Beyonce and Me: Honing Our Zoning Skills

Photo Zones

Now that I have your attention, let me tell you about a ritual of hers. When she is on tour, Beyonce makes it a practice to return to her hotel room immediately after each concert, watch the video of her performance and note any areas for improvement. Her notes are then typed and passed out to everyone involved. In this way, adjustments can be made before the next show.

In his Ted Talk entitled “How to Get Better at the Things You Care About,” Eduardo Briceño, uses Beyonce as an example of how the most effective people alternate between the activity zone and the performance zone in order to achieve maximum success in life.

In the activity zone, our full attention is on deliberate practice in order to improve our skills. We develop new strategies, work to improve ourselves and use any mistakes we make as learning tools.

The performance zone is where we execute what we have already mastered. Our goal here is to minimize mistakes and get things done.

According to Briceño, working hard doesn’t always equal success. Many of us hit a performance plateau, satisfied that we are doing a good enough job, and neglect the activity zone. This is where those feelings of frustration and stagnation come from.

With little formal education and no financial backing, I watched my dad methodically elevate himself, rung by rung, up the ladder of success. The owner of a construction company, he read self-help books, learned from professionals, constantly pushed himself and never stopped being curious and inquisitive. That combined with street smarts and a bit of showmanship was the perfect formula that worked for him.

My interest in business sparked when I realized that it was an opportunity to have my dad all to myself. In a high school business contest, he helped me formulate a sales presentation for aluminum siding that won me first prize. The judges commented that my product selection and my innate knowledge of every aspect of it took them by surprise. Thanks to my dad, this began my relentless practice of striving for excellence (I can still hear him saying “…Do it right or don’t do it at all..”)

Our father/daughter dinners started when I began my career. I relished our time alone, the fancy Manhattan restaurants and his commanding presence. I listened intently to him as he chronicled the ups and downs of his day (never dull), answered my questions and advised me. Not surprising, many of his ideas and suggestions were the basis of an MBA, without the fancy titles.

We develop confidence through ongoing learning. I’ve learned that a curiosity and a willingness to explore, to observe and to reflect are just as important as the achievements themselves. Rather than keeping our heads down, we need to look up once in a while, pay attention and strive for that balance between the activity and the performance zones.

Let’s create momentum and put our energy into keeping it going. Let’s find a willing mentor, exchange ideas with others, read, take a class, explore and create a better version of ourselves.

 

 

 

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Worry: Concerns Gone Crazy

Photo Worry

“…Stop!..” I yelled out loud and hoped that no one was behind me as I walked down the street. I was doing it again; replaying a worrisome thought over and over in my head until it took over all my thoughts. I promised myself then and there that I would make it a priority to overcome this pattern.

When I walked into work that morning and greeted the receptionist, I couldn’t help but notice the book that was sitting right in front of her. “… Where did that come from?..” I yelled, startling her. “…Oh, this is my go to book. I reread it anytime I need to …” she responded.

Before you could say “serendipity,” I was devouring my own copy of the book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie. Little by little, it inspired me to learn how to combat those worry filled thoughts.

It seemed as though most woman I knew shared in this habit. There is something in our genetic composition that seems to trigger the worry gene. Unlike many men, who can be nonchalant about almost any subject, we seem to need to delve, working our Ifs, ands or buts off.

I pride myself on always doing the best that I can, but did not realize that I was allowing a bad habit (disguised as an inclination) to infiltrate my emotions. I could worry in the past, the present and the future. I could fret in black and white or Technicolor, creating an imaginary storyline that rivaled any soap opera. I was able to multi task by stewing in Spanish. My anxiety ridden thoughts were for you or about you, so that I also became adept at the art of worrying for two.

Dale Carnegie’s message and inspirational stories are as relevant as they were when his book was originally published back in the 1940s. The more I read, the more I realized that I could easily conquer worry using his techniques:

  • Shut the doors on the past and the future and live in day-tight compartments.
  • See the funny side of life.
  • Keep busy.
  • Examine the record: What are the chances, according to the law of averages that this event you are worrying about will ever occur?
  • Do the best you can.
  • Count your blessings, not your troubles.
  • Forget yourself by becoming interested in others. Every day do a good deed that will put a smile on someone’s face.

