15 minutes happier

Cascading Habits

I’ve been feeling as if life is more hectic than I’d like recently. The end of the school year does this to many of us – I know I’m not alone! Mix in a threenager, some big projects at work and increased commitment to this blog and helping other to “work your happy”, and some days it feels like lazy days of summer are something of a nostalgic past, not my immediate future.

I came across a Harvard Business Review article encouraging focus on just a few key habits to help introduce stability when life is busy. It was a good nudge to reflect on what habits I’d slipped into – or given up – that could help reclaim a little more space for myself.

I found myself wondering what three habits I could promise myself I’d stick to – no matter what. I can’t pledge to give up coffee, but I can pledge to drink enough water each day. After all, I can hydrate well even if I end up on video calls for most of my day. Meditation for five minutes? If I can’t find five minutes… well, let’s be honest – I can. And I can get to bed by 10 PM each night. It’s a well documented if not well-researched fact that if I don’t get enough sleep I turn into my own evil twin.

I’ve started thinking of these three habits as my cornerstone habits – if they slip, I’ve basically lost my foundation and everything is shakier than necessary.

Wondering what your own cornerstone habits are?

15 minutes happier

Seasonal Bucket Lists: 15 Minutes Happier

This past Sunday, my family kicked off our Memorial Day to Labor Day tradition: Ice Cream Sundays! We visit our local creamery each Sunday evening during the summer months.

It’s an easy family activity that helps make summer memories, establishes a routine and since it ends at Labor Day, keeps ice cream treats a little special.

Oh Sullivan Farms Ice Cream, You Complete Me!

This annual traditional kicked off a conversation about “what we each are most excited to do this summer”… and our summer bucket list was born!

Kayaks | Cider Bellies | OtterFest | Tomato plants | Swimming | Fireworks | Lobster…
these and more each all made the Summer 2019 list.

What’s on your seasonal bucket list?

15 minutes happier

Quarterly Happiness Review

Oh April! Three months of 2019 behind me, and I am honestly wondering what happened to March. Seriously, where did it go?

Like big corporations check numbers at the end of each quarter, I’ve recently started holding a QHR (Quarterly Happiness Review) with myself. This year, I’ve given my QHR a little more structure: a template helping me to reflect and to look ahead and find a little extra happiness.

April is an especially critical time: the first quarter of the new year is over. What were all those New Year’s intentions I set? Do I still think is they are important? Have I chipped away at my goals? What do I want to happen between now and July 4th? If something has slipped, now is the time to either let it go or to get focused again.

Here’s how to get started with your own QHR.

Supplies:

  • Pen, paper, highlighters, stickers (if you want to get a little crazy)
  • 30 – 60 minutes (or more) uninterrupted time

Instructions:
Using the Work Your Happy QHR template, or a blank piece of paper, reflect on the past three months. The template is just a guide: make it your own. I draw mine in my Passion Planner – I want all my plans and goals in once place. Blank paper works, too!

Section 1 | Acting with Intention:

  • Focus: What are your 2 – 3 priorities for the next 3 months? How will you know if you’re on track? What can be measured?
  • Flex: Work with this section in a way that makes sense for your personal goals. I make mine two sections: 1) things that will take me all year to do that I can easily measure and 2) things that either will or will not be done at the end of the quarter.

Section 2 | Seasonal Bucket List

  • Write down the fun stuff! What do you want to this season? 
  • Get outside: Make sure you’re getting fresh air and sunshine.
  • Break routines: What’s something new you can try? Something you want to learn?
  • Manage expectations: What expectations do you have about holidays or vacations that are coming up? What are you must-dos? What can you let go to keep things more simple and manageable?
  • Tip: Keep this list to under 12 ideas – that’s one a week, and you want to set yourself up for success

Section 3 | Getting Things Done

  • Assign milestones for your top priorities.
  • Plan any key social plans or special events.
  • Refer back to this space for notes thoughts to remember.

Section 4 | Reflect

  • Gratitude: Who or what really came through for your this quarter? What was making you happy on a regular basis?
  • Toot your horn! Where did you knock it out of the park? Where can you give yourself credit or a pat on the back for being awesome?
  • Now I know: What did you learn? What are you going to carry forward?

