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September 2009

look for opportunities (to read!) everywhere


“The worth of a book is to be measured
 by what you can carry away from it.”

James Bryce

I love to read. Love it. I always have and I'm pretty sure I always will. The only problem with reading is there's never enough time for it. Ever. No matter how much I read, there are always more and more books coming out and I can't seem to fit it all in. Like most people, I'm pretty busy so sometimes reading takes a backseat to other priorities in my life. Sometimes I just stare at my pile of To Read books or look at the long queue on and sigh with frustration, "How will ever read them all?" Recently, as I've been working on my own personal development, I've realized that reading is really important to me, both because I love the act of reading and because I love gaining new information from the books I read. Reading is something I love but it also has the added bonus of being pretty good for me. Whether you like to read or not, you can't deny that it has some pretty powerful benefits...

The Benefits of Reading

  • Reading stimulates your brain.
  • Reading improves your memory.
  • Reading keeps you from being bored.
  • Reading teaches you about new things.
  • Reading increases your vocabulary.
  • Reading sharpens your creative skills.
  • Reading encourages you to focus.
  • Reading allows you be adventurous.
  • Reading makes you a better writer.
  • Reading relaxes your racing thoughts.
  • Reading provides entertainment.
  • Reading acts an escape from daily life.
  • Reading heightens your self confidence.
  • Reading expands your communication skills.
  • Reading enlightens you with wisdom.
  • Reading illustrates innovative ideas.
  • Reading keeps you present in the book.
  • Reading inspires you to think independently.
  • Reading opens your heart to others.
  • Reading relieves stress in your life.

Because I've identified reading as one of those things that's really important to me and that I should do more of (you know, the way some people think of exercise or healthy eating...), I've been giving a lot to how I can incorporate more reading into my daily routines -- without sacrificing all of the things I absolutely have to get done. Those of you who love to read probably feel the same way that I do: there's never enough time! So, I've taken it upon myself to offer up some suggestions of how to incorporate more reading into your life. Most likely, if you're anything like me, reading gets put on the back burner of your life because there are many, many other important things to do. I get that, I do, but reading (especially if you enjoy it!) is really important. Really important. And even with a busy, busy life, you can make time for it. Here's how...

Buy Yourself a Kindle

Over the past 10 months or so, reading has changed a lot for me, mostly because I was fortunate enough to add a Kindle to my life (one of the greatest things ever!). One of the best things about having a Kindle (or any other type of electronic reading device) is that you can carry tons of books with you everywhere you go in one light, convenient contraption. I've gotten into the habit of carrying my Kindle with me almost everywhere so anywhere I am, if I have even a moment or two, I can read. Waiting at the doctor's office? Pull out your Kindle! Riding on the train? Get that Kindle out! Stuck in traffic? Kindle time! (Okay, maybe not that last one since that's probably illegal and is definitely dangerous). Anyway, you get the point. Carrying a Kindle's a lot easier than carrying a book (unless the book is really, really light and small) and you can have lots of books with you at one time.

Kindles are expensive so if you're not all that into reading or don't think you'll use it as often as you'd like, this probably isn't the best option for you. Also, if you're a slow reader, having a Kindle with you at all times isn't going to necessarily help you zip through books any faster. It's not for everyone, but for those who really enjoy reading and want to be doing it every free moment they can (like I do), the Kindle is the way to go. However, if you're the kind of person who really wants to read more and absorb more information but just doesn't have the time, the next option might be for you...


Join a Kick-Ass Book Club

One great way to do this is to join a book club. And not just any book club -- a book club that helps you read more efficiently. Where can you find such a club? Recently I was fortunate enough to stumble across the Bottom Line Book Club, a book club created to cater to busy people who want to absorb information quickly. As you probably know, there are so many great resources out there but it's pretty hard to intake all of that information quickly. When you're reading about personal development (as I often am), you probably find yourself overloaded with information, wondering how in the world it all fits together and how you can apply to it your own life. However, with a book club such as Bottom Line, you can gain insights in a condensed, easy-to-understand form that not only provides you with information but also provides guidance on how to apply the concepts to your life. 

