All posts by Kim Childs

Going Back in Time to Move Forward

by Kim Childs, CPPC

This month, we “fell back” an hour when Daylight Savings Time ended, to gain more light before moving into the shorter days of winter. Likewise, when we’re preparing to move forward in life, we may sometimes need to first go back in time. Just as an archer prepares to shoot an arrow by pulling it back to prepare, focus, and gather momentum, we can constructively revisit our past to propel forward movement.

If we want to pursue a goal or make a big change, yet find ourselves staying stuck, it may be that old wounds and painful stories need healing to reclaim energy from the past. If we want to try something new but doubt our ability to do so, we can recall past triumphs and successes to remind us of what’s possible. Here’s how:

Forgive them, and yourself. When we feel held back by past experiences involving abuse or mistreatment by another, a forgiveness process can liberate us from the toxicity of resentment and dis-empowerment. Forgiveness doesn’t mean condoning bad behavior or staying in relationship with someone who has hurt us. It’s something we do for ourselves to stop feeling victimized. In the words of Carl Jung, “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”

Sometimes our limiting stories and beliefs are rooted in regrettable actions we took that damaged our self-perception. In these cases, we need to find ways to let ourselves off the hook. “View your life with ‘kindsight,'” says author Karen Salmansohn. “Stop beating yourself up about things from your past. Instead of slapping your forehead and asking, ‘What was I thinking?’ breathe and ask yourself the kinder question, ‘What was I learning?’”

If you find yourself ruminating over long-ago actions or hurts that keep you from forgiving and moving forward, try this exercise:

• Write about the upsetting experience as you recall it, releasing all of your authentic emotion into your story.
• Write about the experience again—objectively this time, like a good reporter, including “just the facts.”
• Write once more about the experience, from the perspective of the wisest or most spiritually evolved person you know or can imagine, consciously appreciating any growth, lessons, gifts, clarity, strength, resilience, or wisdom it yielded.

Mend a broken dream to pursue a new one. Sometimes past failures and broken dreams can form a kind of emotional or psychic “scar tissue” that blocks us from identifying or pursuing new desires. We do this in order to protect ourselves from more pain and disappointment, but it keeps us from fully living our lives. I found myself in this place after my divorce, and realized that I needed to grieve and mend the broken dream of my marriage in order to live into a new chapter. If you think you might be experiencing something like this, try the following exercise:

Part 1: Write your honest answers to these questions:
• What was I hoping for when I pursued that dream?
• What actually happened?
• How did/do I feel about that?
Allow any and all painful emotions to surface as you write, and offer compassion to yourself, using words such as, “I’m so sorry for your loss. I know it really mattered to you.”

Part 2: Assess the failed dream and ask yourself these questions:
• How did I/others learn, grow, benefit, or strengthen from what happened?
• What is my new dream?

Yoganand Michael Carroll, Dean of the Kripalu School of Yoga, recommends using yogic tools like pranayama, postures, and specific meditations, in conjunction with writing exercises, to change the energy of painful stories. “We get stuck in these boxes of our belief systems, and our painful stories carry energy,” says Yoganand. “If I can put myself in a place where my energies will become mobile, the story can melt and shift. If I’ve had an experience of being free from the structure of the story, it’s less binding when I come back.”

Yoganand says that making space for another perspective is key to liberating ourselves from our painful beliefs and stories. “If it can only be this way, I’m bound, but if it could be this way or that way, it gives me wiggle room. It’s like a knot that’s tied. If we get a little bit of wiggle, we can get free.”

Go back for reinforcement. The past can also be a source of good news and encouragement when we’re attempting to break free of problems and try new things. So many of my coaching clients who find themselves in miserable jobs need prompting to recall past jobs when they’ve felt happier, or more capable and competent. In coaching, we look for exceptions to what clients feel are permanently tough situations, to borrow energy from what’s working (or has worked) to fuel new solutions. Questions that help unearth that energy might be, “When is (or was) that not the case?” and “When have you enjoyed that (job/relationship/project)?”

When we’re caught in the grip of the problem, it’s easy to forget the times when we’ve been resourceful, resilient, and triumphant in similar situations. I had to do this not long after starting my coaching business, when it was not producing the financial success I desired. When I recalled that I’d been successful in all of my previous careers, and reminded myself that this was my biggest business venture yet with lots of learning curves, I felt better and more energized to put in the necessary work to grow my practice. If you’re similarly stuck, try looking for exceptions and recalling your best moments thus far, to remind yourself that even better times may lie in the future.

