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Venturing into the Unknown

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast

Get caught up with all episodes in the “Threads of Life” series

The plaintive sound of a foghorn filtered through the grey morning mist as our sailboat pushed away from the protective harbor of Victoria, BC and slipped silently into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The stillness of the morning was broken only by the low constant chug, chug of our diesel engine and the caw of a lonely seagull taking flight overhead.

The shoreline and our boat were soon swallowed by a grey, colorless matter silently and swiftly moving over the water. Although it had no shape or body, it was as unyielding and impenetrable as any brick wall.

One moment we saw the sky and receding shoreline; the next minute every point of reference was gone. In a matter of minutes, we were engulfed by dense fog that left us disoriented and unsure of where we were or the direction we were headed.


Venturing into the Unknown | focuswithmarlene.com

Not only was visibility reduced to a few feet; even the sound of the fog horns became disorienting, making it difficult to distinguish distance or direction. We throttled back on the engine and cautiously glided forward relying on instruments, charts, and our knowledge of navigation.

Without them, we would soon be traveling in circles, entering dangerous shipping lanes, or ending on shoals and rocks. It is unnerving to see a huge ship emerging like some phantom apparition from a murky wall of white in front of you.

So why would any sane person leave a safe, snug harbor to venture out in this uncertain, potentially treacherous condition?

We left because we needed to reach the other side of the strait within a designated timeframe. Our options were limited.

But we didn’t leave our safe harbor unprepared.

The marine weather channel told us the fog was not going to settle in for a long period of time. Our boat and engine were in good working condition and we had plenty of fuel.

We had the knowledge and training of navigation courses. Our navigation charts were current and defined the areas of safe travel by numbered buoys, some flashing a sequence of lights and some with bells and fog horns programmed to sound and flash warnings.

Although we did not have all the sophisticated instruments most boaters of today have, we were prepared to negotiate the waters safely.

How is all this relevant to you and me, who are safely tucked into our lives on shore?

We know it is essential to venture out of our safe harbors at some point in order to live life. And just as a sailor knows his very life depends on his preparation, knowledge, and planning for whatever voyage he embarks on, it is equally as important for us to prepare for our journey through life.

As young adults, we leave the safe harbors of our homes and strike out fearlessly in uncharted waters totally unprepared for the rocks and shoals and obstacles that can shipwreck us.

We are unprepared for the catastrophes that appear out of the unknown as large as ocean liners bearing down on us through the fog. We are not only unprepared for critical and precarious times; we are unprepared for maximizing our time and energy in the normal routines of life.

Life teaches us many things.

When we have survived a storm and returned to our safe harbors, we reflect on what was required before venturing out again. Just as a sailor charts his course over the water from point to point, we need to set specific goals that not only give us a direction and destination for our careers, but also our lives.

Anticipation of known and unknown obstacles helps us prepare for the unexpected.

Developing plans of action includes building positive relationships with spouses and family.

Setting aside time for God as well as recreation and relaxation are vital in reaching our destinations.

Navigating life

Life navigation skills include knowing how to communicate, how to listen, how to problem solve and work together. It requires the establishment of efficient routines and habits. The skill of self-discipline and self-regulation prepare us for any storm of life. If we ignore the preparation for leaving the safety of our safe harbors, we will find ourselves in dangerous waters and sometimes crashing on the rocks.

Life is a risk. The future is like the fog.

Are you willing to venture out of your harbor? There are exciting and rewarding adventures waiting for you. But to experience them to the fullest, it is important to be prepared before venturing out.

As we learn how to prepare for our journeys, a confidence is developed. God’s manual on living defines the navigation skills we need to avoid rocks and shoals. In that self-assurance, we ask God for the strength we need and the wisdom to sort through the maze of life’s challenges. It enables us to leave our safe harbors and step out into unknown waters.

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC

Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Whatever You Focus On, You Will Become

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast

As I begin this Threads of Life series, I would like to give some background on why FOCUS is so important and why it is the name I chose for my company, my motto, and my website.

When my husband and I took early retirement from teaching in Oregon, we moved to northern Washington to build our dream home and spend time sailing in the San Juan Islands.

My husband joined a group of talented musicians who played in a local rehearsal band and I returned to teaching part time at Chapman University Extension Center. However, long evening class hours prompted me to leave the formal classroom for good and start giving workshops and classes in ADHD parenting, pain management, stress management and communication.

I love working with people in small group settings and individually and wanted to extend my workshops to local businesses in my community. It seemed more expedient to work under a company name.

But what should I call this “company” of one (me)? One name kept coming up: FOCUS.

It represented what I believed in: that your focus in life will determine what you do, who you are and who you can become.

Energy is generated by our focus.

If you focus on anger, resentment, or grievances, your life will reflect that. But if you focus on learning new and better ways to live, problem solving, communication and positive thinking, you will begin to realize your goals in every area of your life.

