Living History

While visiting various cities and historical monuments on an epic road trip in 2012, I was struck by the contrast to my school history classes.  Seeing sites like the Kearney Archway, the St. Louis Gateway Arch, the Statue of Liberty and the Boston State Houses all helps bring a sense of reality to the past.  When before, it was a meaningless and confusing jumble of names, dates and places, now I have a frame of reference for events I’ve learned about.

This makes me wonder how we can bring history to life for today’s students.  How do we connect these facts of the past to their lives?  For example, I was struck (and a bit embarrassed by my consumer nature) when looking at an old covered wagon that took entire families’ belongings on an arduous journey into unknown territory.  I had just completed a move of my own, following the Oregon Trail backwards, with possesions for just myself that would easily pack four covered wagons!

What are the connection points with the diverse and unique students learning history today?  We know that we must learn from the past in order to prevent repeating the same patterns over and over.  I think this is one of the core needs in reforming education–connecting academic content to the everyday lives of people, now and for their future.  Knowledge then becomes applicable and relevant, and even better, engaging!


Practice Saying No

It is important to most of us that we are liked by others–we want to belong and feel good in our relationships.  This has a frequent side effect of saying yes to people and activities that are not aligned with your goals, purpose or values.  Sometimes we get to the point where we’ve said yes to so many things, just to make other people happy, that there is no time left to do what makes us happy.

Enter the art of saying “no.”  You don’t have to say no forever, just no for now.  You can be nice about how you say no.  Use phrases like, “That sounds like a great opportunity, I’m just going to have to pass right now.” or “I really appreciate your asking me, I’m just not available to help with this right now.”  Avoid making excuses.  Just say no, and stop talking.  You can even refer the asker to another person you know who might be more available or interested.

As you practice saying no, you will find your time opening up and shifting to your own priorities and values.  When you give up pleasing others at the expense of yourself, you’ll find yourself more focused, energized and optimistic.  And, you leave yourself room to say yes to the really amazing opportunities that come along!


One of the most toxic things we can do to ourselves is to hold grudges or hold onto negative thoughts about or towards another person.  We usually feel that we are somehow hurting that person who hurt us by spending a lot of time and attention in negative ways toward that person.  Or sometimes, we just keep reliving the trauma or incident and being angry over and over again.  Who does this really hurt?  That person?  No, they are usually off doing their own thing completely unaware of the stress and negativity you are under due to their actions.

The only person you are hurting is yourself.  Wouldn’t you rather be free of that old issue, let it go, and move on with your life?  Anger and hate are like a poison to our bodies, both physically and psychologically.  When you are willing to forgive the other person for what they did, and truly let it go, ongoing health problems can magically disappear and you will often begin to feel better emotionally.

So, are you willing to let it go?  Are you willing to forgive?  Forgiveness is not condoning the actions of the person, it is merely saying “I know you were doing the best you could with the limited skills, knowledge and abilities you had, and I forgive you.”  It doesn’t make it okay, but at least you don’t have to keep wasting your time, energy and thoughts on that person.

So go ahead and forgive them.  Then forgive yourself, too, for whatever you need to be forgiven for.  You are an amazing being and you deserve to have happiness and joy in your life.

Following the Signs

In life, we get lots of feedback to let us know when we are on the right track or if we are off course.  These signs can come from the external world, such as comments from people in your life and obstacles coming up as you try to make things happen.  They can also come from inside yourself, as a gut reaction, an intuitive response or just a sense of knowing what to do or not to do.

We’ve all have those signs show up.  The ones that warn us we are going off course are yellow alerts–just little warning lights that come up over and over and get stronger and stronger if we ignore them.  Sometimes it feels like we’re being hit upside the head with a 2X4 when we get some feedback!  If it gets to this point, you can likely look back at your life and see other more gentle alerts that were there all along but you didn’t pay attention to.

We also get lots of small alerts or green lights when we are on the right track.  Sometimes these are even harder to see, because we write them off as luck, or happenstance, or serendipity, not as clear messages from the external world or our own intuition to point us in the right direction.

So how can you use the alerts and signs you are given more effectively?  Pay attention.  Notice when something comes up related to a question you’ve had or a problem you are trying to solve.  Thank the source of feedback, out loud or just in your mind.  Don’t write it off as chance–if you act as if these bits of feedback are intentional signs, you start to see more and more of them.  And that gets you to using your internal and external guidance systems in ways that catapult you toward your dreams!

In the Mood

Have you ever waited to do something until you felt you were in the mood?  Or declined to do something because you weren’t in the mood?  What determines our mood?  We usually think it is our circumstances, something outside of our control.  But in truth, what decides our mood is us.  We have the opportunity to choose our response at any time to any situation we face, changing the mood we experience.

