TRY DOING THIS ONE!

Not a bad plan

Today in the United States we celebrate Thanksgiving. It is a holiday in honor of everything we are grateful for. It also happens to be my favorite holiday for that reason.

I have an idea of a new tradition we can all start. While it may be difficult to shift our entire attitude to one of gratitude, especially in the course of one day. We can take one simple step.

We can all think of one thing we are truly grateful for. Do this right now. No, really, right now, as you are reading this. Pick one thing in your life that you are truly grateful for. I’ll share mine with you. After having the Corona virus in March, I am honestly just grateful to be alive! With asthma and a heart condition I realize it could have been a lot worse.

Here is where we start a new tradition. Take the one thing you came up with and share it with others. Just let them know what you are grateful for in your life. Through observation I have noticed 75 to 90 percent of what comes out of people’s mouths are either gossip or complaints. It seems to be human nature. Let us throw a statement of gratitude in the mix. It will certainly help us feel better. It will also be refreshing to those who hear it as well. Encourage them to join you on this new tradition!

I AM RICH! EVEN BETTER, SO ARE YOU!

Wealth can be defined many ways. One that I really think matters is relationships. Let us face it, if you have all of the money and possessions in the world but nobody to enjoy them with you are about as broke as they come. I have been wanting to write about my outstanding wealth of great relationships in my life for a while and thought that now would be as good of time as any. I wanted to do so in some sort of orderly fashion. I knew there was no way I would be able to include everyone. If you are not mentioned in today’s post please do not take it as a slight in any way. There are so many great friends I am blessed to have it would take a whole post just listing their names.

First, I wanted to talk about some of the people I have known the longest. These people have been in my life so long it has me wondering if I am that good of a friend or if I just happen to befriend patient and forgiving people. In reflection I would say it is a little bit of both. My friend Matt, or ‘Big Sexy’ as those close to him know him, has been in my life since the age of 7. Matt is not only a fun and entertaining person you would love to have at any party, but one of the most caring and honest people I know. Whenever I am asked to describe him, my answer is always the same. “Matt is one of those people you would give the keys to your house, go on vacation and not worry a second.” My friends Amy and Jon I have known since kindergarten. Both of them have went on to raise amazing families and are a great example of what a parent should be. I am lucky to still have both of them in my life. My friend Jeremy I have known the longest. I believe we met when I was 4. His mom and mine were close friends. Although I don’t have the pleasure of talking to him that much these days, I can admire his passion for his beliefs and for the arts.

The next group of people I have known quite some time as well, but I am only now able to appreciate how wonderful they are. My Friend Kelly and I went to high school together and interacted a little. Later, I discovered her wonderful ability to cut hair and she began to be the one to cut my hair every time I needed a haircut. It was Kelly that I went to when I decided to go from decades of long hair to a mohawk. I can still remember the combination of shock and excitement when I told her that is what I was looking for. My friend Jodi and I also had went to the same high school. We really didn’t talk much then, but reintroduced through a mutual friend Russ (more on him later) we reconnected and she has been so sweet to both myself and my lovely Margie (more on her later as well) My friend Angie has been in my life for a long time as well. We still run into each other at local functions. It has been a true blessing to see what a great mother and example for her children she has become. My friends Jennifer and Scott are both amazing people. I had the pleasure of knowing both of them for years. Scott I have always admired for his integrity. He has always been a man of great character. Jennifer and I started out on the wrong foot to say the least. When we met we were told the other was the cause of a host of different situations that was not true. Fortunately for me, I met Jennifer again through her father Dale, who was one of the nicest men I have ever met. We were able to discuss the misinformation we both received and have become fast friends. I admire the work she does with foster animals. Another great things about Jennifer and Scott is they got married and are raising a wonderful family. Great when 2 wonderful friends come together.

Next are people I have met through my career in writing. It is my passion and meeting these people have certainly impacted my life for the better. My Aussie friend Kaylene and I initially met discussing music we both enjoyed. We became good friends and remain so to this day. We have exchanged gifts with each other and I really look forward to visiting her some day. She is doing an amazing job raising her two boys. Andrada is a friend of mine in Romania. She is also an author and a host of an amazing podcast. She is a great example of how to put all of your skills to use. Aura is my Romanian friend who lives in the United States. She is the publisher of See Beyond magazine. I will be forever grateful to Aura for allowing me the opportunity to share my talents with her audience. Carole is another amazing and driven woman I have had the pleasure of getting to know. Carole is an accomplished journalist and now hosts a show called Positively Milwaukee. The show highlights positive things in our community. She put together an amazing piece on me and my writing. I was so grateful for all of her hard work.

