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Become the Person You Were Meant to Be

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

This is part 4 in my series, “Focus on Where You Want to Go.”

Part 1: What Do I Want to Do With The Rest of My Life?
Part 2: How to Replace Negative Self-Talk With Affirmations
Part 3: Take an Inventory of Your Routines and Habits 

As we move from one stage of development to another, we seldom take time to reflect and examine what we do and why we do it.

Yet, to become the person you were meant to be requires a thorough understanding of who you are.

Who am I?

As you begin to answer that question, you might find it difficult to come up with answers because you are used to identifying yourself by your role in life or by the job or work you do. This is natural.

But if you want to go a step further, you must ask more probing questions. This month on my blog and podcast, you have begun to explore questions such as:

  • What do I really like to do?
  • What am I passionate about?
  • What are my weaknesses?
  • What are my strengths?

You may be reticent about listing them. But until you have thoroughly evaluated who you are, you won’t accomplish what you want to do. To get that genuine evaluation, you need to be honest and forthright.

Be honest about how you spend your time, how that could be improved, and what truly is important to you.

As you acknowledge your accomplishments and your strengths, celebrate who you are.

This is an exercise just for you.

It is an opportunity to be honest with yourself, uncover some truths you may not like, and challenge behaviors that conflict with what you value and believe.

For example, when you evaluate your strengths, they may include:

  • Survivor
  • Tenacious
  • Determined
  • Compassionate
  • Loyal
  • Able to ask for help

Your weaknesses may include:

  • Find it difficult to be a good friend
  • Feel vulnerable about revealing too much of myself
  • Too quick to judge
  • Have a temper
  • Don’t listen
  • Suspicious

As you examine the things that are important to you, you become aware that you might be living a life that is contradictory to what you believe and value. This can create an enormous amount of stress and unrest.

Sometimes old scripts demand you act in ways that don’t seem genuine and honest with the person you are. Some of the questions may bring up painful memories of the past that have shaped you but have left you feeling worse about yourself.

This has been an ongoing exercise of discovery. You have examined what you have accomplished, what you want to accomplish, and what has been keeping you from becoming the person you want to be. You now know a little more about who you are and what you are capable of.

Write yourself a letter.

When you have had time to review last week’s inventory, write a letter to yourself.

Tell yourself what dreams you are still serious about and why.

Write a few sentences that define who you are and all you can be.

Brainstorm ideas about how you might complete some of your goals and what you need to begin the process.

Make a commitment to yourself.

Congratulate yourself.

Take an Inventory of Your Routines and Habits

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

This is part 3 in my series, “Focus on Where You Want to Go.”

Part 1: What Do I Want to Do With The Rest of My Life?
Part 2: How to Replace Negative Self-Talk With Affirmations

During this series, you have been discovering more about yourself so you can make the changes you want and need. You can expand your thoughts about what you want to do with your life by taking an in-depth inventory.

Here we go:

For one week, write down the time of day and what you do during that time. Include times when you do frivolous things, such as playing games on your phone.

At the end of the week, do a review.

  1. What were your routines and habits? Are there habits that need replacing?
  2. How and when did you use your time most productively?
  3. What did you accomplish?
  4. What did you avoid doing?
  5. What did you do that you wish you hadn’t?

Is your to-do list overflowing?

“To do” things gradually accumulate and before we realize it, we are struggling to fit everything in.

Perhaps you agreed to teach a Sunday School class or volunteered at your child’s school, or couldn’t refuse to take on the responsibility for organizing this year’s office party. While these and many other things are important, reality demands that these be checked against an otherwise full calendar.

What can be eliminated from your calendar?

How can you replace unproductive habits?

  • Does it involve better time management, delegation, or cooperation from others?
  • Does it include designated recreation or downtime?

If you remain overloaded, something will suffer – you, your family, and/or your health.

Go back over the inventory you made and examine all the things you routinely do each week. Include work, family time, obligations, and extracurricular activities.

⭐ Put a star beside all those things that are necessary:  work, meals, chores, exercise, etc.

❓ Put a question mark beside all those things that may be seasonal or jobs that involve short periods of time. How important are these to you and your family? Which ones can be eliminated?

Sometimes we need to take a sharp scalpel approach to eliminate things that have value but are not absolutely necessary.

