Stop the Drama

10 Steps for Getting Organized and Back to School

Posted on January 3, 2009. Filed under: Family Life, Stop the Drama | Tags: , , |

Today is about Stopping the Drama

Photo by sergis blog


I have not written in months, but it’s time to start blogging again. My last entry was about a great pizza place I visited on a warm spring day in May. One day led to another, then I was deep into summer, and then it was back to school. Now that the weather is cold, and it is the New Year, I feel like getting back to Parent Jazz.

Today’s entry is about 10 steps for getting organized for back to school. With three school aged children, my house is in a constant state of near-chaos. However, there are some tips I’ve learned over the years and would like to share that help keep things less crazed.

  1. Pack up the kids’ school bags the night before. Cleaning out and packing up the school bag, collecting all of the papers, homework and permission slips the night before makes the morning process much less crazy. I also find that the younger are your children, the earlier in the day you should go though their school bags. I have stayed up late too many nights because I didn’t find the note from my kids’ teachers reminding me to send in brownies or some other treat the next morning until late at night. Even with older kids, this is a good exercise to help them think through and plan for the next day.
  2. Create a launching pad to get out of the door in the morning. Once the school bags are packed, put them in a place where everything is collected to go out the next morning. In addition to the school bag, this place can be where projects, sports equipment, special clothes and other necessary items are all kept. This helps avoid the last minute running around in the morning looking for shoes, glasses, gloves, or whatever other items tend to be forgotten until your kids are walking out the door.
  3. Have a space set up to work and study. I had to remind my kids, this does not include the space in front of the TV.  The study space should be away from distractions, well lit, and have school supplies nearby so your kids don’t have to go wandering around looking for things. With younger kids, a centrally located spot like the kitchen table is fine so an adult can supervise, help keep them on track and be available to answer any questions. Older kids don’t need as much supervision, but should not try to work in front of the television. 
  4. Make studying a habit. Establish homework and studying time as part of their routine. After coming home and having a snack, kids can then sit down to do their homework. Even when my youngest has no homework, we give 15-20 minutes of some extra reading or other type of work to do at home just to establish the habit. As kids get older and get into other activities such as sports, it becomes increasingly important to establish the habit of sitting down at a specifc time to do their work.
  5. Create a school folder for each child. This is the place where all the reminders, permission slips, teacher notes, and notices are kept. Every child will bring home loads of paper notices, and you need to have single place to keep all of that information. In addition, to having a place to keep it, you also have to have a set time to deal with it. For us, it’s during dinner. So when my kids come home and say “I need you to sign this”, I have them put it in their school folder and we can go through it during dinner. This also gives me a chance to coordinate all of the kids schedules and make sure we don’t commit to attending a concert for one kid, when there is another conflicting event for another kid. This leads me to the next tip….
  6. Put up a family calendar. List everyone’s commitments and events, where they will occur, what time, and what is needed for those events. We use it for both school and social commitments such as birthday parties, as well as doctor’s appointments. Again, with more than one kid and working parents, having that visual reminder of who needs to be where, and when helps keep us organized. It also is the place where things can “land”, meaning when a notice or appointment comes in, I can put it on the family calendar and not have to worry about losing it.
  7. Meet other parents and exchange phone numbers. Despite having systems to keep track of notices, there will be times when you need another source of information about what’s going on in school. This is when other parents can be helpful. In addition to sharing information, it simply helps to build relationships with other adults with children. Your child will develop friendships with other kids in class and the kids will want to spend time at each other’s house. Knowing the parents helps to make sure your child is safe, and you are comfortable having her spend time in someone else’s home.  
  8. Buy things in bulk so they are on hand whenever you need them. For me this starts with school supplies, so we have lots of paper, pencils, and other supplies on hand for most of the year. However, I also use this strategy for things like brownie mix, which I buy from Cotsco so we always have some available for school events, bake sales, pot lucks and other brownie emergencies. In addition, at the beginning of the school year I will buy several gender neutral, age appropriate toys and have them wrapped. So over the course of the year, as my kids get invited to birthday parties, we have a wrapped present on hand and have one less errand to run on the weekends.
  9. Plan for breakfast. Studies show that children who eat breakfast perform better in school. So make sure your child doesn’t leave the house without having something to eat. The best breakfast does not have a lot of sugar, and consists of complex carbohydrates and some protein. While this could involve cooking an egg with toast, or oatmeal with milk, you can create “grab-n-go” breakfast like a bagel with peanut butter, or yogurt with granola. The point is to not have to think about it in the morning, but to set up standard breakfast options so it’s one less decision to be made on busy mornings. 
  10. Get everyone to bed on time (especially the parents!). I’ve written about the importance of sleep before. In this case, it applies to both the parents and the children. I have teenagers, and it is harder to get them to bed on time than when they were younger. When they stay up late, it is hard to get them up in the morning, they usually oversleep, and it makes the whole morning routine rushed and chaotic due to lack of time and focus.  On the other hand, my youngest is in bed on time, getting her up is a breeze, and her mornings run very smoothly with no grumpiness and very little drama. So get everyone to bed on time.

