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Bounce Forward

Ever Striving

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Daruma Doll

This is a picture of a Japanese Daruma doll.  I received one, very similar to this, as a gift several years ago from the wonderful owners of my then dojo or karate studio.   The Daruma doll is one of the most popular talismans of good luck in Japan and is frequently purchased during the new year.

The armless, legless, and (upon purchase) eyeless doll is traditionally made of paper mâché and is weighted on the bottom so it stands, even when knocked down.  (Think:  weebles wobble…or, errr, am I showing my age?!)  Daruma dolls embody the Japanese proverb, Nanakorobi Yaoki, translated to mean “seven times down, eight times up.”  The characteristics of the Daruma doll have come to symbolize goal-setting, perseverance and resilience.

The tradition of the Daruma doll is simple:

  1. Set a goal.
  2. Upon defining your goal, fill in just one eye of the Daruma doll.
  3. Place the doll in a location where it will serve as a reminder of your desired outcome.
  4. When your goal is attained, paint in the second eye.

Again, simple, right?  I’m embarrassed to say that, after several years of having my Daruma doll on my book shelf, it is still one-eyed.  Years after giving my little guy partial sight, I never felt I had attained sufficient success to complete his vision.

Looking back, I can see that my goal was probably not specific enough.  And, I could have done a better job of chunking down my wish into a much smaller objective.  What’s striking to me now, however, is that I never took time to pause and consider any successes or progress along my goal-driven journey.  If I did, perhaps my Daruma doll would have full sight today!

This “ever-striving” syndrome is true for many of us as individuals; it is also pervasive in organizations.  Our focus is on what remains to be done, on what is left incomplete, and on what we have yet to attain.  One project leads to another; our to-do lists always evolve.  In this world of relentless demands and change, it’s easy for our success line to be elusive.  In the state of striving, we never arrive.

One of my favorite neuropsychologists, Rick Hanson PhD, describes this phenomenon in this manner:

“The focus on the future – on endless striving, on getting the next task done, on climbing the next mountain – can get confused and stressful.  It’s confused because the brain:

  • Overestimates both the pleasure of future gains and the pain of future losses. (This evolved to motivate our ancient ancestors to chase carrots hard and really dodge sticks.)
  • Makes the future seem like a real thing when in fact it doesn’t actually exist and never will. There is only now, forever and always.
  • Overlooks or minimizes the alrightness of this moment – including the many things already resolved or accomplished – in order to keep you looking for the next threat or opportunity.”

So, yes, by all means, define and pursue wholesome goals.  But, let’s not forget to take time to pause and reflect on our small wins regularly.  This strategy promotes long-term goal achievement and emotional health along the way.   It encourages learning (yes, we can learn just as much from our successes as our failures!) and builds our internal resources for resilience.  These minor boosts can have a cumulative and lasting effect.

What successes might you be overlooking?  What small wins never made it to your radar screen?  In what ways have you “already arrived?”  Take a moment now and reflect on them.  (Feel free to share!)  Your one-eyed Daruma doll might just thank you!

Got Stress? Get Grounded!

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Got Stress?  Yeah, I know…a silly question.   In today’s busy world, stress seems to be an inherent part of our daily lives.  As a leadership and life coach, what concerns me is that most people accept chronic stress as part of their daily lives.  In fact, according to a recent article by Dr. Oz (, “stress is the top reason why women are aging faster, getting sicker and dying before their time.”  The article further states that “chronic stress impacts 3 vital organs – the brain, the stomach, and the heart; it weakens the immune system and increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal problems and possibly even cancer.”

Geez, not a pretty picture.  So, what’s a person to do?

First, recognize that while stress may be normal in today’s crazy world (and, certain levels of stress are actually necessary and healthy!), chronic stress is not necessary.   By telling yourself a different story about stress, it opens up possibility for new and different action.

In my work as a coach, I encourage people to consider taking action in the domains of body, emotion, and language (or thought).

There’s lots you can do to fight stress by taking care of your body.  Eat well, exercise, and get sufficient sleep.  Yes, sometimes easier said than done.  But, taking steps to improve your physical body goes a long way in supporting steps you can take in the other two domains.   You don’t have to dig deep to find great resources about specific foods, vitamins and sources of exercise that might support a healthier lifestyle—including reduced anxiety, stress and depression.

In addition to watching what goes into your body and how you physically take care of yourself, try slowing down.  We’re overloaded, distracted and pulled in many directions.  We’re constantly on the run and, as a result, we feel disconnected and disengaged from many aspects of our life.  People often feel the need to speed things up during times of stress, feeling they have to work longer, harder, faster to get things done.  Ironically, this is the opposite of what we often need to operate at our best.  Slow down, breathe (deeply!), and ask yourself:  “How am I feeling right now?”  Assess your stress level, label your emotion, and reflect.

As you reflect, try grounding yourself in a powerful vision of you at your best.  Some refer to this as a “best self” image.  To do this, you need to have a high level of self-awareness.  Really take time to consider:  What do you care most about? What are your personal, core values?  Are you living your life in a way that’s consistent with these values…and in a way that provides meaning and fulfillment? What are your unique gifts—those strengths and assets you can draw upon when faced with challenging situations as well as opportunities?  What difference do you wish to make in your own life as well as the lives of others?

By taking time to answer these questions before charging off mindlessly to address your next to-do, my guess is you’ll not only reduce stress but take steps towards living a life of greater balance, happiness and wellbeing.

To be Truly Thankful

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Thankful_BoardsThe post below comes from the Daily OM, is beautifully written, and feels very appropriate this time of year.  Most of us are celebrating the holidays, reflecting on the past, and anticipating the possibilities of a new year.  I wish you peace, joy and true gratitude as you experience the wholeness of life in the coming year.