What’s left on your list?

Strikethrough all the things you can eliminate. Remember to inform others if your decision involves them.

It is okay to say “no,” not only when originally asked but later, when you continue doing something that isn’t right for you. Your responsibility is to you and your loved ones.

If any of the items on your list are work-related, consider sitting down with your employer or co-workers and discussing ways to modify or lighten your load. If that isn’t an option, reflect on ways you can become more efficient in your work habits.

Review your list one last time.

Ask yourself, “What do I need to do to make my life more productive?

  • Can I organize my time better?
  • Have I put daily routines in place that eliminate last-minute decisions and stress?
  • What can I delegate to others?
  • What chores can be shared?
  • Have I scheduled specific downtimes that I honor as highly as my work schedule?

When we are stressed and overworked, we are no good to anyone – even ourselves. Taking charge of our lives begins by putting the brakes on a life of constant upheaval and chaos and thoughtfully determining what we want and need.

How to Replace Negative Self-Talk With Affirmations

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

This is part 2 in my series, “Focus on Where You Want to Go.”

Part 1: What Do I Want to Do With The Rest of My Life?

“You always fail.”

“You are too stupid to learn.”

“You will make a mess of anything you do.”

Negative messages repeated over and over make it difficult for us to believe in ourselves. We soon personalize them and repeat them in our self-talk:

I keep failing.

I can’t really trust myself.

I have to be careful, or others will find out just how inept I am.

I can’t risk being rejected again.

If others don’t believe in me, how can I believe in me?

When we look at ourselves through a negative lens every day, our thinking and beliefs become skewed, biased, and irrational. We cannot problem-solve because we believe there are no solutions.

We develop tunnel vision that sees things in only one way. We diminish anything positive and embellish all things negative. We screen out possibilities and alternative options. This soon becomes a vicious cycle, repeating itself, growing with intensity, and eventually becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

How do we stop it?

Here is a strategy that replaces the cycle of “I can’t” with, “I will make mistakes but that is how I learn. I trust myself to learn.”

How to implement this strategy

Imagine you are holding a remote in your hand. When you hear yourself repeating negative thoughts over and over again, push the STOP button.

Then do a quick analysis of what triggered those negative thoughts. Is it something I need to attend to, take care of, or get more information to properly process?

You hold the remote control of how you choose to respond to life. Tell yourself you are in control – that you can discern real danger from imagined danger.

Because you are capable, you can consider every situation logically and calmly.

To help reduce constant negativity, challenge and alter negative emotional responses and change your ongoing self-talk.

Include affirmations

Affirmations are a way to replace old messages that hurt instead of help. They are positive statements that are stated in the present tense, as though they already exist. They are personal, simple, and realistic.

Repeat affirmations throughout the day. Write them down on sticky notes and place them around the house: bathroom, refrigerator, computer.

Carry them with you in your purse, place them on the car dashboard, etc.

Here are some examples of positive affirmations. Choose five to start.

  • I like myself unconditionally.
  • I am in charge of my life.
  • I am flexible and adjust well to change.
  • My mind is calm, and my breathing is relaxed and effortless.
  • I remain calm under pressure and stress.
  • I am responsible for all my responses to all people and events in life.
  • I can make wise choices.
  • I am prepared to meet all challenges.
  • I am happy and healthy.
  • My thoughts are positive and optimistic.

Next week, we will work further on taking an inventory of what we do and how it fits with what we want to do.

What Do I Want to Do With The Rest of My Life?

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

During January, we focused on building confidence. This month, we’ll explore where we want to go and ways to get there. Today, we’ll do a quick evaluation of what we want.

 “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”


We live with so many “have-tos.” We have to get up in the morning and go to work. We have to take care of families. We have to keep track of our finances, so we don’t go so far into debt.

At the end of the day, we’re exhausted. Any wishful thinking about what we may want to do with the rest of our lives has vanished.

We can’t have everything, but it is critical to know what is most important.

  • If you woke up tomorrow morning and could do whatever you wanted, what would that be?
  • How would you feel? Does the thought of doing that thing motivate and excite you?
  • Is there a way you could accomplish that thing?

Now is the time.

Find some quiet space and consider what is important to you. Here are six questions you can ask to start the process.