Then there are the people I have met in my bartending/DJ career. My friend Bret is truly one in a million. Confident to be himself, but always caring about others. He has a great talent singing and performing as well as an amazing brother in Bart and sister in Alisa, both who also belong on this list. My friends Kelly and Steve not only look good together but are both amazing people. Steve has offered Margie and I some very helpful advice when it comes to our shows. Kelly is amazing behind the bar as we DJ, and does so much to help so many others. My friend Kelly (blushes) always has a smile for those who need it. She has a caring heart that can be seen in her work with the victims of child abuse and their families. Finally, my friend Travis. I met him when we both were in a club I was working at. Immediately we clicked and discovered my much our values aligned. Working together we not only helped a lot of people, we started a movement.

Even the Post Office, as dark and dreary as it can be, has offered some unique friendships for me. My friends John, Tom and Don all have been great to have in my life. From exploring culinary offerings to pondering the cinema, they have always brought a great deal into my world. My friends Jim and Tony are both great people. Tony and I have discussed music and Jim and I have went on road trips to experience great music. We even appear in a music video together. My friend Laura adds much needed comic relief to a serious atmosphere. Her wit and humor make the day more enjoyable. My friend Chris and I always have a lot to discuss. Whether that be just finding the humor in our work day or discussing some Native topic, it is always a better day when Chris is at work.

Then there are the people I really have close and lengthy conversations with. You have heard me mention my friend Nick before. We meet for coffee, although not nearly enough. We never know what the subject will be, but the conversation is always deep and thought-provoking. My friend Shannon has been in my life for a rather long time. We share many amazing deep conversations. We have many of the same literary tastes, love nature and both have a fondness for sunsets. We actually refer to each other as soul-friends, because ‘friend’ seems like to shallow of a term. My wonderful sister Michelle. Although we found each other late in life, we have made up for lost time. We have shared many great adventures and always have each others back. My ‘brother from another mother’ Russ is one person I really treasure. Friends since I was 13, we have been in bands together, we have been in trouble with the law together. We have seen each other through heartache and loss. We do our best to talk every week. When we do, something great always comes out of it. Although he was smart enough to move away to a warmer climate we still travel to meet each other.

Then there is my mother. She may never forgive me for putting her picture in here, but I couldn’t leave her out. We have developed a tradition of taking walks and exploring nature together. What amazing adventures we have had including getting stuck in the rain several times at my favorite state park. Speaking of which, every year we attend the state fair together. We have so much fun it would be hard to explain. Whether it is a fun dinner out or in, or even a game night, I am always thankful and grateful for times with my mom.

Last and certainly not least, is my best friend, my beautiful lady, my Margie. My great treasure. Together we have faced some of the hardest situations life can throw at a couple. We have overcome or are overcoming all of them with love. She is always there acting silly and making me laugh. She has brought into my life her fun-loving aunt and uncle, her wonderful children and grand children as well as many friends. Through her I have found a whole new way to love foods I didn’t even think I liked, new ways to enjoy the holidays, and ways to relax and be yourself. Most of all, Margie has shown me how to be a better man and a better person. It is because of her love that I am always looking to push myself to improve. She is always making me proud with her artist creations, the way she cares for friends and how much she loves family.

As you can see, when it comes to amazing people my life is truly abundant. I have been blessed greatly and I can imagine you are too. I invite you to share some of the amazing people you are grateful for in the comments below. Remember, if you have someone to share with in your life, you too have an amazing treasure.

CHALLENGE OF THE HOLIDAYS

We are closing in on my favorite holiday – Thanksgiving. I love the idea of taking a day out of our busy year to focus on being grateful. Just like many holidays, the focus of the holiday has shifted from being grateful to cooking a large meal. This year, much like everything in life, things are different. Physical distancing and the fear of the virus has put limits on family gatherings. I always try looking at the positive side of everything and there is something positive to be had in this.

The one way to appreciate anything is to do without it for a period of time. If our significant other goes away on vacation we realize how much their presence means in our life. Even our job, which can often bring us a great deal of frustration, can be appreciated with a period of unemployment. This year, we have many things that have been taken away from us by this terrible pandemic. The plus side is that we can be reminded how much we have to be grateful for. There are so many things that we may have taken for granted that now we can feel how much we miss them. On a positive note, it has also forced us to find new and exciting ways to stay connected even when we have to be apart physically. Finding ways to put technology to work through zoom meeting and even video calls to stay in touch with friends and family. Using technology for the purpose of bringing us closer is yet another thing to be grateful for.

