Category Archives: Personal Care

Creating the Spaciousness You Want in Your Life.


Are you feeling harried, with no time for yourself, and overwhelmed by too much stuff? Imagine what it would be like to enter a place of spaciousness where calmness, openness, and deep satisfaction prevailed. It’s not impossible. Let me explain.

At the beginning of the year  I wrote about my intentions for 2013 in Goodbye Resolutions and Goals. Hello Intentions! One of  my intentions was to create more spaciousness in my life.

Here’s what I’ve done so far. It’s still a work in progress but here are some thoughts on creating your own spaciousness.

Begin with the mind.

Creating spaciousness in the mind is a start.

I’ve been practicing Insight Meditation for the past 15 years.  I realized that while my 30 minutes a day was better than nothing, it wasn’t sufficient to settle my “monkey mind”.

I’ve added a second 30 minute mediation session at the end of my work day before dinner.  I’m finding that my mindfulness is better and I don’t feel as rushed. The simple act of carving out meditation time in my day has forced me to slow down. The mind feels more spacious.

Here’s my suggestion. Start a simple meditation practice. At first it can be just ten minute a day. The important thing is to get into the habit of doing it. Be patient. It takes time for habits to take hold. If you need some suggestions for meditation practice, check these out :

Learn to say “No”.

I’ve written about the power of “No” in an earlier post. It’s taken me time but I’m much better at protecting my space by using that one simple word.   I’m also aware that as an introvert I need my downtime. Friends have come to respect the fact that I seldom do parties .

If you want to carve out some space for yourself, you need to be able to say “No” and not feel guilty about it.

Schedule “spaciousness”.

No one is going to give you time. You’ve got to make it happen.

I discovered that unless I actually built free time into my daily and weekly schedule it too easily got used up with busyness. Now I’ve built a “fire wall” around my evenings and early mornings. And I’ve set aside several days in the week that are non-work, free space times  to do as I wish.

I suggest you start by looking at where you can block out periods of time that are just for you. Schedule them into your day planner and be resolute about keeping those dates.

Get rid of “stuff”.

Stuff to me is  anything that’s filling my space and that doesn’t have some decorative or practical purpose.

I’m not a “neat freak” and I can live with a certain amount of clutter. The problem I realize is that I’ve got too much  stuff that has no purpose.

I’ve started a methodical process of  sorting through my stuff.  I’m removing titles from the  bookshelves that I’m never going to read again. I’m donating magazine back-issues to the local library. I’ve got a box that I’m filling with “nick knacks” for the Hospice Thrift Boutique. There are dated and dead electronic devices that I’m sending to be recycled.

Look around you. What’s the stuff in your life? Start small by dedicating some time each week to eliminating items and opening up your work and living space.

What tips do you have for creating spaciousness in your life?

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Photo by Dimitri

6 Ways to Rekindle the Passion in Your Freelance Work.


The other day I was having coffee with a colleague and she asked me how I kept my “saw sharp”.  Good question.  No matter how much we love our work, the day-to-day demands can eventually wear us down and make us dull.

I’ve been self-employed for over three decades and know what it’s like to lose my spark. Here are some ways  I’ve found to get it back.  Maybe they’ll work for you.

 1. Connection

Working solo can be an isolating experience. Being able to meet with colleagues is a great tonic.

I get energized meeting locally with fellow personal historians. As well, being connected online through my membership in the Association of Personal Historians is a wonderful source of support and information.

Make sure you’ve got a support group that can give you an added boost when your spirits are low.

2. Variety

I admit that I get bored doing the same thing over and over again.  Knowing this means  I look for ways to build variety into my work.

I started this blog in part because I wanted to try something new. I’ve also expanded my repertoire beyond  video productions to include print and audio projects.

Look for ways that you can add some new pieces to the work you do.

3. Continuous learning

I’m a perpetual student. I love to learn new things. Besides books, there are online workshops and courses that keep me up-to-date and fresh.

Another super way to keep learning is going to a professional conference. I’ve attended two Association of Personal Associations conferences.  These are jam-packed with workshops and talks. Each time I go, I come away feeling revitalized.

Plan to attend one professional conference this year. You won’t regret it.

