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Step 6 in Designing a Meaningful Life: Activate Your Plan

Part 6 in a series on Designing a Meaningful Life

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

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


“For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

– Matthew 25:29

Step 6 – Activating Your Plan

In Step 5 you reviewed the different areas of your life and wrote down the concerns and changes you wanted to make.

Look over your list. Which area will you work on first?

When you choose a goal to work on, ask yourself whether you have all the information you need to activate that goal.

  • Have you defined specifically what you want the outcome to be and why it is important to you?
  • What other goal(s) may be linked to the one you have chosen? For example, if your goal is to dimmish conflict, an associated one might be to build a better relationship. Also involved is learning how to communicate effectively.

It’s hard to make changes without support.

You might have the support of a loyal friend, but it can be helpful to associate with others who have worked on similar issues.

  • Are there support groups at your local senior center or church?
  • Joining a local community group focused on similar interests such as a gardening or book club, are good ways to meet new people.
  • Perhaps joining a service organization that offers volunteer work to people in need.
  • Develop that relationship with God. Check in with Him every day.

Whenever you make changes, finances are usually an integral component. Knowing more precisely what your spending habits and financial needs are can make it easier to choose how you spend your money. Start small with adjustments and then later establish a primary goal to develop a budget you can stick with.

Here is where all your hard work of preparation will pay off. If you haven’t gathered all the information you need or do not have a good description of what you want, you will lose motivation. Too often we start with a bang and then lose enthusiasm.

Wishful thinking to focused resolve

There is a difference between wishful thinking and a focused resolve.

Wishes are desires, but you don’t not want them badly enough to make them happen. It’s like driving around the countryside with no destination in mind. We often spend a lifetime driving through life the same way; enjoying the moment without any plans for the future.

Setting goals is like taking a map and developing a roadmap with a plan of action that will take you on the routes needed to get to your destination. Until you purposefully turn your desires into goals, they will just remain wishes.

Choose an area to start

Return to the list of areas in your life along with the concerns you have in each.

  • Are you prepared to work and make the changes that will benefit you both in the short term and long term?
  • Are you prepared to spend the time, energy, and money to make it happen?
  • Ask yourself how you would feel if you didn’t make these important goals?

In September of 2013, a 64-year-old woman completed her goal of swimming 110 miles, from Cuba to Florida. It was a lifelong dream and this was her fifth try. But she stuck with her goal. As she emerged from the water, she said to the reporters, “Never give up.” She continued to train until she made her goal come true. Wow!

How often do we give up and believe we have no options?

How often do we believe we are too old, too poor, too uneducated? How often do we convince ourselves that it is too hard or requires too much sacrifice? I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to give up.

Goals are for people who want to make things happen – who want to take charge of their lives. If you lack confidence, go through the process of making and completing some small goals. That can motivate you to tackle bigger ones.

Why You Should Create a Formal Goal Plan | FocusWithMarlene.comGeneral framework of goal setting:

  1. Set a goal that is specific, measurable, realistic, and attainable. State it as an action.
  2. Designate a time to begin and when you want to finish.
  3. Define each of the steps needed to accomplish it.
  4. Write down anything that might deter you – any obstacles you currently face or might encounter while working on your goal. How will you deal with each?
  5. Evaluate your progress. Are modifications or corrections needed?
  6. Make a commitment. Sign and date it.
  7. Turn your goal statement into affirmations you repeat every day.

While working on a goal, if you believe it isn’t right for you, give yourself permission to alter, restructure or eliminate it.

Making a commitment does not mean you have to continue with a goal that won’t be useful.

A commitment is motivation to complete those goals that are right for you. Reward yourself on each of your steps – both for what you achieved and the time and energy you spent.

You are making goals to improve your life.

Keep that foremost in your thoughts each day. It will help motivate you when you get discouraged. You have determined their importance. You are in charge. While it may sound daunting, setting goals and taking charge of our lives is liberating.

Freedom is the ability to choose our direction. Responsibility is our ability to respond to life.

You can look for and ask for help if needed. When you are willing to work through adversity, roadblocks, and any obstacles because you understand how important this is for your life, the blessings will be enormous!


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To receive a free 15-minute consultation to help you create a personal plan of action, email me.

I am also available for speaking engagements, retreats or teaching workshops for your church, clubs, or women’s groups.

Step 5 in Designing a Meaningful Life: Develop a Design

Part 5 of a 5-part series on Designing a Meaningful Life

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

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


For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

– 2 Timothy 1:7

Step 5 – Develop a Design

You created a vision and are ready to work out a preliminary design. This is an important step before constructing an actual goal to complete.

What areas in your life are you struggling with right now?

Where do you want to make improvements first? Usually, one area will stand out above others in importance. Focus on completing the most important goals in one area before moving on to another.

Example of a goal development inventory

1. What do I want? (You have already reflected on this in steps 3 and 4).

2. What goals do I want to accomplish in the following areas:

  • Personal growth
  • Family
  • Physical/Health
  • Intellectual or education
  • Social
  • Spiritual
  • Financial/Time Management

3. Explore each area and write down the goals needed to achieve what you want. Some areas might require more work than others. You decide where to start. Completing work in one area can influence work to be done in other areas.

4. Select one goal you want to achieve in the next six months. Then select three others you want to work on next. Then go from there.

5. Make a commitment right now that whatever goal you choose to work on, you will stick with it through completion.

Preliminary work

Step 5 in Designing a Meaningful Life: Develop a Design

Using the inventory example, let’s go through each of the areas briefly. Again, one area might require attention first. Describe in depth how each impacts you. You can rename or add additional areas to help clarify the goals you want to make. There will often be an overlap among them.

