Monday, June 27, 2011

Dumb Bunny?

I have heard the expression “Dumb Bunny” used for years. Our pet rabbit does not appreciate this term. Tinkles is a sensitive creature and a tad grouchy. I don’t want to upset him so I try not to use the “dumb bunny” idiom. In fact, our pet is not only a smart little hopper, he was a catalyst for an enlightening experience.

We recently went on a combination vacation and book tour. Tinkles came along for the ride. He has a shelf in the back of the camper which houses his bunny cage. He has a traveling bin in the front of the truck cab as well. While my spouse, CB and I admired the rolling landscape, Tinkles was trolling for bites of moist, green grass.

We live in sunny Arizona so a mouthful of unfertilized, pesticide-free grass is not easily available. Tinkles has to settle for hay, grain and the occasional carrot or peanut. However, while we were on the road – camping or in a hotel – the Northern California Coast provided grass galore. CB created a makeshift pen for Tinkles from a small laundry basket. CB cut a dinner plate-sized hole in the bottom of the pen so we can place it on the grass and Tinkles can eat grass to his little heart’s content.

During our road trip our "fur baby" was in bunny heaven. Unfortunately, our vacation came to an end. Returning to Arizona was a bit of a culture shock. The desert climate resembled Dante’s inferno more than a lagomorph’s verdant paradise. Tinkles’ daily servings of delicious, moist and tasty grass reverted back to a handful of dried hay. Upon reflection, I think the expression “What the hay!” came from an unsatisfied rabbit. Of course it could have been Mr. Ed. But I digress. Anyway, when we returned home, Tinkles turned his nose up at his Arizona meals. He begrudgingly ate his grain, but he ignored his hay. He had been a happy camper, but he was not a happy bunny.

For about two weeks Tinkles refused to eat his hay. I did not want him to get constipated so I did not increase his grain. He complained by tossing his little dish around. He also refused to be held for longer than a minute. He remembered better times (and meals) and he was going to hold out until the green grass returned.

This probably sounds like the amusing behavior of a silly rabbit. However, how many times have we done something similar? We suffer a setback and refuse to allow joyful moments to penetrate our hearts and minds. Or we put a stipulation on our happiness such as: “I will be happy when I get a better job.” “I’ll be happy when I’m in a relationship.” We hold our personal joy hostage to these possible happier outcomes that may or may not happen in the future. It’s like Tinkles holding out for greener pastures.

To make matters worse, many of us disregard the blessings we encounter every day. Instead we chose to replay our miserable stories from the past. It’s as if our brain is a DVD player and we keep playing the snippets from the saddest moments of our lives. And we don’t just play this melodrama once. We play it over and over again.

This practice is a lot more masochistic than we may realize. Kebba Buckley Button’s new book, Peace Within, quotes research from a medical conference in 1995 that stated that if a person holds onto a negative thought for five minutes, the parasympathetic nervous system is adversely affected in eight factors for six hours!

In our book Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within, my friend and co-author Jacqueline and I wrote about several examples of living optimistically, as well as providing tips on how to erase negativity and enjoy a happier life. A couple of simple suggestions include reciting positive affirmations every day and showing ongoing appreciation for the many positive things we enjoy.

For instance, we take breathing for granted. However, if you were drowning, suffering an asthma attack or choking, your next breath would be more important than anything else in your life. When that next breath finally filled your lungs, wouldn't you be be ecstatic?

Therefore, to keep us on the happy track, I suggest we constantly remind ourselves of what we are grateful for. One of my favorite unattributed quotes is: “Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” The more time we spend time showing gratitude the less likely we will have to replay the sad songs of our past.

Erasing or reducing negativity is not easy. However, it can be done. The important thing is to take the first step. Of course I hope it will start with reading our book, but ANY effort is a step in the right direction. And if you enjoy the book, don’t keep it to yourself. Pass it on and encourage others to read it. Also, please contact your local library and ask them to carry the book so those who do not have $12.99 to spare, can read it for free.

