“House of Cards”: Netflix and the Flu

My husband and I recently started a free trial month of Netflix.  We have never been big TV watchers; in fact, we don’t even have cable.  Our usual form of entertainment is checking out ’40’s movies from the library.  Once we saw how quickly late fees added up, though, it made sense to look into Netflix.

A week and a half into the experiment, I’m discovering that I have less self-discipline than I’d like to admit.  I’m already an avid watcher of “House of Cards.”  I’d like to be content watching one episode and moving on with my life, but with each show ending with a cliff-hanger and the next show just the click of a button away, it’s all too easy to watch two or three in a row.

Not a problem on the occasional Friday or Saturday night, but even on weeknights, I’ve discovered there seems to be a “casino effect” whereby we absolutely lose track of time.  We would break for a time check and be stunned to see it was 12:30.  At least we didn’t watch an entire season in one weekend like 668,000 other Netflix subscribers did, but still not the healthiest choice.

I found myself getting less than 7 hours of sleep on a couple of nights, and sure enough, before long I picked up the February bug that’s been going around.  Maybe some people can survive on 6 1/2 hours of sleep, but I’m not one of them.  I pick up whatever germs are floating around when I’m sleep-deprived.

We make resolutions during the day that we don’t keep at night.  After floating wisdom to my loved ones like “the trick is to just watch one show then call it a night,” I promptly proceeded to waste away an evening utterly absorbed by the fantasy world in front of me.  When our TV died last night (it was 9 years old), that didn’t stop us–we downloaded the Netflix app on my iPhone.

Do I love it or hate it?  Do I want to keep Netflix or go back to my spartan ways?  I’m not sure.  I do know that intellectually I believe in moderation, but when it comes down to it, I will binge on “House of Cards” as much as anyone.  This is why I don’t keep ice cream in the house.  I would rather have two bites of dark chocolate and a cup of peppermint tea, but if there’s ice cream in the freezer, it will be eaten.

It’s good to know our limits and our temptations.  We will probably keep Netflix, because it sure beats picking up DVD’s from the library, but I am giving serious thought to how I can incorporate it into a balanced life.

In such cases, it can be helpful to think through the consequences of an action fully.  For example, that could mean imagining sleeping 6 hours, waking up feeling groggy, being cranky all day, possibly coming down with a cold or flu, getting behind on work, feeling stressed, and being short with those around me.  If everyone truly went through that process, far fewer of us would stay up till 12:30 watching “House of Cards.”

I honestly haven’t applied that technique to this situation yet, but I’m going public to help me do so.  I’ll give it a shot next time I’m tempted to click the remote to start another late-night episode and report back on the results.

My new goal is to continue to watch, but to do so more mindfully.  My hunch is that I’ll be healthier, better rested, in a better mood…  and perhaps less obsessed with Zoe, Lucas, and the rest of what is, when you come down to it, a fantasy world.

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Patience and Fortitude: Living in the Present

On my walks through the city, I often pass the main branch of the New York Public Library at 5th and 42nd.  Its entrance is guarded by two lions, named Patience and Fortitude by Mayor LaGuardia during the Great Depression to inspire New Yorkers.

Enduring hardships does require both patience and fortitude–whether something we want to pass (illness), or something we want to happen (starting a family).  Our peace lies in trusting the unknowns; our power lies in pursuing the knowable, taking steps to find out what information we can, and making choices that are in line with our greatest good.

This week, my neighbor and friend passed away over a long illness.  I was moved by how his courage and faith sustained him in difficult times.  They seemingly enabled him to immerse himself in the moment, whether that moment was ordinary or out of the ordinary…  playing with his 1 1/2 year old, watching a movie with friends from church, or taking a trip to Hawaii with his wife, where they had lived for several years.

In the midst of what must have been tremendous sorrow,  my friend was also filled with gratitude and hope.  I witnessed his openness to the grace of joyful moments that only come from living in the present.  He had a service mentality of looking for ways that he could help others and was mindful of what his legacy would be.