Informational tools for problem-solving

Whatever You Focus on, You Will Become | focuswithmarlene.com

I have observed many times as a counselor, teacher, and small group facilitator the difference good information can have in the lives of people when they take proven strategies and apply them to their lives.

With these informational “tools” we can begin to resolve problems and reshape and define our lives in proactive rather than reactive ways.

I believe all of us want to live happier and less stressful lives but find it difficult to sort through the self-help books to find what works and what does not.

Benefits of living by pre-determined principles based on wisdom

Man's Search for MeaningAs we learn about ways to enrich our lives, it gives us a greater opportunity to determine how to live based on what is right for us. The more we live by predetermined principles based on wisdom versus spur-of-the-moment actions, the more purposeful our lives will become.

At any given moment we have the ability to choose how we will respond to life; in fact, we cannot not choose.

As Viktor Frankl said in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, the last thing anyone can ever take away from us is our ability to choose our responses to whatever is happening in life. As a survivor of the concentration camps during the Second World War, he could speak to that with authority.

Where is your focus?

At any point in time, we can stop and ask ourselves, where am I placing my focus? Is it something that will improve my life, allow me to laugh more, respond with compassion to others in need and bring joy to myself and others? Only we can decide.

Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Threads of Life

I wish all of you a Happy New Year, with prayers and best wishes for a blessed 2021. I want to begin this year with a new series entitled Threads of Life.

Throughout our lifetime, we are weaving together the threads of our existence. Those threads are all around us – ready to be woven into a tapestry that shares our story and defines who we are. We choose how we weave them together. We are the designers.

Threads of Life | focuswithmarlene.com

Developing a life of meaning, purpose, and joy

I have been reviewing the stories and blog posts I have written or used in presentations about ways you can enrich your life, find comfort in your losses, and overcome what might seem like impossible odds. I chose to put together a collection of those stories that best illustrates our ability to move beyond discouragement and develop a life of meaning and purpose and joy.

They illustrate how important each part of our life is.

No matter how barren or dark they might seem, in the end they become a testimony of endurance, determination and love that create the most beautiful of tapestries.

Weaving our tapestries

As we start weaving our tapestries, there will be threads of comfort and joy and accomplishment as well as threads of pain and hopelessness and despair. Woven together they express the milestones of discovery, insight and growth, mountaintops with grand vistas of opportunities and deep ravines of rejection and setbacks.

You might think your tapestry holds too many dark threads of fear and anxiety. But the gold threads you use to reveal the overcoming of impossible odds and hardships shine like a beacon against dark backgrounds.

You will have bright colorful threads of joy and laughter along with the gloomy threads of pain and sorrow. The dull, grey lifeless threads of discouragement form a background for those colorful threads.

There will be bright spots of red representing those moments that demanded immediate attention, caution, and assessment. The stability and calming of blue and yellow, like the morning sun and enduring blue skies that keep the edges from unraveling are highlighted throughout your tapestry.

This weaving is a lifetime work in progress. We are challenged by the threads we choose to weave our narratives. We have been wounded. But we also have been blessed. Throughout life, there will be threads that tease us with hope and promises of a better future. These are the enduring threads woven throughout our tapestry.

In the upcoming months, I will be sharing some of these stories. Some will bring you to tears – others will have you laughing for a long time. Still others reveal the importance of stopping and evaluating what we do and the consequences of our thinking and behavior.

I hope you enjoy this new Threads of Life series.

Marlene Anderson

Spiritual Gifts to Guide You After Christmas

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene podcast.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

—John 14:27, NIV

Christmas: a shining star – a break from the tedious schedules in which we find ourselves. A time to gather and connect with friends and family.

But Christmas is more than a nice diversion – a blip on the radar screen of our hectic lives.

  • For a moment in time we escaped drudgery, pressures, anxiety, and uncertainties.
  • For a moment in time we humbly knelt before the Christ Child whose birthday we celebrate.
  • For a moment in time we laid down our heavy burdens of doubt and fear and unanswered questions and savored the blessings of Christmas.

Now Christmas is over; the torn wrappings stuffed in bags ready for the garbage pickup, bows packed away to use again next year. Visiting families have returned home, and we collapse in an easy chair, take a deep sigh, and try to relax.

We are left with an afterglow of loving moments, age-old songs that brought joy to our spirits and rituals that filled our hearts with special remembrances. An afterglow that brings hope into our hearts, that life doesn’t have to return to the way it was before – the same grind, same routines, same stresses. It is an afterglow that maintains the magical remembrance of those extraordinary Christmas moments.

As I pick up the spiritual gifts I was given — love, joy, and peace — I find another one waiting for me to unwrap and use, that final gift of Christmas: Hope.

“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.

I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation,

whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

—Philippians 4-11-13, NIV


Hope: the glow that began at Christmas and extends beyond if we are willing to apply it in our lives. It is a gift I cannot refuse because without hope we cannot survive.

We are taking that gift God gave us at Christmas, that infant in the manager, and using it to overcome despair and see the blessings we have.