Over the years, I have used each of these tips and find they work and are really helpful. Unfortunately, I have not been able to implement all of them at the same time. Hopefully, you will be better able to put these tips into practice to make the school year run smoothly for your family.


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Sunday Unplugged

Posted on April 28, 2008. Filed under: Stop the Drama | Tags: , , |

Today is about Stopping the Drama

A couple of weeks ago, I convinced my family to have an Unplugged Sunday. This is a day with no electronic use–no television, no computers, no video games, no electronics, no nothing. The motivation came to me after reading an article in the NY Times by Mark Bittman regarding his experiences with being unplugged. Bittman is better known for his work on minimalist cooking, however he did share his unplugged experience in this particular article, and said:

“Once I moved beyond the fear of being unavailable and what it might cost me, I experienced what, if I wasn’t such a skeptic, I would call a lightness of being. I felt connected to myself rather than my computer. I had time to think, and distance from normal demands. I got to stop.”

Lightness of Being? That may be asking for a lot, but being unplugged did sound like something worth trying. My first hurdle was convincing my daughters. “You mean no TV! But it’s the weekend!” Yes, girls no TV. No computer. No nothing. “Well could we go out and see a movie?” This was going to be harder than I expected. I realized my vision for being unplugged was not getting through to them, so I decided to get my husband’s help.

My husband is a CNN/video game/iPhone/web surfing junkie. However, he did buy in to the idea of being unplugged for a day and immediately turned everything off when I shared the idea. He lasted for 20 minutes: “What are you doing with your iPhone?” “Oh I was just looking for recipes for dinner tonight” “What’s wrong with the 30 cookbooks in the kitchen?” “Nothing, it’s just that I’d rather look it up on the ‘net”

Finally after a lot of cajoling, and a little policing, I was able to convince everyone to turn everything off and unplug. And what happened? We had a nice quiet Sunday at home. Our day was filled with reading, chatting, playing games, a slow cooked dinner, and really feeling like Sunday could actually be a day of rest. My husband bought the original game of Risk for Christmas last year, however our family has not had a single chance to sit down and play the game. Perhaps after a few more Unplugged Sundays, our family will find the time to sit together and play the game.

In the meantime, I would encourage you to try having just one day per week where you are unplugged. What I found is you read, you talk. Life happens.


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Just Say “No”

Posted on April 17, 2008. Filed under: Stop the Drama | Tags: , , , , |

Today is about Stopping the Drama

Photo by Clearly Ambiguous

Learning how to say “No” is a critical skill for leading a simpler life. People make demands on your time, your attention, and your energy and will continue to ask for more until your tell them “No”. While it is such a simple word, it can be so hard to say because we want to help out, and don’t want to disappoint others. However, having a simpler life requires having more time, and being in control of your time so you can spend it doing things that add value to your life. Instead of running around meeting the needs of others, it’s better to be relaxed, spend time with people you love, and give yourself enough time to get the things done you need to do. While saying “No” can be hard, I do have a few points to share that will make it easier.

