3 Ways to “Joy-up” Your Life

man-372099If you suffer from long-term feelings of loss, sadness, depression, anger, or any other emotion that leaves you apathetic and drained of energy, I ask you to love yourself enough to see a professional. Whether you turn to your primary care physician or a therapist, what’s important is that you take the important first step in feeling better.

For those who suffer occasional feelings of “being down” sometimes all you need is a gentle reminder for how to feel better. In my role as a life coach, I’ve become an expert at helping people feel better. If you’re looking for a dose of happy feelings, here are three ways to joy-up your life!

1) Become a joy-seeker

In her book  Abundance of Joy: How to Live a Joy-Filled Life, Helen Martino-Baily dedicates an entire chapter to “Spotting Joy”. In it she writes that people are not very skilled at looking for things to make them feel better.

Too many times our eyes are focused on our personal problems, often blaming others for the lack of joy that we feel. The truth is, other people play a part in our joyful experiences, but it’s not up to others to make us feel joyful. Living life with joy is our own responsibility!

To shift this perspective, Martino-Bailey suggests an exercise of joy-spotting, the mindful practice of looking for anything around you that delights your heart. When you see something that makes you smile, she suggests that you imprint an image of the moment in your mind. That way when you think about it later, you can easily experience the good feelings again.

Another expert on joy-spotting is author Shann Vander Leek, the founder of True Balance International, and the co-founder of Anxiety Slayer. On her blog, she describes the art of joy-spotting as “cultivating keen awareness of the great and crushing beauty that is all around you.” That practice has helped Shann become more present to experience moments of joy.

I cherish experiences like watching the sunset over Lake Michigan, spotting a Bald Eagle flying over northern skies, or the sound of my sweet Mulan kitty purring her face off. I adore listening to my daughter laugh and witnessing my husband create something new with great care. I love adding paint to an empty canvas and love to enjoy a peaceful nap on a weekend afternoon. These are the precious moments of being alive.

Like any daily practice, over time your mind will become trained to look for such moments of joy and delight. And that adds up to a lot more happy moments.

When you slow down and actively seek to be in the moment, what can you see that delights your heart?

2) Speak gently to yourself (and others)

One of the most telling indicators that define how you feel about yourself is how you speak about yourself. Identifying where you have pockets of doubt in your belief system will enable you to understand, at the deepest levels, how much love you have for yourself and the life you have been given.

As a life coach, self-love is another one of those important transformational topics for clients. For example, I write about how negative self-talk can derail you in How to Put the Brakes on Self Sabotage. I talk about the actual energy that thoughts create and take you all the way back to Plato in Keep it Positive: How Thoughts Create Energy.

Like the process of practicing gratitude, there is scientific evidence around the benefits of thinking positively about yourself and the world around you — namely, improved health. In fact, the Mayo Clinic cites that positive self-talk can:

  • Increase life span
  • Lower rates of depression
  • Lower levels of distress
  • Increase resistance to the common cold
  • Enhance psychological and physical well-being
  • Reduce risk of death from cardiovascular disease
  • Expand coping skills during hardships and times of stress

So how do you move from negative self-talk to leveraging the power of positive self-love? As an example, let’s say you missed a deadline. In your frustration, you might say, “I’m a complete failure!” Or if you neglect to exercise for the fourth week in a row and are feeling totally put out with yourself, you might say, “I’ll never get into shape.”

If what you hear yourself saying is disempowering and negative, you are allowing negative self-talk to limit the joy you experience. The good news is that it’s easy to eliminate negative self-talk once you realize you are falling into that trap.

When you catch yourself thinking or mumbling sojoymething negative, stop yourself. Gently acknowledge those thoughts are coming from old programming. Remind yourself that you are in the process of transforming to a more joyful life. Then say what you want to believe. For example, “If I explain to my manager that I’m managing multiple projects with pressing deadlines, I’m sure she will give me an extension.” Or, “I’m sure that if I look at alternative exercise programs, such as group walking, I will feel excited and motivated to exercise.”

Once you eradicate the habit of negative self-talk, you’ll begin to feel increasingly positive. What’s more, once you think, speak, and feel better about yourself, your positive perspective enhances your emotional connection and good-will toward others. 

What negative self-talk will you eliminate? What loving, supportive language will you replace it with?

3) Play often

Even I don’t play nearly as often as I should, but the benefits of adult play are numerous. According to the article The Benefits of Play for Adults from HealthGuide.org, a non-profit dedicated to mental health and well-being, the benefits of adult play include:

  • Stress relief. Play is fun and can trigger the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
  • Improved brain function. Playing chess, completing puzzles, or pursuing other fun activities that challenge the brain can help prevent memory problems and improve brain function. The social interaction of playing with family and friends can also help ward off stress and depression.
  • Enhanced creativity. Young children often learn best when they are playing—and that principle applies to adults, as well. You’ll learn a new task better when it’s fun, and you’re in a relaxed and playful mood. Play can also stimulate your imagination, helping you adapt and problem solve.
  • Improved relationships. Sharing laughter and fun can foster empathy, compassion, trust, and intimacy with others. Play doesn’t have to be a specific activity; it can also be a state of mind. Developing a playful nature can help you loosen up in stressful situations, break the ice with strangers, make new friends, and form new business relationships.
  • Sustained youthfulness and energy. In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” Playing can boost your energy and vitality and even improve your resistance to disease, helping you feel your best.