It is believing that God will be with us through all our troubles and sorrows. When life is at its darkest, God catches us when we fall, supports us when we doubt, and gives us the strength to move forward.

Hope takes those early tentacles of despair and hopelessness, reminds us there is a tomorrow and gives us the willpower to try one more time, or two or three or how many times it takes to reach our goals.

Hope faces the uncertainty of tomorrow and replaces it with an optimism that things will improve.  Hope allows us to stop running in circles and helps us identify the problems we face and start looking for realistic, long-term solutions.

Hope engages the spirit so we will put new plans of action in place.

Hope reminds us we are more than past efforts. We are the abilities not yet discovered or explored, the possibilities untried.

Hope reaches out and asks God to give us the strength and courage to go beyond defeat.

My hope for you is that you will take all the wonderful things you have learned and gained this past year and apply them daily next year until they become a part of who you are. Believe in yourself and believe that God is there with you in the dark of the night and the daylight of the morning. Let that hope glow in your heart and burst into flame as you energize your goals.

“O God, early in the morning I cry to you.

Help me to pray and gather my thoughts to you, I cannot do it alone.

In me it is dark, but with you there is light;

I am lonely but you do not desert me;

My courage fails me, but with you there is help;

I am restless, but with you there is peace;

In me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience;

I do not understand your ways, but you know the way for me.

Father in Heaven, praise and thanks be to you for the night.”

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, A Prayer Written in Tegel Prison, Berlin

This was a prayer Dietrick Bonhoeffer wrote when he was in prison during the Second World War. It was a prayer I first read in Max Lucado’s book, Anxious for Nothing.

Sometimes the worries of our world make us feel that we are imprisoned, unable to meet the demands forced on us, the time constraints, the worries about loved ones, etc. It is a prayer that we can adapt to our own lives.

May God bless you as you move into the new year.

Gifts of Christmas: Love, Hope, and Peace

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast

For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

—John 3:16, NIV

This has been a difficult year with the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns, the inability to meet with each other, give hugs, and share concerns of the day.

We have learned to use more technology to operate our businesses and hold group meetings. We have driven up to our churches and stayed in our cars to listen to our pastors speak or we have listened to sermons on YouTube.

We have had groceries delivered and become familiar with masks. We have prayed and reached out to each other in the safest way possible.

It has been a surreal world – one in which we struggle to create a sense of normalcy. We are even learning how to sing as a choral group, rehearsing without gathering together in a group.

We have watched protests that turn into riots, people bullied and killed, businesses destroyed. The focus seems to constantly be on what we hate and if we destroy enough, we will be given what we want. We have become so polarized in our views; we no longer see the issues that need to be worked on.

But hate destroys.

Staying in that space of hate, we miss the most important healing component we have for our lives: love. True love is the only weapon against the assault of hate.

Without love, we are lost.

Without love there is no hope for us as a people on this earth.

It’s a time for humility and honesty and openness. It’s a time to recognize as never before our need for God, His forgiveness, His grace, His love and His direction.

“Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”

—Philippians 4:8, NLT

Love – Hope – Peace

We speak to these themes each Christmas with our Christmas cards and music. Peace is usually thought of as a hopeful outcome of physical battlefields between countries or the end of bitter conflict between couples. We view hope as something we want but have become jaded about.

And love: well, we have been rejected and hurt too many times to trust or love anyone anymore.

Love, hope, and peace begin in our hearts.

It cannot start anywhere else. But how are we to love that person who has taken advantage of us, hurt us, used us and abused us? We don’t get that ability from our culture or love songs or peace rallies. A love that can bring hope and peace to our hearts starts with God and that little baby in the manager. That is, after all, what agnostics and atheists fear above all else – that there might be truth to the Christmas story.

A love that risks all – embraces all – gives all – endures all. That is what we received when a helpless, vulnerable baby boy was born so many years ago.

What parent wouldn’t willingly sacrifice their own life for that of their child? God, our heavenly Father, demonstrated that when He gave His only Son to die for us so we might live.

As we pray for each other and families whose lives have been turned upside down and inside out through riots, separation and rejection, we also pray for ourselves – for forgiveness, understanding, respect of differences – and peaceful ways to reconcile those differences. All our problems will not be resolved. But we choose how we will respond to each of them.

Love, hope and peace are only hollow words unless they are followed by positive personal action.

If you have a story of hope and endurance and faith that you would like to share with others, please let me know so we can include it in an upcoming blog post.

Getting to Know You

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast

Get caught up with all episodes in the “Make Stress Work for You” series

When we meet someone new, we say, Hi, my name is_____________, and start a conversation.

As that conversation continues, we gradually get to know one another. So, for those who are new followers of my blog and podcast, I would like to formally introduce myself.

Hi, I am Marlene Anderson and I write and speak on how you can take advantage of any challenge, turning it into something positive and meaningful. (You can learn more about me on my website About page and Speaking & Workshops page.)

As a former licensed counselor and college teacher, I share my training and life experiences, offering strategies to help you tackle life’s challenges. These become a toolbox of approaches that can be used to combat fear and anxiety, recognize and solve problems, and take charge of your life.

