Previous month:
April 2011
Next month:
June 2011

expectations: changing negative to positive


"Then there are expectations. The mind makes models of what it thinks will happen, which colors its perceptions of what is actually happening. If you give people a hand cream and tell them it will reduce pain, you are building a set of expectations. People really feel their pain diminish, even if the cream is just a lotion. People who are given a prescription they are told costs $2.50 a pill experience much more pain relief than those given what they are told is a 10-cent pill (even though all pills are placebos. As Jonah Lehrer writes, 'Their predictions became self-fulfilling prophecies.'" 

-- David Brooks


After reading the above quote you might be wondering, "What in the world does that have to do with being positively present?" Well, quite a bit, in fact. After reading that quote in The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement, it really made me think about how having positive expectations can really impact all aspects of life. Whether we realize it or not, the way we think about an event or circumstance before it happens can actually influence the outcome. 

How often have you thought about an upcoming event and envisioned all of the things that could go wrong? How often have you contemplated the "what ifs..." in order to feel prepared for the absolute worst? I often rationalize these thoughts by telling myself that I want to be prepared for whatever could go wrong. Yes, it's important to be prepared -- but is it worth the worry? Is it worth the risk of encouraging negative thoughts to cast shadows on an upcoming situation? 

Expectations are a powerful thing. They can be wonderful and they can also be problematic. Having a strong belief that something will happen in the future -- either something good or bad -- can impact not only the way we experience that event, but it can also impact the way we view the world around us up until the point when that event occurs. Expectations are extremely influential. 

So, what are we to do about these powerful forces known as expectations? If they can have such a monumental impact on how we live, how can we make the most of them? We make them positive, of course! Positive expectations can lead to a more positive life. Research has shown that optimists with positive expectations live longer than pessimists. They have less illness, and when they get sick, they recover faster.

Conversely, negative expectations can create a negative future. Whether we are aware of it or not, thinking negative thoughts can lead us to taking negative actions that can result in a negative life. Negative expectations are the starting point for living a life of negativity. So how do you avoid negative expectations and focus on the positive? Here a few steps to help you get started: 


3 Steps to Cultivating Positive Expectations

1. Recognize negative expectations. It can be hard to realize it when we're in the midst of experiencing them, but one of the most important things you can do is realize the negative expectations when they start creeping into your mind. Pay attention to the way you are anticipating things to come and ask yourself, "Am I focusing on the negative? What are the 'what ifs' I'm dwelling on?" 

2. Change your thinking from negative to positive. After you've recognized your negative thinking when it comes to expectations, it's time to start changing things. Stop thinking about what could go wrong, and start thinking about what could go right. Remind yourself that what you think can lead what actually happens so focusing on the positive will help to create a much better outcome. 

3. Practice positive expecting. Practice makes perfect, as they say. So, even when you don't have strong expectations about something, it's a good idea to practice thinking about the future positively. For example, begin an ordinary day at work or school thinking about all of the things that can go right that day. Doing this on a regular basis will help you create a habit of expecting positive things!


So many of us have gotten into the habit of expecting the worst in order to prepare for any worrisome situations. I won't deny that it's important to be prepared for things that can go wrong, but there is a balance between being prepared and expecting the worst. Negative expectations can lead to negative situations. And, likewise, positive expectations can lead to positive outcomes. Now think about it: which one would you prefer...? 

vacation is a state of mind: 5 ways to embrace it

"Vacation used to be a luxury, 
but in today's world it is a necessity." 



This morning I received an email from a reader asking me if I could provide some insight on the concept "vacation is a state of mind." I thought to myself: What a great topic! I should write a post on that! Lately I've been craving a vacation. Dying for one, in fact. Work has been busy, life has been busy, and the thought of relaxing (preferably on a beach) and doing absolutely nothing thrills me. However, seeing as I just went on a vacation last month, it doesn't look like a getaway is in my near future -- which is why the concept of a "vacation state of mind" is so interesting to me right now. Thinking about it has made me realize that you don't have to travel to be on vacation; you can, in fact, be on vacation anywhere. 