Kim Childs is a Certified Life and Career Coach specializing in Positive Psychology, creativity and spiritual living. Click here to learn more and schedule a free initial consultation in person or via phone or Skype/Zoom.

(Note: This article was written for the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, and the original version appears here.)

The Courage to Ask for Help

by Kim Childs, CPPC

Last month, I noticed my coaching client scribbling earnestly during our session, as we were discussing the difference between willpower (“I want to ___”) and way power (“I may need help, training, instruction and a plan to ___”).

So what was my client writing? “Asking for help is self-care.”

Indeed.

For far too many years, I was self-reliant to a fault—trying to assume control, figure things out by myself and hide my needs and insecurities from people as best I could. I feared being vulnerable, being disappointed, appearing stupid, burdening people with my needs or arousing their criticism and condemnation. I acted as if I had it all together, and sometimes it appeared that I did…on the outside.

It took a crisis to show me that “I’ll do it all myself” is a lonely and ineffective way to live.

I was 34 years old and delivering a newscast in my former public radio job when a panic attack – live, on the air – rocked my world and dismantled my facade of control. It also sent me on the journey of recovery that ultimately launched my career as a coach, teacher, and writer of personal transformation.

The panic attack left me with no choice but to ask for help. I enlisted a variety of traditional and alternative healers and landed firmly in psychotherapy, 12-step groups, and countless personal growth workshops to address old wounds. Emotional and psychological healing became my occupation, even as I kept reporting the news. About a year later I left my job and moved into a yoga center, where the seeds of my current career were planted and nourished.

It took a village to get me through those years, during which time I learned a lot about the courage of vulnerability, authenticity, and opening up to receive. I’m grateful to each and every helper on my journey, which will always be a work in progress.

Another thing I’ve had to wrap my mind around is that so many people want to help, and they may even feel honored when we ask. Last week, I was a hot mess over a family issue (and a badly timed technological problem…but is there ever a good time for that?) and I reached out to a dear friend. She stopped what she was doing to listen, and help. I thanked her profusely the next day, still wrestling with old feelings of guilt for “bothering” someone.

Her reply, so beautiful and surprising, was, “Thank you for being in my life.”

Last year I decided to take a dream trip to South Africa with my chorus. Struggling financially in the wake of a divorce, I needed help paying for it. I applied for a scholarship and received a generous one from the chorus. Following the lead of some fellow singers, I launched a fundraising campaign for the rest of the expenses and received even more than I’d asked for. It was a miraculous and humbling experience that left me full of gratitude and marveling at the generosity of people.

We often ask for help when we’re on our knees, literally or metaphorically. It’s typically what brings clients into my office, when the pain of staying stuck or unhappy has become too much to bear. The same client I mentioned above remarked during our initial consultation that, “I used to think life coaches were only for corporate executives, and then I read a book that said anyone can benefit from working with a coach, so here I am.”

Needless to say, I was thrilled about that book, and my client’s breakthrough.

If asking for help is a skill you’d like to learn and strengthen, I recommend starting with small requests as you work your way up to bigger ones. Remember that most people like to help because it feels good, and takes us out of our own problems. Recall all the times and ways you’ve gotten a boost from being helpful, and give others that same opportunity.

I also recommend doing it before a crisis hits, but we don’t always have control over that.

None of us can do this life on our own. Asking for help is brave, smart, productive, and a sign of strength. And sometimes it can lead to miracles.

Kim Childs is a Certified Life and Career Coach specializing in Positive Psychology, creativity and soulful living. Click here to learn more and schedule a free initial consultation in person or via phone or Skype/Zoom.

When Dreams are Delayed (not Denied)

by Kim Childs, CPPC

About 20 years ago, I heard a phrase in a 12-step meeting that lodged itself firmly in my head:
God’s delay is not God’s denial.

Today I have several examples, and not just in my own life, of how this phenomenon plays out. No matter your religious beliefs, embracing the notion that some dreams may take longer to manifest than we desire, and turn out even better than we imagined, can ease frustration and fuel optimism.

To put it another way,  very few of the things and changes I’ve desired in my life have happened on my timetable, and many came to pass in ways that I couldn’t have foreseen.

