The vision you didn’t know you had

As published in Sybil Magazine, September 2015

As published in Sybil Magazine, September 2015

(#9 of a series of 12 articles on ‘Unlocking Your Sacred Power’)

What does the word ‘vision’ mean to you? Usually a vision paints a picture of a positive, inspiring future – one that motivates and supports us to be and do our very best. But there’s another kind of vision – the kind we don’t know we have. These visions are shared with almost everyone around us – our parents, teachers, friends, the media, and our colleagues at work. Like the air we breathe they’re so pervasive that we rarely give them a second thought. But these invisible visions can sometimes sabotage our future.

Take our vision of aging.   In western culture the dominant story of aging teaches that we are at the pinnacle of life when we are young. In our 20s and 30s we are at the height of our powers – our beauty, strength, intelligence, focus and productivity. It’s the time we’re most sure of our selves, our capacities and our future. It’s the time we believe in and go for our dreams.

As we move into our 40s and 50s we move into a story of gradual loss, degeneration and decline. We try to preserve our youth and ‘forget’ to celebrate milestone birthdays. As women, we often notice a new ‘invisibility’ creeping in as we struggle to keep the weight off and the wrinkles away.

Then, at or around 65, we retire. For some it’s a welcome time, a time of reward for a life of hard work and dedication. A time to slow down and savor life, to enjoy family and friends, to devote to hobbies or take the trips we’ve longed for. But the general assumption behind the cycle of aging in our culture is that of decline and diminishment. As we age we lose our value as productive workers and are ‘put out to pasture’ to make way for younger, more energetic colleagues.

Illness and death do visit everyone eventually. But research has shown us that the health and potential of our elder years may be drastically influenced by the vision and purpose we hold. When we expect decline, lack of value, and a growing isolation from the mainstream of life as we age, that is what we come to experience. That is the story we live into.

It’s up to us. We can allow ourselves to be defined and limited by cultural assumptions of uselessness, defeat and decline. Or, we can rewrite the story of aging. We can choose to own the unique perspective of our later years and to value this time as the harvest of our life’s experience. We can be role models, embodying wisdom in action. We can choose to act on behalf of what matters to us and to future generations. And in so doing we can live into the vision of becoming a generation of true elders who can change the tide of history.

What your dream will ask of you…

As appeared in Sybil Magazine, August 2015

As appeared in Sybil Magazine, August 2015

Why do our biggest dreams tend to bring up so much fear and resistance? Anyone who has dared to dream big knows the story. You start out daring to dream about something you really want. You fall in love with your dream, excited by the promise of the future, certain that the road ahead is paved with sparkling sunlight. For a while you eat, drink and sleep your vision. You tell everyone you know. You work doggedly for it. And then it happens – your first serious road-bump or obstacle.

Maybe you don’t get accepted into the program you need to launch your dream profession. Maybe your CEO turns down your pitch to lead your cherished project. Or maybe, after putting your heart and soul on the line through your marketing, no one signs up for your amazing transformational course. Whatever the obstacle, it can knock the wind out of your sails. It can make you doubt yourself, scale back your dream and settle for something less – something safer, more certain and predictable.

The hard truth is that when we hold a dream or vision, especially a big one, we DO NOT have the ability to achieve it. Why? Because dreams, by definition, are not reality. They exist as sacred but fragile seeds in our hearts, minds and souls. Those seeds ask us to stretch, grow and evolve beyond who we are now to become someone else – the person who can actualize it. But the pathway to that result is not guaranteed, not easy and not linear. Not ever. It consists of twists and turns, obstacles, adventures. It will challenge us beyond what we can do not once but multiple times. It will ground away our edges until we learn and develop the capacity to BE the person who can live our dreams into reality.

So the real reason that our dreams can terrify us is not because we’re afraid of failing or because there’s so much is on the line. It’s because our dreams will ask us to die to who we are, time and time again, to become the person who CAN bring the dream to fruition. The process can challenge some of our most cherished ideas of who we are and what we are able to do. It can have us wrestle with our demons, blind-spots and inadequacies, to acknowledge our areas of incompetence. The process will humble and bring us to our knees if we are to live into our true greatness.