This month, Bottom Line Book Club focused on a book called The Flipside: Finding Hidden Opportunities in Life by Adam J. Jackson, which obviously sounds pretty awesome. Of course I would love to read every single word of the book, but I have a stack of books a mile high and very busy week ahead so accessing the book via Bottom Line couldn't have been more perfect for me. When I received the download of the workbook for The Flipside, I was immediately excited. In only 19 pages I would getting the great information I needed, quickly and without hours of reading! What I loved most about this workbook was right up front I got the three main points about the book. According to Bottom Line, The Flipside focuses on three things:

  1. Our perception and experience of reality is all made up
  2. The importance of developing optimistic thinking
  3. Smart questions to find the hidden opportunities

After that I was hooked. I instantly wanted to know more because clearly I want to find the hidden opportunities in life and obviously I was excited to learn that this topic tied in with optimistic thinking. As I scrolled through the workbook, I found not only great information on the topics but an area where I could actually reply to questions in the document. I'm a big fan of workbooks and books that require action so this was great for me. Not only did I get to interact with the workbook (a definite downside when it comes to the Kindle), but I learned exciting things like "How To Become More Optimistic," "The Difference Between Pessimists and Optimists," and a great interactive section that helped me to identify hidden opportunities in my own life. As much as I would have liked to read the entire book (and I may at some point because I really was intrigued by the Bottom Line information!), this resource gave the key points and provided an area where I could take the key messages from The Flipside and actually put them to work for me.

If you love to read and enjoy personal development as much as I do but just don't have the time to squeeze it all into your busy schedule, this is probably a great option for you. Within a short amount of time you can obtain the essential information you need and have a place where you can actually see how to apply the topics you've just read about. Brilliant!

Set Aside Read-Only Time

For those of you with more time on your hands, this is a great option for fitting more reading into your life. The key to this tactic is to set aside time specifically for reading. If you have to get up early, do that. If you have to close yourself in your room and ask for some time away from your family, do that. Do whatever you need to do to set aside time just for reading. If you can, set aside a specific amount of time each day to get some reading done. If you can't do it daily, pick a time each week that you know will work for you and block it off as "read-only" time. If you need to, put it on your calendar. You deserve to indulge in all of the benefits of reading so don't feel guilty about setting time aside for something that doesn't necessarily feel like a necessity.

If reading time seems like it will take time away from those you love, think about ways you can incorporate reading into your relationship with your significant other, children, or friends. Do you have a buddy that love to read? What if you met weekly for some reading time at a local coffee shop? What about your kids? Do they enjoy reading or, if you have really young kids, do they enjoy being read to? Reading often seems like an isolating activity, but it doesn't have to be. You can read with someone or next to someone. You can even take your book (or Kindle!) outside somewhere and make an experience of it. Reading can be fun, romantic, and very interactive, but it's up to you to make it that way.

Like to read? Do you make time in your life for reading? 
 What suggestions do you have for incorporating reading into your life?

how to be beautiful from the outside in


 "Too many people overvalue what they are not
and undervalue what they are."

Malcolm Forbes

The other day I received an email from a friend who was feeling down about her appearance, primarily because she was comparing herself to others. No matter what she told herself, she just couldn't help but compare her physical appearance to those around her. Reading her email, I could completely relate. There are times when it's just downright impossible not to compare the way I look to those around me. And generally that's not a positive experience because if I decide that I'm the one better off in the comparison I still hate myself for judging and for comparing in the first place. 

First, before I go on, let me say that my friend is quite pretty. She's the kind of girl you'll be walking with and randomly guys will look over and say, "Hi!" as if something compelled them to utter the word. She's beautiful. But, like most beautiful women, that doesn't necessarily stop her from feeling down on herself or from comparing the way she looks to the other women around her. 

