Sunday, December 20, 2009

Gifts - The Kind You Wrap and the Kind You Don't

By Julie Marie Rahm

This is Christmas week. I am sitting by our Christmas tree, laptop on my lap, delighting in the beauty of the lights and ornaments that adorn the tree. Under the tree lay gifts wrapped in seasonal paper and bows. I love Christmas! I do. I love everything about it. Most of all, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, I am filled with awe and reverence that God himself would choose to come to earth in human form to offer eternal life to all who accept it. Has there ever been a better gift?

We give gifts on Christmas as a symbol of the original Christmas gift of Jesus. However, sometimes we allow the tradition of gift giving to become a burden. We may feel the money is not there to buy gifts, or that we are too busy to think about what someone would enjoy receiving, or that we are too busy to shop. Gifts become one more thing on our lists to do and we just want to check them off.

Allow me to offer a fresh perspective on gifts. Most of the gifts we give and receive do not come in boxes and cannot be wrapped in paper. In each moment of our lives we are either giving or receiving gifts. In every situation we can ask ourselves two powerful questions: what gift did I bring to this moment? And, what gift did I receive in this moment?

Looking at life as a continuous stream of gifts enables us to find peace and joy in every moment, regardless of the situation, whether we perceive that situation to be good or bad. The reality of life is that there is no good or bad. There is just life happening and the meaning we attach to life as it unfolds. We can choose the meaning we attach to everything and we can choose meanings that serve us. This week, let us challenge ourselves to find the good in every aspect of our lives, from the most mundane, to the most difficult and most obvious aspects of our lives.

Each day, notice the gifts you received and the gifts you gave in as many moments throughout the day as possible. Enjoy the moments that feel good and challenge yourself to find gifts in moments that you perceive to be bad. Be aware of both the gift you gave and the gift you received in each situation. These gifts can be as simple as giving your gift of attention, or receiving the feeling of being understood. There is no right or wrong answer.

If we can be aware of our gifts for one day, we can do it for two days, and then three days. We can keep the spirit of Christmas in our lives all year long!

Friday, December 4, 2009

How to De-Stress over the Holidays

by Julie Rahm
It is the holiday season again, that happy celebratory time. Or is it? Unfortunately for some people, the meaning of the holidays becomes lost in its demands. Shopping for gifts, spending money, visiting family,
decorating the house, writing letters, sending cards, baking cookies, going to parties can all add up to stress in our already overbooked lives. If your stress comes from striving for perfection, dreading family drama, worrying about spending money, or feeling lonely here are some tips to help you feel better.

Lighten up.
Does everything have to be perfect from your home and its decorations to your party outfits, gifts, and holiday meals? Is perfection really attainable? Is it worth the cost to yourself and those around you? People strive for perfection because they worry about being judged and the holidays have become a measure of their performance as a person. If it is not a matter of life or death, allow me to suggest this. Do not take yourself so seriously. It is okay to lighten up. Remember your true value as a person comes not from how you put on the holidays, but from who you are. Your friends and family do not come to your home because everything is perfect there. They come to enjoy your company. And, despite your preparations and best efforts, something often goes wrong. When it does, remember that it is not what happens to you, but how you handle it that matters most.

Make memories, not debt.
Maybe you're worried about spending too much money this year. If you have kids, this can be tough. Kids want the latest things and it can be hard to say no. In this case it is important to maintain a long-term perspective rather than a short-term one. Keep this in mind - holidays are for making memories not debt. Great memories don't ever get replaced by the latest X-Box game. Great memories stay with you for your entire life. And, great memories can be made without spending a dime. Play Monopoly with the family. Throw the football with your son or daughter. Even if you are 50 years old and your son or daughter is 25 years old it will still be fun. If the meal is less bountiful than usual, make up for it by making the dinner together. It is all about your mindset, not your assets. You can feel better by not playing out a negative outcome in advance. Remember, 95-percent of what we worry about never happens.