  1. What is your passion? What could you spend all day doing without getting tired?
  2. What excites you? Can you see yourself working endlessly in this area?
  3. What gives you pleasure, energy, joy, contentment, and satisfaction?
  4. What would you like to accomplish before you die?
  5. If you could do anything you wanted to and didn’t have to worry about money, what would you be doing?
  6. What secret desire or dream have you never allowed yourself to explore?

Get a notebook and call it your life planning notebook. Start jotting down all the things you see yourself doing. Include all your hopes, dreams, and ideas, even if you think they are impossible to achieve.

Be expansive; don’t pre-judge them at this stage – just make a list as long as you can. Over the next several days, go back and add to the list.

Now go over your list and discard those that are old, unimportant fantasies and wishes.

It has been said we can do anything we want to do, but we can’t do everything.


We will need to pick and choose or prioritize. But regardless of your age, or monetary or physical restrictions, if it is important enough, you will find a way to make it happen.

  • List your strengths as well as your weaknesses.
  • List your past accomplishments. What helped you succeed?
  • Then look at the times you failed. What kept you from meeting your goal?

These become the starting point of reflection and serious contemplation of what you can do with the rest of your life.

Review your list once more and pray about it.

If God is an integral part of your life, you will know that He not only has a plan for you, but He will use your talents and abilities in the best way that will be a source of intense joy and satisfaction.

All aspirations require hard work and overcoming obstacles. They also require knowing yourself, accepting your strengths and weaknesses, and determination to be the best you can be.

Taking a risk can be scary. But it can also be the most important and exciting thing you have ever done.

Are You Living the Life You Want?

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

This is part 5 in my series, “Focus on Building Confidence.”

Part 1: Focus on What You Can Do, Instead of What You Can’t

Part 2: Why Your Focus Matters 

Part 3: Are You Reaching Your Goals?

Part 4: Relaxation Exercise to Maximize Your Focus

When I was working through the loss of my husband, it became a time of both healing and discovery.

Similar to my experience, when you transition from what was to what is now, you’ll go through a period of reflection and creating a new identity. (See my book, Learning to Live Again in a New World).

But you don’t have to wait for a tragedy to pause and consider who you are, what is important, and what you are capable of. You can stop and reflect right now and ask, “Is this how I want to live my life?”

Have you identified what is truly important to you and are you living that life?
If not, what needs to change?
What do you need to learn about yourself before continuing on?

Much of life revolves around what is required to live, from getting a job to raising a family and then preparing for retirement. We become tougher over time through life’s challenges. We gain courage and a stick-to-itiveness we wouldn’t have without going through difficult times.

But we don’t have to wait for life to present opportunities to explore who we are, what we like or enjoy doing, or what hidden talents and abilities we may not have yet discovered. No matter what our age is, we can stop at any time and do some important self-evaluation.

So, ask yourself right now: Am I living the life I want to live?

I’m not talking about fancy homes, or cars, or elite lifestyles. I am talking about what, deep down, you realize is important to have contentment, satisfaction, and joy.

As you reflect, consider the following:

What do you like to do?

Think back over the years and explore times when you did things that gave you a sense of achievement, peace, fun, challenge – times when you could lose yourself in what you were doing.

It may be singing, traveling, gardening, reading, studying, working with people, painting, etc.

  • When was the last time you did this activity?
  • Is this something you can start now?

Do not allow age or other predetermined restrictions to keep you from considering this. Start small and work from there.

When were you the happiest?

Your first thought might be when you were first in love and being with that person and doing things together.

But other times can create a feeling of happiness. Can you identify some of them?

Maybe it was whenever you worked with others on a project or helped others, or accomplished a difficult goal.

  • Can you keep doing things that create this sense of achievement, happiness, and contentment?
  • Have you given yourself credit or praise for the times you tried as well as when you accomplished?

If we focus only on times when we failed without giving ourselves credit for attempting or simply trying one more time, we might begin to think we are no good at doing anything.

Make a list of all the things you can take credit for, no matter how minor or small they may seem. Examples: Being willing to try, stick-to-itiveness, knowing when to alter directions, self-discipline, finding joy even in tough times. Go over your list every day as you build confidence.

What do you dream about and hope for?

What have you always wanted to do but were even afraid to tell someone for fear they might laugh at you?