4. Time out

No matter how much you love your work, if you never take a break from it, you run the real risk of losing your spark.

For this reason I’ve built into my days and weeks “play time”.  Whether it’s meditating, going for a walk, visiting with friends, or just goofing off, I get away from my work.

What kind of play time have you built into your work week?

5. Inspiration

I find that being around positive, inspiring people and reading or listening to inspiring stories does a lot to rekindle my enthusiasm.

I know I’m not alone. Over 15 million YouTube viewers have watched  Randy Pausch Last Lecture: Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.

Take the time to find inspiring stories that will recharge your batteries.

6. Acknowledgement

When I’m feeling flat and uninspired, I sometimes go to my “Thank You” folder. Here I keep all of the notes and letters sent to me by satisfied and grateful clients.

Reading through these brings a smile to my face and a reminder of why I love my work.

Make sure to put all your support letters in a file where you can find them. And periodically take them out and read them.

What are some of the ways you bring  zest back into your work?

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Photo Credit: mdezemery via Compfight cc

Goodbye Resolutions and Goals. Hello Intentions!


I’ve given up on resolutions and goals. I’ve been inspired in part by Leo Babauta’s writing in Zen Habits.  He’s taken up living a goal free life and he’s prospering.

Goals Don’t Work

Goal setting  has never worked for me. And apparently it doesn’t work that well for others. A recent study shows that focusing on our goals has a negative downside. Such a focus diminishes our enjoyment of the activities required to achieve our goal. As a result we often give up.

Goals are about a future finish line that you’re meant to reach. It’s what most productivity models are based on.  The problem, if you’re like me, is that  you don’t always get to the finish line. And when that happens, you can feel like a failure.

If you do persevere and reach your goal, you can sometimes feel pride of accomplishment but then end up asking  yourself, like Peggy Lee, “Is that all there is?” And the answer inevitably is, “Well, no! There are more goals to work on!” It’s a never-ending pursuit of some idealized version of yourself. This isn’t anyway to live or work.

Let’s face it. Life is messy and we’re far from perfect. Goal setting fails to take these realities into account.  If  goals really worked, all the self-help gurus would have long since been out of business.

A Better Way:  Intentions + Dedication

I know that we can be accomplished much without a slavish devotion to goals and plans. The way ahead lies in being clear about our intentions and being dedicated to seeing them through.

Intentions are about knowing and honoring our values, focusing on the present,  enjoying the process, and letting go of the struggle toward some distant finish line.  Intentions are about making room in our life for what is truly important.

Intentions  are about learning new, more skillful ways of being and doing.  But old habits die hard having been strengthened by years of constant use. To create healthier habits requires a willingness to dedicate time to practice them. Without this dedication little will change.

My Intentions for 2013

It’s useful to have a few select intentions to focus on rather than a long shopping list. Here are my 3 intentions for 2013.

  • Kindness. It’s my intention to be kind to myself and to others. This means not being quick to beat myself up over some perceived failure. As well, it’s my intention to be thoughtful and caring to both friends and strangers .
  • Acceptance. This is a repeat from last year and something I’m still  working on. It’s my intention to accept that things often happen regardless of what I do or don’t do.  I will accept the hard times along with the good, the sad with the joyful, and abundance with scarcity. And I will try to do all this with equanimity.
  • Spaciousness. It’s my intention to allow ample time to devote to my spiritual practice, creative pursuits, and physical well-being.  And to make my home free of clutter.

There is a better way to move forward in 2013 than harnessing yourself to a set of goals and plans. I know it sounds counter intuitive but throw away your goals. Trust that your intentions and your willingness to live them each and every day will get you where you want to go.

What are your intentions for 2013?

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Image by iStockphoto

Are You Ready for a Moment of Calmness?

This piece has become an annual tradition. Many of you appreciate the idea of a place where you can focus for a moment on calmness. Enjoy!


