April 30, 2014

SPARKS: Moments Of Creation Vol. 1

-Langston Hughes

I am a notoriously curious individual and over the years there has been one thing that continues to fascinate me: 

      Where do dreams come from? What SPARKS them?

I've often wanted to be a fly on the wall at any number of moments in time when a great idea occurred just to see the SPARKS fly as "a thought" begins to gather steam and turns itself into something that just moments before, didn't exist - A DREAM

So, I had a SPARK!  I'm going to find a least one fascinating person with a fascinating idea and sneak a peek at how it all started. I'm dragging you along on this adventure because:


For the very first article, I've chosen to interview a woman I've just recently met as a result of a comment I made on a blog. The comment had to do with appreciation given with ulterior motives instead of out of genuine recognition or gratitude. Margy, a long time student of the positive effects of appreciation, was intrigued and reached out to me to clarify my point of view. That's when I came to learn of her mission to help people understand the many benefits of genuine appreciation. I admire Margy for stepping out and giving voice to something that has the power to make such a powerful impact. The answers to her questions will give you more insight into how she's going about living her mission. I hope it will light a SPARK for you as well.

            Margy Bresslour

Margy Bresslour is the Founder of Moving Messages, a company dedicated to encouraging the expression of appreciation. Moving Messages works with organizations to create a positive and productive culture where employees feel valued and are fully engaged, and where customers and clients love doing business. Margy offers consultation, coaching, and mentoring that develop individuals who thrive, cohesive teams that enjoy working together, and organizations that get rave reviews and improved outcomes.

             What inspired your dream?

I worked for 30+ years in the non-profit field primarily in mentoring programs with at-risk youth.  Many of these youth had low self-esteem and held some self-limiting beliefs like “I’m not good enough,” “I’m not loveable,” or “I don’t matter”.  I believe we form our self-image in part based on what we hear from other people and our assumptions or interpretations of others’ behavior.  When we hear primarily negative messages or get little positive feedback, those factors may reinforce a tendency to see ourselves in a negative light.  In contrast, when we hear positive messages or receive validation for positive characteristics, we may be able to build on those elements to develop a positive self-image.

A part of one of the mentoring programs I directed encouraged acknowledgements.  I witnessed first hand the impact that messages of appreciation had on these young people.  When they were acknowledged, they began to see themselves differently and appreciate their own strengths and talents.  I began to think about how each of us would feel if more people shared messages of appreciation with those in our lives who make a difference to us or who have influence on us.

Shortly after starting my Moving Messages in 2008, I read the research on appreciation.  It turns out that being appreciated affects our health, stress levels, sense of well-being, marriages, and relationships.  Lack of appreciation negatively impacts our willingness to stay in a work place.  I would like to make a difference and help bring about those positive outcomes by encouraging the sincere expression of appreciation. 

       What is your mission..your core objective?

My mission is to encourage sincere expressions of appreciation.

                 How does it feel to be working from your passion?

I feel fortunate that throughout my career, I’ve done work that I feel passionate about.  Whether working with youth through mentoring programs or adults through my private counseling practice and now with my own business, I’ve always believed wholeheartedly in what I do.  I love working to make a positive difference in the world. I believe that by hearing messages of appreciation, we recognize the impact we have on others.  I love watching people change to become the person they want to be and have the lives they want. 

     What obstacles have you had to overcome?

Having my own business is a new experience for me.  Throughout my career, I’ve been with organizations where I collaboratively worked with teams.  In my business, I’m on my own.  It’s been an adjustment.  I miss the camaraderie, but I’m enjoying the freedom, too.  I wouldn’t necessarily call it an obstacle, but I’m on a steep learning curve.  I didn’t grow up with social media so I’m learning.  I don’t have a background in marketing, advertising, accounting, etc. etc., but I’m gaining new skills.  I’m enjoying the journey. 

             Where would you like to see this go ultimately?

My ultimate goal is to encourage sincere expressions of appreciation so that all people feel heard and valued, and know that they belong.  I started by making customized pop-up appreciation cards for organizations to give to their employees, customers and clients – and for non-profits to give to their staff, volunteers and donors.  While I still create cards, I am moving more towards consulting with companies to help create a culture where people love to work and clients and customers enjoy doing business.  I believe I can reach more people by consulting, mentoring, and coaching.  I write a blog about the impact and importance of appreciation.  I am beginning to do some speaking engagements.  I hope to touch more people to encourage them to take action and appreciate those in their lives who have influenced or made a difference to them.  My belief is that if more people felt better about themselves, we’d live in a safer, healthier, happier world.  Each one of us can make a difference through expressions of appreciation.  I love this thought from Margaret Cousins, “Appreciation can make a day, even change a life. Your willingness to put it into words is all that is necessary.”


