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What Temperature is the Water You Live In?

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

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Wheel of Life Circle onlyI ran into someone the other day and he started to talk about a life change he had recently undergone. He explained how he never realized how much strain he had been under until he changed jobs. Looking back he saw how his work schedule had imposed on his ability to be present for his family, which ultimately resulted in a divorce. His previous work schedule had nearly consumed him and threatened everything that was important in his life.

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Now that he had moved on, he could see where he had been stuck and said he regretted not having made the change sooner. Why don’t we change when everything around us is screaming – “GET OUT!”?

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I told him the story of the frog in the pot. If you try to put a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will immediately jump out. If, however, you put the frog into a pot of water and slowly turn up the heat, the frog gets used to it. Once it realizes it is boiling, it can’t jump out because it is either incapacitated or dead. We don’t take charge and make changes because we don’t pause long enough to realize that the temperature is rising and it’s getting hot!

How often do you check with your inner voice? What is the temperature of the water in your life? What are you tolerating in the important areas of your life – Career, Spirituality, Recreation, Romance, Health, Living Space, Family, Finances? We get SO busy that our alert systems shut down. The battery dies…and so do we, slowly.

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Life Coaching is a great place to notice the temperature of the water you swim in every day. Are you treading water, swimming laps, gliding underwater, sinking or boiling? In this analogy, perhaps coaching can be seen as a life raft in the middle of the ocean of life. Coaching pulls you out of the water long enough to breathe, reflect, rest, and decide what’s next.

By simply noticing where you are, you’ve taken the first step and can make some powerful choices to move your life forward. Right now, make a commitment to yourself – it may be a very small step — to move forward. The real question is, if you continued to actively make small steps forward, where would you be in a week? A month? A year?

Coaching Challenge: Draw a circle and divide it into eight even pieces. Label the wedges: Career, Spirituality, Recreation, Romance, Health, Living Space, Family, Finances.  The center of the circle is 1 and the outside edge of the circle is a 10. Rank your satisfaction in each area of your life with a 1 meaning least satisfied and a 10 meaning completely satisfied.  Then draw a straight or curved line between the dots to create a new outer edge. What does your wheel look like now? Does your wheel look like a flat tire? If this was a real wheel, would the ride be smooth or bumpy?

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Note: This exercise is included under “Client Resources” on the Living On Purpose Website. To do this exercise, click here.

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Un-cluttering Your Life

Saturday, July 18th, 2009

clutterHave you noticed that the order of your life is reflected by the clutter around you? If your emotional life is messy, usually your physical life is too. Clutter isn’t just about extra stuff; it can also be about emotional issues.

One of my clients, Clara, is in the midst of a divorce. She has a full time job and is raising her two children as a single parent. Although we’ve coached around several topics, today Clara shared her growing frustration with the amount of clutter in her life.

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“I have always been a neat-nick,” she said. My mother’s motto was, ‘A place for everything and everything in its place.’ And that’s how our house was run.”

She paused and said, “Now my house is a complete disaster. It’s as though the order of our house was symbolic for the order of our marriage. As the marriage got messier, so did the house. In fact, it’s not just my house; it’s my car, my desk…it’s everywhere.”

As she described the piles and disorganization, everything felt heavy and overwhelming. She said she felt claustrophobic by both the physical and emotional stuff that surrounded her.

“When the kids came along, our entire house felt crammed,” she explained. “We were so busy, that piles became entire corners of rooms; there was no time to sort or create systems for order. My house feels like one of those fun-houses at an amusement park where the walls appear to be moving and closing in on you.”

“What would it feel like to open up some of the space in your house, and where would you begin?” I asked.

“In my bedroom,” she answered. “It is the messiest space and tends to hold the most emotions for me.”

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As we talked, I realized that the level of emotions she had were clearly tied to the amount of clutter there was and the emotional toll it was taking on her. I asked, “How would it feel to have your bedroom space cleaned and organized?”

Clara sat there for a minute imagining how it might look and feel. “It would be very powerful for me to reclaim my physical and emotional space,” She said.

“What are some ideas on how to make this happen?” I asked.

“I could clean my bedroom next weekend when the kids are with their dad,” she said. “I’ll start with the bookshelves and a corner of my room that is just stacked with stuff. I’ll put on my favorite music, grab a diet soda and attack ‘the pile.'”