It’s time to stop  the rushing and working and worrying. You can always pick that up later. For now, as we come to the end of another year,  let’s all take a deep breath and calm ourselves.  As my holiday present,  I’ve put together a little virtual retreat for you. You’ll find some wonderful calming images, music, books, and quotations. Start anywhere you like.  There’s the three minute Whispering Sea guitar video.  You can  feast your eyes on all the sumptuous calming images from Google. There are three books you might want to check out and some insightful quotations on calmness, my favorite being:

The more tranquil a man becomes, the greater is his success, his influence, his power for good. Calmness of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom.
~James Allen

Continue reading

Encore! What Tony Bennett Can Teach Us About Burnout.

At 86 Tony Bennett is an inspiration. Besides his  latest album Viva Duets and just published memoir Life is a Gift , Bennett continues to tour.  How does he do all this without getting burnt out? The answer comes in an interview he gave Jacob Richler in Zoomer magazine. He said,…Read more.

Encore! The Cluttered of The World Unite!

We seem to be inundated these days with exhortations from neatness mavens to declutter and organize our lives for a happier and better tomorrow. The implication seems to be that a cluttered existence is a sign of failing. There’s a whiff of Puritanism to all this. We are told that being cluttered wastes time, hinders our productivity, makes us tired, and no doubt has a detrimental effect on our sex lives. But where’s all the evidence for this? I’ve  never seen any authoritative studies that support the claims made by the decluttering brigade… Read more.

Book Review: “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain

The following review is by Dhyan Atkinson of The Five Essential Skills. Providing business skills training, consulting and business coaching to English-speaking small business owners around the world.  Learn the business skills you need to be successful and get help using them out in the real world to find clients!


I am an introvert.  I love public speaking. I love teaching my classes.  I love working with my clients and I do these things well… but I am a dyed-in-the-wool introvert all the same.

One of the best explanations I have come across for the difference between an extrovert and an introvert has to do with the things that energize and rejuvenate them.

Extroverts get energized by interacting with people and being in public. They find group energy stimulating and enlivening.  They thrive on teams and competition, and relish expending lots of energy which, in turn, energizes them more. They would rather be with people than be alone.

Introverts are the opposite. Although they may enjoy being with others, they tend to get drained by too much time with too many people.  At a party, they are more likely to be in the corner having a deep quiet conversation than dancing with a lampshade on their head in the center of the room.  Sooner or later, they are ready to leave the party for some quality time alone.  It is the alone time that gives them more juice and feeds their contributions to the world.

When I saw Susan Cain’s book “Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” advertised on my Kindle I bought it at once and have relished every page!  Susan Cain, herself an introvert (and a Wall Street Lawyer), talks about the dilemma introverts face every day living in a world that admires what she calls “The Extrovert Ideal.”   Think Tony Robbins.  Think Mega-churches.  Think our current political leaders.  Think Harvard Business School.  Think every mega-training program you have ever heard of.

Cain has clearly done her homework.  The book draws on cutting-edge research in psychology and neuroscience speaking to the biological origins and differences between introverts and extroverts.  Every chapter contains entertaining stories of real people (both introverts and extroverts) in real life situations.  (My favorite story is when Susan attends a Tony Robbins seminar to research extroverts in action.  I loved the descriptions of the cheerleading, the jumping up and down, the chanting, the pumping up of enthusiasm, the mega-screens, Tony as bigger than life, the fire walk – mostly because I could enjoy these things in print and never have to attend a seminar myself!  I know this is not for me!)

She also identifies many famous introverts and their contributions to the world.  Without introverts we would not have the following:

The theory of gravity
The theory of relativity
The theory of evolution
Personal computers
W.B. Yeats’s ‘The Second Coming’
Chopin’s nocturnes
Proust’s ‘Remembrance of Things Past’
Van Gogh’s ‘Starry, Starry Night’
Peter Pan
Orwell’s ’1984′ and ‘Animal Farm’
The Cat in the Hat
Charlie Brown
‘Schindler’s List,’ ‘E.T.,’ and ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’
Harry Potter

It isn’t just that I enjoyed this book and learned from it: I felt validated reading “Quiet.”  I felt encouraged.  I gained a renewed sense that I can do anything an extrovert can do and I can do it in my own quiet way.  I have been telling my clients for years that they can love their work and find ways to find clients without resorting to the fist-punching bravado of your classic salesperson.  It’s true!

