Life in Focus has moved…

Hey everyone,

Life in Focus has moved to a new WP platform. Blog posts and insightful updates can now be found here. Hope to see you there!

PODCAST – Life in Focus Episode 5 The Price of Parenthood

Overwhelmed parent In this edition of the Life in Focus Podcast we get to talk with San Diego stay-at-home-dad Erin Eldred-Brown about what it means and what it takes to be a parent.

We get to hear a lot about parenting from moms’ perspectives, are things different with dads?

Take Home:

  • Parenting is not all smiles and loving moments!
  • Loss, grief and complete redesign of ones’ identity are part and parcel with becoming a new parent.
  • Pressure to be a great parent, and the ensuing guilt/shame is part of being a mother, but may be less prevalent among dads.
  • We have not convinced Chris to have children!
  • And more, much more, this is our longest episode so far, but only because the discussion was so engaging!

Hey Parents have you checked out the THRIVING PARENT PACKAGE? It combines tools, tips, a community of like-minded parents and coaching to help busy moms and dads find out what they need and focus their efforts on choices that are right for them.
Cost – $69.00.

For more information on how you can be the best parent and still be yourself go here.

Life Procrastination, Are You Guilty?

Life Procrastination“Life procrastination.”  Not a phrase you’ll find in the dictionary, but not a novel concept. “Life procrastination” is that tendency to put off living well and pursuing dreams until the perfect conditions materialize. It’s that thing you do when you say, “I’ll go to the gym,” “take that art class,” “read that book,” or “plan that trip” when things settle a bit more.

Step away from perfection:

In April, I was fortunate enough to speak at Paleo f(x) in Austin on my concept of Real Wealth. My goal was to show the audience how to use an idealized scenario (winning the lottery – the perfect set of circumstances) to build insight, and then use that insight to create goals that they could pursue now. It’s the same principle I use with the Focus Map, and it works. It’s about moving away from the perfect mentality to a good enough mentality with the purpose of creating greatness in your life.

It was exhilarating and validating to hear this message echoed in the presentations of several other speakers. The Paleo movement has come a long way from addressing just food, to food, exercise, stress, and lifestyle. The best thing about this evolution is that the message going out to the world is strong and consistent. Stop putting off living your life. Stop waiting for the perfect conditions to materialize to make time to find yourself!

Two speakers who impressed me when delivering this topic were Sarah Fragoso and Hilary Bromberg because they shared a clear call to action. Sarah talked about looking at one’s life from the deathbed and asked what regrets you might have. Using that insight, she encouraged the audience to craft choices and take action. Hilary presented on eliminating scheduled play dates, date nights and bucket lists, stating passionately that we have a tendency to live restricted lives under the pretenses of not having enough (time, money, energy…). She is firm proponent of free range parenting, spontaneity in love and eliminating schedules all together.

But, it’s not the right time!

I keep hearing people talk about the right time to do something, but what they are actually waiting for is the perfect time. However, the perfect time won’t come; the reality is: life is complicated. There will always be something – another task, another chore, another event, or stress standing between you and the perfect conditions. If you wait for all those things to pass before moving forward with your life, you’re going to end up on your death bed wishing you had lived.

There is such a thing as a right time, or a better time to move forward with a goal or a dream, but honestly most people can’t identify that. So the solution is to just move forward, to figure out a way to make what you want happen, despite your current circumstances.

What will you do about it TODAY?

As much as I love to write, I’m not just posting for the pleasure of the craft. I use my writing to coach and inspire action. Taking that first step can be challenging, but there are many ways to act. My easiest guide to doing this is my Focus Map tool. It provides a level of questioning, even at a micro level, that focuses energy on what’s most important.

To the Parents out there:

As a parent, this tendency to put off living is prominent. Knowing this, I created the Thriving Parent Package. This content/community/coaching bundle is based on direct feedback from moms and dads, who love being parents, but feel overbooked and underwhelmed and long to live rich and personally fulfilling lives.

