A day for remembering

Formerly known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day began after the Civil War to commemorate the Union soldiers, who had died. After World War I, Memorial Day evolved into a special way to honor all the men and women, who died while serving in the armed forces and to show support for the sacrifices of their families.

Today, my thoughts are with all who are currently serving, have family or friends who are serving, or who have served in the past.

My sincerest condolences to those of you, who have lost a loved one while he or she was serving our country. Your contributions and losses are in our hearts and minds this Memorial Day.

The Lollipop Effect, redux

Each Friday in May I will be reposting or adapting Wishful Thinking Works’ most popular posts. (New posts will still appear weekly on Monday or Tuesdays.) This post, first published over a year ago, is based on a study I read about in former Harvard professor, Shawn Achor’s book The Happiness Advantage. I hope you use the simple steps to give yourself, your children, and others you care about the advantage of happiness.


Good morning. Hope you are all set for a wonderful long weekend. Here’s some info that might make the summer weeks ahead even brighter.

What do sweet treats have to do with how our brains work?

Well, it turns out that positively priming your brain before attempting simple or complex tasks can improve your success on those tasks – big time. So how do we positively prime? In psychological circles it’s known as creating “positive affect”. In real world terms, it’s nothing more than giving yourself or others a boost of positive feelings or a shot of happiness, and that’s easier to do than you might imagine!

You can prime yourself to think more creatively and process information faster and more effectively by simply thinking of a happy memory or giving yourself a guilt-free treat such as a lollipop!

In his book, “The Happiness Advantage”, Harvard professor, Shawn Achor shares a study that reveals doctors, who were primed with lollipops, provided the correct diagnosis twice as fast as the doctors in the study’s control group. And, here’s the kicker – they didn’t even get to eat the suckers – they just received them!

That’s not all. Research shows that 4-year-old kids did better when asked to just think about something happy before starting a task. And, high-schoolers, who conjured up the happiest day of their lives before beginning a standardized math test (math-yikes!), scored higher than their fellow students.

Achor notes that much of this research is based on the positive psychology work of professor Barbara Fredrickson, which led to her “Broaden and Build Theory”. The “Broaden and Build Theory” represents the flip side of the “Flight or Fight Theory”.  The “Flight or Fight Theory” reflects the brain’s ability to focus and narrow our thoughts and actions in times of extreme fear or stress, which is a good thing in times of danger, but can deplete our resources when everything in our lives is perceived as stressful. Fredrickson’s work reveals that a happy brain broadens our perspective and thoughts, increasing creativity and stamina, which is a good thing!

Being relaxed and happy allows us to do better in most areas of our lives. Our brains are hard-wired to perform more successfully at “happy” than at neutral or unhappy.

Happiness matters! Feeling positive makes a huge difference on outcomes in educational, personal, and professional settings, and as the studies above and many others show – even the simplest things can make us happy.

Are you ready to get happy?

Start your weekend by priming your brain:

  • Think of something that makes you happy. Picture it. Relive it in your mind. Now, savor it for a few seconds – you know you are “there” when you are experiencing almost the same glow as when your happy moment  first occurred.
  • Listen to music you love on the way to work. (I know it’s too late for today, but consider jammin’ in the car on the way home.)
  • Enjoy a special treat each day when you arrive at work. Or, have one waiting for you when you get home. (Not all treats have to be high calorie or even food!)
  • Keep a joke or riddle book in the kitchen for the kids to share with you while you are making dinner.
  • Dance while doing the dishes.
  • Use summer nights for stargazing or sleeping out.
  • Think of ways to create an organization where fun is not a dirty word and buying the donuts is part of the strategic plan.
  • Create a toy corner where you and other staff can mingle and “play” with a variety of games and other fun stuff.
  • Color – keep a nice big box of Crayola’s on-hand.
  • Next week, encourage staff to swap stories about the fun they had over the weekend.
  • Allow physical distractions in the office such as: hall golf, desk-top football or cubicle badminton. Be creative. (Cubicle badminton:  wad a piece of 8 1/2 x 11 paper into a ball, use a steno pad or other spiral notebook to serve it over the net (cubicle wall) – discuss your latest project with your colleague while volleying back and forth.)