Each week I post a new article on my blog that speaks to concerns we have. These may include:

  • Healing from unexpected and heart-breaking losses.
  • Learning effective ways to communicate with others so we hear their wants and needs and can express ours as well.

Conflict in our relationships can create on-going high levels of stress.

Messages from our past that tell us we are not good enough can be replaced with affirmations of our value and worth. Knowing that forgiveness is for you allows you to let go of resentment, so it doesn’t destroy you.

As we affirm our worth, we can set personal boundaries. We can respect other people’s differences as we maintain our own.

Alternative ways to frame problems

Understanding how and why we respond to life the way we do helps us find alternative ways to frame problems and find satisfactory outcomes. Without adequate life tools, we will become discouraged and overwhelmed, or angry and resentful. We will remain in endless conflicts and stress-filled environments. Joy, happiness, and contentment will seem to be out of our reach.

I want you to know there is a way to work through any challenge or dispute you face.

If you are like me, you want your life to have purpose and meaning. You want to have a sense of wellbeing and experience satisfaction in your efforts. With that wholeness, you can manage and reduce stress, making it work for you instead of against you. (See my book, Make Stress Work for You.)

Building an optimistic bridge from your past to today allows you to bring reassuring and promising qualities forward. Old wounds can no longer influence who you are or what you can accomplish.

While not every situation will be resolved to your satisfaction, a positive attitude along with possibility thinking will reveal options you can work with to go through, over or around roadblocks. Believe in yourself. Believe in God who loves you and offers His strength, wisdom and guidance so you can live with assurance, faith and a “Yes I can” mindset.

Each of us determines how we will react to difficulties.

You are the CEO of your life; the person who governs the choices that are made. Respond with optimism in tough times. Ask for help when you need it; seek assistance and find good mentors.

When we accept that we won’t have all the answers and that we are not perfect, we can reach out and form supportive friendships. Acceptance of both our imperfections and our strengths, enable us to accept ourselves of worth and value.

Only you can decide what actions are needed to make your life meaningful and productive. Only you can choose how you will respond to tough times.

You can roll up your sleeves and go to work or you can raise your fists and yell and scream and protest. The first way allows you to be in control of your life – the second way gives that power to others as you remain a victim.


Adjust Your Focus: Reframe Your Circumstances | FocusWithMarlene.com

Reframe your problems to see a bigger picture with possibilities and not just obstacles. Focus on what you can do and how you will do it instead of what you can’t do. Life can be exciting as we use the tools at our disposal to work towards positive outcomes. You can’t change the destruction caused by a violent storm, but you can choose how you will rebuild.

Every day we will face problems and difficulties, some anticipated as normal life encounters, and others that we are unprepared to meet. When you have the tools to work with, you will find the answers you need.

15 life skills you do not want to be without

Put them in your personal toolbox to pull out and use whenever needed.

  1. Communication – the ability to listen as well as convey wants and needs
  2. Understanding how our interpretations and perceptions create emotional turmoil
  3. Replace negative thinking with possibility thinking
  4. Become responsible for your reactions and behaviors at all times
  5. Reframe circumstances to see both the positives and the negatives
  6. Separate problems from its symptoms in order to find solutions
  7. Maximize your strengths while managing your weaknesses
  8. Identify your stress triggers and diminish their impact
  9. Make the most of your time every day
  10. Give thanks and gratitude for your blessings
  11. Laugh and find humor to lighten even the darkest moments
  12. Savor each moment – what can I learn
  13. Clarify your values and live them
  14. Define your focus – develop a sense of meaning and purpose for your life
  15. Practice relaxation and visualization techniques to lower stress

We will get discouraged. We will feel insecure and have doubts and fears.

I can identify. I have been there. But I also know that we do not need to stay in that space. We can use that discomfort to understand ourselves better, grow and create a new roadmap. Challenges can be reduced from giant mountains to workable mole hills.

As your life coach, I will help you put together a toolbox with the strategies you need and help you implement them. There is so much information available that gives us a better understanding on how to overcome doubts and insecurities and solve problems. I have used these same tools many times in my life to heal after loss, pick up the pieces and construct a new beginning.

As belief in yourself increases, you will develop that confidence to keep trying and not give up. We can not only survive but thrive.

Let go of resentment and anger – Hang on to God, His Word and direction

Let go of worry and anxiety – Hang on to the promises of God

Let go of the unknown – Hang on to the wisdom of God

Do you want to turn your stress into a positive force?

Make Stress Work For You by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comMy Make Stress Work for You bundle will help you:

  • Identify the personal stressors that create high levels of distress in your life
  • Learn how to identify problems and find ways to solve them
  • Replace unhelpful thinking with constructive and practical ways to lower levels of fear, worry, and anxiety

The book bundle includes:

  • ebook
  • audio recording of each chapter’
  • companion Study Guide & Personal Application Workbook
  • Four bonus guides

Click here for details and to order

How to Make Stress Work for You

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast

Get caught up with all episodes in the “Make Stress Work for You” series

If you find yourself struggling to get out of bed in the morning, anxious about the day awaiting you, you are not alone. We are living in a time of great uncertainty, which causes stress levels to escalate.