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Clara’s ideas started gaining momentum. “I’ll invite my friend Molly to help sort my clothes. I’ll get rid of anything that doesn’t fit or look good on me.” She continued. “Last, I’ll clean out the bookshelves and the stacks of paperwork and decide what to keep, trash or give away.”

“What will your room look like when it is completed and when will you finish it?” I pushed for accountability.

She described what she called her “everything in its place” room and said it would be done before our next coaching session in two weeks. Just seeing the emotional lift in her mood was worth it. It will be interesting to hear about her experience de-cluttering the physical and emotional areas of her life.

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Coaching Challenge: If you’ve ever been labeled a “packrat,” or you find that your clutter is driving you crazy, it’s time to gain control of the stuff in your life. List what areas need cleaning up (house, car, office, files, etc.). Select one area in which to begin. Describe how that area will feel with no clutter and brainstorm ideas to move you toward this vision.

If you struggle with clutter, enlist the help of your friends or even a professional organizer. It’s amazing how much easier it can be to keep things orderly once you have a system. Be clear about the project and the time you are willing to commit. Include what the final results will feel like, what resources you will enlist, the steps you will take, the time-frame, and how you might reward yourself if you need some motivation.

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What Have I Done With My Life?

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

“I’m getting old,” Shelley said as we started our coaching session.

 

“Aren’t we all?” I said smiling. “What’s prompting these feelings?”

 

“I don’t usually dwell on my age, but the other day when I got an invitation to my 20th high school reunion, I felt old. ‘How could this happen?’ I asked myself. And then I realize that my kids are almost in high school. Even though I don’t feel like I’m twenty years past high school, I know that I am. Where did the time go?” Shelley’s voice was full of concern.

 

“It sounds like a case of Reunion Blues,” I said and the corners of Shelley’s lips turned up slightly.

 

“So what do I do about this, doctor?” she joked, as though what she was describing were some kind of an ailment.

 

“In my professional opinion,” I began in my best impersonation of a doctor’s voice, “it’s important to identify the symptoms and determine the cause.” We had slipped into an easy space with the joking, but I knew that this was important to Shelley.

 

“What is it like to be old?” I asked.

 

“Old means time has slipped away, life is speeding by, and time may have been wasted,” Shelley said.

 

“Tell me about ‘time slipping away,'” I said.

 

“I’m 38 years old and don’t know what I have done with my life. I can talk about the big things – college graduation, my first job, getting married, having kids – but isn’t that what everyone does? What have I done that is special? What will I write for my ‘Reunion Update’ and what will I talk about?”

 

“What has your life been about over the past twenty years – deeper than the milestones you just mentioned?” I asked.

 

“I feel like I haven’t lived up to my potential. I hear about classmates who have these great careers and I wonder what happened to mine. I have an accounting degree, but am I doing accounting or am I a CPA? No. I am a part-time reading assistant in an elementary school. The only accounting I do is when I am figuring out which portrait packages to choose for school photos.”

 

Shelley hadn’t lost her sense of humor. Her sarcasm came out most when we were getting close to her real feelings.

 

“At our 15th reunion, I discovered one of my classmates was the manager for Jimmy Buffet. Of course, he won the award for the most unique career,” she said. “I can’t imagine what I will talk about that will be of any interest. I’ve had thoughts of not going to the reunion at all.”

 

“You could do that, but I am not sure that’s what you really want,” I said.

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“I want to go. I enjoy catching up with my friends. I love walking into the room and seeing how another five years looks on the people I grew up with.”

 

“Besides Jimmy Buffet’s Manager, what were some of the other stories at your 15th reunion?” I asked.

 

She replied, “Most were pretty normal. Their lives had been messy at times, exciting, sad, and thrilling. It kind of depended where they were in their own personal cycle when the reunion had happened.”

I paused for a second, allowing the wisdom of what she had just said to sink in.

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“That’s it, isn’t it?” she said. “It’s not that I am a failure. This is just a part of where I am in my life. Plus, it doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks – including my high school classmates. What matters is what I think about my life. And I like my life. Why would I feel embarrassed for putting my family priorities first?”

 

Shelley left that day with a little more hop in her step with feeling “old” the least of her worries.

 

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Coaching Challenge:

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When you find yourself comparing where you are in life to others and possibly feel inadequate, see if you recognize any cycles in your life. Where are you in the cycle? What are the benefits of where you are and what are the costs? Expanding beyond where you are today can help you gain perspective. This is also a great time to envision where you want to go.

