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10 Takeaways for Continued Success as You Heal from a Major Loss

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss


As I finish this series of blog posts and podcast episodes associated with my book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, I want to leave you with some thoughts.

Healing from a major loss is not easy and isn’t accomplished in a few months or even a year. It is a process that involves coming to terms with something you had not expected or wanted.

Taking charge of rebuilding your life will empower you to step out in confidence.

You have completed and applied the suggestions given in the last six month’s posts on recovery and rebuilding. Losses can be tricky and difficult to process, and you can become discouraged. But when you recognize your progress, you will have confidence to keep marching forward.

Acceptance and letting go started the process of rebuilding.

Taking charge of the nitty-gritty details of life and making them work for you has been another defining step. Recognizing the nuggets of blessings and gratitude have given you a new confidence.

Before we complete this series on learning to live again, I want to leave you with these final thoughts.

10 Takeaways for Continued Success as You Heal from a Major Loss | Focuswithmarlene.com

1. Be patient and loving with yourself.

It takes time to recover and rebuild. Learning and applying new skills take time.

2. Formulate realistic expectations for your future.

Temper your expectations with a reality you can work with. Don’t expect to climb Mt. Everest without learning mountain climbing. Be prepared to experience ongoing setbacks and challenges. That is life.

3. Use resistance to your advantage.

You can resist accepting and remain stuck in your grief and loss, or you can resist letting problems take control of your life. Two mantras I use whenever I get discouraged are, “yes, I can,” and “I refuse.”  I can accomplish what needs to be done and I refuse to let unwanted challenges take me down.

4. Nurture confidence in yourself.

We are made stronger in our weakness. Accept both your weaker side and your stronger side. We are a combination of both. Refuse to compare yourself with others.

Comparisons are deadly because we tend to compare our inadequacies with another’s strong points.

5. Choose your focus.

Your focus is where you decide to put your attention. It becomes the cornerstone for everything you do. It is where you put your day-to-day emphasis. You can focus on everything that isn’t working, or you can focus on all the things that are working. It’s an attitude. It’s a mindset.

6. Take one new skill at a time that you want to apply to your life and work with it.

Maybe it is better time management. Maybe it is becoming more grateful. Maybe it is learning to recognize your problems so you can work on them.

7. Become a master problem solver.

Learn to recognize underlying problems that are creating anxiety and distress. Some problems have been there awhile and may take a little time to identify the root cause.

The more you focus on resolving problems vs. focusing on symptoms, the quicker you will be able to resolve them.

8. Laugh and enjoy life.

Laugh at your inadequacies. Laugh at life – whatever it hands you. When you can accept and laugh at yourself you can appreciate and love yourself. You become honest and genuine. Having fun and enjoying life is as important as accomplishing goals.

9. Let go of resentments.

Hanging onto them and feeding them will not give you the justice or satisfaction you desire. Resentments will eat you up – they will destroy you. The justice you believe you need will never be satisfying enough. Instead, they become giant roadblocks to anything positive in your life.

10. Live your values.

It is who you are. It defines your character. It tells others what kind of person you are; trustworthy, honest, responsible, loyal, and dependable. Character is a work in progress for each of us.

You are a wonderful human being, made by our Heavenly Father, with talents and aptitudes unique to you. You are needed in this community of people. We all gain when we share our stories and challenges and resolutions with others.


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

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

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

Marlene Anderson

Yes, You Can

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss


“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’”

— Erma Bombeck

You have been on a life-altering journey, a journey you had neither anticipated nor wanted.

There have been many unexpected surprises that demanded change, adjustment, a new assessment, and adaptation of plans. Your life has been forever altered.

Taking back the reins of your life requires purpose, choice, and determination.

I believe that deep within each of us lies the resources we need to meet any crisis, adversity, or unwanted change. These resources are often buried beneath doubts and old destructive messages. But we can uncover them, collect new information and alter our thinking to accommodate old models of doing things.

This is not for the faint of heart. But those willing to dig deep inside themselves will find the resolve needed to meet any challenge. And with the help of God, we can find both the strength and courage to step forward.

“The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn, feel change, grow or love. Chained by his certitude, he is a slave; he has forfeited his freedom. Only the person who risks is truly free.”

—Leo Buscaglia (1982)

Since January of this year, my blog posts have offered information on ways to heal, recover and gain a new appreciation for who you are as you developed new skills and applied them in rebuilding your life.

Sometimes we are required to do whatever is necessary in the moment until we are able to mobilize our goals. Then we often ask ourselves, what can we do as we sort out the ins and outs of beginning again?

Yes, You Can | focuswithmarlene.com

Let me share a personal story of a time when I needed to ask that question:  What can I do? While it might not fully define your circumstances, there is an important lesson here that can benefit everyone.

