Walkman headphones with cassette tape

The Stress-Busting Soundtrack of the 80s

One thing is becoming very clear as Generation X enters AARP territory: we are now in charge of the class (we just let ourselves in, thank you very much) and we just wanna rock.

I follow a few Gen X groups on Facebook, and the nostalgia for 80s music is unbelievably strong.

I think that’s probably true for other generations, but 80s music seems to be in a genre all its own.

We Gen X-ers hang so many different memories on certain songs. We can conjure up all five senses and get right back to that special moment before the first verse of the song is done.

I remember hearing Billy Joel’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” while riding the school bus home in the sixth grade. That’s pretty much the memory, and I’m not sure why just that one detail survived the long arid hallways of my brain.

But when I hear that song now I instantly see myself sitting behind the bus driver feeling pretty good about the clothes I was wearing and wondering what the age of jive was. (Yes, I sat in the front of the bus, and still do. That’s how you stay out of trouble.)

Any song from Chicago 16 brings me back to my heart-a-fluttering days for whatever flavor-of-the-month movie star I was obsessing over.

Thank goodness for streaming and playlists, or I’d be missing out on reliving all this. It’s a great time to be alive!

Lucky for us, the science people can show there’s more to our connection with music than just nostalgia.

Why You Still Want Your MTV

When we listen to music, especially those tracks that are attached to our developmental years, our brain lights up. This isn’t just an emotional response; it’s a complex neurological process.

  • What’s that sound? The auditory cortex in the temporal lobe area of the brain processes the basic properties of music, such as pitch and rhythm. This activation is the initial step in how music is perceived and understood by the brain.
  • You get the feels for the old days: Music engages the limbic system, including the amygdala and hippocampus. The hippocampus is charged with forming and retrieving memories, which explains why music can bring on such vivid memories and emotions.
  • You’re motoring: The cerebellum and motor cortex work together to produce physical reactions like tapping feet or dancing.
  • Not just a simple mind: The prefrontal cortex is the part of your brain that involves planning and anticipation. It’s focused on complex cognitive behavior and decision-making, which is also engaged when we interact with music, such as when we predict the next note in a melody.

That may be the Schoolhouse Rock version of how it all works, but a recent study shows that listening to 80s music may actually relieve stress.

A hair transplant clinic studied over 1,500 adults who underwent mental stress tests while listening to various music playlists spanning different decades. When it came to the 80s playlist, the participants reported a 96% reduction in blood pressure, and 36% reported a drop in heart rate.

Those are two big indicators in managing stress, and this group saw the biggest reduction. That feels like justification to me!

Interestingly, heavy metal came in a solid second place for reducing stress.

Rock on!

Whether you listen to 80s music, you play an instrument, or you can sing all the words to “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” you don’t need a study to tell you that having music as a part of your life will go a long way to help manage stress.

In a crazy world that’s constantly changing, 80s music, or whatever the music of your youth, is a pretty powerful soundtrack between the past and the present. Music is an easy way to sample a simpler time when everything seemed possible and a little less weird.

So crank up that playlist, and fight for your right to … stay calm!

_______________________________

Bellier, L., Llorens, A., Marciano, D., Gunduz, A., Schalk, G., Brunner, P., & Knight, R. T. (2023). Music can be reconstructed from human auditory cortex activity using nonlinear decoding models. PLoS biology21(8), e3002176. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3002176

Pereira, C. S., Teixeira, J., Figueiredo, P., Xavier, J., Castro, S. L., & Brattico, E. (2011). Music and emotions in the brain: familiarity matters. PloS one6(11), e27241. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0027241

Gordon, C. L., Cobb, P. R., & Balasubramaniam, R. (2018). Recruitment of the motor system during music listening: An ALE meta-analysis of fMRI data. PloS one13(11), e0207213. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0207213

Toader, C., Tataru, C. P., Florian, I. A., Covache-Busuioc, R. A., Bratu, B. G., Glavan, L. A., Bordeianu, A., Dumitrascu, D. I., & Ciurea, A. V. (2023). Cognitive Crescendo: How Music Shapes the Brain’s Structure and Function. Brain sciences13(10), 1390. https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci13101390

Casio watch

The Timely Art of Work

Early in my career, I remember a youngish senior director who worked from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. every day. He rarely came in early or left late. You could almost set your Casio watch by his schedule.

This was a busy and fast paced company, and there was always plenty to do. But he rarely wavered from his schedule.

He always got his work done. He was no one’s bottleneck.

As you might expect, he was often the subject of snark and ridicule for his eight-hour day, mostly by his peers. The rest of us thought he was a rock star.

He was knowledgeable, accessible and easy to be around.

One time I asked him if it bothered him that people made fun of his seemingly slacker work ethic.

“If you stop and think about it, eight hours is a pretty long time to do anything,” he responded. “If you can’t get the work done in eight hours, you’re either not really working or you might be working for the wrong reasons.”

🤔

If I hadn’t been so young I might have paid closer attention to his comment. At the time, I just thought he was being clever.

You may think your bursting schedule and overflowing to-do list is a testament to your unwavering work ethic and commitment. But it could also be a subconscious effort to seek validation.