Empty Nest – Endings and Beginnings

Sunday, May 10th, 2009

As high school seniors contemplate what to do after graduation, their parents are wondering the same thing. When kids are young, new parents can feel overwhelmed and have a sense that time is standing still. Yet many parents of older children say, “It goes by too quickly…a blink of an eye.”

 

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Katie came into my office with an air of sadness and disbelief. Her feelings started when she and her husband began to plan a graduation party for their daughter, Shannon. Although Katie was excited, there were also feelings of sadness at the realization that Shannon was taking a significant step out of Katie’s day-to-day routine.

 

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Shannon is the youngest of three children, which meant that after she left, the large home that had once held a family of five would feel a bit oversized for Katie and her husband, Joe. Granted, as Shannon grew older and more independent, the level of activity had already diminished. With each stage, Katie and Joe’s lives had adjusted, but something about having the last child move out felt empty and sad.

 

“I have watched each of my kids grow up and become independent from me, which is how it should be. I know that my job as a parent is to work myself out of a job. I don’t want my kids to need me; I want them to have the skills they need to survive and thrive in the world. Joe and I have talked about the freedom of not having full time parenting responsibilities, but as it becomes more of a reality, I can’t believe that we will soon be ’empty nesters.'”

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She continued, “Parenting is an all-encompassing job. At the time you ‘accept’ the position, you have no idea what you are committing to.” She continued, “I have noticed my parenting responsibilities shifting. For a while I was the care-giver, the playmate, the referee, the taxi driver, the parent who waits at home and enforces the rules, and now who knows what?” It is the hardest job I have ever done! Yet in some ways I am reluctant to have this stage end.”

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“If this stage is ending,” I asked Katie, “then what stage is beginning?”

 

“Wow! I was so caught up in the ending that I didn’t think about the fact that I could also be starting something new,” Katie said. “I’ve just given so much to everyone else along the way, that I am not sure who I am anymore. What will I do when my schedule is not squeezed in around someone else’s? And how will my relationship with Joe be without the activities and chaos of the kids? It was crazy, but somehow I found comfort in the midst of it all.”

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As we talked about each of the questions, we came up with some action steps that Katie agreed to complete before our next session. First, she would write a paragraph describing herself, as though she were the author of a novel introducing her main character. She also agreed to make a list of three major endings she had experienced in her lifetime and the accompanying beginnings – identifying the gift she had found in each. In addition, she would re-connect with Joe and explore together how they wanted this stage of their lives to look and feel. Each of these steps allowed Katie to re-orient and prepare herself for the upcoming changes – both the endings and the beginnings. By gaining clarity and communicating, Katie and Joe could prepare and create how they wanted their “empty nest” to look.

 

 

Coaching Challenge:

Whenever you are anticipating a life transition, think about the phrase, “When one door closes, another one opens.” Focus as much (or more) energy on the “opening” as on the “closing.” To recognize both the “ending” and the gift of the “beginning,” reflect back in your life and find three major endings you have experienced. Next to each one, write down at least one beginning and one gift that accompanied the ending. Each time you anticipate a transition in your life, ask yourself, “What is ending and what is beginning?” and “What opportunities can I embrace?”

Baby Steps: For All Ages and Stages

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

High school seniors are preparing for graduation. Until now their lives have been fairly planned. As summer approaches, they realize they have come to the end of “the plan” and wonder: what’s next?

 

One of my clients graduates from high school in May. Chet’s mother had contacted me about life coaching to help him find direction as he approached this ending point/beginning point. Chet wants to pursue engineering, but he is not exactly sure where he wants to go to school.

 

Chet has no contact with his father, who left when Chet was young. His mother has provided for Chet his entire life and works long hours to make ends meet. Moving away to attend college has been a difficult concept for Chet to contemplate for a couple of reasons.

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First, he is unsure of leaving his mom; it has always been just the two of them. And then there is Ashleigh, his girlfriend of the past two years. She is a couple years older than Chet, has a full time job in her parents’ business and has recently purchased a home. She has no intention of moving and hopes that Chet will attend the local college.

 

“I’m really excited to graduate, but I am dreading the decisions I must make,” he confided.