My husband and I had just moved into a new home we had built and were in various stages of unpacking and finding a place to put things. A vertebra in my lower back had been gradually deteriorating, putting pressure on a sciatic nerve. Without warning, it could trigger a leg spasm in my left leg, culminating in a leg cramp that locked my leg in a rigid position. Once locked, I was unable to move it until it had run its course. With enough warning, I could alter the outcome of the spasm.

If I recognized the beginning of that muscular contraction, I could push my foot down hard on the floor and break the cramping cycle. Even when asleep, there was a part of my brain on constant alert for the beginning of such a spasm. If I jumped out of bed quick enough, I could stop the process.

If I didn’t catch it in time, I would have to endure the excruciating pain until the affected nerves and muscles released me from its grip. Lifting and bending aggravated my lower back even more. Unpacking boxes was impossible.

I had to wait a week before I could see my orthopedic surgeon. Not being able to finish unpacking was frustrating. But what could I do in the interim?

Reading books or looking at magazines would be short-lived and trivial pursuits were not for me. I needed to be doing something constructive. Then, I heard that small internal voice remind me, as it had so often in the past: focus on what you can do and forget about what you can’t do.

Focus on what you can do – not what you can’t

But what could I do?

Then, I remembered all the cooking magazines I had collected over the years full of great recipes and cooking tips that I had brought with me to my new home. I was waiting for a time when I could go through them, select the ones I wanted and throw the rest away. I had been too busy until now. Now, I realized, was the perfect time to get the job done.

Before I went in for scheduled back surgery, I went through all those magazines that had been languishing in boxes, placed the saved recipes in binders and threw the rest away. I still have and use those recipes and cooking lessons.

No matter what the situation, difficulty, or limitation, there is always something of purpose we can focus our attention on.

A New Mindset: Yes, You Can!

One of the most important skills you can develop is a mindset of “yes, you can.” This mindset believes in “you” and looks for ways you can apply yourself.

It is an attitude that reflects a willingness to dig deep inside and pull out those resources waiting to be developed and used; resources such as determination and the ability to be flexible.

It incorporates what you have learned but may have forgotten or dismissed. Think about what you mastered in the past and how you did that. Add to that the resourcefulness of ingenuity and perception gained through this journey.

You will make mistakes.

You will misinterpret the data you are given. You will judge yourself harshly and have doubts and concerns. You will get discouraged. That is part of being a human being.

But granting yourself grace to make mistakes, accepting yourself with all your faults as well as your strengths, and asking for the strength and wisdom you need from God, will see you through the toughest of times.

You can make it. And you will be richly blessed in the process.

“You are never too old to set a new goal or to dream a new dream.”

– C.S. Lewis

This isn’t just about putting a positive spin on a serious situation.

It’s about looking at where you are in this moment and telling yourself, “Yes, I can.”

You may not have all the answers or resources, but you can ask and find the help you need. But the bottom line is you need to believe in yourself. With the help of God, you can strengthen your resolve, have faith in yourself, improve your life skills and accomplish.


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

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

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

Marlene Anderson

Brainstorming: How I Worked Through a Problem

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss


All successful people have a goal. No one can get anywhere unless he knows where he wants to go and what he wants to be or do.

—Norman Vincent Peale

Last week we addressed conflicts and problems that exist between more than one person, and how you can properly identify the problem, given two different perspectives.

This week I share a major problem I faced and how I was able to resolve it.

After the death of my husband, I was faced with a huge financial decline along with a house we had just built, a small mortgage and lack of immediate resources.

My basic problem: What do I do now? What are my options?

Additional problems: If I have to move, where will I move to? How much can I spend on a different home?

Brainstorming: How I Worked Through a Problem | focuswithmarlene.com

Here are some of the ways I explored my basic problem and solutions I tried.

Through this process I was able to set my final criteria for where I wanted to live with a move I needed to make.

  • I could stay in my house and rent my daylight basement. I tried that but found I was uncomfortable with that as a solution.
  • I could become even more frugal and try to make it without selling. While I can be very frugal and had a small income each month, I realized there would be increases to homeowner costs, tax increases, etc. that I needed to prepare for.
  • If I sold my house, would the sale of my home furnish me with enough money to purchase another? This created additional questions, such as: Where would I move? Do I rent or buy? Do I stay within the community or move closer to my kids? What were the pros and cons of each?
  • Should I consider going back to work even though I was retired? I did not want to return to full-time teaching. Would part-time work give me enough funds to remain in my current house and still meet increased costs and unexpected emergencies?

The possibility of having to sell the beautiful home my husband and I had just built was not something I wanted to entertain. But as I examined each of the questions and potential solutions, carefully evaluating each, I realized my options were limited.

I had to assess what I wanted for my future long-term as well as any financial restraints involved. I was not just evaluating whether I could remain in my current home, but where I could move to, whether to rent or purchase. This was a major life-changing decision. After carefully thinking through all potential options, I made my decision to sell my home and purchase another.

Then I had to decide where I wanted to move to.

Should I move closer to my kids, return to the state where we had lived before, or remain in this area? After exploring homes on the market in surrounding towns, I made my final decision. I wanted to remain in my same community.