It’s easy to use work to prove our worth, not just to others but also to ourselves. We learn early on in life to validate ourselves based on our output or the accolades we get.

That’s not inherently bad, but if working yourself to near burnout is the only way you can feel good about yourself, it may be time to unlearn some deeply held beliefs and habits.

When you learn how to operate within your capacity, you leave room for creativity, growth and satisfaction.

That sounds like the right reason to me.

Insecurity - pointing fingers at yourself

What Your Insecurities Say About You

Feeling a bit insecure is something we all deal with from time to time. Who hasn’t gone into an important presentation, a big game, or a new support group with some butterflies about how you’re going to pull this off?

I would venture that even today’s most reliable standard bearers of achievement still struggle with those little thoughts that question if they really are this good, or if this is all just one big swindle they are foisting on all of us.

When these thoughts and feelings become a daily chorus, though, they can cloud reality.

Instead of keeping you on your toes in preparation for a good result, insecurity keeps you mired in the weeds of one metric — how you’re not measuring up and you never will.

Despite how many of your friends and coworkers extol your greatness, your thoughts constantly remind you that you’re just not all that.

That’s not exactly a recipe for accomplishment or feeling good.

Worse, if you’ve felt insecure long enough, you’ve become conditioned to hear those thoughts, so you believe them.

This, of course, may be keeping you from accomplishing your most important goals.

What does insecurity look like for you?

For many of us, insecurity is that nagging feeling of not being good enough, that accusatory voice in your head that whispers (or sometimes shouts), “You can’t do this!” or “They don’t really like you.”

It’s like having a persistent shadow of inadequacy that seems to follow you wherever you go.

I always pictured that voice as Lucy Van Pelt from the Peanuts comic strip, that shrill voice berating me over my shoulder with all the things I probably can’t or won’t do.

Maybe for you insecurity is less of an animated voice and more of an action.

  • Maybe you take on more work than you know you can really do well because you crave approval from your boss.
  • Or maybe you micromanage everything — and everyone — in your life because if something doesn’t go according to plan you think it will be all your fault.
  • Perhaps you let others take credit for your good work instead of speaking up for yourself.

There are a zillion ways we let our insecurities hold hostage the things we value most in our lives.

Where do these insecurities come from?

In many cases, our past experiences, especially those from childhood, shape these insecurities. If you grew up in a less-than-ideal home environment, you might be more familiar with this shadow than you’d like.

Maybe you had a parent or sibling who constantly criticized you, or you struggled to get validation and approval from your family in spite of how well you performed.

We take notes about the environments we grew up in, and we try to draw some conclusions about ourselves based on that information.

  • If I share my authentic self with others, I’ll be made fun of or ridiculed. Therefore, my feelings and emotions are not important.
  • If I had been a better student, my parents wouldn’t have been so upset with me all the time. Therefore, I must not be good enough on my own for them to love me.

We go through our early lives in all our domains of home, school, and friends with this observational mindset of “If this happened, then this must be true.” In science, that kind of thinking can be helpful because you wait to see if the data supports your hypothesis.

But it’s not so helpful in non-science life. We can come out of childhood and adolescence believing some pretty amazing and inaccurate things about who we are that go completely unchallenged.

Perception becomes reality

Part of the problem lies in our perceptions of those early events. We took in the events of our early childhood with our five senses (six, if you saw dead people 😂), and we didn’t really have a frame of reference for what we were seeing.

We didn’t have enough life experience to see how similar situations might play out differently in other people’s lives. So we go with what we see in front of us. What else was there?

If you have a sibling, you may have discovered that they have a different outlook on how you grew up. They may have grown up in the same house with you, in roughly the same developmental time frame, with the same set of people.

Yet they may remember things you don’t, or they heard completely different words in a particular conversation. They may have come away from their childhood with a different perspective on the very same events.

That doesn’t mean the events were not dysfunctional or traumatic, if that was your experience. It just means the information your sibling heard and witnessed may have brought them to a slightly (or even vastly) different conclusion about who they are.

This alphabet soup of perspective is what we take into adulthood, and we may not give much thought to any of it until we start trying to challenge ourselves in meaningful ways.

Instead of achieving our goals, to our horror we watch ourselves trashing our good efforts with thoughts and actions that take us further away from success.

The observations of life are so ingrained in us that we don’t stop to ask if we even have all the information. We respond how we have always responded, even if we don’t want to.

That’s why it feels so hard to just make that voice go away or simply take a different action.

You have been living according to a kind of script where you think you have the whole story, but you don’t.

The good news is you can work with that.

The rest of the story

Once you see other stories played out in other lives, you begin to realize that your underlying script might have some real flaws. You start to understand that this script may not take you to the story you want to live out.

  • Maybe it needs to be revised in a couple of areas to get the story back on track.
  • Or maybe it needs a complete rewrite, with new dialogue and better story structure.

Either way, part of the process of dealing with your insecurities is understanding that those insecure voices or behaviors were just your way of dealing with the circumstances life brought you.

Your insecurities are not a character flaw, they are a life raft that you jumped into to get yourself to the next stop (the same way I just jumped into a different analogy there 😬).

Give yourself the grace to view your insecurities as part of how you coped with your past, and work on changing that script to focus on a new and confident story.

