Change is Like a New Kitten

8 09 2011

Do you ever wake up and want to change everything in your life?

Every few months, I get into a mood where I want to completely overhaul every aspect of my life. I want to start a new exercise plan, learn some new skill for work, get a new haircut, re-arrange my furniture…what have you. But changing too many things at once can get unwieldy and overwhelming and for me at least, none of those changes last.

Two days ago, my roommates and I rescued a cat, Delphina (don’t ask me, I didn’t name her). Like most cats who are moved into a new house with new owners, she was scared, shy and uncomfortable. As soon as we brought her home, she darted under the couch and hid there for the whole first night.

My roommate wanted to play with her so he got down on the floor, reached his arm under the couch and pulled her out. He tried to hug her into submission but a second later, Delphina leapt from his arms in a tizzy and bolted back into her hiding place. She cowered back in her corner more scared than before.

After my roommate went to bed, I took my turn trying to play with the new kitten. I dangled a cat toy in front of her, but she wasn’t having any of it. So, rather than force it, I just sat on the floor near her, letting her get used to my presence. Occasionally I would make some “here kitty” motions but for the most part I left her alone. Eventually, step by step, Delphinacrept closer to me and then cuddled into my arm.

We’ve had her a couple days now and I’m still the only one she’ll come out to play with, in fact she’s cradled between my arms as I type right now.

It’s a Slow Road to Lasting Change

Trying to get the cat to play with and love me is a pretty good metaphor for change. We’d love to reach out and seize change, pull it towards us and hold it in our arms until it stays for good. However, change is finicky and elusive. It will slip out of our hands in an instant, leaving us back in square one.

To change and to make it last, we’ve got to coax it towards us and get a little crafty. Sometimes after even the tiniest step forward, we experience a step backwards. Even after a step forward that sticks, we have to wait and adjust – often for quite some time – before we can take another tiny step forward. Taking the slow and steady path is how to make a change that lasts. It is how to get it to cuddle into your arms rather than dart back into hiding.

There is No Right Way to Change

There are of course the kinds of people who wake up one morning, decide to makeover their lives entirely and accomplish it all in one step. That’s great for them and I admire their resolve but, not everyone works that way. Many people, like me, need a stepwise approach.

Sometimes change is like a moody cat but so long as we keep saying “here kitty” and remain patient, we can get it to curl up into our arms like a warm, furry friend.

Do you think people who change fast can change for good? Or is it really slow and steady wins the race? What have your experiences been?

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3 ways to think about relaxation

1 06 2011

It’s a stressful time for many of us.  If you’re in college, finals are keeping you awake at night.  If you’re working, chances are you’re racing to meet your numbers or wrap things up before the summer.  And if you’re a homemaker, you’re prepping for summer, figuring out how to keep your rambunctious kids occupied or (if you can afford it) where to go for a much-needed family vacation.

So…what can we say here about relaxation that hasn’t already been said?

We could list 100 ways to relax, with at least something on the list that may be new to you.  Or we could promote our unique method of relaxation, perhaps a new form of meditation or recreation.

But those things are just a Google search away.  I mean, seriously, why reinvent the wheel?

Instead, we offer you 3 simple and profound ways to think about relaxation, no matter who you are and what you seek.


If you need to relax, there’s probably something in your life that’s troubling you, winding you up or keeping you awake at night.  This isn’t always a bad thing…studies have shown that adequate levels of stress can increase productivity, creativity and overall performance.

But if a person, work project or situation is starting to occupy more of your life than it should, then stress levels become unhealthy.  Stay in this zone for too long, and your body/mind will rebel – you’ll fall ill, become depressed, get grouchy over inconsequential things, snap at your loved ones etc.  You know what I’m talking about.  I’m sure you’ve experienced this at least once in your life.

The first step is to be aware that things are off-balance.  Then, it’s time to figure out how and when to let things go.  Can you delegate?  Can you step away (even temporarily) from the stressor?  What techniques have you used in the past to distance yourself from your stressful reality (e.g. yoga, meditation, counting to 10, calling your best friend…), and which ones can you use right now?

Remember, your desired end goal may justify getting stressed out/overworked in the short term, but your overall health and well-being needs your attention too.  You only have one body.  Honor and nourish it!

Breath is life.  When we forget to breathe deeply and slowly, we are robbing our bodies of oxygen and the very fuel it needs to carry us through our days.
In a world where brains and intellect are so highly valued, we spend too much time in our heads and not enough time remembering or acknowledging the bodies that transport us.  Just the simple act of slow, conscious breathing reconnects us with our bodies.  It slows our heart rate and immediately relaxes us.
If you’ve ever done cardiovascular exercise, you’ll recall your trainer asking you to breathe.  This is to sufficiently oxygenate the body that you’ve placed in temporary overdrive.  If you didn’t breathe, you would feel faint or dizzy.
And if you’ve ever done any sort of bodywork or somatic therapy, then you’ve experienced the deep, penetrating effects of breath.  Conscious breathing into your tissue or your spine can release deep tension and literally enliven you.
This last principle will mean different things to different people.  What does it mean to you to live, really live, a full life?  More than having outlets or having good relationships, this is about discovering and living out your dreams and life purpose.
Not to get all ‘Oprah’ on you….but her brand stands for living your best life.  When you know and respond to what truly drives you and feeds your soul, the very thought or practice of that activity will relax you.  More than that, it will energize and uplift you, as well as those around you.
There are, of course, the practical matters of life.  Bills need to be paid, mouths to be fed.  And some dreams do have a shelf life, so don’t chase them if the chances of success are truly slim to nothing.  But those among us who have found and made peace with what we were born to do, can wake up each morning feeling a little more relaxed in their life journey.
If your circumstances make it impossible to make a drastic change in your life, then take baby steps.  I promise you, every step you take toward realizing your life’s vision is a step toward greater peace and relaxation.
I hope you’ve found these 3 principles to be useful. Do you agree or disagree with them?  Please comment below!

5 tools for life change. (And…we’re back!)

25 05 2011

by Maya Mathias

I stopped updating this blog 16 months ago to make HUGE changes in my own life. And I’m now ready to re-launch this ChangePals blog, plus the accompanying it’s-so-freakin’-cool-I-wish-it-were-live-already website (coming this fall) with wiser eyes and a deeper heart.

Since my last post, I’ve learned even more enriching lessons, many of which I’ll share here in the coming weeks and months.

In a nutshell…I’ve moved halfway across the world, made new friends, started a business, secured 6 paying clients in 8 months, hired & trained a couple of interns AND healed a strained relationship with a close relative. Not bad for 16 months’ work.

But it wasn’t easy. No real and long-lasting life change ever is. That’s why the idea behind ChangePals is so powerful. It’s a place where change is your friend, where change is something to be cherished for the growth it brings us instead of the pain it can often cause us along the way.

How can change be your friend?

Think back to anything you accomplished that you’re still immensely proud of. I bet it didn’t come without a fight, hard work or taking a honest look at yourself more than once and saying you could do it. And I bet it involved at least one mentor or good friend who convinced you that it was an accomplishment worth striving for.  A caring someone who supported you when the going got rough and, more importantly, who gave you a kick in the rear when you got lazy and wanted to give up. And ultimately, someone who showered you with kind words and bear hugs when you met your goal.

So….here’s what you can expect from ChangePals:

  1. Inspiration.  We’ll have lots, and lots, and lots (did I forget to say it was lots?) of stories from people who have successfully changed their lives, or have at least learned something about the process of change.  There’s a bunch of science and theory around the idea of change, and we’ll blog about those too, but we also want to focus on the emotional & creative side of change.  You know, those unexpected messages that come to you when you hear someone else’s story and get a little ‘lightbulb’ moment of your own.
  2. Support.  We want ChangePals to be a SAFE and EFFECTIVE place to find the best mentors and friends for your life change.  ChangePals is not a therapy group or a collection of addiction-anonymous associations.  It’s a destination for high-functioning people (like you and me) who just happen to feel stuck in some way.  Between the ideas here and on our new website (launching this fall), we’ll help you ignore the naysayers in your life and find people who can and will cheer you through your change goals.
  3. Resources.  There are a ton of tools and ideas out there about how to make successful personal change.  We aim to blog about the ones that have worked best for us, our friends and our coaching clients.  The tools could be from a best-selling author or our Aunt Susie.  We really don’t care.  All we care about is that people have used it, and that it WORKS.
  4. Motivation.  Yeah, this one’s a tough nut to crack sometimes ain’t it?  The secret is….there is no secret.  ALL of us struggle with a lack of motivation at times.  We just need to keep reminding ourselves of our goal, and to keep our cheerleaders/mentors in the loop so they can help us stay on track.  Most of all, we need to remember not to beat ourselves up when we slip.  We’ll address the art and science of motivation as often as possible in this blog.
  5. Creativity.  In our rush to make it through each day on this earth, we often forget that we are an infinitely creative species.  It’s exciting to be living in a time where all forms of creativity are being celebrated (e.g. storytelling, problem-solving, art, technology etc).  And it’s equally exciting that adults are rediscovering the benefits of play and exploration, especially at work.  Here at ChangePals, we’ll show you how to tap into your creative toolbox to uncover your deepest passions and make the life changes that mean the most to you.
So there you have it.
5 ways that ChangePals hopes to serve you.
5 areas that can guide you through the most sacred and courageous of life choices.
5 beacons to help you design the life you know you’ve always hoped to live.
Tell us…what else would you seek from a friend in change?  Please comment below.

Being a startup in 2010

5 01 2010

We’ve welcomed 2010 at home and now at work.  As thoughts of New Year champagne and merrymaking fade into recent memory, projects and deadlines loom large.  Targets, goals, benchmarking…hello job!

According to this WSJ article, Americans are less satisfied with their work than ever.  No kidding.  Between doing more with less for at least a decade, and this style-cramping no-end-in-sight economy, I dare you to find 10 friends who go to work for ‘the man’ with a song in their heart.

All of which gave me additional pause when I read that startups will keep struggling in 2010.  For many of us working in professional chain gangs, we dream of changing our work path, breaking free & finally being our own boss.  The article delivered a somber forecast, but here are some silver-lining thoughts if you want to or have already launched your own gig.  See if these might change your perspective:

  1. Angel investors and venture capitalists are doing more, but smaller deals.  VCs are targeting later-stage companies to minimize their risk.  And the SBA may see a modest stimulus-induced uptick.    So…funding is still out there.  What REALLY counts, more than ever in this climate, is a rock-solid business strategy that can be creatively and successfully implemented on a budget.  In other words, prove you know how to accomplish more with less dinero on as many fronts as possible.  If nothing, you will stand out for your ingenuity and resourcefulness.
  2. Companies are asking friends & family to work for free i.e. exchanging services or trading favors.  If you’re already neck deep in entrepreneur literature, this will not be news to you.  Consider 2010 the year to call in those favors – this is no time to be shy if you truly believe in your idea.  And if you’ve established high credibility with former bosses or colleagues, ask them if they’ll put their money or time where their faith is.
  3. Given the funding situation, a budding restauranteur featured in the article is rethinking his setup.  Instead of going it alone or starting from scratch, he may take on partners or invest in a failed restaurant.  So get creative.  Study that business plan again.  Is there something you can tweak without compromising your vision?  Is there a market entry point you haven’t considered?  Start talking to people abut your startup.  You’ll be surprised by what they reveal or point you to.  In this networked world where information courses at a million miles a minute and ideas just like yours could be a dime a dozen, sharing your idea won’t necessarily diminish your competitive edge.  However, a lack of  follow through and flawless execution will.

The business climate may not be ideal for your startup right now.  But that didn’t stop companies from trying and succeeding in previous downturns.  Give that budding vision a chance to breathe, evolve and eventually become the full-blooded entity you know it can be.

A New Year’s toast to your dream.  Cheers!

What are your Christmas gifts?

27 12 2009

A good friend asked me this week if I celebrate Christmas.  My knee-jerk response was ‘I don’t know.’  As a non-Christian, I enjoy the festive season as much as the next person.  Carolling, feasting, attending Christmas mass (I attended Catholic school and learned many hymns!), exchanging presents…been there, still doing that.  I mean, what’s not to like about yummy food, receiving gifts and admiring twinkling lights?