In honor of Mother’s Day I am offering two full months of membership to the community board and coaching to anyone who signs up for the Thriving Parent Package before Sunday, May 10. Today is the perfect day to stop “life procrastination” and start thriving. When you thrive, you family thrives, so start today.”

Podcast – Episode 4 Treating Symptoms, Not Problems!

shutterstock_108947444This week we talk about our current tendency to treat symptoms rather than addressing the larger problems in our lives.

This modern method of handling stress is really at the crux of our sense of discontent and helplessness today. Are you part of the multitude who treat the symptoms of their discontent rather than handling to root issues? Listen to find out!

Take home:

  • People try to manage stress the wrong way, we drink coffee, grab happy hour drinks, spend endless hours in front of screens in an attempt to sooth ourselves, but we do nothing about changing the triggers.
  • Happiness is transient, don’t expect to be happy all the time.
  • Want to figure out what the “problem” really is – work backwards from your quick fix, to the symptom, the symptom to the trigger.
  • It’s worth your time to practice being distressed and bored and unhappy. These are normal parts of life and if you can’t handle them you’re in for a world of pain.
  • Learn to delay gratification!

Is it my turn? A parent’s challenge to put “me” first.

Do as I say, not as I do:

Them first - always?
Them first – always?

As parents we strive to teach our kids how to live the best lives possible. We tell them all the essentials to take care of themselves, to not put off to tomorrow what can be done today. We create opportunities for growth, and experiences to inspire and encourage them to dream big. We highlight the values through relationships, health and hard work. If some of the most powerful teaching that a parent can do is through modeling behavior, then many of us are failing at teaching our children these skills.

The results from the Thriving Parent survey are out, and they confirmed what I anecdotally knew to be true: being a parent is both a great adventure and a prison sentence. On one hand you discover the gift of transcendent love. On the other hand, your time is no longer yours. Your priorities shift entirely so that “you” don’t even register on your own list sometimes. Your schedule revolves around the needs, wants and demands of an individual who is so selfish and egocentric (it’s developmentally normal) that they are incapable of considering their impact on you.

The price of parenthood:

In my first four years as a parent, I believed that to be a good parent I had to sacrifice my needs and my goals for those of my child. This wasn’t much of an issue when our needs aligned (spending time together, focusing on rest, building a healthy lifestyle), but there were times when I had needs that weren’t compatible with the demands of my child (spending quality time with friends, quiet solitude, having a thriving and evolving career, sex with my husband). Somewhere along the road I decided that something had to change. I was tired. I felt constantly under pressure to get things done right and right away. I was giving up sleep in order to savor a few quiet hours at the end of the day. I felt guilty all the time; guilty that I wasn’t being a good friend, that I wasn’t more patient, for not always enjoying the time spent with my boys, for letting my grooming go from decent to downright dowdy. I felt guilty that I had let my business partner down, and then resentful that my super thriving business had come to a screeching halt because I couldn’t put in the hours to grow it. I decided that things not only HAD to change, but  they could change. So, listen up, parents, you don’t have to put off taking care of yourself. Your non-parent dreams and goals don’t have to be put on hold until your children grow-up. What my experience has taught me is that when you thrive, your family thrives, too.

It all starts with making time for yourself:

Most people I run into manage with getting by, and a few with living (maybe it is a function of what I do for work, but I see this in my friends and family too), so thriving is a tall order, but it starts with making time for yourself.  

The 36-hour day:

It's all about being organized
It’s all about being organized

What is this time I speak of? Have our days now extended from 24 to 36 hours?  Several survey takers commented on the fact that they didn’t feel a coaching package would help simply because they had no extra time to spare. Most parents, and especially new parents, feel overwhelmed by the number of things they have to do to keep their head above water. They are overbooked and can’t see how to fit anything else in the picture.