Personal growth

For example, personal growth may include difficulty with anger or resentment or establishing boundaries.

It may mean developing  trust in yourself or becoming less anxious and fearful.

It may involve working to improve self-esteem or emotional stability.

It may involve furthering your education.

Family

Family can revolve around ongoing conflicts and how to work with them.

Communication is important. How do you communicate your needs without attacking or blaming? This is where “I” statements vs “you” statements” are very important.

Do you struggle standing up for yourself without using the blame game?

Family includes our kids, whether they are still living at home or are on their own. What rules have you set in place? Are you able to follow through with reasonable consequences that disapprove of behaviors without attacking the person?

Family includes in-laws and family get-togethers. How can I avoid arguments and confrontations? If you are struggling in a current relationship, you may want to see a counselor to help you.

Physical/Health

Physical is an area for all health needs. Health includes emotional needs as well.

Emotions can have a huge influence on our health. If we are constantly over-reacting, our stress levels will be high.

Emotions are tied to our pattern of thinking and include personal growth. Do I avoid confrontations and stress? Do I exercise on a daily and weekly basis? Do I set aside a specific time to do that? Time management is important here.

Intellectual/Education

With intellectual or education, develop a desire to learn and read. You don’t always have to get a college degree, but there are respected authors who write on many life topics where we can gain valuable and applicable information.

Social

Social includes all our relationships and problems we might have establishing friendships, working together in social settings like book clubs, church events, etc.

Can I be friendly with a colleague even if I don’t like that person?

Communication is an important asset here.

  • Have I learned how to listen and reflect the needs of others?
  • Can I share what is important to me without disrespecting another?
  • Can I build others up and listen with respect?

“There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.”

– Thomas Aquinas

Spiritual

Spiritual includes not just examining your beliefs, but the church you choose to affiliate with.

Are you living your values or just attending church?

If you are struggling with the death of a spouse or friend, you might include that under personal growth or spiritual. Here, education can also help as you read about how others have worked through difficult times such as loss and have made that transition.

Financial/Time Management

Under financial/time management, your focus is on how you spend your money, as well as budgeting, saving, investing, future plans for travel, etc. It also involves how you manage your time. It is a huge area – one that is often overlooked but is very important.

Review

Looking at each of these areas will help you put your problems in perspective so you can better understand their importance in relation to each other.

Communication, for example, impacts so many areas of our lives, from family and spouse relationships to social and the work environment, to how you communicate with yourself. If you find communicating difficult you may want to work on it first.

If you are struggling with health issues, develop a plan for appropriate diet and exercise. Start small. Take tiny steps.

If you are constantly stressed, knowing the underlying cause can not only help you lower your stress but can have an enormous effect on your health.

Make Stress Work For You by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comFor more information, See my book, Make Stress Work for You, and my Relaxation audio, both available on my website.

Establish your own areas if that makes it easier. What is important is that you recognize the changes required to improve your life overall.

Whatever your most crucial need, find a place to put it so that you will work on it and know how it fits with the rest of your life.

The more you understand the changes that can help you live the life you want, the easier it will be to make a goal and complete it.

Goals impact every area of your life.


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To receive a free 15-minute consultation to help you create a personal plan of action, email me.

I am also available for speaking engagements, retreats or teaching workshops for your church, clubs, or women’s groups.

Step 4 in Designing a Meaningful Life: Develop a Vision

Part 4 of a 5-part series on Designing a Meaningful Life

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

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


For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.

– 1 Timothy 4:4-5

Step 4 – Develop a Vision

Before we put any plan of action or design together, we need to be able to define exactly what we want to accomplish – not just for the short term, but also the long term.

Lots of ideas and dreams never come to fruition because they remain romantic fairy tales or ideals that haven’t been developed into a workable vision.

During the past few weeks as we have been working through this series on designing a meaningful life, you have questioned and evaluated who you are, what you believe, and where you currently are in life.

You have recognized and confronted fears that inhibit motivation.

You have reflected on your dreams and passions and why they are important. You can add to that by playing the “what if” game in a positive way. What if you did this or that? How might it bring you closer to what you want to achieve?

Then it’s time to ask, “What else is required before I begin to construct goals?”

It’s not only clarity we want, but how our goals might affect our relationships, families, financial concerns, etc.

  • What resources do you have at your disposal right now? What has to be acquired?
  • What time wasters or unproductive habits need to be removed or replaced?
  • What support do you have? Support includes friends who listen and encourage, are honest and comfortable giving you hard reality answers and not just agreements.

Review how you have approached problems in the past. How did avoidance affect outcomes? Perhaps you didn’t want to address self-improvement. Perhaps you just didn’t trust yourself enough.

As you reflect on both your strengths and weaknesses, step out with new confidence. You can be honest without shaming yourself or beating yourself up.

A vision for your life

Step 4 in Designing a Meaningful Life: Develop a Vision

Remember as a kid, lying on your back in the grass dreaming of what you wanted to be when you grew up?

Everybody has dreams of what they think they might like to become or like to do when they grow up, but few take the time to follow through. Far too often, they remain daydreams or wishes because we don’t believe we can turn them into reality.

When my husband and I were designing our dream home, we spent hours poring over drawings, design layouts, window placement, size of rooms, one level or two, garage, space for workshop, office, etc. Because our lot had an expansive view, we wanted a design that took advantage of that view.

We considered each item on our list carefully. We discarded those that were impractical. We studied based on the lot, finances, time, and energy. We knew we could cut costs because we could do a lot of the work ourselves while hiring experts for the rest. And we were willing to make adjustments when necessary.

Landscape design to life design

When we actively get involved in designing what we really want and how we want to live, our energy can be used more efficiently. With time management, self-regulation and a vision, we can create a design that will give us both pleasure and time for work and play.