  • Don’t give a reason, just say no. If you give a reason, then that opens the door for negotiations to overcome your reasons. At work, I get asked to give a lot of talks. They often provide no real professional benefit, are inconvenient, and I don’t want to do them. I asked an older colleague how she handles requests she doesn’t want to do, and she told me “treat it like when you were dating; you just said no and didn’t need to give a reason” I don’t know why that resonated with me, but it made a lot of sense. So when a request comes in that I don’t want to do, I thank them for the request and say no.
  • If you must give a reason, then make it impersonal. My sister once asked if she could borrow my passport since we look alike and she needed an I.D. to get into a club. It was not a hard sell to tell her I don’t give my passport to anyone. You can use other excuses that say “it’s not you it’s me” like “I don’t loan money to friends or family”, “I have already decided where I will be making donations (or volunteering my time) this year”, “I need to slow down and am not traveling for holidays”, “My kids are allergic, and we cannot keep any pets in the house”. You get the point, these are all general statements, that are great ways to say no, and would not be offensive to most reasonable people.
  • Consider the cost of saying yes. What will it cost you in time, energy, lost opportunities to do something else, time with your friends and family? I once heard someone say “if you had six months to live, how would you send your time? If the thing you are being asked to do is not on that list, then don’t do it”. Fortunately, most of us have more than six months to live. However, the point is well taken. Life is short and you should not spend it wasting time on things you do not enjoy. If a request does not make it on to your “six months to live” list, then don’t do it.
  • Let go of guilt. Most of us want to please others and when we can’t we feel guilty. However, a huge plus-side of guilt is that it is an emotion that is entirely within your control. Other people can make you feel sad or happy, but only you can decide to allow yourself to feel guilty. Exactly what is it that you owe the other person? Why do you feel obligated to them? Why is it so important to please them? Will fulfilling this request really please them that much? Do you think that you are so special that they cannot get someone else to do this task? If you don’t want to do something that is being requested of you, don’t feel bad that you cannot address someone else’s needs.
  • Get it over with quickly. I am guilty of procrastinating on saying no because it is unpleasant and I don’t want to let someone down. Also, I want to make it seem that I have given some thought to the request. However, if I let too much time pass before I give an answer, I feel more obligated to say yes because they have less time to find someone else to do the task. If you know the answer is no, just say it as soon as possible and get it over with.
  • Practice saying no. You can start with small requests that are easy to turn down. You can get used to saying no by starting with simple requests and learning that people will not think less of you, they will still like you, and they will be able to get someone else to do it. After you have had some practice and learned that the world won’t stop with the little “no”, then you can move up to saying “no” for bigger requests.
  • Don’t succumb to flattery. Whenever someone starts out with a statement about how great, smart, knowledgeable, informed, eloquent, or beautiful I am, then I know it’s going to be a major request. Don’t fall for it! In fact, I get annoyed. I am not so easily swayed that basic flattery will get me to engage in an activitiy that causes me to fall behind at work or spend less time with my kids — unless their flattering statements are true :-). Although they may tell you that you are extremely bright, smart, efficient, effective, organized, and thorough, trust me there is someone else out there who is equally talented and can take on this task instead of you.
  • Take time to appreciate the benefits of saying no. My biggest challenge is getting requests to go give talks, which often require travel and being away from work or my family. When I say no to these requests, I still keep the date in my calendar as a reminder of what I was asked to do. When the day comes, and I end up using the time to catch up at work, or play with my kids, or eat dinner with my family, I remind myself that this is what I could do because I was able to say no to a request for my time.


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Ten Steps to Stop Procrastinating

Posted on April 8, 2008. Filed under: Stop the Drama | Tags: , , , |

Today is about Stopping the Drama

I procrastinate. A lot. Especially when I have to do something that I don’t enjoy, am scared to get into, or just feel overwhelmed. However, I recently had to write a report, and it was the kind that I often avoid or procrastinate doing. This time, I had a quick deadline for finishing the report, so didn’t have time to do my usual procrastination, and just jumped right in. As a result, the report got done quickly and I didn’t waste time mulling over the work, procrastinating about it and having it hang over my head. Deadlines can be good that way, but everything doesn’t come with a deadline that forces us to avoid procrastination. So here are some tips that I have used which help me to avoid procrastinating.

