Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Don't be a quitter

There you are; trying to see the good in each day.  Smiling and laughing and singing and practicing all the skills in your bag of tricks and yet . . . you are just not feeling it.  The house is a mess or your projects are running behind.  The kids are fussing or you can't find that file you need to have.  Things are not going well and you've just about enough and that ice-cream or wine or bed are calling to you saying, "It isn't worth it.  Give up and come to me instead."

Don't give up.
Don't give in.

We don't know when that break-through will finally happen.  We don't know where success is going to find us. We do know that if we stop now . . it's over.  So don't stop.  Push through and keep in mind that amazing feeling of satisfaction when you succeed.

You can do this.
Put some weight on it.
Rub some dirt in it.
Push through.
Use whatever cliché works for you but get it done.

I believe in you.
You can make today a good day.

Monday, February 12, 2018

It's OK to walk away

When I was younger I thought that I had to finish everything I started.  I finished books I didn't like.  I cleaned my plate when filled with food I didn't want.  I even felt a self-imposed obligation to listen to a song to the end even when I wanted to listen to something else.  Even as a parent I made my children finish out all the activities they signed up for even when they didn't give it their best (because it wasn't their thing).

I'm in recovery now though. Over time I've found that it's OK to walk away from things that don't bring you joy or help you along your journey.

If we are doing things that are preventing you from making today a good day it is fine for us to stop doing those things. We don't have to explain or make up polite excuses.  We can just walk away.

We can walk away from bad relationships.  We can walk away from uncomfortable situations.  We can walk away from failed attempts at good-day-making.  We can walk away.

Later, we can walk back if we want.  We can come at it from a different angle or attitude.  We can try again after we've rested or rethought the goals. Or . . we can walk away forever.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Today is better than yesterday

You have made it to today!
Yesterday and the day before and the day before, etc. had situations that could have prevented today but they didn't stop you.  Congratulations.

You made choices.  People around you made choices.  Nature did its thing and still, here you are!
Lessons were learned. Experiences were had. People were encountered. You are improved.

Today is going to have a new set of challenges but because of yesterday and all the previous yesterdays you are better prepared for those challenges.  Today is better than yesterday because of you.

Take a moment today and be thankful for all the yesterdays; all the people and events that helped you be here.  As you encounter the stresses of today keep in mind that tomorrow these will me the lessons of yesterday.

(Not so) secret tip:  You are the reason today is better than yesterday.  You take or leave what yesterday offered.  I believe in you though.  You made it!  Today is yours do use as you will.


Wednesday, February 7, 2018

A lists of lists

I love lists.  They clearly illuminate what's important.  Some lists are written down and some I just keep in my head.  They are changing all the time but always there.   Any day can be a good day with the correct application of the right list.
  1. People - Make a list of the people in your life that make it special.  Then set some goals for making some of them part of each day.  It might be a phone call, or a postcard, or a chat.  If it's someone that's passed then it might be quiet time of reflection or prayer.
  2. Food - We all have food that makes us feel better.  It might be comfort food or healthy food but knowing what snacks or food you want or need to make today a good day can make a good day.  Your grocery list or errand list should have "good day foods" on it.
  3. Books - There are books I've read so many times they are like an old friend or a warm blanket.  I can open them up anywhere and know what's happened and what's going to happen.  They are instant good day makers.  You book list might have books you've read out loud to your kids.  It's not important if the books are picture, comic, self-help, or bodice-rippers; your book list will be yours.  Make sure you have the listed books on hand as needed.
  4. Objects - Raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens may be some of your favorite things.  You may have photographs of your family that bring you joy.  Perhaps the ashtray you made in shop class takes to you a place and time when all was good in the world.  Knowing what things make you happy is one step closer to being happy.
  5. Activities - You may like doing things by yourself or with a friend.  Gardening or walking or doing puzzles or watching a movie may be your jam.  Whatever it is you like to do write it down in a list so you have a clear idea of what your best options are when you need a boost.
  6. Tasks for the day - Write down what you want to do today.  Does it seem reasonable?  Do you need to move things to tomorrow?  Are they prioritized and optimized?  There should be things on that list that you enjoy.   Marking them off as you finish provides feelings of success.  Moving the things that are not completed to tomorrow's list is totally acceptable.
  7. Goals - I once read that if you aim at nothing you are sure to hit it.  Naming what you want is a great reminder to do things that will help you reach the goal.  If you have "Be a world-class singer" on your list and you are not singing daily, you may need to revise your goal or do more to achieve it.
  8. Bad-day makers - Have you ever made a list of things that are sure to trigger a bad day?  A list of things to avoid?  What would happen if you had that list in front of you every day?  You might make more of an effort to mitigate those things each day.  You might also work to remove them from your life entirely.  If you had a list and three of the items were work related you might be motivated to change jobs.