April 26, 2014

How's Your Legacy Looking?

I remember an activity I did with a group of teens that turned out to be an interesting experience. I had them write their own eulogy. I asked them to list their accomplishments and contributions and to consider and include what they wanted people to remember about them once they had left this life.

Teens believe they're immortal - even more so than the rest of us, so just getting them to consider the idea of "not being here" was a challenge. Once they allowed themselves to "go there" they came up with some great aspirations.

We all begin our story the same way - birth - and we know how the story ends - we die. It's something we all have common. What makes life a different experience for each of us is what happens between those two events.  Our choices, the paths we choose to follow, the people we spend time with, all contribute to our story. Time is the currency of life and unfortunately we never know the balance of that account.

The question isn't whether or not we'll leave a legacy, only what kind of legacy we'll leave. It's a question worthy of some soul searching and even more worthy of a good answer.  It needs to include questions about whether our ends have justified our means.  If our dreams have been realized by questionable means can we feel as fulfilled by them as if we'd come by them honestly and kindly?  I would imagine it might feel like attending the Academy Awards, muddy and in our gardening clothes, to accept our Oscar. It's impossible to dress up poor character.

Our legacy isn't something we can't defer for old age in hopes we can cram for the exam.  It's forged one act at a time and is a life long process with no chance of copying from our neighbors paper.

Not everyone can leave an inheritance, but everyone WILL leave a legacy.  Will ours be a rich one that will be talked about for generations to come or will it be keeping company with the other skeletons in the family closet? The time to decide is NOW Today is the only day we have, and we're not even promised the next 10 minutes. 

Leaving a great legacy comes from living our greatest life. We've already begun to craft our legacy either by design or default.  I'm feeling a great deal of pressure to do this right.  I have children and grandchildren that I want to blaze trails for.  I want them to look fondly on their heritage but more importantly to build upon it boldly.

April 18, 2014

Love Me The Way That I Am

I read this message today from a young woman on my Twitter Feed:

 "Love me the way I am, not the way you want me to be."

Short but pointed. I believe it's something most of us feel at times.  Maybe we've had the courage to express it.  Maybe not. Either way, don't we all want to be accepted "the way I am" - even if we're not yet who we want to be?

Don't we all hope to be better at some point?  Do we only deserve acceptance when we've reached our zenith? Even then what's the guarantee that our zenith will be acceptable to someone else?

I believe we all, not only crave acceptance "the way I am" while trying to become more, but that acceptance is the nourishment that keeps us alive as we travel there. 

If we can agree that we want love and acceptance even as we're trying to be better, is it a safe bet that those around us crave the same things?  It's easy to love what's loveable.  What's not to love?  It fits with our particular brand of OK.  Life is good.

What do we do when there is something we don't love about someone we do love? Can we withhold acceptance from others while at the same time crying out for it for ourselves?

Life is full of little conundrums.

What might happen if we could find a way to love others as they are, while treating them as they could be.  What could happen if we could find a way to give ourselves the acceptance we so desperately seek from others while treating ourselves as we could be?  Just a thought.

April 17, 2014

The Missing Ingredient: 4 Tips From Ruined Cookies

I am known for my chocolate chip cookies. Since I'm a firm believer in getting your kudos where you can, I embrace this small recognition. (Everyone is known for something and there are worse things to be known for.)

I'm often asked what makes my cookies so good and I of course give the cliche answer about the secret ingredient - which is love. Yes it's cliche. It's also true. When I make cookies, I'm thinking about those that I'm making them for.  It's corny - I know - don't judge me!

Yesterday, as I was making a batch of cookies  something went terribly wrong. I put them into the oven and watched them spread into flat, ill shaped blobs, that burned around the edges before the center even started to cook.

WHAT?  How is that even possible? I could make these cookies in my sleep.  They always look the same. They always taste the same. I never so much as vary the brand of ingredients I've come to love and trust to be sure of that outcome.

Frustrated at needing to start from scratch, and not wanting to waste more great ingredients to ruin another batch, I went step by step mentally over the process of this batch to try to find out what went wrong. Then it hit me! I'd left out a few key ingredients! I was upset about something that had happened earlier in the day. My mind was retracing the events to neatly catalog them instead of being present in the moment.