Sharing songs, and love, in South Africa (photo credit: Bill Torcaso)

Case in point: Five years ago, I heard that the delightful Boston-area chorus, Sharing a New Song (SANS), was headed to South Africa to tour, perform, and connect with singers in that amazing country. I so wanted to go to South Africa, and I sooo wanted to go as a singer, and the timing was…so very wrong for me. With more than a little sadness, I surrendered to my circumstances and wished the chorus members a wonderful time.

And then…

Last summer, I went to a musical birthday party and learned, through a serendipitous conversation, that SANS was returning to South Africa in 2017. Free to go this time, I joined the chorus, applied for a scholarship, launched a GoFundMe campaign to cover the remaining costs, and went – all expenses paid – on a truly marvelous trip during August, a month when my workload is super light.

Could I have orchestrated this same magic five years ago? I’ll never know. What I do know is that dreams have no expiration date, and that holding them in our hearts while loosening our grip on how and when they’ll come about can yield miracles.

Earlier this summer, I led a Dream Boot Camp for five wonderful clients, one of whom manifested a desire she’d held dear for two decades. Once the shock wore off, she told me about the history of this particular dream.

“Twenty years ago, my company had a big layoff, and people who’d been there a long time were let go with several months’ severance,” she recalls. “I kept thinking about what I would do with that kind of time…finish my book, work on sewing projects, and finally get my house the way I wanted it. I wasn’t chosen for the layoff, but I started making plans to take a year off work, saving money and trying to get my various projects in shape.”

My client kept saving money until she was within a year of being able to make her bold move. This summer, much to her surprise, she was laid off with several months’ worth of severance pay. It’s not exactly what she envisioned 20 years ago, but it may be better.

“What I’m doing now is very different from what I’d have done back then,” she remarks. “Now the time is mine instead of having to put my kids first. Plus, my house is paid for and the kids’ college is funded, so the amount of income I need for a sustainable lifestyle is much less. I’ve also got 20 years’ worth of savings and research behind me.”

A friend of mine tells another story about attracting a wonderful job that looks nothing like what she imagined when she set out to find one several years ago, armed with her hopes and a list of desired criteria during a very challenging time in her life.

“I wound up working at a church office in Connecticut, of all places!” She exclaims about the job that meets so many of those criteria. “I am a native New Yorker and an attorney. This is the last place I thought I would be, and this job uses all the skills not listed on my resume. I’m the one who plans office celebrations, and being here has given me clear ideas about an office party planning business, for which I’m now taking classes.”

What dream of yours might be worth turning over to a higher intelligence and acting on – one step at a time – with respect for divine timing?

Patience and persistence paid off for Rory Michelle, who sat in my workshop on The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity several years ago and quietly voiced her desire to write and sing songs. Soon after, she began to do it…consistently, with great enthusiasm. Today, she’s a singer/songwriter, recording artist, producer, and composer, with a few albums under her belt and this new, charming video about nourishment of all kinds.

Here’s to your dreams. I invite you to hold them in your heart, take inspired action, and trust life’s unfolding.

Kim Childs is a Certified Life and Career Coach specializing in Positive Psychology, creativity and soulful living. Click here to learn more and schedule a free initial consultation in person or via phone or Skype.

To Africa…With Love

by Kim Childs, CPPC

This summer I’m headed back to Africa, a continent beloved to my very soul. My connections to the land and people run deep, perhaps even beyond this lifetime. Here’s why…

In the fall of 1996, I was invited to visit my friend Liz in Zimbabwe, where she was doing economic development work. I jumped at the chance to make my first trip to Africa, and arranged to fly from New York to London to Harare, the capitol of Zimbabwe. Not long after we left London, I fell asleep. When I awoke a few hours later, I looked out the window and saw orange lights below. Confused as to why I could still see the ground, I asked the flight attendant where we were.

“Those are gas flares from the Algerian oil wells,” she told me. As I realized that I was flying over the African continent, I started to cry. Something deep inside me felt like it was coming home.

The journey to that moment (in this lifetime, anyway) began in 1988, when I met the masterful Nigerian drummer Babatunde Olatunji at the Omega Institute in upstate New York. A voice student there at the time, I got to sample Olatunji’s powerful drum and dance classes, and I was hooked. When I returned to New Jersey, I fortuitously stumbled upon a new African drum class that was meeting above the local health food store. We became a performing ensemble and gave ourselves the ironic name Drums and Roses.