What is keeping you from exploring those hopes and dreams today?

President Bush skydived when he retired and made his last jump when he was 80. Age is not a barrier.

You have only one life to live.

Identify what is important to you and begin living it!

Relaxation Exercise to Maximize Your Focus

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

This is part 4 in my series, “Focus on Building Confidence.”

Part 1: Focus on What You Can Do, Instead of What You Can’t

Part 2: Why Your Focus Matters 

Part 3: Are You Reaching Your Goals?

Last week you assessed how you would like to live the rest of your life – your passions and aspirations, and what would make you happy.

You identified the times when you completed a goal or objective and what you did to make that happen.

You also identified times when you didn’t succeed, and what kept you from achieving. Perhaps it was time management or a goal you didn’t thoroughly think through because you were unaware of the magnitude of obstacles you would have to overcome.

When you define what is important and how you want to live, you can find ways to make that happen.

Discover unhelpful patterns

This FOCUS exercise will help you evaluate what you do every day.

For one week, keep a record of what you do, from the time you get up to the time you go to bed. Don’t assess at first, just keep a record.

At the end of the week, go back and evaluate.

Look for patterns that aren’t helping you. For example, you play video games before fixing dinner, or you call someone instead of doing housework. Are these activities unconsciously keeping you from completing tasks you don’t enjoy doing but need to be done?

Over time, we create habits of avoidance and making excuses. How many necessary jobs and chores have you put off for tomorrow because you don’t enjoy doing them?

Until we can honestly appraise what we do and don’t do every day, we will find it difficult to make the goal that we want to complete.

Reduce the stress in your life

As our lives become more chaotic, we become more and more stressed. We stop focusing on what needs to be done or how to maximize our time.

We also add to our stress levels by how we interpret and replay what is happening. Our brain responds to words we continually focus on. Without realizing it, we are constantly streaming some kind of statements all day long. A lot of those statements are loaded with words of contention or resentment or failures, and the body immediately gears up in some way to respond to them.

Taking time-outs during the day can help reduce tension, relax the muscles, and return our focus to one that is productive.

Use relaxation to your advantage

Make Stress Work For You by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comEarlier in my career, I studied the brain-body connection and ways to use relaxation and visualization to our advantage. It prompted me to record a CD, first for Kaiser Permanente (who I was working with at the time), and then later, as an ebook/audio MP3 for my readers:

Make Stress Work for You: 12 Steps to Understanding Stress and Turning it Into a Positive Force

It is difficult to learn how to relax on our own, and we usually try to “make” it happen instead of “allowing” it to happen.

The music that accompanies the script was composed by a good friend, Ron Jones, and recorded in his studio. The MP3 is both relaxing and instructive. As you listen and follow the instructions, you’ll discover where in your body you hold your tension and you’ll learn how to release tension.

A few minutes a day can do wonders.

Here is a summary of what you will get from my recording. Because you only have to listen, you can do a quick relaxation during the day in the privacy of your home or workspace.

Relaxation Exercise


Once a day, or whenever possible, find a quiet time and space away from family or work, turn off your cell phone, and seat yourself in a comfortable chair, feet on the floor, hands in your lap.

Hang a DO NOT DISTURB sign on the door. While this exercise can be done sitting up or lying down, it is more productive when sitting. When lying down, we often fall asleep.

One of the key elements of this exercise is breathing – breathing that is slow and even and originates in the diaphragm.

Breathe in through the nose, hold a second, and then slowly release the air through your mouth. You can put your hand on your stomach as you breathe in and out to see if you are breathing correctly. Remember, each breath during this exercise is done slowly and evenly.

Before you continue with the relaxation of your body, you may want to practice this slow, even breathing for a while. Practice breathing like this until it becomes normal and natural. You can take one-minute breaks from work and focus on breathing in and out.

The next phase of this exercise is to progressively relax the different parts of your body. You are seated comfortably in your chair, and you can close your eyes.

I like to start with the head and work my way down. The process goes like this: tighten the muscles, feel the tension, breathe into that spot and as you release the air, release the tension.

Begin with your head. Tighten the muscles around the eyes and forehead. Feel the tension. Take a deep calming breath, and as you let the air out, relax all the tense muscles. Continue down the face, tensing the jaw and cheek muscles, taking a breath, and then releasing the tension with the air.