Next, I needed to determine what I could afford.

When I looked at the homes available to me within the price range I had set, however, they required some kind of upgrade or remodeling which would then increase the total price of the home.

As I brainstormed other options, it occurred to me that I could purchase one of the available lots and move a modular home on it as there were many wonderful models available to choose from in my price range.

But when I considered the cost of the lot, building a foundation, and a move from the factory, I realized I could build a house from the ground up for the same price and I would have more square footage and design options.

Problem-solving will take you through many opportunities to increase your list of choices.

Brainstorming and evaluating as many of those options as possible is also an opportunity to refine your criteria, your wants and needs.

As I expanded my awareness of what I could work with and do, it enabled me to see many possibilities I would never have considered when I started. By exhausting all possibilities and then choosing the best, I was able to arrive at a final decision that went far beyond my dreams. I was able to build a house I could never have afforded otherwise.

As you work with your ideas, you can evaluate and discover more of what you want.

When you have enough information and evaluate the pros and cons of each, you will be able to choose one that best fits your needs and implement a plan of action. Through this process, you are allowing new ideas to surface that you might not have thought of otherwise. I ended up with a home and an asset I would not have had otherwise.

When you start problem-solving and brainstorming ideas, don’t limit yourself.

As new possibilities pop up, consider them valid considerations. In the process you will clarify your criteria.

Be open to new ideas when they present themselves.

Be willing to look at many different possibilities before making a final decision. When you have exhausted all your options, you will find one that is right for you.

I love my new home and never would have had it if I hadn’t gone through the process I did. Have faith in yourself. Talk to others, gather that information, and then go for it.


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

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

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

Marlene Anderson

What is the Problem? Yours – Mine – Ours

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss


When you learn the basics of problem-solving it will be a skill that you use automatically.

In last week’s post, I outlined five basic components of problem solving; questions you need to ask to find the solution you want. Today you will set the criteria to resolve your problem and learn how to identify exactly what the main problem is.

Identify the problem – define the conflict

Whether the question is how to advance beyond basic survival, how to prepare for your financial future, or how to better communicate with your spouse, it is crucial that the problem be correctly defined.

Unless the problem is correctly defined, you will be trying to rid yourself of emotional distress rather than resolving the actual problem.

Many problems involve our relationships with others: spouse, children, in-laws, neighbors, co-workers, bosses, etc. Until we know how this conflict is affecting all parties involved, we will not be able to adequately separate symptoms from the problem.

Step out of the emotional space for a minute and focus on what is causing you to feel that anger, worry or distress.

What is the actual problem? Do others see it the same way?

Symptoms

Symptoms are the emotional upset you are feeling, and the ongoing conflict affecting life on a daily basis. Problems affect the behaviors of everyone, sometimes through defensive actions, other times through aggressive action or inaction.

Sometimes problems will have us withdraw from any communication, fearful of making the matter worse. Unaddressed, the problem keeps us from listening or communicating at all. Sleep is affected, as are relaxation times. Life has lost all pleasure.

Who is involved?

When the conflict you are experiencing involves others, the perspective of both people needs to be considered.

  • Does the other person see a problem or just you?
  • How does the problem impact each of you?
  • Can you adequately define how you are being affected?
  • Can you listen with an open mind?

It is often difficult to hear another’s point of view. Everybody sees the world differently.

Before problems involving one or more people can be resolved, clarification of both person’s perspective is necessary.

In intimate relationships, emotions can quickly run high along with misinterpretation and misunderstanding. When both people are willing to take time to articulate their opinions, personal perceptions, assumptions, and expectations, and listen to the other person, problems can be successfully worked on.

You can’t tell another person how they should feel or what should be important to them, but you can stop and examine your motives and what is important to you and why.

Is it more important to win an argument, or to work towards a positive resolution?

Is winning more important than the relationship?

If your relationship is meaningful, you will probably have a sincere willingness to listen and understand the other’s point of view.

  • What can both of you accept and live with?
  • What can’t you accept?
  • What sacrifices are you willing to make?
  • What are the alternatives and the impact it might have over time?

Setting the stage for sincere discussion

Whenever a problem involves other people, choose a time and place when you can have a sincere discussion, a time when you both can listen as well as emote, without time pressure. If this is a conflict that involves all family members, ask for a family meeting where the problem can be addressed, and everybody can be heard. Set a time that everyone can agree to.

Holding regular family meetings can be very productive because kids are able to voice their concerns, and everyone has input. It is a time when parents can define the rules and explain why they are necessary. In my parenting classes, regular family meetings were encouraged. It can prevent many problems from getting out of hand.

Discussion includes feelings and behaviors. We become vulnerable and defensive. To actively listen, if you are unsure what was intended, stop, and ask for clarification.

Example: I want to better understand our differences and what specifically you would like to have happen. Is this what you meant? If not, would you explain it to me again?

Say it in a proactive way that encourages further discussion rather than defending/attacking. You can then share what you want and need.