Monday, February 5, 2018

"Blockers", "root cause", "5 whys" and you

Sometimes things are in the way of a good day.  They might be big or small, or internal or external but they are preventing you from having the day you want.  Those are good day blockers.

When blockers occur, we can let them remain and stop us in our tracks or we can work to remove them.  We can take each one as it comes along and change the world or ourselves to make today a good day.  Once all the blockers are gone, the day will be good.

It's like a "Choose your own adventure" book:
What is preventing a good day?
     Blocker X is preventing a good day
Remove Blocker X
    Blocker X is fixed (yay!!)
    Oh no! 
Blocker Y is in the way now.
    Remove Blocker Y
    Blocker Y can't be unblocked because of Blocker Z.
         Remove Blocker Z
    Remove Blocker Y
No Blockers!!
Have a good day!

At some point, all the blockers will be removed (or you may discover that you were the blocker and you don't really want it removed) and you can go on with your good day.

Oftentimes the hardest part of removing blockers is recognizing them.  Sometimes what you think is the problem really isn't.  Trying to find the root cause of a blocker can be the hardest part of dealing with one.

Let's say you need to call a family member to make today a good day.  Maybe you need information or a favor.  Maybe you need an audio hug.  Your battery is dead though.  
Problem:  I need to talk but I cannot.
Cause: Phone is dead.

Is that the root cause or the immediate cause and what's the best way to fix the root cause?
We can use the "5 Whys*" to trace the problem and find solutions.  Simply ask "why?" at least five times at each level of the issue.

Why is my phone dead?
  "I didn't charge it last night".
Why didn't you charge it last night?
  "I was too tired to plug it in."
Why were you too tired?
  "I stayed up late watching TV?"
Why was watching TV more important than rest?
  "It wasn't.  I was just killing time."
Why were you not resting instead?
  "I have no good reason.  I should go to bed sooner."

In this scenario there are multiple places where the immediate problem could be fixed (bring a power pack, plug in the phone before TV, set a reminder to plug in phone) and we've identified a root cause.

Blockers are going to differ and finding the right "whys" to ask may not be natural; it may feel a bit odd.  The thing is that, if the Blocker isn't removed by what you have asked or what you have answered or if it returns, you can try different whys, receive different answers, and do something different.  Repeat as necessary.

Having trouble dealing with a family member or a co-worker or a stranger?  Ask why.
Not enjoying your job or how you spend your day?  Ask why.
Sad?  Ask why.

One last (important) thing!  Once we think we know the root cause of the blocker we are trying to remove so that we can have or make a good day?  We need to do whatever we discovered we need to do.  Doing is the most critical part of today being a good day.

*The "5 whys" system was developed by Toyota Motor Company back in the day.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

On the road again

It's the worst, right?
The American Automotive Association reported that the average American spent 17,600 minutes a year driving.  Twelve days.  That's just the average.

Years go I lived in Houston, TX, the fourth largest city in America by population and a metro area bigger than New Jersey (but smaller than Massachusetts).  On a good traffic day, the commute to and from work was 45 minutes each way.  It was rarely a good traffic day.