The options are endless for upping the happiness level of your home, office, or classroom. Keep your ideas simple, mix them up regularly, focus and savor the good stuff and then sit back and see what happens. I’d love to hear what works for you.

In my perfect world, orange Tootsie Roll Pops grow on trees; just thinking of it makes me smile. And, reaching up to pick one makes me very, very happy.

Today is my birthday . . .

I love birthdays! The fun never fades, mainly because I have been lucky enough to share my birthdays with my fabulous family and friends. This year is no exception. My birthday week got off to a great start; I spent Sunday with some of my favorite Macedonian friends in sunny Florida. Being with them reminded me of one of my best birthdays ever . . .

Four years ago, while I was in the Peace Corps, I hosted a wonderful party at my friends brand new B&B in the rural village of Dihovo, Macedonia. (In Macedonia, the birthday guy or gal hosts the festivities or treats his/her friends!) The party was Villa Dihovo’s grand opening; we ate and danced ourselves silly. Special thanks to Pece and Renata and their family for putting up with our American antics and to my awesome fellow PCVs – Dao, Kate and Mary for their culinary creations that day. Thanks also go to my friends, Barb and Sharyn, who were visiting from the States and joined the fun cleaning and cutting veggies! Super great memories at the foothills of the Baba Mountains. Since then, I have spent many amazing days and nights in Dihovo.

You can check out the Villa Dihovo web site, here, and read more about it and Macedonia in the Lonely Planet Guide to the Western Balkans. The section on Macedonia was written by a great guy and good friend of mine, Chris Deliso, who is a prolific travel and political writer. To read more about Macedonia, click here and here, and you can find more posts and photos if you select “Visit Macedonia” from the drop-down list in the “Select Categories” box on the Wishful Thinking Works home page.

My posts and the Lonely Planet Guide also have information about Villa Patrice/Patricia, which was the second B & B to open in Dihovo, and is owned by my kind and caring friends, Saso and Nevenka. Their villa is named after me, but they did all the work, spending years creating the perfect place for you to visit, relax and renew. A few hours on their tranquil balcony with its village and mountain views will refresh your spirit. And, no matter where you stay when you visit, a walk around the village of Dihovo will transform your soul.

Thanks for joining me as I walked down my birthday memory lane. To all my friends and family in the States and abroad, please know that I will be thinking of you throughout the day and the many, many ways you have touched my life and made it richer, deeper, gentler, and more fun. Thank you!

And to all my readers, my birthday wish for each of you is that wherever you are and whatever you are doing when you read this, I hope you take a few minutes to let a friend or family member know how much they mean to you. Please don’t wait for a special occasion to let someone you care about know the difference they’ve made in your life.

And, if you are in the mood, I’d love to hear about your birthday memories and traditions. What’s your favorite way to celebrate or your all-time best celebration? What’s your cake of choice – cheesecake, chocolate or anything as long as there’s frosting?


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The “ABCDE” method for changing your mind – for the better, redux

Today’s post is based on the work of  Dr. Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology. The goal of the ABCDE’s isn’t to sugar coat life, but to take a closer look at all the possibilities and allow us to weigh our options before accepting our perceptions. The perception you accept is up to you!

Would you like to reduce or to turn around your negative thoughts? Would you like react more positively when “things” go wrong?

If so, the ABCDE method for changing your mind might be helpful.

In 2007, Nicholas Hall wrote an article for the Positive Psychology News Daily website about how to use Dr. Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology’s, ABCDE method for objectively reviewing events or situations in our lives. I liked the way Hall described Seligman’s method.

I use versions of the method in my life and my life coaching practice, and thought it might be helpful to share it with you so you could use it. Following the ABCDE approach can help you pause, reflect and rewind. It can also help you review and reshape your thought patterns.