Anxiety and fear take center stage, and we struggle to find ways to make life normal again. Often the symptoms are so devastating, it becomes harder and harder to identify the underlying problems.

When our ability to think is compromised, our ability to find resolutions is compromised.

When we try to cope without identifying the underlying core issues, we end up going round and round in circles. Stress levels not only continue to escalate but remain high day after day.

This spring, I reintroduced a book I had written earlier, Make Stress Work for You: 12 Steps to Understanding Stress and Turning it into a Positive Force. https://focuswithmarlene.com/products/  It is available on my website with a new cover and a brand-new Personal Application and Study Guide to help each person identify their personal triggers to stress along with strategies to reduce or eliminate unwanted stress associated with them.

What stresses you out?

Is it your relationships?

An inability to communicate without getting frustrated and angry?

Is it the constant battles with family members or conflict at work?

Or is it the struggle to believe in yourself and your abilities that keeps you from feeling confident about accomplishing your goals?

Make Stress Work for You: 12 Steps to Understanding Stress and Turning it into a Positive Force, not only helps you understand what stress means, but helps you discover what triggers your “distress.” When identified, you are able to overcome or offset them.

Stress is a normal part of everyone’s life.

It is the energy source that allows us to get up and function every day. We can’t live without it. But when it takes away our ability to think through problems, find alternatives to roadblocks, or relax, it becomes a serious health issue.

Prolonged stress exhausts the adrenal glands, depletes the nervous system, and lowers the immune system, which protects us from many serious diseases. It contributes to heart disease and high blood pressure. When the body is highly stressed for long periods of time, it gets out of balance and that imbalance is expressed with disease.

Things to remember about stress:

  • Stress is cumulative. The more circumstances that trigger it, the higher the levels of stress will become.
  • The inability to relax, let go and lower your stress at the end of the day will keep your stress levels high day after day.
  • Disabilities, tough circumstances, or demanding jobs do not automatically create high levels of stress. We
  • Families without reliable routines, schedules and predetermined tasks or responsibilities will struggle with constant tension and the inability to keep up with conflicting demands.
  • Conflicts with co-workers or bosses will continue to create on-going frustration and anger until we address them with good communication that allows productive conversations.
  • Time management empowers us. Without a timetable for completion of tasks, we will constantly be in chaos, frustrated and blaming others.
  • While situations may be difficult and stressful, how we respond determines our levels of dis-stress. Our perceptions, interpretations and established beliefs and habits create the emotional responses we have. Patterns of thinking and behaving can be changed to bring about a more productive outcome. When stressful emotions are balanced with appropriate action, stress levels are lowered.

When we understand what triggers our worries, anxiety, and fears, we can find ways to reduce or offset them and turn our “distress” into productive energy.

12 things you can do to lower high levels of stress

  1. Let go of unrealistic expectations and demands that create unenforceable rules.
  2. Identify all the triggers of your stress. Create a plan of action that can reduce or eliminate them.
  3. Make a list of tasks that need to be completed in order to maintain order in your home. Break them down into manageable chunks to work with. Keep a calendar of when certain ones need to be accomplished.
  4. Identify ongoing, underlying problems that continue to frustrate you. We can get so wrapped up in trying to reduce symptoms that we don’t identify the underlying cause of those symptoms. That is what needs to be addressed.
  5. Learn assertiveness skills. They will develop your self-worth and confidence.
  6. Put personal boundaries in place. This is what you will accept – this is what you won’t accept.
  7. Be constantly aware of negative thinking that keeps you from seeing positive outcomes. Challenge and replace.
  8. Make a list of all the things you are grateful for. Read them every day. Add to them.
  9. Find those bits of humor and laugh whenever possible. Comedians turn serious events into humor allowing us to laugh at our troubles.
  10. Refuse to become a victim. If you are constantly blaming everything and everybody for everything that is not working, you remain a victim.
  11. If you find yourself constantly depressed, ask yourself what action you can take to feel good about yourself.
  12. Congratulate your progress, no matter how minimal, in everything you do.

High levels of stress will keep you spiraling out of control, conflicted, anxious, depressed and hopeless. I encourage you to purchase my book and workbook, along with its MP3 recordings to help you through this process. It is a book everyone needs, and it is available at the low price of $19.99. Make this a personal gift to yourself. Buy one for your friends who are struggling. It can be an important way to discover the satisfaction and joy you want.

Do you want to turn your stress into a positive force?