There are also old-fashioned things that we may have forgotten that can benefit us greatly in these chaotic times. Sending someone a greeting card in the mail to say nothing other than I love you, I miss you or I am grateful to have you in my life. Cooking a home cooked meal together and then sharing that meal with friends and family as you spend the evening watching a movie together. Maybe enjoying playing board games together and learning about each other while laughing and having a good time. Finally having time to catch up on those good books you have been meaning to read and never seem to have the time for.

Whether it is enjoying and benefiting from new technology that allows us to remain close even when we have to stay far away, or going back to the older technology that allows us to reconnect, these crazy times have given us a lot to be grateful for. I would love to hear some of the things you remain grateful for or even new things you have discovered you are grateful for here in 2020. I believe if we all share what we are grateful for we can help spread the feeling of gratitude in the world as we head into the new year. Please share what you are grateful for in the comments below. Is it a tradition you are still able to do during the pandemic? Is it the memories of holidays past and gathering together with family? Are you grateful for a special someone in your life that is making your world a better place? We all have something to be grateful for even in the craziest of times. Share yours with us and let us spread love and light the rest of the year.

THE 1 SIDE EFFECT THAT I OVERLOOKED

Last post we discussed lists and how valuable they can be. Today we are going to focus on one of those lists and how a strange side effect of keeping that list can add an unexpected positive element to your life. This list will change your life for the better quicker than almost anything else I know. It is a list that I recommend to everyone. It is also one of the first steps that I advise making to your life to increase your happiness and improve your outlook on your life. It also has what seems to be a magical effect on the lives of all who try it. In my own life, it completely changed the person I was for the better! All of this may sound like hyperbole, but it is 100% true. This list? A list of things you are grateful for every day and why.

I recommend everyone try making a list of 3 things they are grateful for and why each night and then read that list the following day 3 times a day – morning, noon and night. Do this for 30 days and I promise you life will never have felt more amazing. You add the why to make it more compelling. You are grateful for the sunshine, that is fine, but why? Maybe the sunshine gives you feelings of hope? Perhaps it reminds you of pleasant vacations taken with family and friends? You were grateful for the good service you received. Wonderful! Why was that so important to you? Did the kindness and courtesy of a stranger lighten the load of a stressful day? Did it reaffirm for you that there are good people in the world? I promise you reading and remembering these moments will change the way you experience life.

Here is something fun and interesting that I did not notice before. Not only will utilizing this secret to an amazing life change your mindset to one of living life in a state of gratitude, but it will also give you a great look at what you tend to focus on. This side effect can be very enlightening. If I review my entries in my gratitude journal, I see that there are several references to things in nature. The afore mentioned sunshine. Going for a walk in a new and exciting natural area, the smell of spring in the air, passing a herd of deer on the way home and several others. I discovered that nature and natural things not only instill a feeling of gratitude in my heart, but bring me a great deal of joy.

The same can be said for thoughtful actions of others. When Margie knew I was going to write at home today as all of the coffee shops are closed, she prepared a little area for me including plugging in my ‘happy lamp’ because it was a very gloomy day. I was very grateful for this. If she had bought me a pizza or a bottle of rum I would have been grateful for that. Not because of the material aspect, but because of the thought behind it. When strangers hold doors for me or smile and share a kind word, these things mean a great deal to me.

Learning these facts were useful because I could now make it a plan to spend more time in nature and with thoughtful people. It is ironic because I learned this by keeping track of what I was grateful for, but by putting these two items into action it will make it easier for me to achieve and maintain my grateful mindset. An interesting, but very helpful side effect I never noticed!

Begin keeping a gratitude journal today! Write 3 things you are grateful for every day and why. Then review those things at least 3 times the following day, morning, noon and night. Do this for 30 days. At the end of those 30 days, go back and see if you can see any patterns of things, people or situations that have you feeling grateful. Do your best to put more of those into your life and before long you will be walking around with a grateful heart!

A SECRET TO AMAZING…HAPPINESS

Today so many people are chasing happiness. The look for it in books, retreats, people, relationships, money, cars and a host of other outside influences. The truth, as you may have heard, is that happiness is an inside job. Even my book, A Happy Life for Busy People, teaches you ways to find your inner happiness. Here is another hard truth. If you place your happiness in someone or something else, you are also handing over control of your happiness. They can decide to give you happiness or take it away. If that person or thing should ever leave your life, your happiness will go with it.