In a coaching session, I might use one of the ABCDE’s in the form of a question or assign them as homework after discussing them with a client. It takes a bit of time to familiarize yourself with them, but eventually you will learn to quickly review them in your mind when dealing with adversity. When I’m working with my or a client’s negative thoughts and patterns, I use “A” to take a look at situations that are causing stress. You can reduce your stress dramatically by simply unraveling what actually happened.

The most immediate benefit of the ABCDE method is realizing you can choose how you think about a situation, which also means you can create new patterns of thinking, reinforce positive patterns and change negatives ones.

Excerpts from Hall’s article for using the ABCDE approach to combat feelings of helplessness and depressing thoughts are detailed below in blue. My notes are in black.

Below is an outline of the ABCDE method for disputing your thoughts. The idea is that your thoughts can generate your feelings. So, if you take active control of your thoughts, you are in turn taking active control of your emotions (Reivich & Shatte, 2003).

Having a pen and paper handy is helpful with this exercise. Use these steps when dealing with adversity.

1. Adversity:

  • Describe a recent Adversity.
  • Include the Who, What, When, and Where of the situation.
  • Be specific and accurate in your description.
  • Don’t let your beliefs about the adversity creep in!
  • Be objective. I call these truth statements, because they focus solely on the facts.

EX: I got rejected today from an interesting program.

2. Beliefs:

  • Record what you were saying to yourself in the midst of the Adversity.
  • What was running through your mind?
  • Write it down verbatim. Don’t worry about being polite!

EX: “Man, this always happens.” “I’m just not good enough.” “It’s all about who you know, and I don’t know anybody.” ”Maybe I’m not cut out for this sort of thing.”

3. Consequences:

  • Record the Consequences of your Beliefs. (What did you feel and what did you do?)
  • Be specific. List all of the emotions you experienced and as many reactions as you can identify.
  • Ask yourself: Do your Consequences make sense given your Beliefs?
  • If you don’t have the Aha! experience, see if you can identify other Beliefs that you may have not been as aware of initially.

EX: I felt worse and worse thinking this way. I began to not take any action on other projects that I wanted or needed to do today. I felt pretty low, and I began comparing myself negatively to others that I thought were better off than me.

Yes, these feelings and actions DO make sense given those beliefs!

4. Dispute:

  • Generate one piece of Evidence to point out the inaccuracy in your Beliefs,
  • or generate a more accurate/optimistic Alternative belief about the Adversity,
  • or Put Into Perspective your Belief.
  • You can use the tag lines below to craft your responses:a. Evidence: That’s not completely true because…

EX: That’s not completely true because I know a lot of great people, and some of them are in great positions. I have achieved great things like this in the past.

b. Alternative: A more accurate way of seeing this is…

EX: It really is only for one week, it’s not like I got rejected from Yale.

c. Putting It In Perspective: The most likely outcome is… and I can… to handle it.

EX: The most likely outcome of this is that I put my energy into another big project I’m currently working on, and I can work harder and be more focused on this project and that will help me handle the rejection from the scholarship.

5. Energy:

  • Write a few sentences about how your Disputation changed your Energy.
  • What happened to your mood?
  • How did your behavior change?
  • What solutions did you see that you didn’t see before?

EX: My energy became more focused and clear. I felt much more competent in my abilities and in my future. My behavior changed by getting me back to working hard on the things that matter to me, because I want a positive future for myself. The solutions I saw were about what I could DO for myself, rather than let the world happen to me.


Peterson, C., Maier, S. & Seligman, M. E. P. (1975). Learned Helplessness: A Theory for the Age of Personal Control. New York: Freeman.

Reivich, K, & Shattẻ, A. (2002). The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles. New York: Broadway Books.

Seligman, M. E. P. (2006). Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. 2nd Edition. New York: Vintage.

The ABCDE method is a great tool for building the future you really want. Let me know how it works for you!

