Sometimes it’s hard to look at the “bright side” of life. Sometimes it feels like you get hit with one thing after another, after another, and you just can’t seem to catch a break. It’s okay to feel upset when bad things happen. Get angry, work through those emotions, but the trouble comes when we allow ourselves to sit too long with those negative thoughts. We live in a time of constant exposure to media that showcases the very best of our friends’ lives, that highlights super stars, and the talents of everyone we wish we could be. We all fight our own battles behind the scenes, and sometimes anxiety, resentment, fear, sadness, they just take over. But why do we have so much negativity? How do we overcome it? Should we try to brush it aside?

In a study published by the Educational Publishing Foundation, titled “Bad is Stronger than Good,” researchers explain the necessity of negativity from an evolutionary perspective. Historically speaking, if an ancient individual saw the world as bad and honed in on negative situations worth avoiding over positive opportunities to take advantage of, they had a greater chance of surviving and creating the next generation. If you missed the chance for innovation sure, it was lost potential, but at least you lived to see another day back then. Made a mistake and got eaten or poisoned- forget about the notion of potential altogether. People needed to be hyper aware of danger to make it through the day.

Fortunately today we have significantly less to worry about, but our minds still get caught in a loop of negativity. While that negativity can still provide some type of protection, in the long run it will hold you back from acting on those remarkable opportunities ancient peoples of the past didn’t have the time for. Professor of Organizational Behavior, Psychology, and Cognitive Science Dr. Richard Boyatzis states, “You need the negative focus to survive, but a positive one to thrive.” So how can you switch gears when the anxious thoughts of worry, and confusion, and stress take over? And what about when things actually go wrong when you did your best to do everything right?

Below is a mini Field Guide to finding the silver lining:

  1. Breathing exercises: In the event of a stressful or overwhelming situation that is causing an immediate negative or series of negative responses from your brain, begin by refocusing your breathing. The brain is an organ- a part of your body and you need to regain control over your body. The 4-7-8 breathing exercise developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, is a simple method that will help you begin the process of redirecting you energy from stressed to success. Simply breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 7 counts, then exhale for 8 counts. This process acts as a “natural tranquilizer for the nervous system.” It will calm you, get oxygen and blood flowing through the body, and give you a minute of thinking that is focused solely on your breathing and not the problem at hand. Begin with the breath.
  2. Think about what could go right: Let’s say you’re in a situation where you’re thinking about all the things that could go wrong. What if my car breaks down on the way? What if it’s too expensive? What if they don’t like me? What if they start yelling? What if I get lost? What if I don’t know what to say? For every thought you have of a fake scenario where your situation turns wrong, produce the alternative if it went horribly right. What if it’s on sale? What if they turn out to be a new life long friend? What if they know someone I know already? What if I get there early and find a new store to look in with cool stuff? What if they don’t know what to say, and I make them feel more comfortable? Start thinking of alternates for your “what if” moments, and at the very least it might help calm some nerves. You might even come up with a few ideas to try out in the future of new things you actually want to test out.
  3. Stop asking “Why me?”: Be true in who you are. You are radiant. You are magnificent. You are on your way to creating so many wonderful things. The bad things that happen to you are not your fault, but they also aren’t anyone else’s fault either. Sometimes people aren’t nice, sometimes they do wrong by us, sometimes they hurt us. Do not allow their actions to control your mindset, and do not let that run the course of your life. And also, sometimes things just happen. There isn’t a reason why some people seem to get hit with one tragedy after another, and others seemingly glide through life. Everyone has their own personal battles, and some just don’t talk about it. If you allow your pain to become what defines you, it will eventually consume you. You must let it go. Some of the most beautiful moments of my life would have never happened had I not gone through the darkest times. I would never wish those events to happen, but they did and I am here and okay, and every sadness that touched my life lead to some type of good, because I allowed room in my heart for good to enter. You must be open to healing. Keep your heart open.
  4. Break down gratitude: Write a list of everything you are grateful for. Break it down into 4 categories: the essentials, accomplishments, people, and then everything else. Begin with the essentials. What basics of life do you have that you are most grateful for? Get specific, not just “food, a roof, clothes.” Pick out your favorite food, or the best thing ate all week, your favorite room in your house, your favorite shirt. Then move to accomplishments, what have you done today you are proud of? This week? This year? The past few years? Your whole life? Reflect on how far you have come. Think about the last time you felt discouraged and how you overcame that. Be proud of yourself. Honor yourself for the work you do everyday. Next- people. Who in your life are you grateful for? This week who helped you most? Who was a light in your life? Who has been a guide for you? Have you done anything for them lately? Finally, list everything else. What was the last you did that was fun? When did you last smile? What was the last celebration? Do you have a job? Have you worked on some personal projects? Have you had free time? Find something in everyday to be grateful for. Break it down. Reflect.
  5. Let the little things go: Don’t get worked up over minor inconveniences. If you aren’t allowing the small problems of your day to work you up, you will have more energy to rationally think through the tougher issues that are worth your tears and your heart. Out of copy paper? Long line at the check out? Store isn’t stocked with your favorite flavor soup? Breakfast spilled? Traffic jam? Ignore life’s little problems. Often times these are windows of opportunity to explore something new. Try a new flavor, pick a new store, take the scenic route. Keep your stress levels low by seeking opportunity from inconvenience. Innovation stems from exploration. So go explore. Change your mindset from routine to seeking new things. You will find there are so many more options available to you when you break habits, whether forced to switch up or by your own choice. Even slightly bigger things, like one mean comment from a passerby can ruin an hour, but don’t let it control the rest of your day. For every mean thing someone says about you think of one kind thing to say about yourself. Or take it a step further and think of one kind thing to say about them. For every mean thing you think about yourself, think of a nice thought to contradict that too. Don’t like your nose? But have you seen the way your eyes sparkle? You take too long to finish your workload? Your submissions are always flawless and done with care. Turn negativity into an opportunity to find something wondrous.