Upon reflection, though, I DO celebrate Christmas.  Every day of the year.

Not the eggnog, yuletide carols or snowball fights.  Not watching Christmas specials or ripping open yet another present from a Secret Santa colleague at the annual office party.

What I strive to celebrate is the gift of extending good cheer to a fellow human being.  What I love, more than anything about Christmas, is how people remember to care for the less able and fortunate in our midst.

The Salvation Army donation pails.  The massively overflowing bins of presents for needy children.  The sudden surge of volunteers at soup kitchens.  These efforts are noble, touching and richly rewarding.

So, as we march through the remaining days of Christmas, what gifts will you share with friends and strangers in the coming year?  How might you change the way you give of yourself in 2010?  And in what intangible, ongoing ways will you make a difference to a fellow human being?

Have a merry, joy-filled Christmas season.

The paradoxes of change

20 12 2009

I was amazed at how relevant this 1997 article  is today.  It argues that what you fear, or what you/your family/your organisation instinctually avoid, becomes a useful marker of the direction of the most powerful change that you could encounter. 

In modern parlance, the comfort zone is enemy territory.

This, however, clashes with our instinct for order and our desire to make sense of the world.  We cannot measure what we cannot define.  We need boundaries, frameworks, taxonomies and systems to exert control over the entropic world we inhabit. 

Predictability = safety, security, power.  And yet, the pace of change outstrips our ability to comprehend or compute it.  Surely it’s high time we accept the fact that quickfire change is here to stay and, the better we’re able to adapt to and thrive amidst it, the more we can function, contribute and excel.

As 2010 beckons and we look ahead to its untold possibilities, what are your current attitudes toward change?

1) Do you naturally seek order or invite uncertainty?

2) Do you move toward or away from what you instinctually fear?

3) Do your New Years’ resolutions change or remain constant over the years?  Why?

4) How do friends/family influence the changes you do or don’t make in life?

5) If you desire change, do you know what direction to take?

Let’s begin the beguine of change.

Are you serving your life’s story?

7 12 2009

Always serve the story.

That’s what my improvisational theatre coach told us last week.  If you should feel embarrassed or afraid to portray a certain character, remember that you are an instrument of the story that is unfolding before and through you.  If you’ve never harmed a flea in real life, but are playing a mob boss with a penchant for slicing his enemy’s ears off, then commit to the character and be that menacing boss to full effect.

The larger notion of serving the story got me thinking.  As actors on our individual and collective life stages, what do we do to stay true to our stories?  And what IS our story to begin with?

Every now and again, we pose existential questions like ‘Who am I?’ or ‘What is my life’s purpose?’.  Some of us spend a disproportionate amount of time dwelling on the answers, others give it no more than a fleeting thought.  And yet, our life continues to unfold, with or without our conscious intervention.

What happens if and when you choose to intervene?  Where do you begin?  What needs changing most, and why?

It must surely begin with an exploration and discovery of your inner story.  One that is part of your DNA, something that you and only you were born to do.  Whether sealed by fate or fortune, your life path is a unique combination of personal connections, experiences and realisations.  You are drawn to certain fields of study, particular social networks, specific environments, all serving to uncover and express the story you carry within.

If you had to re-enact your life to date on stage tomorrow, and then improvise the next 5 years worth of experiences and sensations so that you honour that inner story, what would you do?  Who would you add to your fabric of existence?  What would you walk away from today?  What would happen if you started to move in a different direction?  What habits would you introduce?  Which would you cast aside, and why?

Most of all, who is and will continue to be part of your life’s story?  How will they respond to your newly improvised existence?  How do you take them along for the ride, and reassure them that this is a path worth taking?  What would you do if they resist?

I want ChangePals to help you explore these questions and more.  And when you decide to take that first bold step to honour your life’s story, there’ll be fellow travellers on the ChangePals site to guide you on your way and hold you to your promise of life change.

Nobody ever said change was easy.  Yet, it’s the only thing we can count on.  And what better change than that which brings you closer to your inner truth?

So, what are you doing to serve your life’s story?  And are you ready to take it to the next level?