Beauty After Winter

Not too long ago, I posted the following tweet: “Winter is officially past (according to the calendar, anyway) and spring is here. I can’t wait for nature to start blooming!”

After I posted that tweet, I began to think a lot about how the flowers, blooms, and buds of spring are a tangible symbol of hope and new life after months of cold days and long nights. I also thought about how a similar rebirth often happens in our own lives. Now (as you might know from personal experience), Twitter doesn’t let you elaborate too much on your thoughts. Your posts are limited to 140 characters or less. So, since I couldn’t stop thinking about that tweet after I posted it, I thought I’d write some more about it in another forum: my blog!

If you’re familiar with my story, you know that I have experienced a lot of anxiety and some depression in my life, and that I even suffered a total nervous breakdown at age 36. For several months at that point, I was a shell of my former self. Some days I could barely manage to function at all. I had trouble sleeping and eating, and my mind was totally checked out. I didn’t think it was possible for me to ever feel happy again.

For obvious reasons, I would describe that period in my life as my own personal “winter.” Things were cold, dark, and bleak, and I wasn’t experiencing any positive growth. Your experiences may not be the same as mine, but I’m sure you have been through your own winter, too. It might have been the death of a parent, the loss of a job, a divorce, or a mental or physical illness, and you may still be dealing with the aftershocks: guilt, regret, grief, sadness, fear, or anxiety, for example. You might even think that your life will never be as good as it once was, and that your best days are in the past.

Every spring, I am reminded that this isn’t true. Take a moment and think about what a miracle it is that after a freezing, icy, dark winter, nature manages to come to life again and turn into a thing of beauty. The best part is, we humans possess that same resilience. We might need the help and support of others, and it might take some time for our lives to “warm up” again, but I know from experience that it is possible to move in a positive direction after negative experiences.

I wouldn’t have believed it was possible in the midst of my breakdown, but today I am honestly happier than I have ever been. Because of my breakdown, I feel that I have discovered and tapped into my life’s true purpose: helping others learn to build happier and healthier lives.

This week, I encourage you to take a walk or two around your neighborhood or a local park. Look at the bright green grass and the budding trees, and take some time to notice the color and shape of the flowers as you feel the sun on your face. And if you’re living in the shadow of your own winter—whether it has been big or small—please try to tap into the hope that spring represents. Trust that you can and will experience life’s sunshine, warmth, and beauty again.

If you’re not sure how to begin this journey, you might want to visit the Twelve Weeks to Living a Happier Life tab on my website. Developed based on my own experiences and using small, doable steps, this program is designed to help you move from dissatisfaction, anxiety, sadness, and stress to a more fulfilling, healthy, and happy life. For each of the twelve weeks, you’ll find a video of me explaining a new task or lifestyle change to focus on. And if you’d like even more tactics to help you move out of the winter you may be experiencing, look back through my past blog posts (also on my website). Many of them elaborate on the steps of my Twelve Weeks to Living a Happier Life program.

Lastly, if there is ever anything I can do to help make your own winter a little less cold or dark, please reach out and ask. We are all in this together! You can email me anytime at tpatkin@tgpco.org.

Let the Sunshine In

Summer is a time of warm temperatures, sunny skies, green leaves, neighborhood cookouts, family vacations, ice cream cones, and more. You’d think that summer and all it entails would boost the happiness that most of us feel. But instead, I’ve noticed that a lot of people drift through these warm weeks in the same hum-drum fog they’re lost in during the other three seasons…and I think I know why.

If you’re anything like I was before I had my happiness breakthrough, you’ve probably become numbed by life. You might feel like a victim of circumstance who is simply trying to survive each day. So while a refreshing dip in the swimming pool might put a smile on your face as long as you’re submerged, your positive mood usually doesn’t last long.

Now, here’s the good news: As I have said time and time again, happiness is a choice because you can always decide to think and act more positively. The best news of all is that summer is an ideal time to start changing your focus. That’s because for many families, the daily pace is less hectic, and you’re more likely to spend time relaxing. Plus, since summer is a time of warmth, light, and growth, it’s naturally uplifting. Put together, that all means that over the next few months, you’ll have more time and (hopefully) energy to devote to making meaningful lifestyle changes.

If you’ve been reading my blog for long, chances are you’re already familiar with some of the concepts I’m about to introduce. Whether this post is “review” or brand-new to you, I hope you’ll take the following suggestions to heart this summer.

*Enjoy the weather: Exercise. Take advantage of the wonderful weather and up your activity level! (Summer is perfect for walking, biking, swimming, sports, and much more.) Exercise will relax you, make you feel stronger, and improve your sleep. It’s also a natural anti-depressant that will boost your attitude and outlook. And as time passes, you’ll gain the added bonus of being happier with your physical appearance as well. Take your kids along too—you’ll be instilling exercise in them as a great habit that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.

*Get some new sunglasses: Be easier on yourself. Most people tend to go through life as though they’re wearing glasses with prescriptions that allow them to focus only on the negative things: their failures, mistakes, worries, etc. This summer, put on a new pair of shades with a more positive prescription that enables you to focus on all of the good things in your life, too! The fact is, we’re all human—and thus fallible—so it’s normal to make mistakes. However, it’s not healthy or beneficial to dwell only on them. As you’re out and about this summer, let yourself bask in your family’s compliments when you grill a great meal, for instance, or savor your neighbor’s praise of your backyard garden. You’ll be surprised by how much better you feel when you celebrate your many successes more often and focus less on your weaknesses.

*Plan some fun activities: Play to your strengths. The days are longer, schedules are more relaxed, there are several holidays to look forward to, and you’ll probably be taking some vacation days. Resolve to spend some of that time developing your special abilities and talents! If you want to be happy, you need to recognize, use, and share your gifts. Each of us has been given special, unique strengths, and when we are using them, we’re happier and feel much better about ourselves—and the world at large is better off, too! Think about it this way: Your kids get to go to special-interest activities and camps during the summer…so why shouldn’t you get in on the action, too?

*Smell the roses: Live in the present. There are so many moments to treasure throughout our lives, and they’re often especially vivid in the summer: the sound of your kids playing outside, the scent of the herbs in your garden, the feeling of sand between your toes and sun on your skin. The question is, are you really experiencing and enjoying these moments…or is your mind obsessing over the past or worrying about the future while only your body is physically present? I can’t stress enough how important it is to truly appreciate the present moment. Try to be aware of what your thoughts are “doing” over the summer, and by autumn, you’ll be closer to living the adventurous, wonderful life you were always meant to. And remember, your kids know when you are with them only in body (while your mind is elsewhere) and this can make them feel very bad.

*Break out the barbeque: Strengthen close relationships. Summer is known for cookouts, pool parties, and front-porch sittin’. Don’t be “that family” who always keep to themselves—try to host at least one or two events between now and September and invite the people you love over for some fun. The truth is, it’s worth putting work into improving your relationships with your family and friends all year round, because the quality of your bonds with the people closest to you can make or break the quality of your life. And (this won’t come as a surprise to my loyal blog readers) be sure to spend some one-on-one time with your spouse or significant other. Summer is a great time to pick a bouquet of wildflowers, plan a romantic getaway, or purchase tickets to an outdoor concert that you’ll both enjoy, for starters.

*Smile and say hello: Be friendlier. You’re not the only one who ventures outside your front door more often in the summer—so make a conscious effort to be friendlier to others you encounter, too. Introduce yourself to the family next to you at the pool or beach, for example, and say hello to folks you pass while walking in the park. (You’ll also be setting a great example for your kids.) I have found that extending simple human kindness to others can make a huge difference in their lives…and in yours. When you make friendliness a habit, you’ll attract kindness and smiles in return…and you’ll feel great about yourself for making a positive difference in the world!

My hope is that you’ll incorporate these habits into your life and experience a more sunshine-y summer…and that you’ll remember this season as the beginning of your journey toward more happiness. It’s true—what may seem like small changes in your actions and attitudes today really can make a huge difference in how you experience the rest of your life!

It’s Better to Give Than to Receive…Really!

Have you noticed that more and more, we are living in a “me”-centered culture? From movies, reality TV shows, magazine articles, and even our neighbors and coworkers, we often receive the message that “it’s all about me.” It’s about how much I can earn. It’s about how I feel. It’s about getting what I want.

I’ll be honest: When I was a young man, I lived my life according to this “me”-centric philosophy. I thought that professional success would make me feel the most fulfilled and content. I spent my free time doing things that I thought were fun and exciting. It certainly never crossed my mind that one day I would spend a lot of my time and money pursuing philanthropic endeavors.

So what changed? Well, I gradually learned that we are all in this life together. My breakdown in particular forced me to realize that there were some things I literally wasn’t capable of handling on my own. And after I recovered, I felt compelled to reach out even more and help others who were experiencing tough times of their own. I now know beyond the shadow of a doubt that givers, even more than achievers, are happy people.

When you help another person, whether it’s offering a listening ear to a friend, mentoring a child, or volunteering your time and/or money to help a worthy cause, you become part of something bigger than yourself. You’re working not just for your own good, but for the greater good. And I promise you, seeing the positive results of what you do for another feels beyond great.

Also, when you help others, you’re stepping outside of your “me”-centric thought processes. When you’re absorbed in building a house with Habitat for Humanity, for example, you’re not thinking about all of the bad hands you’ve been dealt in life, and all of the possessions and opportunities you wish you had. On the contrary, I’d be willing to bet that you’ll go home that night with a renewed perspective and a fresh appreciation of just how fortunate and blessed you really are.

If you don’t already, I challenge you to make helping others a regular part of your life. Start by looking for opportunities to perform random acts of kindness: helping someone with a broken arm load groceries into her car, for example, or rolling your neighbor’s trash can up the driveway when you know he or she is not feeling well. Then, challenge yourself to devote an hour or two a week to some sort of service-oriented activity. You could stock shelves at your local food pantry, visit a disabled veteran at the local VA, or volunteer to help coach a Little League team.

If you’re like me, you’ll find that helping others is addictive. The more you see how much of a difference you can make in others’ lives, the more you’ll want to do it, and trust me, when you see yourself as a giver, you’ll feel better about yourself and the mark you’re leaving on your surroundings. You’ll also stay connected to your own blessings and maintain a healthy perspective on the world—all of which are components of a truly happy life.

Spend More Time with Positive People

I’ve spoken before about how having a negative friend can really bring you down. Having the right people in your life can truly make a difference in your overall happiness, and so I wanted to dig a little deeper into this topic with my post today.

I didn’t fully realize it at the time, but looking back, it’s clear to me that one of the major reasons why I fell in love with and married my wife is that she always made me feel great. Yadira is consistently positive, uplifting, and fun, and while it may sound cliché, when I’m with her, I feel like the best possible version of myself.

And over the years, I have gradually learned to apply that “how does this person make me feel?” test to all of my relationships. The fact is, when you spend time with some people, you feel relaxed, happy, and motivated. However, when you’re with others, you feel frustrated, pessimistic, and even upset.

Whether you’re talking about family members, friends, acquaintances, coworkers, or another group, the people you spend your time with can make or break your quest for happiness. Did you know that because we instinctively look for validation and guidance from the people around us, we eventually begin to pick up the habits, outlooks, and attitudes of those we’re with the most? Psychologists call this phenomenon “social proof,” and I think we all need to be more aware of how it impacts our lives.

Now, I’m not saying that you need to dump all of your friends and acquaintances who have ever uttered a complaint or a cynical comment. However, based on my own experiences, I do know that it helps to spend more time with people who are productive and constructive while politely limiting your interactions with the “Debbie Downers” of your acquaintance. I touched on this topic in a previous post on how to handle negative friends, but I think the concept bears repeating. You don’t do yourself any favors by letting toxic relationships remain in your life.

Yes, I’ll admit—it’s tough to take the initiative and weed unhealthy people and situations out of your life. But it’s also a kind of litmus test for how important being happy, healthy, and fulfilled really is to you. Is your outlook worth walking away when your coworkers start griping about the boss—or even the government—with no intention of offering solutions? Is your peace of mind worth saying, “Hey Cous, I know you don’t agree with all of my decisions, but I’m not going to change my mind. So can we agree not to rehash this stuff when our family is all together over the holidays?” And is improving a bad day worth calling up your best buddy so that you can remind yourself of how blessed you really are? These are all seemingly small actions and decisions that can make a huge impact on your life.

Think of this process as weeding, fertilizing, and watering a garden. These tasks might not be fun while you’re doing them, but they will be creating an environment that will enable you to grow to your full potential. And, my friends, if you ever catch me bringing you down instead of lifting you up, please let me know. We are all in this together!

 

Get in Touch with Your Inner Superman or Wonder Woman: Use Your Strengths!

What I’m about to share with you took me well over half of my life to figure out: When you possess a strength, it’s in your best interest to use it as much as possible!

Were you a little surprised when you read that last sentence? Did you expect something more complex and profound? I’ll admit that the concept of playing to your strengths doesn’t seem groundbreaking at first glance. After all, it’s something all of us have heard many, many times throughout our lives. But how many of us actually live according to that advice?

When I look around, I see a lot of Americans spending large chunks of their lives doing things that they don’t enjoy, that they don’t find fulfilling, and that they might not even be very good at. That doesn’t sound like “playing to your strengths” to me. So why do we live like this?

Here’s what the answer was for me: As a younger man, and even as a child, I worked twice as hard in the areas I found to be difficult as I did in the areas that came naturally to me. I couldn’t stand the thought of being “bad” at something; in fact, I felt compelled to be as perfect as I could possibly be. So what happened as a result of my efforts? Well, I’d usually manage to pull myself up from “bad” to “mediocre”—but rarely higher in these areas.

Also, way too many of us accept the first job offer we receive after graduating from high school or college—perhaps because it was recommended by a friend or because it was the only option available (or maybe we just needed a paycheck as soon as possible). And twenty years later, we find ourselves trying to remember how we got stuck in this career path that we don’t like and that isn’t really using our greatest gifts.

Personally, when I finally realized that I had been spending a lot of my life doing things that frustrated me, drained my energy, and made me unhappy, it was a real epiphany and turning point for me. I asked myself, What could I have accomplished—and how happy could I have been—if I had spent all of those hours doing things that I was good at, that I enjoyed, and that enriched my life and the lives of others? I knew that I couldn’t change the past, but I promised myself that in the future I’d stop beating myself up over the things I wasn’t good at and spend more time playing to my strengths. I encourage you to do the same.

Yes, I know that you can’t just rearrange your life as easily as you can rearrange your living room furniture. You can’t instantly quit a job that you’re not suited for; in fact, it can even be difficult to clear enough time in your schedule to pursue a neglected hobby. But you can start taking little steps in these directions. For example, begin looking at online job postings or for local classes in your field of interest. Instead of zoning out in front of a reality show, pull your art supplies out of the closet.

And what if you aren’t sure what your strengths are? It’s entirely possible that you might not be able to identify them easily, especially if you’ve been stuck in the same mind-numbing rut for years. If this is you, I recommend you start figuring out what you were most meant to do by making two lists. First, write down the five things you believe you are best at. The list could include professional skills, hobbies, or even personal qualities (like “good listener”). On the second list, write down the five things that you enjoy doing the most. When the same thing shows up on both lists, you can bet that it is one of your God-given talents.

Even if you’re spending only fifteen minutes of each day doing something that you consider to be one of your strengths, you’re still moving in a positive direction. Whether you’re by yourself in the garden or mentoring the new hires at work, you’ll find that your sense of fulfillment and self-worth will begin to grow, and your contentment will grow, too! If we all start to use our special gifts and talents more often rather than constantly trying to shore up all of our weaker areas, we certainly will be much happier people, and the world will be a much better and brighter place, too!

 

Positivity Glasses: Your Most Important Accessory

Guess what? I made some mistakes this week. I made some decisions that weren’t the smartest, did some things I probably shouldn’t have, and forgot to do other tasks I probably ought to have taken care of. And I’m sure that you have made mistakes this week too.

A decade ago, before my breakdown, those mistakes would have been a HUGE problem for me. I would have spent days beating myself up for each supposed screw-up. I would have thought things like, Todd, you’re such a moron! How could you have made a mistake like that?

To say the least, thoughts like that—especially when they happen frequently—aren’t exactly good for you. They lower your self-worth, and they rob you of your peace of mind and happiness. Even worse, they can doom you to future failure, because when you think less of yourself, you are much less effective. (Remember, our thoughts heavily influence our reality!) Also, studies show that enough negative thinking can actually cause you to get ill more often. And the really sad thing is, most of us do 100 things right for every one thing we do wrong…but we focus only on that one wrong thing.

If you have read my book, you might remember me talking about negativity and positivity glasses. (There is even a picture of a pair of glasses on the front cover of my book!) It seems to me that many people wear what I call “negativity glasses.” It’s like they have prescriptions covering their eyes that allow them to see only the negative things in their lives; for example, all that they could have done better and all of the things they feel they really messed up and handled poorly.

If you think you’re looking at life through negativity glasses, please try to throw them out and put on positivity glasses instead. Be easier on yourself and focus more on those 100 things you’ve done right. For example, give yourself a mental high-five for answering all of the emails in your inbox. Allow yourself to bask in the compliment your boss just paid you. Really savor the smiles on your family’s faces when eating the gourmet dinner you just cooked for them. These things will help you to realize that you have a lot of good, useful, and valuable things to offer the world.

In my own quest for happiness, I have found it very helpful to remember how I would help the people I love if they had made the mistake I just did. For example, I ask myself, What would I say to my wife if she had made this same mistake? The answer is always simple: I would tell her how much I love her and how great she is, and I’d also help her to feel better about herself by reminding her of her many more past success stories. I definitely wouldn’t want her to feel any more heartache or sadness about it or to miss out on all the blessings life has to offer because she couldn’t let it go.

It’s not always easy, but you must try to extend this same love, kindness, and forgiveness to yourself too. Remember: We are all human, and thus fallible, and so all of us will make mistakes. The fact is, if you focus on the one mistake you make and tell yourself how awful you are while ignoring the thousands of things you do right, you are literally setting your life up so you can’t win and can only be miserable and unhappy. What a shame it is that so many of us live this way in America. Please make 2012 the year you change if you are one of these many.

Say No to (Needless) Stress

“Stress is a killer.” Yes, we all say it, but how many of us really believe it? If you’re like most Americans, you probably just accept stress as an inevitable part of life. Stress, the thinking goes, is the price we pay for our jobs, houses, cars, and relatively comfortable lives. To some extent, that’s true. After all, no success, job, or family has ever been—or ever will be—stress-free. And you certainly can’t control big-time stressors like the economy or a parent’s degenerative illness.

That being said, it’s also true that most of us are paying a much higher “stress price” than we have to, and this lifestyle is incredibly unhealthy. Stress prevents you from enjoying your current blessings, and it can also trigger long-term effects including high blood pressure, insomnia, depression, and anxiety. Now, you may think I’m crazy when I say that it’s in your power to reduce the amount of stress in your life, but it’s true! (And it’s also imperative that you do so for the sake of your health, happiness, and future.) In this post, I’d like to share two stress-reducing strategies that have worked for me.

Strategy number one is as simple as changing the way you think about something that’s causing you anxiety. For example, when I was first starting out as a leader in my family’s company, I was literally making myself sick over several types of emergencies that I had to deal with: store managers quitting without giving notice, store break-ins, and employees stealing from our company. Thanks to the Tony Robbins tapes I’ve blogged about before, though, I learned that I could reframe how I thought about these problems. Instead of treating them as five-alarm, code-blue emergencies I shouldn’t have to deal with, I chose to see them as part of my job description.

That change of perspective made a huge difference in how I reacted to and managed these situations, and the same can be true for you. By retraining yourself to act differently in difficult situations, you can drastically improve your quality of life. Whenever you don’t have the power to change a stressful situation, try to view it as a challenge instead of as a hardship. Come up with a game plan for how you’d like to react and visualize yourself doing so until this more positive behavior becomes second nature.

Another way to reduce the amount of overall stress in your life is to identify the two or three things that cause you the most grief on a consistent basis and do something about them. Actually, I’ve found that these “problem spots” are often deceptively small. We don’t realize how big of a difference the so-called little things can make in our overall contentment levels, so we allow them to continue being thorns in our sides.

In my book, I use the example of a clean house when I talk about taking control of your everyday stressors, because I think it’s something a lot of people can relate to (and if not, something of similar magnitude probably bugs you). Let’s say that whenever your house isn’t vacuumed, swept, and put away, you feel stressed, so you spend a large chunk of your after-work hours straightening and scrubbing. It doesn’t end there, though, because you now feel bad about not spending the time with your family, and that type of guilt eats at you for days. Here are the stress-reducing suggestions I give in my book to help you break free of this hypothetical cycle:

  1. Hire a housekeeper. It may not be as expensive as you think. In fact, you could pay the housekeeper with the “guilt money” you’ve been spending on buying “stuff” for your children to make up for the time you don’t spend with them.
  2. Get family members to share the load. Why is all the housekeeping your job, anyway? You may need to have a frank discussion with your spouse and kids about dividing up the chores so you’ll all have more time to spend together.
  3. Rethink your need for super-cleanliness. Which is more important: getting the floor mopped three times a week or spending the time relaxing with your spouse or reading to your child? You may well decide you can overlook a little dirt!

Obviously, this is just one example among thousands of things that might cause you to feel stress rather than serenity. (And yes, it’s true that you’ll never be able to make your life totally stress-free.) But hopefully you can see that with a little thought and motivation, you can make changes that will drastically impact your happiness, and by extension, that of the people you care about.

 

 

 

 

 

The Negative Friend Dilemma: Surround Yourself with Happy People

This week I want to look at a type of situation in which your reaction can make or break your happiness: a friendship with a negative person. Whether you’re a man or a woman, young or old, outgoing or reserved, I’m willing to bet that there’s at least one person in your circle of acquaintances who leaves you feeling less than fulfilled after the two of you spend time together. Using an example, here’s my take on how you might best approach that relationship in order to up your happiness factor:

One of your friends loves to complain about everything. Her marriage, kids, looks, everything! Each time you see her, the conversation turns into a major vent session that leaves you feeling exhausted and negative. In the middle of a girls’ night out, for example, she’ll mention how unhealthy Mexican food is and that none of the entrées on the menu are allowed on the new diet she just started. Or when you run into her while picking up your daughter from dance class, she’ll want to gossip about the latest scandal involving the science teacher at the middle school. You can’t ever seem to talk about things that actually make you feel good!

Choose this: Without being rude, you start spending less time around this person and more time around people who are more positive. Casually listen to your friend’s conversations when you are together and try to join in only if you have something positive to contribute. (Remember how negative you feel after these rants!) When the opportunity presents itself, kindly excuse yourself and join in on another conversation or nicely segue into talking about the weather or your upcoming vacation.

NOT that: After hearing your friend rant on the negative topic du jour, you realize anew how unhappy you are with your weight or your husband, and you join in on the negativity. Soon you’re in a foul mood that rubs off on your family after you return home.

Why? Quite simply, surrounding yourself with positive people leads to happiness. In fact, studies show that you will be the average of the five people you spend the most time with in terms of your happiness levels. And negative people only drain energy from everyone around them, even though that may not be their stated intention. When you give your friend positive advice and do not allow her to suck you in, she will eventually seek out someone else to listen to her woes. I have found that negative people crave pity and sympathy—so be understanding, but don’t overdo it. Gradually, try to hang out more with positive people. I can tell you from experience that their positive attitudes will rub off on you, and I promise that you will begin to enjoy more mutually beneficial relationships…and life in general more, too. Remember, your attitude will be greatly enhanced or tremendously dragged down by the people you spend the most time with, so please put more thought each day into who these people are!

Beat Up or Build Up: Choose to Be Easier on Yourself

In an earlier blog post, I talked about how we all have the power to choose happiness for ourselves and I gave a few short examples of what that might look like in your life. I don’t want to stop there, though. Being able to make choices that increase your happiness is such an important concept to understand that I’d like to devote my next few blog posts along the way to elaborating on it.

In all situations there are responses that will make you feel better and more positive, and responses that will only increase your stress and unhappiness.

For example, let’s see how we can choose to be easier on ourselves after making a mistake:

Let’s say you’re giving a presentation at work. You feel fully prepared and you know what you’re talking about. The first part of the presentation goes smoothly, and the few jitters you felt at the beginning have been entirely replaced by confidence. When you look up from your notes to make eye contact with your coworkers, though, you lose your place in your notes. There is a long pause while you frantically search for the next point you wanted to make. You are a bit shaken, but you carry on and finish out your presentation without any other problems.

Choose this: Focus on all of the things that went well in the presentation. When people tell you that you did a nice job, accept the compliments with a genuine smile and thank them. Tell yourself, Overall, the presentation was very good, but next time I should organize my notes a bit better. Then you get to work on your next big project!

NOT that: You fixate on the pause during your presentation and disregard everything else. When people tell you that you did a nice job, you respond, “That’s nice of you to say, but I could just kick myself for messing up.” Throughout the rest of the week, you continue to tell yourself, I am a failure.

Why? One of the keys to happiness is choosing to be easier on yourself. Why let the one thing you did wrong ruin the hundreds of things you’ve done right? It is human nature to focus on the negative, but you have the power to change your thought process. As long as you learn from your mistakes, you should accept them as a part of life—you’re not the only person who has ever messed up! Plus, the mistakes you make usually pale in comparison to your accomplishments. Happy people acknowledge their achievements and keep their mistakes in perspective.

I think it’s a shame that people tend to torture themselves for not being perfect—but I understand why they do it. It took me a very long time to accept the fact that I am human too, and thus fallible. The truth is, we all make mistakes, and I’ve learned that it makes more sense to laugh at and appreciate your own humanity, fallibility, and mix-ups. Believe me, no one cares about that little mistake you made in your speech (or any other minor slip-ups that might occur!), so don’t allow it to dominate your whole week and infect your outlook with negativity. We all must learn to be our own best cheerleaders, building ourselves up every day—not the reverse!

Feed Your Mind…Well!

I remember it well: the first time someone told me that I should listen to motivational material (by Tony Robbins, as it happens), my reaction was, “Yeah, right! No way is some hokey set of tapes going to relieve my stress or make me feel any better about my life.”

At the time I was in my early twenties, trying to juggle a huge amount of responsibility in my family’s auto parts business, and I was pushing myself over the physical and mental brink. An older salesman who always seemed to be energized and positive had offered to let me borrow his Tony Robbins’ Personal Power: The Driving Force! 30-Day Program for Unlimited Success tape set, and after a hasty thank-you, I tossed them into the backseat of my car (keeping my skeptical thoughts to myself) and went on with my day.

Little did I know that when I popped the first tape into the cassette player during a moment of boredom on my morning commute the next day that I was at a turning point in my life! Tony Robbins was the first person to teach me (among other things) that I really did have a choice about how to lead my own life, that I didn’t have to stay stuck in my negative thinking, and that I could direct my mind to think more positively.

In the years since that day, I have read many, many motivational books and listened to just as many audio recordings. I have learned that what you put into your mind has a HUGE impact on your attitude and outlook—and thus on the quality of your life. If you’re exposing yourself to new, positive, and uplifting ideas, you’ll be energized and happier. But if you limit your mental intake to depressing news, violent movies, and gripes from everyone you talk to, you’ll be stuck in a negative cycle.

So, even if you think it’s cheesy (as I originally did), I encourage you to give motivational materials a try. Listening to a motivational CD during your morning commute or reading for fifteen minutes as you sip your coffee in the morning can put you in a positive place until you go to sleep in the evening. When you do this each day, you’ll find that your attitude is improved, and that you have learned new tools to eliminate your own self-doubt and self-criticism. By focusing more on all the positive aspects of who you are, what you are doing, and what is great in your life, you’ll find that the whole direction of your life can change. And if you’re not sure where to start, I have a recommended reading and listening list HERE!