The ensemble eventually broke up, but my love affair with African drumming and music was on for life, embracing many styles over the years, and introducing me to such iconic artists as Fela Kuti, King Sunny Ade, Salif Keita, Youssou N’Dour, Oumou Sangare, and so many others.

In Zimbabwe, I went to clubs and outdoor concerts to dance and hear the legendary performers Thomas Mapfumo and Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi. I became smitten with the hypnotic music played on the mbira, or thumb piano, and delighted in the infectious pop music played in buses and taxis. Although the country has suffered terribly under the AIDS epidemic and its despotic leader, the Zimbabweans I met were warm and sunny, the land was majestic, and the wild giraffes, zebras and elephants made me squeal like a child.

My passion for African music is one reason I went to Morocco in 2002 for the annual Sacred Music Festival in Fez. I even stayed an extra week to attend the traditional gnawa music festival in the coastal town of Essaouira. Morocco, with its seductive blend of African, Arab and European cultures, colors, textiles, spices and sounds, was a feast for all of my senses. And in the wake of the September 11 terror attacks, many of the people we met in this Muslim-majority country were grateful for our tourism.

In 2005, my affection and concern for Africans led me to volunteer with an organization that was serving the Sudanese refugees who’d landed in the Boston area. I was assigned to help a young family in a nearby town and I grew to love and admire them, and all the other refugees, for their incredible resilience and dignity in the face of unimaginable challenges and losses. To this day, I feel like a proud and lucky adopted member of the South Sudanese community that has blossomed around me.

It was drumming that took me back to Africa in 2007, when I followed my Senegalese teacher to Dakar to learn more about the complex drum and dance styles of his country. Two days into that trip, I met the sweet man I would later marry. Although the marriage did not survive our differences and difficulties, the love did, and we are forever family to each other. I’ve learned firsthand the about the hardships and heartbreak of African immigrants abroad, the generosity of African love and family, and the famous teranga – hospitality – of the gracious Senegalese people.

My next destination is South Africa, where I’ll spend three weeks in August performing all over the country with my delightful chorus, Sharing a New Song. Our itinerary includes joint concerts and informal singalongs with South Africans, a possible workshop with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, sightseeing, cultural exchanges, whale and penguin watching, a trip to the infamous Robben Island, and a three-night stay with the lions in Kruger National Park (Oh my!).

I wonder…what magic awaits me this time in the southernmost tip of that vast, rich and exotic continent?

What or where is your “Africa”? Is there a place, culture or music that resonates with your very soul? How have you followed that call? I’d love to hear about it if you care to share in the comments below.

Kim Childs is a Certified Life and Career Coach specializing in Positive Psychology, creativity and soulful living. Click here to learn more and schedule a free initial consultation in person or via phone or Skype.

Tell a Better Story

by Kim Childs, CPPC

Last year I was working with a client who was preparing to retire from a long and successful career. She named a desire to work part-time in a new field, and her face lit up as she described what she’d like to do and why she wanted to do it. It was clearly a long simmering passion.

As we identified her next steps of research and action, her face darkened. She began to voice doubts about her ability to transfer her impressive life and work experience to a new pursuit for which, from my perspective,  she was sufficiently qualified and definitely trainable.

“So you haven’t inquired yet, but you’re telling yourself that they wouldn’t want to hire someone like you because you haven’t worked in that field yet?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied, getting pensive. “I guess that’s a story.”

We agreed that it was. And like most limiting stories we tell ourselves, it was worth examining.

Remember the old joke about how, when you assume, you make “an ass out of you and me?” While a little crude, there’s truth in there about the danger of making assumptions. My client was not alone in telling herself a story that prevented her from taking action, asking questions, and obtaining information that could debunk her assumptions. On the flip side, we sometimes do take misguided action based on unchecked assumptions, and later regret them.

I know that I’ve made up stories about why someone doesn’t reply to my email, include me in an invitation, or return my call. Quite often, those stories are unpleasant, painting me or the other person in a bad light. That’s when I have to remember the words of a dear and wise friend on this subject:

“If you’re gonna make up a story, make up a good one.”

This is also known as giving people (and situations) the benefit of the doubt. Think about that oft-used phrase. Injecting our painful stories with some doubt or curiosity, making room for other possibilities and perspectives, makes us feel better and expands our thinking and creativity. This leads to more constructive action, which can lead to better outcomes.