 

When we talked, I could tell that family and relationships were at the top of his list of values. It was important for Chet to be available for his mother and he concluded that if he moved, he could stay in frequent contact via the phone, email and regular visits. “Who knows? Maybe a bit of separation will be just what each of us needs,” he said.

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Before we moved on to the subject of Ashleigh, Chet told me he had another month before he needed to make the decision about what to do after graduation. When I asked what he needs to make good decisions, he answered, “information and experience.”

 

“How can you gain the information and experience you need to make a good choice in this situation?” I asked. “What is one baby step that you can take towards gaining the information you need to make a decision?”

 

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Chet replied, “The school that I am really interested in is hosting an On Campus day where seniors are invited to visit and stay overnight in the dorms. I’ll go and see what it’s like.” That was a great step towards gaining more information.

 

Sometimes we get so caught up with the BIG picture, goal, or decision (in this case what to do after graduation), that we look for one BIG step to take us “there.” Getting “there” is not usually one large step, but a series of baby steps, which are easier to take and move you toward your goal. Each time you take a baby step, you are given an opportunity to reevaluate how it feels and ask, “Am I still on the right path?” If so, then you can determine what your next step is.

 

If it doesn’t feel right, you are given an opportunity to reevaluate and step forward, sideways or in a completely new direction. There will come a day when Chet will decide what to do after graduation, but by continuing to take baby steps and reevaluating, he can gain the information and experience he needs to make the decisions along the way with confidence.

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Coaching Challenge:

Once you have defined the outcome that you are working towards, brainstorm the steps that will move you towards your goal. Write each baby step on a sticky note. Then place the notes in order of what needs to happen first. If the first step seems overwhelming, see if there is an even smaller step that needs to come first. Then each time you take a step towards your goal, reevaluate to see if you are still on the right track. If so, then take the next step. If not, come up with another step that is more in line with your goals. The key is to continually evaluate where you are and ask, “What is the next right (baby) step?” Keep asking, evaluating and moving forward.

Changing Priorities

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

Kayla and I met for our seventh and last coaching session. She originally contacted me wanting to reach a specific career objective. Kayla wasn’t the type of person who needed help setting goals or in determining how to reach them. Although quite young, Kayla had been successful in school and in her career.

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Reflecting back to our first session, her appearance, energy, and clothing were different than today. Kayla was always very professional– a suit or skirt, her make-up perfect, and she was always “on.” Today she looked comfortable, relaxed and full of life. What originally brought her to coaching took a back seat to what we discovered was really important to her. Here’s what happened:

 

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Eight months ago, Kayla’s boss had challenged her to take the next step in her career. Coaching was to help her to stay on track. Up to this point, Kayla had successfully balanced her career with the needs of her family and of herself. She had been married 5 years and had an energetic 18-month old son.

 

We initially looked for ways to gain the time she needed to reach her goals. Since her most productive time was in the mornings before Anthony woke up, she decided to get up two hours early. For accountability and to establish the habit, she would email me at 5 a.m. for the first two weeks.

 

The next day her email came at 5:05 a.m. I smiled, knowing she had met her goal. Over the next two weeks, I only received two more 5 a.m. emails.

 

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“It’s too much!” she said at our next session. “I’m trying to stay present for my family; I’ve been so irritated with Anthony; and my team members are struggling and I can’t help them. I can’t do this.”

 

I listened with compassion. We talked about her emotions and re-visited her goals, trying to determine what her priorities were now. She explained, “In the past, I would keep my eyes on the goal until I got there. Now it seems like the goal is changing. I thought I wanted this promotion, but I am not willing to pay the price.”

 

It didn’t sound like a cop-out. It was an honest realization.

 

How do you know when to keep moving forward and when to acknowledge that your goals have changed? It’s a fine line. Growing up, many of us learned that when you want something, you move forward until you get there.

 

As you grow and change, your goals may need to shift. It may be necessary to revisit your values and true priorities. The real measure is how much passion do you still have for the prize? Over time, with more tools, knowledge and evidence, you can make a better decision about which goals to keep and how to get there. Don’t let old priorities prevent you from moving towards what’s important today. That is how years and decades can slip by.

 

In leaving that session, Kayla came up with two brilliant action steps. First, she would tell her manager that her career goals had changed. Second, she would take time for herself and her family.