Taking all of this into account, how do you gain inner happiness? There are several key components to accomplishing this. Gratitude is one of the quickest and easiest ways to accomplish this. Becoming grateful for what you have in your life, good and bad, is a great key to happiness. We have devoted many posts to this and I invite you to search for some posts. Another great key to happiness can be summed up in one word – PROGRESS. That is why goal setting can be such a strong tool toward happiness and success in life. We once again refer to the quote from our great friend Earl Nightingale – “Success in the progressive realization of a worthy ideal.” There is that word ‘progress’ again. Working on losing weight and becoming healthier? Maybe you went for a short walk after dinner – progress. Doing your best to write that book that you’ve kept inside you for most of your adult life? Write 500 words – progress. In these and many other examples, you are certain to feel happier once you complete these tasks and become one step closer to your goal.

Another great way to harness the power of progress is through continuing education. Before you begin to worry about student debt, transportation or if you are too old to go back to school, let me put your fears to rest. There are more ways than ever before to educate yourself. I am very interested in the second world war and the psychology behind it. I can pull up videos on YouTube, order books and DVDs from Amazon or look for material on the internet. In addition, there are great sources at my local library. No matter what subject you choose to pursue, gaining knowledge gives us a feeling of accomplishment, or said a different way, progress.

If you add to this gaining knowledge in the field of self-improvement, you will be progressing in two areas simultaneously! You will be both gaining knowledge as well as improving your position in life. Double the progress; double the feelings of joy and happiness. Even if your goal isn’t exactly knowledge based, such as living a healthier lifestyle, gaining knowledge on the subject could be progress. I say could be because it must be followed with action. If you do pair this gaining of knowledge with action, every bit you gain will be progress. Look up what foods have the greatest thermogenic effect? Progress. Viewing and the picking a new workout to try? Progress. Picking out those cute new running shoes and then actually using them to run? Progress.

We are all looking for secrets to an amazing life. One of the key components is happiness. The secret is that to find happiness, look for progress. There are so many avenues in which to do so. Set a goal. Work to increase your knowledge base or combine the two and feel twice the feeling of progress. What in your life are you progressing toward?

CHANGE YOUR LIFE BY ANSWERING ONE QUESTION…DIFFERENTLY

The picture above is of my friend Travis and I. It was taken before a seminar I was giving in Franksville Wisconsin. We were “Backstage” if you will. At this seminar he went out to introduce me and to warm up the crowd. Travis, who goes by Treezy, has been my friend for many years. We met when I was serving drinks at a place called ‘6500 bar’. Local corner bar, lot of fun people. I leave the story of how we met for another day, but I will tell you it involved 2 watches, a hotel room and a girl named Sarah. Before long Travis and I had discovered we had a mutual passion for learning how to be positive and helping others do the same. We started working as a team at the bar and before long it was standing room only.

Once I left that establishment I lost touch with my friend for a while. In the meantime, I started working at a new place called ‘The Hideout’. I was only a few days into my employment when I heard the door open. I had been busy washing dishes and without looking up said some version of “How can I help you?” The reply came with a hint of laughter in his voice. “I will have a bottle of Budweiser my old friend.” I had to look up to see who could possibly be my friend at a place I just started at. Well, time and fate had reunited our two souls for some reason once again. As I transitioned from bartender to DJ and met the love of my life, Margie, all three of us became fast friends. Travis, or more to the point Treezy, has a great gift of performance and using that to lift the mood of a show and keep it positive. To this day, him, Margie and myself work to run positive shows that leave you feeling better when you leave than you did when you came in.

Margie, Travis and myself forming our version of the Triangle offense

I can hear you thinking to yourself, “Neil, this is a very touching story about you and your friend, but how does this help me improve my life?” That is a good question. Recently, Treezy showed up ready to perform at one of our shows. I inquired as to how he was doing. Nothing out of the normal here. How many times a day do you ask, or are you asked, how you are doing? I would think several times a day. It happens at restaurants, work, coffee shops and yes at shows at clubs. Most of us either say “Good” “fine” or perhaps we have a standard answer we give. Treezy has one too. When I inquired as to his state of being his answer was “I am blessed, highly favored and positive. How are you my friend?” This is, by all accounts, his standard answer. As with most of his performances, he delivers this line with a feeling of passion and sincerity.