Woman asleep wearing a sleep tracking watch

The Problem with Sleep Trackers

Everything runs on data now (and Dunkin’), so it’s easy to hand over the reins to a gadget or an app to find out how we’re doing.

Sleep trackers and apps come up a lot in my work with clients. Because so many people struggling with their mental health have issues with sleep, many of them have resorted to trackers and wearable tech to try to get better data about their sleep patterns.

We’ve got watches, earbuds, and rings, you name it.

In the old days, approximately 2014, you could put your phone under your pillow and it would capture your movements while you slept. That was nice because the warmth from your battery overheating kept your pillow nice and cozy. 🤦🏻‍♀️

Invariably when I ask my clients how well they sleep, they whip out their phone to tell me.

And it almost never reports a good story. There’s always a deficit somewhere in the week prior, leaving my client frustrated and worried about how to interpret and improve their data.

Now we have frustration and worry on top of whatever we’re already working on, which, of course, doesn’t help at all.

Sleep trackers aren’t designed for this kind of scrutiny. There are too many uncontrollable variables in your world that make the data they collect suspect.

At best, they might give you a little peek into an area or two, like how many times you moved around in the night, or how long you were in bed. How does that help you sleep better?

Real, actionable data on sleep comes from a lab in a facility where you are observed in a room while hooked up to wires and monitored. I’m not sure how well I would sleep in that environment.

And believe it or not, those lab tests don’t really measure insomnia. Instead they are looking for sleep apnea or other conditions that might be detrimental to your health.

Still, we let these trackers dictate our mood and ultimately our choices, when they really don’t have the whole picture in terms of what data really constitutes good sleep.

In my opinion, sleep trackers create more stress than they alleviate.

It’s like having a backseat driver in your brain, constantly pointing out every wrong turn. Fine, you only got an hour of REM sleep last night. What exactly are you supposed to do about that?

You can get good, unmedicated sleep using a more empirically-based method like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (I’m certified in CBT-I so ask me more about that if you’re curious 😉).

It takes a bit of time and focus to unlearn some myths and bad habits around sleep, but once you learn them (and apply them), you will be amazed at how much better you feel about your sleep.

And you don’t have to wear your watch to bed unless you’re just super time conscious.

We may need to work on that, too. 😆

At the same time, I’m not a Luddite.

I like technology and apps because they can help us do some things better and faster.

What kind of technology can you use instead of a sleep tracker?

For starters, how about the one that reminds you to land your busy daytime plane and get ready for bed?

Time moves fast at night, especially if you are busy with kids and kitchens.

Once you sit down, it’s easy to let Netflix keep rolling you over to that next episode. (Do you remember when we had to use a remote for that? If you’re old enough, you may remember actually being the remote in your family. Good times.)

Use your calendar app, reminder app, or some proprietary app that does basically the same thing to light up when it’s time to start winding down.

Don’t set a reminder that says, “Go to bed.” No one likes that. You don’t just throw your kid in bed and turn the light out, do you?

No, you get them started with a bath, cozy pajamas, brushing teeth, and then a book, or two, … or ten.

Use your app to remind you of the first step in your own cozy, beddy-bye time ritual. You’ll be a whole lot more excited about a reminder to get in your fuzzy Hello Kitty jammies than in just going to bed.

Another great way to use technology is to capture all the garbage that invariably starts coming to the surface when your brain is taking its last gasps of air for the day.

Whether it’s your Notes app, your Todoist list, your Trello map, whatever, use it to get that stuff out of your head and somewhere else.

No doubt while you’re reading your nighttime print book (because print books don’t give off blue light) you’ll be tempted to wonder if you included the Net Sales Valuation in  your TPS report. Capture that wonderment in your app and move on. You’ll take a look at that tomorrow morning before you send the report.

The best use of an app for sleep is to use a meditation app to seal the deal.

But not just any meditation app, the best is to find one that does a Body Scan Meditation. We’re not emptying our mind or anything transcendental.

This exercise will teach you to relax your whole body bit by bit. We Westerners are a tense bunch, and most of us carry stress in our muscles most of the time.

Even when you feel pretty relaxed when you turn out the light, you will be surprised how much tension is still in your neck and shoulders that you need to release.

Plus, a body scan is a great way to learn to relax during the day, so you can be good and relaxed at work. That would be nice, wouldn’t it?

I think we can all agree that technology is here to stay. But technology should never stress you out, or make you worry about something else.

Use it to help you, and remember, you always have the power to use that power button.

Interested in more witty and informative insights like these?

  • Sign up for my emails to stay updated on my latest articles and projects.
  • Buy my book to start developing good daily mental health habits
  • Work with me one-on-one for sleep coaching or counseling (Florida folks only for counseling).
Interesting...

How Do You Spend Your Downtime?

Cal Newport has done some great work in the area of deep work and productivity. If you are trying to get your act together and produce meaningful work, his books and such will get you where you need to go.
 
Here he has some interesting insight on the way we spend our down time. In the first 20 minutes of this episode, he breaks down the differences between slow distractions and fast distractions, and how they affect us.

Key takeaways for me:

  • “The idle mind is anxiety’s playground.”
  • Two new words I can now use at cocktail parties:
    • simulacrum
    • interstertial
Enjoy!
What do you want?