I was moved by his wife, as well, by her practice of living a day at a time.  Yet, she made plans.  She and her husband had planned for him to work as long as possible, while she cared for their baby, until he no longer could, at which time she returned to work.  She arranged for extra help.

She–and they–looked ahead to the extent that it was possible, from a place that was both heart-centered and practical.  With that in place, she lived in the present.  I’m sure she felt sadness and fear in ways I can’t imagine–yet what amazed me is that she also truly counted her blessings, and made time to express her care and concern for others.

As someone who can be impatient, I am inspired by both of their lives that I have witnessed.  I have been doing a lot of work around changing the things that I can in my life, and surrendering the future, which can’t be known or controlled.  We often have more power than we realize, both by changing our perspective, but also by taking concrete actions on our own behalf to improve our lives, follow our passions, and connect with others.

It’s a practice where I often stumble and grope in the dark through unfamiliar territory.  I’m tempted by the illusion of control–but in fact, I am led by as much light as I have today.  Tomorrow, I will be led by as much light as I need at that time.

Everything that I need is provided.  When I do the necessary footwork around what is within my power and trust that the rest will go exactly as it’s meant to, I feel more serene.  When I focus on what’s in front of me and the difference that I can make–in work, love, or any other area–my life and my faith grow bigger.

I’m deeply saddened by my friend’s passing, and for his family’s loss.  I’m also extremely grateful to have known such a shining soul, and to have witnessed his family’s path in a difficult time, living in a place of openness to love and grace.

Trapeze: Your Bravest, Most Fulfilled Self

On my 35th birthday last summer, my husband and I went to my friend’s trapeze show at Pier 40.  On a fairly major birthday, I couldn’t think of a more fun, inspiring activity than to watch my friend and her classmates fly through the air, with views of the NY skyline and the Husdon River in the background.

I admire my friend for many reasons. She follows her passions with a sense of adventure, pushing herself to do things that are a little scary.  I love her commitment to her vision of her ideal life.  It would be easy to settle for what is already known, safe, and comfortable.  Instead, she embraces the amazing life she has today and risks moving towards an even more amazing life.

Not everyone needs to go to trapeze school (heck, most of the country doesn’t have a trapeze school within 100 miles), but there are so many ways we can practice courage in our everyday lives.  It’s exciting to challenge ourselves, to have something to work towards–whether in our career, health, or personal development.

This year, I’m excited about writing this blog, connecting with readers, and growing my coaching practice (read more about that here on my Coaching page).  I set goals for myself such as posting twice a week, reaching out on social media, and reading other coaches’ blogs to clarify my own approach to my practice and to connect with a community.

Change is risky–I’m not in control of the results–but doing something new can be worth the risk.  It can actually be costlier not to risk doing something differently!

I need courage to balance my coaching practice with my work in publishing and music; spending time with family; and self-care.  However, I wouldn’t trade any of it–I’m very grateful for an abundant life.

I admire my parents for their courage, as well.  My mother was a university English professor who completed her dissertation when I was in my teens and early 20’s.  The experience impacted her so profoundly that she started her own business, NW Coaching, as a dissertation and life coach, helping others to complete their own dissertations by setting goals and breaking them down into manageable baby steps.

My father showed persistence and dedication in his lengthy career as a government economist and senior executive.  He honored his top values, family and career.  It couldn’t have been easy to balance the two.

It can be gutsy to work hard, and equally gutsy to work less.  My dad transitioned from a busy career to retirement, and is now enjoying pursuing other interests and spending more time with my mother and his extended family.  My mother also left one of her jobs to spend more time with my father.

Life presents us with all sorts of choices that have the potential to lead us into our most fulfilled selves.

What’s one area of your life where courage could be an ally in making great strides towards your goals?  What area of your career, health, or personal life do you most want to improve or enhance?  What are you passionate about?

How daring and fulfilling a life could you live, if you allow yourself to picture it?