The truth? You don’t have time to add yet another thing to your schedule and maintain your sanity. What I propose is figuring out what matters the most, and focusing some of your time on that. Parent and non-parents alike come to me because they feel overbooked and underwhelmed. Their efforts are misplaced and their precious time is misallocated to activities and choices that aren’t fulfilling. When you can identify what matters most, then you can focus your attention on those things and you thrive. You stop doing all the stuff that is only mildly rewarding, and pursue choices that are satisfying. For me, that meant identifying the top 10 people in my life I wanted to make a priority, and using my allocated social time with them, instead of trying to make time for everyone who wanted my attention.

It’s baby or me!

The second objection I get is that taking time for oneself takes time away from their family. Not necessarily! There is enough research out there, going back to the 60’s, that shows that parents’ well being directly impacts children’s happiness, that quality time matters over quantity time (quality is not determined by what you are doing with your child so much as it is by your level of engagement in the activity itself).

We know that when parents are stressed, the effects are felt by the whole family and especially by children. When you thrive you reduce your stress, you allow yourself to be more engaged and present with others, your improved mental health and well-being positively impacts your children. Another issue to consider is that our perception of the amount of time we should be spending with our children is both unrealistic and  I would argue harmful to the proper development of children today. It sets an unrealistic standard that is bound to leave us feeling as failures. I won’t go into further detail, but here a a few good reads by me (1, 2) and others (1, 2, 3, and this one 4).

Are they worth it? Of course, but the best we can do is model healthy adulthood for them.
Are they worth it? Of course, but the best we can do is model healthy adulthood for them.

It doesn’t have to be you or them, it can actually be both of you. As a child psychologist (my first professional iteration) and a mother I can tell you that the more balanced and happier you are, the better parent you become; you can actually be there for you children, you model patience, self-care, self-love. It might not be how you thought you would teach those lessons, but for your children  it is far more powerful than learning it in a book.

I have no idea what I want or need anymore:

The last barrier to taking time for oneself is probably the biggest, so I’ll address a whole post to it next week. Many people, and parents especially, when asked what fulfills them, what makes them deeply satisfied and happy are only capable of providing superficial answers. This is a huge issue, so much so that it is central to every kind of coaching service Life in Focus offers. As one of the surveyed moms wrote:

“In some ways, I feel as though I’ve changed a lot, now that I am a mom, but I have also been in ‘survival’ mode for 18 mos […] I’m just going through the motions w/o real thought about what I want to do, or what I’d be excited to do. Where do I even start?”

Listen, I know you want to be the best: the best parent, spouse, professional. It’s hard having great standards and feeling like you can’t meet them. There is one place you can start that will have a watershed effect on all other areas of your life, and that is taking care of yourself.

So if you have a minute this week, (while using the bathroom) ask yourself if there is one thing you would be willing to devote some time or energy to that might make you feel significantly better. When I made all these changes, my one thing was taking 5-10 minutes after lunch or before going to bed to sit outside and do nothing. It was very hard to do nothing, but it felt decadent and amazingly wonderful. Share your success with us online using #thrivingparent so we can thrive together.

Extra Credit:

I combed through a bunch of research and then remembered you have no time, so here are some extra articles on the topics addressed in this post that I found interesting, comprehensive, reputable and non-jargony.

All the Noise in the World

All the Noise in the World

shutterstock_98601176There is so much noise in our world. There is the noise of traffic, and lawn mowers, the noise of cell phones, microwave ovens, the buzz of every appliance in a house. There are other peoples’ conversations, streaming videos and music; everywhere you go… noise, noise, noise! There is so much noise around us, and we have grown so accustomed to it that most of us don’t even balk at the fact that in the States we are hard pressed to find a restaurant or bar where we can understand our table mates without knowing how to read lips.

In addition to sound-pollution there is visual noise. We are surrounded by screens: computers, TVs, tablets, cell phones, screens on billboards and on buildings, screens at gas station pumps. It is hard to enter a business now without being bombarded by visual and auditory noise.

There is not much that we can do about all this noise. No wonder we gravitate toward stories of zombie apocalypses, pandemics and the end of the world.