Mastering Goals and Values in the New Year

The start of a new year always brings with it an evaluation of where you are now against where you want to be.

As humans with the ability to make a big mess of good intentions, we like the idea of drawing a line in the sand and starting over.

That’s what the month of January represents to most of us.

In my own life, and in my work with others, I’ve noticed one of the most obvious missing components in getting where you want to go is, well, knowing where you want to go.

It sounds overly simplistic, but many of us have, at best, a fuzzy idea of exactly what we’re trying to accomplish here.

We set goals every year and, have mercy, do we love setting goals.

  • We make vision boards and post-it-note collages.
  • We create detailed spreadsheets with metrics and columns that do the calculations automatically (sheer wizardry, in my book).
  • We create the perfect environment that uses the perfect tool to do the thing.
  • We shout out to all things social media that this is the year we are gonna get that thing done.

By January 15, which is right about now, we have already figured out that the goals we spent weeks crafting during the ho-ho-ho season have to now be lived out.

And it’s hard.

  • It’s hard to get up early to do the thing.
  • It’s hard to stay up late to do the thing.
  • It’s hard to stay up late to do the thing, and then have to get up early to do the thing.
  • It’s hard to fight against the cobwebs trying to suffocate and trap the momentum of the thing.
  • It’s hard to pay attention to just one thing for more than eight seconds.
  • It’s hard to say no to people and things when you just wanna hang out and be the fun-in-the-sun person (if you live in Florida, this is totally do-able in January).

Some people get super motivated when things get hard.

But for most of us who don’t chase back-to-back Superbowls or Wimbledon wins, it’s easy to get discouraged when you aren’t seeing any progress.

Now you start to wonder if this was even a goal worth pursuing. Why am I even doing this?

Maybe this isn’t the right year, you tell yourself. As if.

Sometimes it’s a discipline thing, and you should, you know, just do it.

But part of the problem is that we haven’t done the hard work of determining what all these goals are supposed to add up to — our values.

We don’t get a lot of instruction on values as kids.

Often we’re asked what we want to do when we grow up. This usually means some kind of career choice that requires specific goals and actions to get there (astronaut, doctor, secretary — literally just those three choices in my own 4th grade class).

Hardly anyone asks us what kind of person we want to be, or what we want our life to represent or stand for. That won’t get you invited to parties.

Early on, we become conditioned to look at goals as a measure of how well our lives are going.

But understanding what you want your life to mean makes all the difference in actually achieving your goals.

The biggest difference between values and goals is this: you will never accomplish your values.

Values are not limited by time or effort, they are always ongoing.

If you can accomplish something, complete it and move on, then it’s not a value. It’s a goal.

If one of your values is to use your business success to improve the lives of others, then you will never accomplish this value.

You may set a goal this year of donating $1 million to your favorite charity, and you may accomplish that.

But you still have plenty of room to continue investing in others. As long as you’re breathing and making money, this effort can continue.

So, financially investing to support the needs of others is one of your values.

Pledging a certain amount this year is one of your goals to help you express this value in your life. You will either accomplish it, or you won’t.

Why is this distinction important?

Confusing goals and values makes it hard to make good decisions, and doubly hard to persevere through challenges.

How do you even know if this is something you should be pursuing?

When you understand what your values are, the opportunities that come your way will either take you towards your values or away from your values.

Honestly, that’s really the benchmark, it’s that simple. For real.

When you have honed in on your values, then it is so much easier to look at an opportunity and decide if it takes you where you want to go.

Yes, I know there are off-the-wall, amazing, unexpected opportunities that happen in life. But if you try really hard, I’ll bet you will find underneath that spontaneous opportunity, it either takes you where you want to go, or it doesn’t.

One of my values is to be a healthy, fit and active grandmother to my two young grandsons so they don’t mimic my grunting noises when I bend over to pick something up.

There are a variety of goals I can choose from to accomplish that value, everything from walking to weight training to martial arts.

I can engage in any of those activities and set goals, but my goals will reflect the fact that I am doing this for my health.

I’m not trying to be world champion (anymore). I’m not trying to be the best at any particular exercise.

I just need it to take me towards the health and energy I need to mix it up in that toddler life.

This takes a lot of pressure off of me because I know why I have the goal and what I need it to do for me. As I get older, my goals may have to change a bit to make sure I’m continuing to move toward that value.

Understanding this concept makes decision-making so much easier, especially when you have multiple variables in play, or you’re choosing between two good things.

It also makes for a more SuperBowl-style steely resolve when things get challenging because you know why you’re doing this in the first place.

Think about it

  • What values are most important to you right now?
  • How do your current goals take you toward these values?
  • Think of a time when your goals didn’t align with your values. What impact did this have on you?
  • What one step can you take today that will move you toward your values? Start there to create meaningful goals for this year!
White daisy in the rain

Growing in the Skin You’re In

Recently, I read about actress and model Pam Anderson’s bold choice to go makeup-free at a high-profile fashion event, embracing life in her 50s with a more unfiltered presence. In fact, she didn’t even bring a stylist with her.

The horror.