Be the thermostat, not the thermometer.
Family visits can bring a lot of joy or a feeling of dread. If you are not looking forward to being with your family members, perhaps this paragraph will keep things in perspective for you. A very wise man once
told me that you cannot teach a pig to sing. It is a waste of time and it annoys the pig. You are not going to change your family members or their beliefs in this visit. The one thing you can control is your response to your family. Is what your mother, mother-in-law, or other family member thinks about you really that important? Can you go on living without their acceptance? Yes! Can you live with the fact that their politics are messed up? Yes! Do not relinquish your power to your family members by letting them affect your mood. Rather than trying to fix their political or religion views, accept your family for who they are and change the subject when it is appropriate. Your efforts will be better spent choosing to be happy rather than proving yourself right.

Our lives are not about us.
Alone and lonely is no way to spend the holidays. If you are alone and do not want to be, organize a potluck dinner for others you know who will not be with their families. Strike up conversations by asking your friends and neighbors what they are doing for the holidays. It is likely that those people will ask the same question in return. It may be a great opportunity for an invitation when your friends or neighbors find out you do not have plans. You can also do something to help those less fortunate, like work at a shelter. Our lives are not about us. Helping others is a great way to feel better and gain perspective on your own life.

Whatever the reason you have for feeling stressed, journaling can be a great way to get all of your feelings outside yourself and feel relief. Then, journaling can be a great way to create the holiday feelings you really want. Vent first, then create the vision for the holiday season you want. Focus on that vision. What you focus on grows. Grow a stress-free fabulous holiday season!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Journal your way to success!

By Julie Marie Rahm
Do you want to try journaling, but don’t know what to write or how to begin? Start by using the tools in your Mindset Tool Belt. Here are eight weeks of topics to guide you as you begin journaling your way from where you are to where you want to be!

Week 1: Your Level. Your metaphorical level is for keeping an eye on the way you feel. Start journaling by writing about your feelings throughout the day. What makes you happy? What causes you to become impatient, frustrated, or angry? Take note of when your level tilts toward positive emotions or toward negative emotions. What emotions are you feeling and what triggers them? Write in as much detail as you can. As you become aware of your triggers, you can start to take control of your responses instead of giving up your power and reacting to what happens to and around you.

Week 2: Your Whistle. Is it time to blow your metaphorical whistle and take a personal time out? Write about how you spend your days. What are you doing? What are you doing that you like? What are you doing that you would rather not do? What would you rather be doing that you are not doing? What is keeping you from doing what you want to do each day? Becoming aware of how you spend your time and why you do what you do will give you perspective on your priorities.

Week 3: Your Flashlight. Use your metaphorical flashlight to shine light onto the dark recesses of your mind. Go way back and write about all of your experiences that have made you who you are today. If you had a “do over” for any event or circumstance, what would you do differently? How do these experiences affect you today?

Week 4: Your Measuring Tape. Use your metaphorical measuring tape to measure how far you’ve already come. List the things you have in your life that you want in your life. This week, list everything you can think of that you have and want. Enjoy watching your list grow each day. This week is about appreciation. What you appreciate appreciates! Make quiet time for yourself to recharge and appreciate your life and the beautiful creation around you.

Week 5: Your Utility Knife. What baggage are you carrying? Guilt? Resentment? Regret? Unworthiness? Rejection? Whatever your answers, write them down. Where did you pick up this baggage? Go ahead and feel it. Then, use your metaphorical utility knife to cut out the bottom of each bag and let the contents fall out! You can choose your thoughts. The past is gone. Each moment is another chance for a fresh start. Write about who you would be with empty bags!

Week 6: Your Hammer. What do you want that you don’t have? Why don’t you have what you want? Write about what you want and why you don’t have it. Examine each reason. Is it true? Take your metaphorical hammer and one by one hammer out the reasons why by writing what your life would look like if you could not use those reasons. Did you create a compelling enough reason to make a change?

Week 7: Your Pliers. Take your metaphorical pliers and pluck out your grudges. Write about anything that comes to mind where you feel wronged by someone and you are holding onto it. Write about whatever is festering in you. Underline all of your words that are “charged” with emotion. Make two columns. List the charged words in the first column and write their opposites in the second column. Read each word and its opposite aloud. Write the “should” statement that applies, e.g., “He should not have left me!”. Ask yourself, is that true? Would everyone in the world say it’s true? Now write the statement again leaving out the word “not”. Say it out loud. Could that be true? What gift has come to you from the experience? Who would you be without the associated bad feelings? Forgiving people who have wronged you does not mean you go back to the way things were. It means you free yourself from the grasp the incident has on your happiness. Write about the forgiveness you accomplish this week and how you went about it.