We can accomplish so much more than we ever imaged.

What do you want?

On a piece of paper, write down the hopes and dreams you have had or currently have. Be expansive.

  • What is your passion?
  • What gives you pleasure, joy, contentment, and satisfaction?
  • What could you do all day without getting tired?

Then, expand on this theme a little further to include more personal aspects of life, such as:

  • I want to be free from pain, resentment, and bitterness
  • I want to experience happiness, joy, and hope
  • I want to enjoy my work
  • I want to feel good about myself
  • I want to know I am doing something useful for others
  • I want to feel proud of my accomplishments

Sometimes it helps to separate the different areas of our lives.

  • How can we accomplish our tasks and still have time for fun and relaxation?
  • How can we enjoy each day, whether at work or at play?

As you reflect on how you want to live, think also about your home. How can you make it more pleasing, where you enjoy spending time alone or with friends?

I’m not talking about having a fancy or expansive home. It can be an apartment or house or retirement center. You are making that space comfortable for you.

  • What colors do you like?
  • Are there favorite pictures you could hang or display?
  • A small area can be turned into something inviting and comfortable by surrounding yourself with things you like and already have.
  • Is there room in my budget to purchase a few things?

Make you own list of what is important to your living space by using the example below.

  • I want a home where I can relax and find contentment with family or friends
  • I want a place where I can see beauty in design, color, and texture
  • I want to enjoy spending time there
  • I want landscaping that reflects serenity and peace
  • I want a place with minimal maintenance
  • I want a place that is inviting, where I can invite friends over for coffee or conversation or get-togethers.

Are you ready to go for it?

It is one thing to put ideas down on paper. It is another to take that next step to begin achieving them.

But if you know what is truly important to you, and you are willing to use your time more effectively, budgeting both time and money, you can achieve more than you ever thought you could.

There is a difference between wants and needs.

We want many things; our needs are usually much simpler. While it is okay to want things, it is important to focus on our needs. Needs are what is required for survival, security, safety, and wellbeing.

Needs include a safe place to live, enough food to eat, the ability to get exercise and enjoy quiet time. It involves clothing and paying the bills and having time left over for reset and recreation. Yes, recreation is a need – without it we burn out.

We also have a need for love and respect, accepting both for ourselves and others.


If you enjoyed this post, share it with your friends.

Subscribe today to receive a notice in your inbox about each week’s new blog post and podcast episode: http://eepurl.com/baaiQ1

To receive a free 15-minute consultation to help you create a personal plan of action, email me.

I am also available for speaking engagements, retreats or teaching workshops for your church, clubs, or women’s groups.

Step 3 in Designing a Meaningful Life: Become an Architect

Part 3 of a 5-part series on Designing a Meaningful Life

Step 1: Start Where You Are

Step 2: Explore Your Gravel Pit

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

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


“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s grace.”

– I Peter 4:10

Step 3 – Become an Architect

Before designing a building, an architect looks at the status of the soil and determines what things need to be removed and what underground restrictions need to be considered.

Just as an architect analyzes the conditions he or she is working with, we too, need to examine and evaluate what we are working with in our personal life. Our “soil” might be tainted with ongoing anger or bitterness, constant conflict or blaming.

What things need to be removed, acknowledged, or resolved before you can begin building the life you want?

Garden analysis to life project

In a real gravel pit, here are some of the things you want to know before you start developing.

  • What kind of dirt remains? Is it clay, porous, sandy or loam?
  • How stable are the edges of the pit?
  • Is there an underground spring that could erode any building plans? Might it be redirected and used as a source for a small pond?
  • Where would you like walkways or paths to be placed if you are making a garden?

Just as an architect wants to know everything that could potentially impact the design, we, too, want to gather as much information as possible about potential deterrents.

If you don’t believe you can, you won’t be able to.

You are the architect.

Using a similar assessment, ask yourself the following:

  • What is the condition of my life right now? Ex: rocky, shaky, uncertain?
  • What emotions get me into trouble? Ex: quick to anger, unreasonable fear or anxiety, annoyance, etc.
  • What resources do I have? Ex: education, time, support, finances, etc.
  • What difficulties can be turned into an asset? Ex: a time management program can result in productive work and more time to relax; tough situations can teach us patience and resilience.

We are a combination of DNA, personality, childhood experiences and the core beliefs we put in place as we are growing up. They are as varied as the flowers we see and will affect each of us differently. While something may be an irritant to one person, it can be an exciting experience to another.

Step 3 in Designing a Meaningful Life: Become an Architect

Let’s dig a little deeper and look for things that have had a positive effect in your life.

  • What events and/or life experiences helped shape, define and influence who you are today in a positive way?
  • What meaningful experiences have you had and what made them meaningful? What did you gain from them even if they might have been difficult at the time? What important lessons did you learn?
  • Who were or are the role models in your life – people you consider important and who made an impact on your development: as a child… as a teen… as an adult? What characteristics or qualities of your role models do you admire and want to emulate?

If we only see the negatives, we will miss the joys of life.

When we dismiss our positive qualities, we will have difficulty learning to trust ourselves, make thoughtful decisions, evaluate, and eliminate what isn’t working.

Remember the gravel pit that became the famous Butchart Gardens? The same is true for us. No matter how severe, there are things that can be used for good. What we bring from our past can feel like rocks and boulders and puddles of muddy water. But we can find a way to use it to our advantage.

Some things that sabotage our efforts are the continuous use of belittling labels we were given and constant responding to our internal negative critic. Our efforts and accomplishments are then blocked. If these are not addressed, the landscape design for your life will be less than what it could be.

Say “hello” to yourself

How would you describe or define “you” to yourself?

