and takes 30-40 minutes to complete.  Even if (like me!) you ordinarily dislike completing surveys of your preferences, it’s well worth your time to make the effort.  You get your results back right away, with a list of your personal strengths ranked in order.

When you do, focus on your top five personal strengths.  Take a look at the in-depth description of them that you’ll find under the “Classification” tab at the VIA Institute on Character site.  (Personally, I thought this was especially rewarding—as if someone was describing me the way I really see myself, deep down.)

See which of your top five feel most like you and whether one or two maybe don’t resonate with you with quite as much power.  Dr. Seligman suggests that you ask yourself some questions about your top five strengths:

  • How attractive is each one to you?
  • How easily did you acquire it?  Did it seem automatic?  Second nature?
  • How strong is your desire to use it in more ways in your life?
  • How much energy does it give you when use it?
  • How much joy, zest, enthusiasm and even ecstasy do you feel when you’re using it?

The ones that have the most of these qualities are your “signature strengths.”  You’ll want to focus on bringing them into play in as many ways as you can because you’ll feel so good, so alive and so real when you do.

Set aside the time to take the survey as soon as you can.  It’s one of the most worthwhile and rewarding actions you can take to enrich your life and expand your well-being.  I guarantee it.

 

If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy Personal Strengths – An Expanding View

 

VIA Classification  © by The VIA Institute on Character

 

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The 24 Personal Strengths: An Overview

The 24 personal strengths listed here are the character traits that express our core values. When we use and develop them in the various areas of our lives, we feel energized, purposeful, and real.

The 24 personal strengths listed here are the character traits that express our core values.   When we use and develop them in the various areas of our lives, we feel energized, purposeful, and real.

The strengths are organized according to the six core virtues that appear in the major religious and philosophical traditions across the centuries.  To live in alignment with them, these belief systems agree,  is truly to live the Good Life.

To learn how to identify your key strengths, see: What’s Right With You: Discover Your Personal Strengths.

Wisdom and Knowledge

  • Curiosity/Interest in the World: You are curious about everything. You are always asking questions, and you find all subjects and topics fascinating. You like exploration and discovery.
  • Love of Learning: You love learning new things, whether in a class or on your own. You have always loved school, reading, and museums-anywhere and everywhere there is an opportunity to learn.
  • Judgment/Critical Thinking/Open-Mindedness: Thinking things through and examining them from all sides are important aspects of who you are. You do not jump to conclusions, and you rely only on solid evidence to make your decisions. You are able to change your mind.
  • Creativity/Ingenuity/ Originality/Practical Intelligence/Street Smarts: Thinking of new ways to do things is a crucial part of who you are. You are never content with doing something the conventional way if a better way is possible.
  • Social Intelligence/Personal Intelligence/Emotional Intelligence: You are aware of the motives and feelings of other people. You know what to do to fit in to different social situations and you know what to do to put others at ease.
  • Perspective (Wisdom): Although you may not think of yourself as wise, your friends hold this view of you. They value your perspective on matters and turn to you for advice. You have a way of looking at the world that makes sense to others and to yourself.

Courage

  • Valor and Bravery: You are a courageous person who does not shrink from threat, challenge, difficulty, or pain. You speak up for what is right even if there is opposition. You act on your convictions.
  • Perseverance/Industry/Diligence: You work hard to finish what you start. No matter the project, you “get it out the door” in timely fashion. You do not get distracted when you work, and you take satisfaction in completing tasks.
  • Integrity/Genuineness/Honesty: You are an honest person, not only by speaking the truth but by living your life in a genuine and authentic way. You are down to earth and without pretense; you are a “real” person.

Humanity and Love

  • Kindness and Generosity: You are kind and generous to others, and you are never too busy to do a favor. You enjoy doing good deeds for others, even if you do not know them well.
  • Loving and Allowing Oneself to be Loved: You value close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing and caring are reciprocated. The people to whom you feel most close are the same people who feel most close to you.

Justice

  • Citizenship/Duty/Teamwork/Loyalty: You excel as a member of a group. You are a loyal and dedicated teammate, you always do your share, and you work hard for the success of your group.
  • Fairness and Equity: Treating all people fairly is one of your abiding principles. You do not let your personal feelings bias your decisions about other people. You give everyone a chance.
  • Leadership: You excel at the tasks of leadership: encouraging a group to get things done and preserving harmony within the group by making everyone feel included. You do a good job organizing activities and seeing that they happen.