I don't want to make this all about women, but I really can only speak from the point of view of a woman. From my personal experience -- all of the experiences I've heard about from other women over the last twenty-six years -- it's pretty darn hard not to compare yourself to other women and not to, at times, feel insecure, even if you happen to be a dashingly beautiful lass like my friend. So, I've given it some thought and rather than reinforce my usual "love yourself!" lesson (which, don't get me wrong, I still wholeheartedly believe in), I've decided to write a post on how to deal with transforming your outer beauty into an internal, lasting beauty. And, really, that comes down to not comparing yourself to others. You might be able to validate yourself based on your physical appearance sometimes, but is that ever really enough? To be truly happy, you have to be happy with who YOU are, no matter what other people look like or say or do.

 How To Stop Comparing

  1. Remind yourself that you're not alone. It's definitely hard not to compare yourself to others. I don't know whether it's a trait we're born with or one we learn from our societies, but it's definitely a hard habit to break so cut yourself some slack and don't beat yourself up every time you find yourself looking at the guy or girl next to you and thinking, "Man, s/he is way better looking than me." It's normal to do this from time to time, but it's not normal to obsess about it or to let it make you feel terrible about yourself. Whatever you do, make sue you reinforce the positive notion that no matter what you look like, you are more than your appearance.

  2. Remember all of the things that are great about YOU. Whenever I find myself feel bad about myself for any reason, I remind myself of my good traits. I tell myself that I'm great at something and focus on the non-physical aspects of my awesomeness. And when I do this, I make sure I'm not comparing. For example, I'll say to myself, "I'm a great writer," not "She might be gorgeous, but I'm definitely a better writer than her." Pump yourself up, but not at the expense of others. Focus on your positive traits (and, yes, you know you have tons of them!). 

  3. Tell everyone you know to stop talking about appearance. This is a hard one but for a lot of us, the reaction to compare stems from those around us who are also comparing. When we hear others doing the comparing, it's tempting to join right in. In addition, the more those around us talk about and worry about their physical appearances, the more we will too. If it comes up in conversation after you've already asked friends and family not to make it a priority, simply say, "I hear what you are saying but, as I mentioned to you before, I don't think its healthy or productive for me to focus so much on physical appearance." Make it all about you by using the words "I" and "me," because the last thing your companion wants to hear is you bashing him/her for bringing up a topic s/he probably already feels insecure about. 

I've found that it's hard not to let my ego get the best of me sometimes. I know there are probably better ways to handle comparisons to others (like, maybe, eliminating all earthly possessions or something like that), but, hey, I'm not perfect. When faced with a society that's constantly bombarding you with images of how you can (and should!) look better than you do, it's pretty hard sometimes not to compare yourself to others. For right now I can only say that I'm going to work on embracing the positive in and around me every moment. Instead of comparing ourselves to others, we should focus on the great things in our lives that aren't physically represented. We have to counteract society's focus on physical appearance with more important, essential things (such as amazing talents or great friendships).

Sadly, I don't think we're ever going to be able to escape the notion that what we look like impacts our world (society, our friends, and our minds have tainted us too much), but we can do our best to shift our focus to more important, valuable things. We need to remember that no matter what we look like, no matter who is better looking or less attractive than we are, we have a lot more to offer to the world than physical appearance. Without physical beauty, you will still be fabulous, creative, intelligent, generous, loving, thoughtful, passionate people. Keep smiling and believing in your awesomeness! You're beautiful outside and in and no one else's comments, beauty, or attitude can take that away from you. 

Do you find yourself comparing yourself to others?
How do you deal with these comparisons?

5 steps for setting happiness resolutions (yes, in August!)

Think in terms of
the day's resolutions, not the year's.