It’s important to feel through your emotions when you’re upset. Grieve. Love. Get angry. Be sad. Just don’t dwell on them. Life is full of highs and lows and sometimes the lows seem to dig deeper, and deeper, and deeper, and we start to feel like we are drowning. Don’t give up. Breathe. Regroup. Visualize where you will be once you work through this, and remember how much love you have to give to this world. You have talents and gifts that are entirely your own. Every experience is something you can draw from later on in someway or another. Keep going. Keep growing. You are capable of so much. You can do anything, no matter how dark it may seem right now, allow the light to come in. It will guide your way. You may feel stuck, but no matter where you are at, you can do anything.

The holidays are here and consumer spending on goods and services are at their annual peak. A study discussed by Stanford University, explained Americans alone throw away an average of 25% more garbage between Thanksgiving and New Years than any other time of year. This year, make a point to limit your footprint this holiday season as a gift to the earth. This week is a continuation of the “Conscientious Consumerism” series (a follow up to a previous article Conscientious Consumerism: Why The Smallest Steps Towards Sustainability Are Still Important). The simplest and smallest acts of mindfulness regarding sustainability have the power to create monumental change when we come together to create a greener, cleaner planet. Below are a few ways you can make a big impact this holiday season.

  1. Compost That Christmas Tree: Don’t let your tree end up in a landfill this year. If you get a real tree, check out your local government’s web-page to find out about curb side tree collection. Trees can be reused as materials for flood barricades, mulch, or composted. You can also compost or break it down for mulch yourself if you are planning on gardening come Spring. However you choose to dispose of your tree, make sure it gets a second use! If you are ever unsure about how to recycle something visit Earth911. Type in your zip code and what you want to recycle (anything at all, not just Christmas trees!) and it will tell where and how it can be done.
  2. Mindful Gifting: With sales and deals and steals in all the stores, it can hard to resist snatching up all those stocking stuffers. When you pick out gifts for everyone on your list this year, don’t spend money for the sake of spending money. Instead invest in fewer items that you know your loved ones will appreciate and use for a long time to come. Some extremists argue for a gift free holiday to save the planet, but there is a balance between excess and nothing. I enjoy shopping during the holiday season because I get to really think about all the people in my life. What do they like? What are the best parts of them? What brings them joy? When you are mindful about others when shopping, you will have a less stressful shopping experience, probably spend less on filler gifts, waste less on things that won’t get used, and you’ll remember all the best parts of your friends and family. I have some gifts I have received in the past that I have used for years, and will continue to use. Don’t feel bad about purchasing a gift for someone that will go to good use.
  3. Shop Small: Find some out-of-the-box gift ideas by shopping small and avoiding the high-waste, fast-fashion, fad-filled, big businesses this year. Did your friends start a business this year? Support them. Their business will grow which will enrich your own community, and the carbon footprint of a small business is often much smaller than corporate enterprises. Here’s a list of sustainable small business’s in each state! Search online for small business that also support causes you believe in. Bravery, is a small business brand that sells wristbands made of wooden beads, with one a unique color of your choosing that corresponds with a charity. A portion of each sale goes directly to the charity of the color wristband purchased. Check out your local shops as well as online brands. Walk down the main street of your town or city and see what the people in your area are creating. They might have that perfect, unique gift you couldn’t find in the super stores for that special someone on your list. You might even be able to get a custom order from them. Find local artists, and commission a piece from them. You can totally win the holidays with the ultimate custom blanket, painting, or whatever interesting things the people around you are creating. Connect with your community this year and you might find the most magical items to share with your loved ones.
  4. Give The Gift Of Something To Do: Everyone complains about not having anything to do, especially in areas that aren’t super urbanized. This year don’t give another pile of sweaters that will lay dusty in the back of the closet and end up in the donation bin next year. Instead give the gift of a reason to go out. Think about the interests of those on your list. Get them concert tickets if they like music. If they like the outdoors, see if there are conferences on hiking, or gardening, or camping. If they like cooking get them a gift certificate to a cooking class. In Scranton, the beautiful and homey Vintage Kitchen, is a locally run small business that offers cooking and lifestyle classes for all ages. They offer courses for children and adults with categories that range from baking, to meal prepping, to waffles, to happy hours, to vegetarian nights, and so much more. Get them a certificate to sign up for something that interests them, or sign up to take a class together as a way to spend time with them this holiday. You could also reach out to a local photographer and schedule a photo shoot for them. Either make them a model for a day with a solo session, or create some beautiful memories with your significant other in a couples session. You could also have a fun friends shoot to remember the great times you shared together. Now-a-days you can customize super creative photo sessions, and have a fun, memorable experience that reflects who you and your friends are. The gift of something to do eliminates physical waste, and keeps the cheer going even after the day you swap presents.
  5. Gift Products That Encourage Sustainability: If you want to add in a few extra stocking stuffers, or need a few smaller gifts for people on your list, look into products that encourage sustainable habits. Reusable water bottles that have something from their favorite show or book on it would be a great idea. Bento boxes are great for a friend who wants to start meal prepping, eating out less, or just wants to use less waste when out and about. Bento&Co. has a variety of boxes to match every personality type, and several other kitchen gadgets to make on the go eating a breeze. House plants also make beautiful gifts, and don’t need to be thrown out like cut flowers. Consider a potted plant instead of a cut floral arrangement as a gift for your party hosts this year. Research brands, buy from companies who create products out of recycled materials, or who work to create a cleaner, more sustainable world.
  6. Brown Paper Packages Tied Up With String: The marvelous Julie Andrews was onto something when she sang that famous line about her favorite things. This year, instead of buying wrapping paper that will get ripped up and thrown out in shreds after one use, buy brown paper that can be recycled. You can still keep the holiday cheer by decorating them with fun ribbon and bows (reuse any old ones you have and keep any on gifts you get this year to use for next year). If you have extra paper from last year still on a role, use that up first before buying new paper or bags. You already purchased it, so don’t let it go to waste or throw it out with out getting any use at all. You can also use gift bags instead of paper, and encourage those you give them to to keep them to reuse in the future for when they have to give a gift to someone.
  7. Meal Prep Your Holiday Feasts: The EPA estimates food waste during the holidays increases by 25%, and the National Resources Defense Council estimates on average annual food waste amounts to about $281 billion! To cut down on your holiday food waste this year, plan out your big dinners in advance. Write out a detailed menu, keeping in mind the apatite and diet of your guests. Start preparing your holiday meals in advance so you don’t end up stressed in the kitchen the day of, throwing together ingredients. Also make sure to take advantage of your ingredients. Use every piece from root to stem if you can. Get creative in the kitchen with left overs, and if you can’t get through them all, send them home with guests, or freeze them. The freezer will keep your dishes preserved much longer, and then you can get cozy with a bowl of your famous green bean casserole again in a week or two.
  8. Enjoy Every Moment: The holidays are a time to come together and be with the people you care about most. Treat those around with kindness. Have patience when you’re in traffic, be gentle when you wait in line to check out at the stores. When you slow down you’ll realize that this time of year isn’t about all of the physical things we get, the food, the parties, the decorations. It’s about taking time for the people in your life and being present with them. With that mindset, you’ll see it doesn’t matter if you scale back a little to help protect the planet. It’s okay to reuse decorations, and reuse wrapping paper, and turn off the Christmas lights an hour earlier, because what matters is embracing everyday. This time of year is one time where much of the world stops for a few moments to just be together. So go and be with the people you need to be with, because at midnight on New Years, business will be back to usual, and there’s no guarantee everyone will be around next holiday season.

