THE IMPORTANCE OF SILLINESS

In the adult world filled with deadlines and responsibilities, we often forget the importance of silliness.

As children after a day of intense playing and having fun we slept soundly and woke up ready to play again. The same can be true as adults. Instead of falling asleep with heads filled with work that has to be done and job worries, let us take a day this weekend to play hard.

Worrying about how this may affect your ability to get things done? There are several studies that show taking recreational breaks help us refocus and be more productive when we return. They help reduce stress and make our jobs at the very least more bearable.

This weekend take a break. Go for a leisurely stroll, play with your kids, take your spouse for ice cream or something else that is pure enjoyment. You work hard all week, take some time to play hard!

WHO WERE YOU?

We often hear gurus all over telling us that our pain can be our greatest teacher. It can be rather hard to listen to when you are watching them climb into their private jet and return to their own island. I am not inferring that the rich have no problems, or that their advice is any less valid because they have wealth. If we are being honest, hearing that kind of advice from someone who has the appearance at least, of not being in pain can be hard to listen to.

 Shortly after the year 2000, as my study in self-improvement was just beginning, I had a moment that in reflection helped me grow substantially. When I was going through it, however, all I could tell you was it sucked. That is how life is sometimes. Steve Jobs said we can never connect the dots moving forward, only looking back. Sure it would be great to know how your current struggle is going to pay off in the future. It certainly would make going through it a lot easier. I guess that is where something called faith comes into play.

Back to my personal story and how it can benefit us all. Shortly after 2000 the United States Postal Service, the fine edifice where I step most of my waking hours informed me although I was a model employee, due to declining mail volume my hours would be cut to about 10 a week. What made matters better is that to receive these hours I would have to be available Monday through Saturday from 3 a.m. to 6 p.m. making it near impossible to find a second job to make up the lost hours. Luckily for me, about a month later they did realize I was an employee worth keeping and found a position for me.

Here is what really threw me, I found myself not knowing what or more to the point who I would be if I left the Post Office. That may sound like a bit of a stretch, but at the time I had been working there 13 years, roughly 50 hours a week. It became a part of my identity. In a world of corporate downsizing this can be an all to common situation. It is not limited to jobs either. Think of the end of a relationship. You fell in love and were perhaps in love for a great deal of time. You shared everything, they were not only your lover, but your best friend. All of that is exactly how it should be. What happens when that is gone? The person leaves, be it through walking away, cheating or even passing away. You feel as though a part of you has died. What then?

Just like the loss of a job, it is an end of a relationship. No matter how intense or good the relationship is, job or person, it is a weaving of two paths. Trying to keep this in perspective is one way to help us carry on. I am in no way inferring that this is an easy thing to do. The better the relationship, the more it will hurt. Even in that pain you must remember to balance that with gratitude. You had great moments some may never experience. Maybe that man that seemed so perfect for you turned out to be a no good snake. Maybe he even slept with your sister…or your brother for that matter. The fact remains you still received moments of joy and bliss out of the relationship. The fact they ruined it by being a snake simply means they gave up the right to experience more of those moments with you. Maybe someone you loved passed away? There are no opportunities to share more moments no matter how much you both would have loved that. It is time to realize how rare having someone like that in your life is. Reflect on those memories when they come up not as a sense of loss or that you will never have them again. No, reflect on them with gratitude you had the opportunity to share that with them. Maybe even offer up a word of thanks to their memory for such loving memories. Again, not saying or even imagining any of this is easy. Pain is something we get through day by day.

Lastly, and this is what helped me through my job challenge, is have people in your life that have known you before that job or relationship started. An old friend is a gift that is more priceless than gold. When I was feeling a loss of identity, I called up my good friend and former bandmate, Russ. We have know each other since we were around 13 years-old. I asked Russ a simple but bizarre question, “Who was I before the post office?” Not only did he remind me of that, he even offered some ways in which I may have lost myself due to the post office. Good friends can tell you ways in which you kind of suck without being too hurtful. \

Discovering there was a person who existed before and more important separate from, the job (again this can work for relationships as well) helped me in two important ways. First, it made me determined to keep who I was separate from what I did for a living. This can also be helpful in a relationship. Margie and I are amazing as a couple and people recognize that, but we each have our own personal identities as well. For example, if you want a great cake for your special occasion you best talk to her. Need a speech written? More my forte. The second way in which this liberated me was I realized I was free to decide who I wanted to be as a person going forward, despite whatever foolish actions the Postal Service may take. Who you are should never depend on what you do for a living or who you happen to date. Those things have a great influence on you and it is your job to make sure it is a positive one, but at the end of the day it is you who decides who you are going to become.

In closing, remember that you are not a victim in your life, but a creator. We may not have control over the actions of others and how it can impact us, but we do have complete control over how we react and how we can put the challenges to use in our lives. It will not be easy but it will definitely be worth it.

ARE YOU READY TO SHIFT?

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Last post I told you about some people I interviewed that had every reason to be negative and jaded about life. You will be able to read all the interviews in my upcoming book Living the Dream. Right now I will tell you their challenges included miscarriages, abuse of physical, emotional and sexual nature. They had major health challenges. Their families were killed and they were forced to flee countries due to a civil war. Despite, and in some cases because of these challenges, they are some of the most positive people you will ever meet. I asked myself, and them, how is that possible?

The secret was they were all able to control their thoughts and thus controlled their lives. How did they do it? Honestly, they all had their own unique ways which you will be able to read about in my book. For today’s post, however, I am going to share one thing they all had in common. If you add this one thing to your life it will do a great deal to help you overcome whatever challenge you have in life. We are going to look at what that common trait was and some fun ways to use it in our own lives.

You may have guessed from the picture that the common trait that all of these people shared was gratitude. In challenges far greater than I had ever faced, each one of them found reasons to be grateful. If they can do it facing the kind of challenges we mentioned above, surely we can utilize gratitude to take control of the thoughts and challenges in our own daily lives.

Finding something to be grateful for in a challenging situation can be difficult, especially in the beginning. Like any other muscle, our gratitude muscle will grow stronger with use. In the beginning, however, it helps to have a few tools and tips to help foster a sense of gratitude. My advice when diving into this is to resist the temptation to attempt to change everything at once. Remember, you are trying to change thought patterns you have built up over years. Pick one topic and start slow. Not only will it be less difficult, but it will actually increase your chances of success. Let us look at a few ways in which to start infusing our lives with more gratitude.

The first method is pretty straight forward and works well for difficult areas of our lives. Pick an area of your life that does not bring you joy. For our example let us say that you are not crazy about your job. At a time where you are not otherwise occupied, such as driving in your car or at the job you dislike so much, grab a pen and piece of paper. Next, get comfortable. Maybe make yourself a fresh cup of coffee or tea if that is your thing. Put on some relaxing or fun music. Now begin to think of everything about your job in which you are grateful for. You may find your mind a little reluctant at first, but stick with it. Maybe you don’t feel your job pays you what you would like, but be grateful it does pay you. It may not allow you to take that vacation to Fiji, but it does allow you to keep the lights on. It gives you a reason to get out of bed and be active. It introduces you to different people. Sure, they may not all be perfect people, but it allows you to be social. It also allows you to practice and strengthen your skills of being hopeful and positive. Just like muscles, these things only grow and get stronger when they are challenged. When you have a pretty good list going put it in a jacket pocket or in the car. Somewhere you can take it with you. Next time you are on the way to work look at and review this list. Read it right before you walk in the door. It will at least help balance the frustration.

The next way to put more gratitude in your life can be looked at as a game to play. I do this one on the way to work as well and find it puts my mind in a great place before I get there. As I drive along I look for as many things as I can that I love. This can be the color of a house I am driving by, or the humor behind someone’s personalized plates on the car ahead of me. Sometimes it is a nice dog walking down the street, or a fun jacket someone waiting for the bus is wearing. A good practice is to say these things out loud. “Wow! I love that jacket!” or “What a fun color to paint a house/door/car!” Even hearing yourself say these things out loud can put you in a better frame of mind.

These are just two ideas for increasing the feeling of gratitude in  your life. Feel free to share your ideas in the comments below. There are a million ways to add and strengthen the gratitude you already have in your life. I encourage you to try them all. The more grateful you are, the more likely you are to have control of your thoughts.

 

 

THE ONLY QUESTION YOU SHOULD ASK WHEN TRYING TO IMPROVE YOUR LIFE

What area of your life are you working to improve? Is it your finances? Perhaps you are working to get in better shape? Maybe you are looking to take your relationship to the next level? No matter what area of your life you are looking to improve, there is only one question you should be asking. That may sound crazy given all of the different topics we touched on above, not to mention the thousands we haven’t mentioned that you may be working on.

What is this million-dollar question we should be asking? The question is simply this – What can I do? That might not sound so profound, but trust me it is. When my job seemed to be on the edge of collapse, my personal life was in shambles and everywhere I looked there seemed to be negativity I asked myself that question. My job had slashed my hours due to corporate downsizing. There were a lot of people in my life that were not treating me well. Everything I seemed to watch on the news, read in the newspaper or see online was filled with negative vibes.

At first I did what most of us do – complain. Why was my job at the post office so mismanaged that they could not come up with a better solution for an employee who at that point had never even called in sick? I even contemplated writing the television stations to inquire why they could not throw in a few more positive items on the nightly news. While it might have helped me vent for the time being, in the long run I would be right back where I started. In fact, I might have been even more frustrated because my job would not change their tactics, the news has to sell and is not likely to get positive anytime soon.

The point of this is that waiting for other people and circumstances to change is not only pointless, but can add to your frustration as well. I’m currently looking to get in shape before my well-deserved Jamaican vacation. I could wish all day that pizza didn’t taste so good and complain that the weather is too cold to do much outside, but none of that will help me get into better shape. I will show up in Jamaica looking like something that should swim in the ocean and not be laying next to it. I had to take control of the situation. I had to limit (because it was national pizza day yesterday) my consumption of delicious pizza. I had to make it to the gym where it is still warm enough to run inside.

This works great for getting in shape, but what about other items? Wish you lived in a cleaner city? You could begin by making sure your own yard looks pristine. You could begin to advocate for tougher laws for littering. Do you have a boss that is less than pleasant? You could complain and maybe even try to ‘get back at them’, but chances are you would only make your situation worse. It would make more sense to find out some of their interests so you could discuss such things with your boss. You could actively search for a new job or position in the company. You could take some classes to advance yourself elsewhere. You could learn and do some new relaxation activities when you get home.

The truth is the only control and power we have is over ourselves. What most of us fail to realize is how powerful that is. Even simply changing a perception can bring a different outlook to your life. You have complete control over your thoughts and actions. We have very little, if any, control over others.

Next time you are faced with a challenge of any kind, begin by asking yourself, “What can I do?” You will be amazed at how much control you have over your own life. By actively doing something yourself instead of complaining and waiting for others will bring you a sense of joy as well.

WORK IS WHAT YOU MAKE OF IT

Today is Halloween so I will share a scary story with you. As most of you know, I have a day job at the United States Postal Service. In addition to the monetary aspect, it also allows me to practice many of the tools I put forth here. I always strive to be a source of positivity and help my coworkers foster a sense of gratitude and joy. As a matter of course, I always welcome the mail carriers back when they return from their routes. I also routinely ask my coworkers if they are having a good day or having fun at the moment. A gentle reminder that while doing our best to get our jobs done, we can still focus on having fun. Most of the time this is met with some jocularity and on occasion, some comments of encouragement of their own.

There is one young lady, however, that seems quite sunshine challenged. When I inquired if she was having a good day she informed me in no uncertain terms that I should never ask her that as long as she is at work because the answer will always be ‘no’. After 21 years of working there, I am no stranger that the Post Office can supply some challenging situations, as can any job. There are days that are tough, and days that are not. I could not imagine going to some place every day where you know with certainty that you will have a bad day, and doing so voluntarily.