Setting criteria for the outcome

Before you can brainstorm solutions, you need to have criteria identified and written down for what needs to happen for this problem to be resolved.

Gather all the relevant facts. Then brainstorm ways to reach that solution.

Set some rules you both can agree to while working together, such as showing respect, no name calling or labels, a willingness to listen, asking questions politely, and requesting a time-out if emotions get high.

Take the problem apart and look at it from every angle

What is the Problem? Yours – Mine – Ours | Focuswithmarlene.com

  • What are you personally willing to do to arrive at a solution?
  • What personal biases would keep you from working on finding a potential solution?
  • What obstacles do you put up preventing a positive outcome?

Look at the problem forwards and backwards, inside and out. Let it permeate your unconscious. Experience it in as many different ways as possible.

Visualize a solution

Challenge old expectations and assumptions. Break away from rigid patterns. Be willing to try something new.

Re-examine pieces of the problem rather than just rearranging it. Problem-solving assumes certain boundaries. There are things you will not do, and you share that.

Finding answers requires forward thinking and suspending judgement.

It is important not to prejudge any ideas before you have explored their validity. That is especially true for the ideas others present. When we suspend judgement, we can explore more options, think about how each idea might be useful and take the time to evaluate before eliminating.


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

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

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

Marlene Anderson

Questions I Need to Ask to Find the Solutions I Want

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss


“All problems become smaller when you confront them instead of dodging them.”

—William F. Halsey

How do I solve this problem?

We experience problems every day that require some kind of action. Most are insignificant, or require little thought, such as, What will I wear today?  Do I want to take the weekend off and get away? We make a decision and move on.

But other problems are more complex with more serious outcomes, such as, How can I make enough money to support my family or care for an aging parent? How do I survive this pandemic?

One problem often has a multitude of other problems attached, each requiring thought and consideration. An aging spouse with health issues may require additional care.

  • Should they be put into a long-term care facility?
  • Can I afford it?
  • Should I become the sole caretaker or hire home care?
  • What are the costs of home care?

You may have been laid off with no adequate jobs to be had in your area. The bills need to be paid.

  • Is this a time to move?
  • How will that affect the members of my family?
  • What will be the impact, both short-term and long-term?

When adversities come at a rapid and unexpected pace, we easily become overwhelmed. If we are not familiar with problem solving in the past, we will find it difficult to step back and out of the emotional arena and apply some logical steps to resolve our problems. Sometimes we are simply trying to survive, and any decision made is temporary.

“No problem can be solved until it is reduced to some simple form. The changing of a vague difficulty into a specific, concrete form is a very essential element in thinking.” 

—J. P. Morgan

Where do I begin?

To resolve any problem requires first identifying the root problem. Sometimes it is obvious. Other times, it can be difficult to separate the main problem from all the attached problems, or the symptoms it creates.

Example:

A wife and husband constantly quarreling. One problem is lack of communication skills and another problem is recognizing what each brings to the relationship from their past, etc. Other problems dragged into it are work schedules, things they don’t enjoy doing together, and in-laws.

The main problem, however, is the inability to work together on solvable issues to a negotiated resolution.

How does each spouse perceive the problem? Is it a workable problem or a personality trait they don’t like?

How have they resolved problems in the past? And what makes this problem different? Or is it the same problem, only enlarged? How does each person perceive the problem?

This is especially important and requires listening skills to clarify and communicate wants, needs and end results. It also requires a desire to work together.

A problem well stated is a problem half solved.

—John Dewey

5 basic components of problem-solving

Questions I Need to Ask to Find the Solutions I Want | focuswithmarlene.com

1. Identify and define the problem.

Separate it from the symptoms. Symptoms include how you feel, the behaviors that result, etc. Is this an ongoing problem or a recent development? Gather and analyze as many facts as possible to determine the underlying problem or problems.

2. What and who is involved?

Separate individuals from behaviors. The focus is not on people but what is happening, and the behaviors associated. If you focus on personality differences, no resolution will be attainable.

We can modify behaviors. Work together with others who are directly involved to seek acceptable resolutions. This requires active listening and communication, taking responsibility for your emotions, expressing your needs and preferences and a willingness to work together to find solutions instead of blaming.

3. Brainstorm.

Generate as many possible solutions as you can think of. List whatever comes to mind even if they seem fanciful or unlikely. In reviewing your list, these can often stimulate further options that might be useful or important.

4. Evaluate and implement.

What criteria do you have for a successful resolution? What are the pros and cons, positive and negatives of each?

Prioritize, select one, and try it out. Create a plan for implementation. If several people are involved, be sure everyone understands and agrees.

5. Assess the outcome.

Is the problem being resolved? If not, try another one.

Have you accurately identified the underlying problem? Do not feel as though you have failed. You will not know until you have tried.

Some solutions create additional problems you had not anticipated. Consider them in your final resolution. Don’t hesitate to keep searching. It isn’t how quick you find the right solution, but that you have methodically and consistently worked through it to find one that will work.