Kudos to her, because I’ve seen The Devil Wears Prada, so I’m assuming that’s a very judg-ey crowd.

I think she looks happy and youthful.

Like Pam, many of us reach a stage in life where the urge to conform or create a certain image becomes less pressing…and also pretty exhausting.

So we start questioning: Are we doing this for ourselves or for others?

It’s a valid question. And for a lot of us, it brings on a hopscotch journey of just trying to settle in and feel comfortable with where you are.

We call it “feeling comfortable in our own skin.”

And we do all kinds of things to try to achieve this feeling. We celebrate the things that seem to work, and rationalize away the things that don’t. (I’m not mocking, that is human nature.)

But let’s flip the narrative around a little bit.

What if you learned to embrace the discomfort of being in your own skin?

Walk with me here…

Reaching your 50s often brings a cocktail of discomforts.

  • Let’s be honest, once you enter midlife you find there are some things you didn’t know your body was doing for you until it stops doing those things.
  • Some relationships you thought were solid and healthy you realize through your own discomfort may not be what they seem.
  • Goals and dreams you had when you were younger suddenly don’t seem as achievable or appropriate now, and what are you supposed to do with that?

That’s all pretty uncomfortable.

We like to avoid the uncomfortable.

We want it to just go away so we don’t have to deal with it.

So we try to shoo away uncomfortable feelings with all kinds of potions, lotions, experiences and rationalizations.

But just because we avoid something doesn’t mean it goes away. If a telemarketer has your cell phone number, then you probably already know that.

The irony of avoidance in midlife is that you’re more capable of handling things than what you realize because you have seen and been through some real stuff. You’ve already proven you can handle discomfort.

You just have to give yourself permission to use it to pull the right levers.

Learning to Embrace Discomfort

Keep walking with me here.

So, what does embracing discomfort look like?

I’m not talking about wallowing in your pain, throwing your hands up all like, “What’s the point? I guess I’ll just feel bad forever.”

Put down the diary, Bridget Jones.

Embracing discomfort is about accepting where you are, shifting your perspective and looking for what you still have yet to learn.

This is where you get the confidence to pull the aforementioned levers.

For example, let’s talk about wrinkles. I see changes in my face that I am sometimes uncomfortable with, partly because I know it’s not really going to get better.

Fact: If the timeline is moving, I am aging. We all are. (I’m a real hoot at parties.)

Now, I can do things to take care of my skin that will take the edge off a bit (hence my 9-step AM & PM skin care routines), but the reality is, if I live long enough, I absolutely will have wrinkles.

I could sit with that discomfort and worry about what I will one day look like, especially compared to women years younger than me.

Or, I can use that discomfort to remind myself of a few things. Each wrinkle means:

  • I am being blessed with long life on this earth with my family. Not everyone gets this opportunity.
  • I have had more time to keep working towards my own goals, or helping other people with their goals, people I wouldn’t be able to help if I’m not here.
  • I found humor in more than a few things.
  • I have the capacity to empathize.
  • I still manage to be surprised by life (this is how I explain the forehead lines, what else could it be?).

The wrinkles then become less about my image in the world, or to “look good for my age” and more about marking the time that I have already had to invest in others.

Knowing that, can I take actions to continue to invest in others and see where that goes?

How does this relate to feeling comfortable in your own skin?

Let’s keep walking, walking.

Identify Who You Want to Be

The key to navigating this phase is getting clarity about who you want to be. This is harder than you might think.

Ironically, you may be able to aggressively list all the things you don’t want to be. We’ve allowed our media and social environments to condition us to always focus on the things that we’re not.

  • I want to not be so anxious.
  • I want to stop being unhappy.
  • I want to stop feeling so tired.

But if I ask you, who do you want to be?

It might take you a hot minute to come up with even just a couple of things.

  • What kind of person do you want to be?
  • What kind of legacy do you want to leave for your family? Your friends? Your community?
  • What are your values, those overarching themes in your life that you are always working towards?

Get Moving and Keep Moving

Once you start learning what kind of person you want to be, begin taking actions in that direction.

Every decision that comes your way will either take you towards that person, or away from that person.

Decide accordingly.

Take real actions every day that will actually move the proverbial needle.

I’m not talking about busy work, planning and spreadsheets and whatnot (shout out to my fellow procrastinating perfectionists).

This is pull-the-lever, step-out-on-the-Indiana-Jones-invisible-bridge kind of action.

This one thing keeps most of us from what we want.

We are afraid to use the very discomfort we are trying to avoid to actually get us moving, even in small ways.

Action begets more action.

Once you get something moving, that energy doesn’t just stop. It has to go somewhere else. Use it to take the next step.

And guess what?

When you start taking real action, you don’t have a whole lot of time to worry about how you look, how awkward you feel, that stupid thing you said, and other defeating narratives.

You are doing stuff that matters to you, and you don’t want it to stop.

Case in point, this whole post was an action towards my larger value of helping others learn the skills to get what they want from life.

It won’t go viral or start a movement. But my discomfort with feeling like I’m not where I want to be with my writing goals spurred me to act, because actual writing will take me closer to my writing goals.

The wrinkle in time

This is all less about becoming more comfortable in your own skin, and more about being comfortable with the person you’re becoming.