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This brings me to our closing session. Kayla walked in wearing jeans and a sweatshirt and plopped in my chair. She was back to being herself and she was radiating with life! When Kayla and I embarked on this journey, we both thought we were heading in a completely different direction. Our closing session was not about her career at all. It was about discovering what her true priorities and values were, acknowledging that and moving forward.

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Keep your eye on the prize, but be open to the prize changing.

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Coaching Challenge: Write your top five priorities in life including any of the eight areas of life: family & friends, career, significant other, fun & recreation, health, money, personal growth, physical environment. List your top five priorities in order. What is most important to you? Use that same list to prioritize how you spend your time. Review the list to see if you are spending time in the areas that are most important to you. Review the list every month to see if anything has shifted. By simply being aware of your priorities, you can more clearly make choices as to how you spend your time and energy.

 

 

I Can’t Decide!

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

“I have no idea what to do,” my client Suzanne said as she put her head in her hands. The decision she was facing was between moving to take a new job or staying here to live closer to family. Her grandmother had recently been moved into assisted living and Suzanne had been helping her mother take care of the endless arrangements, medications, transportation, etc.

 

“It’s an opportunity of a lifetime,” she said. I could feel the pain she had surrounding making this decision. Having worked with her for over six months, we had focused on moving her career forward, including updating her resume and cover letter, sharpening her networking skills and setting intentions around her career.

 

This opportunity seemed like a dream come true. It would propel her career forward. The compensation was higher than she expected and there were several perks. The deal could not have been any sweeter…which made her predicament even more difficult.

 

As the deadline approached, Suzanne found herself vacillating. “I should stay and help my family…” and just minutes later, “I cannot pass this up.” I listened to her mental gyrations, trying to understand and see what stood out as more important to her.

 

To find clarity and make decisions, it is helpful for clients to look at various viewpoints. Simply stepping outside of the normal perspective can define what is really important. We stood up for this exercise. Physically moving around helps us to talk about and feel the change in each perspective.

 

We put the decision to take the job in the center of a large circle on the floor. I asked Suzanne, “What is the perspective you are in right now?”

 

“This job is perfect,” she said. We named this wedge of the circle, “WOW! I can’t believe it!” I had her describe the mood in this wedge of the circle, the color, the theme song, the temperature and how this resonated in her body…anything to help us embody and feel this perspective. She described the mood as enthusiastic, came up with the color magenta, theme song Rocky, temperature was 95 degrees and she felt like she was floating.

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“But I just can’t imagine leaving my mom,” she said. Her perspective had noticeably changed, so we literally stepped to another wedge of the circle. She labeled it, “Dedication.” The mood here was overwhelming, theme song was, I Just Can’t Give Enough, temperature was 35 degrees and she felt tightness in her chest.

 

“What would your friends say?” I asked as we moved to another wedge. Again, I had her label and describe this perspective. This wedge was labeled, “Do It.” The mood was, You Only Live Once; theme song, Seize the Moment, temperature was 80 degrees and she felt her head swirling around.

 

“Tell me what your grandmother would say,” I asked as we moved to the next imaginary wedge on the floor. The name of this perspective was “Wisdom.” The mood was thoughtful; theme song was, Listen to your Heart, temperature was 65 degrees and breezy, and she felt this as sweetness in her heart.

 

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We walked around the circle, discovering and describing new perspectives. I then asked her which one resonated with her. She answered, “Wow! I Can’t Believe it!” We stepped into the perspective and brainstormed her next steps. Once we had the list, we narrowed it down. She then agreed to specific steps and timelines.

 

As we closed the session, she had moved from a point of indecision to action. She had consciously chosen not to stay stuck and is moving in a direction that resonates with her and helps her to move forward. There is so much power in that!

 

Coaching Challenge: When faced with a decision, look at four different perspectives. Draw a circle and label each wedge. Describe each perspective/wedge with a color, temperature, theme song and mood. Really embody each perspective – what does it feel like to stand in each one? Look at the decisions from multiple sides and then select the one that resonates in your heart. From here, create action steps to move forward from this perspective. Make yourself accountable by setting goals, timeframes, etc. To consciously decide is very powerful.

I’m Bored. Now What?

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

In the middle of a recent coaching appointment, both the client and I had a huge realization. She was completely bored with her life! As we were talking about a decision she was facing, it wasn’t the opportunity that was appealing; it was the thought of welcoming change – any change – into her life that had caught her attention.