Real visions ask us to die to who we think we are to become the hero or heroine of our own story, accomplishing the million trials along the way that hone our ability to shine. The trick is to love our challenges and who we are along the way as much as we love our vision and promise.

Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail

Depositphotos_22836710_sWhy do we create resolutions and how successful are they?

According to recent research published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology less than half of our New Year’s Resolutions are maintained past 6 months*.  An earlier article in the same journal described New Year’s Resolutions as ‘cultural procrastination’ and described WHY they fail.

But, as a transformative leadership coach, my focus is on why and how goals and resolutions succeed, and how to turn visions into realities.  After 10 years of coaching change agents, this is my BEST advice:

1) Make goal and intention-setting a year long process.  Don’t wait till New Year’s eve to make resolutions or to set goals.  Make it a habit by adopting quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily practices to support your vision.

2) Ensure your visions, goals, intentions & actions are aligned.  Many people create visions or intentions but don’t link them to specific goals or actions.  Others are so focused on their to-do list that they never step back to ensure that their actions are aligned with deeper longings and desires.  Different parts of our psyche perform different valuable functions.  So when you’re feeling stuck or unmotivated ask whether you need to shift your operating ‘mode’ and enlist the help of your right brain (creative, intuitive) or left brain (planning).

3) Remember why your vision matters to future generations.  It can call you forth in moments of fear and doubt.

4) Focus and limit the number of goals and resolutions you chose.  Long to-do lists can create confusion and overwhelm.  Try limiting your focus to one or two new projects per quarter.  You can then break them down into smaller sub-steps.

5) Set realistic, specific goals.  Losing weight is not a specific goal. Losing 10 lbs in one week is not a safe or realistic goal.  Losing 10 pounds in 90 days would be both specific and realistic (given proper dietary practices).

6) Take small, consistent steps over time to achieve big goals. Many people get discouraged and quit because the steps they attempt are too big. Ask ‘what’s the most important step I can do today, right now, towards my goal?’  Make that a priority – even devoting 5 or 15 minutes a day makes a big difference over time.

7) Always prioritize your own balance and self-care.  Change agents and healers are notorious for getting burned out because they try to give too much.  Sometimes the most potent step is to go for a massage or a nap.

8) Celebrate your successes between milestones. Don’t wait for the goal to be fully completed.  Celebrating helps give you a sense of accomplishment, momentum and helps rewire your neural pathways.

9) Expect, enjoy and learn from your failures.  Perfectionism (and the belief that achieving our dreams should always be easy) is one of the biggest obstacles many of us face.  And yet there are rich lessons and gifts in mistakes, challenges and distractions.  Think of working towards a goal as a kind of practice in ‘applied mindfulness’ practice.  As you drift off course and bring your mind gently back.  The only true failure is giving up on a cherished dream.

10) Prioritize creative practices, on trying new behaviors and challenging your beliefs.  Many limits are held in place by old personal or collective paradigms and unsupportive habits.  Art, music, opening to those who hold diverse views and experiences can help us break through our habitual ways of being and doing.

11) Focus on the gifts of the present.  Visions, goals and intentions are important.  But the more we focus on the gap between where we are and what we want to do or be, the more discouraged we can feel and the more we can tend to procrastinate.  Embracing mindfulness, becoming physically, emotionally and mentally aware of our inner states as each external event happens (rather than living in the past or future), helps us live more fulfilled lives.  Ironically, the more present we are, the better we are to move towards our dreams.

12) Create accountability structures.   Hire a coach, or make an agreement with an accountability buddy, someone close to you that you have to report to.  Ideally that person should be someone who will encourage you and help you to stay focused on your vision and successes, while learning and growing from your set-backs.

If you’d like personalized, individualized support in any of these areas, please check out options to coach with me.

P.S. *Here are the links to the Journal of Clinical Psychology articles I mentioned:
http://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/  – describes the most common resolutions and their chance of success
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201012/why-new-years-resolutions-fail - describes why they fail.