  1. Just start. It can be very useful to simply start a project, but make no promise about being perfect or getting finished. Instead, I just jump right in, but limit myself to one hour of work as a way to get started. So whether it’s cleaning out my basement, or writing a major report, the job doesn’t seem as big if I just get started and promise myself that I will work for only one hour.
  2. Make a decision. Projects can sometimes sit indefinitely because you need to make a decision to get it started. Painting your living room? What color will you choose? Making plans for summer camp for your kids? What camp will you pick? Again, just taking that first step to gather information you need to make a decision helps. However, set a deadline for yourself to gather enough infomation and then choose. Then you can move towards action to execute your choice.
  3. Use bribery. Give your self a treat — it can be a piece of chocolate, a massage, or a weekend away. Promise yourself a a reward once you have finished a task or project you are avoiding.
  4. Use denial. Withhold something until you have completed that task. When I am at work, I often don’t allow myself to go to lunch until a specific task has been completed. This forces me to get it done, and then I can reward myself with food.
  5. Don’t try to be perfect. It’s sometimes hard to start a job that you want done perfectly. How can anyone live up to that expectation? In stead of perfect, try for “good” or “good enough”. Besides, many projects can go through draft stages so that getting to perfect is almost possible. For me, the hardest part is getting started. But when I let myself off the hook and say it doesn’t have to be perfect, but has to be something that I can improve perfect, it makes it easier to get started.
  6. Work with someone else. People do this all the time to get in shape by hiring a personal trainer. I recently did this by training for a half marathon with a partner. Knowing that she would be waiting for me at 7AM was all that I needed to get out of the bed to go and meet her for a run. So whether it’s working out, or writing up a report, collaborating with someone else can force you to stop putting it off and starting getting it done.
  7. Face your fear. Sometimes people procrastinate because they are afraid of the outcome of their work. Visualize the worst case scenario–what would happen if you fail in this task? When you address it directly, it is often not as bad as you imagined. Then knowing how bad it can be, frees you up to imagine how good it can get–and work towards making that a reality.
  8. Unplug. No food. No music. No nothing. Eliminate any distractions so you can simply focus on the task at hand. I have seen people spend so much time setting up the right work environment–the right drinks, food, music, temperature, whatever–that all their energy goes to set up and none goes to their work. Just keep it simple, and keep things away that could distract you. If you want to eat or play music, use that as a reward (see #3).
  9. Just let it go. There are some tasks that sit for a long time, not getting done. Then when you turn your attention to it, you realize it is no longer important or timely or simply needs to not be done. When that happens, just take it off your “to do” list and use your energy for another current project.
  10. Don’t start a blog. I often end up here blogging, instead of doing some work or project that I am supposed to. Blogging is fun. Going through my work email is not. Recognize where you let yourself get distracted and try to avoid that situation. With that said, I will get back to work……


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Starting Over

Posted on February 19, 2008. Filed under: Stop the Drama | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Today is about Stopping the Drama

Photo by tanakawho lotus.jpg
Every new day is a chance to start over. No matter what went wrong, what wasn’t accomplished, or wasn’t said or done, you can approach each day as a chance to start over. I have had to face starting over for small things like recommitting myself to a diet or other healthy lifestyle change, to big things like starting over after my divorce. Friends of mine have had to start over after declaring bankruptcy, losing their job, or moving to a new city. We all have to start over at some point. Having had my own experiences with starting over, and sharing the experience with my friends who have done the same, I’ve learned that there are several ways to make starting over a better experience.

Reflect to understand how you got to this point. Whether it is losing a job, going through a divorce, or filing for bankruptcy, when you have to start over after a bad experience it’s worth taking the time to reflect and think through how you got to this point. Basically, to figure out what are the lessons you can glean from the experience. What would you do differently if you could? What would you do the same? What was not in your control, and what was? Rather than taking a stance of bad things are happening to you, take responsibility for your role. What could you do to make the situation different, or to know earlier that it was not going well for you? All of those lessons are important, and will give you guidance as you go forward and start over.

Make a plan. Sometimes starting over can feel overwhelming. However, if you make a plan that consists of manageable steps, that gives you direction for what needs to be done. Filing for bankruptcy can be overwhelming. After filing, my friends had to rebuild their credit, start saving, learn how to live within their budgets, and set long term financial goals. Once they had a specific plan for how to regroup after bankruptcy, it then became their road map for what to do next.

Give yourself time. Starting over takes time, and will be done in small steps. Rebuilding credit, starting a new life, or learning a new job all require small steps towards rebuilding. It does not happen quickly. However, take the steps you need, and then give yourself time to periodically reassess. For example, if you are rebuilding your life after a divorce, check your progress every six months–have you started a new job, reduced your debt, rediscovered old interests, or done other things you couldn’t do while married? Stopping to periodically evaluate your progress will give you time to check your progress towards rebuilding.

Look for the positive. Starting over often results from a negative event, but there may be a positive side to the experience. Did you lose a job? Perhaps you didn’t really like it. File for bankruptcy? Now you have lost a major source of stress in your life and don’t have creditors calling you. After I divorced, I took great pleasure in being able to watch what I wanted on TV, without having to negotiate, and without having to give up the remote control. I know it seems like a small thing, but it really made me happy to be able to simply watch TV without conflict.

Embrace the opportunity to do something new. Starting over opens you up to lots of great new experiences. If you lost your job, this may be the time to start a new career. After I divorced, I was free to look for a new job, move to a new city, and travel to different places than I did while married. Friends who went through bankruptcy told me that it forced them to learn to live within their budgets, embrace simplicity and focus on non-material things that were important to them.