Purpose, Persistence…and Shoveling

In the past week, something like a foot of snow has fallen in the NJ/NYC area.  Probably more, I’ve lost track.  I do know that there are gigantic mounds of snow by the curb where plows have consolidated it, making street parking difficult, and at several intersections.  I have to take running leaps to avoid drenching my boots and socks in soupy slush.

It was so pretty when it was snowing:  big, fluffy flakes, drifting down, blown diagonally, sometimes briefly even lifted straight up.  The park across the street was blanketed in white.  Kids made plump, smiling snowmen that gave me a lift on my walk to the train.

Then came all the shoveling.  Usually my husband takes care of it, but this weekend he’s out of town, so it fell to me.  Frankly, I didn’t really know that I could shovel.  Like parallel parking, my first, knee-jerk reaction is to  assume I can’t do it.  I’m afraid I might hit another car or back into a telephone pole.

I do know, however, that we learn by experiencing life, doing things.  And that includes making mistakes.  My husband has never shown a glimmer of fear about parallel parking, and he actually has backed into a telephone pole.  So why does my mind still want to believe that he’s the expert and I don’t know how to do it?

Since I was nervous about making some egregious shoveling error, or committing a neighborly faux pas, I actually did some online research first.  I read about using the wind to your advantage, and the importance of dressing in layers (10 minutes into it, the exertion makes you rip off outer layers  like an onion).

Finally it was time to actually grab a shovel and dive in.  It had rained, so the snow was slushy and twice as heavy.  The shoveling  doesn’t have to be perfect, but the shoveled walkway does need to be (literally) passable.  I wanted to be considerate to our neighbors and tenants, and didn’t want it to pile up until it had become too much to tackle.  With that in mind, I shoveled twice on Thursday.  I tackled a little at a time, and chipped away at icy spots.

snowI was so happy to come home Friday night and again see the fruits of my labor.  The clear pathway.  The mountain of snow by the street.  No icy or slushy patches to speak of.

My mind often tries to play tricks on me–one of which is the story, “It won’t work out.”  I’m surprised to see, time and again, that with a little grunt work and persistence, I get the results I want.  That “protective” story that things will be very hard and won’t work out in the end, is proven over and over not to be true.  “Hard” is not the same as “can’t do it.”  Do I know everything before I’ve started?  No.  Do I figure things out in the process?  Yes.

Persistence matters.  Most people who are successful got there by chipping away at what they initially didn’t know how to do, bit by bit, like a block of ice.  Backsliding can be a part of the process.  Instead of throwing the shovel down, we take a deep breath, acknowledge our progress, and get back to work.

Results come from breaking down goals into manageable steps and taking action.  But they only happen if we pick up our shovel.

Freedom: Envisioning the Life You Want

In my first post on this blog, “Living Joyfully,” I shared that each year I choose a word to set an intention for my year ahead, and that in 2013 it was “joy.”  What I didn’t share was that in addition to the word I choose for myself, a dear friend and mentor also gives me a word; her word to me was “faith.”  I have been practicing these a day at a time, perfectly imperfectly.

In 2014, my word for myself is “compassion,” both for myself and for others.  I can only be as compassionate with other people as I’m being with myself.  If I’m hard on myself, telling myself that I’m not progressing fast enough on my goals, and using negative self-talk, guess what?  I’m usually hard on others, too.  Whether or not I say so, I can start thinking as if I know what they should be doing, which is always a dangerous place to go.

On the other hand, when I’m gentle with myself, I’m able to be more loving and accepting of others.  Sometimes that means using self-talk as if I were an 8-year-old girl.  If I forget to bring or do something, if my first thought is, “of course you forgot,” I’ll tell myself, “re-do,” as bravery coach Kate Courageous blogs about.  Then I literally tell myself, “it’s okay, sweetie, here we go…”  As ridiculous as it might feel at first to talk to yourself as if you were 8 years old, it’s even more ridiculous to address yourself in a way that’s shaming.  (Brené Brown has written powerfully and prolifically on the impact of shaming language.)

