Stay Focused on What you Want

blue eye

I knew a young middle-aged man I’ll call George, who had a drinking and driving problem, like quite a few others I’ve met in my recovery mentoring work. George stayed way too late at the pub and had far too much to drink. However, the 3 km road home was straight and flat with no traffic at that time of night, so he decided to drive. There were no houses on that stretch and only one tree.

As he drove home he kept reminding himself that if he does go off the road, he must not run into that tree. You know the rest: he lost control and crashed into the only tree on his route. George wanted to get home safely but he had focused on what he didn’t want…and got it.

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How to Get the Benefits of Goal Setting without Actually Setting Goals

Focus on you future

The practice of setting goals has probably been around forever, but reached prominence a few decades ago. In the 70s every business, every government department and every solo professional was admonished to set annual goals and long-term goals. It was preached as the only way to achieve success.

In the past decade, goal setting has again arisen to popular prominence, this time in the guise of practicing the law of attraction. And it works.

In 1979 at Christmas, I resigned my tenured teaching position at the University of Guelph. I had always lived in southern Ontario. Now I was about to be unemployed and I was going through a divorce. So I decided to set some personal goals. I wrote down ten goals and put them in a binder.

I decided to be fanciful and outrageous in my goal setting. One of my goals was that I would fly across the continent in my own airplane. Another goal was that I would “live with my family in a contemplative setting overlooking the ocean.” The ocean? I had only seen an ocean a couple of times.

I dutifully read my goals daily and felt what it would be like to achieve them. Then I lost interest and put the binder away.

Fifteen years later I stumbled across the old binder and, to my amazement, six of the ten goals had been achieved. I had owned a couple of airplanes and flown to Cape Cod and Tofino. At that time I was living with my wife in our home on a bluff overlooking the ocean. Wow! This stuff works!

But then I asked the question, “So what?” I realized that I had long since stopped setting goals, not because the process didn’t work, but because when I reach a goal, it is never an answer. It just led to the question of what next.

However, the alternative of not setting goals could mean drifting through life. Not setting goals could make a person a victim of life, rather than the creator of life.

“Can you get the benefits of goal setting
without setting goals?”

So the real question for me became the following. When you don’t yet know your life purpose, is there some way of getting the important benefits of goal setting without actually setting goals?

What I decided on was a life direction, rather than any specific goals. It had to be a direction that fit with where I was and that I could pursue with passion. I also recognized that my direction would probably continue to shift over time. I have pretty much stuck to choosing life direction over goals for the past 20 years, and it has worked well for me and for others who have adopted the approach.

Having a clear direction is a way of staying in charge of creating your life and not being a victim of life. And you’re not locked into fixed goals, which might turn out to detract from your life direction.

I’ve found that setting a life direction is much easier than figuring out what goals to pursue or identifying your life purpose. It doesn’t matter if your direction is a little off, because you keep adjusting it.

Life is full of choices and having a life direction makes it easier to make those decisions. With anything that comes along and requires a decision, there are three questions to ask.
1. Does it feel right?
2. Does it support or contribute to my life direction?
3. If it requires action, can I pursue it with passion?

Using your life direction as a lens through which to view your choices is a great tool for assuring a purposeful life.

Dealing with Grief during the Christmas Holidays

woman in mourning

We think of the Christmas holidays as a time of joy and celebration, a time of giving and receiving, and above all, a family time.

Unfortunately for lots of us, life intervenes and we find ourselves dealing with grief at the holidays. Many are entering the Christmas season with a keen awareness that one or more of their family will be missing, whether by death, divorce or circumstance.

In mid-December, 2008, my daughter Monique died, and earlier that year our son Colin died. In late 2006 my son Richard died. My wife and I are already discussing the gap Colin’s absence will leave in our Christmas.

Monique’s mother, my ex-wife, lost her husband two weeks before Monique died. I don’t have to speak with her to know that she is entering the Christmas season with a heightened awareness of her losses, as we are with ours.

So the question is this: is there a way to enjoy the holiday season while dealing with grief?

Back in my 30s I was separated from my young children for a few years. In the process of dulling the pain I became an alcoholic. Trying to be unconscious of the pain was dumb, and I paid a high price to realize it.

Years later two of our adult children were not getting along with each other and refused to come to our place for Christmas if the other one was going to be here. We made a conscious decision to try something quite different for us: we went away on holiday. We did that for three Christmases until the kids had sorted out their differences and become friends again. We missed the kids, so it wasn’t a perfect solution, but it was much better than remaining in the midst of conflict and hoping for a reality that wasn’t to be.

With our losses of the recent past, we are deliberately being quite conscious of the absences. We will have our own rituals for acknowledging and celebrating the lives of our children who have passed on. We may hang stockings. We certainly will talk as much as we want to about Monique, Colin, and Richard—how they enriched the lives of others, and what they taught us.