The ingredients I left out, combined, would only have amounted to three teaspoons.  Three teaspoons!  That is a very tiny percent of the volume of the cookie dough. It blew my mind that something so small in the overall picture could have such major consequence.

Could there be a lesson here? There always is! 

Here are 4 things I learned from blowing a batch of cookies.

1. DO IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME  It's  saves a lot of frustration, time, and energy. Besides, we don't always get a chance to do things a second time.

2. FOCUS  No, we can't concentrate on two things at once and expect anything but ruin. When we spread our focus too thin it's easier for holes to form. When we don't fully concentrate on a person who needs our attention, we get holes in that relationship. When we don't focus on what's necessary in our business, we get holes in growth. When we don't focus on the needs of the individual customer, we get holes in our retention rate.

3. LITTLE THINGS MATTER - A LOT. Like the three small teaspoons of ingredients that ruined a whole batch of cookie dough, there are little things that we can do or not do that will have far reaching consequences. That extra thank you for a job well done. The hand written note to a customer, the on time follow up on something we've promised to do. Remembering our commitments. One small tweak in our presentation that makes it about the customer instead of us.  One more call when we're feeling defeated and ready to give up. That alone could make all the difference. The list can go on forever. It's up to us to decide what ingredients we're missing.

4. THERE'S A LESSON IN EVERYTHING  If I hadn't stopped to think about how the lessons from blowing a batch of cookies could be applied to the rest of my life, you wouldn't be reading this right now. Take time to analyze the things that go wrong (or right) to see what lessons they may have to teach you. Why repeat the same mistakes? Why not learn and reapply the things that work? 

Like it or not we'll all be known for something.  What is it that you want to be known for? What would you like to define you? Your life? Your relationships? Your business? What ingredients could you be missing to make sure that those things become your legacy?  Why not start adding them today?

April 14, 2014

7 Ways To Spot a User and 3 Tips to Break Free

Anyone who would take advantage of my weakness doesn't deserve my strengths

I read a great article today written by Marc Chernoff.  In his article he gave a list of 20 things we need to stop letting people do to us. I liked the emphasis on "we" because it really is our responsibility to determine how we will or won't be treated. (Wish I'd known that in my 20's and 30's!)

Marc's article made me remember a time in my life when I was a consummate people pleaser. It wasn't a happy time. It was frustrating on good days and demoralizing on bad ones.  At that time I didn't realize there was any danger in wearing my bleeding heart on my sleeve (past it being messy,) so I found myself being taken advantage of from time to time. I was an obvious target so today I want to offer you ways to spot and get free from "users."

Before I start, there are a few disclaimers that I need to put out. To begin with, I'm a true believer in helping people (even strangers) where ever and whenever I can. I love helping! I've also been the recipient of the kindness of friends, family and strangers many times myself for which I am deeply grateful.

I believe that the bad experiences I've had came from not understanding the difference between "helping" (which is a great blessing to both the giver and the receiver) and "enabling" (which is the opposite of helping.) It also came from wanting to believe that everyone had pure intentions.

If you're still at the stage of life where that's your belief, I hate to be a spoiler since the last thing I want to do is sour anyone toward true service. My intention is quite the opposite. My hope in sharing is that people with caring hearts will be able to give genuine help and have good outcomes.

When I became entangled by a "user" it drained my energy and caused me, for a time, to harden toward any who needed help. Being someone who loves to help, that took pleasure from my life. I wish that was the worst of it. The harder part by far was how it caused me to doubt myself and my own judgement. It took time to again trust in my ability to make good observations and wise choices. (Yes, I was that big of a sucker.) If I can save just one person that experience, I'll be thrilled.

If we can start by agreeing that "helping" is doing something for another that they can't do for themselves, its a pretty safe bet that you won't fall into the enabling spiral that was my fate. Enabling doesn't feel good and doesn't do any good. There is a vast difference in attitude between a person who is in genuine need and a person who would prefer that someone else take responsibility for things that clearly belong to them.

People who survive by draining the resources and energy from others are emotional and financial vampires and will indeed suck the life out of you if you allow them to.

SO, here are some RED FLAGS to help you spot a USER

1. Users say things like "you're my only hope."  There's a reason for that. Usually it's because they've already laid waste to their friends and family and no one else is falling for their stories.

2. Users can't hold a job and it's never their fault.  Someone always victimizes them. The boss was a jerk. Other employees were out to get them etc.