I often invite clients to do this with painful episodes from their past that are still holding them back. Sometimes these experiences involve abuse or mistreatment from another, in which case a forgiveness process can liberate us from the toxicity of resentment and a disempowering world view. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we have to hang out with those who harmed us, it means we stop harming ourselves by feeling permanently victimized.

In the words of Carl Jung, “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”

Sometimes our limiting stories and beliefs are rooted in regrettable actions we took that damaged our self-perception. In those cases, we’re often being harsh and not letting ourselves off the hook.

“View your life with ‘kindsight,'” says author Karen Salmansohn. “Stop beating yourself up about things from your past. Instead of slapping your forehead and asking, ‘What was I thinking?’ breathe and ask yourself the kinder question, ‘What was I learning?’”

If you find yourself long ruminating over past actions or hurts that won’t let you go and keep you from forgiving (yourself or others), healing, and moving on to your greater good, try this exercise:

  • Write about the experience as you recall it, full of your authentic emotion about it.
  • Write again about the experience objectively, as a good reporter would, with “just the facts.”
  • Write once more about the experience from the perspective  of the wisest or most spiritually evolved person you know of, consciously appreciating any growth, lessons, gifts, clarity, strength, resilience or wisdom it yielded.

Use that brilliant, inventive mind of yours to make up the best stories you can about what’s possible, what you can do to improve situations and relationships, and what good could come from bad. Let those better stories guide your actions and choices.

In doing so, you make yourself the author and victor in your own life.

Kim Childs is a Certified Life and Career Coach specializing in Positive Psychology, creativity and soulful living. Click here to learn more and schedule a free initial consultation in person or via phone or Skype.

Mending Broken Dreams

by Kim Childs, CPPC

At some point in the process of recovering from my divorce, I realized that I was having trouble dreaming new dreams. While I’d done a lot to heal the emotional pain of my failed marriage, this was something different…and deeper.

Eventually, I came to realize that I needed to mourn the dreams I’d had for me and my ex-husband that didn’t come true, and the hopes and plans I had for my own life when I got married.

“I feel as if I need to hold a funeral for my marriage,” I told a dear friend. “It was one of my biggest dreams, and it died.”

“What you really need to grieve are the expectations you had for your marriage,” she replied. “Your dreams are still there.”

I’d heard this kind of message before from Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, who’s helped millions recover their dreams and creative desires from the ashes of failure, shame, disappointment and discouragement.

“It’s important to give yourself the dignity of grieving your wounds, creative and otherwise,” Cameron writes in her new book, It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again. “Many times people will acknowledge their wounds but feel they should somehow be beyond them.”

In other words, we cannot heal what we don’t allow ourselves to feel.

By grieving and honoring unrealized dreams with self-compassion, we can “metabolize” the pain and prevent emotional and psychic “scar tissue” from building up and blocking us, says Cameron. Otherwise, these unhealed wounds may cause us to lose faith in ourselves and hesitate to pursue, or even name, new dreams.

Margaret Lynch, an author and Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) expert, has a term for these often unrecognized losses: goal traumas. They occur when cherished dreams fall apart despite earnest efforts, hard work and sacrifice. Lynch says that goal traumas may leave us feeling less trusting of ourselves, other people, and whatever higher power we believe is in charge. We might then resist getting our hopes up and setting big goals, letting “Why bother?” and “What’s the use?” replace “Wouldn’t it be great if…?”

Goal traumas need to be healed, and the first step is to grieve what didn’t happen, and admit that it mattered.

“If those tears have never been cried for you, you need to cry them for yourself,” Lynch writes in her book, Tapping Into Wealth. “Until you honor the grief, loss and pain, it stays stuck.”

Heeding all of this wisdom, I gathered some friends and held a “Funeral for a Dream” ritual. We each brought a failed dream to honor, mourn, and transform. They included aspirations that centered on love, family, creativity and career.

Here is the process we used:

Part 1 – Write your honest answers to these questions, allowing any emotions to flow in the process:

–What was I hoping for when I pursued this dream?

–What actually happened?

–How did/do I feel about that?

Sitting in a circle by my friend’s fireplace, we took turns reading our answers aloud and receiving the gift of compassionate witnessing. After I named the dreams I’d had for my marriage and wept over how they’d gone so wrong, my friends looked into my eyes and said the profoundly healing words that no one had said about my divorce, including me:

“I’m so sorry for your loss.”