Adults stop playing for lots of reasons. Maybe you feel that playing is a waste of time and that you should be doing something “productive” instead.

Here’s the deal. Playing is as important to adults as it is to children. It’s not about “doing something” it’s about doing nothing so you can be joyfully in the moment, as Gavin Pretor-Piney claims in his 2013 TedGlobal lecture titled “Cloudy with a chance of Joy.” As the founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society, with more than 38 thousand members from 113 countries, Pretor-Pinney is an expert on the art of doing nothing. For him, cloud-spotting is the perfect activity to disconnect from the digital world and slow down. 

I must confess, just last weekend hubby and I shared a double hammock to watch the clouds float by. He was better at seeing shapes than I was — the bucking horse, the sly fox. But once he pointed them out, I allowed my imagination to take over so that I, too, saw the beautiful portraits in the sky.

All this to say that playing can be many things. Tag football, board games, swinging at the park, playing with children and dogs, and yes… just laying back and watching the clouds float by.

What kind of play will you make time for in the days and weeks to come?

Ever since launching the first book in my self-empowerment series, The Power of Living Joyfully, and creating a Facebook page dedicated to sharing joyful moments, I’m becoming a joy expert. I find myself blogging about joy, coaching clients exclusively toward joy, and seeking even more of it in my life. Not a bad gig, if I say so myself! If you know someone who could benefit from a good dose of happy feelings, I hope you will share this post with them. Let’s join together and make the world a happier place, one joy-seeker at a time.

You Don’t Have to be on Dancing with the Stars to Benefit from Dance

Dancing with the Stars Title Logo

Okay, I’ll admit it… I was glued to the television Tuesday night, along with my thirteen-year-old son, to make certain my gal Rumer Willis and her partner Val Chmerkovskiy won the coveted Mirrorball trophy on Dancing with the Stars — they did! I love the finals because you see how far these dancers have come. You hear them talk about how dance has benefitted them in so many ways.

While I may not dance like Rumer, I have dabbled in ballroom since the early ’90s — way before Dancing with the Stars brought ballroom rightfully front and center stage. Even as a social dancer, I can attest that you don’t have to be on Dancing with the Stars to reap lifelong benefits from dance. 

To prove my point, I’ve put together my Top 10 for how ballroom dance provides lifelong benefits!

Dance10. Great exercise. This is a no-brainer because dance requires repetition for “muscle memory” to form. It’s impossible for your brain to tell so many different body parts to move exactly this way or that without hours of practice — head here, shoulders there, hips in alignment, arms strong, legs extended — oh, and don’t forget to point those toes! Think about it, you are engaging your brain, heart, lungs, and muscle groups! Not only are you burning calories but, over time, you are toning muscles in your arms, legs, back, and core.

9.  Increases Self-Confidence. As you learn to better control how you move your body across the dance floor, especially in partnership with someone else, there is no way you could not feel better about yourself. Go on and brag on your bad self!

8.  Awesome way to meet fun friends. If you like to dance, you’ll want friends who are active, healthy, and engaging. Yep! You can find them on the nearest dance floor.

7. Keeps you young and energetic. The classic Newtonian Law that a body in motion stays in motion applies to humans, too. Plus, I’m almost positive it confirms that Newton loved to dance.

6. Allows you to appreciate different types of music. When you learn different dance styles you come to appreciate different musical rhythms and beats. Who would have thought I would come to love hip-hop as much as my 13-year-old son loves Fred Astaire? Yet, it’s true!

5. Great for social skills building. Whether asking a partner to dance with you, or declining politely because your feet are killing you, social interaction is a must on the dance floor. This is especially true for social dancing, where the relaxed atmosphere often invites conversation during the dance. Even introverts like me enjoy dancing, because you’re only dancing with only one person at a time. Whew, that’s a relief!

4.  Increases balance. This is huge, especially as you age. Dancing improves the communication between your brain and your muscles, as it isolates the movement of one muscle from another. Trust me, it’s harder than it looks.

dance3. You never stop learning. Aside from always having the opportunity to improve your style, dance is ever evolving. For example, there are 7 different tango styles with a combined syllabus of thousands of steps! That could take a few lifetimes…

2. Wards off dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that the split-second decision making that dancing requires, forces the brain to regularly rewire its neural pathways, thus enhancing your cognitive ability. Check out this article for more on this topic.