3. Users immediately play on your sympathy. They want to tell you their sad tale so you'll want to defend them and take their side. They're experts in manipulation, guilt, and victimism. Everything happens TO them. The world is out to get them. They're great at crafting their stories and appearing incredibly sincere and put upon.

4.  Users immediately protest any offer for help. This initially is to make you see them as victims who'd never take advantage of you. Also they can later say, "I never asked you to do anything for me" or "I told you I didn't want help," leaving you to feel like it's all your fault when things go south. People who genuinely need help, are almost always grateful to receive it even when they may be a bit uncomfortable that they need it.

5. Users are huge yeah-buts. If you offer a solution to their problem, they will always have an answer -"Yeah, but..." - (fill in the blank) for why that won't work for them.

6.  Users never see that they have any part in their situations. They're always just hanging out with their halo's on high beam, when some horrible person comes along and does X horrible thing to them unjustly and undeservedly.

7.  Users use guilt and sympathy to manipulate you if they feel you pulling away. When you start to feel guilty for trying to help someone it's a good bet you're dealing with a user.

If you spot any of these warning signs, proceed with extreme caution. It's better by far to offer solutions than to do anything for them yourself. Users tire quickly of people who won't play their game and move on to their next victim.

If you're now being taken advantage of by a user, here are a few tips I hope will help you break free:

1. Immediately stop doing things FOR them. Only offer suggestions.

2.  Cut the tie.  This was extremely hard for me. I try desperately to do the right thing by people, and the right thing to do for a user is send them packing. 

3. Don't wait until there can be a happy ending.  There is no way there can be a happy ending. (although any ending will eventually be a happy one for you.) There can't be a happy ending because YOU are the story they'll use to hook their next mark.  They will stay with you until you finally have to be abrupt and cut them loose making them the victim again and giving them another sad story to take with them.

I've been taken in more than once by users. It was heartbreaking and unnerving.  Looking back (and only looking back) I can say while I regret being taken in, being naive also allowed for many wonderful experiences that came from helping others.  Besides, if I hadn't gone through those difficult times, I wouldn't be able to share what I've learned as a result - like the best ways to get REVENGE.  That's a whole different post you can read here ==>   3 Best Ways To Exact Revenge

I've come to realize that there are worse things than being used.  One of them is being a user.

Please share this with anyone you feel might now be in the clutches of a user. They might resent it at first but eventually they'll be glad you did.

You can also read Marc's  article here 

April 9, 2014

The Habit of Success

TRUE CONFESSION:  I am a consummate hater of structure.  I have warred against schedules, routines, and anything that smacks of me having to do X at time Y or be in place Z all of my life.  Even now, as an adult, I still kick and scream against bedtime and end up staying up way later than I even want to just because I can.   

Admitting that does not make me proud.  It doesn't make me anything (except apparently resistant.)  I don't in any way advocate my aversion and I'm surely not trying to play it off as a virtue.  The truth is it lands me in the "own worst enemy" category at every award ceremony. I have made resisting structure a habit and not a successful one. It's a habit that I've decided it's time to break.

Habits are not easy to let go of once they've become entrenched and unconscious. It takes time and attention and more than anything, desire to change our habits. Desire never comes from someone else pointing them out or criticizing them. (unless we develop a deep desire to stop hearing about it.)

Our habits have determined our past, are now determining our present and will from here on out, determine our future.  Any one of our daily habits may seem insignificant, but habits have a cumulative effect.  Exercising one day will not yield measurable results, but if we keep it up day after day, the effects of that seemingly small daily habit will yield a fit and healthy body.  The other side of the coin is that any unhealthy habits have the same cumulative effect.  One day of smoking will do little.  Keep it up daily for months and years and we run a very real risk of some very nasty long term consequences.
Given then that habits have the power to determine, in a very real way, long term outcomes, it makes sense to me (finally) to develop better ones.

I've done a lot of research to find the best way to break old habits and develop new more empowering ones so I thought I'd share with you the steps I've learned.

1.  DECIDE WHICH HABITS NEED TO CHANGE.  I know! Duh right? But we have to start somewhere so - what are we doing or not doing that is producing less than a desirable outcome?  Knowing is half the solution, but unfortunately, the easier half.  Doing something different is the other half and if what we want to achieve is worth the effort, we're well on our way.