There are many other ways you can make a difference environmentally during the holidays, but even a few steps in the right direction make an impact. If just 1000 more people compost their Christmas tree this year, that’s a major impact. If a few people give reusable water bottles as gifts, and the people who receive them start using those instead of disposable plastic ones, that impact is enormous. Be mindful, be present, be yourself. You have enormous potential, and your actions have the power to create beautiful change. You can make a difference no matter where you’re at.

A morning snow fall was a pleasant surprise yesterday morning. I was surprised that I found it to be a pleasant surprise. Winter is my least favorite season by far, and I do not do well in the cold. Most winters I tend to bundle up, muttering through the wind whipping my face, under grey skies, and shivering as I struggle to find the car keys in my purse, that I should have pulled out when I was still inside. Anyone else been there? A few weeks ago we talked about drawing inspiration from (and the actual physical benefits of) house plants during the winter months. Beyond setting up a comfortable and personally inspiring indoor space, it’s also important step outside during these cold months and embrace the winter weather. Take a even a few moments to appreciate the unique happenings that occur at this time of year.

Don’t waste your winter waiting for the warmth of summer to return. Go out and enjoy what you can. The perfect day, the perfect time, the perfect opportunity to start whatever it is you’ve been putting off will never come. Go and start that project you’ve been planning, talk to the person you’ve been thinking about, plan that vacation you’ve been wanting to take. Stop allowing reasons and seasons to hold you back. Those roadblocks don’t matter. What matters is your attitude towards those roadblocks. It’s okay to get discouraged sometimes, and you may have to change your course because of those roadblocks, but do not let them put your entire life on hold. I only spent half an hour outside in the snow, when on a summer day I might have spent 3 hours if I had the time. Do what you can, when you can, where you are at. Then when your summer comes, imagine how much more you will be able to do, because of the ground work you laid out while it was cold.

Every season has a purpose, and even if you are not in bloom, it does make you any any less stunning in the snow.

Jump on moments of inspiration. If you suddenly feel an urge to work on a project you’ve been waiting on, to get back into a hobby you’ve stopped, to try something new, to go outside because it’s snowing unexpectedly one morning, do it. Explore. Follow those urges. Live in the moment and embrace life to its absolute fullest, because you don’t know how long the winter will last, or even if you will make until next summer. Every day is a gift, and everyday you are able to pursue the things that fill your heart with warmth is a greater gift. Do not take them for granted. Do not let this winter keep you feeling stuck inside. Do not let your road blocks turn into walls that keep you in an inescapable prison. Face them. Find out what you can learn from them. Find what is beautiful in them. Grow from them. Step outside into winter and see what you can build with your snow. You can create magnificent things, during any season, from where ever you are at.

What defines success? How do we become our own version of successful? How do we get from where we are at right now to where we want to be next? These questions, while simple, have answers that are far more complex.

Let’s start with what defines success. That can mean different things to different people. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines success as “1.b. favorable or desired outcome.” It’s vague, but at least it gets us somewhere in the ball park to define the scope of what we want to discuss. An article from Business Insider titled, “How 9 Incredibly Successful People Define Success,” compiled the thoughts on the topic from a diverse group of role models such as, CEO of Zappos Tony Hseih, founder of The Huffington Post Arianna Huffington, Maya Angelou, and Winston Churchill. The common theme among their replies: personal satisfaction with your work and your life are the main components to success. Again, vague, but still helpful in that it sets us on a track to exploring where our own versions of success lie.

Since success is a personal journey comprised of completing a series of individual goals, it makes sense that everyone’s route to the top is uniquely their own. There isn’t a formula or a check list to follow to accomplish your goals. As much as we would like a step by step guide on how to be “successful” there isn’t one, and anyone who tries to sell you one doesn’t really have the answer. There might be ideas to get you started or motivate you to gear up and start working on your dreams, but there isn’t a guaranteed route to success in the same way there isn’t a concrete definition of what success is. So where do you start?

The journey to your own success begins by accumulating a few essentials, then hit the ground running, and watch yourself soar.