Why It Works:

Putting pen to paper works some magic between our brain and turns it into a commitment to ourselves. Working within just one page means you’ve got to prioritize – three months is both a lot of time to get sh!t done and not enough time to do elaborate planning. Thinking about the specific time of year also makes sure that seasonal traditions and favorite memories aren’t forgotten or rushed out of a sense of obligation. Once you begin doing this each quarter, you’ll have a record to look back and adjust to make sure you’re getting the things done that are important to you.

Share your QHR with #workyourhappy – and if you have your own approach, I’d love to see it.

15 minutes happier

What does Dolly Parton have to do with professional development?

Knowing who you are, and being that version unapologetically, is the cornerstone to being happier version of your best self.

After all, it is the inimitable Dolly Parton who said:

purpose

Knowing who we are is a life-long journey. After many years in HR, I get asked regularly for input on personal branding, self-assessments and professional development resources.

Below are my personal top 5* go-to recommendations for anyone trying to be more of themselves this year:

 

  1. VIA Character Strengths Assessment: Focusing on your strengths is a more fun – and sustainable – approach to personal development. This quick, 15-minute assessment will give you a lot of easily digestible information framed positively. Rather than focusing on strengths-at-work, the assessment focuses on helping you “discover the good in you”.

 

  1. Carla Harris’ Expect to Win, Proven Strategies from a Wall Street Vet: Imagine you had a trusted mentor in your pocket who was willing to share her hard-won experience and life-lessons. That’s what this easy to read, well-organized book is. I’ve quoted it at least once a month to someone since I read it almost 10 year ago. Carla’s practical wisdom holds up and is actionable.

 

  1. The Four Tendencies, by Gretchen Rubin. This is a two-fer: both a book and a quiz. Understanding how you respond to both external and internal expectations can be useful in understanding why you act…and why you don’t.

 

  1. Chris Guillebeau’s The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest that Will Bring Purpose to Your Life: Ignore super lofty title – Chris writes about having a personal goal, big or small, can bring about a happier life. It could be finishing a quilt or traveling to every country in the world. Through interviews with questers, he’s uncovered stories about how it really is the journey that matters.

 

  1. Passion Planner: Studies have shown that writing something down – actually putting pen to paper – has an impact on our how we internalize information. I use this paper-based planner to both set goals and keep myself on track to making progress against those goals every week. I like this planner because there’s space for both work and personal goals and to-dos: it’s one place both integrate and balance the demands on my time.

 

Just for kicks, there is the Official Pottermore Hogwarts Sorting Hat quiz.

And, if Dolly doesn’t feel serious enough for you, turn to Aristotle instead, who tells us that “knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom”.

 

** These are my personal favorites. You know, the views and opinions expressed above are mine alone and do not reflect any official position … and so on.

15 minutes happier

12 Days of Working Your Happy

The 12 Days of Christmas (December 26th – January 6th) is my favorite time of year. I look forward to the post-holiday slow-down so I can reflect on closing out the current year and set intentions for the new year. And this year, I invite you to join me in planning a 2019 to make you happier.

I’ve created a mini-workbook to act as a self-guided course for anyone else interested in Working Your Happy. Designed to take less than 30 minutes a day (with one exception), my 12 Days of Working Your Happy is a personal workbook to guide your 2018 reflections and 2019 happiness.

Download the 12 Days of Christmas 2018 Workbook

Wishing you a joyful holiday season, and happiest of new years!

15 minutes happier, Yourself

15 minutes happier: one day, some day

When to use: When you’re feeling as if everyone else has a claim on your time.

Supplies: The outdoors, a pen or pencil and paper.

Instructions:

  • Take a 10 minute walk – preferably outside. Leave your phone and music behind. The purpose for this quick walk is to be alone with your thoughts.
  • Ask yourself: What would I want to do if I had an entire day to myself?
  • Any thought is valid – you’re brainstorming as you move, so give yourself permission to entertain ideas that might feel crazy or impossible.
  • After 10 minutes (or longer, if you’ve found the time), note the ideas which excited you most. You can save this list to your smartphone, too.
  • Bonus: make a date with yourself to put some of your ideas into action. One day to yourself every three months will have transformative and restorative impact.