I would highly recommend this book to people who dread being out in the world in an open, extroverted way but fear that if they don’t “change themselves” their business will never survive.  “Quiet” is a celebration of the “other” way of living – a sweeping validation of the power, creativity, contributions, and self-worth in being an introvert.

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Encore! When Should You Quit Being a Personal Historian and Move On?

I spend time here encouraging and supporting full-time professional personal historians.

But what about those of you who may be wondering if it’s time to give up being a personal historian all together? Remember there’s nothing wrong with quitting.  I wrote about giving up in a previous post Stop With The Productivity Pitches!

I’ve changed careers at least four times in my life. From my experience here are the clues that tell you enough is enough…Read more.

From a Personal Historian a Personal Note.

This isn’t an easy post to write.

Many who are regular readers of my blog will know that my Mom died in December. The sadness surrounding her death has lessened. Now I’m faced with the reality of cleaning out her condominium and getting it ready to put on the market. I’ve made progress and there’s still much to do.

In addition to this and my regular work commitments, I’m also leading a 3-day training program in April for a new group of Victoria Hospice Life Stories volunteers. And in May I’m giving a workshop on Life Stories at the annual conference of the British Columbia Hospice and Palliative Care Association.

I’ve been feeling overwhelmed and need to make some changes.

Starting next week I’ll only post articles twice rather than three times a week. The Monday’s link roundup will continue  with fresh updates as will an Encore! article drawn from my extensive archives. When I can get my head above water, I’ll look at resuming my regular postings.

I’ll miss writing for you. I feel a real connection, especially with those of you  starting your personal history businesses. While I’ll not be composing much original material for a while, I haven’t gone away.  I’m always available for  advice or help.  Just ask.

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Do You Fail To Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions?

You’re not alone. Research shows that the majority of all resolutions fail within 6 months. So why do we bother?

I think we make resolutions because we want to be better people. We see weaknesses and want to fix them. There’s nothing wrong with this impulse but  there’s a better way of going about it than making resolutions.

The other day I came across an article by Chris Brogan, My 3 Words for 2012.  I was intrigued. Chris’s approach is to dig deep and find three words that’ll act as your polestar as you navigate the new year.

To me Brogan’s  idea of “3 words” is similar to resolutions but acts more as a mantra – a way to remind yourself on a daily basis to hold  your course.

my 3 words for 2012

  • Simplify. I will clear out the physical and mental junk that holds little value or relevance in my life. This means tossing out, recycling, or donating stuff that’s filling useful space. I intend to be more mindful of thinking that isn’t helpful and let it go. This includes thoughts of scarcity, dread, and perfection. I will look for ways to simplify my work.
  • Play. I am by nature a somewhat serious guy with a touch of melancholy that comes no doubt from my Irish heritage.  I will learn to take time to cavort, dance, rejoice, and mess around. In other words, have some fun.
  • Accept. I will learn to accept that things often happen regardless of what I do or don’t do.  I will accept the hard times along with the good, the sad with the joyful, and abundance with scarcity. And I will try to do all this with equanimity.

Achieving success

Having 3 words  is a start. You can assure yourself greater success by doing the following:

  • Make your words public.  Put your 3 words on facebook, twitter, or your blog. Let your friends and family know how you’re doing. Going public will motivate you to succeed. I’ve  made my list public and already feel an obligation to report to you on my progress. Stay tuned!
  • Post your words. Type up your 3 words and stick them where you’ll see them every day. It might be on the refrigerator, bathroom mirror, or on your bedside table. I’ve pasted mine on my computer monitor.
  • Work on one word at a time. Your chances of success are greater if you apply yourself to changing one thing. I’ve chosen play as the first thing to focus on.
  • Make it a habit. Research shows that it takes on average about 60 days to develop a habit so that it becomes automatic. This means that each day for 60 days you need to practice the one behavior you want to achieve.  I’ll set aside 30 minutes each day for the next 60 days to engage in a playful activity that isn’t something that I’m already doing.  Once a week I’ll take an hour to “mess around”. At the end of two months I’ll chose another word while at the same time holding on to my newly acquired habit of play.

What are your 3 words?

What are the 3 words that’ll guide you through 2012? Why not share them here.  I’d love to hear from you.

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