Worry was not going to have the chance to increase my stress levels, give me premature wrinkles or insomnia. Now if I am ever walking down the street and catch myself starting to stew, I just hum a song out loud as a reminder, with no concern as to who might be walking behind me. They can change their path, I’m not planning on changing mine.

Sheepishly Admitting to the Blaaaaahs

Photo Blah

It happens to the best of us. One sleepless night, one touch of a cold, one too many stressful days and we are transformed into someone we no longer recognize in the mirror. When did wearing two pairs of socks and a sweatshirt over mismatched PJs become our uniform? Why are the sticking uppers in our hair the size of Cleveland, Ohio? Who is that person under the covers at two in the afternoon? Where has the get up and go gone?

I am currently in the middle of a blah day (different from a spa day) and am reporting to you live. I can’t remember when I did not get up and embrace the day with a cup of tea, some quiet time and exercise. Today, the tea is the only constant and the only thing holding me up are the pillows propping me up in bed. My lap top is balanced on my legs and my fingers are the only things willing to move. I can think of a hundred things that I should be doing, but have no interest in pursuing any of them. I’m hungry, but not enough to move again and my head is pounding to the pulse of the cursor on my lap top screen.

All of a sudden, one of my high school teachers comes to mind. He would always suggest that when all else fails, take a nap and you are guaranteed to awake to a new day. Today, this seems to be the only logical solution. One hour later, I open my eyes, but cannot see; the world is black. Before I start to panic, I remember to remove my eye mask and am relieved to welcome the bright day still patiently waiting for me to join it.

In the whole scheme of things, a blah day is nothing more than a healthy reminder that we sometimes just need to reboot ourselves. We think nothing of shutting down our computers and then restarting them, but what about when we have an internal glitch; don’t we get a chance for a fresh start?

The day wasn’t what I had planned, but all in all, I’m glad I took the inner hint and surrendered to a temporary system shutdown. Once I shower and dress, I’m starting to feel like myself again. I’m up and running, reprogrammed and back up to speed. A blah day is just a spa day in disguise, but without the price tag. Embrace it and restore yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bend, Don’t Break      

Photo Bend Dont Break

I always have to stop and marvel at a tree whose branches are so strongly bent. Unaware of its peculiarity and against all odds, it just keeps growing.

I liken that to our sense of self. Life’s twists and turns may throw us a curve now and then, but we need to be able to know when to stoop down just enough to be able to handle the extra weight. It’s our strength that keeps us in a constant state of balance.

Those trees always remind me not to be so rigid. I need to learn to go with the flow, ride the wave, be more patient. That little bit of bend can be a great source of inspiration.

Consider Mother Goose’s dilemma as the baby was rocking away in the treetops propelled by the wind. The bough breaks and the baby falls, cradle and all. M. Goose, just one question: If the boughs would have had the decency to bend just a little, couldn’t this whole disaster have been prevented? But, then again, the fates of Humpty Dumpty, the three blind mice, Miss Muffet and Jack and Jill were all also met with an inflexible turn of events.

So, let’s keep in mind that it’s sometimes all right to acquiesce, accept that new kink in the plan, bend it a bit and just run with it. But consider those Mother Goose rhymes and remember not to run too fast; accidents do happen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resolute About New Year’s Resolutions 

Photo Resolutions

Doesn’t anyone make New Year’s resolutions anymore? Each year, when I suggest to my family that we all share ours together, there always seems to be a lot of eye rolling and a change of subject.

Call me crazy, but I like the idea of wiping the slate clean and starting from scratch (I’m told I’m a neatnik, so give me a reason to clean a slate and I’m in). According to The New York Times, here are some uplifting predictions:

  1. “…Whatever you hope for this year — to lose weight, toexercise more, to spend less money — you’re much more likely to make improvements than someone who hasn’t made a formal resolution.
  2. If you can make it through the rest of January, you have a good chance of lasting a lot longer.
  3. With a few relatively painless strategies and new digital tools, you can significantly boost your odds of success…”

One year, I read about the idea of a one word motivational plan and liked the sound of that. I came across the word “ataraxia” and that was my motto all year long. That one small word was packed with a lot of power behind it. If I could be inspired and motivated by its definition (a lucid state of robust tranquility, characterized by ongoing freedom from distress and worry), how could I not be even just a bit better than I was the year before?

