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Saturday, December 28, 2013

A New Year

Have you ever thought "no more New Year´s resolutions", and then still come up with some, maybe the same ones as the year before? Why is it so compelling to us to come up with a list of desired changes at the chime of the bell at midnight of December 31st?

It is simply fun to come up with a better version of ourselves. The mere thoughts don´t require any commitments, any energy or endurance. Dreams are free, they say. But dreams don´t come true just because. At least not the kind that involves losing some pounds or being more productive.

Why not use the start of a new year this time for deepening the relationship to ourselves? What if we better understood where we are at right now? What moves us, what worries us, what excites us? I don´t always find it that easy to know about myself. It is not something we truly need to find out in order to function in daily life. It is, however, something we need to know in order to create a charmed and fulfilled life. This and other things like "what is one thing I truly want to make happen in this life?", "am I currently doing something towards that?", "what can one step be to take right now?"

Now THAT is a New Year´s resolution that would make a true difference in the course of our lives. Once pinpointed, we can even ask ourselves, where we want to be in regards to this single one very important thing for us by the end of 2014. Then, we can identify steps within that year´s goal and start committing to the smaller steps by certain dates. It becomes tangible and thus doable and real. We can monitor our success, as well as be relaxed, because we know, we are moving towards the ONE thing that really matters to us.

In case you have a hard time deciding what that one thing is for you, imagine you are at the end of your life, having lived a fulfilled and amazing life. What do you just know that had to have been in it for it to be rich and full? Experience it with all of your senses. Get to know details about it, as much as you can. Trust me, whatever comes up - don´t over think it - it is THE thing for you. Your heart knows. All of a sudden it becomes clear.

I dare you to ditch your usual New Year´s resolutions list, and do this exercise. The rest will fall into place. Once we live a fulfilled life, things like extra pounds just take care of themselves. They usually are only there to hold the place for our dreams until we are ready to grab them and run with them. Once we are on our way, we don´t need the extra pounds anymore.

It is also a lot more fun than gritting our teeth and pushing through a list that never was the most important thing in the first place. Who are we kidding? By February we have returned to our same habits, unless it is something of true importance and meaning to us.

That said, I wish you an amazing year 2014. May you run towards your one thing you don´t want to have lived a life without. It is time to make it real.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Pilgrim for Life

For the third time, my husband and I went on a pilgrimage this summer. For over 1200 years now, the final resting place of the apostle Saint James has been calling millions of people to come to it on foot and experience an outer and an inner journey. Upon arrival in Santiago de Compostela, one question comes to the forefront: how to continue the essence of a pilgrimage once daily life has us back…

After three times I know the feeling of arriving very well. Arriving at our goal that we had for 6 weeks of daily walking - it is a bitter sweet feeling. Happiness of reaching a goal that only started out with one step and hope and faith that all the necessary following steps will be made in good health and good spirit. Sadness, because the focus for the last 6 weeks is no more. It is done. Now what?!

Daily life has a similar rhythm. It is different for each one of us, but it helps to have goals smaller than the obvious milestones in life. That way we have the sense of achievement more often. But simply having a sense of being on a journey is something I find difficult to keep in my awareness, when the daily grind takes over. Yet, I have a true desire to keep the feeling of the pilgrimage alive. It takes a strong commitment to achieve that, in order to be willing to change enough of the schedule around and to make big and courageous changes. Our own habits and default reactions can become like good old friends. We feel safe and know them well. Why give them up? Because sometimes they stand in the way of living a fulfilled life.

Giving them up is necessary if we want different results. For me, striving to be a modern pilgrim in an urban setting, the seductions of city life are a big challenge. The mere awareness of that challenge gives me a big advantage and the possibility to find ways to handle it. I have read a number of books that deal with simplifying life and creating a charmed life. I find them mostly helpful. There are things like decluttering, walking more instead of driving, or even driving less all together by choosing wisely and clustering errands.