More than once I found myself sitting in extreme heat in an extremely long line of cars; a line so long that I turned off the engine because I knew I wasn't moving for hours.  Sadly, more than once I thought to myself that there better be something up ahead to justify my wait; something like a really big accident and not some idiot making poor choices.

One day though, I recognized what I was doing.  I was wishing something bad on a stranger because I was inconvenienced.  More than a recognition, it was a realization.

I realized that traffic was preventing me from having a good day.  And, since I couldn't change the traffic, I would have to change myself.  I had to stop thinking negatively while waiting in the car.  I had to stop being frustrated by the wait,  More so, I had to do something to make it better for myself and for my fellow drivers.

I moved my harmonica into the car along with a bottle of soap bubbles.  When traffic stopped I'd tune the radio to some station playing music with space in between the notes and I'd fill them with music.  Or, if nothing was playing that I liked, I'd make my own music badly.  If the weather was good or the mood took me I'd open the sun roof and start blowing bubbles up and out.

Looking out the windows I'd see my fellow drivers looking in.  They'd be smiling or laughing or be trying to figure out what sort of lunatic was sharing the road with them.  I didn't mind the wait anymore either.  Sitting in the car was an opportunity to make today a good day.

Years later I added a red nose to my traffic kit.  I could now bring joy even when driving at normal speed.  Every stop light or stop sign I had the chance to draw out a smile or two.

Harmonicas, bubbles, and red noses aren't for everyone (but they could be for you . . have you tried?).  Anyone can find their thing though.  Your frustration may not even be traffic.

The first and second things you can do is identify your frustrations and decide that you are not going to be frustrated any longer.  Next do something about it!  The last thing thing might be trying to make whatever it is better for others.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The sound of music

"Let's start at the very beginning
A very good place to start
When you read you begin with A-B-C
When you sing you begin with do-re-mi"

Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical "The Sound of Music" was one of the four CDs my family bought when we first acquired a CD player.  Before that my sister and I used to play the Beatles "1962-1966" (Red album) every Saturday on the turntable during chores.
As far back as I can remember there has been music in my life.  Perhaps because I moved around as a child I use Top 40 songs as markers of where and when I lived in a certain place.  Music can take us to a place in our memories in ways no other thing can.

Years later moved in with my sister and we'd sing home-made show-tunes about whatever we were doing.  When my children were little I made up bed-time songs and bath-time ditties never thinking that more than a decade later the kids would still know and sing them.  I look forward to hearing those songs sung to their children.  I'll never be a proficient singer but I don't think that's necessary for being a good singer.

In my car I keep a harmonica.  If traffic is slow or stopped I'll often take it out and play along to some random station.  Sometimes I make up my own music.  I once played the shaker egg in a band.  I may not be good but I play with FEELING!  I've futzed with guitars, pianos, and a didgeridoo without any success.  Like being a proficient singer though, I am not sure being good is a requirement for my uses.

I once saw David Bowie perform live; Tower of Power too.  Both the Houston symphony and Detroit have had programs for kids that I've taken my children to.  I've gone to jazz festivals and dive bars with kids doing their very best (poorly)  Live music with groups of people are radically different than listening to recorded music and can be amazing.

A few years ago I became a dancer at my kid's dance studio.  They needed a filler before the finale and a bunch of bad dad dancers probably set the perfect mood.  I am not going to lie, I probably enjoy it more than I should.  I also love dancing with my wife.  We don't do it often (or often enough) but going to a club and moving until we can't brings me joy.  We've tried ballroom dancing more than a few times too.  If a line dance start, you can guarantee that my wife will be one of the first people in line and I'll not be (too) far behind.  Again, being proficient doesn't mean it isn't good.

Music can be magical.  It can make any day a good one.  Music can take you away to someplace you want to be or focus you on where you are.  The music doesn't have to be great; you don't have to be great.  As long as it's good for you, it's good.

Make music
Sing songs
Listen to what you love
Go where people make it

You have a soundtrack.  It's changed over the years and will continue to evolve.  Purposefully creating it to make your "biopic" one you would want people to watch can be a big step to making today a good day.

Related music: