Habits – Routines – Rituals

We live in a wacky, wonky world, and healthy, positive habits can mean the difference between order and chaos, ease and burden, or success and failure.

Nathaniel Emmons, American Theologian, once said, “Habit is either the best of servants or the worst of masters.” A major working habit of mine was to work hard, do everything, and don’t stop until I dropped. When you try to do everything, you can’t excel. Quality can suffer over time. Not to mention, my health took a toll.  For me, this habit was the worst of masters. When it was almost too late (I fell asleep behind the wheel of my car on the highway in rush hour), my life and work monumentally shifted when I made life and work altering changes.

So, even knowing we need to make changes or there could be dire consequences, we often keep doing what we always do. Why?

It all starts with the brain.

Thinking takes lots of energy. The executive function, located in the very front of the brain, is evolved to facilitate decision making and other cognitive abilities. Without it, we would not be able to coordinate or monitor those abilities or behavior, but it does need a ton of firepower.

Over eons, the brain became extraordinarily efficient. It develops repetitive behavior habits to conserve energy, creating deep neural pathways it can call upon when needed. Whatever you call them—habits, processes, routines, or rituals—they can be so ingrained in our brain, they are automatic. We don’t even think about it; we do it. Consider getting ready in the morning or swimming or riding a bicycle as examples.

Getting ready in the morning becomes a snap, no thinking involved because we are now on cruise control while dealing with more significant issues like what we need to do to complete that project due this afternoon.  Habits make life and work easier (we hope)—efficient, yes, useful—maybe, maybe not.

The brain does not know when a habit is good for us or unhealthy or can get in the way of our success.  It just thinks that if we continue to do something, it must be something important, so it creates those connections, and voila, we have ourselves a habit!

A New Habit Can Be Daunting – It’s Change

When habits take away energy, lowers productivity, or becomes an obstacle, it becomes quite challenging to change them since they have become, well, habitual.

A former client was so frustrated because he could not get essential tasks done. There were so many things needing his attention; they were distracting him from getting anything done! We used the following process to focus on what he wanted to complete and reduce or eliminate distractions by creating new work and personal habits.

1. What Tasks Are Not Getting Done?

List outstanding tasks. My client made a list of work and personal tasks that he needed to complete. Undone tasks can be energy drains.

Give each item on your list a priority number—no two things having the same number. The brain loves putting everything in sequence.  Can whatever falls to the bottom be eliminated? Will you ever complete them? If not, removing them is energizing.

2. Be clear on what it is you want to accomplish.

This list can further refine what you want to accomplish. What would taking care of the top three priority items do for you? To complete them, you may need time you feel you cannot free up because of all the stuff you have to do. So, what will it take to free time on your calendar?  What needs to change? Do you have the habit of saying yes to everything, for example? Perhaps, you attend every invited meeting, rather than the ones you need to attend to achieve your goals.

Our behaviors become locked in as habits, and we do the same actions repeatedly and then wonder retrospectively how did I allow that to happen?

3. What is one habit you want to change?

It is easier to change one habit or behavior than to try to change many.  It is too overwhelming.

4. Ask yourself how committed are you to changing that habit.

Rate the habit you want to change on a scale of 1 to 10, one being least committed to ten being thoroughly committed! Pick a practice you would commit to that is seven or higher.  If your commitment scale registers lower than seven, you probably won’t follow through with the change.

5. Decide on what steps you need to take to change that habit.

Determine in what order you need to do them.

6. Schedule those steps into your calendar.

Schedule and protect time in your calendar to focus on those items you want to complete. Remember, commitments to yourself are as crucial as commitments to others.

7. Habits don’t change overnight.

To overlay old habits, you need to repeat these new actions at least 30 times.  Put stickies on your desk, bathroom mirror, car dashboard.  Anywhere they’re required to remind yourself of the new habits you are creating.  It is a conscious effort before it can become an unconscious habit.

8. Don’t feel guilty if you lapse.

Old habits don’t want to be left behind.  If you have a lapse, forgive yourself and begin again.

I can attest to all of the above!

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Have you noticed your “To Do” list getting longer because of daily fire drills, new projects, unanswered emails, phone calls, and texts, not to mention all the things needing your attention at home? By day’s end, you find yourself surrounded by more “stuff” you don’t want to deal with; don’t know what to do with, or you will get to when and if you have time.  Sound familiar?

Stuff happens, and your mind becomes cluttered with tons of details. It’s disorienting. Just thinking about this stuff is exhausting.  The energy drain of the clutter keeps your attention away from what you want to do and puts it on what you don’t want to do.  Procrastination sets in, stress increases, and the mind clutter keeps growing like weeds.

The consequence of putting it off

Unfortunately, the cost of not dealing with this clutter is much higher than actually dealing with it.  The price is the amount of energy you burn, not doing it.  The more you delay, the bigger the pile gets until it becomes overwhelming.

As Orin Miller said, “If you want to make an easy job seem mighty hard, just keep putting off doing it.”

My friend learned this lesson the hard way. A few years ago, she was a Medical Records Administrator working in a small plastic surgery hospital. Every week, as patient files were updated, she would meet with doctors to sign off on notes, etc. There were a few problematic cases that she would put to the side to deal with later. As these files grew more substantial, she continued to sideline them. The longer she put it off, the higher her anxiety grew, and she couldn’t bring herself to meet with the doctors because they were getting so old.  She was afraid as time went on; they might fire her for not doing her job. She procrastinated for over nine months.  She finally bit the bullet and met with everyone. She said it was extremely hard for her to do it. However, it was anti-climactic because they said there was no harm done.  All that worrying for nothing!

Gain back control

People who thrive know that the consequence of letting things go is detrimental to accomplishing what is important to them.  It obscures what needs to get done to be successful.  It’s like treading water; you use a lot of energy and don’t get anywhere.  Would you prefer to tread water or thrive?

Nine Steps To Being Proactive

Napoleon Hill said, “Procrastination is the bad habit of putting off until the day after tomorrow what should have been done before yesterday.”

All the details that have not been completed obscure what is essential and what can be deferred or ignored.  Everything begins to feel important; plus, the more you put off, the greater the time needed to get back on track.

Action steps to get back on course

  1. Create a list of what is getting in your way from sewing a button on your pants, to updating your front pocket plan (career plan), to strategic planning for your projects or organization. Include anything that is keeping you from thriving in your environment or keeping you awake at night. This list can become really long.
  2. Rank each from the most significant drain or pain to least.
  3. Take the top-ranking drain, and schedule a time in your calendar to take care of it.
  4. Complete it, delegate it to someone else, or create a new habit or process so it won’t be a problem again.
  5. If you’re unsure of what to do, get a mentor, hire a coach, or talk to others you respect for alternative actions.
  6. When done, cross it off your list, and tackle the next item by going through these steps again.
  7. Look at those items that always seem to stay at the bottom. You will most likely never do them.  Do they require your attention?  I say, strike them off the list and be done with it!
  8. Remember to schedule time in your calendar to complete these tasks. Scheduling creates structure. Respect that time as you would meetings with others.
  9. Commit to continuing with these steps to stay on course to keep your commitments.

Life is always chaotic and dynamic.  You can remain calm within the storm by breathing deeply to ground yourself and then use these strategies to keep on track one small step at a time!

Be aware of how great it feels to get those things off your back and back on track!

It drains your mental, physical, and emotional energy tanks. It lurks in the back of your mind like floating yellow stickies fighting for your attention.  You are so focused on what you haven’t done; you can’t focus on what you want to get done.

Bottom line: Procrastination will never get you where you want to be—not in your projects, your vision, or your relationships.

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Time To Reconnect With Our Inner Joy

This year is almost half over, and it feels like a lifetime has passed! These last few months have been grim, frightening, and uncertain. Luckily, States are steadily reopening, and companies are slowly rehiring employees. Yet, people are still extremely stressed out and irritated.  Too much happening too fast.

Time to Find Our Inner Joy!

Self-isolation has affected us all. For a while now, I have read disturbing articles about customers yelling and spitting at shop owners and employees from not being allowed into the store without a mask to not having the product the customer wanted.  One woman punched the shop owner in the face when told the last above-ground pool had been sold.

With emotions running high, it is immensely vital we reconnect with our positive emotions and let the negative feelings go. It affects the decisions we make and the actions we take in our personal lives and business. It affects our relationships with others and with ourselves. A fundamental emotion, Joy, is the foundation for our positive emotions. Waking up and happy to be part of the living feeling.

Besides, when I stopped at a light, the car in front of me had a vanity plate, ‘IGOTJOY.” I can’t argue with synchronicity! I knew I had to write about Joy.

Reconnecting with Joy

How do we reawaken the feeling of Joy?  You can’t earn or work for it, and you can’t attain it through goals. Happiness is a state of being. The following ideas can bring Joy back into your life and work.

Where To Find Joy

Joy lives in the present when you are entirely focused on a task, not thinking of anything else.

When we are thinking about old hurts or fear we didn’t do well enough, we are living in the past. When worrying about what we have to do to get “stuff” done on time or what we need to do next, we are living in the future.

Often in our hectic lives, we get lost in the minutiae of living, and we feel overwhelmed, out of balance, and can become despondent at the most and frustrated at the least.  When you bring yourself back to the present, you can find peace and Joy.  It allows you to aspire to a higher quality of life.  What you do today creates your tomorrow!

When you are thinking about what could happen or what did happen, it distracts you from what you are doing now and affects what you will experience in the future as a result of your actions.

Joy Is Not Self-Critical

Most of the time, we are concerned with what other people are thinking, which can inhibit what we genuinely enjoy doing.  The irony is they are feeling the same way!  People are so entangled in their dramas that there is no room to think about us. Don’t be the victim of needless worrying about what others think of you. Focus on what you feel is the right action to take in the present moment.

Joy Is Deflecting Self-Judgment.

By trusting in ourselves to do the best we can, we can enjoy what we are doing. We can make better, deliberate decisions instead of reacting to the situation.

Part of our worry comes from our fear we are never good enough.  When we can accept our uniqueness, cherishing both our strengths and weaknesses, we acknowledge our special-ness.  We build on our strengths, and we learn from our shortcomings.  After all, if everyone was perfect, how challenging and exciting would life be – not very.

As Don Miguel Ruiz wrote in “The Four Agreements,” “simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.”

Joy Is Accepting Our Weaknesses As Well As Our Strengths.

To avoid self-judgment, accepting what we like and dislike about ourselves reduces the feeling of inadequacy and helps us focus on what we do well and determine where we could do better.  When we are not judging ourselves, it is easier not to take things personally. Each day we do the best we can. Accepting that we are doing our best each day, even though our best can change from moment to moment.

Two books worth reading are:

How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” by Dale Carnegie

The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz”


After all we have been through this year, it is time to get our Joy back!


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Developing a New Normal Moving Forward

Coronavirus has pushed a Country-wide reset button and has created the opportunity for the creation of a “new” more satisfying normal, despite its negative impact. We now have an excellent opportunity to look within ourselves, discover our innate inner wisdom on how we would prefer to live and make changes for a more compelling life.

The following are five suggestions to consider implementing and continuing after the Virus crisis is behind us.

(1) Practice Mindfulness to Create Wellness, Positive Energy, and Increased Productivity.

Before, when our busy lives created high stress, there was little time to pause, breathe, and reflect on what was important in the Now. When we are so busy doing “stuff,” living loses meaning. A friend once shared with me that he wanted to watch the sunset with his small son, but he had emails to read. Emails will always be demanding our attention. Our children do not stay small for long.  Which of the two are more meaningful?

Now, things are quiet. Mindfulness reduces stress, anxiety, and fear, allowing the body to relax and energizes the mind by being focused on what is happening this moment, not thinking about the past or concerned about the future. Our immune system responds by becoming more robust, and our bodies healthier.

One Mindfulness tool to increase productivity and reduce distractions is Chunk!  Chunking is setting aside time to complete one task.  For example, schedule 30 minutes on your calendar to check emails once at 9 am and a second time at 5 pm daily.  During those times, you would concentrate solely on emails.  Chunking works for anything you want to do, from exercising to executing a program. Chunk time can vary based on how long you believe a task will take or the time you wish to devote to it.

(2)  We Can’t Control Everything.

Yes, the Virus is scary, but we cannot personally eradicate it from the Country. We can, however, do things we can control.  WHO suggests we limit checking the news to once or twice a day. Practice social distancing, etc. Being mindful (there’s that word again!) of what is essential at the moment.

When back to Normal as possible lives, instead of worrying over things, we have no control over, focus on what you can influence.

Practicing Mindfulness can take many forms.   Since there are many books and articles on this topic, and I am always looking for new ideas, I just ordered “Zen as F*ck: A Journal for Practicing the Mindful Art of Not Giving a Sh*t” by Monica Sweeney. I chose this one because there were over 3,000 ratings. I figured a lot of folks liked it, and I would check it out.

(3)  What Have You Put Off That You Can Do Now To Improve Your Experience?

There are many paths of thinking to answer that question. Today, I am focusing on learning new skills, acquiring wisdom, and immersing yourself in things that bring you joy.

Research indicates that adult cell phone users spent 3.5 hours each day on the mobile Internet in 2019 (1,277.5 hours). They estimate it will be over 4 hours in 2021 (1,450+ hours).  On the other hand, ten thousand hours spent on developing a skill will make you an expert.

Would it make sense to reduce those hours spent on the phone and redirect it to learning a subject that interests you or reading a book or taking a walk or (you decide)?

Another path would be to take a digital detox from social media. I have done that in the past, and it is rejuvenating. Recently, I have begun to stand outside at night and hear silence—such an incredible sound.

What would bring you peace, joy, or satisfaction?

(4)  Take Time To Remember Who You Are And What Makes You Happy.

During this time, we have a fantastic opportunity to take the time to know ourselves again.

When we are overwhelmed with work, commitments, and social media, we forget who we are. We can feel lost and dissatisfied.  With the economy at a momentary standstill, we can take this time to reacquaint ourselves with who we are, make changes to be happier, and create a “New Normal” going forward.

There are many paths to understanding why you do what you do. Insights lead to strategies to change habits or live and work differently.  Meditation, self-reflection, and journaling are some ways to become more self-aware.  Another way is taking on-line assessments proven through the years as to their efficacy and validity.

One assessment is the Keirsey Assessment I recommend, which helps people to gain insights about their personality and how they interact with others. A link to this assessment is


My clients have had significant insights using this tool on why they react in situations and which have led to making changes, some very small, that carry a remarkable impact on their interaction with others.


(5)  We Always Have A Choice.

In every moment, we have a choice to be fearful or joyful, anxious or peaceful.  Instead of reacting in situations, chose to respond. Pause, breathe deeply, and then consider, would you rather be at peace, or would you rather be anxious or fearful?

When we are anxious, angry, or stressed, our minds focus on the problem, limiting us to see only one or two solutions, neither the best answer. When calm, you will come up with more solutions you wouldn’t have when stressed.


Coronavirus has affected us as a Nation. We can still take charge of our lives and make choices on how we want to live our lives now and after we have moved beyond it.

Create your New Normal!

Be safe, and stay healthy.

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Stress doesn’t create sickness and it doesn’t kill.  How you react to it does. It’s the amount of pressure you put on yourself…what should be done, has to be done, or must be done, rather than what you can realistically do or want to do.

If you are feeling exhausted, anxious, and stretched beyond your capacity, your body is giving you a wake-up call you cannot afford to ignore. Over time, without ways to cope with everything on your plate, you could find yourself seriously ill. Not to mention, miserable in the present.

Even though successful people have a strong sense of what they want to achieve, they know that in order to thrive, they must incorporate at least one or two coping strategies—quick fixes that reduce stress and anxiety in the moment that promotes health, clear thinking, and peak performance.  Let’s look at one very important coping mechanism.

The Simplest Coping Strategy Ever—Breathing!

We have to breathe, right? How are you breathing right now? Taking in full, deep breaths or shallow, small breaths? When you are stressed, you breathe shallowly from the chest. This automatically tenses muscles and reduces oxygen, causing exhaustion, general anxiety, sleeplessness, and headaches. Breathing from the diaphragm relaxes muscles automatically and sends lots of oxygen to the brain to function at top performance.

There are many Yoga breathing exercises, but I have found the following works extremely well. It has lowered blood pressure in a frightened cancer patient and reduced road rage in another.

  • Breathe in through your nose for a count of 4 which expands your lungs, inhaling that much-needed oxygen to the brain.
  • Hold your breath for 7 counts, which stops the adrenaline rush.
  • Exhale for 8 counts, which rids your lungs of toxins.
  • Repeat until you feel relaxed—usually a minimum of two or three times or as many times as needed.

At first you may find your lungs do not want to inflate much. Your lungs will expand a little more each time you do this technique.  As with exercise, start out easy so you don’t hyper-ventilate.

Feel the difference!

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