What problem are you facing right now that you can apply these 5 principles to?

Maybe it’s one mentioned above or maybe you are trying to identify the root problem. Next week we will continue how to identify and resolve problems.


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

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

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

Marlene Anderson

Replacing Habits That Keep You from Being Successful

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.


“Successful people are simply those with successful habits.”

—Brian Tracy

To be successful, you need to be in charge of both your time and habits. Chores need to be done but we also need fun and relaxation.

In my recent post, Are Your Habits Sabotaging Your Efforts? you kept a record of how you spent your time each day for a week.

Last week, in Take Charge of Your Time – Take Charge of Your Life, you re-examined the log you kept, and formulated a workable structure for how you spent your time each day.

This week’s post will help you understand how habits are created and reinforced.

  • What habits currently in place are working for you and why?
  • Which ones aren’t?
  • And if they are not helping you, how can you replace them?

Why do we do the things we do

Before habits can be replaced, we need to understand what keeps them in place. Everything we do, we do because we get a payoff or reward of some kind. That payoff can be in the immediate moment or in the future.

We get immediate pleasure in eating that piece of cake. We rationalize our behaviors by telling ourselves we will only do it this once. Unfortunately, rationalizing can become a habit that keeps other unwanted habits in place.

Rewards and benefits

Habits are maintained because they are reinforced in some way through a reward or benefit we receive. Sometimes that reward is something that is removed (negative reinforcement) and sometimes it is something received (positive reinforcement). We are being reinforced by either of these.

Here is an example to better illustrate what I mean.

A mother gives a child who is acting out in the store some candy so he will be quiet. The child has just been “positively rewarded” for yelling and screaming.

But the mother has also been rewarded. She was “negatively rewarded” because something she didn’t want was removed: the yelling and screaming stopped.

For behaviors to become habits, they need to be reinforced (positively or negatively), repeatedly and consistently over a period of time.

In the above example, the child soon learns that he will get what he wants by acting out and the mom learns that when she acquiesces, she doesn’t have to listen to his yelling and screaming. Once behaviors are in place, they only need to be reinforced intermittently to remain in place. Understanding this process, the mom can choose a better way to handle acting out to achieve compliance.

Another example:

Your child cleans his room and each time he is rewarded with a hug, positive comments and extra computer time, which he highly prizes. Gradually, as cleaning his room becomes fairly consistent, only occasional rewards are needed such as, “good job” comments or extra playtime once in a while.

The behavior has become a habit. Or a child might eventually clean his room because he doesn’t want to get yelled at anymore. In that case he is negatively rewarded (no more yelling from Mom).

Identify short-term and long-term rewards

As you evaluate your habits and what keeps them in place, it is important to identify the rewards you receive, both short-term and long-term. In establishing new habits, you may notice both something positive received and something negative removed.

For example, developing time management skills will give you control over your time (something positive received) while removing anxiety over not completing tasks (something negative removed).

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

—Will Durant, based on Aristotle’s teachings

Behavior modification summary

Here is a quick summary of how behaviors are reinforced and become habits. Remember that all behaviors can become habits if they are repeatedly and consistently rewarded.

Positive Reinforcement

Behavior + consequence (something received) = Behavior increases

Example:  child cleans room, gets hug and extra TV time – behavior is reinforced and will continue or increase.

Negative Reinforcement

Behavior + consequence (something is removed) = Behavior increases

Example:  Child whines at store for candy. Mom gives in, child is positively reinforced (gets candy); Mom is negatively rewarded because child stops whining. Child learns that whining eventually pays off if Mom at some point gives in. Mom chooses a quick solution to get peace, but with long term negative consequences.

Intermittent Reinforcement

Reinforcement is done once in a while to maintain a habit rather than consistent and immediate that is needed to put a habit in place.

Take charge of your time and your habits

Research on how our brain works gives us new insights into why we do the things we do and continue to do them even when they are not beneficial.

The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression,One Small Change at a TimeAccording to Dr. Alex Korb, author of The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression,One Small Change at a Time, it takes both decision and action to change a downward spiral to an upward one.

Habits that keep us from accomplishing our goals become a downward spiral.

To change that downward spiral of negative habits and routines, requires first recognition and then making a conscious decision followed by action. Taking that tiny step in a new direction begins the process of habit change. When you do, you are changing the dynamics of the neurons and neurotransmitters in your brain.

Remember the story of Arnold Beisser? Finding himself in an iron lung and unable to move, he decided to take charge of his life.

He recognized his position, made a decision to alter that and took his first few steps by engaging in things within his room. As he continued his quest to find a purpose for his life again, he not only left his iron lung, but became a psychiatrist, an administrator and author. He did this by first making a conscious decision followed by tiny steps in a new direction.

Habits are resistant to change.