Make Stress Work For You by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comMy Make Stress Work for You bundle will help you:

  • Identify the personal stressors that create high levels of distress in your life
  • Learn how to identify problems and find ways to solve them
  • Replace unhelpful thinking with constructive and practical ways to lower levels of fear, worry, and anxiety

The book bundle includes:

  • ebook
  • audio recording of each chapter’
  • companion Study Guide & Personal Application Workbook
  • Four bonus guides

Click here for details and to order

Learning to Live Again in a New World

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast

Get caught up with all episodes in the “Make Stress Work for You” series

Before the year ends, I want to summarize the two books I wrote that were the focus of my blog and podcast. This week, I share some of the highlights from my book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, which was released in January 2020. My blog posts and podcast episodes through June reflected the ways we can work through grief and begin to rebuild our lives.

When my husband died, the world as I knew it came to an end. I wrote about that ending and early days of grief in my first book, A Love So Great, A Grief So Deep, sharing the pain of losing someone I loved with my whole heart.

As a licensed counselor, I knew that if I stayed in that space of sorrow, I wouldn’t heal and instead would keep mourning without any hope of a meaningful life again.

I began working with others who had lost loved ones. We shared the struggle to let go and move on. There was a reluctance to do so – almost as if we would be devaluing our loved one if we did.

I started applying therapeutic techniques used by counselors to help clients work through difficulties. Those strategies enabled me to take back my life, re-identify myself and construct a plan of action moving forward. My book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, is a culmination of that work and shares methods and strategies to move from pain and deep sorrow to letting go and rebuilding.

Many things can increase the grief we feel.

For example, grief intensifies during the holidays. The uncertainties and isolation caused by the pandemic or other drastic changes intensifies that loss. High levels of stress, uncertainty and anxiety make it difficult to work through problems associated with it.

A variety of things in your life are changed. Your social circles are drastically altered. If you lost a spouse, you are now a single person in couple gatherings.

With the death of a child, you are no longer able to share with other parents the joys and difficulties of raising your children.

You may be required to re-locate or downsize. Your financial status might have been radically altered. I had to sell our newly built home and invest the proceeds to provide financial stability. Unexpected decisions created incredible anxiety as I struggled to make the right choices moving forward. Where should I live? What could I afford?

Why is it so difficult to let go?

We hang on to our loss because we struggle to accept that what was so important to us is now gone. Unconsciously, we want to believe that if we stay in that space of mourning that it will keep alive what we had. We fear the unpredictability of starting over again. We don’t know where to begin or how to begin. We don’t have a roadmap. We are forced to face ourselves, our fears and doubts and insecurities as never before.

Loss takes away the life and identity we had – how we defined ourselves.

It is in that conflict of loss, grief, and uncertainty that we are required to step out in faith and discover who we are today.

What does it mean to rebuild?

In the physical world, rebuilding means restoring something that was broken, damaged or destroyed.

In the internal realm, it is restoring equilibrium, hope, vision, and direction. It is repairing the great emotional rift. You can replace, strengthen, and reinforce your resolve. You can re-shape your future and put in place new goals that represent who you are today. You can re-assemble the broken parts and refashion them into a new you.

This requires making adjustments, sometimes radical, as you let go of what is no longer relevant to reclaim your ability to plan and create.

Throughout this journey, I learned

  • that we can not only heal and recover, but we can have a meaningful life with purpose again
  • that in letting go, I still maintained my happy memories – I could have both my memories and a new beginning
  • that we will experience anxiety, fear and doubts, requiring us to hang on to the promises of God
  • that when we step out in faith, we are given the strength and courage to move forward
  • that when I changed my focus from the past to working on a new tomorrow, life began to take a positive turn
  • that in working on a new future, I was not minimizing what I lost
  • that when I questioned my abilities, I was able to affirm them
  • that I could experience satisfaction and happiness again when I told myself, “Yes I can.” It became a new mantra. I could make it. I could recover.
  • that when I refused to let my loss take me down, I was given the confidence I needed to keep trying and succeed

In Learning to Live Again in a New World, I take you through what I consider four basic phases of recovery and rebuilding.

In Phase I, I share the pain of those early days and months and offer suggestions on how to work through this intense time period.

In Phase II, I address the struggle to accept and let go and close the door to the past.

In Phase III, the chapters reflect how to re-define yourself – finding a new identity and a new path.

In Phase IV, you weave together what you have learned on your journey and develop a plan of action for your future – a new beginning. Each chapter begins with a vignette or personal story and ends with a personal reflection and application worksheet, with information, exercises, and methods to work through the pain and conflicts.

Change takes time. Healing and recovery take time.

You will experience anxiety, worry, concern, and deep sorrow. You may question your ability to succeed. You may experience other losses in quick succession.

But as you step into the face of pain and fear, you discover that you are becoming stronger than ever before. In the process, you develop confidence and trust in your ability to take charge of all aspects of your life. You learn that while recovery is never easy, you can make it.

As you let go of what had been, your heart and spirit begin to heal.

If you or someone you know has encountered a recent loss or are struggling to regain a new life after a lot of time has gone past, this book can help you find a path through and beyond. It is a book I recommend to anyone who may be struggling with the losses in their lives.

Next week I will recap my book, Make Stress Work for You, that was updated and released in spring of this year.

Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Four Catastrophic Traps Couples Fall Into

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Everything was going so nicely, and then life stepped in. There’s not enough money to pay the bills, the credit card debts are piling up, in-laws intrude with too many visits or too much advice, to keep my job I have to work longer hours and accomplish more.

Suddenly we find ourselves arguing more – tempers flare, anger rises beyond the norm, and the blame game begins. We go outside our marriage to talk about our spouses and get consolation, validation, sympathy, and support.

And the scene is set for more serious troubles.

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work - John M GottmanIn his book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. John Gottman lays out in a practical format the seven principles for making marriage work, based on years of research and study in his Seattle based clinic, The Gottman Institute.

It is a book I highly recommend to anyone interested in developing an even more “harmonious and long-lasting relationship” with their spouse. The exercises as well as the information presented are easy to follow and exceptional.

The danger zone

When you become negative and sarcastic, you are venturing on the threshold of a danger zone. It is not just anger, but it is a simmering, ongoing dislike and rage. It is not just arguing or fighting – it is developing contempt for your partner.

Gottman describes four areas of negative interaction that precipitates the early demise of a marriage. He refers to these areas as the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness and Stonewalling.

Do you recognize any of these four horsemen in your relationship?

1. Criticism:

These are words that denigrate or belittle the character or personality of your spouse. It goes beyond complaints which target behaviors. It belittles and scorns and vilifies.

2. Contempt:

An attitude of disgust, sarcasm and cynicism is built. You now consider your spouse either worthless or inferior and not worthy of respect. Whatever your spouse says or does, your response is to mock or sneer at them. This is an extremely toxic brew that you have allowed to ferment and develop.

3. Defensiveness:

Because you have allowed negative thoughts about your spouse to simmer and stew without resolution, no matter what your spouse says, it is immediately construed as an attack. You are constantly on the defensive and ready to counter-attack and blame your spouse for anything and everything that happens, putting a negative spin on even the slightest indiscretion, lack of judgment or tact. There is no problem-solving or negotiation – just attack and defend.

4. Stonewalling:

As this destructive cycle continues, individuals caught in its sequence begin to stonewall, refusing to cooperate, avoiding questions and deliberately creating delays.  Their persona indicates they could care less what the other person says or does. They are no longer interested in discussion, negotiation or resolving disagreements.

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”

—Oscar Wilde

Is there any hope?

While these may be predictive signs of a potential breakup, when two people really want to change and work together, they can do so. Sometimes we think if we just leave and start over again our lives will be different and we will be happy. We forget, however, that we take with us the remnants of previous broken relationships and unless we work through them, we repeat previous behaviors.

Dr. Sue Johnson, clinical psychologist, and creator of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples, has found three key factors relationships need in order to be truly healthy. As they argue and battle, she believes in the back of all these battles, what they are asking is the following: “Are you there for me?”

She postulates the following three things that are needed to be present in order to receive a “Yes” to this question.

Known as A.R.E., these are Accessibility, Responsiveness, and Emotional Engagement.


When people feel their partner is accessible in some way to them, they feel more secure, less anxious and validated. To become accessible, pay attention to what your partner is sensitive to. Instead of immediately continuing a fight, stop and extend an olive branch instead. Listen – really listen. Validate how your partner is feeling.


When your partner comes to you, respond – be there – let them know you are there for them. This is especially important when you are in the middle of something. Let them know you sincerely want to talk and set a time when you can come together and have a discussion.

Emotional Engagement:

Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships,“Love is really an emotional bond more than anything else,” says Dr. Johnson.

In her book, Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships, she writes that research is increasing our understanding of emotions and how they apply in neuroscience, psychology, and biology and how important it is to “care about your partner’s emotional experience.”

Let them know you care. “The more emotionally engaged partners are with each other, the stronger their bond.”

Next time you find yourself fighting, stop, take a deep breath, and ask yourself what you are really fighting about.

What is really important?

Do you want to turn your stress into a positive force?

Make Stress Work For You by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comMy Make Stress Work for You bundle will help you:

  • Identify the personal stressors that create high levels of distress in your life
  • Learn how to identify problems and find ways to solve them
  • Replace unhelpful thinking with constructive and practical ways to lower levels of fear, worry, and anxiety

The book bundle includes:

  • ebook
  • audio recording of each chapter’
  • companion Study Guide & Personal Application Workbook
  • Four bonus guides

Click here for details and to order

12 Ways to Promote Good Communication

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Communication is a skill that is learned and developed over time. When we recognize what isn’t working, we can replace it with something that will work.

We communicate all the time. We cannot not communicate. With our facial gestures, postures, words, or attempts to change the other person, we need to know how to become the type of communicator who respects ourselves and others.

Knowing yourself is vital in becoming a good communicator.

You need to know what triggers your stress buttons or emotional upsets, your fears of being hurt or looking stupid. Finding ways of dealing with adversity are often hidden from you until you are willing to accept yourself unconditionally, with both the good and the bad. When you feel okay to face your vulnerabilities you are taking charge of your interactions and your life, and that is reflected in your conversations.

