Whether you are looking to savor your summer—or to make the most of your limited and precious time—life coach Tal Fagin offers advice on practicing gratitude.
Happy Summer, everyone!
A number of people have reached out, looking for tips, tricks and helpful reminders on how to tame the frenzy and shed their perpetual busy-ness. It seems lots of you are looking to access the more joyful, carefree sense of summer you enjoyed as children.
To be honest, I could use the reminders myself.
June was about as hectic as can be, and an emotional roller coaster, too. There were the constant “final” events of the school year—some adorable, some challenging, some pride-worthy—all bittersweet and guaranteed to make me cry. There was Father’s Day, a raucous good time with relatives and friends, but also a chance to miss my own dearly departed dad, who birthday and death day also happen to fall in June. the anniversary of his death falling just two days later. There were festive, happy occasions, like my youngest daughter’s birthday, and scary occasions, too, like doctor visits and follow up tests. Thankfully, all is well, but who enjoys those angst-ridden reminders of how swiftly things can turn? In the midst of all this, one cousin had a baby, another got married and a friend lost her battle with cancer way too soon.
Suddenly, a column on how to downshift for the summer seemed trivial. So did just about everything else.
Then again, this also feels like the perfect opportunity to contemplate and prioritize the things that really matters in life, and to recommit to making more time for them.
I am not a person who needs all of these ceremonies, rituals and rites of passage to make me stop and think. I always aim to keep things in perspective and appreciate simple gifts. Losing both of my parents, unexpectedly and young, I have learned how to let go of certain petty worries and material goals, to stay true to my core values and to try to live each day with gratitude and intention.
Which is what I’d like to suggest to you.
Whether you are looking to savor your summer—or looking to make the most of your limited and precious time on this Earth—my advice is going to be the same. I invite you to try the following:
Check Your Busy. Everyone is so darn busy! If you are anything like me, you always seem to have a large, running list of daily tasks and long-term goals to accomplish. There is essentially always something you “could” or “should” be doing. Whether it’s tending to your business or tackling the laundry, there is always more to do.
The question is, what exactly are we all so busy doing, and why?
Jobs and families and friends… oh my! A rich, full life is full of demands. Still, how many of them really require the level of intensity we tend to bring? In my experience, people cling to their busy-ness as a badge of honor. It helps them feel worthy and important. But ask yourself this: does all this worshiping at the altar of productivity really serve you, or is it exacting too high a price?
Dropping your “busy” story may feel scary at first. How would you justify your existence without all those meetings and appointments, all those people depending on you and your diligence? Then again, how much does that really matter to you? What do you truly care about? Is there another story you can craft about your place in this world— something more to do with who you are and less to do with how much you do each day?
Check Your Bias. We humans are naturally inclined to focus on what stinks. It’s called a negativity bias, and it is part of our survival instinct. It’s great for keeping us safe, but entirely awful when it comes to appreciating our lives and all that is good about them.
And everyone has something in their life they can appreciate.
Today, for example, is impossibly beautiful, with the bluest of skies, the brightest sunshine and the softest of breezes. I have a quiet, shady spot to sit and write, and a furry bundle of love dozing at my feet. There is a symphony of birds all around me, the lilacs smell delicious and I have nowhere to be for an entire two hours.
I could go on. And I’m sure you could, too.
How often do you stop and take it all in—to scan your environment for the things you are grateful for, the parts of your life that make you feel lucky?
Perhaps your day doesn’t feel glorious or worthy of appreciation. Perhaps you feel chained to your desk, deadlines looming. Perhaps you are sick or in pain or stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Perhaps you feel stuck in other ways—dissatisfied with your career, limited in your resources or unhappy in your marriage. Perhaps the endless tide of nastiness and negativity that constitutes the daily news cycle has you down and wondering why the hell I am talking about blue skies and sunshine.
But that, Dear Reader, is exactly the point.
I make it a regular practice to note all of the simple, lucky, ordinary things in life, and to do so with gratitude. It is not about denying reality or being Pollyanna. It is about looking at how all that negativity actually impacts your life, and choosing to focus on the positive instead.
Does going negative serve you? In my case, I always find it does not. I might be troubled by something, but focusing on the negative tends to make me prickly and mean, stressed, impatient and unpleasant. I am no good to myself in that state, and kind of awful to others, too.
Practicing gratitude, by contrast, not only combats the negativity bias, but it rewires the brain for happiness. Happier people are more generous, more productive and more resilient. They tend to be friendlier, more creative, more proactive and even healthier, too.
Check Your B List. We all have responsibilities to honor and tasks to complete. Not all of them are thrilling, and some are kind of grueling. These are things that make us feel heavy or tight, burdened or aggrieved. They are the things we tend to dread or procrastinate, the things we complain about to colleagues and friends. Most of us take a “plow through” approach, without ever stopping to think if there isn’t another way.
The B List (also known as The Three B’s) is that other way. Simply ask yourself three questions:
Can I bag it?
Can I barter it?
Can I better it?
Whatever it is—from cleaning the gutters to that pile of employee reviews—first consider bagging it. Can you just forget all about it? Skip it entirely? Most people instinctively answer “No” here. They think they “have to” attend that faraway wedding that’s going to bust their budget, or else everyone will be insulted or angry. The truth is, you rarely have to do anything. If you simply stop showing up for work, for example, you might get fired. You still don’t have to report for duty. You choose to do so, because it is better than dealing with the consequences.
This may seem like a ridiculous distinction, but I encourage you to try it. Telling yourself you have no choice makes you feel like a victim. Framing your life and your time as a function of choices, on the other hand, is more energizing and empowering.
Should you decide not to bag it, consider whether or not you can barter it. Is there someone else who can take on that new sales project or cook for your next dinner party? Do you have a friend who just loves to organize closets and sell items on eBay, and is there something you can do for her in return?
Finally, if you decide not to bag or barter tasks you dread, if they just must be done and must be done by you, consider what you might do to improve the experience. This is your opportunity to be creative. Is there some reward you can offer yourself, some distraction or treat? Sometimes, the simple exercise of recognizing you can bag something if you choose, betters the experience of doing it. Sometimes this involves ice cream.
I will leave that up to you.
As for me, it is time to pick up the kids from camp. The three of them are scattered around town this week, meaning lots of driving for me. Two hours to myself felt like bliss, whereas all the driving feels like a drag.
Then again, there is another way of looking at it.
Camp is not mandatory, I don’t have to send them at all. It is something they enjoy, something we can afford to do for them. Besides, I don’t have to pick them up, I can ask a friend to help and offer a barter. Or I can better the experience by shifting my story and changing my attitude. I get to pick them up, I have the luxury of doing so, of seeing their smiling, dirty, faces and hearing all about what they’ve been up to all day.
Maybe even over ice cream. Lucky me.