True beauty and joy comes from a willingness to engage what may not be working for you so you can grow and change. It doesn’t come from arriving at some predetermined destination everyone else is headed towards.

Seeing your lifelong values actually start to unfold is pretty great because it means you’re actually doing what is most important to you.

Makeup is optional.

Old dog laying in the grass

What an Old Dog Taught Me About Fear

A few years ago, my husband and son were away on a summer trip with our church youth group. I love my family, but I am still very much an only child.

I love having uninterrupted time at my behest so I relished having a few days alone in the house. There’s a lot of coffee drinking and reading. It’s a raucous time, I can assure you.

Typically I don’t get too concerned about intruders. The neighborhood we were living in at the time was safe, and the fear of someone on my property really didn’t occur to me too much.

My first night alone I couldn’t wait to settle in and get some sleep. That particular day at work had been a busy one, and I had a lot on my mind as I was trying to drift off to sleep…

BLAM! BLAM! A loud banging noise at the back of the house had me sitting straight up in bed.

I thought maybe it was one of those weird dream-like states, where you hear a loud, banging noise and then wake up.

BLAM! BLAM!

Nope, I thought to myself. That was definitely real.

Cue the fight or flight syndrome.

My palms got all sweaty, my ears got all whistle-y, and my heart started thumping right out of my chest like a Pepé Le Pew cartoon.

Somebody’s definitely trying to break in, I thought.  I fumbled around for my glasses on the nightstand, grabbed my cell phone and dialed 911.

I tried to stay calm as I explained to the dispatcher that I heard a noise at the back of my house a couple of different times. I’ve never heard any noises there before, I told her, certainly not one so loud.

BLAM! BLAM! There it was again, oh crap!

She assured me someone was on their way and stayed on the phone with me until I heard a knock at the door.

I opened the door to see one of our local sheriff’s deputies, looking very relaxed and chill. He got some information from me and went around to the back of the house to check things out.

In what couldn’t have been more than two minutes later, he emerged right back to the front door with the perpetrator in tow… an old dog who had apparently settled in for the night next to my back door.

I guess he was having trouble sleeping, too, because his tail wagged every time something got his attention in my backyard.

Hence, the BLAM! BLAM!

Cue the embarrassing face palm.

While my story turned out not to be this week’s true-crime thriller, my physiological response was unmistakably real.

I felt fear, and my body knew it.

In this case, my reaction was appropriate because I thought I was in real danger. From an old dog.

But what about the fears that don’t come from a predator or a true feeling of danger, things like a tricky conversation with your boss, or a leap into a new life chapter?

What Is Fear, Really?

Fear is our body’s natural response to a perceived threat. It’s a survival mechanism that protects us from danger. When we sense a threat, our brain sends signals to our body to prepare us to either fight, flee, or freeze.

When I felt my heart racing, and my palms getting clammy that was my body trying to give my muscles the oxygen and nourishment they needed to take action. You know, because picking up a cell phone is really taxing lol.

But you get the idea.

Our bodies are wired for those kinds of responses to keep us safe.

But we also run into other fears through things like negative associations, conditioning or trauma. These are responses that we learn as we participate in our families of origin, or have experiences that we’re not equipped to handle.

If you’ve ever been bitten by a dog, you might develop a fear of dogs. Or if you’ve had a bad experience while flying, you might develop a fear of flying.

These fears are not innate but we learn them through negative associations. The brain is excellent at making connections, and once it links a specific situation or object with danger, it’s hard to break that association.

The modern workplace can sometimes feel like a minefield of stress triggers.

An email marked “urgent,” a last-minute meeting request from your boss, or even a colleague’s offhand comment can send your heart racing.

But are these situations truly life-threatening? Hardly.

Yet, your body can react as if they are, kicking into high gear with a fight or flight response that feels as real as if you’re facing a wild animal.

So, how do you tell the difference between legitimate danger and a false alarm?

Understand the Signals

First, let’s get in tune with what your body is telling you. When you’re in true danger, the fight or flight response is invaluable.

But in the office? Not so much.

If you notice your heart racing, palms sweating, or a knot forming in your stomach during work stressors, acknowledge these signals for what they are: false alarms.

Your body is trying to tell you that something is bothering you.

Take a Step Back

I can’t stress this one enough: Before responding to the stressor, give yourself a moment to step back for a minute.

Excuse yourself from the situation for a few minutes (ladies rooms are great for this).

Take a few deep breaths and assess the situation.

Ask yourself, “Is this threat real, or is it a learned response?”

Just like my late-night canine visitor, is the threat really just an old, harmless dog rather than a criminal perpetrator?

Reframe Your Thoughts

The stories you tell yourself about your experiences is often what makes a situation seem scarier than it really is.

To reframe your thoughts, start by acknowledging your initial reaction without judgment. Recognize that while your emotions are valid, they are not always accurate reflections of reality.

Then, consciously choose a new narrative to work from.