Sounds like a nice idea, right? But in theory it's a bit trickier than just saying you want to have a vacation state of mind. It's not easy, with all of life's distractions and stressors, to feel that ease of mind that comes with being removed from your routines and finding solace in relaxation. In fact, it's downright difficult do so at any given moment. For this reason, I've come up with some tips to help myself (and you!) get into a vacation state of mind: 


5 Ways to Embrace a Vacation State of Mind

1. Break away from routines.
Repeat after me: "I am not my routines. My routines do not make me." Okay, maybe you're nothing like me and you scoff at the idea of having a routine (aka, boring) life, but I love my routines. Adore them, in fact. However, they are one of the first things to go when I take a vacation. Hard as it might be to part with them sometimes, I always feel relieved to have let them go and to relax more into the moment, forgoing (even just for a day or two) my beloved patterns of life. Breaking away from routines when not physically forced to do so can be difficult, but it's possible -- and essential to embracing a vacation state of mind. If you want to launch yourself into vacation mode, assess your routines and determine which of them you could use a break from for a little while. Don't feel like you must abandon them -- just vacate them for a little while. 
2. Slow down your body. When embracing a vacation state of mind, one of the first things that comes to me is the idea of slowing down. This is something I struggle with on a daily basis. I have trouble doing pretty much anything slowly. Walking. Working. Eating. Talking. Just yesterday I was thinking, "God, why can't my hands move as fast as my mind!" while trying to capture a thought using the keypad of my iPhone. I'm usually in a rush and, over the years, the only consistent criticism I've received from teachers/bosses is that I need to slow down when doing my work. Living a fast-paced life has its benefits, but so does slowing down and taking life in. And that's what a vacation state of mind is for. It's a way to slow down. To embrace it when not on an actual vacation, slow down your body. Eat slowly. Walk slowly. Talk slowly. Breathe slowly. Allowing your entire body to slow down is a surefire way to begin embracing a vacation state of mind. 
3. Think happy, peaceful thoughts. When I found the image above, I was instantly calmed just looking at it. It reminded me of long, languid walks down the beach, with nowhere to go. It reminded me of the sun in the late afternoon beating down on sand-speckled skin. Clearly, these images connote some pretty powerful vacation-y stuff for me. Upon looking at the image, I realized that one of the best ways to get into a vacation state of mind is to think of the things that make you feel happy, peaceful, and relaxed. They don't necessarily have to be vacation-related (though they can be). They can be anything that makes you feel as if you are in a happy, relaxed place. Thinking of these things won't instantly put you on a sunny beach, but it will help your mind to relax and focus on the positive things that make you feel happy. Thinking about these things will also help your body to be more mellow, making #2 a lot easier. 
4. Bring bits of vacation to you. Much as we might all like to be prepping ourselves for a much-deserved vacation, for many of us that's not reality. We have to work, to care for other people, to live up to our daily obligations. But that doesn't mean we can't be in a vacation state of mind while doing so. If you can't go on vacation, bring the vacation to you! Think about the best vacation you ever had. What was so great about it? What did you love most about it? Now, think about how you can bring a bit of those favorite moments to life right now. Put a few seashells on your desk at work. Frame a picture of you looking joyful on vacation and hang it in your bedroom. Whatever it was that made you so relaxed and happy on vacation, find a way to bring it to you and keep it with you year-round. You might not be able to go on vacation every day, but there's no reason you can't embrace a vacation state of mind every time you look at your favorite vacation memento. 
5. Indulge in relaxing activities. One of the reasons we like to vacation so much is because vacations give us carte blanche to do tons of relaxing activities without feeling guilty or feeling as if we aren't doing something more important, something we "should" be doing. Well, in my opinion, there's no reason to isolate those relaxing activities -- free of guilt -- to vacations. Set aside some time to do something you wouldn't normally do -- get a massage, go for a long walk alone, spend a day reading a book -- and don't let those little notions of guilt creep into your mind. Even if you are at home and you have a million items on your to-do list, you (yes, you!) can afford to set aside some time for a relaxing activity without letting your mind wander back to all of the things you "should" be doing. In fact, not only can you afford to do this, you almost can't afford not to do it. Allowing yourself to indulge in relaxing activities -- even if it's as simple as a half-hour bubble bath -- will help you feel refreshed and will make you even more productive as you tackle your to-do list. 