  1. Visualization: Know where it is you want to be, and what makes your life fulfilling. Lay out your goals in specific terms. Have larger, long-term goals, then break those down into smaller goals. Write everything down. This will help you to track your progress and see where you are headed next. There are several tools you can use to help you with this step, it all depends on what you like best. If you like online resources there are several goal tracking apps and websites, or even resources like Evernote, which has a free basic plan and can be useful for creating folders of notes and long-term goal timelines. For those like me who prefer a more tangible format of organization, planners (when utilized to their maximum potential) work wonders in keeping you on track everyday. For the bigger picture, vision boards can help provide you with a reminder of what you are working towards and why. Be conscientious about what you put in your vision boards and calendars. Make your dreams big, but your goals attainable. Your goals are the steps to achieve your dreams and if they are not broken down enough it might become discouraging. You can can and you will make those dreams come true, but it will take time and work. Your goals are the stepping stones to your dreams. Space them out so you can jump from stone to stone, and eventually you will make it to the other side of the river. If they are too far apart, you will fall in and get pulled away by the currents.
  2. Mindset: The next key component to moving to where you want to be is mindset. You need to believe you can do anything. If you don’t believe in yourself, who else is going to? You are your number one advocate, you know your strengths, your weaknesses, your capabilities better than anyone else. You know you have what it takes, now you need to take that knowledge to the next level. In a TED talk presented by Angela Lee Duckworth, distinguished psychologist and founder of a nonprofit that aims to advance the science and practice of character development, she discusses the concept of “grit.” This concept is essentially will power, and through a series of comprehensive studies, Duckworth has concluded that regardless of talent, circumstance, or other outside factors, the largest contributing factor that determined how successful someone would be, is their level of grit. Factors that contribute to a person’s ‘grit’ include: how easily are they distracted, how are they impacted by set backs, and how committed are they to completing a project. If you want to test your own level of “grit” and see what areas you need to improve on, you can take her test here. What this concept boils down to is, do you have a vision, are you consistent in your efforts to realize that vision, and do you persevere through challenges that take you off course? It’s all about mindset.
  3. Gratitude: Live your life with a grateful heart. This is one of the most important steps you can take to lead a life peace and success. Find something in each day to be grateful for, and you will feel a change in how you see the world. You will start to see more open windows, instead of all the closed doors around you. Every small step you take in your journey to accomplishing your personal big-picture goals is worth celebration. When you check something off that long and seemingly endless to-do list, pause for a minute and reflect. Think about how far you have come, and be grateful that you were able to get to where you are at now. Remember where you started your journey. Reward yourself for the work you’ve done. Find gratitude on days you encounter setbacks. Those days are opportunities to learn. Those days while tiresome and discouraging, are important. They teach you to be creative, rework problems, or dig deeper within yourself. It’s also okay if there are days where nothing seems to go right, and you feel completely defeated. Feel those days. Process them, take a break, but do not let them deter you from your dream. Remember all the work you have done. Remember all the victories. Tomorrow will be a new day and you can get back into your rhythm again. Be grateful for your support system. Even if it’s a few people, or only one person, or just you, tell them thank you. Always remember they can help you. Gratitude is vital to overcoming set backs, and through the eyes of a grateful mind, you will see the opportunity around you when your thoughts are not being clouded by a negative attitude.

We all have our own aspirations and dreams. Dreams can also change or evolve over time as we learn, and age, and grow. What makes dreams beautiful is they are your own, and the way you find success is your own journey too. If you are currently struggling to figure out how to accomplish your goals remember there isn’t a single route to success, and the path to get there isn’t linear either. There will be ups an downs, and it’s going to be hard. But you know yourself better than anyone else. And you know you can do it. Visualize where you want to be. Get specific. Then dig within yourself and don’t let anyone or anything derail you from you goals. It might take a long time, but with perseverance and consistency you can accomplish so much more than you ever thought possible. Celebrate. Be grateful for every small success along the way. Embrace every moment, because they won’t happen twice. Open your eyes to the community around you and all it has to offer. To go from where you are now to where you want to be, will be a process. It will take work. It will take “grit.” But you can do it. Do the best you can with the resources you have right now, then as you work you will find better and more efficient methods of work, more opportunities, more ideas for improvement. But you have to take the first step and just start. Always remember, you can do anything where ever you are at.

Starting a business is scary. So are most major life changes. Changing careers, going back to school, moving, expanding your family, trying a new hobby, joining a gym, breaking your routine is a scary process. It’s uncomfortable and overwhelming, and it might feel like you don’t know anything about what it is you’re trying to do. Do it anyway. Begin the process. Learn as you go. Struggle. Learn more. Overcome. Learn more. Reflect and be proud of how far you have come from the first day you were scared to try something new.

Of course when it comes to a major financial investment like starting a business, take the time to do your research. Prepare as best as you can before you dive into applying for loans and pouring all your money into your big idea. But, if you have an idea that keeps you up at night, that lights a fire in your soul, chase it! There are people and resources in your community who can help guide you through the process. They want you to succeed. When you grow, you bring your passionate love to your community, and it only enriches the place you live. People want to see their cities blossom. They want to see you bloom.

In areas that are not typically seen as major business hubs like New York or Chicago, it might seem impossible to move and idea from planning to production. Many people in small towns complain there aren’t jobs let alone the resources to open a business from the bottom up. While investors might not have a building on every street like the in the big cities, they are present and actively looking for the best and brightest to grow their region. You are the best and you are the brightest. The first step to realizing your dreams is to start talking to people in your area. Open up to them and discuss what your goals are. Learn about their goals and what they do too. Maybe you can help each other, or you know someone who can help them, and they know someone who can help you.

In the North East Pennsylvania region, many locals often see the area as a washed-up, frozen, once-was, coal town. They have given up on the potential this beautiful community has to offer. The city of Scranton has a gorge with stunning views right in the middle of the city. The art scene is a growing and thriving component to the area that is literally brightening the streets with color to awaken the locals and show them how talented they all are. If you wanted to open a business, this is the place to do it.

On November 8, 2019 the 17th annual Entrepreneurship Institute Conference took place at Lackawanna College in downtown Scranton. The event was sponsored by tecBRIDGE, an organization committed to “growing entrepreneurship, innovation, and the knowledge economy in NEPA.” Several speakers provided their expert advice in workshops on networking, mindful living, website marketing, strategic business planning, and much more. More than the technical knowledge offered at the event was the opportunity to see the developers and creatives (established and rising alike) working to bring their dreams to life in a community often seen as decaying. Prior to this year, I had never even heard of tecBRIDGE, this conference, or most of the incredible projects that were discussed at the event. Seeking opportunity in your community is key. Often times there is more around you than you think, and if you don’t find what you need, then that is the perfect space for you to come in and innovate to create change.

Pennsylvania isn’t the only place with the potential for booming businesses outside of the typical corporate cities. In a piece published by Forbes, they list the top 10 small cities entrepreneurs can find success. Who made the cut? Cities ranging from Holland, Michigan to Cheyenne, Wyoming to Aberdeen, South Dakota. These areas embrace their natural features and market them to their fullest. In Holland, MI locals and tourists can walk along white sandy beaches, go for a hike, visit an art walk, and experience the world renowned Tulip Time Festival all in the same day. There are beautiful and unique characteristics within towns across the world. Everywhere has the potential to become a hub for growth. It just takes the people to believe in their neighbors, and to believe in themselves to make it happen.