With thrifty tasks like that, there is more time to make sure, the spiritual side is also being nourished on a regular basis. Just shortening my newspaper time in the morning and using it for a simple meditation gave me a strong connection to my overall big goals and guidance throughout the day in that respect. With that focus, many unnecessary things fell by the wayside and did not even need to be addressed anymore. Spiritual housekeeping, I call it. Simple and effective. That is the way I like my solutions - for myself, as well as for my life coaching clients. I stand by that, especially since I am trained in science, complicated psychology maneuvers, as well as personality and intelligence test batteries. All of these have their place as well, but when the daily grind takes over and takes the color out of life with its white and black strokes, the simple things are what count and bring back the rainbow colors and the spring in our step.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Great Tool for Peace of Mind

It dawned on me, when I received a call from the Vienna office that a lady from Germany is urgently trying to get a hold of me and I called her back in gear to help her with my services that she tried to sell me an ad in a journal and their deadline was approaching that neither I nor my office staff in Vienna had questioned who the urgency concerned and had simply taken it on as ours....

how often something similar had happened to me; or better, how often I had let it happen. Since then I am applying a simple but very effective tool to sort things out and return swiftly to my peace of mind:

I take a topic and ask myself in which one of the two main and resulting four categories it belongs:

These two dimensions are to be determined of any topic. They can show one of four possible assessments:

Urgent YES/Important NO    (U+/I-)
Urgent No   /Important NO    (U-/I-)
Urgent YES/Important YES   (U+/I+)
Urgent No  / Important YES   (U-/I+)

This is a beautiful exercise for logical minds, but also very simple for others, especially for creative thinkers as well.

Let´s go through the options:

Something is urgent, but not important to us. This is the classic sales pitch, or anyone who is trying to involve us in their own drama that they created voluntarily and often are trying to bail on their own responsibility in it.

Often the urgency can be contagious, and we don´t even question if it is necessary for us to get involved and invest our time, energy or resources. It is easy to be pulled out of our own peace of mind, and we are in the middle of something that is not even important to ourselves. It takes some practice, but this is where a good ability to say a clear "no" is invaluable. If it is not coming easy to you yet, practice, practice, practice.

Not urgent and not important. This is the easiest category to shed. We might enter this section out of boredom or if our boundaries are very unclear. Sometimes it can be for recreational purposes, which is fine when sprinkled sparingly throughout our schedule.

Something is urgent as well as important. Clearly, we need to act. The only thing is, it won´t be very pleasant because of the urgency. We are in getting it done mode, maybe feeling a little panicked.

This is where the great stuff happens. Ultimately, we want to shift as much as possible of our life from U+/I+ to this category: taking care of important things, before they are urgent, adds to our life quality and creates tremendous peace of mind. Having mainly things of this category assures that we are moving forward and are having fun.

It is a great exercise to go through a whole day, deciding in which of these categories anything coming our way falls. It is simple to nix anything of the I- category and only keep things that are important to us. That will clear out any schedule up to 80 per cent, in my experience. All the things you can do....

I wish you great fun with this and let me know how it goes.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Stability of Change

How to feel good and stable in an ever changing world? By finding stability in change itself...

I don´t like change per se, yet I like having changed or adapted to change that was brought into my life without my choice. "The only thing permanent is change," has been said. It is so true. To me that means, if we embrace change or at least learn how to cope with it well, we can have our stability back.

This approach has made it possible for myself, a stability-loving person, to leave the village I was born in and get a college education in Austria´s metropolis Vienna. Change was necessary again, when I moved to San Diego. Today I am happily married and get to follow my calling - helping people lead a fulfilled and meaningful life. Had I insisted on disliking change, none of this would have been possible. Here are some things that helped me adapt to change and - if not befriend it - at least get used to it and respect its potential.