Replacing them takes time, commitment and dedication. A lifestyle becomes a habit. When we are no longer satisfied with how we live, it’s time to question what we are doing. We not only need to know what isn’t working, we need to know why and what new habits can replace them.

Change starts now.

So, my challenge to you is to pick a behavior or habit you want to replace and start the process. Putting a new habit in place takes hard work and courage and we’ll often rationalize why it is just too difficult to change.

Put yourself in the driver’s seat. Setting up and following a daily routine does not have to be so rigid that you can’t enjoy life. But it is there where we begin to take charge of our life.


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

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

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

Marlene Anderson

Take Charge of Your Time – Take Charge of Your Life

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.


“You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.”

—John C. Maxwell

What is your daily time routine?

Habits and time management go hand-in-hand. If you want to maximize your time, you need to put habits in place that will help you follow those guidelines.

Next week you will learn what keeps habits in place. But first, let’s set up a time management program that works for you.

Time management is more than making to-do lists.

We all make lists of things to be done and then either abandon them or become stressed in the process of trying to get everything done. And we tend to do the things we like doing first and then put the rest on hold until we feel like it.

While to-do lists are helpful reminders, managing and prioritizing your overall time comes first.

Time management begins with reviewing how you currently spend your time every day.

  • What tasks are left undone and how does impact everything else you are trying to accomplish?
  • Are you substituting to-do lists for a time management schedule?

To-do lists involve incidentals that need our attention. Time management sets a structure with dependable routines, so you delegate your time to get things done.

“Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out.”

—Robert Collier

After putting together a time management plan for each day, revisit your to-do lists.

  • How much time is needed to accomplish each task?
  • How can I fit it into my regular schedule?
  • Does that task need to be done today?
  • If it is a large project, how can I break it down into manageable segments?

“Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”

—Malcolm Gladwell

Last week you kept a record of how you spent your time for a week, your daily habits and routines, and what you did at various times of the day from morning to night. Review your record again with the following questions in mind.

  1. What habits keep you from accomplishing necessary chores each day? Perhaps it was putting off for tomorrow what could be done today. Write them down specifically.
  2. Did you schedule “down” times as well as work times? Without scheduled times for needed relaxation, we will neglect chores in favor of just relaxing.
  3. What problems are being ignored because you keep putting them off for tomorrow?
  4. What personal responsibility are you avoiding? Our denial systems can become very active taking us off the hook while blaming others.
  5. How does one problem area affect another and what habits of behavior are consistent between each of the problem areas? Example: putting off daily chores ends with an unorganized and messy home that then affects every aspect of day to day life. For example, not taking time to hang up clothes, ends with a pile of jumbled clothes at the end of the week and difficulty finding what you wanted to wear.
  6. Which areas create a domino effect, constantly affecting all the other areas in your life? For example, if 75% of your time is spent on work while neglecting family, social, spiritual life, etc. your life will become imbalanced.

“There is no elevator to success; you have to take the stairs.”

—Zig Ziglar

5 basic tips to take charge of your time and your life

Take Charge of Your Time – Take Charge of Your Life

Where do you begin to make the changes needed to take charge of your time and energy? Here are five basic ways to take charge of your time and your life.

Start with a sheet of paper that has time increment spaces for an entire day. Then as you look at the suggestions below, begin putting a dependable routine in place.

  1. What routines or schedules need to be in place and followed each day to keep life running smoothly? Make a list of them along with the time needed to complete them. For example: when you get up, mealtimes, work schedules, cleanup times, home maintenance habits, bedtime, etc.
  2. What needs to be done each week: laundry, general household cleaning, shopping, etc. Extend your planning to include a monthly calendar. Designate a time when you will do these things either weekly or monthly.
  3. List projects you want to work on. They can be pleasurable or things that need to be done. These can range from cleaning out your closet or garage, to gardening, planning trips, helping family members, taking on-line classes, etc. These are things you can work on after the basics are done. If a project or chore is large, break it up into small chunks. For example, your closet is a mess and it becomes an overwhelming task, so you put off organizing it. Break the job into manageable segments and do one at a time. Accomplishment is a great motivator.
  4. Once daily routines are established and followed, look at your to-do list and prioritize. Tackle first what is most needed even if that is least pleasurable.
  5. Set aside time each day for relaxation. This isn’t just for social activity. This is a time to rekindle your spirit and let go of your stress. It can be a time for meditation, reading or becoming immersed in a project you love that not only lowers stress but gives you great pleasure.

We have 24 hours each day.

  • How do you want to spend them?
  • Have you avoided making future goals because you haven’t been successful in the past?
  • What new habits can you put in place to make your time truly your time?

Next week, we will look explore what keeps our habits in place. How are they being reinforced? And how can I put that reinforcement in habits that are helpful to me?


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

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

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

Marlene Anderson

Are Your Habits Sabotaging Your Efforts?

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.


“Good habits are worth being fanatical about.”

—John Irving

It has been said that over 40% of our actions each day are habits. If so, much of our day is on autopilot, and it behooves us to look carefully at our habits to discover which are working for us and which are working against us. This is especially important as you prepare to make new goals for the future. Successful goals rely on habits that keep you on track.