1. Dancing makes you feel good! You don’t often see couples on the dance floor with frowns on their faces. That’s because dancing is fun! Engaging in activities that make you feel happy lessens the effects of stress and depression.

What’s the best way to start dancing? I always recommend looking for group classes in your area. Check out dance studios, clubs, and meet-up groups for offerings. Try several different types of dance and work with the one you enjoy most in the beginning. As you become more comfortable on the dance floor and working in partnership, you can always try new dances!

Dancing with the Stars logo: By ABC (ABC Website) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Stop Limiting Yourself: 5 Steps to Take Now

5 StepsEvery self-empowerment guru from Tony Robbins to Oprah Winfrey has made very clear the biggest obstacle to anyone’s personal happiness. Do you know what it is?

Fear? Yes
Insecurity? Yes
Uncertainty? Yes
Unworthiness? Yes

But what all of these things have in common is YOU. Yes, you are the biggest obstacle to your personal happiness and success. But how do you get past yourself to live the life you’ve always wanted? Release the limiting beliefs that hold you back!

Not sure where to start? Here are five steps to get you started.

Five Steps to Releasing Limiting Beliefs

1) Get to the root of your fear

When you take a moment to think about it, ask yourself, “What am I really afraid of?” After all, you are your first line of defense on your road to happiness. You are the gatekeeper to any future you choose. Every time you think of what you want to do or wish you could have, you are the one who ultimately decides the next step. You decide if you move forward with your dream or let it fall by the wayside.

Often when you choose not to pursue a dream, it’s important to determine what is holding you back. Consider the thoughts occupying your mind as you make the final decision. For example, if you wanted to record a piece of your music to share with the world, is your first thought, “There’s no way I can make that happen.” Or maybe you’re thinking, “No one will like it.” In the first example, what might be the root of your fear? Perhaps financial constraints? Technology challenges? Or in the second example, where the fear is all about possible failure.

Once you identify the root of your fear, then you can begin examining alternatives. After all, you don’t want to throw away a dream because you haven’t taken the time to think about all the ways in which you could make it a reality.

2. Take the opposing argument (What if I could?)

So let’s say you’ve identified the fear of failure as the root factor in deciding not to record your music. Each time you allow fear to determine the next steps, you are sabotaging your dreams. What to do instead? Acknowledge your fear and insecurity and then turn the statement into an opportunity to explore. Given the music example, the inner dialog might go like this.

Okay, so I’m nervous about making this a reality. Not only that, I’m terrified no one will like my music. On the other hand, what if I find an easy and inexpensive way to produce my music. And what if people really love it? Wouldn’t that be great? That would be just the affirmation I’m looking for. I’ve got to do this for myself, or I will never know. I’ve decided my next step will be to look into buying a mic so I can record the music myself. I’ve listened to some great music on the Internet that was recording in home studios. If they can do it, I can too!

See how you can choose to talk yourself into doing what you really want to do all along? It’s really about choosing how you want to feel about yourself. If you want to love and respect your dreams, then you can lovingly and supportively explore making them a reality. But it all starts with that inner dialog!

3) Visualize the outcome you want

Take a few moments to close your eyes and visualize yourself doing what you want to do. Imagine yourself recording your music, uploading it to Youtube, and seeing the number of Likes increase every day. Imagine yourself reading the comments and feeling great about the feedback you are receiving.

In your mind, your brain is saying, “Hey! Being an indie musician feels pretty good!”

That’s exactly where you want your mind to be — in the “can do” side of things and not the “never gonna happen” side! Make it a practice to visualize the outcome you want, and allow yourself to truly feel the happiness and joy of the moment.

4) Look for ways to praise yourself and everyone else

If you are always looking for what’s right instead what’s wrong, you’re going to find a lot of opportunities for praise. So you’ve researched the best microphones for recording music, and found one at a great price. You’ve recorded your first song, uploaded it, and have received lots of positive comments. Take credit for doing this on your own! Blog about it! Share it on your social media venues. Let others know that, in spite of your fears, you chose to believe in yourself. Talk about what you are most proud of. Comment on the most creative aspect of making your dream a reality. No need to be obnoxious or brash, but praising yourself — especially when you’ve moved past your limiting beliefs — not only helps you, but encourages others to do the same.

Speaking of others, make it a habit to acknowledge your biggest supporters. The first person to give you a thumbs up or leave a glowing comment. Talk about the technical elements (software, hardware, YouTube videos) that helped you achieve your dream. When you can acknowledge the good in those around you, especially those who support you, then everyone wins.

5) Just do it

To borrow from the famous Nike tagline, at some point you’re just going to have to strap on your favorite sports shoes and jump in with both feet. You’re going to have to trust that, when you follow your passion, only good can come of it. That doesn’t mean there won’t be challenging moments. What it does mean is that, in hindsight, you will be glad that you didn’t allow your limiting beliefs to stand in your way.