Week 8: Your Inspection Mirror. Look in your metaphorical inspection mirror and write about who you are now that you have taken back your power and taken responsibility for the way you feel. Write about yourself and the transformation you have begun in your first seven weeks of journaling.

Congratulations! You have begun your journaling habit. Keep writing about whatever comes to mind each day. A sentence, a paragraph, a page – the volume is not important, only the habit. Vent about the way things are. Create things the way you want them to be. Capture your thoughts. Begin to see your thought patterns. They are your thoughts. You can change them!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Three Thanksgiving Truths

By Julie Marie Rahm

It is Thanksgiving again, that wonderful holiday of food and fellowship. Are you awaiting the day with eager anticipation? Or, has your sanity gone packing? Here are three truths to remember to enjoy your Thanksgiving Day.

1. Perfection is unattainable.
Perhaps you are like my friend, Debbie, who is fabulous in the kitchen, never misses an episode of Iron Chef, and competes with herself annually to create a fabulous Thanksgiving banquet fit for the Guinness Book of World Records. Her kitchen becomes her arena which others enter at their own peril. This year, one of her strategies is to bake five different kinds of pie and serve them with real whipped cream. If this sounds like you, here is what to do. Set aside your Bon Appetite magazines, print-outs from, recipe books, and shopping lists and breathe for a moment. Clear your mind of the football coach who coaches your son saying You have got to step up your game!. Now, imagine the challenges of preparing the turkey and pies simultaneously, or at least storing those pies with all of the other food in the house. I understand how hard it is to relinquish control over any part of this very important meal. However, maybe your husband could pick up a pie or two at the local bakery. Just consider it.

2. Gravy is tricky.
Or, maybe you are more like me and you have a kitchen because it came with your house and the closest you come to cooking is warming Double Stuff Oreos on a cookie sheet. On my first Thanksgiving as a newlywed in my own home I borrowed a Gourmet Thanksgiving cookbook from Debbie, thinking I am an intelligent woman. How hard can it be to follow a recipe? Drama ensued as my visiting female relatives, accustomed to running the show in their homes, entered the kitchen and donned aprons saying, Making good gravy is tricky, dear.

3. Resistance is futile.
At this point I could talk about respect and boundaries, or not competing with your relatives. Instead, I will share seven words you can use any time you encounter a critical person. You are right. What do you recommend? With these words you acknowledge a comment that rubs you the wrong way, and then empower the other person to change their orientation to useful thoughts.

In the end, what is most important is sharing Thanksgiving with friends and family you love. Be kind to yourself. Keep your mindset tool belt handy and make it a great day!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Performance Anxiety or Getting Those Butterflies to Fly in Formation

By Julie Marie Rahm

Yesterday evening the Pamlico Community Band performed its fall concert for a full house. Playing my flute in the band has been one of my greatest joys for the past three years. In September, our director encouraged me to play my piccolo instead.

I had not played the piccolo since high school. The exact amount of time that has elapsed is not important other than to say it could be counted in decades. In a moment of possibility thinking, I agreed.

As you might imagine, after all of that time all of the pads on my piccolo had deteriorated. So, I invested two hundred dollars to have the instrument overhauled and polished. Now there was no turning back. The moment I walked into the house with my revitalized piccolo, I went immediately to the piano bench and opened the case. I carefully lifted the mouthpiece and the body, inserted the mouthpiece into the body, and lifted the instrument to my lips. The noise that emerged as I blew across the mouthpiece was something like a cat in heat. In two months the band would play its fall concert and I would play the solo finishing the final movement of Second Suite in F by Gustav Holst. Panic gripped me. Okay, Mindset Mechanic, I thought to myself. You are so smart. What do you have for me?

Transitioning from second flute to solo piccolo player is a metaphor for life. As a second flute player I was one of many, blending in, not calling attention to myself, and believing that no one would really notice if I missed a practice. Playing the piccolo is like playing the oboe or solo trumpet. Everyone knows when you play and whether you are present. All of the performance values I learned growing up came rushing back to me. Young musicians learn early the true meaning of grades. In most classes students would be happy with an A grade of 95 percent. Musicians know that is not good enough. If five percent of band members play a wrong note, the music sounds atrocious! My fear of making a mistake and being noticed came rushing back as if I were a 14 year old high school freshman again.

What would I tell myself if I were coaching myself? I would say

1. Do not take yourself so doggone seriously! If you make a mistake, smile, mentally throw up your hands and think how remarkable!
2. Step back from the world of competition and judgment. Know that you have a contribution to make to people, musically and personally.
3. Acknowledge your love of performing music. You will find that love is much stronger than your worries. And, your friends and family do not love you because you never make a mistake!
4. Do your best and understand that your best may be better one day than the next.
5. God did not create you to be inconsequential and anonymous. Embrace the joy that comes from knowing your music lifts the spirits of those who hear it.
6. Visualize the theater on performance night. Hear the notes before you play them. Imagine the bliss on the faces of people in the audience. Allow your love of playing to fill your body. Imagine the gypsies dancing as you play your solo, feeling the music from your head to your toes.

For the next two months I practiced every day, taking my own advice. Slowly the notes and my tone returned. Last night as we played for a packed house, I felt only joy. The butterflies in my stomach flew with the precision of the Canadian Snowbirds flight team. Despite playing in numerous concerts since I was ten years old, for the first time I was singled out, recognized by the announcer stating and Julie Rahm on piccolo. I stood and grinned until a smile filled my face. Had I played perfectly? It did not matter. I have made the transition from the safety of anonymity to the joy of contribution.

What is the piccolo equivalent in your life? What metaphorical music are you holding back from the world? You were born to play your unique tune. The world will be a better place when you do!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

What to Say to Military Kids Who are Worried about their Deployed Parents

By Julie Marie Rahm

Veterans Day was last Wednesday. In honor of the day I had the privilege of being a guest on Doug Stephan Good Day, a morning radio program. The program is broadcast across Radio America to nearly 400 stations and is available live over the Internet. Doug invited me on his show because of my upcoming book Military Kids Speak. The book is part of a national movement I am starting to help military kids and celebrate their strengths and successes.

Doug asked me what I would tell kids who feel worried about their mom or dad who is deployed. My response was brief to fit within the radio segment. Here are some additional ideas to help kids feel better.

1. Suggest that they talk about their feelings with their other parent, brother or sister
2. Suggest that they write a letter or send an e-mail to their deployed parent
3. Help them find a thought that feels just a little bit better than the worry they are feeling. Teach them to trade up their thoughts for better-feeling thoughts. Here are some ways to trade up.
a. Remind them of something coming up that they think is fun.
b. Offer them cookies and milk or another tasty treat.
c. Tell them they are not alone and that you miss their mom or dad, too.
d. Ask them to make a list of what items they think should go in the next care package you send to their mom or dad.
e. Help them notice what is great in their life at the moment.
f. Give them a hug and tell them you understand how they feel, then get ice cream.
g. Suggest that they make something to send to their mom or dad.
h. Give them a journal that they can keep privately. Teach them how to write about the way they feel, and to write about the way they want things to be.
i. Remind them that the deployment seems like a long time and that it will be over before they know it. Teach them the term this, too, shall pass.

Military kids have worries most kids never know. The emotional resilience military kids develop as young people is part of what makes them grow up to be leaders, movers and shakers!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Three Keys to Unlocking Your Thankfulness for All Things

By Julie Marie Rahm

Last week I suggested a gratitude habit as a way to feel happier. The question that often follows that suggestion is "How can I be thankful for ALL things?". Here are three ways.

The first and easiest key is to be thankful for the good things in life. This is a great way to begin a gratitude habit. Master the first key before moving on to the second.

The second key is to begin looking at the setbacks, difficulties, and disappointments in our lives and start to find some thankfulness for them, too. After all, wouldn't life be dull without them? Being tested as we ride the rollercoaster of life helps us grow and expand into our full potential. When we take steps toward embracing our pain, it transforms our experiences into something more manageable and meaningful. This illustrates how the results we get in our lives depend on our responses to circumstances rather than on the circumstances themselves. We have a choice in the way we respond.

The third key is to replace reacting with creating. When something happens that you perceive is bad, can you turn it around? Answer these three questions: 1. How is this event a gift for me? 2. What is it I really want? 3. What is wonderful in my life right now? "Are you kidding me?" you may ask. Try this. Every time you hear yourself grumbling, follow it with a statement of gratitude. For example, "I had to park far away from the mall and will have to walk a long way with my packages - and I am grateful for strong legs and the exercise I am getting on this walk." Or, "I just broke the kids' habit of cereal before bedtime and the first night my husband is home from deployment he offers the kids cereal - and it is good to have him home and to have a husband who loves our children."

The practice of thankfulness is not living in denial. Rather, it is an antidote to negative feelings. We can choose to meet our situations with open hearts instead of dwelling on frustrations. We can accept what comes our way and be grateful for the opportunity to grow while still taking appropriate action.

Carry the three keys in your "tool belt" and you will always be prepared to unlock your gratitude.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Feel Happier in 10 Minutes or Less

By Julie Marie Rahm

Having a tough day? Remember the notepad in your "tool belt"? It is time to break it out and begin writing. The best recipe for feeling better almost instantly is listing everything you can think of for which you are grateful. Pause every day for two weeks, eight times a day and write ten things for which you are grateful. After two weeks, throttle back to four times each day for the next two months! Be specific and think of as many new things as you can each day.

After being grateful for 80 specific things a day for three days your list will get very interesting. It may read something like this. I am grateful for being alive another day; for clean sheets; for a soft bed; for two legs to get out of bed and walk to the bathroom; for clean, hot water; for a clean shower; for clean, soft towels; for a clean toothbrush and toothpaste; for being able to brush my own teeth; for a choice of breakfast food; for ant-free food; for green grass; for breezes to cool the temperatures.

At some point you run out of your own things and become grateful for things on behalf of other people. Your focus moves from yourself and your family to others. You may be grateful for the new home your best friend just purchased, or the business success your brother has had, or the health of your neighbor's new baby.

When you run out of other peoples' things, the real magic begins. You start to think of what you will have and what other people will have. Your list starts to read something like this. I am grateful for the quick recovery from surgery my brother will have; and for the sales my friend in real estate will make this month; and for the dream home our friends will buy.

Build thankfulness into your life and see your world change. Pay attention to people for whom everything seems easy. Good things seem to continuously flow their way. Being thankful for all things is their secret. Whatever happens they are continually happy with their lives.

I have personally made this gratitude exercise a part of my life. It has been a magical journey! And, I feel great every day.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Five Must-Have Tools for a Mindset Tune-Up

By Julie Marie Rahm

The way you think is fundamentally responsible for the results you get. It's true. Your thoughts form the beliefs you have. Your beliefs create the expectations you have. Your expectations drive the results you get. Life really is that simple. You get to choose your thoughts. The tricky part is that you have about 60,000 thoughts each day, most of which you do not even know you are having, because they occur in your subconscious and unconscious mind. So how do you ensure that your thinking is aligned with the results you want? You equip your frame-of-mind "tool belt" with these five "tools":

1. A Hammer. Use your hammer to hammer out thoughts that make you feel badly. If you are not feeling good it is an indicator that your thoughts are not aligned with what you want.

2. A Flashlight. Use your flashlight to illuminate the thought behind the way you feel. Once you identify the thought you can trade it for a slightly better-feeling thought. Keep trading up until you feel good again.

3. A Magnifying Glass. Use your magnifying glass to find what is right and good about your life right now. Through the magnifying glass what is good dwarfs everything else.

4. Vice Grips. Use your vice grips to hold your thoughts on all that is right and good in your life. Take time to appreciate what is in your grips. What you appreciate appreciates.

5. A Notepad and pen. Use your notepad and pen to record your thoughts and feelings. Pause throughout the day and write down ten things for which you are grateful. Gratitude is the best remedy for feeling better fast and keeping those good feelings!

Equip your "tool belt" with these "tools" at all times. When bad-feeling thoughts creep in you will be prepared to be happy again by tuning up your mind and tuning out the negative!
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