“Once you understand that habits can change, you have the freedom and the responsibility to remake them.”

—Charles Duhigg

As you reflect on the goals you have made in the past, why were some never completed while others were? What made the difference?

“Feeling sorry for yourself, and your present condition is not only a waste of energy but the worst habit you could possibly have.”

—Dale Carnegie

The importance of preplanning

My husband and I built two homes together, acting as our own contractors. The first was a house design already drawn up. In the second home, we designed the floor plan based on some important preplanning:

  • What did we want?
  • What could we afford?
  • What was and wasn’t necessary?

Because of that preplanning, we ended up with a home that we not only could afford with the essentials needed, but loved living in.

Similar to building a house, you are preparing a plan and blueprint for what you want moving forward. This preparation will eliminate a lot of unnecessary work down the road and will maximize the use of your time and energy.

“In essence, if we want to direct our lives, we must take control of our consistent actions. It’s not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives, but what we do consistently.”

—Tony Robbins

Reasons we fail

As you explored the whys, whats and hows of past decisions, you investigated what worked and what didn’t and why. Here are some typical reasons we fail:

  • We lack long-term commitment and give up.
  • We lack the motivational habits that keep us on track.
  • We have an initial spurt of energy but not a plan to take us all the way.
  • We haven’t looked honestly at our strengths and weaknesses, accepting all of who we are, and haven’t reflected on behaviors and repeated errors. Until we analyze why we are doing the things we do, we won’t know how to replace those behaviors.
  • We haven’t adequately addressed diversions that occur every day.
  • We haven’t accurately and honestly identified why we did not succeed in the past, so we do not know how to keep from repeating the same errors today.
  • We allow old messages to keep surfacing that tell us we can’t make it.
  • We haven’t established our values and made a commitment to follow them.

There is little we can’t achieve if we set our mind to it. But it does require planning, a time commitment, a belief in our abilities, and motivation to follow through when the going gets rough. It also requires understanding the habits we currently have.

“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.”

—Jim Rohn

Habits are a wonderful thing unless they consume our time and energy without giving us the results we want. Habits provide the structure we need to stay on track. They remind us to follow our intentions and not just what feels good in the moment.

“The trick to success is to choose the right habit and bring just enough discipline to establish it.”

—Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

What is your daily time routine?

Are Your Habits Sabotaging Your Efforts? | FocusWithMarlene.com

Habits and time management go hand-in-hand. If you want to maximize your time, you need to have habits that will keep you moving in the right direction. If you constantly put off chores that need to be done each day, you will find yourself consumed by trying to catch up.

To discover how effectively you use your time, keep a record of what you do each day for one week. On a sheet of paper, put down the hours of the day and then record what you do within that time period; the time you get up, morning schedules, daytime routines, after work, evening and then bedtime. Don’t try to change anything – just get the information you need to work with.

At the end of the week, review your time log. Did you have predictable routines in place? If not, how did that affect your ability to maintain order in your life? Were you able to complete necessary tasks, or where you constantly playing catch up?

Next week we will discuss ways you can manage your time. Then we will speak to the habits that need to be replaced in order to make time work for you instead of against you.


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

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

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

Marlene Anderson

Developing a Vision: Why, What and How

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.


“Whatever you focus on, your energy will follow…”

Developing a vision is more than just thinking about what you might want to do or to have. It’s also developing a new focus. Your focus determines who you are and who you can become. It makes you unique.

On the front page of my website I have defined my platform with the following:

Focus

  • 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

“If we think we are limited or have no choices, we will experience hopelessness, helplessness, anxiety and fear. But if we focus on God, possibilities and options, our energy will be released and directed toward finding the solutions that are right for us.”

These five important considerations can help you establish a positive focus for your life. This is especially important when recovering from a major loss, as grief often keeps us focused on the loss instead of planning for the future. When we focus on loss, it will be difficult to find solutions and overcome obstacles moving forward.

I have made goals that were never completed, primarily because I had not done the preliminary work necessary. I hadn’t created a timeline or adequately defined what I wanted and what was required to get there.

I hadn’t considered ahead of time the obstacles I might encounter or ways to overcome them.

And I hadn’t put together a basic plan of action.

Without these things, goals become more like exciting new ideas we try out but never get really serious about. It sounded like a good idea in the moment, but we hadn’t explored what was involved in making it an actual working goal.

Before you begin to set goals in earnest, let’s explore a little further what you really want and why. Ask yourself what made the difference between success and failure in the past and why some goals were abandoned while others were not. You want to be successful.

Why, What, and How

eveloping a Vision: Why, What and How | FocusWithMarlene.com

Remember to not abandon any ideas, wants or desires you have or may have had. As you go through the following list, consider any of your desires or thoughts a possibility.