Change takes time. Whenever I am stressed, I have little time, patience or energy for anything new. Efficiency is king. Unfortunately it takes time to get into something new, to make a new schedule, to learn how to use new products (e.g. cleaning products, computer software), to train a new employee. The time spent to upgrade is well worth it. I remember when I switched from a regular cell phone to a smart phone. At the beginning I was frustrated because making a plain call was less convenient; I did not want to be interrupted with my routine. Then I took some time just to play around with it and get acquainted with it. I had fun, learned a lot and I never looked back.

A good quality of life allows for new things, for unforeseen things, for time to "sit with it". The willingness to look at something with curiosity and to explore what that change means for us is a striking attitude that many successful, relaxed, level-headed people have embraced. We all can choose to be one of them. Some days it will work better than others, but ultimately it is our own choice what change means to us, not something from the outside. Because one thing is for sure, change will show up; over and over again. Now, I count on it! That´s where I find my beloved stability again.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Running Away From or Towards Something?

When the reflex to run kicks in, it is a real challenge to be honest with ourselves. Are we about to leave because we don´t want to deal with what is in front of us or is it because we are about to take a great opportunity in our life. One reason, why this is difficult to tell is that we often don´t know if what we are walking towards is going to pan out, if it is a true opportunity, or just wishful thinking. So how can we make the best choice about when to run (because we are on fire for something) or when to stay put (in order to once and for all deal with something)...

Three years after we bought our house, I began to get restless. It was the rhythm at which I would move in the past. I loved moving and realized I had to deal with this "wanderlust" now, since moving was not an option. Thinking about this subject, I had to admit that it was nice to stop moving on and that I could put that energy into my marriage and my business. In that respect, staying put was a blessing. But what about all the things I loved about moving? I learned to incorporate those characteristics in a different way into a more grounded life. I started to go through our home room by room and collected items for a garage sale. When moving, it would always come natural to leave things behind, to de-clutter. I also decided to investigate different neighborhoods in the city, just like I used to do when I would move to a new neighborhood. The thrill and fun were the same, plus I did not have to go home to a house full of boxes, wondering where my favorite book was that I wanted to re-read, or I  improvising making dinner because all my kitchen utensils were in place and ready to be used.

This experience taught me that being on the go is not always necessary. It also does take a toll on my energy level. But an even deeper insight was that my relationships were able to develop further, even with casual acquaintances, like neighbors, the dentist, grocery store staff and such. I found that part very satisfying and also somewhat scary, because it was new. 

Now, whenever faced with a decision whether to take a leap for something new, the question comes up that I got out of my experience about moving. "Am I running towards something great, or am I running away from something I just don´t want to deal with?" Because when moving every so often, I did not have to deal with certain things, knowing I was not going to be there for long. It is of highest benefit to find the answer to that question, before doing either. Whereas we want to grow in our life´s aspirations and goals, it is also important to free ourselves from patterns that keep catching up with us. 

One thing I learned throughout my several moves is that anything I hoped to leave behind, eventually showed up again in a new version. The challenge with a partying and up all night room mate from college reappeared as the noisy neighbors or the thundering omnipresent sounds from the close-by highway. Real freedom comes from figuring out how to take care of ourselves in such situations, like when noise is bothersome to us. There are tricks and processes to get to a happy place with it. Clearly, the goal cannot be to have zero noise from the environment. 

Honesty is the best approach when answering the question about running away or toward something. Also, pause is a powerful approach. When we sit still and ask ourselves what the running will get us, the answer will appear. The important aspect of that is that we are not looking for the ONE right answer. That would never be satisfying and a hopeless quest. We need to search for the answer that is the right one for US. We need to have strategies that we are backing up 100 per cent. Otherwise it is not the right thing to do. We will end up sabotaging ourselves, finding many excuses and only putting our energy in haphazardly, proofing our doubts and our reservations right. 

To summarize and answer the question am I running away or towards something:
Honesty - pause - our very OWN right answer - GO! Whatever direction that is, is the right one for you. May you always run excitedly towards something great or swiftly from something harmful.