Take a sheet of paper and draw a circle in the center. Add a smiley face and put your name in the middle. Draw spokes leading outward like a sun.

As you consider the following, write on each of those spokes a descriptive word(s) or phrase about who you are. Remember, this is for your benefit based on your definition. Be as honest as you can.

  1. What traits or strengths do you have? Ex: Do you see yourself as strong, determined, thoughtful, etc.
  2. What weak or challenging characteristics would you assign yourself? These change over time as we consider them more thoughtfully. Ex: Difficulty speaking up for yourself, constant worrier, lack of faith in self, technology challenged, etc.
  3. Describe some of your social skills. Ex: Do you consider yourself friendly, shy, aloof, engaging, talkative, social, etc.
  4. What talents and abilities do you have? Ex: artistic, computer savvy, athletic, good planner, etc.
  5. What are your predominant attitudes or mindsets? Ex: dependable, trusting, independent, reliable, loyal, positive, etc.
  6. How would you describe your typical emotional state? Ex: happy, excited, anxious, angry, contented, thoughtful, cheerful, compassionate etc.
  7. What behaviors continue to make it difficult to manage your life? Ex: reactionary, acting without thinking, emotionally driven, hesitant, overly cautious, fearful of taking any risk, etc.
  8. What coping skills do you use to compensate for painful or difficult times? Ex: retreat, overeating, lashing out, alcohol, deny or ignore, thoughtful reflection, time out to relax, etc.

These questions provide a broader and more in-depth understanding and picture of who we are at any point of time.

We are an amalgam of positive traits and those we consider not-so-positive, a wonderful combination of strengths and weaknesses.

We are not either/or.  We can benefit from all of them.

To complete this step, write a brief statement of who you are, how you see yourself and what changes you might want to make.

Who do you want to become?


If you enjoyed this post, share it with your friends.

Subscribe today to receive a notice in your inbox about each week’s new blog post and podcast episode: http://eepurl.com/baaiQ1

To receive a free 15-minute consultation to help you create a personal plan of action, email me.

I am also available for speaking engagements, retreats or teaching workshops for your church, clubs, or women’s groups.

Step 2 in Designing a Meaningful Life: Explore Your Gravel Pit

Part 2 in a series. Click here to read Step 1 in Designing a Meaningful Life: Start Where You Are

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

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


“Make insight your priority… Tune your ears to the world of Wisdom, set your heart on a life of understanding… if you make insight your priority and won’t take no for an answer… God gives us wisdom free.”

– Proverbs 2

What is in your gravel pit?

Everyone has a gravel pit of some kind in their background, whether it is the scars from childhood or the constant disappointment and despair in the present.

It may be the result of continuous scolding as a kid growing up with little encouragement. Perhaps there were constant comparisons with others or name-calling by other kids. Perhaps you were given a nickname that was hurtful or belittling.

When we take time to examine what is in our gravel pit, we can heal old wounds and replace negative self-talk with affirming statements.

Step 2 – Exploring your gravel pit

Within our gravel pits we find many things of little significance or things that might deter us from taking more purposeful steps. But there are also things of significance if we are willing to look for them.

Within the rocks and deep crevices, we can find the capacity for great potential and promise.

It can be discouraging to reflect or revisit hurtful things from our past or think about the doubts and insecurities created by them. But until we take ownership, we will not be able to make meaningful changes.

We can’t run away from mistakes or bad choices. Neither can we run away from the harm others may have inflicted on us. There are no quick fixes. If we get stuck in anger, hatred, or retribution, we will be unable to move forward.

Acceptance allows us to let go of what isn’t working and is the precursor to making new decisions. It means we can stop denying or running away from what is happening or has happened.

Each person’s gravel pit will be different. What life has handed us will require different approaches to create peace, hope, and contentment and the motivation to move forward.

gravel in the mountains

On a piece of paper write at the top, My Gravel Pit. Go over the following questions and list all the things that trip you up or keep you from achieving your goals.

1. What losses, hurts or tragedies have scarred your life’s landscape?

Perhaps it was a tough childhood, ongoing unresolved family issues, or a deep wounding to your spirit and sense of self.

Examples: resentment, left-over anger from childhood, lack of nurturing and care growing up, parent’s divorce, etc.

How do they continue to create obstacles in your life today?

We are not our past, nor our pain. Things may have happened to us, but they do not define us unless we allow them to.

2. What things from your past are you running away from, resisting, denying, or ignoring?

If we don’t face our pain, we can’t move through and beyond it.

What labels, negative self-talk or childhood criticisms do you continue to use to describe yourself?

While we need to accept our past, we do not need to accept what was harmful or damaging to our self-worth.

3. What do you need in order to accept?

For example: continuing to hold resentment will continue to cloud everything you see and limit you from exploring new ways of doing things. Forgiveness releases us from that ongoing pain. Remember, forgiveness is for you.

What current problems are you putting Band-Aids on instead of looking for resolutions?

Identify your quick fixes: alcohol, drugs, pain pills, sex, porn, TV, food, etc.

Quick fixes are like Band-Aids. They may stop the bleeding for a short while, but they don’t resolve anything. Band-Aids only last for a short time and constantly need replacing until the actual problem has been addressed.

When we look honestly at our problems, we can find ways to make things work for us instead of against us.

4. How would you identify your personal stumbling blocks?

For example, not following through, constantly listening to your internal critic, difficulty communicating, not trusting your judgment or believing in yourself, difficulty making decisions, etc.

5. What is your personal belief about what you can and cannot do?

Why do you believe that? What keeps you from believing you can make a difference or that you can turn your life into something positive, pleasant, and rewarding?

