Author: Rebekah Burke

Taking the Guesswork Out of Goal Setting

goal-settingWe all have things we want to be able to do in our lives, and sometimes we end up getting to where we want to go. If we work hard, have a direction and remain focused things generally work out the way we had hoped. But not everyone is organized and focused, not everyone is able to maintain drive to get to where they really want to go. If you are that person sometimes things can seem overwhelming and you seem to constantly get distracted by life that your goals never seem to get any closer.

What if you created a road map for yourself? Took the difficulty of focusing right out and just followed the steps laid out for you? The good news is that this is actually pretty easy, but it does take some insight and some ability to look ahead. And then you will need to stay committed to it too; you need to follow your map. But here is how to make one.

  1. List what your goal is and when you would like to achieve it by. Be specific about this, if your goal is to worry less say something like: I will be ok with last minute changes to plans by the end of May 2014.
  2. Outline what qualities or skills you need to develop to make that a reality. If your goal is more task oriented, outline what steps you need to take to get things done. Following the example, you might need to develop flexibility, better communication regarding spontaneous changes, and better relaxation techniques.
  3. Write yourself a recipe for success. Give yourself deadlines when you would like to have developed your skills or complete your tasks by. When you pace yourself and are constantly checking in about when things should be moving along, a big goal seems so much more manageable.  You may want to have 2-3 great ways to relax by the end of January, be comfortable and effective in telling others that you are stressed or anxious by mid March, and be more flexible by May.
  4. Share your goal-map with someone who can keep you on track. This is like a workout buddy or an accountability partner. This should be someone you can count on and someone who is invested in your success! Find a time to check in every week or two weeks so they can give you encouragement and help you meet your goal.

By following this process you are taking the fuzzy edges around the things you know that you want for you life at some point in the future, and you are trimming them away, defining things and framing a new lifestyle for yourself.  When you start your outline process you will see how much more you can achieve and how doable your goals really are.1


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Out with the Old, In with the New

It is amazing what we can learn about life by listening to our bodies. I have been working on breathing a lot lately, especially when it comes to helping people deal with issues around anxiety and stress. When we get really worked up and our worry, our anxiety, starts to run the show then deep-breathwe don’t allow our body to fully exhale. The body hyperventilates and the breath is shallow. When that happens the inhale becomes rapid and short and the body doesn’t take in the oxygen it needs.

All of that is to say that when we breathe the way our bodies naturally breathe best (the kind of breath that occurs in deep, restful sleep) we are exhaling fully, emptying all of the air and breathing deeply to fill the lungs with fresh oxygen. When we take in that fresh oxygen we are giving our body another opportunity to sustain life, another opportunity to move forward. The complete exhale makes room for that deep inhale, that full opportunity, to happen.

What would it be like to draw a parallel between our breath and the way we look at life?

When we exhale fully we are letting go, shedding the air that no longer serves us, the air that has completed its task. When we let go we are freeing ourselves up for new and full opportunities. Sometimes it is difficult to do that, scary even. What if we aren’t able to take in enough air? What if we start to feel lightheaded and uncomfortable? There is something about holding onto the air we already have (as used as it may be) that is comforting. We want to hold onto it because it is familiar and it gives us the illusion of fullness.

If we don’t let go off that used, hot air, then we can’t fully take in the new, fresh air around us. Just the same, when we don’t let go of the things that no longer serve us, the stuff that is used, we aren’t able to fully pull in the opportunity to start again. To breathe in fully is the same as moving forward to new opportunities in our lives where we can be refreshed and fulfilled. By keeping old air in that space is to deny ourselves of the full opportunity to move forward.

Where in your life are you holding onto old, hot air that has already served its function? Are you wanting to feel better about your work performance but can’t let go of the comfort of letting others take the lead? Are you wanting to take your relationships to a new level but are hesitant to move forward? Are you wanting to start a healthier lifestyle but find that letting go of certain creature comforts is overwhelming?

For every space in your life where you feel afraid to fully let go of the old things that no longer serve you, consider what you have to gain by exhaling fully and inhaling the new possibilities. Is it worth the temporary discomfort to potentially move yourself to a new, fresh place? A place you have been wanting to go but have been hesitant to go there?1


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Finding Your Own Version of Normal

The more I spend time with other people, watching family interactions, or watching movies, I find that we all have our own definition of normal.