Henry Moore

Setting resolutions in August might seem a little out of the ordinary -- unless, like me, you're part of a Happiness Project. Yesterday was the very first meeting of the local Happiness Project near me and the first topic we tackled at the meeting was setting a resolution for the month. By the next meeting, which will take place at the end of September, members of the group will have to have completed their resolution and will be held accountable by the rest of the group. Intimidating as that might seem, I think that setting resolutions and sharing them with others is a great way to motivate yourself into actually doing what it is that you want to do. Especially when it comes to happiness. As we discussed in the meeting last night, sticking to happiness resolutions is difficult because there is no one there to force you to do things to bring you happiness and it usually seems (though this is not always true) that if we don't complete our happiness goals there are no serious consequences. For example, one member of my group has decided that her happiness resolution will be to download all of the pictures from her camera, organize her photos, and post them online. This is a great resolution, but if she doesn't do it, what's going to happen? Nothing. She's not going to lose her job or friends or family. She's not going to get sick or be hurt emotionally. Without definitive, obvious consequences, it can be hard to motivate one's self to do tasks that would really bring about a great deal of happiness in the long run. Just as this group member doesn't necessarily have concrete push to do her happiness resolution, I am the same way about my resolution. Because it's not a live-or-die requirement, I can put it off or rationalize why I can't get it done right now. Or, at least, I could. Now I have my Happiness Project group to be accountable to.

My Happiness Resolution

My resolution probably won't be much of a surprise to those of you who have been reading my blog for awhile. I want to write a novel. Desperately. I have tons of ideas (and one in particular that I want to get started on) and I clearly love to write so what's stopping me? The only thing stopping me is ME. I always come up with excuses, reasons, rationalizations for why I can't work on the novel right now. But now that I've made myself accountable to my Happiness Project group (and, now, to you!) I have to get to work. But how? I feel overwhelmed when I hear the word "novel." My heart starts pumping and my palms get sweaty. First it's excitement, my mind singing, "A novel! How wonderful!" and then it quickly turns to dread, moaning, "A novel. How in the world are you going to do that?" My mind races through ideas and sentence structures and chapter layouts and then I'm too mentally exhausted to even think about actually writing something. So then I have to wonder: how am I going to do this?

How To Stick To Your Resolution

I'm a planner. I like to have a plan. So I've decided that I need a plan on how I will stick to my resolution. In bold, I'll write the general ideas, but then, for my own benefit (and for yours if you want an example of my resolution-sticking ideas) I'll add the details about how I plan to stick to my Happiness Project resolution.

Step 1: Set a reasonable resolution. Many of us have grand, lofty goals of what we want to have/be/do in life, but if you set unreasonably high goals you'll never feel like you're achieving anything. For example, I used to always say to myself, "I want to be happy." Well, that's a great goal, but it's way too broad and undefined. I had to figure out a way to break it down. One of the reasons I picked writing a novel as my happiness goal is because writing makes me so happy and I love the thought of someday having an actual book that showcases my hard work. When setting a resolution, it's important to pick something tangible, something you can work toward in a physical sense. As Gretchen has noted on The Happiness Project's website, grand goals like "lose weight" or "be more social" don't work as well as more specific goals like "don't eat out more than once a week" or "volunteer at a local charity." Setting a concrete, specific goal is the first step in sticking to a resolution.

Step 2: Divide and conquer mini-goals. Whatever your resolution is, it's important to divide it into manageable goals, which will then be easier to conquer. When you conquer a goal (and, yes, crossing something off of your To Do list isconquering), you feel good about yourself. Breaking down your overall goal into smaller mini-goals will allow you to make progress bit-by-bit, which will encourage you to keep moving forward and tackling even more. For example, when I think "novel" I think of all the chapters and characters and concepts and I begin to feel overwhelmed. However, when I break it down into the following: Outline, Character Development, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc. it feels a lot more manageable. My plan now is to come to the Happiness Project group at the end of September with a detailed outline and a draft of Chapter 1 in my hand. I'm sure I'll feel so great when I do that and I'll be ready to move on to Chapter 2. Mini goals are definitely the way to go!