This young lady is a carrier on what they call a ‘rural route’. This means she seldom has to leave her truck and drives up to the mailbox to put the mail in. I think on a nice spring or fall day driving around in a rural setting listening to your favorite music all while getting paid a good wage could sound nice to some people. Sure, there are days when it is raining, or here in Wisconsin snowing, that I can imagine driving for several hours could be a drag, but not every day. How could this be?

The answer was supplied to me last Saturday. This young lady called me over to her case where she sorts her mail. She handed me the scanner all carriers use and said in a rather angry tone, “This is the f*&king sh*t I have to deal with!” I glanced at the scanner. On it was a warning to pay attention to the signs of heat stroke. On this day we were experiencing an early October snow storm. Ironic? For sure. Funny? I thought so. As far as something she had to put up with, I found a message that could easily be deleted and even laughed at to be not that big of a deal. Her perception was that everything was against her and that this was a large obstacle. When viewed through a filter of that nature any job will seem terrible.

This brings to mind a great reminder. We have the option to how we see things. We can find the humor, or we can find the frustration. We can find the gratitude, or the lack. We can find the joy, or we can find the pain. It is all up to us. When we look for the good in things it can transform our days and jobs into things we enjoy, or certainly do not dread.

A GREAT MOTIVATIONAL EXAMPLE

I am always on the lookout for examples and ideas that can help us live a more positive and rewarding life. Today one such example was made clear to me. I am going to share this tale with you as I think it is something we can all use to keep us focused and motivated to stay on the right track.

Recently, my mother was cleaning out a room in her house and had come across some boxes of my old toys and such. Wanting to clean out her house and not wanting to just throw these items away she asked…no she told me to come get them. They included toys from G.I. Joe, Star wars and other such items. After loading them into my car and carrying them down into my basement I had no idea what to do with them. I knew that I wasn’t going to sit down and play with them. I knew they had some value, but am not very talented or well-versed on things like eBay or online selling. I put a message on my Facebook page wondering if there was anyone who might be interested.

One of the more helpful replies I received was from a high school friend named Bill. Apparently Bill was an avid Star wars collector and would be interested in taking a look at what I had. After a few false starts because of my health issues, we got together this evening. Bill informed me that he had recently left his job and began to work from home. I am always interested in stories where people make such a radical change in their lives and what is behind it.

After handling the matter of the toys transaction I asked what he did from home. He explained he sold on eBay. The story he told me is what I would like to share with you. Bill had been working Third shift in an injection molding factory for about 20 years. One Thursday evening/Friday morning he was told he would have to work the next day and it was mandatory. He felt like that was the last straw. We have all had that moment at our jobs at one point or another. I know I have. If you haven’t, you are extremely fortunate and have a great job. What Bill did next is what most of us do not have the comfort to do, he turned around and walked out. Now working from home selling on eBay he has time to take his daughter to school and go on field trips, all while earning a living.

This story is good enough to be inspiring, but there was one more detail I thought would  benefit all of us here.  Whether you are an author working on your next book, a song writer working to create that next hit, or even a blog writer trying to positively affect the world, there can be times that motivation to continue seems to wane. It is then we need to remember our ‘why’. We should have our goal in front of us daily to drive us. Not only to remind us of where we wish to go, but why we started in the first place. The day that Bill left his job he still was wearing his work shirt. He told me today that work shirt hangs right by his computer to remind him why it is important he succeed in his eBay career. It also reminds him of what the world he left was like and all he has to be grateful for with his work-from-home position.

Do you have a job you want to leave? Are you pursuing your passion on the side? Do you have to miss important dates and family gatherings because your boss needs you on the job? Are you wishing (or in my case needing) that tropical vacation? Find something to motivate you to stay focused. A picture of the islands, a picture of your current job, a picture of your soulless boss or any other such thing that will remind you of what you are chasing, and what will be the result if you give up. Use both the pleasure and the pain. Please share with the rest of our readers what you use for motivation.

