Why It’s Good to Have a Comfort Zone

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

comfort zoneWe hear a lot about comfort zones. Mostly how they’re bad. But is comfort really such a bad thing? Not always.

I was chatting with my friend Shannon the other day about a talk she’s preparing and she shared a really cool metaphor with me:

“When I went to Jamaica on my honeymoon, we walked along the beach right up to where the resort property ended. At the boundary there was a man with a huge machine gun, and he told us we could leave the resort if we wanted – if we wanted to stroll past the guy standing there with the big gun. The choice was clear: safe, comfortable, beautiful resort or some zip lining, discotheques, and God knows what adventures behind the man with the gun. Obviously we chose the safety and comfort of the resort.”

That, Shannon told me, is how she pictures her comfort zone: a safe place to relax and recharge.

“You can’t live in the comfort zone,” she said, “none of the really exciting stuff happens there. But it sure is nice to hang out there once in a while.”

I’ve noticed an interesting pattern with my coaching clients recently. They jump into coaching all gung-ho to make changes and explore what makes them happy. They do some digging and get all excited about new self discoveries and the effects of tiny behavioral tweaks.

And then they show up to a session completely rattled, freaked out, insecure, and wondering what in the hell happened to all their progress.

I reign them in. I tell them it’s normal to feel insecure when you’re shaking up your foundation. And I tell them to take a break from all that changing for a little bit.

Basically, I pull them back to their comfort zone for some R&R.

After a brief hiatus from the pushing and growing, they always recover their confidence and are ready to get back at it again.

I’ve seen this pattern play out with lots of different people from different parts of the world who have completely different goals and challenges.

They push. They grow. They freak out. They pull back and rest. They get ready to push and grow again.

You can’t discover new oceans without the courage to leave the shore, but you also can’t expect to circumvent the globe without making a few stops in safe harbors.

Summer and winter for me always feel like natural times to pull back, to rest and recharge before the massive changes that tend to take place in the spring and fall. Maybe that’s why I am avoiding a lot of my own big pushes lately. (Or maybe the heat and my lack of central air is making me sweaty and lazy. Whichever.)

I want you to know that it’s normal to get fed up with adventure and growth and big changes after a while. I bet even Oprah and Brené Brown and the most enlightened person you know has to sit back once in a while and say “screw it, I’m not reframing squat today.”

I want you to know that the harder you push, the more gentle you’ll have to be with yourself.

And mostly, I want you to know that if you find yourself cowering and shivering and hallucinating in the desert of “Uncomfortable Land” it is perfectly OK – smart, even – to haul your butt back to Comfort Zone Resort for a little while.

Stop Saying You Should Be Happy

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

This week’s video is about giving up on the idea that you SHOULD be happy.

I met a man recently who told me that he had the perfect job: good pay, lots of freedom, great boss – he said he knew that any sensible person would look at his life and say he was lucky and he should be happy. But, he confessed to me, he has an overwhelming sense that something is missing, that he’s not really as happy as he could be.

When I heard that, I immediately flashed back to my own past when I also tried to tell myself I SHOULD be happy.

On the outside, everything looked good: loving husband, healthy kids, family support, close friends, and relative financial security. But despite all that, I didn’t FEEL happy or content at a soul level.

And, instead of trying to figure out what WOULD make me happy, I wasted a lot of time and energy beating myself up because I thought I SHOULD be happy.

Don’t do that!

If you’re not happy despite having a good life, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. You aren’t broken because your “good life” isn’t making you happy.

You just haven’t found YOUR life yet – and you can’t as long as you keep beating yourself up for not being grateful or happy enough.

Instead of trying to guilt yourself into happy submission, make some changes. Figure out what DOES make you happy and do more of that.

Happiness Interview: Pet Photographer Jenny Karlsson

Friday, June 27th, 2014

I met Jenny through a woman’s entrepreneur group here in Pittsburgh, and this year I got to know her a lot better when we were in a mastermind together. Two things amaze me about Jenny: her hustle and her job description.

First of all, no one hustles as hard as Jenny. She started her business while working a full-time job and she never seems to slow down or complain, constantly showing up and doing her very best work every time. I admire the hell out of that.

And then there’s her business: pet photography.

I have met a ton of photographers over the years, and while the styles vary the subjects are pretty much the same: weddings, families, babies. Jenny is the first pet photographer I’d ever heard of, and it just blows my mind that this is a thing. I confess that I used this interview in part to figure out how in the heck she ended up at that particular career destination.

She didn’t disappoint.

Jenny Karlsson Pet Photography

How do you define happiness?

Happiness to me is a byproduct of treating yourself well physically and mentally, doing good for others, and using your unique talents to make a difference.

How did you figure out that taking pet photos made you happy?

I knew I was on to something when I always felt a surge of energy when working with pets and their people. I would literally drive home from a session and feel like my batteries had been recharged.

During a session I often laugh out loud because I just love what I do. I make the weirdest noises possible. I talk in funny voices, and never feel self-conscious or inhibited. It is hard not to feel happy when your job is to capture personality and love, and get lots of puppy kisses. I am a very visual person, and I think that this photo (above) that my friend Tori took of me with her pups Lola and Lucy is worth more than a thousand words.

What “shoulds” have you let go of in order to pursue happiness?

With a science background, and having pursued the MBA program, I thought that I should find a job that combined science and business. In my gut, all I wanted to be was a pet photographer. Not until I finally let go of this should did I realize that I use these skills in my business every single day.

I also thought that I should shoot events if I ever wanted to go full-time as a photographer, but events were leaving me drained. It took a year to regroup and align my business with what I wanted to photograph in the first place, and I am happy to report that at the end of July I will finally be a full-time pet photographer. Excuse me while I pinch my arm.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about happiness?

That’s dang good advice – thanks, Jenny!