My mentor’s word for me in the coming year is “freedom.”  I probably wouldn’t have chosen this word for myself, which is why she’s my mentor.  We hear a lot about freedom in this country.  The Bill of Rights enumerates several freedoms we possess:  speech, religion, press, assembly, and others.  When I drive on the BQE (Brooklyn Queens Expressway) or take the Staten Island Ferry, I enjoy seeing the Statue of Liberty, that iconic gift of the French to Americans.  We take these political rights for granted today; of course I can write a letter to a newspaper; of course I can go to any church to worship.

Yet what else can freedom represent in my life?  How can I move toward greater freedom, to come more fully into the person I was made to be, so that I can have an amazing life, and be of greater service to others?  What limiting beliefs are stopping me from embracing an even more amazing, truly free life?

In the disciplines of psychology and coaching, much is said of the limiting belief of scarcity:  not having enough, and not being enough.  It seems part of the human condition that these fears rear their ugly heads subconsciously at least some of the time for most of us.  As Brené Brown  identifies, the simple act of articulating our fears or feelings we’re ashamed of having, and particularly sharing them with someone we trust, weakens them.

Once I identified “I won’t have enough” as an under-the-surface limiting belief, I was able to construct a positive belief to replace it:  “everything I need will be provided.”  This lets me choose to focus on a positive, rather than a negative, belief.

There is always presence and absence in our lives.  Our perspectives are simply the result of a decision of where to place our attention.  When we focus on absence, we experience more absence.  If we focus on what is present in our lives, we attract even more abundance and life keeps getting bigger.

What’s a limiting belief that’s holding you back?  How would it feel to counter it with a positive belief?  Please comment and share!

Dreaming Big: Flamenco in Madrid

Almost two years ago, my husband and I were planning a trip to Spain.  We’d had a hard couple of months, and needed an adventure in a beautiful place to reconnect with each other and with the beauty and vitality of the world.

Ever since a family vacation to Ireland and England at age 9, I’ve been passionate about traveling.  I can still picture the verdant fields, castles, and windy cliffs with the ocean below.  At 17, I spent two weeks in Toulouse with my French class, and at 20 I spent my junior year in Paris.

Traveling has also always been a core part of my relationship with my husband.  We camped in New Hampshire, canoed in Quebec, honeymooned in Paris, and took a ferry from Rome to Sicily (seeing Stromboli, Mt. Etna, and the ancient Greek Valley of the Temples in Agrigento).  I love his openness to and excitement about the world, which inspires the same in me.

I honestly didn’t know a lot about Spain before we went, but I knew I wanted to see flamenco dancing–which we did.  We also walked on the walls of Avila, toured the beautiful Alhambra in Grenada, and ate oranges that we picked ourselves in Seville.  We budgeted for the trip, secured the vacation time, and our dream became reality.  We rented a car and drove south from Madrid to Andalucia.  The mountains, miles upon miles of olive groves, and abandoned castles were breathtaking.  I felt truly free, immersed in a beauty that I had no part in creating.

It’s important to dream big, and equally important to make those dreams a reality, even when other people aren’t happy about them.  (They’re your dreams!)  They can be flexible, evolving over time as we get more information and our vision gains clarity–but we owe it to ourselves to pursue them.  Life isn’t meant to be endured, but to be lived.

As a couple, we’re currently toying with a few dreams (as documented in several Google Docs and Excel spreadsheets):  building a deck on our roof that would have views of a park, a stadium, and the Empire State Building; taking a 10-day trip around Bavaria, Germany; and investing in a vacation rental property in Brescia, Italy.

While we may not know the exact shape these dreams will take, we’re doing the footwork of communicating about our hopes and  priorities, researching options, and playing with budgets.  We have engaged an architect.  We have weekly “business meetings” where we review our spending and savings.  We look at pictures of Brescia (that’s the fun part) and property listings.  Even if we decide to use the money elsewhere, it’s perspective-widening simply to imagine what’s possible.