It doesn’t matter if you live in the middle of nowhere or if you live in the center of largest business centers in the nation. What matters is you, and you matter. Get out and meet people, see what they’re doing to enrich your community. Learn from them and get new ideas. Keep trying your best, because consistency is key. Radical change will not happen overnight, but the slow growth you will see in your community when you begin to involve yourself in it will be awe inspiring. The more you invest in your projects, the more you yourself will grow. Your mindset will change from one of longing to escape your reality to one of hope to build your reality. Create change. You are capable of accomplishing so many wondrous feats. You can do anything, from right where you’re at.

Winter is coming, and as the cold seeps in the leaves will finish falling, the plants will go to sleep, and the sky will turn grey for the next few months. The colder temperatures will mean less days outside and the winter time blues will dampen the golden freedom of fall afternoons. Winter offers its own opportunities however, with time to rest, reflect, and learn. Spend your time inside to grow. Read a book, take an online course, or put extra effort into your self-care.

To help combat those dark and frigid days, I recommend reading Brilliant Green: The Surprising History and Science of Plant Intelligence, by Stefano Mancuso and Alessandra Viola. The book is the perfect winter time read to bring you back to the warmth of summer days. It offers a unique and inspirational look into the world of plants that is for more fascinating than your 10th grade biology class.

The general focus of the work centers on the notion that most people tend to ignore plants, viewing them as unintelligent and passive beings. People overlook how vital plants are to the survival of all other living creatures. Perhaps because they are immobile, or because they are ever-present, they are seemingly silent, or that they are easily manipulated by humans. But imagine a world without plants. To quote the authors, “They… are the link connecting the activities of the whole organic world (that is, of everything we call life) with our solar system’s energy center.” Without plants we wouldn’t have food, clothes, breathable air, energy supplies- life would be unsustainable.

This notion does not just apply to plants. If people do not notice all that you do, it does not mean that you are not important. The things you are doing, the projects you are working on, the time you are investing in yourself and in others is valuable. Your work is beautiful. What you create and contribute to the world is worth creating, even if no one is paying attention. Just because people tend to pass you by does not mean you are any less vital to the larger ecosystem of the world, and if you left, people would definitely notice. Just like the plants.

The book goes into detail about the complexities of plant intelligence, explaining how they use their senses to engage with their environment (yes they have all 5 senses we do, plus 15 more!). It examines the historical reasons plants have been glossed over in philosophical, religious, and scientific texts. It even poses its own philosophical questions such as, are plants altruistic? Check out the book for the entire explanation, but in short I was inspired that this question could even be asked. This suggests kindness is an innate characteristic so fundamental to living things that even plants exhibit signs of a moral compass. Imagine being a plant: you can’t move, you have to fight all other plants around you for resources, avoid being eaten entirely by animals, protect yourself from the elements, it can’t be easy, and yet, you have a sense to help out other plants around you in need. This level of thoughtfulness existing within in plants means kindness must be a core trait within people too. Be kind to others. The world might have made some hearts hard, but they can be softened. Even if it goes unnoticed, even if people do not immediately pay attention, your efforts to be gentle will help reshape the world.

Another fun fact presented in the 2nd chapter is the positive benefits plants have on the human mind. Cited are studies showing that the presence of plants in classrooms improve student concentration, and neighborhoods with greener spaces tend to have fewer car accidents and suicides. The impact of plants on mental health is remarkable. Maybe that has something to do with the recent houseplant comeback. Another way to help battle seasonal depression is to bring the outdoors in. When you pick up this book, snag a few house plants to brighten up your room too. Your plant will love you just as much you will love the life it brings you this cold season. If you don’t know what kind of plant to get or tend to kill anything green you touch start with one of these beginner options and work your way to building up a collection.

Overall, Brilliant Green, offers a lot of interesting and detailed information about how plants work. In it’s own way though it is a work of inspiration, with an underlying message that the moments overlooked are often the most important and beautiful in life. Don’t waste your winter this year. Take advantage of the time you have to try something you wouldn’t normally. Don’t let people overlook you either, and if they do, it does not mean you are any less wondrous. Keep on putting in the work on your dreams, keep focusing, keep creating, keep doing your very best. Your actions today have the power to impact the hearts and minds of those in the environment around you- just like a plant. Keep growing towards the sun, and when the spring comes you will bloom the most vibrant flowers that will capture the eye of everyone who passes by. Plants are stationary beings, but without them, the world would crumble. You have been planted in your own unique situation, and your soil may not be rich, your water supply may be weak, but even cacti in the hottest deserts blossom the loveliest flowers in their own time. You are creating amazing work exactly where you are planted, and one day the seeds of your efforts will spread across the world. You can do anything exactly where you’re at.

Depression and anxiety manifest in many forms, and sometimes they become so draining that keeping your home clean is overwhelming and seemingly impossible. Or maybe you have physical limitations that make doing more than a few tasks a day too much. Or maybe life is just really busy right now. I’ve been battling all of these obstacles for quite some time, and as much as I wish I could be a tidy and organized person, I am just not. However, I have not given up on my mission to devise a system that works for me, so this week I have composed a list of tips to help other people who just can’t seem to get organized either.