The reason this line comes out with such passion is because he believes it to be true. It is true. For most of us, we live in a country that allows us certain freedoms. We have a roof over our heads and food on our table. Those circumstances make us ‘Blessed, highly favored and should make us positive’. Here is the power about working on your standard answer to “How are you doing?” You will say this line several times a day. That, in essence, is an affirmation my friend. What you proclaim yourself to be out loud several times a day will greatly influence your life. Why not spend several minutes putting together several positive and empowering answers to the question “How are you?” Have fun trying them out. Try each one for a week. See if it doesn’t have you feeling a bit more positive. Perhaps it will increase the amount of gratitude you have in your life. If that one doesn’t seem to work, try another. Decide on a line that really resonates with you.

Take a lesson from my friend Travis and use the power of words to positively influence your life. “How are you doing?” is as close to a rhetorical question as most people get. Your answer can inspire both you and them if you craft it right. Put this seemingly mundane daily exchange to work for you. As a side note, to our group we have recently added our friend Terri. She brings her own insight and positivity. Having the four of us in a room working to improve everyone’s outlook to be a little more positive than when they got there can be a powerful force indeed.

BACK TO BASICS

In our quest to discover as many secrets to an amazing life as we can, there are many things that can get in our way. One of them is overwhelm. There are so many things to incorporate into our lives that it may prevent us from even beginning. There is meditation, visualization, positive self-talk, getting into the right mindset and a million other secrets and tools we can use. Much like my motivation for writing A Happy Life for Busy People, today I want to take it down to the basic principles that we can use to begin our life transformation. Sure you can deliberate over how to create the perfect vision board or what affirmations will bring about the biggest positive change. Before getting hung up on these details, we should just start with the basics. Oh, and if you are already on your self-improvement journey, trust me, you will benefit from going back to basics.

We are going to use the picture above for our guide. The four principles listed are not only good basics to start with, but they play off each other just like it shows in the picture. Let us start on top with Positive Thinking. If we approach life with the right mindset it can make all of the difference. There are so many ways to develop that mindset feel free to explore what works for you. One of the ways that has helped me the most is having more gratitude in my life. It is very hard to feel grateful and not be positive. No matter what is going on in our lives, there is always, always something to be grateful for. What if your life is a total mess right now and you are just deciding you have to do something because you find yourself on rock bottom? That your journey is just beginning and you will be improving your life a little each day (even though it is important to remember there will still be ups and downs) that is something to be not only grateful for, but excited about. Another great way to start to develop a positive mindset is to try and find the beauty in everything. As you drive to work you can notice the flowers growing in your neighbors yard. Have a coworker who really gets on your last nerve? Be grateful there is someone to help you strengthen your patience and positivity. Not to mention, they help you be grateful for all of the nice people in your life.

Starting to think positively brings us to our next basic tool – Feel Good. When you begin to think good thoughts, you begin to have good feelings. Nothing too tricky there. What is important to think about is what does feeling good do for us? On the most basic level, that kind of is the whole purpose of life. Think about why we do anything in our lives, it is either to feel good or avoid feeling bad. You may be thinking, “If that is true Neil, how come I go to work every day at a job that doesn’t feel good?” because the feeling of not paying your bills and living on the street would feel a lot worse. Even altruistic activities we do fit into this category. I used to help at a meal program once a month. The main reason I did so was because I wanted to give back. Why did I want to give back? I felt it was the right thing to do. Guess what? Doing the right thing had me feeling good. When we feel good we are also far more likely to try new things. This can lead to an expanding of our life. Which can, in turn, lead to more things to have us feeling good. To me, the most important reason to feel good is because it makes it easier to take actions that lead to a healthier and more productive lifestyle. Think about your own life, when are you most likely to stray from your healthier eating or exercise routine? When you are stressed? When you find yourself feeling down?

That leads us to the third step in our basic life improvement series – Regular Exercise. While some of you might be cringing or debating about concluding your reading here, rest assured this may not be as tough as you think. Especially if we have focused on developing Positive Thinking and Feeling Good, this will be a little easier. Regular exercise does not mean going to the gym everyday, unless of course that works for you. No, regular exercise, especially in the beginning, can be any physical activity you enjoy. Do you like basketball? Head to the playground and shoot around for an hour a day. Perhaps walking in nature and looking for different kinds of birds is your thing? Then make a trip to different parks several times a week. Maybe you would much rather be shopping than doing any kind of exercise? How about a walk around the mall? You could even get a little resistance training depending on how much you buy. Just make sure to avoid laps around the food court as it may undo all of your hard work. You can even mix a couple of these together in a week. The secret here is to find something that is fun for you, yet requires some physical activity. Another great tool to use here is an activity tracker. You don’t necessarily need to purchase an expensive Fitbit. Most smart phones have free apps that allow you to track much of your activity as well as other healthy aspects. Even a simple step counter can be fun. Set a daily and weekly goal for yourself and then find fun ways to reach it.