Personally, I recently acted on my dream to mentor a child in Big Brothers Big Sisters.  I had volunteered in the past with New York Cares and really missed it.  The fact that I could develop a long-term mentor relationship with one girl also appealed to me.  Nyshira will be 11 later this month.  A few dates, phone calls, and texts later, I completely love her.

What dreams do you want to achieve?  What’s your vision of your future life?  Is there an area in your career, family, health, or personal growth that you long to develop?  Are you excited to get in shape and train for a 10K race?  Do you secretly want to turn a hobby into a second career or even go into a completely different line of work?  Do you want to spend more time with your family, or travel the world?

Our dreams matter.  They speak to our deepest (often our highest) selves.  What might at first seem impractical or too hard just might be the thing that changes our lives–if we’re willing to listen to that inner voice, and do the footwork.  It won’t happen without our attention and effort, but the results are worth it.  What’s more, when we’re our best selves, we’re able to be of greater service to others.  We can share our abundance, unencumbered by fears.  So don’t be afraid to dream big, but don’t stop there.

The Meadowlands: Finding Peace in Unlikely Places

I have a couple of commuting options from my home in Newark, NJ, to my magazine publishing job in midtown NYC.  I can take the PATH, a light rail train that is convenient but rarely has a free seat during rush hour; or I can take NJ Transit.  Both are prone to delays, particularly during rush hour, but NJ Transit has two advantages.  First, I always get a seat in the morning.  Secondly, part of the ride is through the Meadowlands, a surprisingly intact natural oasis just miles from factories and the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels.

During the migratory seasons, I love being on the lookout for birds.  I often see a pair or a family of ducks swimming in the stream alongside the train.  (In spite of the Audubon’s birdwatching weekend my husband and I took in Cape May, the epicenter of avian migration, my bird identification skills are less than stellar, but my avian appreciation is sky-high.)

My commute varies in length depending on congestion, but it’s typically an hour and 15 minutes door-to-door.  That includes a brisk walk through the Ironbound, a train ride, and a transfer to the subway.  I’m thankful that I don’t spend that time behind the wheel of a car.  Nevertheless, it behooves me to spend those 12 1/2 hours a week wisely.

I use the time in a few ways.  I admit, I start out by checking email, weather, and taking a quick peek at Facebook.  Next, I typically share a moment I’m grateful for on Happier, an app dedicated to noticing and recording moments of happiness.  Then I turn off my iPhone and meditate, pray, or do some reading to tune in spiritually and center me in the present.

If I’m on NJ Transit, by this point the train has passed the winding Passaic River that empties into Newark Bay, affording an unexpectedly lovely view, and is approaching the Meadowlands, pictured above.  The stadium where the Seahawks trounced the Broncos on Sunday is in this ecosystem.

Nature centers me and offers me a happiness unlike any other  Whether I’m hiking at the Cumberland Gap on the border of TN/KY/VA, or looking across the sound at Martha’s Vineyard, there’s an ineffable vastness and serene beauty that engulfs me just by seeing it.

I have noticed it can be tempting to tune out the beauty of nature either because we’re used to it (it feels familiar), or we don’t expect it (it seems incongruous).  Who would expect such a beautiful area with ducks, reeds, rivers and streams in-between two major northeastern cities–with factories on the horizon, no less?

Yet there we find ourselves, myself and the other morning commuters, and we’re presented with a choice to tune into our surroundings or to tune out, lost in the distractions of our smartphones or our own whirling thoughts.

For today, I choose to tune in, to soak in beauty where I find it, no matter how little I expect it or how easy it would be to overlook.  Then, when the train takes 40 minutes instead of the scheduled 20, I will have filled myself up with all the goodness and beauty available to me in that moment.

And when I feel flustered again later in the day, I can recall it in my mind’s eye and again find a moment of peace.