  1. Change Your Mindset Towards Cleaning: I saw a quote a long time ago floating around on Pinterest that changed my outlook on cleaning. The essence was this- You deserve to live in a space that is clean and comfortable. You have worth and are full of love and creativity and passion and are worthy of a place that reflects your finest features. When you haven’t been able to muster up the strength to start cleaning for a while, the mess can be overwhelming to say the least. You might be thinking, “what’s the point? I won’t finish, it’s been this way so long, it doesn’t matter anyway.” It does matter, and no matter how much of your space you can sort through, it will make a difference and you are worth it.
  2. Reward Yourself Before You Begin: You read that right. You made the decision to start this task and you deserve to be rewarded for that. Something small that will help you while cleaning is probably the best idea for a treat. Maybe grab your favorite drink to sip on while you work, pick out a movie to play in the background, a new candle to burn while your cleaning instead of waiting until your done. Some positive recognition for yourself that you have decided to finally do the thing will help you want to do it again in the future, and help make the actual work not so bad.
  3. Start With One Area: If the room your working on is in a real rough state, break it down by section or task. Maybe pick everything up off the floor. Or just begin with one table. Or do the entire closet. This way if you run out of steam or have to go because of other obligations, you have a better chance of completing that smaller scale project. That sense of completion will bring pride, and if you can’t get to the rest of the room it can help serve as a positive reminder that you are capable of finishing a project and you can and will do it again. Embrace your accomplishment and allow yourself to fully feel that pride from your achievement too- don’t dwell on the rest of the room that remains. You will get there.
  4. Dedicate One Spot In Each Room To Stay Clean: If you finish only one area, or when you finish getting a room nice and tidy, designate a clean spot for yourself. Maybe it will be the dresser, or a certain part of the kitchen counter, or the night stand, or the chair, pick one spot that you will commit to keeping clean. If you walk in the door, you will not just throw down your coat in the that spot, you won’t pile the laundry that needs folding there, nothing. If you keep up with this spot and make it a habit to break the urge to allow it to go back to being a mess, eventually you can work up to more spots, then a room, then more rooms, then your home. It will be a long process, and if you break the commitment, forgive yourself and think about why. Were you tired? Were you upset? Did you just not care? Remember, you are worthy of a space that is comfortable. A space you can move in, stretch out in, breathe in. Commit to one spot and commit to yourself.
  5. Work Whenever You Have A Sparkle Of Motivation: If you feel any urge at all to start tackling the mess that’s been calling you for months, jump of it. Even if it’s an inconvenient time, do what you can in the amount of time you have to work with. If you’re getting ready for work but your bathroom is too frustrating to get ready in, and for some reason right now is your breaking point, wipe out the sink while you swish your mouth wash. Clean off the mirror before you go. These small steps, while only a piece of needs to get done, will help you to feel better about your space, and help you feel better about taking care of your space.
  6. Remove Any Barriers To Tasks That Bother You: I am a texture person, and hate the feeling of grime and dust on my skin. I also can’t touch dirty dishes that are already in a sink. If they are on the counter next to the sink, that’s fine, but once they go in, I just can’t. The thought grosses me out, the texture of the slime that forms on them is repulsive in every way. To overcome this, I use cleaning gloves, so I don’t have to feel dust or grime on my skin when I wipe off particularly dirty surfaces. Or I place my dishes next to the sink, and try to skip the sink altogether by putting them straight in the dish washer after rinsing if it is empty. Similarly, if you don’t like the noise of a vacuum, get a pair of good noise canceling headphones or earplugs to help muffle the sound while you clean. If the smell of cleaning agents bothers you, look for ones with limited to no fragrance and wear a face mask. By identifying what it is about a task that hinders you from performing it, you can figure out a way to overcome that barrier. This can be such an empowering step. You are not lazy, you are trying, and now that you have eliminated the physical reasons a chore was difficult, it will be a little easier to start doing it more often.
  7. Stop When You’ve Had Enough: Once you feel the aches in your bones creeping in, or your brain starts shutting down because you’ve been at it for too long, stop. It’s okay if you don’t finish your whole list today. If you keep pushing yourself when you’ve hit your limit, that will only cause you to need time to recover from your efforts. Do not keep going. I have an autoimmune disorder that causes a lot of joint pain, and sometimes there are okay days and sometimes there are really bad days. I don’t want to turn an okay day into a bad one because the societal norm that you must always finish what you start or you are a failure. If you push your self past your limit just to say you got it done, you might end up doing more harm than good, and you won’t be able to keep up with the room you just cleaned. You can always come back once you have had some rest and finish organizing your space. When you wrap up your work, step back to admire what you did accomplish. This positive reinforcement will help you to continue to look at cleaning as something that you do to honor yourself instead of a chore that just needs to be done.
  8. Ask For Help: This is definitely the scariest and most uncomfortable piece of advice on this list. It can be hard to open up about what happens when life just seems to hit you all at once and then everything else gets away. Then to tell other people that you haven’t been able to keep up with what is typically seen as basic daily tasks can be embarrassing. But your friends and loved ones do not want to see you sad and stuck. If you confide in a few close people who you trust and ask if they have an hour or two to help you fold some laundry or clear out a space, they can help get you farther in your efforts to get organized faster. They might also have a few tips and tricks as to how they organize their own stuff that might help you stay on top of things.
  9. Don’t Allow Negative People To Bring You Down: If you live with other people who make negative comments about where you are at in your life right now, do your best to ignore them. Keep trying to get yourself back on track, and do not allow their influence to limit you from working on getting better. If they say things like, “Wow, look who’s finally cleaning,” or “That looks nice but it won’t stay that way long,” take a breath. Then take one more. Do not engage with people like this who cannot see the power of their own words. Instead, wield the strength of your own voice, and remind yourself that you are doing this for your own benefit and no one else’s. You will do the best you can to ensure your space is clean and comfortable. If you fall behind again, you will pick it right back up. You accomplished so much by deciding to make the conscious choice to make a change, and your work is for your self care.

Some people have found cleaning as a source of relaxation and a method of coping with troubling times. Other people have just always been tidy and organized. And other people are just messy. There are many complex reasons why some people have a hard time staying on top of caring for their spaces, but there are ways to overcome the barriers that impede our journey to healing our hearts and homes.

Caring for your personal space is an extension of caring for yourself. It’s not as glamorous or peaceful as a face mask or a massage, but it is important. You could even put on a face mask while you clean and do a “quick clean,” just picking up as much as you can while you wait for it to dry. You deserve a space that makes you comfortable. A space that makes you feel safe, and welcome, and like you are at home. Sometimes you might not feel worthy, but you are. You are capable of accomplishing amazing feats, and in your clear space you might just find some clean head space to figure out those goals. No matter where you are at you can and you will do beautiful things.