I keep a log of my yearly resolutions handy in my phone (the subject of many a family joke). It’s interesting to see that, from year to year, they haven’t changed much. It’s not that I’m not working on them, it’s that I am in a constant state of working toward perfection. This in itself is a frustrating endeavor and requires constant monitoring, so that I do not go overboard, which is why, ironically, one of my resolutions is to not focus on perfection.

Just like the times that I have fallen (literally), picked myself up and dusted myself off, each Dec. 31, some of my old resolutions get scrubbed and polished for their new introduction so that I can present them to myself again for the coming year.

Though It might seem to some like too much time spent on an intangible concept, I greatly look forward to this personal tradition that I have started with myself. Each new year, full of confidence and excitement, I am once again newly inspired. I give myself permission to forget about yesterday’s failures. I invite positive thinking along for the ride, hoping we will partner and accomplish something. I cross off day one and know that I have 364 more opportunities until it’s time to say “Happy New Year!” and begin again.

 

 

 

 

Remix Your Own Music

Photo Remix

Yesterday, while listening to a remix of a classic song, it struck a chord. Aren’t we constantly also remixing ourselves? Altering media by adding, removing or changing it from its original state is much the same as us reinventing ourselves.

As a teenager, my thoughts were a blend of the sights, sounds and experiences around me. Not growing up with the influences of technology and social media gave me a chance to quietly reflect inwardly.

I remember very specifically thinking that it was time that I started to decide who I was going to be. I looked around me for role models and put together a composite of what I liked about different people; JC’s* spunk, my father’s work ethic, my grandmother’s tenacity, a friend’s compassion all came into play. I’m sure that JC knew exactly what she was doing the afternoon she took me to New York City. We visited Greenwich Village and the Upper East Side and I remember deciding to myself on the train ride home that I would be an “Uptown Girl” rather than “California Dreaming.”

What I may have not realized then was that I would be constantly evolving. Just like the DJ that is continuously mixing sounds and music into innovative arrangements, I would be on an endless search for the best version of myself.

Life’s rhythm may be affected by a decision that we wouldn’t necessarily make again, but just like the crescendo that announces its existence softly at first, we can listen and grow along with those choices.

Our lives are a never-ending score in search of harmony somewhere between the relentless thundering beat of a rock and roll song that makes us feel invincible and the calming, tranquil classical piece that we can close our eyes and dream to. Ring a bell?

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

Me, Myself and Eye

Photo Eye Mask

I am not a movie star, but I sleep like one. To me, there is something glamorous about an eye mask. At bedtime, when I put it on, I feel like I am in an old black and white movie and having just put down my cigarette holder, I rearrange my silk dressing gown, slip under the silk sheets and after my close-up (in full hair and makeup, of course), put my eye mask in place and prepare to dream in Technicolor.

It’s a fact that when your brain senses darkness, it produces melatonin, the sleep chemical. Your chances of falling and staying asleep are improved when you block out the light. What I didn’t realize was that the eye mask has myriad uses.

I’ve been trying to sit still and learn to meditate and it’s helped me to concentrate a bit more. If I am tired and have a lot on my to-do list, a few minutes in the dark seems to revive me. If I wear it while sitting outside, I notice that my other senses become a bit heightened. My mask and I have traveled together and it’s never let me down on a flight; combined with my neck pillow (and ear plugs in case of emergency); I have been known to fall asleep before the plane even takes off.

What is it about that small piece of fabric and elastic that is so gratifying? I think it may be the human equivalent to turning something electrical off and then on again to get it working. It’s a way to reboot ourselves. Our lives are inundated with the sights and sounds of a nonstop world. Sure, you can close your eyes, but that doesn’t guarantee the total darkness that the mask provides. It’s just you, the mask, the darkness all-around you and a lovely feeling of well-being.

Lately, when I have something to sort out, my mask and I huddle together and in a few short minutes, I feel recharged. It’s my mind’s little clubhouse, a solitary refuge, and such a simple antidote to our complex life. It’s easy to find the humor that only an eye mask can bring when I suddenly strap it on during a family discussion that I do not want to participate in.

I propose we initiate a World Eye Mask Day where everyone puts on an eye mask at the same time, sits for a few minutes quietly and then sees things again in a whole new light.