At the end of the day we are just Homo Sapiens desperate to sit quietly in front of a fire and let ours brain rest.
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Post-Apocalyptic Fantasies

Ever wonder why we find end-of-days themes so appealing? I am convinced part of it stems from our deep need for solitude, quiet and peace. At the end of the day we are just Homo Sapiens desperate to sit quietly in front of a fire and let ours brain rest. Behind every techie is a person who needs, and would thrive on, some down time (you can hear more about this on the latest Life in Focus Podcast about the Zombie Apocalypse).

image courtesy of AMC's "Walking Dead"
image courtesy of AMC’s “Walking Dead”

The relatively new problem we are running into is that many people now get anxious when the noise stops. They don’t know how to handle time that isn’t filled with a screen or man-made sounds. When I ask clients and patients to practice sitting in silence, I usually get this terrified look, which means “What? What do you mean silence? I can’t do that! I can’t just sit and do nothing!” It takes a bit of coaxing to convince them that not only are they capable of sitting quietly for two minutes, but that doing nothing is both okay and beneficial.

Make Time to Do Nothing

Without fail, every person I have ever assigned this silence to (which is everyone I work with) has come back and thanked me. Learning to sit quietly, to stare into space and cultivate real, quiet and alone time is extraordinarily beneficial. People are amazed initially at how hard it is to sit for a couple minutes. Then they are surprised to find out how much effort is required to get their mind to slow down. Finally, they are overcome by the relief and peace that this simple exercise provides. There is no need for an international pandemic to quiet the world, one only needs to make time to do nothing.

Making time requires anywhere from 30 seconds to as long as you want. I recommend starting with 30 seconds and building up your “quiet” tolerance from there. Personally, I would encourage you to stare into space and daydream, but you can also practice deep breathing, visualizations or positive self-statements. You can build time in your schedule to do this, or you can use the time that is available to you such as turning off your car radio at a red light and sitting in silence, or leaving your cell phone in your pocket during a solo-elevator ride.

There is no need for an international pandemic to quiet the world, one only needs to make time to do nothing.
click to tweet

Calling all Parents:

I reviewed severalThriving Parent surveys completed by  you this week.  There was a clear sense that parents, more than anyone else, need to cultivate quiet moments. Survey after survey, parents shared how much they miss “me time,” “quiet time,” and “alone time.” It is true that having children increases the noise level in our lives. When my brother, who doesn’t have any children yet, visits, there comes a point every day when he has to leave the house because of the noise levels (and he doesn’t even have to deal with children barging into the bathroom and talking to him while he’s on the toilet).

As a parent, I hope you won’t overlook the value of 30 seconds to two minutes of daily quiet time . At first, try using naturally occurring breaks (nap times, moments in the car before you pick them up from school, or those 36 seconds where they are playing without arguing) to sit/stand in quiet solitude. Try not to use all of your breaks being so productive and busy. Eventually, start to build down time in your schedule. There’s a tool I use to do this called the Parenthood Planner, designed to help parents track and create self-care habits.  It’s one of the many tools in the Thriving Parent package.

If you would like to add your voice to the survey, share your needs with me, and be entered to win a FREE Thriving Parent package, sign-up here and complete the survey (and after you’re done, take 30 seconds to sit in silence, all screens off).

After a week cultivating silence, let me know your progress or if you need accountability, share your goals on the LIF Facebook page using the hashtag #savethesilence.

Aha! Earth shattering moments that knock you off your feet.

Have you ever had an earth shattering moment that knocks you off your feet? The kind that leaves you alert, euphoric, wild and excited? Those moments are what I call an “aha! Moment.” Have you ever experienced a real aha! moment?

Super therapist – fighting boredom and discontent, one aha! moment at a time

One of my first “aha! Moments” came when I was a graduate student and foolishly believed that by simply providing my patients with insight, I could get them to feel better. In my fantasy, I would sit in my super therapist chair helping a patient come up with some great insight, and they would change their moods, behaviors and perspectives because they were now aware and enlightened. Obviously, I was a bit naïve {insert your own chuckle at me.} During the end of my third year, I was stripped of this foolish notion and understood that insight, although necessary for change, is insufficient on its own. My task as a therapist would be far more difficult than doling out a bunch of aha! moments.