Christmas only has to be a dreaded time if you make it so. If you are dealing with loss this Christmas, make up your own rituals to acknowledge yourself and the one now absent. Drink less so you can remain more conscious of their absence and of your own presence. If possible, connect with others who know your loss, and without judgment can accept your need to acknowledge your loss. Avoid people who will make it their mission to cheer you up and make you forget.

Talk to your cat; pets get it.

Life Purpose: Why are you here?

Life purpose?

Why are you here on this Earth? Why do you matter? These questions have been around forever in regard to finding purpose in life.

Think back to when you were a child and heard your teachers, parents and other elders ask you, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Sometimes, with a little more awareness, they asked, “What do you want to do…” or “What do you want to create when you grow up?” I remember those days.

But in those early days, my job was to survive, play, discover, and learn about the world and myself. Because of my circumstances, a lot of energy went into just plain survival. The brain waves of a child up to about age 9 look very much like the brain waves of an adult under hypnosis. The urge to grow precedes adult-type consciousness. Living on purpose for a child is not a question of choice; it’s hardwired.

Sometimes you get glimpse of a bigger purpose at an early age. I got such a glimpse at age 11. I “knew” what I wanted to be. I “knew” what my purpose in life was. However, that was just a glimpse, but one that has reemerged periodically over the decades.

As you emerge from adolescence into early adulthood your goals are highly influenced by circumstantial, cultural and the life-cycle issues. When I was 16 and my parents were gone, my primary goal was self-sufficient survival. It soon became apparent that my self-sufficiency would be better assured if I went to University, so my primary purpose in life became getting through University.

Then, without any real consciousness of it, the life-cycle requirement of finding a mate and reproducing kicked in. As that purpose in life was fulfilled, the purpose of emotional survival reared its head.

I think that the goal of living in the integrity had been there since I was a child, but in my late 20s I was becoming quite conscious that personal integrity was the foundation of living a meaningful and purposeful life.

As you move forward in pursuit of fulfilling a meaningful intention, out of left field will appear something bigger you have to pursue. Then seemingly out of nowhere something even bigger appears that you must pursue. Yes there are distractions and blind alleys, but with experience you get better at distinguishing between those and the real opportunities.

By the time I was in my early 50s I had given up telling others what I was “going to do when I grew up.” It had become a bit of a joke. Each time I had pursued a path that I was good at and enjoyed, it turned out that something more important was to come. Each time I would think “now I have found my purpose.”

I finally settled into just pursuing my work with passion and purpose, knowing full well that there may be an even bigger job for me in my future. Although I often couldn’t see it at the time, as I look back I can see how all of my pursuits fit into that bigger purpose that I had glimpsed at age 11.

What it comes down to is this: living on purpose may involve many different purposeful pursuits within a lifetime. It is perhaps only at the end of life that you can look back and answer the question, “Why was I here?” That is my hope, at least.

Look at it this way: “If you fulfill your purpose, the universe will give you a bigger purpose.”

Five Silly Ideas That Can Hurt Your Marriage Relationship

Marriage Ceremony

Some of the old notions about marriage relationships, often stated as wise truths by our grandmothers, are still floating around and are still doing damage. One of my grandmother’s favorites was “Never let the sun set on an argument.”

Silly idea number one: never go to bed angry.

I swallowed that one at about aged five. Then in my 20s my wife and I would argue half the night rather than go to sleep without settling the issue.

The problem was that nothing was ever resolved. The argument was “settled” with one of us giving in and the other having his or her way. To make matters worse, our anger was seldom about what we thought it was about. If we had just let the issues sit overnight, we might have realized what the anger was about and avoided an evening of pain and further alienation.

Silly idea number two: “You should know what I need without my telling you.”

Duh! I have written before about how expecting your partner to be a mind reader can lead to a mountain of disappointment.

Silly idea number three: “If you love me, you would…”

In the news last week a woman was granted a new trial regarding her involvement in her boyfriend’s killing a teenaged boy. She is reported to have said to her boyfriend as he beat the boy, “If you love me, you’ll kill him.”

Love is love. Never assume a specific action should automatically follow love.

Silly idea number four: once you’re married, the man should not look at other women and the woman should not look at other men.

We are social beings who live in families, towns and cities. We’re surrounded by people of both sexes, who are programmed to look good in public. And if that is not enough, there’s always someone out there who is better looking and younger than our spouse.

The insanity of expecting oneself not to look at what is good to look at leads to secrecy and insane jealousy, both of which can destroy a marriage relationship. Looking does not mean leering, touching or having a romantic interest. Looking is just part of being alive.

Silly idea number five: You should never vacation alone.

Vacations are good, and they can be very good if taken together. However, for some working couples especially, vacations would be few and far between if they had to take all of them together. So they take individual vacations when they can. Their solo vacations are okay as long as no one feels guilty about it, because guilt wrecks havoc on marriage relationships.

There are other such sillies out there, like “verbal abuse isn’t dangerous,” and “what happens at home, stays at home.” Can you think of a few more?