Here are 12 things you can do that will promote good communication:

1. Check your internal states.

Lower anxiety levels and remain calm and open. Be attentive to other people and display this through your non-verbal behavior.

2. Be aware of both verbal and non-verbal communication.

Communication can be expressive. Be aware of your body communication as well as your words.

3. Think before you speak.

What message are you sending with the tone of your voice, your facial expression or stance? Remember that good communication is a skill. Like any skill, it demands attention to detail until habits are formed.

4. Check your perceptual filters.

How might your perceptions of problems or events become a distortion to your intent? Are you being honest? Are you speaking with a hidden agenda?

5. Know how to ask for wants and needs.

If you want something, ask for it – don’t assume the other person should or ought to know.

6. Respect the rights of others.

Respect their space, feelings, integrity, and intelligence. Even if you adamantly disagree, you can respect the opinions of others.

7. Ask for feedback.

Don’t assume the other person automatically understands what you are trying to say.

8. Use reflective language – validate feelings.

When people are upset or angry their emotions are heightened or mixed and they may feel guilty for feeling that way. Validating your listener’s feelings tells them you care, and that they are okay.

9. Let people know you are listening to them.

Use of mmm, uh-huh, and other verbal and physical responses can let the other person know you are listening.

10. Use “I” statements.

“I” statements tells others where you are at. It tells them how you feel, what you are thinking, and makes your wishes and wants known. Examples: “I think…   I feel…when…  I wish you would… I want…”

11. Eliminate “you” statements.

You statements blame, accuse, label, create defensiveness, judge and evaluate the other. You statements are saying the other person is responsible for how you feel and how you choose to respond.

12. Eliminate powerless talk.

Powerless talk is tentative. It hedges or qualifies (I think, or I guess). It hesitates or reverts to you knows. It involves a tag question, such as “sure is cold in here, isn’t it”? It involves disclaimers such as, “Don’t get me wrong, but…”and uses phrases that you feel you need to prove by showing or pointing out.

Good Listening Skills

12 Ways to Promote Good Communication | focuswithmarlene.com

Listening is as important as the message sent. Listening requires that you are there: physically, emotionally and intellectually. You are active in the listening process. It requires attention, effort, time, and focus.

It takes work to concentrate. It requires an open mind. When someone comes to you to talk, put down whatever you are doing and look at the other person as they speak. Give some eye contact. If you don’t have time to listen, let the other person know when you will have time to listen and set a time of agreement for that.

Before responding to someone’s question, comment, or suggestion, rephrase it in your own words to show that you have fully grasped what was said. Then ask for verification and let the other person take the lead again in the conversation.

If the other person’s statement sounds like a criticism, resist answering defensively. Clarification is needed instead.

“If I understand what you are asking, you need. . . so that. . . Is that correct?”

Ask open-ended questions.

There is a difference between a yes-no question and an open-ended question:

Yes-No: I expect you to have these chores done before dinner. Do you understand?

Open-ended: These are the chores that need to be completed. Can we talk about who will be responsible for which ones?

Or “Is there a problem we need to discuss?”

Or “What can I do to help you?”

Or “What information do you need from me?”

Or “So what do you think?”

During times of stress and conflict, use statements instead of asking questions in a snotty way. When you are tempted to classify something the other person has said as wrong, incorrect, or inaccurate, ask for clarification.

“This is what I heard (observed, etc.) Is this correct?”

How we respond matters as much as the information asked for. We can encourage people, or we can shut them down by issuing questions that sound like orders and are perceived as attacks.

Questions asked during times of tension, no matter what they look like on the surface, can easily be turned into one question: Okay, whose fault is this?

Don’t fire question torpedoes.

Instead of, “Who told you that you could play with that?” use a statement. “I see you believed it was okay to play with that. Am I correct?”

Here are 15 important listening skills to develop:

  1. Prepare to listen
  2. Control or eliminate distractions
  3. Find common areas of interest
  4. Listen for main ideas
  5. Keep an open mind
  6. Judge content, not delivery
  7. Delay evaluations
  8. Stay focused on what is being said rather than thinking about your reply
  9. Body language, one of voice and content should agree
  10. Don’t speak for the other person
  11. Don’t give advice
  12. Give feedback – paraphrase
  13. Ask for more information when needed
  14. Avoid analyzing
  15. Validate feelings

Next week we will conclude this series on communication.

Do you want to turn your stress into a positive force?

Make Stress Work For You by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comMy Make Stress Work for You bundle will help you:

  • Identify the personal stressors that create high levels of distress in your life
  • Learn how to identify problems and find ways to solve them
  • Replace unhelpful thinking with constructive and practical ways to lower levels of fear, worry, and anxiety

The book bundle includes:

  • ebook
  • audio recording of each chapter’
  • companion Study Guide & Personal Application Workbook
  • Four bonus guides

Click here for details and to order