Temperance

  • Self-Control: You self-consciously regulate what you feel and what you do. You are a disciplined person. You are in control of your appetites and your emotions, not vice versa.
  • Prudence/Discretion/Caution: You are a careful person, and your choices are consistently prudent ones. You do not say or do things that you might later regret.
  • Humility and Modesty: You do not seek the spotlight, preferring to let your accomplishments speak for themselves. You do not regard yourself as special, and others recognize and value your modesty.

Transcendence

  • Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence: You notice and appreciate beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in all domains of life, from nature to art to mathematics to science to everyday experience.
  • Gratitude: You are aware of the good things that happen to you, and you never take them for granted. Your friends and family members know that you are a grateful person because you always take the time to express your thanks.
  • Hope/Optimism/Future-Mindedness: You expect the best in the future, and you work to achieve it. You believe that the future is something that you can control.
  • Spirituality/Sense of Purpose/Faith/Religiousness: You have strong and coherent beliefs about the higher purpose and meaning of the universe. You know where you fit in the larger scheme. Your beliefs shape your actions and are a source of comfort to you.
  • Forgiveness and Mercy: You forgive those who have done you wrong. You always give people a second chance. Your guiding principle is mercy and not revenge.
  • Playfulness and Humor: You like to laugh and tease. Bringing smiles to other people is important to you. You try to see the light side of all situations.
  • Zest/Passion/Enthusiasm: Regardless of what you do, you approach it with excitement and energy. You never do anything halfway or halfheartedly. For you, life is an adventure.
VIA Classification  © by The VIA Institute on Character
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Positivity: The Bounce-Back Factor

While investing in positivity has its immediate rewards—a richer, deeper, healthier, happier and more satisfying life—like a star, it really shines when the skies are dark.

Seedling Grows in Brick CracksBesides how great you feel when it’s fueling your life, another reason to keep practicing positivity is the resilience it provides you when you collide with one of  Murphy’s Laws.

The positive factors you build into your experience are what life and executive coach Eleanor Chin calls the “durable personal goods,” resources you can tap when you’re traveling a patch of road where happiness is scarce.

Emergency Provisions

Having a good measure of positivity under your belt is like having a full emergency pantry when a blizzard strikes.  You can dig around in the dark and find a flashlight or a candle.  The shelves at the store might be bare, but you have a can opener and a good stash of baked beans.

Positivity researcher Dr. Barbara Fredrickson discovered that people who enjoyed more positivity in their lives were better prepared to deal with life’s challenges—even the heart-rending, tragic ones, the ones that devastate us.

Coping with 9/11

After the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers, Fredrickson found that while people with a history of positivity felt the same fear, anger and sadness as everyone else, they coped much better.

They were better at accessing feelings of inspiration and awe over the way people came together and reached out to help one another.  Their levels of compassion outstripped even their anger, sadness and fear.  They could access more optimism about the future, despite the devastating events, and greater curiosity about unfolding world affairs.  And even though life had dealt us all a crushing blow, positive people were quicker to get back up.

The Crucial Factor

In fact, Dr. Fredrickson found that positivity was the crucial factor that determined someone’s resilience.  Summing up her data, she says, “In short, we discovered that resilience and positivity go hand-in-hand.  Without positivity, there is no rebound.

Positivity contributes to a strengthened sense of self-reliance and self-esteem, both qualities of resilient personalities.  It leads you to develop your awareness of your personal value system, to know what really matters to you, and teaches you to exercise your values in all the arenas of your life.  When the chips are down, you know where to put your focus and which of your personal strengths, Chin’s “durable personal goods,” will best serve you.

Positive people connect with others easily.  They’re able to tap their networks when they need help or support for themselves or for others.

Positive people tend to have goals and to have projects cooking; they’re proactive.  They have experience in facing and overcoming practical challenges.  They know the power of patience and perseverance in getting things done.  And they have a hardy sense of playfulness, too, that brings the grace of light-heartedness to stressful situations.

While investing in positivity has its immediate rewards—a richer, deeper, healthier, happier and more satisfying life—like a star, it really shines when the skies are dark.  It adds bounce to your step when things are going well, and bounce-back when you need it the most.

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