This is just a quick preview of how you currently see life. What you are looking for are those things that continue to cloud the future, keeping you stressed and feeling stuck so you can eliminate them. Until you are aware, you will not be able to make corrections.

Before we can create a design, we need to honestly evaluate what we are working with, what is currently happening, and how we are dealing with it.

This exercise is not intended to discourage you. Instead, if you can accept both the positive and negatives of you we are and how you are currently engaging with life, these things can’t sneak up and sabotage your efforts to create a new workable and meaningful design for life.


If you enjoyed this post, share it with your friends.

Subscribe today to receive a notice in your inbox about each week’s new blog post and podcast episode: http://eepurl.com/baaiQ1

To receive a free 15-minute consultation to help you create a personal plan of action, email me.

I am also available for speaking engagements, retreats or teaching workshops for your church, clubs, or women’s groups.

Step 1 in Designing a Meaningful Life: Start Where You Are

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

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


“God made my life complete when I placed all the pieces before Him, when I got my act together, He gave me a fresh start…
– Psalm 18:20, The Message

Step 1 – Start Where You Are

Last week I talked about how the beautiful Butchart Gardens began as a gravel pit and became a place of beauty visited year-round by people from all over the world. I used it as a metaphor for us. At times we might feel as though our lives are a huge gravel pit. Yet with vision and design, we can turn it into a meaningful life.

Here is Step 1 of that process.

Whether constructing a sunken garden or building a house, we begin by evaluating what we have to work with.

What do I have and what do I need?

I was involved in building three homes. Each required not only construction plans for the house, but also an adequate plot of land, lot preparation and, after construction, landscaping. When it all comes together it forms a unique beauty all its own.

When examining the steps involved in building a new home, there are many commonalities we can apply. It takes a desire and then a vision, an architect to help in the design, a cost analysis in time, money and materials, a plan of action, motivation, and commitment.

But where do we begin?

We begin by reflecting who we are right now.

  • What is currently happening in your life?
  • What new information is needed to make a meaningful change?
  • What is involved in putting adequate time and finances in place?
  • What can I expect from the result?
  • And even more important, what do I believe about my capability to accomplish these things?

We can make all the plans in the world, but if we aren’t prepared to follow through, our plans just become another exercise in futility or wishful thinking.

What do you believe and why?

Our beliefs influence every aspect of living – the choices we make, the short-and long-term consequences of those decisions, the people we hang out with, and the overall lifestyle we choose. Perhaps you never considered how important this is.

A belief is something you accept as truth – it is a state of mind.

When you have thought through and made a judgment about its validity you feel confident to act on it. It involves your attitude, opinions, and ideas as well as your values and principles.

Principles take those valued beliefs and turn them into the foundation for how we act.

How would you define your beliefs?

What value do you give them? Core beliefs are often acquired haphazardly as we grow up. Many are some versions of the beliefs held by parents and friends, which we were taught as children. As adults we rarely take the time to examine or question what we believe and why.

And yet, it is those deep core beliefs we hold of ourselves and our world that influence how we think and respond to everything. Because they were put in place when we were too young to evaluate, they are often biased and idealistic. It is these distortions that can have serious consequences in how we live our lives.

tree of lifeTo survive as human beings, we need to believe in something greater than ourselves.

We need God. Christianity is the only religion in the world that offers us the free gift of salvation, grace and love. We can’t earn it – we can’t work hard enough for it – it is a gift, extended to us through the death of God’s son, Jesus, on the cross. Within that gift is a love that can transform our hearts and minds. It is where we learn how to live.

In his book, A History of Christianity, Paul Johnson writes why “I must believe in God… belief in God makes me a better person than I would be otherwise. Without God, mankind quickly degenerates into the subhuman.”

“Man without God is a doomed creature. The history of the 20th century proves the view that as the vision of God fades, we first become mere clever monkeys; then we exterminate one another. While it is a terrifying prospect, the restoration of that vision of God can arrest it. Society as a whole will be less self-destructive if it stands in awe of moral rules which cannot be changed at the whim of congresses or parliaments or central committees, but which owe their authority to God. Only a belief in God will make society decent, but we do not believe in God for that reason. Purely social religions are the route to idolatry. We must truly believe. It is part of our struggle to be human. But in this struggle, God himself will help us.”

If you have never given much thought to what you believe and why, this is a good time to do so. Changing your focus includes evaluating your beliefs, principles, and values.

What kind of life do you want to create?

When we are young, we can’t wait to take the reins of life and do what we want to do. By middle age, we start making excuses for our bad choices and totally deny our lack of personal responsibility. And when we become senior citizens, we can’t wait to get off the work train, sit back and enjoy our entitlements.

Then life comes along and teaches us some hard lessons. There are consequences that we hadn’t thought about. Sometimes, we learn our lessons quickly before the consequences are not so severe.  Other times, it takes a lifetime to finally understand that we can’t just do whatever we feel like doing – even when the culture of the day says it is okay.

As I reflect on the world around me, I see a world going faster and faster, demanding more and more of our time. I watch as people’s lives begin to unravel.

For many “God” is something we create instead of the God who created us.

Lack of time leads to shortcuts, which then leads to errors and excuses. Unchecked, we start the blame game, denial, and subtle lies.

While it may be considered normal in today’s world to get away with something, there is a dark side to that kind of thinking and acting. There is an arrogance as well as a sense of entitlement that has become pervasive today. As technology expands everything, there seems to be a bolder “so what” attitude.

What kind of life do you want to live?

What do you want to be known for?

What values have you adopted and put into practice?

Are they chosen for their potential long term good?

When we know ourselves and know what we would like to accomplish, we can stop doing things that waste our time and energy and begin making plans to bring that about. This is important as the first step in creating a new landscaping design for our lives.

