Opinion, Yourself

Aggressive Simplicity

You know how sometimes at work you’re asked what your super power is? Sometimes I think mine is “finding complexity”. I love lists so much I could make a list of my lists. I add things to cross them off, which makes it easy to replace accomplishments with activity. Over the last week, I’ve even started referring to work I’m trying to lead as a Rubix’s Cube.

This summer, my family tried out – and loved! – family camp. Rustic cabins, communal bathrooms, family-style dining, new friends and no WIFI. As I told friends what our summer vacation plans were, I’d get two responses: either that it sounded like heaven or like the worst vacation ever. You’d either love or hate family camp – being lukewarm about it all seems unlikely. Camp has an intrinsic simplicity: meals are at set times, rustic means that when the sun goes down it gets dark, and that since we were on an island, swimming and being outside was a default. Being disconnected from our devices meant connection and community existed all around us. All the “science” behind what makes us happy happens naturally at camp – and we were happy at camp. Obviously, I fall in the “I love camp!” camp, and can’t wait to go back.

I’m open about the last weeks of August and first week of September being … not my favorite time of year. It’s when my good days are the days I own my energy. It’s when all my systems and strategies are tested. It’s when I may not be at my best, and hopefully I’m not at my worst, either. Gretchen Rubin writes about September being the new January, a way to mark a fresh start without “waiting” for the new year.

Goodbye, summer! Hello, fall!

This year, I’m challenging myself to continue the “aggressive simplicity” I learned from camp. “Aggressive simplicity is the counterbalance to toxic American busy-ness” is one of my new mantras.

Last year, I introduced 5 questions to find your Happier Labor Day. This year, there is only one question: How can I strip things down to what is essential?

That means a daily to-do list of no more than three things – which requires ruthless prioritization. It means one personal priority a day – which diminishes my also amazing superpower of being able to rationalize almost anything – including not doing something.

Help me learn from you! How do you simplify when things seem complex?

Opinion, Yourself

Saying Yes… and No

You know that feeling when there are ideas swirling around your head that keep bumping up against each other, yet haven’t yet been distilled into what is essential? I’m there with thoughts about setting boundaries at work, self- and community- care and how I define both happiness and success.

I need Dumbledore’s pensieve so that I can poke at all these thoughts and eventually have clarity emerge.

In the meantime, the conflict between when to say yes and when to hold the line of no when it comes to work, family, friends, and my own priorities keeps bubbling to the surface . This is likely because our summer is pretty booked up – to the point I’ve added a few “DO NOT SCHEDULE ANYTHING” days to the family calendar. We need to protect a few scattered and precious “home days” to keep the home front in balance.

Two of my favorite happiness-adjacent books also highlight this yes/no conflict: Shonda’ Rhimes’ The Year of Yes shares what happened when she said yes to anything that scared her for one year. Katrina Onstad’s The Weekend Effect makes a strong case for saying no to being overcommitted so that families can reclaim weekends and time to unplug.

So when to say yes and when to say no?

A guidepost I use is the reminder that saying yes (or no) to something is by default saying no (or yes) to something else.

Yes to reading means no to some sleep. Yes to checking in at work after my son goes to bed means no to chatting with my wife. And so on.  

The self- and community-care confusion gets woven in when self-care slides into “treat yourself” appointments to be scheduled rather than ongoing self-nourishment. There’s something there, too, about self-care morphing into an additional task over an authentic community connection. A manicure isn’t self-care when I’m exhausted and dehydrated.

The Yes/No check-in with myself has been incredibly useful over the past few months: I’ve caught myself saying yes to things that then forced a “no” to the things I honestly, truly need and care about. Yes to an additional volunteer activity means a no to additional time writing. Yes to designing my own workshops means no to Schitt’s Creek. It’s a prioritization short cut that’s helping me set new boundaries at home and at the office.

I’d love to know how you set boundaries and decide on your priorities…
or if you have a pensieve you can to share.

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.


  • 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!

Opinion, Yourself

Wear Your Happy

My “Wear Your Happy” theory:
Success starts with happiness, therefore “dressing for success”
starts with wearing what makes you happier.

What you wear impacts your behavior, and if you want to be happy, you have to feel happy. As we get ready to move into autumn, with tall boots and blanket scarves, let’s take a minute to strategically curate a capsule wardrobe that makes you happier. Limiting wardrobe decisions each morning means there is more bandwidth for more critical decisions throughout the day. It also decreases clutter and streamlines shopping. And makes it more likely you’ll be able to find your own style and signature ‘uniform’.

Continue reading “Wear Your Happy”