We all want to be happy, but often we forget our way. Whether we are holding on to past hurts and ignoring the joys that are present today, or remembering better times and refusing to move forward is not the road to happiness. It is more like a freeway to frustration.

Even our pet bunny knows how silly it is to stay immersed in this futile behavior. A few days ago Tinkles starting eating his alfalfa again. He may prefer fresh grass, but when he realized his surliness was not going to improve his diet, he gave up and ate what I gave him.

So why not take a lesson from Tinkles and forget about the past and enjoy what there is to enjoy right now? With apologies to Bobby McFerrin “Don’t worry. Be hoppy/happy.”

Monday, June 20, 2011

Huzzah and Aha Moments

I have a sneaky ploy I practice with my two and three-year-old granddaughters. I dislike picking up puzzle pieces and I don’t like to harass them into orderly behavior, so we make a game of it. After we connect the cards of the Match Game, we take each piece and put it back in the box through a little slot on the top of the box. As we insert each bit we give an enthusiastic “huzzah!” There are probably 50 pieces so we say a lot of huzzahs.

This weekend I had a similar experience on an adult level. I attended a three-day transformational life coaching workshop at the Southwest Institute of Healing Arts (SWIHA) in Tempe. Instead of “huzzah” I found myself experiencing a lot of “aha!” moments that gave birth to new insights into my life, soul and journey.

The purpose of a life coach is to use an open, non judgmental and spiritual approach to help the client tap into their own inner wisdom. The intent is not to fix or judge, or even tell the person what to do. This is the opposite of what I thought a coach did. When my public relations firm was in its infancy I worked with a business coach to increase my client base. It was helpful, but I did not develop anything transformational – personal or professional. I learned a few tips about which places would be good sources for new clients. I’m sure I learned other things too, but I can’t remember.

In retrospect, the “broken entrepreneur” approach did not address the core of who I was or what I wanted to do and be. It is no wonder that the sessions provided limited value. However, the Life Coach Workshop at SWINA helped me identify and work with my core values. Life Coaches help their clients in the same way. There are more components to the workshop than this, but that is the nugget I want to share with you today. I encourage you to visit the school’s website at to learn more.

Whether it is in my professional capacity as an author or a public relations expert, I spend a lot of time behind a computer. This is ironic because I am a social animal who enjoys the company of others. However, I do need a certain amount of “alone time” to generate ideas, get my work accomplished and relax. I’m pretty empathetic, so I do have to be careful to not absorb the energy and emotions of others. That is probably one of the reasons my friend and co-author, Jackie, penned our self-improvement book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within.

There is a lot of negativity in the world. Unfortunately it can gnaw on a person’s soul like a cancer. If it were self-contained it would be malicious enough. However, it is also like a contagious disease and can easily spread and infect others.

One of the discoveries I made this weekend is one of my core values is to “be of service.” I believe my life’s purpose is to help others. I embrace this approach in my public relations business, but I also feel a strong compulsion to spread the word about erasing negativity.

I don’t want to sound self righteous. Battling negativity is something I address every day. I am optimistic, but that doesn’t mean my life is without obstacles, problems or the occasional (albeit brief) lapse into pessimistic thoughts, speech and actions.

A personal analogy is my teeth. My mother grew up very poor. One day a woman came to their elementary school and talked about the importance of brushing their teeth. My mom came home and announced to her mother that she needed a tooth brush. My grandmother was sympathetic, but they barely had enough money for food, and a toothbrush was a luxury they could not afford. Eventually my mother got a job and bought herself a toothbrush for herself and the other members of her family.