Maybe you had thought about getting more education or starting your own business or putting time and energy into creating crafts that others would want to buy. It may not have been possible before, but is it a possibility now? Age is not a factor – finances are not a factor. If it is important enough to you, you will find a way to make it happen.

These three little words, why, what and how, provide questions to help you think through your wants and wishes and possibilities. Keep a notebook handy to write down any and all thoughts as you explore the questions. There might be some overlap in the questions. You may not have answers to all of them. Some are thought-provoking and could become more important later, such as some of the how questions.

Why:

  • Why do I want to do this or make this a goal?
  • Why have I hesitated in the past?
  • Why is it important now?
  • Why do other things take precedence and seem more important than reaching this goal? Example: Am I willing to become more disciplined and self-regulated?

What:

  • What specifically do I want to do, to have, or to attain?
  • What keeps me from doing it? (past attempts, failures, lack of commitment, etc.)
  • What obstacles, restrictions, setbacks do I face? (financial, age, lack of support, determination, fear, unsure, insecurity, etc.)
  • What interferences are there? (Demanding job, family concerns, over-committed in other areas, home to maintain, etc.)
  • What would happen if I didn’t make a decision and get started?

How:

  • How will I maintain other important and necessary commitments? (job, family, church, rest, important relationships, etc.)
  • How will I get through discouraging moments?
  • How will I keep myself motivated when I am tired and alternative diversions become more compelling?
  • How will I define my goal specifically, so I know exactly how to structure my plan of action?
  • How will I know when I have reached my goal and am ready for the next one?

As you explore what you really want and don’t want, what has kept you from succeeding in the past and how you will remain motivated in new goals, this enlarged dimension of who you are will aid you moving forward.


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

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

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

Marlene Anderson

Putting the Pieces Together: Who Am I Today?

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.


“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

—Jeremiah 29:11, NIV

Last week you reflected on all you have learned on this journey through loss. Now, you will use that information and take that next step in putting together the pieces of your life that were disrupted into a new picture of who you can become.

Early in my writing career, I did an interview with a Christian radio station host. Before the interview, I was given a set of questions to preview that would be used in our discussion. They included my years growing up, my family, my teaching and counseling career, and my new career goals as a writer and speaker.

The interview preparation made me pause and think about who I was before and after the loss of my husband, what I valued, and how the things I learned helped me achieve. Taking some thoughtful time to reflect gave me a deeper appreciation of myself, the attributes I had, what I had learned about myself, and the life experiences that helped shape and mold me.

Each of us can uncover similar things when we take time for reflection. We are a composite of DNA, personality traits, childhood experiences and core beliefs established along the way. We are a combination of strengths and weaknesses. When we’ve suffered a major loss, our thoughts revolve around why we can’t or won’t succeed that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Throughout life there will be turning points, defining moments where we can stop and reflect; opportunities to eliminate what isn’t working and put in place new resources. Beginning with a more measured assessment of who we are, and what helped us succeed in the past, we will be better equipped to make plans for our future.

Who Am I?

As you consider and anticipate the needs and wants for your future, think about what makes you “you.”

How would you describe your personality and attributes?

If we just met and I asked you to tell me about yourself, what would you say? Typical responses are often the roles we have in life such as teacher, mom, CEO, factory worker, mechanic, librarian, physician, etc.

But that is only a small part of our life story. That is merely the outside wrappings. How would you describe yourself outside of those roles?

Use the following questions to help you in this process:

  • What do you value and believe?
  • What do you think about on a daily basis?
  • What do you like to do and why?
  • What do you hate and why?
  • How would you describe life in general?
  • What creates problems for you? Do you consider them faults and failings that have more power over your life than the unrecognized assets and strong points that are waiting to be applied?
  • What achievements have you made? It is important not to minimize.
  • What do you consider your special talents and abilities?

Say Hello to Yourself

Putting the Pieces Together: Who Am I Today? | FocusWithMarlene.com

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. Each of these spokes radiating outward is a part of how you describe or define who you are.

As you consider the following questions, write on each of the spokes a descriptive word about yourself.

Be sure you put a balance of strengths and weaknesses. We are an amalgam of positive traits and those we might see as not so positive. We are not either/or. We are a wonderful combination of all of them and can benefit from all of them.

  1. What traits or strengths would you assign to yourself? For example: Do you see yourself as strong, determined, or hesitating and thoughtful, etc.?
  2. Describe some of your social skills. For example: do you consider yourself friendly, shy and aloof or engaging, talkative, social, etc.?
  3. What are your predominant attitudes or ways of thinking – dependable, trusting, independent, reliable, loyal, positive, etc.?
  4. How would you describe your typical emotional state? Are you happy, anxious, angry, contented, cheerful, compassionate, etc.?
  5. What talents and abilities do you have – artistic, computer savvy, athletic, good planner, etc.?

Be as honest as you can with this exercise. Add as many spokes as you need. You are a wonderful human being. Take this image with you as you move forward.

Next week we will continue our preparation for new goals.


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

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

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

Marlene Anderson