  • Identify the Negative Thought: Become aware of the specific thoughts that are contributing to your fear response. Is it a general sense of doom, a worry about personal inadequacy, or a prediction of a worst-case scenario? Get to know exactly what kind of negative thought you’re dealing with.
  • Challenge Its Validity: Ask yourself, “Is this thought based on facts or on my interpretation of the situation? Is there evidence to support this thought, or is it an assumption?” In many cases, you’ll find you are quite the master at making assumptions.
  • Look for Alternative Explanations: Could there be another way to view this situation? It doesn’t even have to be an explanation grounded in reality, literally anything will do. Aliens, gremlins, or other unexplainable phenomena are better than assuming the worst.
  • Focus on What You Can Control: Shift your attention to actions and aspects within your control. What steps can you take right now to manage the situation? By focusing on action, you move from feeling victimized by the situation to being the one in charge of it.
  • Adopt an Attitude of Growth: View the stressor as an opportunity for learning or personal development. Think, “What can this situation teach me?” Look at the situation in terms of a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset.
  • Visualize Success: Instead of imagining the worst, picture yourself navigating the conversation with your boss with ease, or managing the project efficiently. This positive visualization can change your mindset and reduce anxiety. Studies show that when you visualize something in your mind, your brain doesn’t know the difference. It actually thinks you’re there on the podium getting that Olympic gold medal in the sport of talking to your boss.
  • Affirm Your Abilities: Remind yourself of your strengths and past successes. Think about times when you’ve handled similar situations well. No doubt there are many to draw from. Affirmations such as, “I am resilient and can adapt to challenges,” can reinforce a positive self-concept.

By reshaping your narrative, you not only change your perception of the stressor but also empower yourself to respond in a healthier, more effective way.

And every time you do that, it gets a little easier to do it next time.

And if you keep doing that, you might just develop a new habit.

Great job!

Now just keep doing that!

Woman holding two lipsticks

Avoid the Overthinking Trap and Make Faster Decisions

Remember the last time you stood in the makeup aisle, just staring at those hundred shades and brands of lipstick, wondering which one to buy?

And then, after a gazillion minutes, you walked out of the store without buying any because you couldn’t decide between two slightly different shades of red?

Welcome to the world of analysis paralysis

You know, it’s that point where you’re so tangled up in all the variables and consequences of a particular decision that you can’t even remember what you were looking for in the first place.

To be fair, there are way too many lip color options now: highly pigmented colors, sheer options, long-wearing options, moisturizing ones, shimmers, high-gloss ones … sheesh. There goes the afternoon.

If the decision isn’t super clear and obvious, it’s easy to just shut down and kick the lipstick tube down the road for another day.

So how do you make decisions (cosmetic and non-cosmetic) without getting trapped in overthinking?

Why Do We Get Stuck?

So, why does this happen? Why do our once-decisive selves now find it daunting to choose a dress for the party, or decide on a vacation spot, or even pick a new hobby?

Well, with age (and hey, a lot of wisdom 😉), comes the understanding of consequences. We’ve seen the highs and lows life can bring, and that experience can sometimes make us overly cautious.

We end up seeking perfection in our choices, and trying to avoid any potential pitfalls.

The Beauty of Tiny Steps

Here’s the deali-o: No decision is ever going to be 100% perfect.

And while considering possible outcomes is always prudent and wise, over-analyzing can stop you in your tracks.

How?

I’ve found that in many cases analysis paralysis sets in because you are trying to solve the whole thing all at one time.

I believe math people call it “solving for x.” A website called “Math is Fun” (it most certainly is not 😀 )  describes it this way:

A Solution is a value we can put in place of a variable (such as x) that makes the equation true.”

So you’re walking around trying to solve big problems by finding one big solution that will just make it a one and done.

And when that big solution doesn’t materialize in your time frame, you start second guessing your ability to solve your own problems.

What if, instead of trying to solve the whole enchilada, you took baby steps?

When you take small, experimental steps, you gather real-time data. It’s no longer about all the things that might happen; it’s about what’s actually happening.

This feedback, whether it turns out to be positive or negative, provides a clearer direction for your next move.

It’s like trying out a fitness class before committing to a membership.

Break Free from the Analysis Paralysis Cycle

So, how can you start taking these steps, especially when your mind is swirling with a million “what ifs”?

  1. Embrace the Power of Now: Instead of pondering and wondering endlessly, give yourself a set amount of time. For example, if you’re deciding on a new hobby, research for two days and then take a trial class by day three. Limiting decision time pushes you into action.
  2. Acknowledge That Mistakes are Okay: Look, we’ve all been there. Worn a disastrous hair color, chosen a less-than-stellar vacation spot. But didn’t we also laugh about it later? Life’s too short for perfection. Embrace the missteps as they come; they often lead to the most delightful stories!
  3. List It Out: When in doubt, write it out. Jot down the pros and cons. But take it to another level: also write down the worst-case scenario for each choice. Most of the time, you’ll realize the worst isn’t that bad, or if it does happen, you have the ability to get through it.
  4. Talk to a Friend: Sometimes, all you need is a chat with somebody else outside your head. They can provide a fresh perspective or simply be the sounding board you need.
  5. Remember, Not Deciding is Also a Decision: And often, it’s a decision that leaves you in a standstill. So, while you’re waiting for the “perfect” moment, you might be missing out on several pretty awesome ones. So just, you know, do it.