WTW Dandelion

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Enough said

“Action expresses priorities.”  Mahatma Gandhi

The Cliff Young Shuffle, redux

Each Friday in May, I will be reposting Wishful Thinking Works most popular posts. (New posts will still appear weekly on Monday or Tuesdays.) Almost a year ago, I shared the story of Cliff Young. Lately it has gotten so many new hits I thought I would start with his amazing story, which I call “Life is a marathon not a sprint.” . . .

I found 13,800 listings for Cliff Young online, yet before last week I’d never heard of him. I love that there is so much stuff out there just waiting for us to find what we need. 

Two things I really like about Young’s story are that he never thought it was too late to follow his passion, and by doing so he changed the way everyone else looked at his field.

I copied this story in its entirety from a January 13, 2009 blog post on Ploomy by “Anthony”.  Ploomy is “a blog for guys about the web, personal motivation, business, style, and more”, and is a play on the French word ‘nom de plume’, which means pen name. So, I am not really sure who the author is, but I like his style.

Learn How 61 Year Old Farmer Cliff Young Won the World’s Toughest Race

For many people, completing a single marathon already feels like a huge accomplishment, but an ultra marathon takes it to a completely different level.

Each year, Australia hosts arguably one of the world’s toughest endurance races called the Westfield Sydney to Melbourne Ultra Marathon.

The race is run between two of Australia’s largest shopping malls, one in Sydney and the other in Melbourne, takes a staggering 5 days to complete and traverses an astonishing 875 kilometers (544 miles).

In 1983, an unknown 61-year-old potato-farmer named Cliff Young showed up on race day. He was everything the other runners were not.  He was older, wore overalls and ran in boots. Much to the surprise of everyone in attendance, Cliff hadn’t come there to watch that day, he came to race.

Because of the advanced training required with a race like this, a majority of the competitors were younger and had experience competing at an elite level. Many of them were professional athletes with good equipment and even sponsored by well known shoe companies.

When the race began, and as some probably anticipated, it didn’t take too long for the elite runners to leave Cliff behind. Many of the spectators and media following the race watched with interest because he had such an unusual and unique running style. Many thought Cliff really wasn’t serious and thought it could all be just a publicity stunt. Because of his advanced age, many even feared for his health and questioned whether or not he could even finish the race.

“See, I grew up on a farm where we couldn’t afford horses or four wheel drives, and the whole time I was growing up– until about four years ago when we finally made some money and got a four wheeler– whenever the storms would roll in, I’d have to go out and round up the sheep. We had 2,000 head, and we have 2,000 acres. Sometimes I would have to run those sheep for two or three days. It took a long time, but I’d catch them. I believe I can run this race; it’s only two more days. Five days. I’ve run sheep for three.”

All of the runners taking part in the race knew that it took roughly 5 days to complete the race.  The established formula to win the race at the time was run for 18 hours and sleep for 6 hours.  Everyone knew this strategy, except for Cliff.  He had no idea!

On the morning of the second day, everyone was surprised to learn that Cliff was still in the race.  Not only was he still in race, but he had continued to run throughout the entire night without stopping.

When asked what his strategy was for the remainder of the race, he let everyone know his plan was to keep running straight to the finish line without sleeping.

As the race went on, Cliff kept running slowly with his now familiar shuffle. Each night he inched closer and closer to the front runners as they rested their 6 hours. During the final night of the race, Cliff had finally caught up to and eventually passed the pack of professional athletes while they were sleeping.  When he crossed the finish line first that day, he had set the new course record and beat his competitors by a large margin.

As the winner of the race, Cliff was awarded a prize of $10,000. He didn’t even know about the prize and insisted that it was not why he chose to race in the first place.  In a selfless act, Cliff donated all of his winnings to some of his fellow runners and in so doing won the hearts and minds of many.

Cliff’s unusual running style was dubbed the “Young shuffle” and has been adopted by some ultra-marathon runners because of the fact that it uses less energy. At least three winners of the Westfield Sydney to Melbourne ultra marathon race have been known to use the shuffle during their wins.

