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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The Perils of Perfectionism

29 08 2011

I ‘ve been a perfectionist all my life. My mother is Chinese and yes, some of the stereotypes about ‘Tiger Mothers’ are true. I had my first piano lesson at 3. If I brought a straight A report card home, my mom would just say “Ok, do it again next time.” I’ve been conditioned since birth to grow up to be a virtuoso pianist who moonlights as a surgeon and does pro bono charity work as a lawyer for the disenfranchised in my spare time. In a word, to be perfect.

Perfectionism can be a positive force. It motivates people to work hard and keep high standards. After all, being the ‘best you can be’ is what self improvement is all about. However, we’re here today to talk about the negatives of perfectionism, and how the need to go beyond excellent and be perfect can actually keep us from progressing in our goals.

We are all familiar with the idea that perfectionists are over-achieving workaholics but here are some other warning signs of perfectionism.

Perfectionists don’t try new things

Perfectionists avoid being anything less than perfect at all cost. Usually this means working to the bone to achieve perfection but sometimes this means inaction. Often, when a perfectionist tries something new and they aren’t immediately good at it, they give up (see my post last week about my 2 week stint on the bass guitar). When the new activity is already perceived to be difficult, many perfectionists don’t even bother trying at all.

Perfectionists don’t get things started

Even when perfectionists do decide that they are going to take on a difficult new task, they are slow to get the ball rolling. If there is any worry that they might perform poorly, perfectionists will procrastinate and attempt to delay that poor performance as long as possible. It’s funny that perfectionists often come off as slackers.

Perfectionists think “I won’t start this project until I know the right way to do it.” Perfectionists have an ‘all or nothing’ attitude. Either something has to be done impeccably, or not at all.

Perfectionists don’t get things done

In addition to not being able to start projects, perfectionists often have trouble finishing them too. It’s not that perfectionists aren’t productive, they’re usually workaholics. What stops them from actually finishing projects, though, is getting too hung up on small details. They waste time on perfecting individual components and lose sight of the bigger picture.

No matter how much work they do get done, perfectionists will never feel finished. They will forever be chasing perfection when it doesn’t exist. Perfectionists run at full speed but never get anywhere. It’s stressful, exhausting and debilitating.

How to Overcome Perfectionism

Perfectionism is a tough habit to break because it’s so closely tied to feelings of worth. In order to improve, we must learn to separate healthy goals from harmful obsession. The key to this is to re-examine our motivations.

Perfectionism is often fueled by external, rather than internal causes. Perfectionists want to be perceived as excellent by others. They feel they have an image to maintain, an image to present to everyone else.

The irony is that perfectionism, though it does not necessarily stem from the self, is self-imposed. We must, however, remember that it is only us that holds us to these standards. If at any point we choose to change those standards or those goals, we can.

So what should our goals be?

Perfectionists often strive for things: a promotion, a raise, a title or recognition. It’s better, however, to work toward values and actions: doing things with integrity, being a supportive team member, working hard or being enthusiastic. It is a far more admirable thing to accomplish something with a positive spirit and to grow and learn in the process, than it is to accomplish it perfectly.

So even though we all want to be MVP, to be perfect and to get those gold stars, being ‘Most Improved’ is just as worthy a pursuit.

Can you relate to these traits of perfectionists? What are your stories of struggling with, and overcoming, the need to be perfect?

Start Being Creative: Get in the Right Mindset

16 08 2011

Last week, I talked about how being a creator is more important than being creative. Being process-oriented rather than results-oriented frees the act of creation from stress, judgements and fear and refocuses on what it should be: a fun, expressive and productive activity.

In this blog post, we talk about being creative in the most traditional sense, in terms of artistic expression. The types of hurdles we face during these kinds of projects, however, can be applied to any new life endeavors. Just like a bodybuilder has to gradually train to be able to bench press 250 pounds, we need to gradually build up what it takes to make significant changes in our lives. Learning to overcome anxiety, insecurity and fear when undertaking personal side projects exercises the same qualities required to conquer those bigger goals.

We all have some artistic or creative dream we’ve always wanted to accomplish: be an amateur photographer, finish an oil painting, write a novel, play the mandolin…etc. These hobbies or artistic projects are usually a low priority compared to our careers, family or friends. But if it’s an interest that you’ve kept in the back of your mind for years, it’s worth dusting off and really taking a stab at. Here are some tips to get you in the mindset to start being creative.

Cut the Excuses!

No more saying that you lack the time, the materials or the knowledge to start a new project. Claim you don’t have time? Just chip away at it bit by bit. If you can spare an hour to watch a TV show or mindlessly click through StumbleUpon links, then you have the time.

Oil painting requires paints, brushes, palettes, an easel, canvases, paint thinners and varnish and those can cost a lot. So practice sketching in the meantime. Study up on technique, color mixing, composition and perspective while you start to gather up all the other supplies.

You say you lack the knowledge? Well of course you do, you haven’t started yet. Remember, creating is a process. Van Gogh didn’t conjure up Starry Night with a snap of his fingers. For that matter, Van Gogh didn’t conjure up the talent it took to create Starry Night in an instant either. The knowledge is there for you to take in as soon as you decide to start. The more you create, the more you’ll learn.

Celebrate your imperfection!

If ever you are discouraged from even starting something new (whether it’s being creative or trying a new career move or starting a new relationship) the reason is typically fear. We are afraid of not doing things right or of not doing them well.

I remember in middle school I convinced my dad to buy me an electric bass guitar. I quit after 2 weeks because I still sounded like I did on day one: like crap. Of course, having the short attention span of a 12 year old didn’t help either, but what ultimately made me quit was the self-consciousness of not doing well. I didn’t even give myself the chance to gain a little skill so I could start being creative with it.

So don’t be afraid if your first painting of a horse looks more like an elephant. Don’t be afraid that you’ve been practicing just one guitar chord for weeks. Embrace it! Own the fact that you are the best horse-elephant painter alive. Write a simple song with just one chord and make your friends sit through a concert of it. Being creative is about expression and having fun.

The best motivational quote I’ve heard for being creative is: “A writer is not someone who is published, a writer is someone who writes everyday.” The same goes for being an artist, a musician, a cook… It is important to first focus on the process of creating rather than on the quality of the thing created because being “creative” requires that you’ve made something in the first place.

Creativity Exercise: Make your own box to think outside of

Ok, so now you have the confidence to begin creating….but still feel stuck? Here’s a tip based on science, that’s right, real science to help you out. You see, absolute freedom of choice actually makes us anxious. We are anxious that we will make a poor choice, that there is some better choice or that by choosing one thing, we lose out on all other things. So if this anxiety about choosing the right way to proceed is paralyzing your creativity, then practice imposing restrictions on yourself.

Paint a picture with just one color. Try creating as many new recipes as you can with just 4 ingredients. Take pictures of just one type of object or theme for a week. Try nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) where the objective is to get 50,000 words down on paper in a month, no matter what or how good those words are. The restrictions can steer you when you get stuck. They can also force new perspectives and new approaches which will let your creativity flourish.

What project do you have sitting in your garage or in the back of your closet? What’s keeping you from picking it back up?

We’d love to hear your comments and tips for creativity!

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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.

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.

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?

Hello World!

21 10 2009

Change takes time.  On this site, you can discover your attitudes to change, find out how you want to transform, connect with like-minded people across the globe and join ongoing discussions about YOUR change priorities. 

Welcome to ChangePals.  Make change real in your life today!