So, as we begin this first step in developing a new focus, consider the following:

  1. What kind of life do I want to live?
  2. What do I want to be known for?
  3. What values have I adopted and put into practice? Have I chosen them after thoughtful consideration? How will they affect my life and the lives of others?
  4. What values have I initiated in the past? Did they harm my self-worth? Where they destructive in my relationships and the choices I made? Think about meaningful values you want to put in place.

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Subscribe today to receive a notice in your inbox about each week’s new blog post and podcast episode: http://eepurl.com/baaiQ1

To receive a free 15-minute consultation to help you create a personal plan of action, email me.

I am also available for speaking engagements, retreats or teaching workshops for your church, clubs, or women’s groups.

A Landscaping Plan for Your Life

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Years ago, working with people in transition, I put together a program called “Turn Your Gravel Pit into a Beautiful Garden.” Many of the people in the class came from difficult backgrounds and felt discouraged. The wounds experienced over a lifetime dug deep into their spirits, leaving long-lasting doubts and fears.

I used the internationally renowned Butchart Gardens as an example of how we can turn tragic events – whether an abusive childhood, broken marriages or relationships or simply struggling to make ends meet – into something beautiful and welcoming. It was an architectural concept that could be applied to the creation of our own plan for life that provided beauty, peace, and purpose.

Here is a short version of that program.

Turn Your Gravel Pit into a Beautiful Garden

A gravel pit is a piece of land where bulldozers and huge earth-scooping machinery have removed the land to extract gravel and other ingredients needed to build roads, make cement, gather building rocks, etc.

What remains is a huge scarred and pitted hole in the ground with unstable and crumbling sides, water seepage from underground springs, stagnant pools of rainwater, huge, discarded pieces of rock and other unsteady mounds of earth.

We almost always find debris scattered everywhere, discarded by individuals who consider this a worthless piece of land; a place to throw away pop cans, beer bottles and candy wrappers.

What do you do with old gravel pits that have outlived their use?

Well, one woman, who had the skeleton remains of a large gravel pit in her backyard, decided she would find a way to turn it into something beautiful.

In the late 1800s, Robert Butchart began excavating limestone from a quarry behind the home where he and his wife, Jennie, lived. He used it to manufacture Portland cement in a factory he built at Todd Inlet on Vancouver Island. When all the limestone was extracted, all that remained was a huge, ugly, expansive hole in the ground.

But Jennie was not willing to let it lay there discarded, unsightly and debased. With the help of architects and landscapers, topsoil from neighboring farmland was brought in and a beautiful design created. Paths were constructed, ponds dug, trees and shrubs and hundreds of blooming plants planted. Leftover rocks were strategically placed in new locations, enhancing the gardens.

Turn Your Gravel Pit into A Beautiful Garden | focuswithmarlene.com

And so began the stunning reversal of desecrated land that today is known for its spectacular beauty. What was once an ugly and desolate pit in the ground is now a beautiful sunken garden whose paths wind around serene ponds of water where ducks and swans float between lily pads and tree branches gently caress the water’s edge. Flowers, shrubs, and trees artfully placed draw you into a world of beauty and a panoply of color. At night the thousands of strategically placed lights turn it into a fairyland.

And so was born the world famous Butchart Gardens, visited by thousands of tourists from around the world every year. What was once an uninviting and inhospitable place has been turned into a showcase. In fact, it’s so spectacular that people come to see the exquisite beauty and splendor throughout the year and in every season.

While this is a nice success story, how can we apply it to ourselves?

Many people feel their lives have been torn up and left violated and sullied. What remains are giant holes, unstable lifestyles, underground seepage of toxic messages, and huge boulders of doubt and shame that keep us blocked, unable to move forward because we perceive that our life holds little worth or value.

Everyone has elements of a gravel pit in their lives.

There may have been violence or abuse in our homes, tragic and lonely childhoods, or just careless living. Within our gravel pits we find old losses that have not been grieved, messages from the past that continue to poison our self-esteem and worth.

The walls of our heart resemble the scars from claws of the digger that scooped out our core values. Pools of disasters, calamity and catastrophe continue to leach into our hearts and rob us of joy. We build sturdy walls or fences around our pits so nobody can see our feelings of shame.

And we are left feeling desolate, abandoned, lost and lonely. In our attempts to reconstruct the pieces of our lives, we get overwhelmed, give up and accept that for us, life will forever be an ugly gravel pit. We don’t talk about our pits because we don’t want people to see our unattractive side and be rejected yet again. We run away or deny our past because it makes us feel repulsive and flawed. But even while we try to distance ourselves from our past, it continues to sneak up on us and impact everything we do.

But just as Mrs. Butchart took the gravel pit in her back yard and created a world-renowned garden, so we can take our lives full of pain, disillusionment and broken dreams and turn them into something meaningful.

We can turn unattractive and hopeless situations into satisfying, productive and pleasing futures. We don’t scrap it – we use it. It becomes the backbone – the template for our beautiful garden – positive gardens of hope, light, joy, energy, and strength.

Where do you begin such a daunting project?

The same place Mrs. Butchart did. She didn’t cover up the hole; she used it as a springboard. If she had just filled the hole with dirt, it would not be the beautiful place it is today.

It takes a vision and a desire and a willingness to examine our pits and remove rubble and contaminated waste. It takes insight to see that what was once an unwanted rock or obstacle we can now turn into a piece of art, something for good. It just takes a vision, a blueprint, and a willingness to take that first baby step.

Let’s turn our gravel pits into beautiful gardens.


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Subscribe today to receive a notice in your inbox about each week’s new blog post and podcast episode: http://eepurl.com/baaiQ1

To receive a free 15-minute consultation to help you create a personal plan of action, email me.