Step 3: Keep reminders everywhere. One of the best ways to keep your focus on your resolutions, whatever they might be, is to remind yourself. All. The. Time. It's so easy for things -- especially things like Happiness Resolutions -- to slip to the bottom of the pile of your To Do's, but don't let it happen to you. Avoid this by putting reminders everywhere. Use sticky notes (virtual or paper) on your computer monitor and bathroom mirror (or even on the visor in your car!). Send yourself emails as reminders. Ask friends and family members to remind you. Set alarms to keep you motivated. One tactic that I'm going to try (and it's a lot easier to do this now that I'm accountable to the Happiness Project group) is writing my resolution on my To Do list. One thing I hateis finishing a day without crossing off things on my list. If I break down my Outline, for example, into parts and add each part to my To Do list each week for the next month, I will remember to do it and I will be dying to cross it off my list. Resolutions are not necessities so they are easy to forget. Remind yourself constantly!

Step 4: Find a way to be accountable. If you aren't fortunate enough to have a Happiness Project group in your area (visit The Happiness Project site to found if there's one near you), you still have some great options for being accountable. One is to start a Happiness Project group in your area. Yes, YOU! You can start one and share your resolutions and other exciting things with your Happiness Project group. Last night was the first meeting of my local group, but I'm already excited about it and looking forward to talking about our resolutions and progress at our next meeting in September. If you don't feel like starting a group, you can turn to your friends, family, coworkers, or online pals and recruit their help. Tell them what you're working on and ask them to ask you about it. Trust me, when someone is asking you about something all the time, you're going to want to have a better response than, "Oh, yeah, that...Well...Um...Yeah, I haven't started yet..." (at least the 2nd and 3rd times you've been asked!). I'm pretty sure you can find someone who will check in with you and ask about your goal and it's a great way to keep yourself on track.

Step 5: Do a little bit every day.
This step ties in with Step 2 but it's a little more specific. I really believe that incorporating something into your life daily helps to reinforce it so find a way to incorporate whatever your resolution is into your daily life somehow. Even if it's something abstract, there is almost always a way to work on your resolution every single day. For example, now that I'm working on my novel (and, yes, I'm working on it! yay!) I plan to think about it and work on it daily by observing the world through writer's eyes. I'm going to be looking for characters, for scenes, for descriptions. I'm going to sharp my writing skills weekly by writing on Positively Present and, to keep up with the weekly goals I've set for myself, I'm going to dedicate time every day to write and work on my Happiness Project resolution. I'm sure there will be some days I won't feel like doing it, but I'm going to remember that all of the small amounts of time spent on a daily basis will someday add up to the realization of my resolution.

If you have resolutions you want to set (And, hey, who says you can't set them in August? You'll be way ahead of the curve come January!) and you'd like some more resources for sticking to your resolutions, check out the following sites:

Top 10 Tools for Sticking To Your Resolutions

Stages of Change: How To Keep a Resolution

Wishful Thinking: 6 Tips for Keeping a Resolution

12 Tips for Sticking To Your Resolutions

10 Reasons To Set Resolutions All Year Round

Start a Resolution (a site for tracking your progress!)

Personally, I've never been a big fan of resolutions. I haven't made a New Year's resolution in years and used to laugh to myself when someone else would ask me what my resolution was. Actually, that's not true; I would actually laugh out loud and scoff, "Resolution! Ha! I don't do those," wrinkling my nose like a snooty princess just asked if she'd like to date a poverty-stricken peasant. I used to think resolutions were stupid, petty, common. But now I realize that if I don't push myself to do something, set goals of some kind, I won't ever really do the things I want to do, especially the things that involve only me, that really don't (yet) impact the lives of other people. One thing that I find so important in the whole resolution/sticking to your resolution process is actually making yourself accountable to someone other than you. Even if it's just on this blog, in the comments section, it helps to tell someone else about what you're trying to work toward. So, tell me...


What about you? Do you have any resolutions you want to set?
What advice do you have for sticking to your resolutions?