Friday, May 31, 2013

An Ego is a "Busy Body"

We are quick to use the terms ego-centric, ego-maniac, ego-tistical or having a big/inflated ego. Some live by the life long goal of dissolving the ego. Others walk through life showing off their ego at any chance they get without a second thought. What is the right way to go?
Too much ego, maybe not enough? Hardly ever do we seem to be happy with the size or condition of our own ego. Or are we even aware of our own ego? It is easier to measure the size of other people´s egos.

What is the benefit of discussing the size of anyones ego? After years of talks about oversized-ego talks among friends, clients, journalists and psychologist colleagues, I am making a case for the ego and speak on its behalf (to my own surprise).

Freud coined the term Ego as an instance in our psyche (read my column about the Ego - good or bad in the Presidio Sentinel). According to him, it makes sure that the other two parts of the psyche (Super-Ego and ID) are "playing nice". In daily life it means that the ego is negotiating and balancing between morals and instinctive desires. To make the task even more difficult than finding the middle ground between two contradictory instances, the ego also has to negotiate these two positions with the given current reality, the reality we find ourselves in on a daily basis.

No wonder that the ego is not always doing the ideal job of being balanced, "enlightened" and that it employs defense mechanisms. These can be among several - well - getting defensive, or lying, denying, projecting or dissociating (checking out mentally). With all its flaws, the ego is the place, where we feel we are truly ourselves, who we are and who we are identifying ourselves with. It feels like the seat of our self. Even if we try to dissolve the ego in an attempt to get to the true self (which is more the advanced class on the ego).

For now, I vote for giving the ego a break, as well as other people´s egos. Usually, if annoyed by highly egotistical people, I remind myself that I have the ability to leave the scene, but they themselves have to endure that 24/7. When judging our own ego harshly, I suggest a deep breath, filled with gentle thoughts about our own motivation and a promise to do what it takes to remedy what an overachieving ego has just created. Humility does not hurt. Admitting that something did not turn out as intended does not hurt. On the contrary, it will get us on the good side of people, more than a hard push from an "ego-driven" motive ever will.

Monday, April 29, 2013

There Is an Animal Inside All of Us

In the continuation of Freud´s threefold model of the psyche - Super-Ego - Ego - ID - this is about the ID (read my Presidio Sentinel Column on it HERE). It is the part that gives us the will go on, to strive for more, want more, but also to want it NOW. How does all that fit under one hat? The answer is naturally, when we look at it as a development within mankind as well as in each individual.

Kids. Their perception of time is different from the one we have as adults. The blessed years before we understand the clock and also get close to being able to guess the length of an hour, is also the time when kids get very absorbed in their activities or at the same time can´t imagine to wait another 5 minutes for a treat and unravel at the mention of having to do just that. Getting desires met and fulfilled now, that´s all that counts. A child does not choose having healthy teeth in the long run over having candy now. It is similar with animals. They live on instincts, impulses and would rather not have to wait for anything.

Slowly, time can be "trained". The delay of gratification is getting easier and can be achieved for longer times. There are different ways to train and condition that, like Pavlov showed with his famous dog, bell and salivation experiment. It is important for the trained one (it works on animals as well as people) to understand the connection between stimulus (bell) and result (treat).

Whereas it is generally good if we can choose the "toy at the end of the week" over an instant small treat, sometimes it is good to rely on that "animal in us". It gets us out of worry-loops or unproductive questioning and undermining of our own decisions. "It is done!" says the ID and thinks nothing more of it, already off to new adventures. It is the wise thing to discern which things need the careful consideration and which don´t. Often we overthink things and lose energy and vitality, never allowing for little errors or decisions on a whim. So we got ourselves an ice cream cone on the first beautiful day of the year, despite of being on a diet. As long as this will not happen daily, or we are not diabetic or allergic to dairy, let´s enjoy it and move on.