Unfortunately, tooth decay is a progressive disease, and while she was able to prevent further decay, a lot of damage had already been done. Mom suffered with dental issues the rest of her life. However, after she married and had children of her own, she made sure we went to the dentist for annual cleanings. She was mild mannered about a lot of things, but when it came to brushing our teeth she was like the Gestapo. The result is all of my siblings and I have beautiful choppers. We may feel crabby from time to time, but there is no physical reason that we cannot show off our pearly whites. Our dentist, Dr. Duane Wirth (the son of Leo Wirth, the dentist we saw when we were children) always comments that the Marks have stellar teeth. Of course that comment elicits a smile as well.

I believe all of us could enjoy a happier life if we learned to recognize our negativity and take steps to reduce it. Defusing negativity is like brushing our teeth. It takes daily attention, but can become second nature with time.

All of us deserve a happy life. If you, or someone you care about, battles negativity, I hope you will consider reading or purchasing a copy of our book. Perhaps you may also want to work with a personal coach. There is nothing more exciting than experiencing an “aha” moment. Or, if you prefer, you can borrow my tactics with my granddaughters and shout “huzzah!” each time you erase negativity and replace it with a positive action.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Enjoying Tweets Not Twitter

I need to get out more often. I’m a social animal, but it seems like I spend more time with my computer than among the living. That is why it was a treat to come to Red Bluff, California over the recent Memorial Day holiday.

I launched my Northern California book tour and Red Bluff was my second stop. I gave a talk and book signing at Crystal Art & Apparel. Wilma, the owner, organized a wonderful affair, the Red Bluff Daily News ran a press release about the event and the nearby Redding Record Searchlight ran a ¾ -page article on the front page of the Community Section.

As a public relations professional (my day job), free media exposure is my life’s blood. However, the real thrill was being able to talk about my passion of helping people erase negativity. Of course it is also the theme of our book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within, written by me and my friend and co-author, Jacqueline Howard. By the end of the evening, everyone in the audience bought copies of the book. Some folks bought two books!

Even though I’m comfortable lecturing, I prefer to conduct my talks as a round-table discussion. I believe everyone gets more out of the event if they are an active participant. I learned on the site, The Learning Pyramid, that folks only retain 5% of what they learn from a lecture, but that number increases to 50% when they are engaged in a group discussion. Hopefully these folks will practice what they heard and enhance their retention increase to 75%. Best of all is when they teach someone else what they were taught and use it immediately. At that point the retention reaches a whopping 90%! If more folks do this and learn to erase negativity and teach others about the process, I believe we will see some truly optimistic results!

Since I was out of town, my preparation for this talk was a bit unusual. I decided to walk down a trail leading to the Sacramento River. Since I didn’t have the typical distractions that I have at home, I was able to focus on my surroundings. I did think a little about the talk and the content I wanted to present, but mostly I enjoyed the trees, wildflowers and greenery. Rather than my pre-talk tweeting on twitter, I listened to the chirping of birds and the rustling of leaves on the trees.

During this outdoor excursion I let my soul become immersed in the beauty of the surroundings. Rather than rehearse a speech, I decided to refresh my spirit so I could be totally present to the group. I know my topic, so I wasn’t worried that I’d forget anything important or become speechless. I wanted a little spontaneity regarding the direction the talk would take and the flexibility to change course if necessary. There is no way I could know this until I met my audience.

When I’m in a group where there is an exchange of ideas, I feel rejuvenated. I hope (and believe) the Red Bluff audience felt the same way. By the end of the evening when we formally ended the discussion and went on to bigger and better things (eating the delicious food Wilma had prepared) I felt like I was chatting with old friends.

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe speakers should be prepared. I don’t think folks should just “wing it” and not have any regard to the ideas they wish to convey. However, in my case, my message was all about erasing negativity and embracing the magic within. How could I authentically express this concept if I spent more time on how to turn a phrase rather than appreciating the beauty of my environment?

I recently read a sentence in a book that said, “Everything goes back to the beginning.” The same is true with this little story. I feel more like a “human being” rather than a “human doing” when I take the time to enjoy my surroundings and allow a flow of dialogue rather than rehearse a canned speech. Like I said before, “I really need to get out more often.”