I am thinking about this topic now because I have to start over with my training program. I mentioned before that I am training for a half marathon as a way to stay motivated to run through the winter. Most of my running has been indoors on a treadmill, and my longest run was 12 miles a couple of weeks ago. Then last weekend it was warm enough for me to run outdoors, but I could only complete 8 miles because my legs hurt from the pounding of running on the road. I was really discouraged after this morning’s run because it was only 4 miles, but hard since I haven’t been running outside. So now I have to start over with my training schedule to get ready for this race–in 7 weeks. Although this type of starting over is fairly easy–I am not dealing with rebuilding my life after a major event–the principles I outlined above also apply in this situation.

The bottom line is each day presents itself as an opportunity to start over. It’s never too late.


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Achieving a Work Family Balance

Posted on February 17, 2008. Filed under: Family Life, Stop the Drama | Tags: , , , , |

Today is about Family Life

Photo by ghewgillbalance21.jpg
Achieving a balance between work and family seems to be the “holy grail” for so many of my friends.

First let me state “I want to work”. I work because I want to accomplish things outside of my home. I work because my family needs the money. I work because I want to be a role model for my daughters. I work because I want to maintain my financial independence. I have worked ever since my daughters (who are now teenagers) were born. While working is important to me, my family is even more important. So I need to balance the two.

Over the years, I’ve had lots of conversations with other women about the work/family balance. We all have different ways of dealing with the challenges, but most of us are able to manage it. Thinking about my own experience as a working mother, and watching the efforts of my friends and colleagues, here are some tips I’ve picked up that are helpful for achieving the work/family balance. At the core of most of these is coming to terms with the fact that you can’t do it all. And that’s OK.

Get as much support from your partner as you can, and then get more help. It seems obvious, but get all the help you can. In the ideal world , our partners or husbands would be the person we most rely on for help. In the real world, the work of running a home, caring for our kids, and managing everyone’s lives is rarely evenly split between both partners–even if they are both working. It’s been 20 years since Arlie Hochschild wrote The Second Shift, but her observations are still valid; most working women take on a larger part of household responsibilities, particularly if they have children. This may seem unfair. You can get mad. Get upset. Get on your partner’s case. But none of that is as effective as getting more help. Some of this help can come from family and friends and some you will need to pay for. Don’t limit your help to the obvious need of child care. You can also get help with other parts of your life. This includes (but is not limited to) help with cleaning your home, grocery shopping, meal preparation, caring for parents, shopping for clothes, vacation planning, getting your kids’ hair done, planning birthday parties, and buying Christmas gifts. Obviously, each of these services is going to cost you money, and I would not recommend doing all of them. But knowing that you can’t do it all, you need help to manage all of your responsibilities and there are plenty of people (and service providers) who can help.

Forget about being perfect, and embrace being good enough. Decide what is important to you and what isn’t, and this gives you guidance about what things to let fall through the cracks. There are some things that should never slip (like celebrating your child’s birthday), while you can let other things go if you don’t have time (like sending out Christmas cards). Your kids want your time and attention more than anything and understanding their priorities will help you keep yours. Sitting down together for dinner every night should be a priority. If it’s pizza or some other take out food, rather than a home cooked meal, your kids won’t mind so you shouldn’t either. Personally, I’ve given up on having a neat house. My house gets really cleaned every two weeks, but then chaos (meaning my husband and kids) comes in and leaves clothes, toys, books, and shoes everywhere. I can get a single room neat, but I never have the whole house looking put together and that is good enough.

Sometimes you need to scale back at work. I have friends who decided to work four days per week to give themselves a bit more flexibility with their time. Others chose to take on less demanding jobs when their children were young, and then lobbied for more responsibilities or a promotion as their kids got older. Your kids’ needs change over time, and the amount of time and attention you can give to your work will change too.

Sometimes you need to scale back at home. I can’t be the class mom, attend every PTA meeting (especially the ones scheduled for 10:30AM!), be an escort on every class trip, and often buy brownies instead of making them for bake sales. If your kids participate in sports, then it means a lot of dropping off and picking up for practice, plus lots of travel to go to games. I can’t do all of that. So I ask my kids to think about what is really important to them, and then I get involved (or get help) with the things they care about. This is why one of my kids did not join the travel soccer team, but did join the track team.

Look for jobs that give you flexibility. The hardest part of the balance is the day to day juggling. Who does drop off and pick up from daycare or school? How do you get home on time for parent teacher meetings, or recitals, or plays, or sporting events? Where is the time to make dinner? If time at your job is not flexible, then there is no easy answer to dealing with these challenges (except to think about another job). If you are fortunate to have a flexible job, you can arrive late or leave early when needed, work at other times like on weekends, or work at night so you can attend to your family. I know a nurse who works 12 hour shifts from 7PM to 7AM. Then she goes home, gets her kids ready for school, goes to sleep and wakes up in time to pick them up from school. Since her shifts are 12 hours, she works three shifts per week for a full-time job. It isn’t easy, but her job flexibility lets her be there for her kids.