2. TRY TO FIND THE MOTIVE BEHIND THE HABIT.  Is it to avoid something we imagine as unpleasant?  What payoff are we receiving from the habit? Is fear an underlying cause for hanging on to it?  If so, we need to examine how rational the fear really is.  We can do that by playing the "what if X happens game" all the way to the end. If we follow the game all the way to the worst case scenario and decide that if that did indeed happen, we'd not only still be alive, but could live with and overcome it, it takes the bite out of moving forward. Another strategy is to visit our default future. To do that, we simply imagine what our lives will look like 5 years from now if we don't develop better habits. That should scare the bejeezers out of us.

3.  PRACTICE DELAYING GRATIFICATION.  Seldom do things worth having come instantly because of a wish or a whim. Our society has become conducive to expecting instant everything.  If you don't believe me, think about the last time it took an extra 2 seconds for your email to load and consider what a HUGE inconvenience that was. Developing patience can be made easier by keeping the future benefits in front of us daily - even HOURLY if necessary.  It might be helpful to even make a list of the benefits we're working for and keep that handy.

4.  DECIDE WHAT NEW BEHAVIORS TO REPLACE THE OLD HABITS WITH.  When we remove something from our lives, we create a vacuum that is fertile breeding ground for "weeds" to grow. If we want to successfully break a self defeating habit, we must replace it with something that will serve us better.

Everything I've read says that we can expect it to take at least 21 days before we feel comfortable with a new habit.  Probably longer before we actually begin to enjoy it, so it's going to take some dogged stick-to-itivity.  If what we're hoping to achieve doesn't stir up enough of that to make it worth pushing through at least 21 days, it's probably a good idea check our desire meter. 

No matter what people say, we do NOT change because other people want us to.  We may TRY to change to please other people.  We may WANT to change to please other people, but the truth is desire is internal.  Unless we want to change, no amount of outside guilt, cajoling, threatenings, ultimatums etc. will ever produce lasting results.  I love the quote: "A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still."  

So, armed with the steps above, I've started a new program of developing the "habits of success."  So far, I'm actually enjoying the satisfaction that's coming with accomplishing more each day.  It feels good - when I finally do go to bed (hey, some habits are harder to break than others) to go over my day and feel good about the results.

I hope these steps work for you too.  If you've come across other ideas you'd like to share, I'd love to hear about them.  After all, it's going to be a long 21 days!


April 2, 2014

If Not Now

I'm not sure what's going on here.  Maybe it's watching my children hit landmark birthdays, that it seems like I was just freaking out about hitting myself, that's causing the "if not now when" bug, but something is definitely afoot and haunting me.

It started as a restlessness with the status quo.  I wasn't unhappy...just unsettled.  That led to examining everything I'd been doing for so long by rote.  You know, the one foot in front of the other motions of going through life on auto pilot thing.  It's easy to fall into.  After all, it's comfortable and isn't comfortable safe?

The restlessness brought with it questions.  Questions like:  Why am I doing this?  What am I hoping the outcome will be?  Am I even invested in that outcome?  What if I realize the expected outcome? Then what?  Will that lead me to where I want to be or where I use to want to be?

Those annoying questions that interrupted my "sameness" have now pushed me into wanting answers to them.  I was perfectly fine not having the answers before the questions started showing up!  

Mind you, I didn't ASK for any of this!  I was just minding my own business when one day "restlessness" just showed up at the door and pushed it's way inside when I opened it just a tiny crack. After getting over it's initial ill mannered arrival, I can't begin to tell you how exciting it is to have it as a guest.

Taking time to analyze the what's and why's of my life has been an exciting process.  It's set me on a course of adventure and taken me into uncharted parts of myself that I didn't know existed, much less had considered exploring!

I've done things I swore I'd never do...like stopped swearing I'd never do something for instance.  I've been a compulsive "non-changer" all my life and I've made a mission of avoiding new and potentially scary things.  Now, the scary thing to me is not exploring.  Not finding something new.  

What's scary is to think that I've reached the end of growth and would now have to tie the two ends of my life together into "the loop."  "The loop" is where people live after they've decided to stop exploring.  In the "loop" you only have past experiences to play over and over.  Loop conversations are conversations that always start with "remember that time..."  I've been part of enough "loop" conversations recently to know that I don't want to be the one to start the next one!

So, do I know where all of this exploration and questioning will take me?  Not a clue. (Isn't that great?!)  The only thing I know for sure is that change is coming, and I'm as excited about the trip as I am to find out where we're going together.  If not now when?  If not me...WHO?  

How about you?  Are you still on an adventure to the center of you?  If not now, when? Maybe an even better question is why?