Continue this relaxation sequence of “tense, breathe, and relax” for all the muscle groups in your neck, shoulders, back, arms and fingers, pelvic area, hips, legs, and feet.

As you do this, add the following phrases:

  • “Letting go”
  • “I am relaxing more and more”
  • “I am relaxing deeper and deeper”
  • “All my tension is melting away”

Use different phrases as you go through the relaxation exercise.

By pairing the tensing of muscles and relaxing breathing with words that tell your brain you are letting go of tension and stress, you are associating the words or phrases with the actions of the relaxation process.

When you have relaxed all the muscle groups in your body, take a moment and focus on relaxing your internal organs.

Before you get up and resume your activities, take a moment after opening your eyes to let your body energize again.

When you have done this exercise for a while, you will be able to relax your body anytime, anywhere by simply taking some slow, deep, even breaths, focusing on the areas where you are holding your tension, and telling yourself to let go. After a while, you will notice how quickly tension can drain away.

Order the MP3 of Make Stress Work for You.

Are You Reaching Your Goals?

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

This is part 3 in my series, “Focus on Building Confidence.”

Part 1: Focus on What You Can Do, Instead of What You Can’t

Part 2: Why Your Focus Matters 

If you can’t define what you want, you will continue to do whatever is expedient in the moment.

Until you develop a positive and constructive FOCUS for your life, you will keep doing whatever feels good at the time but won’t make you happy over the long term. Instead, you’ll become exhausted and discouraged.

For example, let’s say you want a happy marriage. But all you can think about is what is constantly going wrong, especially everything your spouse is doing wrong.

Or, you might want to succeed at work but focus on everything and everybody that seems to be keeping you from reaching that goal. You are not looking for productive ways to bring about what you want.

To succeed with personal or professional goals, we must first define specifically what we want. Assessing and evaluating takes thoughtful consideration. Clarifying what is important is the first step in preparing to work for it.

Goal-setting exercise

This exercise will help you recognize behaviors and choices that worked and those that didn’t and why they didn’t.

  1. What has kept you from reaching your goals in the past?
  2. What did you do differently when you were successful in completing a goal?
  3. What did you fail to do when you didn’t succeed? Was it time management, identifying obstacles, or how it involved other people in your life?
  4. What obstacles are you currently facing that are keeping you from reaching a goal? List them – all of them. This might include:
    •  difficulty staying focused on my goal over time
    • making alterations when needed
    • following a reliable and realistic routine
    • not completing the small tasks that eventually lead to bigger problems

Only you can ascertain what you need to do to make your goals succeed. After you have worked through the questions above, make an assessment:

  • Were these goals important enough for you to work for them?
  • What needs to change?
  • Look at each item on your list and see how you might do things differently.

We tend to think of goals as relating to work or a career. But every day when we say we are going to do this or that and spend the time and energy to accomplish it, we are setting a mini goal. We don’t consider it a goal – just a job that needs to be completed.

When we look at goal setting overall, we realize there is a pattern from beginning to completion.

Obstacles that are unique to you require ways to overcome.

Time is involved – deciding when to start, when you hope to finish, and how working towards your goal will impact your lifestyle.

Plan of action

A specific plan of action is required with as many steps as necessary to complete that goal. Write down all the benefits you will get from reaching that goal.

Thoughtful reflection

Before you can get serious about how to improve your life, you need to do some thoughtful reflection.

  • What do you really want your life to be like?
  • What are your passions, your deep desires, and ambitions?
  • What makes you feel content and satisfied? (Include the things you have thought about many times but deep down never believed you could accomplish.)

Review your list again. Then ask yourself once more, “How do I want to live the rest of my life?”

  •  What is more important than the usual matters of the day?
  • Am I happy with my relationships? Why or why not?
  • What could I do to improve my relationships?

A common obstacle to achieving goals

We are confronted with obstacles all the time – most of which we don’t really identify as things we can work with to bring about a change or better outcome.

A common one is holding on to resentments.

Decide to let go of that long-held bitterness. It’s not helping you. Hanging onto it is not going to change anything.

Relationship goals

  • Do you want to be able to communicate your wants and needs better while respecting those of others?
  • This is very important in long-term relationships.
  • How can I avoid conflict without giving up my needs?
  • Can I set reasonable boundaries and maintain them while respecting others?