Our gratitude deepens when we begin to be thankful for being alive during this time and living the life we are living.

Often when we practice being thankful, we go through the process of counting our blessings, acknowledging the wonderful people, things and places that make up our reality. While it is fine to be grateful for the good fortune we have accumulated, true thankfulness stems from a powerful comprehension of the gift of simply being alive, and when we feel it, we feel it regardless of our circumstances. In this deep state of gratitude, we recognize the purity of the experience of being, in and of itself, and our thankfulness is part and parcel of our awareness that we are one with this great mystery that is life.

It is difficult for most of us to access this level of consciousness as we are very caught up in the ups and downs of our individual experiences in the world. The thing to remember about the world, though, is that it ebbs and flows, expands and contracts, gives and takes, and is by its very nature somewhat unreliable. If we only feel gratitude when it serves our desires, this is not true thankfulness. No one is exempt from the twists and turns of fate, which may, at any time, take the possessions, situations, and people we love away from us. Ironically, it is sometimes this kind of loss that awakens us to a thankfulness that goes deeper than just being grateful when things go our way. Illness and near-miss accidents can also serve as wake-up calls to the deeper realization that we are truly lucky to be alive.

We do not have to wait to be shaken to experience this state of being truly thankful for our lives. Tuning in to our breath and making an effort to be fully present for a set period of time each day can do wonders for our ability to connect with true gratitude. We can also awaken ourselves with the intention to be more aware of the unconditional generosity of the life force that flows through us regardless of our circumstances.

by Madisyn Taylor (Daily OM)

Bring on the Cake (and Connections)!

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This month, I’m celebrating my birthday.  And, no, I’m not declaring this in the hopes of garnering attention.  On this day, more than just about any other, I’m reminded of the power and importance of relationships.  I’m reminded of the many wonderful people who make my life meaningful and joyful…who bring a sense of purpose and passion to what I do.  I’m also reminded of the power of gratitude and the importance of being present to that which we wish to cultivate more of in life.

So, on this day, I choose to be present to the many well-wishes for a good day.  At the same time, reflecting on the positive emotions that are generated through simple, often electronic, methods of connecting, I consider the impact we could make (on ourselves and others!) by connecting at a meaningful level with others on a more regular basis.

As a matter of fact, according to Gallup research, “to have a thriving day, we need six hours of social time.  When we get at least six hours of daily social time, it increases our wellbeing and minimizes stress and worry.  Just so you don’t think of that six hours of social time is unattainable in one day, it’s important to note that the six hours includes time at work, at home, on the telephone, talking to friends, sending email, and other communication.  When people have almost no social time in a given day, they have an equal chance of having a good day or bad day.  However, each hour of social time quickly decreases the odds of having a bad day.  Even three hours of social time reduces the chances of having a bad day to 10%.”  (Gallup:  Wellbeing|The Five Essential Elements)

So, on this day, I express gratitude to my family, friends, colleagues and others who have taken time to connect with me.  Know that your simple act contributes to not only my wellbeing but that of your own.

Okay, now bring on the cake and balloons!

On Gratitude

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In the glow of the Thanksgiving holiday, I’ve been reflecting a lot on gratitude.  It’s something I talk a lot about in my work and, very recently, have had many “research opportunities” (aka – darn tough personal challenges!) in which I’ve been adding to the science.

More and more research points to the power of gratitude.  I find it comforting and empowering to know that how we engage ourselves in life makes a difference.  Personal reflection—including reminding oneself of personal strengths and values (especially when faced with difficulties), taking time to feel pride in personal accomplishments, pausing to recognize the little things in life one has to be thankful for, etc.—goes a long way in turning a bad or so-so day into a better one.  And of course, expressing sincere appreciation to others—recognizing not just what they do but who they are as unique individuals—creates an ‘upward spiral’ of positive energy that can influence both personal and team dynamics.

As I was driving on Thanksgiving day, I noticed a young girl sitting on the side of the highway.  She was leaning against the guardrail with her head between her knees.  There was no sign of any broken down car…simply, a young girl who looked alone and in despair.  I couldn’t help but wonder who this girl was and what pain she was experiencing.  What if just one person reached out to let her know she was valued, cared for, and loved?  How might her Thanksgiving feel just a little brighter, even in the darkest of circumstances?

Growing research shows that sustained feelings of gratitude have real, tangible benefits, including:

  • Biochemical changes – Favorable changes in the body’s biochemistry include improved hormonal balance and an increase in production of DHEA, the “anti-aging hormone.”
  • Increased positivity – Daily gratitude exercises can bring about a greater level of positive feelings, according to researchers from the University of Miami and the University of California, Davis who studied this process in 157 individuals over 13 days.
  • Boost to the immune system – The IgA antibody, which serves as the first line of defense against pathogens, increases in the body.
  • Emotional “compound interest” – The accumulated effect of sustained appreciation and gratitude is that these feelings, and coherence, are easier to recreate with continued practice. This is because experiencing an emotion reinforces the neural pathways of that particular emotion as it excites the brain, heart and nervous system.

Now who doesn’t want more of that?!  🙂

My wish for you is that you are compassionate with yourself and others and are purposeful in noticing and savoring those things for which you are thankful.  I also hope that you find ways to create your own upward spiral of positive emotion by expressing heartfelt appreciation to others – not just for what they do but for who they are as special beings.  Although I was not in a position to pull off of the highway to help the young girl on the road, I did call to make sure she received the support she needed.  I hope she knows that a stranger cares, values her painful yet human experience (whatever it may be), and wishes her happier days ahead.

Thanks to...