THERE IS NO SHORTCUT

We are fast approaching holidays, followed by a brand new year. Personally, I feel excited about what 2019 will bring and I am working now to make sure it will be the best year it can be. I am back to 5 days a week at the gym, I am starting to clean a lot of the clutter out of my life physically and spiritually. I am also putting in the work with my writing career to help advance that as well. I was doing very well in 2018 until a few personal and health issues derailed my progress.

If you are a person who spends any amount of time trying to maintain your physical fitness, I am sure you can relate to the next thought. I had spent the first 6 months of the year working on getting back in shape. In mid June I was sent to the ER with what was later determined to be a serious heart issue. I was out of commission for about 30 days. When I returned to the gym it was as if those first 6 months had never happened. How frustrating. Only now, 3 months after getting back to the gym am I starting to feel like I am close to getting back in shape.

What is really important to keep in mind is there is no shortcut. Everyday I have to show up. Every single day I must put in the work. This has held true for my writing career as well. 7 years ago I began this website. 5 years ago I released my first book. I would have thought I would be all over television and on the radio talking about my 4th book. Next year my second book will be published. Everyday I showed up and wrote something. It would be great if we could all workout one time and be in shape for the rest of our lives. It would be great if our relationships would be filled with joy every moment. It would be great if we were successfully working a career we loved, were good at and made a great deal of money from. Life, as we know, does not work that way.

The reward is that the harder we work for something the greater the sense of accomplishment when we achieve it. Not only does struggle and discipline increase our feeling of satisfaction, but also is the best catalyst for growth and evolution. We may not realize it at the time, and trust me I get that it may feel like you have paid more than your share of dues, but sometimes there is just something that we have to learn, some growth we have achieve.

This can be especially hard to grasp when you watch others around you achieving more with what appears to be far less struggle. First, we must remember we never know everything that goes on behind the scenes with even the people closest to us. The relationship they have may have taken a lot more work than we know. That promotion they got? They may have studied and worked for years we do not know. Second, they are not us. This may seem like a tip from captain obvious, but think of how unique each of us are. We all learn in a different way. Some like to read, some are visual, some are audio-based learners. Does that make one better from the next? Of course not.

Those who have toiled the longest often end up with the greatest sense of joy. If you are handed a promotion because of who your father or mother is verses having to work for it, you may very well appreciate your job less. Be grateful for the struggle my friends. It may seem like a painful thing to go through, but it can be the greatest teacher. Also, remember we are all going through it. Struggle is a universal experience. It may not all be in the same area of life, some may be better at hiding it but we all go through it. Be thankful for the lessons. Be grateful for the practice in patience and the chance to grow. Whatever you do, just do not give up.

“You can’t hire someone else to do your push-ups for you.” – Jim Rohn

SECRET LANGUAGE

There are things we do as children we could stand to do more as adults. Playing outside, using our imaginations to solve problems come to mind. I am going to share another one with you today. Once again I am going to use the two people in the picture above as an example. That would be Margie and myself. Before we get into the idea I want to share with you, allow me to give you the all important back story. When Margie and I met and after we started dating we initially saw each other at work. Work in those days saw Margie behind the DJ booth and myself behind the bar. It was at a place called The Hideout. It was a small corner bar but between the two of us we packed the place most nights. This was great for business and for our pocketbooks, but not so great for being able to love each other.

The dilemma we faced was the only time we really got to see each other was when we were both so busy it was hard to even say ‘hello’ to each other. Both being creative souls, we came up with a unique solution – a secret language. Something you may have used as a child when playing games or forming secret clubs. Margie and I came up with hand gestures that we could use with each other across the bar to say simple things like “I love you” or “I’m missing you”. We continue to develop our secret vocabulary to this day. Thankfully, we no longer work separately. We DJ sitting right next to each other. Although still working in the bar industry which is a challenge to even the best relationships, we have moments where we cannot hear each other or may have to be away from each other. There are also moments when we are out with friends, or at social events where we may be across the room wanting to let the other know we are thinking about them.