I am also available for speaking engagements, retreats or teaching workshops for your church, clubs, or women’s groups.

Where is Your Focus? On Things That Discourage or Motivate?

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What are you focused on?

I love to take pictures. Cameras of today make it so easy to point-and-shoot. In fact, cell phones are the cameras of choice because they are instantly available.

There are times, however, when I want to do more than just snap a quick picture of friends. I want to capture the beauty of the countryside or zero in on a hummingbird or reveal the intricacies of a spider’s web. At such times, I want a camera whose lens I can adjust to take in more features or narrow the scope to pinpoint a particular point of interest.

If you are a serious photographer, you continue to adjust your focus until you capture exactly what you want. Everything is taken into consideration: the lighting, angle, depth of field, and nuances that give some pictures a timeless quality.

You are the camera of your life. You adjust the focus every day.

Every day we focus on something. If our lens remains stuck in only one position, we miss the highlights of the things that make our heart rejoice, the people who enrich our lives, or the timeless beauty of sunsets and sunrises. We miss the chances to try new things or experiment with ways to make life enjoyable and positive. We can get stuck on hate and resentment instead of developing an emphasis for love and happiness.

Each moment offers something new – a  depth of understanding or new way to look at what’s in front of us. Within each, there are opportunities that are gone in a second if we don’t stop, consider, and focus on them.

What amazing things we could accomplish if we allowed ourselves to actually see the world that surrounds us.

Our focus becomes the attention we give anything – what we do, how long we do it and where it will take us. It can have either a positive or negative outcome. We can allow our lens to remain fixed on problems or the injustices we perceive.

Or we can adjust our focus to search for the answers we need. We can broaden the focus of our camera and see the good in people. We can focus on God and build a relationship with Him; relaxing in the comfort and love He offers us.

There will be times when we need to quickly adjust our focus.

A family member has become ill or injured, or someone is experiencing chest pains. It may be as simple as an overdrawn bank account that demands immediate attention. But whatever the crisis or difficulty, at such moments you don’t care if the sun is shining, the birds are singing, or the daffodils are blooming. What you care about is the emergency in front of you that takes center stage and requires your full attention.

Life can be challenging. We will struggle with problems we never imagined we would have. We will experience losses of loved ones. If we focus on what we can’t do, however, we will worry, suffer anxiety, give up and become hostage to anything and everything that isn’t working.

Your focus sets the tone for your life – it sets the direction.

It will either motivate or discourage you. Every morning when you get up, you have a choice as to how you will meet the challenges of that day.

  • How will I use my energy?
  • Will I remain focused only on the mountain of problems facing me or on how I might reduce that mountain to manageable molehills?
  • I can focus on my weaknesses or limitations, or I can confirm my abilities.
  • I can remain depressed about what I don’t have, or feel I can’t do, or I can look for and find all the blessings and bits of gratefulness that are visible when I look for them.
  • I can adjust my focus on my assets and abilities, and then thank God for His faithfulness and assistance in helping me use them.

The Home page of my website states, “Your focus defines who you are and who you can become.”

This reminder represents our ability to become the best we can be. We can focus on developing our talents and skills and on all the choices and possibilities that lie before us or hang back in fear.

We can focus on God and let Him lead, helping us develop the core principles and values we will live by, or we can drift from one socially accepted belief to another.

Your focus will ultimately determine who you become.


If you enjoyed this post, share it with your friends.

Subscribe today to receive a notice in your inbox about each week’s new blog post and podcast episode: http://eepurl.com/baaiQ1

To receive a free 15-minute consultation to help you create a personal plan of action, email me.

I am also available for speaking engagements, retreats or teaching workshops for your church, clubs, or women’s groups.

Where Do I Begin? Exploring Possibilities

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

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The yard needs tidying  – but where do I begin?

Dinner needs to be made – but where do I begin?

The house needs cleaning – but where do I begin?

My life needs to be turned around – but where do I begin?

To clean a yard I need a rake, a pair of clippers and possibly a wheelbarrow. If a meal is to be prepared, prior grocery shopping is required to provide the ingredients needed. When the house needs cleaning, I need to decide whether a quick dusting will do, or whether a major house cleaning is necessary.

In these and other tasks, certain items are required before beginning.

  • Do I have the right equipment or tools or utensils?
  • Do I have adequate time to complete the job?
  • Are there things I need to purchase beforehand?
  • Which project takes precedence over another?

Where do I begin?  

Some tasks are simple and can be completed within a short time. Others, however, require more planning and time allotment. For example, in cleaning my yard, the grass might require mowing along with trimming and weed pulling.

I could plan a special meal and try a new recipe if I had enough time.

Ongoing home maintenance is more than just a quick dusting. There are closets to be cleaned and articles to be thrown away – all of which require thoughtful decisions.

To complete any task or large project, enough time is required.

Bigger jobs can be broken down into smaller, more manageable ones. The problem comes when we don’t follow through and complete them. You get the picture.

With changes come new decisions along with new tasks and jobs and responsibilities on top of what we normally do. At such times, it is easy to get overwhelmed.

Now, it is adjusting our life to consider all the things that need to be done associated with the major changes as well as the usual maintenance. It is no longer asking what is not working so we can fix it, but what I need to do to move beyond this radical change.

What is needed in both time and money? And where do I begin?

Exploring Possibilities

After the death of my husband, some major decisions had to be made. There was more than just grieving and adjusting to his death, but exploring the question, what do I do now?

I soon realized I had to sell my home. But then, where would I go? Should I move to another community or town, or another state where I had family? Where do I begin?

It took some sobering soul searching to consider not just the immediate but also long-term outcomes of my decision-making. This required time to adequately explore possibilities. I was fortunate to remain in my home for an additional time to work out the details of a move.