I saved this one for last because for many of us, myself included, it can be the most difficult. Eat Better. That sounds simple enough, and it really is. Think about what eating better entails. No crazy diets. No skipping this and having to eat that. It is just eating better in general. Less pizza, more vegetables. I know, writing that line was even a little painful for me. Still, eating healthier is not that tricky and like regular exercise, does not have to be that painful. Let us take the example of eating more vegetables. What is your favorite? Margie’s is corn. I rather enjoy green beans. We try to work in a vegetable with each meal at home. If they are ones we like, we are far more likely to eat them. The more vegetables we consume, the less room we have for stuff that is not so good for us. Think of snacks too. This is a place where a lot of damage can be done to our diets. Try to find a healthy snack you enjoy and make it convenient. Do you enjoy snacking on carrots or cucumbers? Have some washed, sliced and ready to be enjoyed. This is where a little meal prep can make a big difference. The same trick can be used for healthy meals. Think of a healthy dish and prepare it ahead of time.

From my experience, the greatest challenge to Eating Better is time. We are running around with a million different things to do and our diets are the sacrifice. We often settle for fast food because…well…it is fast. Plan accordingly. Perhaps on a board in your kitchen write down meals that are quick to prepare but still healthy. If you don’t even have time for that, make note of some of the ‘healthiest’ meals you can order out. Here is another GREAT way to motivate yourself to eat healthy. Note how many calories you burn doing certain activities. For example, on an elliptical machine I know I can burn 700 calories (give or take) in an hour. If you run a mile you burn, on average, 150 calories. These numbers vary depending on the individuals, but serve as a good example. Next, look at what you eat. There are 563 calories in a Big Mac. Doing the math, you would 3.5 miles to burn off one Big Mac. When you are sweating and near hyperventilating at the end of your workout and find that you burned 700 calories, are you really that keen to replace 563 of them with one greasy sandwich? Now, there are roughly 3500 calories in a pound of fat. Multiply that by how many pounds you care to lose. This is how many more calories you will have to burn than you consume. This may seem like an insurmountable number. A mere 10 pounds is 35,000 calories. This is why it is important to understand that weight loss takes time. You can also understand why losing 2 to 3 pounds a week is a great accomplishment.

Working on these 4 basic principles can transform your life in big ways. It can also be easy and fun. Looking for things to be grateful for and finding the beauty in everything? That’s fun. Finding different things that make us feel good? Also a fun check mark there. Regular exercise fun? Yes! If it is an activity that we enjoy. Eating healthy can be fun when we understand it does not have to involve restrictive diets and starvation. We need to incorporate more of the healthy foods we enjoy and even experiment with new healthy recipes to dazzle our taste buds while at the same time helping our waistlines. These 4 areas are broad categories and leave plenty of room for customizing it to fit our individual liking.

I’VE BEEN DOING IT WRONG ALL ALONG! (YOU MIGHT BE TOO)

Prayer. No matter what your spiritual beliefs, prayer is usually a very important part of it. I recall as a little fellow I was taught to pray to God for what you wanted and needed. Almost as if the almighty were some kind of Santa Claus in the sky. As I grew a little older and found myself in high school, prayer showed up a little less regularly. It was usually the day before a big exam. One of those, “Please God let me pass English class so I can graduate.” sort of things.

It always seemed a little odd to me to approach the supreme being in such a begging type fashion. It wasn’t until I pursued my quest of spirituality outside the walls of the building of organized religion that I really came to understand prayer. One book I recall reading at a young age was The Power of Your Subconscious Mind by Dr. Joseph Murphy. I was always a student of science and often struggled with melding both science and religion. This book went a long way to helping that process. Inner dialogue, of which prayer is even though it is directed at a supreme power, utilizes the subconscious mind. If you are a spiritual sort, you must ask yourself why did the power that be give us such a mind?

Another thing that I have learned by being exposed to many different spiritual beliefs is that you should not pray to change others or the outside world. One, this is trying to project your will and beliefs on others, and that is just not nice. Instead, I focus on the one person I can change – me. Instead of praying others were more polite and considerate, I focus on becoming more compassionate and understanding myself. Instead of asking the Great Spirit to give me an easier life, I pray that I may have a stronger soul. When life becomes overwhelming I focus on finding the beauty and learning the lessons. A little divine intervention is often needed, and I feel is a fair thing to request in suplication.