Family #1
where-credit-is-dueThis family knows that things are right on track when the oldest two kids are fighting with each other, the babies are crawling all over Mom and Dad hollers from the couch for everyone to settle down. The house is a general wreck because the baby’s toys are everywhere and Mom can never seem to get the kitchen fully in order. Dad has a “man cave” and when he gets home he retreats there for 20 min to pull himself together for the tornado that is home. Regardless of the chaos, you can feel the love (maybe not between the older two) and there is a lot of support for each other.

Family #2
family-room-lWhen you walk into their house everything is spotless, the house is well maintained and everything, while not new, is in its place. The children pick at each other when the adults aren’t around and make faces when Mom or Dad is in the room.  Mom and Dad never yell, they have a look that the kids know means trouble. It is quiet and orderly and instead of bear hugs and sloppy kisses, the children get a pat on the back and a soft kiss on the cheek. There is little to no physical contact but everyone still orients toward each other and there is a sense of safety.

Family 1 and 2 could not be more different, but neither way of interacting is wrong or better than the other. Each of our families have their own version of what normal is. We as individuals also have our own version of normal. Maybe you know your anxiety is normal when you have acid reflux as a symptom but when you start to feel tense in your chest and shoulders you know this is something serious.

By understanding what our usual is we are better able to notice when we have drifted off course and we are more likely to know what to do to fix it.

Where do things get weird for you? Is it in your family interactions? In you own stress levels? Is it your self-esteem?

Identify what the problem is likely to be. Then outline what your normal response is, the one that lets you know that this is your usual and you can handle it. Finally take note of whether or not you are drifting off course or if you are on target, if you are drifting see what needs to happen to bring yourself back to your version of normal.1


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Love Your Holiday: Prepare, Don’t Anticipate

Anticipation. This is the time of year for it. We are all excited for what is coming, we are adjusting our efforts and schedules to get things done so we can enjoy the payoff of the holidays. It is supposed to be fun and joyful – but is that what really happens? My guess is probably not. I highly doubt everything goes according to plan and that all of the stress ends up being worth it come January. You are left being stressed, broke, and maybe a bit disappointed. With all that anticipation, why didn’t things pan out the way you had hoped? What stopped your days from being merry and bright?

I think the A in Anxiety stands for anticipation. Anticipation is the feeling of strained excitement (can be negative or positive) that builds before an expected event or situation. When we set ourselves up to anticipate an event that we expect will be positive we are dropped to an all time low when it doesn’t met the Everest we were hoping for. On the other hand when we anticipate things will be stressful or bad (in-laws anyone?) we find that our anticipation is confirmed with a strained and stressful interaction.

If anticipation usually leads to a bad outcome with you feeling let down then how do we deal with that? How do we stop anticipating? The simple answer is “you don’t.” We are biologically wired to anticipate. There is something evolutionary in our make-up that helped us survive by anticipating so we were ready to protect ourselves, to seize opportunities, to act when called upon. So I hope that makes you feel a little bit better – we all do this.

The people who are successful at not letting their anticipation lead their experience have mastered to art of realistic thinking and maintaining a calm mind. So if you don’t want your anticipation leaving you feeling like you missed out on something, check in with the reality of the situation. What are the facts going into this event? What do you KNOW? When you have that sorted out, what are the likely outcomes based on history and your personal experience? Just try to take the rosy picture you have painted and stick it under some light. Examine the parts that may be a bit too rosy, too optimistic and make them more realistic.

Once you have your realistic picture, when you know what you are walking into, then trust yourself to handle it. Take peace in knowing that you are the best person to have in this situation and that you have done your homework on this. You’ve got this! Maybe it would be a more reassuring to see where you have more control for if things get hairy or uncomfortable. Do you need to drive separately so you can leave if you want? Maybe taking 15 min to make a phone call or check something would be just enough time to collect yourself.

The holidays are meant to be a time of joy where we can spend time with those we love. That always comes with its own bells and whistles, but when we prepare ourselves for the season’s events instead of anticipating them we can actually enjoy them like we want to.1


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Mastering Hard Conversations (Instead of Running from Hard Truths)

I hate having tough conversations. I will avoid a person for hours until I am able to figure out how to bring up a new subject or distract them (or mostly myself) from whatever the issue was. We have to have hard conversations all the time and with people that are important. It wouldn’t be a hard conversation if you just had to tell some stranger that they were a jerk. No, hard conversations are hard because they matter. They matter to us and they can cart the course of a relationship depending on how successful or royally awful they are in the end.


Hard conversations mark turning points in our lives. This is the difference between being a mom and her little girl and being a mother and adult daughter. Two friends go into a hard conversation and come out as bros, or feeling like sisters, the friendship is now lasting and more important to both people. A couple goes into a hard conversation and they come out stronger than ever.

A hard conversation means that growth and change is happening and those things are never comfortable. The way we feel going into these moments can be agonizing. The anxiety that builds up in your body makes you feel sick, your stomach flips, you get a headache, you keep clenching your fists, you clench your jaw, you can’t see straight. The anxiety builds until you either break down and talk about what’s bothering you, or you talk yourself out of it.

We already know what happens when you have the courage to say what needs to be said. But when you don’t, when you decide that you would rather avoid the point all together then things can get ugly. Avoidance sends a message to yourself that your feelings are not important enough to do something about. You are writing yourself off and your self worth takes a hit because of that. Avoidance also doesn’t take care of the issue, whether we pin it on ourselves for being out of line or upset without a good reason does not matter. We are still left with a pile of tension in the room and someone is going to have to wade though that sooner or later.

Obviously the best course is to build our courage to talk about what is bothering us.  And that is hard. I literally walked in and out of a room 3 times before I could talk to my mom about something that had been bothering me for years. Whatever you need to do before talking it out. Power pose maybe? But at any rate, how do you have these conversations well?

Give yourself some space and think about what you are really upset about.
You are not really mad that Joe didn’t do the dishes last night, you are mad because you feel like he doesn’t value your time.

Outline what your feelings really are and identify their trigger.
The trigger was not doing the dishes and while you still want them to get done that is not the real problem. Your feelings of being invalidated are the real problem and dirty dishes are a raw spot for that vulnerable feeling.

Use “I” statements to explain your feelings.
Finger pointing and emotional hurricanes accomplish nothing. They feel good for about 2 min and then you feel terrible. Use the template at the end of the post to tell the other person how you feel, when you feel that way, and why you felt that way.

Give them some space to process what you said.
Often when we talk about what we are really feeling, not the obvious “I am pissed because you left the dishes dirty. Again,” but the more subtle and honest, “I feel like my time isn’t important to you,” the other person has no idea they have hurt us. They know we are mad or that we are acting “weird” but they don’t know the depth of our pain. Give them time to let that sink in and space to ask for clarification. The people that mean the most to use don’t want us to feel hurt.

Follow those steps and that will get you started with the tough conversation. After that it is all up to you. You got this! After the ball gets rolling, things usually take care of themselves and words flow like the need to flow.1


“I feel ________________, when you __________________, because _____________________.”

Ex: “I feel angry when you don’t do the dishes at the end of the day because it seems to me that the time I spend working isn’t worthwhile enough and that I must also do the dishes to contribute to the family.”


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Cultivating Happiness

With Thanksgiving right around the corner I have been hearing a lot about being thankful and noticing where we can have an attitude of gratitude instead of dwelling on the things that we wish were better. If you have been reading anything I have posted you know I am a big fan of being proactive and intentional. Can you tell what is coming? That’s right – we are about to get intentional with our happiness and gratitude.

Yesterday Erin wrote a great post on keeping a Gratitude journal. It is an awesome idea and if you haven’t read the post please check it out here. It will be time well spent! I want to take that idea of noticing good things in our lives and take it a step further. How would it be if we created opportunities for ourselves that we are thankful for or that made us happy?

happinessHere’s the challenge: If you have been thinking how nice it would be to get together with family, to call up an old friend, go for a hike, whatever it is – I want you to make an opportunity for yourself to do just that! This does not need to be something that takes a lot of time or money or effort. Does it get any easier than that? A phone call takes minutes and is free. Spending time with your family can be a lot of fun and with the holidays coming up you have the perfect moment to get folks together to do something a little out of the ordinary.

There will always be a million things that we want to do and a million and one reasons why we shouldn’t go and do them. Those reasons that are keeping us from the things that make us happy are keeping you from cultivating an experience of joy. When you take care of everything else on your list but the thing that would make you smile or just feel good then you are doing yourself a disservice. You are your most important investment and when you take the time to take care of you then the other things on your list the things you need to accomplish will be so much easier to knock out.

Now taking time to invest in ourselves and as Erin put it to “build our family timehappy” is a difficult thing to do in today’s culture. We constantly hear that we need to do things for us, we are number one, but then we get a mixed message that we should not be selfish or self-serving. We need to be humble and still do everything to stay on top. That is confusing and it wears a body out! We are getting mixed messages and it is darn near impossible to please both sides. Of course we want to be able to be there for others and do avoid that selfish label like the plague, but we also want to be happy and do good things for us.

So how is this challenge of creating opportunities for happiness different from the cultural messages we are slammed with every day? I would venture to say that by cultivating a lifestyle of happiness through small experiences of joy we are setting ourselves up to be able to pour out to others. We proactively build our happiness through small attitude and action shifts and when we do that we have more energy to be our best with the people around us. Happiness is contagious and when we are happy, through shifting our attention to an attitude of gratitude or creating opportunities for happiness, the people we come into contact with have a prime example of how to cultivate happiness in their own lives as well.1


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Risky Business: Some Risks Lead to Big Gains

risky businessMany of us have seen that iconic scene where Tom Cruise slides across the floor in Risky Business. It gives a pretty solid picture of taking advantage of the moment, doing something risky and legendary and worrying about the consequences later. Ferris Bueller did the same thing. If only I had been as skilled in faking sick 101.

Please don’t think I am commending these guys for breaking a lot of rules and doing things they shouldn’t have been doing. What I want to highlight is how the risks they took lead to once in a lifetime experiences and a years worth of interesting stories. Had they played it safe two things would have happened.

  1. We would have had to watch a really boring movie
  2. They would have missed out on those experiences that I would venture to say were impactful on their lives

We don’t need to do anything illegal or sneak around to take risks and have life-changing experiences. But we do need to get a little uncomfortable. If you are someone who plays it safe you probably always know what to expect, you can plan for it and life feels safe. Maybe you play it safe because you worry about what would happen if you deviated from the norm. You lack the support or confidence to step outside the box. And as a result you are comfortable, but maybe you are also predictable and left a little wanting. You know there is more to life than this – that you can be more and that you can do more. 

Taking the plunge, taking a risk can be one of the most terrifying things you do. But it also has the potential to be very rewarding, the possibilities for you double when you decide to get a little uncomfortable and take a risk.

What is your risk? Where do you see your life becoming stale? Where you are left comfortable and safe but without room to grow and become the more that you know you can be?

Risks are uncomfortable because risks lead to change which is the golden opportunity for growth and that doesn’t always feel good. Anybody heard of growing pains? It is an uncomfortable process but when you come out on the other side you are more than you were when you went in. If you choose the risks you will take with care and execute them with support you will have achieved something very exciting – you will have stepped out of your comfort zone successfully and the world will present more opportunities for you.  It’s all about the first step. Are you ready for some risky business?1


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Oooh – You Feel Tense!

tenseHave you noticed that more and more often we feel uncomfortable? Sometimes that is due to natural aging (you know bodies weren’t meant to last forever) and sometimes that is due to stress. Because anxiety takes a physical toll on our bodies the more we are mentally tense the more we are physically tense too.

If your body is very tense and sore with uncomfortable muscles then you might be experiencing anxiety and you didn’t even realize it. You might be clenching your jaw or tightening your shoulders and neck. Often we notice our physical symptoms before we realize there is something to be done about our mental wellbeing.

Take an inventory of your body. Do you have chronic tightness or soreness in any area of your body? Focus on your chest, shoulders, neck, and jaw. Did you find anything? Can you attribute that discomfort to anything else? If you work on a computer all day you probably have tight shoulders and a sore back, so work conditions may be contributing to your physical discomfort without any mental discomfort underlying that.

If or when you notice that you are carrying tension in your body as a result of anxiety or stress then make note of that and bring that to your attention. Work to relax the area of your body that you are tensing (you’ll find that your whole body will relax too!).

Do some shoulder rolls, forward and back moving your shoulder blades around and over the socket where your arm meets your shoulder.

Do slow head rolls tilting your right ear to right shoulder and then rolling your head around to the front where your chin is to your chest then continue rolling to the left side, ear to shoulder again. When you have moved from right to left move from left to right, rotating forward and around until you feel a release. If there is any tight space move slower and slower in that area to give it extra attention.