Do work when at work, be home when at home. Wherever you are, give it your full attention. I once complained to someone about my challenges of focusing on work and family. I found myself in meetings thinking about Halloween costumes, and when I was at home thinking about projects at work. None of this was making me more effective, and I was constantly feeling pulled in different directions. He recommended I read Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat Zinn. This is basically a book about meditation, but I found it helpful because it talked about “being in the moment” and giving my full attention to the present task. So rather than feeling scattered all the time, I focus on my current situation.

Set work/home boundaries. Part of being able to focus is because I designate the time and place for everything I need to do. When I am at work, I try not to work on home issues. When I am at home, I try not to think about work. I go so far as to leave myself voice mail messages. If I am home and I have a thought about something work related, I call my office, and plant the work related item there on my voice mail. Then I know it will get addressed when I am back in the office, and I can spend my time at home focusing on my home life. Obviously, things happen and I can’t always stick to this plan to compartmentalize my life, but making the effort helps me to feel less scattered.

Be prepared for the teen years. When my kids were young, I had lots of options for daycare. As they got older, they went into school and our need for child care became less intense. When they became teenagers, I realized that they still needed support and supervision after school, but unlike when they were young, I had very few options for getting help with my teenagers. Working mothers often make lots of plans to scale back at work or bring in extra help when their children are young. Now that I have been through both phases, I often advise other working mothers who want to scale back to think about waiting until their kids are teenagers. Parents can make use of several daycare options that are available when their kids are younger. But I think the toughest time is when your children are teenagers. There are not a lot of options for teenage care, and having your teens home and unsupervised for several hours each day can be a set up for trouble. So while it seems counterintuitive, realize that teenagers have a lot of need for parents to be around, and you will need to plan for their care and supervision just as much as when they were younger–but you will have fewer options for outside help.

Everyone I know who is juggling work and family family feels stretched thin from time to time. However, by having a good support network, setting your own priorities, and being satisfied with being less than perfect, I find most women are making it work for themselves and their families.


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    Letting Go of Anger

    Posted on January 23, 2008. Filed under: Stop the Drama | Tags: , , |

    Wednesday is about Stopping the Drama

    Photo by jurvetsonletting-go.jpg
    Everyone gets angry. Trigger events can be small things like being cut off in traffic, or big things like a profound disappointment or hurt from someone we love, or thought loved us. Whatever is the cause, anger is an important and useful emotion. It helps us keep others from pushing us around or abusing us. But if we hold on to anger, it no longer serves it’s purpose, which is to protect us. When allowed to fester and be a part of our daily lives, anger can take over and be a negative force. I don’t know why, but it is often very difficult to let go of anger. We often find it easier to stay bitter, and sullen and avoid embracing calm.

    Letting go of anger doesn’t just happen. It’s an active process. Like most people, I have had wrongs and disappointments that make me angry. However, I try to move on and let go of my anger by doing the following:

    • Put yourself in their shoes. I doubt that most people get out of bed and say “today I want to offend someone”. Most transgressions occur because someone is being thoughtless, but not necessarily malicious. It seems to make it easier when you realize that the wrong being done is not about you, but is about the person’s inability to be thoughtful. Did you get cut off in traffic? Maybe that person just had a horrible fight with their spouse and is not paying attention. Did someone you love let you down? Maybe that person is having problems caring for themselves, much less caring for you. Most people don’t try to offend others, try to imagine why someone would behave the way they do.
    • Know where your anger comes from. If little things are setting you off, then you may be angry about something else and using that little thing as an excuse to express your anger. Are you feeling frustrated at work and not respected? Does this anger come out when you are yelling at your kids because they have not cleaned up and you are feeling they are not respecting you? Try to understand the real source of your anger and direct it back to that source, and not onto others. While the little things may annoy you, reserve your anger for the real source.
    • Take deep breathes. This is basic, but really important. Thousands of years of yoga practice, and loads of research on biofeedback demonstrate the benefits of deep breathing as a way to be calm. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, just 20 deep breathes to get a momentary break. My oldest daughter is a real hot head, and I often tell her to count to 20 and breathe with each count when she is in an intense situation. I often have to use that same technique when dealing with her.
    • Don’t give others power over you. I have a friend who often spent her weekends complaining about the wrongs her boss had done to her. Then one day I asked her “why are you spending your free time thinking about your boss, when you can be sure she is not thinking about you?” Don’t give others the power to put you in a bad mood or to ruin your good time. What’s great about this is it is completely in your control. You can decide if you are going to let someone else make you feel bad or feel angry. If you decide to not let them get to you, they have no power over you. I’ve seen this when relationships end, or when couples continue to fight after they are apart. It is often due to the efforts of one of the partners to continue to engage the other. If you let your ex get you angry, or get you into a fight then s/he still has power over you. Don’t give them that, don’t engage.
    • Say it once (or twice). People often walk around with anger, and never tell the person with whom they are angry. This can let it build up to create resentment or lead to passive aggressive behavior. If someone is doing something that makes you angry, then tell them. You may have to tell them more than once. They can decide if they are going to do anything with that information. However, you let it out and made them aware of the behavior that is making you angry. If that person is not available to you, then write it down and let them know in a letter. They may never get the letter, but you have put words to your feelings, expressed them and let them out.
    • Just let it go. This is hard, but is really at the core of getting rid of anger. Just let it go. Sometimes you have to make a conscious choice to not hold on to anger. After you tell the person who made you angry, you’ve done what you can and it’s up to them to deal with it. In the meantime, do you want to hold on to your anger, or do you want to let it go? If there is no benefit to being angry, then forgive the person and move on.
    • Take your anger out on something else. The aggression you feel when you are angry can be a great energy boost. Use that adrenaline to work out, hit some balls, punch a bag, go for a run, or clean out a cluttered part of your home (perhaps the clutter that belongs to your ex?) Turn that energy into a positive activity.
    • Make sure you are really angry. Sometimes people can experience other emotions that come out as anger. Perhaps you are not mad at the world, but depressed, anxious, scared, frustrated or even jealous. When it is hard to pinpoint the source of your anger, take some time to think about other emotions your are experiencing–they may give you a clue to the real issue you need to address.
    • Make room for other emotions. Opening yourself to other emotions, leaves less room for being angry. It is hard to feel angry when you are focused on feeling gratitude, centeredness, or happiness. Like a lot of our emotions, they are very much under our own control regardless of our circumstances. So take a “glass half full” perspective and try to find the positive in your situation. As a concrete example, I was driving with my family today and we got a flat tire. However, the tire did not blow until after we got off the highway, were going at slower speeds, and had access to lots of gas stations. So while having a flat was annoying, I focused on how lucky we were that it did not happen on the highway, and it was easy to take care of. My husband had a less favorable view of the situation (but, then again, he was the one out in the cold changing the tire, while I went inside a warm convenience store to wait with the kids).
    • If all else fails, plot your revenge to get back at the person who has done you wrong—–just kidding! Let it go!


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    Get Some Time Alone

    Posted on January 16, 2008. Filed under: Stop the Drama | Tags: , , , , |

    Wednesday is about Stopping the Drama

    Photo by Tico24

    alone.jpg Some people are extraverts and enjoy spending time with others, while some are introverts and prefer more solitude. I am a natural extrovert, and am always looking to plug into and engage with others. However, despite my social tendencies, I find that having daily alone time is a good thing. With work, kids, a husband, friends, email, my cell phone, and the radio (which seems to always be one in my house), I feel like there is always someone talking to me or trying to get my attention.This leaves me with little time to just think, or engage in “the internal monologue”. So each day, I try to grab a little alone time.

    Here’s how:

    • Exercise. I run, and no one seems interested in joining me, which is fine. I recently started to do my longer weekend runs with a friend and that makes the time go quicker. However, when I run during the week, I am alone and really enjoy it. There are also times when I walk to or from work just to unwind and get some time alone.
    • Be awake when everyone else is asleep. Ideally this would be early in the morning to get a head start on your day. Realistically, I think more people find it easier to stay up late after everyone else has gone to bed, but there’s something more deliberate about getting up early. I once heard an interview with Toni Morrison where she said she wrote her first novel, The Bluest Eye, by getting up at 4AM to get in some writing before her children woke up. That spoke volumes to me about what can be done with a few hours of alone time.
    • Take long showers or baths. I treat my shower like an isolation chamber and really take the time to enjoy the solitude and warmth of the water. My family teases me because I always take long showers, but it is my only guaranteed alone time each day and I often come out of the shower with lots of new ideas.
    • Meditate, pray, or do whatever works for you. Whether you take time each day for reflective silence or repetitive rituals, do whatever you need to feel centered and spiritually enriched.
    • Engage in your hobby. Do something that provides a creative outlet whether it’s playing an instrument or making something. I knit. I once showed my knitting to someone who said it would make her tense to knit because she would want to get through it to finish the project. However, for me the goal is to do the actual knitting, it just so happens that sweaters and socks result from those efforts.
    • Go grocery shopping. This sounds like a pitiful way to get some time alone, but it is a strategy I picked up from my husband. I noticed he often runs errands alone and is eager to go. I suspect he enjoys the solitude more than he enjoys getting things accomplished.
    • Clean your house. No one seems to want to join me in this activity! Honestly, I could be better at using it as a way to get alone time, than to get annoyed because no one else seems to want to do it.