The ID is our source of gut feelings and instincts. They are important for a vibrant and lively way to live. It is the balance of the ID, the Ego and the Super-Ego that matters. This balance can be found with awareness, therapy or coaching, if needed.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Super-Ego Today

In my April column of the Presidio Sentinel, I talk about the term that Sigmund Freud coined: the Super-Ego (click here to access). What it means for us in daily life when we "suffer" from an overbearing Super-Ego, you find below:

Feeling guilty quickly and often? Finding yourself blushing easily, trying to hide your true self? Being convinced that if others really knew you, they would not have anything to do with you AND feeling bad about it (the AND rules out any sociopathic tendencies)?

If the answer is yes to one or more, chances are your super-ego is having a tight grip on you. The role of the super-ego is ultimately to make any kind of culture and art possible. It holds communities and societies together and makes them possible. The super-ego tells us not to steal, lie, kill or betray.

I like to think of the budding super-ego when a child gets feedback about its behavior all day long. It is as simple as reward or punishment. Punishment can be from severe (bodily or emotional harm) to mild (not getting an expected reward) and anything in between. A reward can also be from big (say a trip to Disney Land) to small (not being punished) and anything in between. The child observes all of the given feedback all the time and learns from the combination of its own behavior and the response to it from the bonded person (most often the parent). That way the super-ego is starting to grow. This means that eventually, the parent (whoever does the punishing or rewarding) does not have to be present anymore for the child to act in order to get the reward. The process has been internalized and the super-ego has been born.

After years of this, by the time we are adults we have a thorough understanding of cultural and societal rules, of how to treat others and about morals and ethics. It is a part of us, it feels very familiar and safe. What we often don´t consider is that we also take on other characteristics from the bonded person via that channel. For example, if we have a shy and easily intimidated mother, we might perceive being shy and sort of passive as a value, something we are unconsciously striving for. Wanting to please our parents usually stays with us, even once the parents are deceased. All of that is happening without our awareness. Our world view is so familiar and dear to us that we don´t see it just like we don´t see the very air we breath.

Therapy or self-help books, coaching or heart-to-heart talks with friends can bring up questions about how and who we are, about how our super-ego has us act. This is a good opportunity to question what we want to keep and what we would like to change. Any of the learned behaviors and the underlying values can be re-examined and adjusted to be of more benefit to us today, to help us create a fulfilled and meaningful life.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

More on How People Make Us Feel

I spent this morning tied up in e-mail correspondence with a person that is "known" for being pushy, without boundaries and insulting, if she does not get what what she wants. In an association of 4500 members, she is known among the office staff for said attributes. In my position of a volunteer chapter leader, I get to deal with the e-mails back and forth. Needless to say, my morning was not pleasant. So what is up with that?

Sometimes people are so eager to get what they want that they are unaware of how they behave. Personally, I think it is easy to be pleasant and have good manners, when everything goes our way. It is when we don´t get what we want that our character is being tested and our true colors show. I am not proud to think back at my temper tantrums that I had well into my 20ies! I felt easily attacked personally, without ever hearing that there was just one more step in order to get things right and to achieve my goal. I just wanted what I wanted, when I wanted it. I must have gotten away with it quite a lot, growing up. It is one of the disadvantages of being a pampered child - eventually we all have to grow up.

Well, nobody has to grow, but I find it so much more beneficial to myself and my life quality, as well as to my success. Thinking of that above mentioned person, I probably will not forget how I innocently got in the position of having to "defend" the club´s policy, how she lashed out and tried to offend me on a personal level, throwing names around and saying untrue things. I realize that I will be cautious in the future when coming across her ever again. I see how she is isolating herself with that behavior and feel for her. It can´t be easy to be like that. But at the end of the day it is not my place to say any of that back to her. I stay polite and firm. It is so true that honey goes so much farther than the whip. I believe that we are all the same in that respect. For me, we are all human and I expect to be treated well and do my best to treat others well, even if opinions and goals don´t match.