 

“What’s challenging to you right now? What is exciting in your life? Where do you find passion?” I asked. To each question, she gave me a puzzled, almost painful look. She did not have an answer.

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Finally, she explained, “I work hard and am successful in my career. I got married, had kids, survived divorce and am now working hard to keep some balance in my life. Life feels functional; I have a lot of responsibilities and I find that the only real challenge is juggling the activities in my life.” But where was the passion?

 

It’s easy to see how this can happen. When we were in school, our goal was to graduate. Then we wanted to get a good job. Next it was to meet someone and get married, have kids, be a good parent, etc. Now that we’ve done all that, what are we moving towards? The first part of life seemed so structured. We knew what we were “supposed” to do and what was “normal” and what came next. But who makes the rules and sets the goals now? What is “supposed” to happen next?

 

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“Imagine that you are the writer and director of a movie – your movie,” I said, introducing an analogy for us to play with. “The stage is set, several plot lines have been introduced, and there is a cast of characters with you as the lead. Tell me how the story unfolds. What happens next?” Sounds pretty open-ended, right? The irony is that this much flexibility can be stifling!

 

She looked at me, completely stuck. I pressed, “Where is the passion?” She had become so busy just managing her day-to-day life that she had forgotten.

 

We then reconstructed and described each of the eras of her life. We began in childhood and moved on to the School Era, the Single Years, the Relationship to Marriage Era, the Family and then the Divorce Years, which brings us to now.

 

We brainstormed her future Eras. The next one was called Back to Me. Travel Time came next, which naturally flowed into the Relaxation, Retirement and Grandparent Eras. We talked about each one and built a loose framework for her future. As we watched the chapters unfold, she saw where she was now with more perspective as to how it fit into the rest of the story.

 

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By creating descriptions for each time period (including the tone, color, theme song, motto, etc.), we provided clarity and dimension to the various segments of her story. Excitement grew as her entire life began to feel more alive and connected. Ideas sprang forth that took completely by surprise and the boredom disappeared. We had, in effect, re-energized her life by adjusting her perspective.

 

Stepping outside of the day-to-day responsibilities can help to gain a broader perspective. This macro-view provides the big picture along with the details…and how it all fits together to make up your life. By knowing where you’ve been and where you plan to go you gain a better understanding of where you are right now. Isn’t life really all about right now?

 

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Coaching Challenge: Review your life and write down the major eras. Describe each segment by answering the following questions:

•    What is the overall theme of this time period?

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•    If you had to describe this era with an article of clothing, what would it be?

•    What is the lead song on the soundtrack of this era?

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•    What kind of car do you drive?

•    What would a bumper sticker on your car say?

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Now list the upcoming time periods in your life. Create the macro view. Then focus in on each one and answer the questions above. Have fun with it. See where you are going. Imagine the possibilities, and feel the passion!

What Did You Say?

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

We’ve all had it happen. Someone is talking and we zone out, not hearing a word that was said. Our thoughts wander – coming up with what we will say or do next – while the other person is expressing something he or she would like us to hear and understand. Throw in a subject that you don’t exactly agree upon and the listening really goes downhill as each person tries to formulate a position and out-maneuver the other. No one is listening, words are flying, feelings are hurt and misunderstandings happen.

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Hearing is literally processing sounds as they enter your ears. Actively listening and being fully present is hearing the words and being with the person as they speak. Not fully listening is one of the biggest factors behind miscommunications. How can you understand someone when you are only partially listening?

 

One of the reasons people enjoy being coached – including myself – is that someone is really listening to what they are saying – not just the words, but the emotions behind the words and the meanings between the words. Active listening is the practice of mindfully listening when someone is speaking. It sounds easy, but how often do we practice it? Add in the multitude of things that are happening, the various topics that circulate in your head, your own emotions and background, and it becomes perfectly understandable how the words go in one ear and out the other.

 

Think of a time when someone really listened to what you were saying. She gave you one of her most precious possessions – her time and attention. No matter what you expressed or how you said it, she was right there with you. This doesn’t mean that she agreed with every word you said, but she listened. She asked questions to clarify and helped you find meaning behind your own words. You felt heard and understood.

 

The most important tools to actively listening are focusing on the speaker, hearing the words, listening for the meaning behind the words, and then paraphrasing back what you heard. These steps will significantly change how you interact with others. Here is an example of how these skills can be used.