When you catch yourself clenching release your jaw muscles so your teeth are not resting on each other. Take your hands and massage the joint at the back of your jaw where the jaw bone connects to the rest of your face (just in front of the ear). Feel free to move your jaw from side to side with your hands, gently and slowly.

Find a place where you can lay on the floor and spread your arms out in a big T or out to goal post arms (some people call them cactus arms – just make a T and bend at the elbow). Spend a few good minutes breathing into your chest. Take the tension out of that space and let it melt down through your arms.

These tricks are great for relaxing a specific muscle group on the spot when you feel tension. In order to really relax and keep your body more comfortable and in control when you feel very stressed try progressive muscle relaxation (more on that later!) or anything else that you find very relaxing. Massage anyone!?1


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Small Annoyances Can Lead to Big Pain

wellnessI have heard a lot about health care reform in the past few days. Well . . . past few years is more accurate I guess. But at any rate the message that I keep taking home is that health is important – we need to have the ability to take care of ourselves. That not only includes taking care of our bodies but also taking care of our minds so that we are better able to deal with the stresses that sometimes impact our physical health as well.

Wellness starts with prevention, you don’t really want to wait until you are in severe pain to look into getting help for something that could have been taken care of when it was a minor annoyance. The same goes for mental health. Do you have any small annoyances or small discomforts right now? Are you brushing them off?

It is so easy to take a small bother and tell ourselves that we just need to get over it, that it will pass, this is just a phase, this will be gone next week. Whatever we are saying there is a need we have that we are actively neglecting. Wishful thinking says that:

Things will get better on their own.

Wise thinking says:

I need to look into this and see what I can do to make myself feel better.

That is the beauty of this! You don’t have to sit and wait for a situation to take care of itself – these are your feelings and you can make yourself feel better!

  • Where can you do something now to make yourself feel better?
  • What steps do you need to take to accomplish this?
  • Who do you need to tell so you have support and guidance as you work through this small problem to keep it from becoming a big problem?

This is really self-advocacy. When we are stressed, sad, mad, annoyed, worried, afraid, or another emotion that is uncomfortable you don’t earn brownie points for sitting in that uncomfortable space and just dealing with it. That is how people bottle up their feelings and explode, making the whole thing much worse and much more painful. Haw can you work towards comfort and wellness and avoid larger pain?1


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Savor The Moment: Mindfulness In Your Daily Life

dessertWho doesn’t like dessert? If someone tells you they don’t like dessert don’t believe them. They are obviously gravely mistaken or severely ill. Dessert is awesome. Sometimes when I have dessert I take the time to really enjoy it, to savor it and the sweet boost to my day. That is sometimes – most of the time my taste buds freak out and I eat whatever it is really fast! It tastes so good and my brain is going in to overdrive. I cannot slow down and appreciate the moment.

If we are all truthful with ourselves we do this a lot with many different things – we get excited or overwhelmed with the anticipation and we move through the good moment at 100 mph. How many things do we miss out on because we zip though it? How many opportunities to make the good things truly memorable and lasting have we missed?

We don’t just gun it through the good things we have been looking forward to – we speed right through the uncomfortable things as well. Move through the situation or event as fast as humanly possible so we don’t have to marinate in the discomfort. What could we have gained by sitting in that space a little longer?

If you have ever gotten a massage you know that when working on a tight muscle or a knot it is uncomfortable when pressure is gradually and firmly applied and the discomfort builds until the tightness finally releases and then you feel so much better. If you had shied away from the discomfort then you wouldn’t get to experience the sweet relief that followed. Although it was uncomfortable, savoring that moment is worth it to get the pay off in the end.

This idea of savoring can be applied to work, kids, significant others, recreation, any moment of your day-to-day existence is worth noticing.

When you see yourself zipping through a moment catch yourself and see why it is you are speeding through. Are you escaping discomfort? Are you carried away because the moment is so good? Are you not being mindful of the moment?

When you are able to identify why you aren’t savoring then do some soul searching and decide if there is anything to be gained by slowing down a bit and savoring the moment.

Enjoy your time and your experiences. Even those that are more difficult to savor, often those have a sweet pay-off if we can hang in there. Your experience is worth your attention – so savor it!1


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