Get out and explore. Go down the street and feel the breeze on your face. Walking outdoors can help you to overcome several personal obstacles in your life, through a journey of connection with your immediate environment and dedicated time for reflection on your personal pathway through life. Most North East PA natives have visited Nay Aug Park at least once, if not many times to find peace on its beautiful trails. It also offers pavilions, play grounds, an animal sanctuary, and a swimming pool. Spend some time clearing your mind at your local place of peace.

Below are a few ways exploring a local landmark can help you forge your way out of a cluttered head space:

  1. Removing Yourself From The Distractions Of Life: This seems to be the most obvious reason why getting outside- to any outside space (hiking trails or not) can help to clear out your mind. You are physically removing yourself from the places and distractions causing any anxiety. No matter where you live, being outside can bring benefits to your mental health, even if you just sit and listen to the natural world go about its routine. Studies show that the sounds of nature put people into a state of relaxation, and those who are more stressed experience a more drastic effect from the sounds of nature. That’s why there are so many soundtracks produced of the sea, the forest, the wind, birds, anything to simulate the natural world helps people to unwind.

2. Connecting With Your Community: We just discussed the benefits of removing yourself from the distractions of your world, but when you explore beyond the realm of your immediate street (or maybe even a walk down your street will foster the same feelings) you might learn something about your area that can help you to feel closer to the community where you live. Nay Aug is a giant gorge in the middle of the city of Scranton. While many locals blow it off since it’s just something that’s always around, it’s actually quite remarkable. This area has been preserved in the midst of an otherwise developed section of the region, and features several historical landmarks that represent the areas rich past. An entrance to a coal mine serves as a reminder of the city’s former residents, and to see the memorials around the park is a reminder that the things you are doing now matter. You are apart of history, and even if you feel like you just go to work everyday and are not making a difference, you are. Someone might see your name on a plaque one day. Keep working on your dreams, keep searching and learning from those around you and those who came before you.

3. Finding Unexpected Inspiration: The beauty of going new places (or revisiting old favorites with a new mindset) is that you never know what you might find. When your out on a walk take your time. It does not matter how far you go, how long it takes, or how many sites you see. What matters is that you take away at least one thing that makes you feel good and means something to you. Pay attention to the details. If you see something that sticks out while walking, stop and really notice it. Think about why did this jump out at me today, and just appreciate what’s going on around you. On this particular hike, I noticed a lot of graffiti. It was jumping out to me, not because of a disruption to the scene, but because of what was written. People wrote about their deepest secrets, their Snapchat names, art, words of inspiration. All of these expressions are other people like you and me who went for a walk to clear out a cluttered mind, and just wrote down what was inside for me and everyone else to see. *This is not condoning vandalism, just an appreciation for the expression of human emotion.* So go out, and clear your mind by connecting with what was left behind for you to find. Notice the details of the world around you. You might just find exactly what you needed you hear.

4. Exploring Creative Pathways: Walking has shown to improve creative output and through exploring your local sites with a new open mind, you might experience exactly what you need to pull yourself out of that rut. This particular park has views of a gorge, train tunnels, and wildlife to draw inspiration from. Check out what surrounds your home that can offer a fun day of creative enlightenment. As you follow the pathway of the trail, you will find your own head space clearing and begin to realize ways to redirect your own life path towards the goals you want to achieve. Hiking a literal mountain can help you to find the route to overcome the figurative ones in your own life.

Go out and explore your local landmarks. Clear your mind and escape the thoughts that thwart your progression or personal growth. Sometimes to find your way when you feel lost on your pathway in life, taking a walk on an actual pathway can help serve as a reminder that your past has provided you with the tools you need to get to where you want to go. You can connect with your area and remember that there are other people who walked the same trails and trials as you, who in their own ways worked through them, and you will work through your own mountains too. You will notice details of this complex Earth that will inspire your creative channels that you didn’t know where there. You will see remnants of acorns nibbled on by tiny squirrels, flowers growing in a crevice you thought light could never reach, rivers break off into the tiniest trickles that feed miniature ecosystems. You will see your world reflected all around you. Your place in this world, one part of a much larger whole, but still so impactful is a force that you drive. You have the ability to choose the direction you take, what details you focus on, what views you stop for, and what mountains you will climb. Find a place to clear your head space and overcome your obstacles. You can find inspiration all around. You can create beautiful dreams. You can overcome, where ever you are at.

Ever put off a project or idea because, “I could never do that”? Maybe you thought you didn’t have the talent to accomplish that dream, or there weren’t resources at your disposal to execute your vision exactly how you would like. Maybe it’s just not the “right” time. When you maintain this fixed mindset, you limit your potential for the progress and growth that comes from learning as you go.

It’s crucial to think of life in terms of what you will learn from an experience rather than how you will perform while executing a task- particularly for the first time. If your project turns out different than you imagined, it is not evidence of failure, but a reflection of progress.

Don’t put off doing something because you don’t have the resources you need to do it or don’t know exactly how to do it. If you want to get into photography but can’t afford a high tech camera, start with your phone while you save up to buy one. Although it might not have the fancy features more advanced equipment can offer, it will teach you how to be resourceful, play with lighting and focus to create interesting shots. This might even lead to you becoming a better photographer once you get your hands on a camera since you will have had to learn how to take advantage of your space and environment to get those jaw dropping shots.

Similarly if you want to become an artist but don’t know how, or don’t have the means to obtain premium art supplies, start with any pencil you have around your house and draw on any piece of paper you can find. Use a pen and your grocery receipt, just keep working and trying and practicing your skills. Sculpt out of empty containers and candle wax. Then once you save for the supplies you need you’ll have the skills and ideas prepared to execute a vision that’s been mulling to perfection.

Maybe you just want to get out more, but don’t know where to go. Start by going for walks at the park closest to your house. Check out the fliers they have pinned on board, see if anything interests you. Look around while you’re there and see what you can see. Do you see any buildings? Any other trails or parks? any people? What are they doing? Just by gong somewhere, anywhere, it can lead to to your next step, even when your not sure where you want that next step to be.