One by one, we named, witnessed, and honored our pain. We then gave it over to the fire of transformation, burning the papers on which we’d each told our tales of heartbreak. Afterwards, we cleared our energy with simple shamanic practices and prepared to rise from the ashes.

Part 2 – Assess the failed dream and ask:

–How did I/others learn, grow, benefit or strengthen from what happened?

–What is my new dream?

My friends and I again read our answers aloud and acknowledged our growth, gifts, and resilience. We then named some new dreams for our lives and offered cheers and words of affirmation to support each others’ forward movement.

By the time we ended our ritual, we each felt lighter, brighter, more energized, and loved for the whole of who we are – failures, painful stories and all.

If you feel you have a goal trauma or failed dream that’s “stuck” somewhere in you and keeping you from going for new dreams, I invite you to try a process like this. Enlist the support of friends or helping professionals if you sense you will need that. Be gentle with yourself before, during and after, and drink lots of water afterward to flush your system.

As you endeavor to heal the pain of dreams that didn’t (yet) come true, take heart, and dare to dream again. As the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

Slowly, I identified and began to pursue new dreams (one of which you can help to support here, if you are so inspired!). Interestingly enough, some of these new dreams came straight from the ashes of my failures.

In fact, I believe they could not have been born without them.

Kim Childs is a Certified Life and Career Coach specializing in Positive Psychology, creativity and soulful living. Click here to learn more and schedule a free initial consultation in person or via phone or Skype.

The Power of Four (Questions and Agreements)

by Kim Childs, CPPC

I’ve been immersed in personal growth work for 20 years and, while my aim in coaching is to bring forth my clients’ own wisdom, I also love referring them to teachers who’ve helped me on my journey. Two of my favorites are Don Miguel Ruiz and Byron Katie, who offer us four simple yet powerful questions and agreements for better living.

Katie is famous for creating The Work, her signature program of inquiry that teaches us to identify and challenge any thoughts that are causing us to suffer.  In its most basic form, The Work consists of four questions and a turnaround. It can do fatal damage to the painful stories and assumptions we cling to that keep us feeling right and justified (as opposed to happy).

Here are Katie’s questions to ask when a thought we’re thinking is creating suffering (e.g. “Tom thinks I’m incompetent.”):

1. Is it true? (Do you think yes or no? If no, move to question 3.)
2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true? (Yes or no.)
3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
4. W
ho would you be without that thought?

By asking questions 1 and 2, we may now realize that we’ve been making an assumption. Moving on to questions 3 and 4, we see how thinking this way feels lousy, causes stress and affects how we behave (especially toward Tom). If the thought still feels true, however, we’re invited to examine the consequences of dwelling on and projecting it, and the option to let it go for greater inner and outer peace.

Next, we move to the turnaround, which is a re-phrasing of the thought for a new perspective and awareness. Turnarounds here could be “I think I’m incompetent” or “I think Tom’s incompetent” or “Tom thinks he’s incompetent” To identify the right turnaround, find three specific examples that point to its truth. This may take some digging, but it can lead to some good”Aha” moments.

The Work can yield more thoughtful, less judgmental ways to operate in the world and unhook us from the habit of letting people and things disturb our peace. Ultimately, it shows us our own part in causing suffering, and the ways in which our unchecked assumptions can wreak havoc in our lives and relationships. “I discovered that when I believed my thoughts, I suffered, but that when I didn’t believe them, I didn’t suffer, and that this is true for every human being,” Katie writes. “Freedom is as simple as that. I found that suffering is optional.”

Ruiz, who grew up with Mexican parents practicing ancient Toltec traditions, shares that culture’s wisdom in his popular book, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom. In it, Ruiz offers practical steps for long-term personal transformation with such agreements as:

1. Be Impeccable With Your Word
Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

2. Don’t Take Anything Personally
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

3. Don’t Make Assumptions
Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

4. Always Do Your Best
Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.

These agreements fall into the the “Not easy, but worth trying” category of practices for happier living. Even Ruiz acknowledges this challenge in the book.

“You need a very strong will in order to adopt the Four Agreements—but if you can begin to live your life with these agreements, the transformation in your life will be amazing,” Ruiz writes. “You will see the drama of hell disappear right before your very eyes. Instead of living in a dream of hell, you will be creating a new dream—your personal dream of heaven.”

I can’t say for sure that I or any of my clients are living in a “dream of heaven” all the time, but they report good outcomes from practicing these four questions and agreements, as do I. Why not try them at home (and everywhere) and see if you feel better, too?