Kickstart Your Decision-Making Mojo

Here are some of those baby steps to get you moving when you’re skating through the peanut butter of indecision:

  1. Start Small: Have a minor decision to make? Practice with that. Maybe it’s trying a new recipe or picking out a book. The point? Get used to what it feels like to decide and act quickly.
  2. Set Decision Deadlines: Set aside specific times for reflection and decision-making. Once the deadline is up, make your choice, take a deep breath and roll with it.
  3. Celebrate Your Decisions: Yes, even the not-so-great ones. Every choice is a learning experience. Cherish it!
  4. Journal Your Journey: Documenting your decisions and their outcomes can be enlightening. Over time, you’ll notice patterns, helping you make better-informed choices in the future. Trust me, this is really powerful!
  5. Stay Curious: Adopt a learner’s mindset. Be open to outcomes, whatever they might be. Cliche, I know, but sometimes the journey is more enlightening than the destination.

Each decision, whether big or small, is a stepping stone towards growth, experience, and understanding.

So, the next time you find yourself stuck between two shades of lipstick or a more profound life choice, take a deep breath, gather your thoughts, and then just take a small leap.

It’s not about the outcome but your commitment to take action, any action, that counts.

You’ve got the wisdom and experience to face whatever comes next. Embrace it!

Broken skincare bottle

My Skincare Saga: What a Broken Bottle Taught Me About Value

Like many of you, I love trying out new skincare products. Especially those that come with rave reviews.

I recently ordered one such item from a great brand on Amazon. A skincare influencer I follow recommended this product, and I was eager to make it part of my regular 9-step AM & PM skin care routine (okay, it’s not quite 9 steps but let’s just say my Gen X skin has me super committed to my process). 🙂

This product was pictured in a lovely brown glass bottle, with all the trappings of elegance and effectiveness. And a pretty decent price, too.

When Elegance Meets Envelope

Picture my surprise (and not the good kind) when the package arrived and I found the bottle crushed, its contents spilled all over my other purchases. They had packed it in a small, lightly padded envelope inside a larger padded envelope.

No box. No extra bubble wrap. A glass bottle.

The image above gives you a glimpse of the mess (I’ve hidden the brand name, as I’m not trying to tarnish their reputation—I did receive a friction-free refund from Amazon, after all).

Disappointment doesn’t even begin to cover it. And yes, while Amazon promptly issued a refund, I felt compelled to write to the seller on their website.

My intent? To let them know about the inadequate packaging.

Were they aware that Amazon was sending the product out this way? I used to own an online shopping store, and when customers reached out to show me damaged items or packaging, I at least appreciated the opportunity to see how I could avoid that in the future.

Broken Bottle, Broken Connection

This brand’s response, while fairly prompt, lacked a fundamental human touch. Two things stood out:

  • A Missing Apology: It wasn’t their goof, I get it. But at no point did they express regret for the mishap, or even acknowledge the fact that in my email I had let them know I’d been looking forward to trying their product. The “Great Crushing” had left me disappointed …er… crushed, that I hadn’t been able to make that product step #10 in my routine. It felt like they missed a beat in connecting with me, a potential repeat customer.
  • Defending Without Empathy: Their email went on to justify their packaging choice, highlighting that out of half a million shipments, only a handful had met the same fate as mine. They explained that better packaging would increase costs, which, of course, would make the product more expensive. I couldn’t help but think, “Sooooo, I’m just one of the unlucky few, then?”

Imagine if they had simply acknowledged my disappointment and offered a gesture, like sending a free bottle, or at least a coupon. At a minimum that would have demonstrated their ability to get the product to me intact, just like the other 499,999+ customers.

I’m not trying to sound entitled because after my refund, quite frankly, they don’t owe me anything at all.

I understand that.

But that $20 bottle could have converted me into a loyal customer. I would be using it twice a day forever, you know?

Golden Age of Gas and Greetings

This experience got me thinking, especially about how service seems to be dwindling in many areas of our lives. We all like to complain about that now, don’t we?

Full-service gas stations were still a thing when I was a kid. So that’s my point of reference.

Just think about the last time you visited a fast-food restaurant. Have you noticed how often they get your order wrong? Or how the person at the counter is more engrossed in their phone than in ensuring you have a pleasant experience?

We exchange our time, energy, and hard-earned money for these services and products, yet more often than not, we’re now met with a mediocre experience.

And on some level, we’ve learned to be okay with that because… labor shortage, or disengaged employees, or just … reasons.

Obviously, this is not just about a bottle of skincare. And it’s not even about great customer service.

This was about me recognizing the value of my time and energy. At the end of the day, this was a $20 item, and, yes, I could have just re-ordered it and called it a day.

But I had to ask myself, is this the experience I really want?

Do I value my time and energy enough to keep looking for a skincare product that isn’t just effective, but is backed by a brand that honors the decisions I make with my wallet and attention?

Claiming Your Worth in a Checkout World

What are the things in your life that you’re just putting up with because it’s convenient and comfortable?

Where are you accepting the “lowest common denominator” instead of seeking what truly honors your worth and value?

Sometimes, to get what you truly desire, you have to be willing to say no to things that don’t represent what matters most to you.

You may have to give up convenience or cost, but in the end, aren’t you worth that?