Today, it is commonplace for competitors in ultra marathoners to run without sleeping. They might not all know it, but they can probably thank Cliff Young for that.

I hope your weekend is great, and that you spend a bit of it pursuing your dreams.

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The upside of failure

The truth

Lately, lots of articles on the subject of “the upside of failure” have been popping-up in my mailbox. Some go so far as to suggest that without failure our growth will be stunted, and in turn, our lives will be much less rewarding than they could be.

Throughout the years, plenty of people have asked me different versions of the “upside” question – “How do I deal with failure?” “How can I handle this?” “Why aren’t I better at this?” “Why is this happening to me?”

The truth is I’m not sure there is an upside to failure, or that there needs to be or that the question should even be asked or debated. I think failure is a simple fact of life. If we are alive, we will fail at something at some time – whether it is learning to walk, falling in love, getting and keeping a job or starting a business. I also believe that failure doesn’t have to be an “end” or a “beginning” or even a defining factor of our life. Perhaps, it is just something that happens to us – like being born.

The flip side

On the flip side, I know many, many people who have failed in some way and have gone on to succeed, and I’ve read hundreds and hundreds of stories of folks, who have turned their personal and professional lives right-side-up after tragedy and trauma. I’m sure you, too, have read and may have been inspired by people, who have crawled out of physical and emotional gutters, successfully scaled walls of denials, and left behind pasts that could have haunted them forever – I know I have.

Millions have succeeded against all odds, and lived to tell their tales. And, many of them credit their short-term failures for their long-term success, I’m truly not saying there is anything wrong with that, but here’s the kicker.

What’s really important

What I think is of much greater importance than wondering or worrying about how failure impacts or inspires us, is learning how to deal with it. I think when our backs are to the wall, instead of beating-up on ourselves or trying to claw our way out of or hide in a corner, it is much more productive to ask ourselves one or all of the following 3 questions.

  1. “Who do I want to be?”
  2. “How do I want to act?”
  3. “How do I want to be remembered?”

Sure-fire triggers

Asking these questions during times of sadness, strife or hopelessness may seem trite or, at least, incredibly bad timing, but they are sure-fire triggers to finding or unearthing your core. Asking who you are or really want to be, will engage the best part of you, which is a great way to counteract the pang or pain of failure. The minute I pose the questions, I know I’m on my way out of whatever personal or professional quagmire I have gotten myself into.

(Believe me, there are plenty of times when I want “my way” or for everything to go “my way”. I also hate messing-up or failing, especially publicly. And, I admit that when I feel really lousy or scared I can easily convince myself that fussing and fretting, ranting and raving, whining and crying are the way to go. Even though I know these options are not the answer to my situation, mood, or life, until I ask myself the questions, they can seem like viable options.)

Listen to the answers

So, instead of digging in my heels, cowering in the corner or kicking at the sand, (for too long) I’ve learned to ask myself the questions – or to call a friend, who I know will be more than willing to ask me the questions.

And, then I do the really difficult thing . . . I listen to my answers.

I’m not saying the answers are always easy to hear or accept, or that they lead me to immediate action, but I know they will direct me down the right path.

I also know that the minute I ask myself, “Who do I want to be?” my brain will switch to “go” mode and all the whining and crying in the world won’t replace the fact that I can and will do better.

The plan

So, the next time your heart is broken, your reputation is tarnished, or your dreams are fading and throwing in the towel, a hissy fit or yelling, drinking, smoking or overeating seem like perfect options –  ask yourself one or all of these questions:

  1. “Who do I want to be?”
  2. “How do I want to act?”
  3. “How do I want to be remembered?”

Then trust your judgment and your ability to act congruently with who you are or want to be by listening to that teeny, tiny voice way down deep inside of you, because that voice is the real you, and if you let it, it will steer you in the right direction.


Let us know your thoughts, and, if you are feeling brave and want to get the discussion started about how you turned or want to turn failure and fear into who you really are – please do. Your story might inspire others, and there is nothing wrong with that!

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