    These are my little ways to get some solitude built into each day. I find when I am alone, I often hear voices. Then I realize “oh, that’s the sound of my thoughts”


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    What Happens When You Turn Off the TV?

    Posted on January 9, 2008. Filed under: Stop the Drama |

    Wednesday is about Stopping the Drama

    Photo by Cindy Funk remote.jpg
    As my life has gotten busier, I have less and less time to watch TV. Now that there is a writer’s strike and there are lots of reality TV shows on, I find there is less and less reason to watch TV. Don’t get me wrong, I love my TV candy as much as the next person and was really getting into “Flavor of Love” and “I Love New York” for a while. But to be honest, I watch shows because the TV is on, rather than because the shows are so great that I would schedule my day or evenings to catch a specific show. I also limit the amount of TV my children watch–everyone gets no more than one hour per day after all homework and chores are done. So if I am going to limit their TV viewing, I figure it’s only fair for me to set an example and do the same.

    So what happens when you watch less TV? Well, here’s what I’ve found:

    • You have more time. A LOT more time to do other things. Having the time to blog is one result of having more time.
    • I am less tired. I used to spend many nights staying up late just to watch TV—and it was often bad TV. Now that I don’t have it on, I am more aware of when I am tired and don’t stay up late as often.
    • I am more in touch with my friends. Many of my friends are like me, juggling work and family and generally busy. However, evenings tend to be the time when things settle down, and I can call my friends and we can spend our evenings talking to one another.
    • I play more with my kids. They have video games that are plugged into the TV. So instead of us sitting around and watching something in silence, we play video games and talk smack. While this is not a beneficial as going out for a walk, it still counts as interactive family time in my book.
    • I am less interested in buying the latest “stuff”. I don’t get exposed to as many advertisements, and don’t feel a need to buy the latest new phone….car….perfume….kitchen gadget….computer….or whatever else is being sold to make me happier, richer, skinnier or just better.
    • I have more time to simply get things done. When the TV is off, mundane activities, like paying bills and household chores or repairs, get done instead of piling up to become sources of drama or huge weekend activities.
    • I have more time for enjoyable activities. Exercise, cooking, knitting, and reading happen more when the TV is off.
    • You become a more interesting person. A friend told me she stopped watching TV when she went to a party and realized the only thing she could talk about was the Apprentice. She decided it was better to spend her time reading newspapers and catching up on current events than to watch TV so she would have something interesting to say.

    Yes, there are definitely lots of benefits to turning off the TV. But don’t get me wrong–I do think there are some good TV shows worth watching (anyone else like Heroes?). However, instead of turning on the TV “to see what’s on”, I look up the schedule online and pick a program worth seeing. If there isn’t one, I go about my business and do something else.

    I always say I want to live my own life, rather than watch someone else live theirs on TV.


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    Don’t Make Resolutions

    Posted on January 2, 2008. Filed under: Stop the Drama | Tags: , , , |

    Photo by Darwin Bell

    water.jpgYesterday was New Year’s Day, but I have no resolutions. I’m just trying to stick to the current program—small improvements that will hopefully add up to big results.

    Rather than waiting for the New Year to roll around to make a bunch of big resolutions that are hard to keep, treat each Monday as a fresh start to make a single small change–or recommit to an existing change. I find this is easier to manage, and allows me to take on improvements in small bites. It also gives me frequent, weekly, reminders of the small changes, and to keep at them until they become habits. This is an approach used in weightwatchers. They basically recommend checking in each week to monitor your weight loss, and to think about your food goals on a weekly basis. Small weekly goals are how I started running. First by walking regularly, then, when that was a habit, I added a minute of running until I worked my way up to a 30 minute run.

    My next change? To drink water before every meal. That’s it. I remembered after lunch today. Forgot at dinner. But I will keep working at it.

    Happy New Week!


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      Musings on how a disorganized woman with a full time job, three kids and a real need to relax is trying to make life simple.

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