 

Why it works:

  • “Take a hike!” is compassionate advice: going outside is proven to have many benefits, including increasing your creativity, focus and connection to others.
  • Walking changes our brain chemistry, and helps us each do our best thinking.
  • Articulation is the foundation“: Clarifying what you want, and being able to verbalize your intentions is the foundation for setting yourself up for success. When  unexpected free day finds it’s way on to your calendar, you now are better positioned to make the most of it.

 

Inspiration: I started thinking about how I would spend a free day to myself after another working mom asked the same question in a discussion group. Over the summer, she was going to have a furlough day each week, and wanted to know what everyone would do with it. The answers ranged from cleaning the house alone to going to a spa to reading at the beach to visiting friends. There’s no right answer, just an answer that’s right for you.

Then I remember that Julia Cameron introduced the concept of an artist’s date in her seminal work The Artist’s Way. One full day as a commitment to your own creative priorities. An artist’s date need not be artistic, just inspiring and restorative. If you’re able to give yourself a day, and are willing to share how you spent it, let me know!

15 minutes happier

Happiness Exercise: Pile of Good Things

pileWhen to use: When you want to bring a little more joy to your day, and aren’t sure where to start.

Supplies: A pen, paper, other pens in different colors, or highlighters.

Instructions:

  • Set a timer for 5 minutes, and write down everything that comes to mind when you ask yourself “what makes me happy?”. This can be either a list or more free-form mind map, just keep writing until the time is up. Now is not the time to edit or erase – your goal is to keep your pen moving for the full five minutes.
  • Once the time is up, use pens in different colors – or highlighters – to circle things you can do weekly, monthly or those which require more planning. Look at your typical week, and see which of the things that make you happy can be scheduled. Like all those women’s magazines say, making an appointment with yourself can be powerful. Honor your happiness commitment!
  • Bonus: Identify five things that can be done in under 10 minutes. Keep that list handy (maybe add it as a note in your smartphone?), and the next time you have small amounts of found time, such as waiting for an appointment, take action on what makes you happy.

 

Why it works:

  • Knowing what makes you happy before it happens helps increase your awareness. Hot coffee in a real mug makes me happier coffee in a paper takeaway cup, and now I notice all the times I enjoy my coffee from a  real mug. I may not drink more coffee, yet I notice my coffee-joy each day.
  • Anticipation of something makes up a significant portion of enjoyment related to that experience. Consider vacations: part of the benefit of a vacation is looking forward to it (as well as the memories it provides).
  • Happiness is a choice: identification and prioritization of what makes us happy means we are choosing happiness more often.

 

Pro-tip: Experiences and connections make us happier than material goods in the long-term. In reviewing your list, keep an eye out for a balance between those things that may skew more towards instant gratification and those which build sustained happiness.

A word of caution: You are in control of your feelings. To paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt, No one can “make” you feel anything without your consent. Your pile of happy things will grow faster if they are not dependent on someone else to do something – focus on what you can control.

15 minutes happier

15 Minutes Happier: Your Best Friend is Write

Happiness Exercise #3: Best Friend Correspondence

When to use: When you’re stressed, you’re working through something difficult or being harsh with yourself.
Supplies: a journal or paper, your favorite pen or pencil
Instructions:
· Carve out 15 minutes that will be interruption-free
· Write a honest-to-goodness old-fashioned letter, as if your best friend was in your shoes, dealing with your stress
· Start with a greeting: “Hey, sweetie!” and “Hello, friend” work for me
· Close your letter: “Hugs”, “Love”, “Call me”
· Take a few minutes to re-read what you wrote, underlining or circling the kind words, encouragement and compassion you’ve likely given your best friend and may have been withholding from yourself

Why it works:
· Self-talk is powerful! What we tell ourselves and what we tell those we love are often very different messages. We are harsh and unkind to ourselves in ways we would never be to our friends.

· Your thoughts shape your experiences. If you’re telling yourself you’re failing, rather than learning, or showing grit, or trying something new, your experience is framed as failure. How you talk to yourself is the cornerstone for shaping how you experience life.

· Writing on paper rather than typing your letter strengthens the connection between what your mind is saying and what your mind is hearing.