Though we would all probably love to be on an actual vacation right now, it never hurts to give a vacation state of mind a try. It's a great way to not only feel relaxed, but also to gain a new perspective on what's happening all around you. Just like a real vacation, a vacation state of mind can help you to feel rejuvenated and can help you to dive back into your routines feeling refreshed and motivated. For more on the benefits of taking a vacation (or embracing a vacation state of mind), check out this article: Take a Vacation (or Staycation!) from Your Life

how to celebrate each day like it's your birthday

Recent events including some family birthdays and the Royal Wedding have put me in the mood to celebrate. If you're looking for a good celebration, my mom is your go-to gal. She's an expert at embracing and celebrating birthdays, holidays, random days -- whatever! Whether it's her own special day or someone else's, she knows what it means to embrace and make the most of a celebration. A few weeks ago I came across the image above (from Kate Spade NY) and it made me pause and think about the difference between a birthday and regular ol' day. It made me ask myself, "What if we celebrated every day like it was our birthday?" 

For as long as I've been alive, my mom's been making a big fanfare out of birthdays and holidays, and though at times I've resisted, I've always loved my mom's enthusiasm and exuberance when it comes to celebration. With her leading the way, I grew to love birthdays -- seeing as them as one of the best days of the year. It's a time to feel special, to be celebrated just for being you, and to reflect on the year behind (and ahead) of you. 

Why shouldn't we feel special, celebrate ourselves, and take time for reflection every day? Why must we wait for only one day of the year to enjoy life to the fullest? Personally, I think it's time we all took Kate Spade's advice and start celebrating each day -- all day -- like it's our birthdays. Or, better yet, like it's someone else's birthday! Here's how we get started right now: 


5 Ways to Celebrate Each Day Birthday-Style

1. Make yourself (and others) feel special. Nothing brings out the specialness in someone like a special day. It's easy to celebrate others (and ourselves) on a big day like a birthday, but what about celebrating others all the time? This doesn't mean every day must be a party, but it does mean we should take some time to break from our busy lives and recognize someone for being the special someone he or she is. A random card sent in the mail, a surprise cake baked just for them -- there are so many little ways we can make other people feel special on an ordinary day. And we can do the same thing for ourselves. Every once and awhile, treat yourself to something nice. It can be anything -- from a day at the spa to a long walk in the middle of the day -- but make it something special.

2. Treat yourself to something out of the ordinary. 
As I mentioned in point one, one of the best things about birthdays is that they are days that we feel special; they are out-of-the-ordinary kinds of days. We let ourselves do things we normally wouldn't. We embrace life and the things we love most about it. And why shouldn't we do that every day? Every day is an opportunity to do something out of the ordinary. Yes, you may be tethered to a job and some unfortunate routines, but that doesn't mean you can't mix it up a bit. Put some sprinkles in your cereal. Buy yourself a balloon. Celebrate every day for what it is: amazing.

3. Remind yourself of what you've accomplished. 
Each year I usually use my birthday as day to reflect on the year. I look back at what I've accomplished (or not accomplished) and try to focus on the good things I've done throughout the year. I've found it to be a worthwhile exercise and something I've always thought I should more often. You don't need to pat yourself on the back every minute, but it wouldn't hurt to take a moment every once and awhile to think about all of the things you've done and be proud of the person you are.

4. Experience the present fully. 
You've heard it before, but it's true: life is short. One minute you're a child and the next you're working full time and rushing through your day-to-day routines. It's often special occasions that offer us an excuse to relax, do what we love, and fully appreciate the moment. But, in my opinion, there's no need to wait until you're next big day to appreciate the present moment. You might not be living out your perfect birthday on a daily basis, but you are probably experiencing some pretty great things. If you take the time to look around you, to be fully present, you can make the most of any day -- birthday or not!

5. Look forward to what is to come. 
Birthdays are a good time to reflect on the past year, but they are also great days to look forward to the future. Yes, focusing on the present is fantastic, but it never hurts to look a bit at the future and look forward to all of the great things to come. Even if it might not always seem like it, exciting things are coming your way. Life really is an adventure and you never know what can happen. Take time each day to get excited about what is to come. Whether you realize it or not, every day is an opportunity for a fresh start, the same way every birthday is the beginning of the next year of your life. Stay focused on the present, but don't be afraid to look forward to your future.


Some might argue that treating every day like it's your birthday might dampen the celebratory nature of your actual birthday, but I say a year is much too long to wait to take part in the joys that make your special day so special. Birthdays and holidays always end up having such build up that they often leave us feeling let down -- but if we celebrate all of our days as if they are special, we'll always be looking for the good, hoping for the best, and seeking out the ways to make the most of the day. No one wants to have a bad birthday so the more you start thinking about every day as a special one, you'll always be striving to have a good day. Start each day as if it's your birthday and you'll be in for a year filled with special days!