 

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Having three boys, I have witnessed how miscommunications easily turn into fights. Instead of talking about what they need, fists, feet and nasty words are flung at each other. Breaking it up I say, “This is NOT how we handle conflict. Let’s sit down and communicate.” A final push is given, nasty words are mumbled and eyes roll as we sit down to talk.

 

I play a combination of referee and talk show host as I invite each one to speak. “What happened?” I ask facing one of them. Kid #1 begins to explain his side of the story as I keep his brother from interrupting. When Kid #1 is finished, I look at the other and say, “Tell me what he just said.” Kid #2 paraphrases what the first one said and then relates his side of the story. We go through this until each one has described what happened.

 

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We move on to “I Statements.” I cue the words, “When you (describe the behavior), I feel (describe the emotion). I would like (what is desired) because (why is this important?).” Kid #2 paraphrases what he heard and responds. It sounds cumbersome, but this emphasis on listening and paraphrasing helps them to communicate and move through misunderstandings.

 

Is there any place in our society where good communication is not important? Learning these basic skills – especially paraphrasing – will make a difference in your interactions with others. Giving someone the gift of fully listening is truly priceless.

 

Coaching Challenge:  This week when someone is talking to you, over-emphasize actively listening to him or her. Look at the other person. Focus on what he or she is saying and tune in to the meaning behind the words. Be with this person as he or she talks to you. Then paraphrase what you heard and ask if you interpreted it correctly. Note how you feel and what his or her reaction is as you fully listen and hear what is said. Note how this impacts your relationship.

Change Your Story to Change Your Life

Thursday, January 1st, 2009

Over the holidays I attended several parties and practiced the fine art of small talk. It begins with your name, a brief description of who you are and what makes you and your life important. It sounds like this: “My name is Sheri. I am a Life Coach. I am married and have three kids.” And then they tell their “story.”

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Our “story” is how we describe who we are. Although it is an easy way to relate to people, it often becomes the way that we pigeonhole ourselves. As we say and hear our story over and over again, we begin to accept that this is who we are and all we will ever be. “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it,” becomes our mantra. However, that mantra can keep you stuck when you tell the same story long after you’ve outgrown many parts of it.

Parts of the story can include phrases like, “I’m no good at math,” or “I’m not good talking to people I don’t know,” or “I’m always late.” It becomes a chicken and egg type of question. Is your behavior the BASIS to your story or is it the RESULT of your story? What is the cause and what is the effect?

Since the coach-client relationship is more than small talk, it’s easy to catch when a client is trapped in his or her story and see opportunities to explore new chapters and variations of the story.

Jan was a new client who felt stuck. Her “story” consisted of being a housewife, raising two children and working part time. During our first meeting, she explained how unimportant these things felt to her. She cried as she described how empty she felt. Her “story” had become a re-run. It was predictable, boring and old.

As we explored further, Jan had several ideas, ways to paint the story different colors and write new chapters, but she was scared to admit that she longed to do so. One of the best ways to help her was to suggest stepping WAY out. So, when she mentioned her love of writing, I suggested writing a story and submitting it to her favorite magazine. “Wouldn’t it be great to have your story published and have thousands of people read it?”

There was dead silence. “I could never do that!” she said. “But I could draft a story on raising two boys,” she said. “I have a good sense of humor and could tell some funny anecdotes. I’m not sure if I would submit it to a magazine, but I could write it.” There was her first step. She was actively changing her story!

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The great thing about your story is that you are the author and have complete control over how it is told. It can be changed at any time – if you decide to do so. Maybe if you change your story, you can also change how you experience your life. “I’m good at math…good at meeting new people and I am usually on time. “

What is the story you tell about yourself? Do you enjoy it or are you sick of it? Add in something new, exciting and true every time you tell it. It is much more entertaining to both you and your listener. Perhaps if you change your story, you will change your life!

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Coaching Challenge: Think back to the last time you introduced yourself or related your “story.” Sit down with a friend or write in your journal your current story. What do you tell yourself and others? Does your story lead you towards your purpose in life?

If you feel stuck in your “story,” then change it! Be creative! Explore what would make it exciting, brilliant, dramatic, or fun. Then set a goal to re-write the story. When was the last time yours was updated? Your story is how you describe your life. What story are you telling? It’s probably the same story you are living!

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