Developing this unique form of communicating allows us to keep loving when it may otherwise be a struggle. It is also a fun way to be creative in our relationship. Having something that is uniquely between us also creates a special bond. Create signs that can communicate with your loved one. It is fun, creative and can really come in handy at certain times.

THE END OF THE DAY

With all of the outside stress that is heaped on us throughout the day courtesy of the media, coworkers, other drivers and a million other sources, we need to control our own. What I mean is at the end of the day, and at various points throughout the day, we can often find ourselves filling our own head with negative talk. We can end up beating ourselves up over events and decisions that happened throughout the day.

It is natural to have thoughts of “I wish I would have not hit the snooze button again.” or “I should not have gotten so upset with Sally at the office this morning.” None of us are perfect. That simple fact should give you a feeling of solace at the end of a hard day. If you were doing the best you could at the time, realize that too. If you didn’t act as you should have, you have the right to feel a little disappointed in yourself. What we need to do then is learn from that and commit to making better decisions in the future. If you know better and commit to doing better than getting upset with yourself is like convicting an innocent person. You have grown and are not the same person who did the action even earlier that day.

Some things seem not to turn out no matter how hard we try. That is because there are always lots of other variables. Weather, cars, other people and even rabid squirrels that may jump in front of our cars. You never know what you will face when you step outside your door to face the day.

Give yourself a break this week. If you approach life with the purest of hearts and the best of intentions you have done the best you could. If you did not approach life that way you have learned, which is the best you can do in that situation. They say an honest man’s pillow is his peace of mind, let that be true for us as well. Let us conduct ourselves in the best way we can and fall asleep knowing we did the best we could and that was enough.

SOME DAYS IT IS JUST LIKE THIS

Fear not. This is not a loaded cannon nor would I advise sticking your head in the wrong end of a cannon. Just a goofy picture Margie took of me while we were visiting The House on the Rock. Some days can feel just like this for many of us though. Recently on my Facebook page Fall in Love with Life I shared a story of my attempts to share my food reviews on a page dedicated to the Milwaukee food scene. To me it seemed like a good fit. In the description it even mentioned that reviews were encouraged. An hour later I checked back to see if anyone had even seen it. That is when I felt like the picture above.

Yes, people had indeed seen it and even offered their own version of feedback on it. These enlightening comments ranged anywhere from the inquiring, “Why is this s**t on here?” to the critiquing, “You think you’re a good writer you will never win a Pulitzer!” to the very confusing, “Get a f**king life! Go back to Illinois!” This was confusing because I am not from, nor have I ever lived in the state of Illinois. My post was not about a restaurant in Illinois either.

The point is, I took a beating. When I put my face in my cell phone screen I felt like I was sticking it in the mouth of that cannon. I say this to let you know even if what should be benign situations we all can end up taking a beating. People can spend valuable energy on just making others, which can often include you, miserable.  Why that is we may never know. Much like the gentleman with the Illinois comment for me, often times they seem to come out of nowhere and make little to no sense.

The reason I am sharing all of this with you today is to remind us all how important it is to have a stress reduction plan for when those moments do come. As you can see, they can come when you least expect it. In my seminars I tell people the time to learn to swim is on the shore, not while the boat is sinking. In other words, do not wait until your life feels like the picture above. Begin this moment to make stress reduction a priority. Find things that bring you joy. Whether that means making a list of movies that make you smile, or songs that you like listening to. Find constructive ways to get out of stress. That might be a hard workout in the gym or a relaxing walk in nature.

Luckily I had a great night that night at the movies with Margie followed by a nice walk in the neighborhood. Two things that always bring a smile to my face. I recommend you begin to get your list of things together today. If you have a day where you feel life is beating you down make sure to use them. Keep moving forward. As Babe Ruth said, “You just can’t beat the person who never gives up.”