Pro-tip: If there are words of compassion or encouragement that came through in your letter that you really need to hear, write those words out several times separately as an approach to more positive affirmations and self-talk.

About 15 minutes happier exercises
Why 15 minutes? Because anyone can find at least 15 minutes in the day for themselves.
Why be happier? Well, why not? To make a business case for this investment of your time, several studies have shown happiness drives success, not the other way around. If we want to succeed in building fulfilling and purpose-driven lives, a good place to start is to make sure we’re doing things to make ourselves happy. Each exercise is designed to be done anywhere and at any time. I like to actually leave my desk for a lunch break a few times a week – not too much to ask! Find 15 minutes in your schedule, and let’s get started. Let me know how your 15 minutes went in the comments – or if you have an idea for a future happiness exercise.

15 minutes happier

15 minutes happier: Rainbow Photo Safari

IMG_2050

Happiness Exercise #2: Rainbow Photo Safari

When to use: When you’re stuck in a routine that feels like a grind or need new perspective.

Supplies: the outdoors, a camera, comfortable shoes

Instructions: On a 15 minute walk, challenge yourself to snap pictures of:

  • Something in each color of the ROY B. GIV rainbow (beginner)
  • Things you see in order of the rainbow: find something red before looking for something orange, and so on (intermediate)
  • Seven things in each color category over 15 minute walks each day of the week: red on Monday, orange on Tuesday, etc. (expert)

Why it works:

  • Taking pictures instead of only noticing the colors around you encourages the mind to shift perceptive
  • Being outside in the fresh air engages all your senses, helping increase the likelihood you’ll focus on being in the moment
  • Looking for specific colors increases the changes you’ll notice something new about your environment – even if it’s your neighborhood you’ve walked daily. Who knew your neighbor has a purple front door?

Pro-tip: Something that is pink may look red when lined up in order with the other colors of the rainbow, and something almost white can look yellow when between orange and blue. Give yourself leeway to be creative in what “counts” in your rainbow.

 

About 15 minutes happier exercises
Why 15 minutes? Because anyone can find at least 15 minutes in the day for themselves.
Why be happier? Well, why not? To make a business case for this investment of your time, several studies have shown happiness drives success, not the other way around. If we want to succeed in building fulfilling and purpose-driven lives, a good place to start is to make sure we’re doing things to make ourselves happy. Each exercise is designed to be done anywhere and at any time. I like to actually leave my desk for a lunch break a few times a week – not too much to ask! Find 15 minutes in your schedule, and let’s get started. Let me know how your 15 minutes went in the comments – or if you have an idea for a future happiness exercise.

 

15 minutes happier

15 Minutes to Happier: Reverse Bucket List

15 Minutes to Happier: Each month, I’ll share an activity to make you happier.

Why 15 minutes? Because anyone can find at least 15 minutes in the day for themselves. Why be happier? Well, why not? To make a business case for this investment of your time, several studies have shown happiness drives success, not the other way around. If we want to succeed in building fulfilling and purpose-driven lives, a good place to start is to make sure we’re doing things to make ourselves happy.

Each exercise is designed to be done anywhere and at any time. I like to actually leave my desk for a lunch break a few times a week – not too much to ask! Find 15 minutes in your schedule, and let’s get started.

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Happiness Exercise #1: Reverse Bucket List
It’s easy to get caught up in the rise and grind of daily life. Focusing on what needs to be done next becomes a habit to make sure nothing really important gets missed. It also means what hasn’t happened – yet – gets more attention than past accomplishments. Your Reverse Bucket List is dedicated to giving yourself credit for your wonderful achievements. 

  • Supplies: pen or pencil, paper, timer
  • Instructions:
    • Set timer for 10 minutes
      • List anything you’ve already done which make you proud
      • After 10 minutes, read through your list and pat yourself on the back
    • Set the timer for 5 minutes
      • Write down the skills, characteristics and lessons learned from what you’ve already done.
      • Post the your list of learnings in a visible place. Use the second list to remind yourself of all the skills, decisions and experiences you already have that will fuel your future.

A note: Do not limit yourself in what is considered an achievement. Now is not the time to censor yourself! Whatever memories you look back on and think “I’m proud of that experience…”, write it down.