Before tackling any new project, it is important to give yourself time to consider what is involved. Explore as many possibilities and options as possible going beyond the obvious.

Before putting my house on the market, I had to consider if I was ready to move and the options available. My house exterior needed to be painted, storage units emptied and so on. There were a multitude of factors to consider. But all of them necessary.

With change come requirements you hadn’t anticipated.

It is here you draw from your past experiences, your ability to think, consider pros and cons, time required and commitment. In the example above, after exploring all my options, I decided to build myself a new house in the community where I lived. I drew from my experiences of being involved in the building of two previous homes with my husband. I sought the advice and help of good friends and mentors. And I believed in myself.

Can you ever be prepared for unexpected change?

Yes and no. But one thing you can do right now that is extremely helpful is to get to know yourself.

Are you open to new ideas?

Are there ways you can improve your life right now?

Is this the time to start projects that inspire and excite you?


If you enjoyed this post, share it with your friends.

Subscribe today to receive a notice in your inbox about each week’s new blog post and podcast episode: http://eepurl.com/baaiQ1

To receive a free 15-minute consultation to help you create a personal plan of action, email me.

I am also available for speaking engagements, retreats or teaching workshops for your church, clubs, or women’s groups.

Developing a New Focus

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

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Today I want to introduce you to my new series: Developing a New Focus.

On the HOME page of my website, there is a picture of two chairs and a table on a sunny patio, with a teapot and two cups, ready for two people to have a relaxed conversation.

Focus banner

Atop the picture, I wrote, “Your focus defines who you are and who you can become.”

I put those words there because it is so true – what you continue to focus on will determine what kind of person you become and what you can achieve.

If we fixate on doing the same thing over and over, even when it isn’t working, nothing will change, and things will eventually get worse.

But when we are willing to stop and consider whether what we are doing is benefiting us, we can make wonderful improvements.

Developing a new focus is an incredible gift of awareness you give yourself.

Every day there are decisions to be made. Decisions eventually become habits – we don’t think – we just act. The problem comes when we continue to react without thinking and set in motion routines and habits that are counterproductive.

Routines are important. But they need to be reviewed and considered from time to time.

Life can be daunting, especially for women who may be widowed or divorced. With losses come upsetting or worrisome changes. It may be the death of a loved one or the loss of good health. Other times, the aging process itself reminds us there are major changes coming. Often, we are left feeling unsettled at best and depressed at worst.

However, each time we are required to start again, we learn something new about who we are and ways to meet our challenges.

Any unknown territory can be daunting or intimidating. But when we develop a confidence in ourselves and a faith and trust in God, along with a willingness to do what it takes, there is little we can’t accomplish.

focus

My upcoming blog posts and podcast episodes will focus on the many ways you can improve the quality of your life, reduce anxieties, and gain confidence. I want to encourage you to believe in yourself and all the things you can accomplish by adjusting your approach to problems turning challenges into victories.

Free Life-Planning Worksheet

I have put together a life planning worksheet, “Eight Ways to Change Your Focus and Change Your Life.” The worksheet includes tips and links for additional exploration to help you replace negative thinking, resentment, and bad habits with an “I can” mindset. Sign up here or on my website  to receive this worksheet.

Remember, that at any moment in time, we can learn and apply new things. We are never too old. It might seem scary at first but that soon changes to excitement as we see those first signs of progress.

For example, we grow up talking to one another, but often our communication turns into misunderstandings and major conflicts. Or we make decisions without investigating the pros and cons associated with them. We seldom dig deep enough to find the underlying causes of our problems. Yet, when we properly identify our problems, we can find good solutions.

How to Make Your Life More Enjoyable

Are you ready to take that plunge into discovering new ways to make your life more enjoyable? Are you ready to take charge?

If so, here are a few things to consider.

First, be honest.

Are you scared? Then acknowledge it. Meet it head on. Often, fear keeps us from trying.

Sometimes the hardest thing is getting to know yourself. Stop making excuses and accept who you are – the good, bad and the ugly. We have both strengths and weaknesses. Acknowledge both. They make us human.

Next, determine what you want.

  • What do you really want?
  • How do you want to live your life?
  • Would you like to be more flexible to new ideas?
  • Do you want to be more open and inviting?
  • Do you want to communicate better?

Listening is a major first step where we actively listen to opposing points of view without predetermined judgment or bias. Listening respectfully and genuinely doesn’t mean we have to agree.

Would you like to be more caring and accepting of people?

Look around and reach out to someone who needs to know they are supported. They may be grieving or going through tough times, or they just need to know someone cares. There are so many opportunities in our everyday life where we can extend kindness, understanding and assistance without it costing us a dime (and in most cases, little time).

If you want to be accepted by others, be accepting of them.

Would you like to be respected? Then respect others. Respect the boundaries and opinions of others and express your own boundaries. We often get hurt because of misunderstandings.

It takes time to put any new skill in place.

But with each step we gain a greater awareness of ourselves, others, and our world. Choose the principles you want to live your life by and begin applying them on a daily basis.

Challenge old behaviors and responses that don’t meet our standards or values and replace them.

As I start this new series, I would love to hear from you.

What questions would you like to ask?

As a former licensed counselor, psychology teacher, and devout Christian, I love to share the training and knowledge and life experiences I have had that might assist you in your journey.


If you enjoyed this post, share it with your friends.

Subscribe today to receive a notice in your inbox about each week’s new blog post and podcast episode: http://eepurl.com/baaiQ1

To receive a free 15-minute consultation to help you create a personal plan of action, email me.

I am also available for speaking engagements, retreats or teaching workshops for your church, clubs, or women’s groups.