Then expand from the personal interactions to other desires you might have had but never believed were possible because of time or money or degree of knowledge.

What would it take to try one wish now and make it happen?

While I’m sure you have done exercises like this before, I encourage you to do it again. Sit down, maybe at the beginning of the day, and let your mind relax. Then take a piece of paper and start writing whatever comes to your mind – don’t plan or correct – just write, free-flowing without purposeful design.

When you have written about three pages you will notice your brain is focusing on things that are important to you in some way.

Free-writing unlocks the brain and allows creativity to flow.

See Walking in This World: The Practical Art of Creativity by Julia Cameron, who also wrote The Artist’s Way

Why Your Focus Matters

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

This is part 2 of my series, “Focus on Building Confidence.”

Part 1: Focus on What You Can Do, Instead of What You Can’t

At the top of my website, you will find this statement:

Your focus defines who you are and who you can become.


  • On God — let Him lead
  • On what you can do — not what you can’t
  • On choices and possibilities
  • On solutions — not problems
  • On principles and values — live them

Whatever challenge you face, you can have a life full of meaning, purpose, and joy.

As a licensed mental health counselor, psychology teacher, and a Christian, I know that what we focus on matters more than we think.

Our FOCUS impacts every aspect of our life.

FOCUS is what we pay attention to or dwell on.

For example, if we don’t focus on the road when we are driving, we will end up in the ditch or will hit another car.

If we don’t focus on where our kids are playing, they could easily put themselves in danger.

However, we often fail to consider the effect of constantly focusing on our resentments or on how angry we are with someone who did us harm or wronged us.

Over time, that resentment creates a grievance story that we repeat over and over. Joy and happiness are blocked.

Focusing on our losses without moving beyond them to create a new beginning will leave us feeling life is over. Thoughtless, mindless rambling about everything that goes wrong can keep us from focusing on how we can improve our lives.

(For more on this, see my book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, available on Amazon)

We need to stop and think about the positive things that are happening – the blessings we miss because we are so focused on everything that is going wrong. We need to engage life with a purpose: to find solutions, evaluate our beliefs and values so we can live them, and develop positive and lasting relationships as we celebrate our blessings.

There is no magic formula. It is simply becoming more aware of what your mind is constantly attending to.

  • Do you focus more on things that could go wrong or are going wrong without spending equal time looking for and celebrating what is going right?
  • Do you focus on how bad the problem is, or do you focus on finding solutions?

Coming this year on my blog and podcast

Throughout the year, my blog and podcast will offer suggestions to help you improve your life and accomplish your goals. Each month, I will focus on one of the following topics:

  • Focus on what is most important to you and live it.
  • Focus on gaining a more positive self-evaluation of your worth, skills, and abilities.
  • Focus on your responses to life – are they helping or hurting you?
  • Focus on solving problems, not on the symptoms that tell you that you have a problem.
  • Focus on building good, reliable relationships – become a good friend.
  • Focus on setting boundaries and on becoming comfortable saying “no.”
  • Focus on building and improving your skills and abilities.
  • Focus on your spiritual life – do you know what you believe and why?
  • Focus on setting realistic and achievable goals – starting small and building from there.
  • Focus on where you want to go next with your life. And remember to include time for rest and relaxation, so you don’t get burned out.

We are the only ones who can determine whether what we constantly focus on is hurting or helping us.

Focus on What You Can Do, Instead of What You Can’t

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

This is part 1 in my series, “Focus on Building Confidence.”

We have all struggled with the enormity of problems we face and have gotten discouraged when we felt there were no solutions.

At such times, I had to remind myself that I could reach out to others for help, advice, support, and assistance. But, in the end, it was up to me. Only I could take charge of my life and address my problems.

With the help of God, I found the solutions I needed. They weren’t always perfect, but they opened the door to further possibilities.

FOCUS. What we continually focus on makes a huge difference.

We live in trying times that trigger anxiety and apprehension. Often, however, the greatest obstacle we face is ourselves.

Do we believe we can make it?

Do we have the ability to make reliable decisions?

Can we look for and find the solutions we need?

When faced with uncertainty, conflict, or unexpected tragedies, we come face-to-face with ourselves.