This may sound odd to many of you, but one of the areas in which this pays the biggest dividends is in my romantic relationship. First of all, it is my opinion that the divine placed in my life a woman who is beautiful, creative and easy to love. In order to never lose that ‘honeymoon phase’ and let little annoyances grow over time, I pray to see the beauty in those too. If there is any area of our live that serves as a merciless mirror to see the parts of ourselves we may not be the most proud of, it is our intimate relationships. The person closest to us sees all sides of us at all different times. That is why I pray daily to be the best man I can be for the woman I love. There are also thoughts and prayers that I may never miss the beauty in all that she does. Whether that is her love of family and friends, her silly sense of humor or her spontaneity, I never want to miss the beauty she shows.

There are so many things partners can do that may be cute at first, but grow to really grind on us and begin to tear away at our love and passion. You may get annoyed at the many loud sounds arising from the person slumbering next to you, but that means you have them in your life. You may become frustrated when they fall asleep as soon as their head hits the pillow and you lay awake counting more sheep than exist in all of Ireland. That means they feel safe and comfortable enough around you. Your partner asks you to run to the store after a grueling day at work? They rely on you and you have a chance to do something to make their life easier.

Now we come to the most powerful prayer of all, that of thanksgiving. In this blog I have had countless posts on the power of gratitude. It can change your entire life quicker that anything else I know. There are many ways to develop an attitude of gratitude. You could start a gratitude journal, you can write what you are grateful for each day and why. You could create a vision board with pictures of everything you are grateful for. I like and personally recommend all of these items. That being said, one of the most powerful daily practices is to spend time each day offering up a prayer of thanksgiving for all that you have. This does not have to be anything overly religious or formal. Just make sure it is heartfelt. When you thank the divine power you believe in for what you have in life, magic happens. When you can become grateful and thankful for everything in life, or better yet for life itself, you will know peace.

This is a more spiritual post than I normally have, but I think realizing the power of prayer is important aspect of self-improvement. Do not treat the Divine as a Santa Claus in the sky. Instead use prayer to become the best version of yourself. Pray to develop an attitude of gratitude and be thankful for all that you have. Doing this will not only add to whatever faith you follow, but will bring you a great deal of inner peace.

EXTEND POSITIVE EXPERIENCES

One of the aspects of improving myself I am still working on is raising the rent in my head. Let me explain. When something happens that affects me negatively it tends to pop back into my head over and over. Does this happen to you? Hours later, the thought seems to pop into your head out of nowhere! You will be seemingly mentally occupied doing something else when a question like, “Why on earth did he say that?” or worse an emotionally charged thought like, “That makes me so mad she did that!” shows up. This happens in my mind more often than I care to admit. The language tends to be a little more colorful, but the basic thoughts are the same.

It frustrates me because it will only serve to amplify and intensify the negative emotions. In other words, not only have I allowed my emotions to be affected in a bad way by this person in the first place, now I am the one allowing this situation to affect me again and again! This person is not continuing to hurt or upset me, I am doing it to myself with my thoughts. How stupid is that? Like I mentioned at the start of this blog, it is something I am working on with myself.

To amplify the frustration I was already feeling, another thought came into my head. How come the same thing doesn’t happen with positive experiences? I thought about what I do to keep this negative experiences hanging around and decided to do the same thing with the positive ones. In the negative example I had unconsciously used negative self talk to relive and feel that emotion again and again. Why this did not seem to happen with good thoughts with equal frequency and intensity was beyond me. What I did decide was to pursue it consciously.

One of the best ways to keep a positive experience alive in our thoughts and in our conversation, both in and outside of our head, is to express gratitude for that experience. This is a great option for many reasons. Let us take a look at a few. First, it allows the other party to feel appreciated. When someone feels that you genuinely feel appreciative for something they did for you, they are more likely to do more nice things for you. That would be the second benefit. The third benefit is the improvement in the quality of your inner dialogue. When your self-talk improves, so does your emotions. Thinking about why that person made us feel angry has us feeling….well…angry. That certainly sucks. If, however, we focus how nice someone was to do something for us we feel grateful. We can also feel such feelings as loved, appreciated, valued and many other positive emotions. All this good emotion brings us two other benefits. One, a positive effect on our health. Being in a positive emotional state helps our immune system, allows us to heal quicker and a host of other positive benefits. By doing so it helps eliminate many of the health ramifications of negative thinking. The raised blood pressure of anger, the upset stomach of worry and the suppressed immune function of depression. Here is one of the best benefits of being grateful – it gives you less time to think and feel all of those terrible thoughts.