More importantly, start talking to other people about what you want to do. You never know people’s stories, just like they don’t know all of yours, and they might also be interested in your passions, or have a friend of a friend who is and can help you. They might know a lot about grant writing, or showcase events, or where to get cheap courses in a particular subject. Or they might just be a place to come to for support. Talking to people is probably the scariest piece of advice from this article, but always remember that when you are doing your best to build the life you want, if someone has a problem with that it is a reflection on them and not you. Connecting with your community will open so many opportunities that you didn’t know existed. They may start small, but the more time and love that grows from you persistence, the more you will see your relationships, and dreams expand to places you didn’t dare dream possible.

If you start doing what you want with what you have, you will begin to develop the skills to become a master at your craft when you get to where you want to be faster. You are also training your brain to act resourcefully and always stay on alert for opportunities that are around you. As you immerse yourself in the world you want your life to become you’ll find a new perspective on what it is you wanted to do that will help you to evolve. The key is beginning. No apologizing for not being prepared, no procrastinating because you are not ready, no waiting because maybe there is something you might want more later. Begin today. With exactly what you have. Right where you are at.

You never know what can grow from those first steps

There seems to be a rift in the rhetoric surrounding the impact consumer choices have when it comes to helping the environment. Last month’s enormous demonstration of students (and other activists) demanding systemic change from political leaders in a world wide movement was largely inspired by the work of activist Greta Thunberg. It brought enormous attention to a wide range of industries and powerhouses impacting global climate change. Many argue corporate power houses need stricter regulations, and that nonrenewable energy needs to be immediately banned for any measurable change to take place. Many critics of small scale changes claim metal straws, package-free shampoos, and meat free life styles just aren’t enough to save the planet. Why bother with small changes like that?

Ignoring the power of small changes is the result of small thinking. These people think they are doing a service by pointing out the deep rooted societal issues that prevent immediately impactful change, but they ignore the critical benefits small efforts towards sustainable living offers. The mindset developed from making small changes keeps the concept of environmentally conscious practices in the forefront of people’s minds. It can start with switching to reusable bags when grocery shopping, and then move into reusable cups, then bringing silverware for lunch to work, and then choosing to purchase from companies who put effort into sustainable practices. The growing movement of people concerned about the environment compared to even just a few years ago shows evidence that knowledge and small changes to instill a sense of personal accountability do matter. The more we learn to then come together then in mass, the more we have the ability to send a powerful message to the powerful how we want the larger contributors to climate change to be handled.

Since small changes are so important here is a short, and by no means complete list of ideas as to how you can make sustainable and impactful choices everyday:

  1. Reusable Bags: basic, essential, and impactful. Many grocery stores sell canvas bags to pack with products, and there are insulated ones to keep frozen foods cold the entire trip home. These bags often hold more food- so less trips when unloading later. You can even find bags with fun designs that are personal to you. My favorite to take is my Spider-Man grocery bag that has tons of room to fill up. Keep a few in the car so you don’t forget them for any spontaneous trips. Here are some for as cheap as 54 cents.
  2. Take your lunch to work/school: preparing your own food will save you money, but many frozen meals or fast food places produce a lot of waste. The packaging and products are harsh on the environment. Packing your lunch in reusable containers, bringing reusable silverware, and cups/bottles for your drinks will cut an enormous amount of waste.
  3. Get crafty: re-purpose old materials to make something new instead of buying brand new from the store. My dad and I built the headboard for my bed from pallets that were going to be thrown out at a warehouse. Not only was this saving waste, it saved a ton of money, only costing a few dollars for a can of stain, and a day of our time to piece it together. Check out resources like Pintrest, YouTube, and HGTV’s website to find tutorials on how to transform old materials into something entirely new.
  4. Thrifting: Thrifting doesn’t just have to be for clothes- although I have found many of my favorite pieces second hand. I have an enormous desk that was only 10 dollars (chair included) I got when a local hotel redesigned their rooms and sold off all their furniture. Check yard sales, the oldie but goodie thrift shops, and also locally owned specialty thrift stores. These shops tend to select pieces that are more unique and stylish than a generic second hand shop.
  5. Shop Small: speaking of locally owned, shopping from small businesses and from businesses local to your area is a great way to connect with your community and to help the local economic environment. Your dollars go even further as demonstrated in study published on score.org, small businesses tend to pay it forward with 75% donating an average of around 6% of their profits to charities each year.
  6. Insulate your house: Make sure your home has proper insulation to prevent heat and cold from escaping during the particularly hot and cold months. Also make sure to keep up with windows and doors to ensure they are properly sealed. This will save energy and money on your bills.
  7. Stay informed: The more we learn about climate change, they more we know how to prepare and the steps we can take to help. This doesn’t mean you need to read piles of scientific journal articles or dry publications (although if that floats your boat, go right ahead). There are many sources to get information and stay up to date about what’s going on. Many Youtube channels offer sustainable solutions and ideas for limiting waste. Here is a link to one of my favorite channels offering a ton of sustainable content, run by Madeleine Olivia, who also has a book about sustainable living tips launching in January of 2020. Other fun ways to find information are websites set up by people you find interesting that are creating change. Rapper Lil Dickey released a song called “Earth” last April, and with it launched a website dedicated to providing information on climate change, with a plan of action as to how experts say we can battle the issue at hand.
  8. Speak up: If you see people littering, disrespecting the planet, or denying scientifically backed facts, stand up for the Earth. We may not be able to live completely waste free lives at every moment of everyday, but we can do our best and encourage others to do their best as well. Greta Thunberg started out as one activist who inspired millions to take to the streets. Kindly, respectfully, and courageously speak up when you see gross circumstances of denial and mistreatment of the planet.

This list is no where near complete, but offers a brief look into how no matter where you are at, you make choices everyday that will impact the world around you. Mass and systemic change will be necessary, but the shift in mindset of the general public is also a crucial component to overcoming the climate crisis. When we start thinking about putting the needs of the Earth before our immediate convenience, it begins to change a self-centered mindset to a more caring one. You don’t need to change every aspect of your life all at once, and be able to fit your waste for a year in a mason jar to make progress. Every choice, everyday is a step in the right direction. Even if it just means skipping on the meat twice a week and bringing your own silverware to lunch at the office everyday, every choice counts. You count. Your ideas and decisions matter, big or small , at the corporate level, on a personal level, in your home, on the street, you change the world from where ever you are at.