Learn to Thrive at Work and in Life

I love new beginnings and love this time of year. As a life coach and a person who’s generally obsessed with helping others maximize health, happiness and quality of life, I’m always watching life as it unfolds in wise, magical and surprising ways.

Here are the top things that I’ve learned in the last year or so – hopefully they’ll accelerate your own learning curve and save you some of the stress and effort I went through to figure this stuff out:

1) Listen to and act on your instincts

I really, really hope I’ve finally gotten this one. In my life, several moments stand out as times that my instincts were screaming at me and I stupidly steamrolled them. One was when I bought a beautiful loft condo in my twenties with a man I’d been dating for three months. My instincts were shrieking at the top of their lungs as I signed that mortgage paper (really, my conscious mind should have been screaming louder than my instincts but I was young and stupid).

I should have followed my impulse to literally run from the table, but I remember worrying that the mortgage broker would think I was nuts and that I’d cause a scene. In the end, I lost everything I invested and the man who was soon to be my ex-boyfriend walked away with a huge profit.

Last year, listening to my instincts blessedly pulled me back from the edge of another potentially disastrous real estate investment, and also caused me to cancel two fabulous trips because of a strange sense of foreboding. In the latter cases I’ll never know what I might have been spared, but when I also followed my instincts and booked an impulsive trip to Italy instead, I discovered answers to questions I’d been running from for years.

Don’t ignore your instincts.

2) Don’t try to reason with unreasonable people

I’m a people-pleaser and have finally realized and fully acknowledged just how much energy and emotion I used to invest in trying to get unfriendly unreasonable people to understand or like me. This year, with the help of an awesome coach, I finally learned to stop trying to win these types over. In the past, if someone unfairly accused me of something or judged me incorrectly or just plain didn’t seem to approve of me, I would do everything I could to help them understand me and reverse their opinion. No more.

You know who these people are. Learn to deflect their comments and challenges, don’t react or let them upset you, don’t bother trying to explain or convince. Be as kind to them as you can in doing so, but don’t waste your breath or precious time on trying to reason with them once it’s clear that they’re just plain unreasonable.

3) Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, eat dinner like a pauper

If you typically skip breakfast or eat something quick (think coffee and a sweet treat), eating a more substantial morning meal that contains protein, healthy fat, fiber and a fruit or vegetable will supercharge your day like you wouldn’t believe. People who eat a solid breakfast have been shown in studies to perform substantially better on exams, and they also are more likely to successfully lose weight and keep it off.

On the other hand, eating a big meal in the evening triggers a surge of insulin and other hormones that are the last thing you want floating around your body while you’re sleeping. This can affect the quality of your sleep, accelerate weight gain, set you up to develop diabetes, age you more quickly and decrease your body’s ability to weather stress. This one’s a hard habit to break, but I’m trying!

4) Make spiritual time a daily priority

My spiritual life and faith have always been very important to me, but like most people it was something I tended to lean on primarily when times were tough. There’s tons of scientific literature out there supporting the benefits of spiritual beliefs and lifestyle practices on our immune system, mental health, physical health etc. This year I finally developed the habit of making time for prayer and reflection first thing in the morning and the last thing at night, and have experienced great peace, insight and focus as a result. Now, I wouldn’t dare skip it.

5) Track your spending and be accountable to yourself financially

I love this quote from Dave Ramsey: "If you will live like no one else, one day you will live like no one else." Over the last few months I have been studying his "Financial Peace University" course; the effects on my financial habits and bottom line have been profound. I’ve been blessed for years with a good solid income, but somehow always managed to fritter the bulk of it away through bad decisions (see #1), mindless spending, and being overly comfortable with credit and debt. Thanks to Dave I’ve learned to see my habits in the cold hard light of truth, and learned to control money rather than letting it control me – I encourage you to do the same!

6) Get up early to find the extra time you long for

As I wrote about in my post Confessions of a Reformed Night Owl , I have finally cured myself of my lifelong habit of going to bed late. Most of us find it very hard to find time in our crazy busy days to do the important things that don’t have deadlines (e.g. taking steps toward a dream, writing that book that’s inside you, yoga or other exercise, spiritual time and reflection), and once the day is over we’re tired and it’s too late. Even if you go to bed and get up just an hour earlier, you’ll be amazed by the satisfaction you get from maximizing the gift of early morning time.

7) Make family a top priority

Because I’m obsessed with figuring out what creates true happiness and contentment, I’m always asking myself and observing what makes me happiest. Research consistently points to our relationships as a prime source of happiness and health. This year, hands down, my best times have been with family, particularly my sisters and my gorgeous nephews.

Though we live far apart, spending time with them has become my top priority. I recently spent Christmas with my sister in Brooklyn, and just spent a New Year’s week with our entire clan. I’ve had to make some major sacrifices in order to make these trips possible, and there can sometimes be some challenging tensions, but I know that the moments of joy and memories will be priceless. Who do you need to spend more time with, no matter what?

8) Take time regularly to be alone without distractions

During the trip to Italy I mentioned above, I found myself without my laptop, without decent books to read, and without anyone to talk to. For the first time in a long time, I had to face my life, my self, and my deepest feelings without the usual superficial distractions and escapes. It wasn’t easy by any means, but the insights I gained helped me immeasurably and I went home a changed person.

We live in such an incredibly distracting environment where it’s almost impossible to really hear your deepest self. Even if it’s just going off by yourself for an afternoon without your smartphone, make time whenever you can to interrupt the constant hum of life. You’ll be amazed by what you discover.

9) If you want to become an overnight success, regularly do the small steady steps required to do to get there

Lately I’ve watched a number of colleagues suddenly hit escape velocity with their careers and their dreams. For me, too, after years of working steadily at my various passions, business suddenly took off with seemingly no explanation as to "why now?"

The only answer in each of these cases that I could find was this: everyone who I saw succeeding had been tirelessly plugging away at their dream, often with little reward or reinforcement, for years.

The above colleagues, who are mostly bloggers, had posted every day or week without ever giving up. The results have suddenly become spectacular, though often there was no indication that things would ever really catch fire. It sucks that you might have to work steadily (and even unsuccessfully) for a long time without evidence that your dreams will ever materialize, but it seems to be the key to success in this often ironic life.

10) Dream big because life is miraculous
Life truly is amazing. Just when you thought all was lost, the miracle finally shows up. Or, life comes full circle in a way so perfect and over-the-top that you would have hardly dared to ask for it.

Years ago, my passion for a more complete kind of medicine was birthed by reading the work of integrative medicine pioneer Dr. Andrew Weil. Last year, I shared the stage with my wellness hero, and was stunned to hear that he had heard of my work. When he emailed me afterwards, I printed it out – I’ll probably laminate it and hang it in my office to remind myself of just how awesomely life can deliver and surprise.

Similarly, my sister Laila, now an award-winning, internationally celebrated jazz singer, pianist and composer (www.lailabiali.com ), was mocked years ago for her "ridiculous" dream of hoping to one day meet Sting. Bet that person felt pretty ridiculous if they ever heard that she eventually rehearsed with her musical superhero at his estate in Tuscany, and appeared singing alongside him on the Today Show, Late Night with Letterman and other major shows, as well as on his A Winter’s Night DVD.

Don’t ever give up on life. Walk through it with hopeful anticipation and keep your eyes wide open. And be sure to share the stories of your joys and miracles with me. Also, what tip would you give people, based on your experience, that would help them avoid unnecessary pain and enjoy more happiness and success? Let me know in the comment section below…

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