You may have heard stories or experienced times when two people were in the exact same event and responded completely differently, resulting in a different mood.  For example, if you are stuck in rush-hour traffic, you can choose to enjoy your favorite music, audio book or program while driving and have your car stocked with snacks and something to drink, knowing you are going to be spending a long time in the car, often not moving.  Or you can get angry, reacting to the situation, blaming the other drivers, honking your horn and working yourself into a state of stress and increased blood pressure.  The same situation, two different responses.  Do you imagine your mood would be different if you chose the first response rather than the second?

It really is up to you to choose your mood.  People can be happy for no reason, and as Marci Shimoff says, there’s no reason not to be happy most of the time!  So next time you’re not in the mood, decide to change it and see what happens!

Ducks in a Row

We often talk about getting organized and putting things in order, using the phrase, “getting our ducks in a row.”  Sometimes this becomes a crutch or an excuse to put something we want to do, be, or have off to someday.  If we wait until all our ducks are nicely lined up, when we have all the details figured out and know the whole plan, we may have missed the opportunity.

In reality, when a mother duck works to get her ducklings in a row, she may quack and herd and nudge, expending lots of energy trying to get her ducks to line up.  But the moment she gets into action, and begins walking, the miracle happens–the ducklings line right up to follow her.  This is a great metaphor for life.  We can spend lots of energy going nowhere but spinning in circles trying to get our ducks in a row.  Or we can simply begin moving toward our goals with whatever information we currently have, and know that the ducks will line up behind us as we move, without effort on our part.

Success author Jack Canfield, shares a visual in the movie, The Secret.  He describes movement toward a goal as seeing the next step and taking it, and then taking the next step as it shows up.  It is like driving at night, where you can only see the parts of the road reflected in your headlights.  You don’t wait until it is light and you can see the whole route to drive.  You simply keep moving in the direction you can see–and as you go in faith, the headlights continue to light more and more of the way, getting you to your destination.

Catch some Zzzzzs

When we are busily rushing through our lives and looking at where we can pull more time from, we often sacrifice our sleep.  But getting high-quality sleep in proper amounts for your body is what keeps you fresh, energized and able to accomplish more in less time.  It is quite the catch-22!  Most people need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night, according to many experts.  Are you getting that amount of sleep?  If not, you are putting your health at risk because you may not be allowing your body enough time to recuperate from the day and regenerate the cells needed to keep you going full speed ahead.

Here are some tips to help you catch some ZZZs:

1. Be consistent.  Going to sleep and waking at the same time every day of the week helps your body to know it will be getting enough sleep and when to expect it.  That includes on weekends.  If you’re still feeling tired, take a short nap mid-day.

2. Shut off the technology.  Turn off all electronics at least an hour before lights out.  The light emitted from your computer screen, kindle, TV or cell phone turns on parts of your brain that should be winding down as you near bedtime.  Consider using low-watt lighting or yellow lights to cue your brain to begin producing sleep chemicals.

3. Create a bedtime routine.  Instead of checking email, playing a video game or watching the news, try relaxing with a good book, drinking some herbal tea, taking a hot bath or shower or doing some other relaxing form of self-care to help you unwind and begin relaxing.  Maybe you want to journal any thoughts that are on your mind before you go to sleep, or visualize your goals so your subconscious can go to work on them overnight.

4. Create a sleep-inducing environment.  Make your room as dark as possible for sleep time.  Use blackout curtains or sleep with an eye mask to block out the lights of civilization that simulate the sun of daytime.  Use repetitive noise or white noise with a fan or noise machine to lull yourself into sleep.  Remove anything that blinks, glows or otherwise can disrupt your sleep patterns from your bedroom.

Using these tips can help you achieve more restful sleep, which allows you to prepare for the coming day and awaken energized and refreshed.

Renew Your Routine

We humans are hard-wired to respond to structure, routine and consistency.  It is part of why we are so resistant to change.  When we have a predictable routine to follow, our subconscious brains “relax” out of the high-alert state and can shift our mental energy to other things than our survival and safety.  Routines and structure allow us a sense of control over our world, a feeling of safety and security.  While we don’t want to become stuck in a rut and be inflexible when change comes along, we can greatly benefit from renewing the routines in our lives that help us.

Think about it–you’re already engaged in lots of routines as it is.  You most likely go through the morning routine in the same way in the same order every day, you get dressed with the same side of your body going first each time, you drive to work or other favorite places along the same route you always take.  This time of consistency puts your mind on autopilot, and allows you to use your conscious thoughts to solve problems, come up with new ideas, and respond to more important issues in your life.