Acceptance of what is and listening to the other person, trying to understand where they are coming from and what they need, how I can help them, has brought me more rewards and closer to my own goals than any temper tantrum in the past ever has. It is like a well kept secret, but it makes sense at the same time. There is an Austrian saying for that which goes "You wash my hand, I wash your hand. That way we are both getting clean".

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

How People Make Us Feel

Relationships are very delicate processes. It is easier to disturb one than to strengthen one. However, if a disturbing incidence gets resolved well, it strengthens the bond. Tricky? Not really, just needing some attention and awareness. This is a simple basis to ensure walking hand in hand instead of walking on egg shells:

Think about who you like to hang out with. What are their attributes? I, for one, like people who make me laugh and are creative. Somehow I get funnier myself around people like that. That brings me to a phenomenon that I have come across: We are like the 5 people we spend the most time with. In that case, we better choose well, who to spend our time with.

Our admiration is a built in guarantee that the relationship goes well with people we admire. The one thing that it takes is that they, too, want to spend time with us. But even this is not the case with the first person we come across, it will eventually. That means, if I like to be with fun people, the first one that meets that criterium might not want to be with me, but I can continue my search and eventually achieve my goal. This is a simple principle leading to the goal when practiced consistently.

Sometimes we don´t notice how other people make us feel. We might not pay attention when we are always drained and feeling hopeless after meeting with a certain person. There are "energy vampires" out there, and they can be charming and reeling us in, without us noticing for quite a while. It is important to be vigilant about how people make us feel. There is a difference between a friend needing us in a difficult phase and a "friend" who is always talking about her-/himself and never interested in us. It is the "enough about me, now tell me what you think about me" kind of person, stay away from them.

When a difficult subject has to be approached with anyone, first think about what they are trying to communicate, to achieve. Then, if it is of value to you to resolve this well - and it always is, burning bridges is not a good strategy - make sure they feel good about the way you go about it. That feeling will determine their future way of treating you. A good method is the Oreo cookie method. First say something positive, pleasant, nice. Then say what you want to address, the rather difficult part. Then, finish with another layer of something positive. It makes even a tough topic bearable for both sides.

All of the above, I recommend to use while being authentic and true to your own personality. I promise, it goes together.

Saturday, January 26, 2013


You be the judge of that:

One thing that I believe we all fear is being judged; especially if it is by a person who is not thinking fondly of us. The chance that we get judged harshly or mis-judged seems high. There appears to be so much power in judging and so little in being judged. One day I realized that I was so afraid of being judged that I had started living in the "average zone" - the safe zone, where it was least likely to be judged, since not much of my behavior was showing any kind of character, opinion, conviction.

Not only was that a boring way for me to live life, I was also very unsatisfied, unfulfilled and started judging myself for it. One other effect of that behavior was that I started judging other people who did show their individual character, did stand up for their opinion and did stick to their conviction, all the while radiating and having fun. That was enough of a wake-up call for me. After all, I used to admire those kinds of people, getting inspired to do the same myself. That makes for a world full of authentic and nonjudgmental people, full of originality and energy.

Hardly ever is there a need for a judgement. What it does take is to have good boundaries and be able and willing to walk away from harmful or situations and people. It does take good observation skills and a strong decision power. All of these things we can acquire and practice. Focusing on what serves us gets us automatically away from negative behavior. After all, there is just not enough time in the day to focus on everything. Any minute that we spend with healthy and positive thoughts and behavior is a minute we can´t spend worrying, giving up, getting down on ourselves.

Any minute we don´t spend judging ourselves or others, we can spend getting closer to our goals, enjoying who we are today and enjoying the wonderful and supporting people in our lives. Once we let go of judging, we have a lot of spare time for all the beautiful things this life has to offer.

Here is to you going for it and enjoying it!