Our minds can only focus on one thought at a time. Why not make it a good one? If we allow ourselves to get worked up by negative circumstances, we owe it to ourselves to put just as much effort into getting worked up and excited over positive experiences. For every minute we are happy, we lose 60 seconds of unhappiness. The longer we can express our gratitude for all of the good things happening in our life, the better our life will be.

WILL YOU PAY THE PRICE?

Throughout my 2 decades in the self-improvement field, I have constantly asked myself one question, “Why do people not make the changes they know will improve their lives?” It has vexed me most, especially in the early going, most about the person looking back at me in the mirror. As I learned things that I knew intellectually would transform my life for the better they seemed to remain fleeting in their appearance. Even when I experienced how they would affect my life emotionally I found it difficult to remain committed to taking these actions daily. Why was that? I knew, and in some cases saw and felt, how they changed my life for the better but still couldn’t manage to keep up with my own standards.

I recall an particularly vivid example which I discuss in detail in my book A Happy Life for Busy People. I had been involved in a practice of making an attitude of gratitude a part of my daily routine. After a month or so it was as though I had taken some sort of magic happy pill. It is usually when you get to this state the universe enjoys testing your commitment even further. The day in question I had drove off to work while leaving the coffee on top of my car. By the time this had occurred to me I was well on my way. “Oh well, there is a Starbucks on the way.” I said to myself cheerfully. When I arrived, in pouring rain, at said Starbucks I ran in thinking how much better a hot coffee would taste in the cold April rain. Yes, this is how you can find yourself looking at life when you master an attitude of gratitude. I arrived inside only half-soaked but entirely disappointed as I was informed that Starbucks, this almost seems too unreal, was out of coffee. It was only 7 am, but I was informed a machine had malfunctioned, the coffee gods were angry or some other reason I confess I only half heard. Back through the rain into my car spirits still refusing to be dampened with the weather.

I began to drive toward work thinking of some delicious hot tea that I could brew once I got to the office. Just as I was thinking, “This could be worse. At least I have a car and I am not stuck out in the rain.” My positivity was about to be put to the ultimate test. As I was driving along in the rain at 55 miles per hour a young man pulled out in the middle of the busy street and just stopped. The next thing I remember was being loaded onto a stretcher and being asked a million questions. My Jeep was totaled and there was a big hole in the windshield. I later learned that is where is had decided to eject me. As soon as I was settled in the hospital I called my boss at the Postal Service who promptly yelled at me for using a sick day.

You would think after such an ordeal I would be eager to get back to the gratitude and feeling good. Well, let me tell you that flying through your own windshield changes one’s perspective more than just geographically. For a while I was rather angry. Why did that young man stop in the middle of the road?(turns out the street was flooded and he just froze) Why was my boss such an uncaring jerk (still working on that one) I began thinking about all of the hospital bills, lawyers and other such fun that comes with an accident. I really began to get myself in a funk. Here is what I learned that day and have been reminded of on several occasions sense – being an angry self-centered jerk does not feel good, does not get you anywhere you really want to be and is not a hell of a lot of fun.

Not sure if it was the pain pills, the want of something entertaining to do in the hospital or the hand of the divine. I am guessing a little of all three. I decided to challenge myself. Could I recapture even a fraction of the feeling of gratitude I was feeling before the accident? Pondering what on earth I could be grateful for in my situation. “Some young stupid kid just caused you to be in an accident.” was the first thing my not so helpful mind came up with. Then, as if a light bulb turned on I thought of the kid. He would not only be injured (gladly not as bad as myself) but his insurance would have to pay out as it was his fault. I began to feel a little sorry for the young man. My brain fought this as well. Then the nurse came in with a hot cup of coffee. This was accompanied by a pain pill. Two more things to feel grateful for. Soon I had people show up to give me a ride home. Yet another thing to be grateful for.

Much like a diet or that new fitness plan we are trying to start, self-improvement takes persistence. As nice as it would be, you don’t work out once and stay in shape. You don’t eat healthy one day and then can go back to eating pizza every day. Trust me, there have been times I tried. No, you have to work at it every day. You must have faith that the results are worth it. As Earl Nightingale said, “Persistence is just another word for faith. If you didn’t have faith, you wouldn’t persist.” Wise man that Earl. The price we pay is working at it every day. Next post we will look at the magic key needed for all of this wonderful self-improvement stuff to work.

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