One of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal is our penchant for habit.  And as we know, this can be a double-edged sword because it is just as easy to create bad habits as it is to create good ones.  The key is to choose which habits you want to develop and then engage in those actions over and over on a consistent basis until the actions become part of your routine and you no longer have to think about them.  You essentially develop a new neural pathway for that behavior in your brain.

So which habits and routines can you freshen up and renew?  As we wind down the year, it is a great time to reflect on what has been working for us so we can do more of that, and what has not served us so we can stop doing those things.  Take a look at your routines and decide which ones you will focus on renewing!

Empower vs. Enable

When we come from a place of service, which is so important in our making a difference for others, we want to do whatever we can to help people.  Often this is uplifting, empowering and useful.  But every once in a while, instead of empowering people to take on the tools that they need to be successful, we enable them by doing the work for them.

This reminds me of an old Japanese proverb: If you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day.  If you teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for a lifetime.  The first part, just giving something to someone, is enabling if it is done over and over again.  The second part, teaching a person to be self-sufficient, is truly empowering.  You can tell which you are doing by whether you are still needed by the other person over time.

It is so easy for us to slip into enabling, because we have resources and knowledge, and it is sometimes simpler to just do it ourselves for another person than to let them try, make mistakes, learn and grow.  But when we just do it, we do a huge disservice to the person we think we are helping.  They learn nothing at all from the experience, other than that they are somehow “less than” and must rely on others to help them survive and succeed.  Is that really the message we want to be spreading?  Of course not!  So take a look at your actions as you come from a heart of service.  Are you truly serving by empowering people to be successful after you are gone?  If so, great!  If not, start moving toward that approach and REALLY be of service.

Setting Your Course

The best way to predict your future, whether in business or in your personal life, is to create it.  By setting clearly defined, written goals, you are on the first step to achieving the future you desire.  People and organizations who have written, measurable goals are much more likely to achieve success in the areas that are important to them.  Research in the area of goals and success states that only 10% of people have specific, written goals, and seven out of those ten achieve their goals only about half the time.  So how can you increase your odds of success?

Here are some steps to setting and achieving your goals:

  1. Start from your purpose, mission and vision.  Think about what is most important to your organization or yourself.  What is your core purpose?  What mission do you wish to fulfill this year?  As you define this “big picture,” make sure the goals you set align with it.
  2. Create the ideal future.  What will your future look like once you’ve achieved the goals you’ve set?  Create a picture in your imagination of what you will feel like, what you will be doing, what others around you will be doing, and how your life will be once this goal is achieved.  Step into that imagined picture in your mind, and really be there!  Include sounds, smells, tastes, tactile experiences to make it even more real.  This helps your subconscious start working with you to achieve your goal.
  3. Make your goals SMART.  Well-written goals have the following components:

Specific: Clearly define what you are going to do.  What, why, and how the goal will be accomplished.

Measurable: Set a way to measure whether the goal is complete or not.  You and anyone else should be able to look at the criteria and state whether the goal was met.

Attainable: Choose goals that stretch you, but that are still realistic.  You want to be truly committed to the goal, not set something so out of reach that you will give up.

Relevant: Is this a goal that is important to you?  Your goals should be something you really get behind and are committed to, not what someone else says you should do.

Time-bound: Set a timeframe for the accomplishment of your goal.  You need to have a deadline to aim for.  Remember that the goal itself is the important part, and the deadline can shift as you learn more along the way.

  1. Plan ahead for obstacles.  We all have weaknesses that come up as we pursue goals, such as fear, procrastination, lack of knowledge or skill, etc.  Think ahead about what may be an obstacle in the achievement of your goal, and come up with some solutions that can help you overcome the obstacles.
  2. Chunk it down.  Sometimes our really big goals can seem overwhelming and we can’t even get started on them.  Try breaking the goal down into chunks that are more manageable.  For example, if you have a big research report, think about the various components that need to happen along the way, and set sub-goals for each.  Within those sub-goals, look at the actions you need to accomplish and chunk it down even further.
  3. Start now.  Just do it, as Nike says.  Don’t put off work toward your goals—if you do, you’ll find it is this time next year and nothing has happened.  Even if you don’t know where to start, pick something you can take action on.  Once you begin, you gain momentum that can take you through to completion.
  4. Take consistent action.  They say that if you want to cut down a huge tree, and you go out every day and take five swings with your axe, eventually the tree will come down.  Take some kind of action daily toward your goals.  If you take action, eventually you will achieve the goal!

Now, you’ve set the course for your future.  And just like on any journey, unseen obstacles may arise that require you to be flexible and adapt to changing environments.  Be willing to go for the ride, and know that you will be able to handle everything that comes your way.  Stay focused on your goals and the end vision, and make course corrections to keep you on track.  Above all, stay motivated and never give up!