Kim Childs is a Certified Life and Career Coach specializing in Positive Psychology, creativity and sacred living. Click here to learn more and schedule a free initial consultation in person or via phone or Skype.

Reframing Failure

by Kim Childs, CPPC

Last month I was helping a client prepare for a job interview, which also meant bracing for the possible question, “Can you tell me about one of your past mistakes or failures?” We discussed how to answer that question both honestly and positively, by telling a story about the growth, learning, character development or gifts that resulted from the failure.

“Oh,” said my client, brightening, “like when I tell my son that he can always learn from his mistakes, right?”

Yes, exactly, because failure is essentially feedback.

I know it doesn’t feel that way at first, and I believe in fully having our sadness, anger, disappointment and other very understandable emotions when we fail, because it’s no fun. And yet, failure is inevitable in this human life and actually part of what grows us into better, wiser people.

“Learn to fail or fail to learn,” is a quote I heard over and over from my Positive Psychology teacher Tal Ben-Shahar, who openly used his own failures and struggles as teaching moments and encouraged me and my classmates to give ourselves “permission to be human.”

In other words, failure happens and the more we get used to it, the less we’ll suffer.

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, takes it a step further, writing that, “All creative success requires creative failure.” Notice that she doesn’t use the word involves, but requires. I find that both humbling and liberating, allowing me to learn from the process and allow for progress, much like Thomas Edison, who famously said of his long road to inventing the light bulb, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Edison is reminding us that those 10,000 ways that didn’t work were stepping stones and essential opportunities to learn and improve his product each time. Without them, there would be no light bulb. Take that in.

Failures, setbacks and other painful life experiences can grow our wisdom, compassion, resilience and strength, if we allow them to. They may also take us to a more beautiful place. Nature gives us examples in the pearl, which is scraped and shaped by sand in the oyster, and the butterfly, which results from the complete breakdown of the caterpillar. These messy and essential processes are echoed in the Buddhist saying, “No mud, no lotus.”

It’s a mantra I need to remember each time I fail, along with the instructions to keep going.

Coach and author Marie Forleo says in this great episode of MarieTV that failure simply means you were brave enough to try something. “A fall isn’t final unless you stay on the ground,” she reminds us, adding that getting right back up means you are no longer the person who fell/failed, but the person who got back up.

Nice. I once had a powerful dream about that very notion, and it’s recounted here.

So while failures hurt and disappoint, the needn’t derail or stop us. Once we’ve had our very human reactions to them and paused to honor the success we were aiming for and the hopes and dreams that are still alive, the best thing to do is get back up, brush ourselves off, and ask, “What can I learn from this?”

Followed by that all-important question, “What’s next?”

Kim Childs is a Certified Life and Career Coach specializing in Positive Psychology, creativity and sacred living. Click here to learn more and schedule a free initial consultation in person or via phone or Skype.

The Case for Love and Kindness

by Kim Childs, CPPC

As we prepare to celebrate the annual feast of Thanksgiving, it’s an anxious time in America. How are you doing? Feel free to let me know. I’m listening, and holding us all in compassion.

Meanwhile, I’m truly grateful for you – my students, clients, readers and kindred spirits – and for the important work that I get to do in this world. Last week I received an early holiday gift from a former coaching client who reports doing well and says, “I want to thank you again for all your help and guidance. It has made a real difference in my life.”

Among other tools, helping others and sharing kindness is a sure way for me to feel better when the going gets rough in my life and in the world around me. I’ve been finding ways to practice it online, in my circles, and in my neighborhood this month, and it always does my heart good. Researchers have learned that this “tend and befriend” response to life’s big challenges can lift our mood and lower our stress hormones.

My favorite neuropsychologist Rick Hanson has written more here about the benefits of “loving someone” for greater happiness and well-being. He says it’s a proven way to feel better under stressful conditions that leave us rattled, frozen, or unclear about what to do. “After awhile, you do what you can to change things for the better, but often there’s not much you can actually change, and sometimes nothing at all,” Hanson writes. “Still, there is always one thing you can do, no matter what. You can always find someone to love.”

Petey

Petey, and his paws

Loving others can range from kind words and gestures to activism and community service. What can you do this holiday week to make someone’s day better or care for someone in need? Hold this intention and see who shows up to be on the receiving end of your love and kindness.