It’s at such times that we need to remind ourselves, “Yes, I can.” I can try as many times as needed. I can alter plans or update them when necessary. I can reach out for support and help.”

When the going gets tough, our first thoughts are often, “Oh no. Not again!”

The next thought bumping into that first one is “How can I survive another setback? I don’t know how I will make it. I’m not sure I can.”

Since there is an automatic physical response to our thoughts, we either get angry, mad, frustrated, or depressed. Every muscle in our body aches, and we are drained of energy. We may think the whole world is against us. We start imagining and dwelling on the worst that could happen and begin questioning everything about ourselves.

Every year we will face new obstacles.

But what we bring to them will be the key to meeting those challenges. We don’t ignore the problems we face but recognize we need to look for solutions.

Throughout this year, my blog and podcast will FOCUS on monthly themes that can help you live more productively. The content will give you tools that can be easily applied and integrated into your life, helping you focus on what you can do instead of what you can’t. I hope this content will encourage and motivate you to develop new strategies and maintain strength, hope, and faith.

As we focus on ways to enhance and improve our lives, we can reduce stress and anxiety. Instead of increasing fears, we can lower constant worry and tension as we learn and apply new skills.

Problems, when identified, can be resolved in some way, even if it is simply altering our response to them.

As we communicate with ourselves and others with a “Yes, I can” mindset, we can reduce conflicts and overcome obstacles.

The Final Gift of Christmas

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

“What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, for all that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”

—Helen Keller

Christmas – a shining star – a break from the tedious schedules we find ourselves in.

For a moment in time, we escaped the 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 now Christmas is over. The torn wrappings are stuffed in bags ready for the garbage pickup Bows are packed away to use again next year.

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 hearts and rituals that filled our hearts with special remembrances. An afterglow that brings the hope 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 gifts I was given – love, joy, and peace – I find another one waiting for me; that final gift of Christmas: Hope.

Hope: the glow that began at Christmas and extends beyond

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

Hope faces the uncertainty of tomorrow and replaces it with an optimism that things will improve.

Hope allows me to stop running in circles, but to identify the problems I face and start looking for realistic, long-term solutions.

Hope reaches out and asks God to give us the strength and courage we need to keep going.

I love the Christmas season – the smell of burning candles and pine boughs, Christmas cards that continue to connect me with old friends, and the music that fills all the tattered and worn places of my heart and spirit. I love the afterglow when family and friends have returned home after a special day of celebration.

It is several days after Christmas, and I look again at the Christmas cards I received – cards whose message proclaims our desire for peace and hope. Yet, as it has for centuries, the world remains in rebellion, revolt, and war. Peace. Hope. Are these things truly possible?

Each year, we are allowed to pause and reflect on what Christmas means to us. For Christmas isn’t just about pretty bows, celestial music, and lights that decorate trees and houses; it is about a gift given to us by God, a gift that involved sacrifice and love.

Who can fathom such a God who loves us so much that He would be willing to send His Son to die for us?

As we gather the wrapping paper strewn about and put away our presents, what will we do with the gift God has given us?

Will we put it on a shelf somewhere with other gifts we don’t know what to do with? Or will we choose to continue to unwrap its many layers throughout the year?

We look forward to Christmas because the season symbolizes peace, hope, love, and joy. Yet even when we begrudgingly put aside our differences, resentments, and hurts so we can enjoy the holiday, we quickly pick them up again right after Christmas and life continues as usual.

But the peace and hope we long for don’t begin with negotiations to end wars on foreign fronts. It isn’t found in governments that write peace treaties. It is found in the gift God gave us, which can transform hearts and lives.

The choice is ours. Do we use the gift given to us or discard it?

We have romanticized the spirit and intent of Christmas to where it makes for good entertainment in Hollywood movies. The message may give us pause for a second of sentimentality about a way of life that might be different. But then we rethink it as being idealistic and impossible to achieve. We think, “Who would consider a love-filled life as anything other than Pollyanna? I would be laughed out of my neighborhood.”

Can we take those priceless moments of joy, laughter and contentment and apply them throughout the coming year?

Can we find ways to love one another, forgive, build bridges of communication, and resolve conflicts?

Are we willing to try?

If so, the afterglow of Christmas will continue to grow and enrich our lives.