Want to be inspired by even more versions of happiness? Read all the interviews here.

How Feminism (And Other Isms) Should On Us

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

A few weeks ago I got an email from a 23-year-old woman, Liberty, who had watched my TEDx talk. After reading her email, I asked if I could share it with you because I was struck by the nature and source of her shoulds.

From her email (emphasis mine):

Listening to what you had to say made me realize that I have, up until now, been living my life based on “shoulds”.

I refused to go into any career that is dominated by females (like the fashion industry) because intelligent women “should” use their brains for more noble purposes like advancing women’s equality and breaking the glass ceiling in male-dominated industries like finance, etc….(All this, despite the fact that fashion has been a passion of mine from a young age and I have a knack for anything related to the subject).

I have always wanted to start a business & become rich so that I can travel freely, contribute to philanthropic causes, and support my family for generations to come. However, I have downplayed this desire for wealth because society says that people “shouldn’t” make wealth a priority for fear of appearing selfish.

And the list goes on.

I’d like to believe that feminism is about freedom of choice, about opportunities to be who you are without having to fight against ridiculous prejudices based on gender.

And yet…

It’s so easy for a Thing Worth Fighting For to become a Thing That Everyone Should Want.

Like having a career and a family.

Like women working in technology.

Like accepting your current body weight.

Like traveling full-time, or working for yourself, or owning less than 100 things, or any number of things that are perfectly good ideas.

But maybe not everyone wants to get rid of their stuff or travel the world or work on robots. That’s OK, too.


We humans are so prone to evangelism. We find The Way and The Truth and The Light and we cannot help ourselves from running out and telling everyone about it.

And there is nothing wrong with the telling. It’s the pushing and the converting and the judgment that becomes a problem.

Of course, one person’s pushing and converting and judging doesn’t have to become another person’s problem.

Remember that the world needs revolutionaries and keepers of tradition. We need homemakers and code breakers.

And perhaps your passion doesn’t come with the hope of a Nobel Prize or a spot on Oprah or even a TEDx talk – but if it is yours it will come with every single thing you need in this life.

Don’t let yourself be bullied by isms. Believe in the purpose of your happiness, even if no one else gets it.

You do you.

How to Meditate Without Actually Meditating

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

I’ve been working with a coaching client who is going through a period of transition. One thing we kept coming back to is that she wanted to be more present, more in the moment, and that doing so would make it easier for her to manage all the change and uncertainty in her life.

As soon as we uncovered that she needed mindfulness, I brought up meditation.

“The problem is I hate meditating,” she said, “and I’m no good at it.”

“What happens when you try to meditate?” I asked.

“Well, I try using those guided meditations and they work the first few times, but then it seems like they stop working and I’m back to my mind wandering all over the place.”

This made perfect sense to me. I love guided meditations, but I’ve learned that I can only listen to the same one a couple times in a row before the effects seem to wear off. I think it’s because after a few times I begin to anticipate what’s going to happen.

That doesn’t mean anticipation is always a bad thing, but it was definitely getting in the way of my client’s mission to be mindful. Fortunately, there’s more than one way to pull your attention back to what’s happening right now.

how to meditate without meditation

3 Ways to Be Mindful Without Meditating

1. Make the kitchen a distraction-free zone.

Cooking and eating offer great opportunities for mindfulness because there is so much your senses can absorb – if you’re paying attention. You can get lost in the scents, the colors, the tastes, the rhythm of chopping, and the sound of foods sizzling. Or you can miss all that because you’re checking your email while the hamburger browns or watching a movie while you throw together a salad.

Multi-tasking in the kitchen doesn’t just diminish the experience of preparing food. Diet and fitness experts often recommend people trying to lose weight avoid doing anything else when they eat so that their brains can actually register “hey, putting food into your mouth right now, taste it and get ready to feel satisfied!”

Declare your kitchen a tech-free zone and see if you can’t cook up a side of mindfulness.

2. Go for a walk and leave your phone at home.

No, you won’t be able to Instagram the pretty flowers you see or jot down the brilliant ideas you come up with. This is a good way to get used to the idea that not every thought you have needs to be memorialized or shared.

I say that knowing full well how terrifying that can be. As a writer, I’m constantly afraid that my best ideas or a perfect turn of phrase is going to be forgotten if I don’t record it the moment it comes into my head. But, I’ve discovered that it’s most often the mediocre thoughts that are lost.

Besides, the world could probably use fewer words and more listening and watching.

3. Limit yourself to one screen at a time.

I’ve noticed recently that the time it takes for an app to open or a program to load on my computer is often too long for me to go without stimulation. So, I pick up my phone and sort of glance at my Twitter feed while I wait.

That? Is insane.

It’s also increasingly more common, at least if the people in my house or any indication. How often do you use a tablet while watching TV? Do you keep your smartphone by your computer to entertain you during browser loading?

Stop it. Stop it right now. Give your brain a 30 second break from stimulation.

Is Technology the Enemy of Mindfulness?

I don’t hate the Internet or television or any other kind of digital entertainment. In fact, I’m grateful for all the ways our gadgets help us to connect.

But for many of us, our brains have gotten so used to constant consumption that all we need to do to jolt ourselves back into the moment is to stop consuming for a second.

Don’t worry about being still and going into your mind. You don’t need to sit cross-legged on a pillow or whisper a single Ohm..

Just unplug from the matrix.

Come back into the world, the tangible one you can see, touch, feel, hear, and smell.

Come back to the place where you aren’t being spoon fed stimulation, thoughts, and entertainment.

Come back to the world that isn’t begging to engage with you but is simply waiting for you to notice.

There are no breadcrumbs to follow or rabbit holes to fall down. You’ll have to choose your steps, be purposeful with your attention.

And that right there is mindfulness.