As for me, I have a new being in my life who showed up just in time to help me tend and befriend. Petey is three months old and full of sweetness, playfulness, and affection. While I’m the one giving him a home, food, toys and love, he’s the one “rescuing” me during a tough time.

Happy Thanksgiving to you. I’m grateful for love, kindness, good people and purring kittens.

Kim Childs is a Certified Life and Career Coach specializing in Positive Psychology, creativity and sacred living. Click here to learn more and schedule a free initial consultation in person or via phone or Skype.

Antidotes for Anxious Times

by Kim Childs, CPPC

Earlier this month, a former client asked for strategies to deal with the current climate of  stressed-shutterstockhostility and anxiety in America and around the globe. In addition to trying on some recommendations, my client decided to volunteer with a local political organization in order to feel she was “doing something” in these challenging times.

I applaud everyone who’s focused on being the positive change they seek in this world right now. It’s why this quote, from historian and activist Howard Zinn, is one of my favorites.

“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act…”

Focusing on what we can do and control in anxious times is not only energizing, it creates the kind of future we desire to inhabit, one brave act at a time. Here’s a round-up of some ideas for staying calm, centered, and connected to what most matters when the world seems out of control:

–Take inspired action. Some of my friends who’ve volunteered with political campaigns and cast early ballots in the U.S. presidential election report that they felt better after doing so. “It felt like a big exhale,” said one, while another chimes in, “I try to take what action I can to make a difference…it’s empowering to focus on what I can do, and to try and get out of victim mode.” Also, helping others feels good and it’s a win-win.

–Step away from the screen. My friend Deborah Sosin, a therapist, mindfulness specialist and self-described “diehard news junkie,” says that even she needs to unplug from the media at times. “So much exposure to traumatic news and images can trigger anxiety, depression, substance abuse, insomnia, and a range of stress reactions,” she says. In a recent essay, Sosin wrote about the tension between wanting to be informed and wanting to take care of herself. “If I tune out, it doesn’t mean I don’t care about the world,” she remarks. “I can’t watch anymore, at least not for a while. And I still care.” Sosin, who’s also written this award-winning picture book about a girl who finds the world too overstimulating, notes that our children need breaks from the media, too. “Put all devices aside for a while and go for a walk with them. Notice the sky, the trees, and the grass,” she says. “If your kids ask questions about the news or politics, answer honestly and simply, then redirect the conversation to something in their lives, in the present moment.”

–Play. “I’m making a conscious attempt to do things I enjoy,” reports a friend. “It’s like a small energy bar of good feeling in the midst of all this chaos. Also, I make sure I have music in my life, whether it’s playing invisible drums along with my car stereo, a dance aerobics class, singing in the shower, or shimmying in the hallway on the way to a staff meeting.” Play boosts our mood, and those positive vibes can likewise uplift those we encounter.

–Self-soothe, and move. Several people note that practicing yoga, meditation, or Reiki help them maintain equilibrium. I need my morning rituals and daily walks to ground myself. It helps that I do them near trees, open sky and a lovely pond, as exercise and time in nature are natural relaxants and mood boosters. Finally, one very simple practice when stressed is to place a hand on your heart, take a few conscious breaths, and say to yourself, “Right now, in this moment, I’m here and okay.”

–Put things in perspective. Another friend says that remembering that the world has survived major shifts and crises before helps him stay calm. “Nothing that is happening right now is all that different from anything that has happened in the past, at least in the greater scheme of things. Light and dark forces are always seeking to balance each other out, and the world is certainly in a transition…” He advocates spiritual practices that keep us connected to the light, within and without. I further recommend a daily gratitude practice, or a nightly “What Went Well?” exercise.

–Keep things simple. What items can come off your schedule or to-do list when life is challenging? Which routines can you simplify? Which invitations and requests can you decline to make more space and time for what you truly need? Simplify, for peace of mind.

–Escape. Entertaining ourselves is also good medicine in troubled times, whether it’s comedic parodies of political candidates, cat videos or uplifting movies. One friend of mine is currently finding comfort in Star Trek reruns. “Seriously, a little escapism with clear enemies and reliable victories is sometimes just what the doctor ordered,” she says.

I agree. Beam me up, Scotty!

Kim Childs is a Certified Life and Career Coach specializing in Positive Psychology, creativity and sacred living. Click here to learn more and schedule a free initial consultation in person or via phone or Skype.