It was such a disappointment because aha! moments should be rewarding; people love the notion of an aha! moment because it holds the promise of a big break, a moment where everything becomes more clear and, therefore, more possible. The moments create a sense of movement and hopefulness that is unparalleled.  Aha! moments falls in one of two categories, either it’s something that was completely unknown to you that shifts your perception and rocks your world, or it’s something that has been in plain sight, but out of your awareness until just that moment.

Insight, although necessary for change, is insufficient on its own.
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Earth shattering, toe curling insights!
Earth shattering, toe curling insights!

Big earthquakes or small tremors:

Aha! moments are rare, very rare, like unicorns and shopping carts that don’t have messed-up wheels rare. What is much more common, and, therefore, more useful are small opportunities for insight. The  awareness we gain from hindsight or a clarification on an existing and already known theory is a bit less exciting than the earth shattering, toe curling effect of the aha! moment, but just as important. Both types of insight, once revealed, lead to a level of personal awareness and understanding that theoretically will effect change, but not without direction.

What I came to understand is that insight without a plan, without a direction, is just one more piece of knowledge to be stored and forgotten. The aha! without the “what does this mean for me / about me / what can I do with this information?” questioning is no better than a quick high. You get your relief, your big break and hopefulness, but without direction, it all fades away. That’s the problem with a lot of motivational speakers and books; they get you to this place of self-awareness and insight, but then don’t provide a means of using it. On the other hand, coaches and strategists have wonderful plans and systems to teach you “how-to’s,” but they often fail to create the kind of deep insight that provides you with the “what” that is meaningful and relevant to you and your life. In these cases, you get something (either knowledge or a tool) that is right, but not necessarily made right for you – the right insight, the right motivation, the right system, the right method, but it hasn’t been put together in a way that is right for who YOU are and how you are living your life.

…insight without a plan, without a direction, is just one more piece of knowledge to be stored and forgotten.                            
click to tweet 

Putting two and two together

I coach people to appreciate both equally, and to not spend their life waiting for the big push and the parting of the waters that is the aha! Moment. I tell people to use their daily experiences, daydreams and emotions as tools from which to draw insight and awareness, and then I guide them through a process of thinking to consider what the insight means for them and how they want to use it.

In theory, it’s a simple process. that involves some reflective questioning:

  1. Now that I know this, how does it change what I do?”.
  2. “What am I going to do (in very practical, concrete terms) with this knowledge?”
  3. “What changes am I going to make using this piece of information?”

The key is to realize that insight + practical plan = change. If either one of those goes missing and you’re left with frustration and stagnation.

Calling all parents out there:

Many of us experience our children growing-up with this sense that someday things will get simpler, or we’ll know exactly how to handle a certain behavior. We imagine we’ll have this aha! moment where everything will come into place. Our fantasy is that once we get that break, or that parenting skill down, we will magically change as will our children, and life will become simpler, allowing us to finally do all the things we want to do for ourselves.

I can’t tell you how often I hear parents of kids younger than mine tell me that once their kid outgrows a specific phase or once they get the hang of some new behavior their child is exhibiting, they will be free to pursue their dreams and goals. I don’t always have the heart to tell them that it doesn’t get better or easier, it just changes. What doesn’t change is the time, energy and emotional investment of parenting.

Next time you find yourself wishing for a parenting phase to end so you can finally get back to [insert your dream here], use that as insight that you want/need something in your life. Then having that insight, ask yourself what changes you can make today.

Need some help moving forward with your goals?

Stay tuned for the Thriving Parent bundle – a compilation of tools, parent-driven content and a one month membership the the Thriving Parent community

The Focus Equation is going to have a special “focus on parents” edition in May. Until then, you can learn more about The Focus Equation program right here.

Alessandra Wall, Ph.D.
Exceptional Insights, Insightful Focus