Monday, June 16, 2008

The Gift of Time

The first gift we give to others when starting a new friendship/relationship is time. You take time out of your day/week/routine to be with this person, in order to get to know them and nurture the relationship. Time is the most precious gift we can give someone else because it's finite and it passes so quickly. We can't stop it, buy it or take it back, so we make decisions all the time about how we will spend it.

You will often hear people make the excuse, "I don't have time for a relationship, I'm too busy". That may very well be true, but notice them change the minute they meet someone they click with and suddenly, they've found a way to fit the other person into their busy schedule.

The more new a relationship is, the more time it needs. Not that older friendships don't need time, but they can go for longer without requiring tons of investment. Many of us have an old friend we only speak to or see once a month or even once a year, but when we see each other, it's like old times and we pick up where we left off. That's because of all the time invested. A lot of people have friends like this who are from childhood because back then, we had no other distractions to take away from forging strong friendships. As we become adults, we have to deal with adult responsibilities and it becomes harder to spend a significant amount of time making new friendships. It becomes difficult also when we move away from our place of birth.

There is a solution if you are missing that connection (and true friendship is a valuable connection). The aim is to make a conscious effort into putting 100% of yourself into the time you do have with others. This advice goes for everyone, whether you're starting a new relationship or hanging out with an old friend, give of yourself freely and without distractions for whatever short time you have.

This means not taking time for granted. If you are on the phone with a friend, turn off the TV! Turn off the radio. Don't sit in front of the computer. Don't wash dishes. Don't start dusting the shelves. Just sit and talk on the phone and enjoy the conversation. (I know this is difficult if you have small children at home, but try your best and maybe call when they are sleeping.)
Give your full attention (and full time) to the conversation at that moment. I guarantee your friends with notice the attention, even if they can't place what is different.

Same thing if you're having a quick coffee with someone. Make eye contact with the person you are with. Don't distractedly look out the window, or at the newspaper or at the pretty waitress. I know it's hard, but try to be in the moment.

The important thing to remember is that time is precious and most of the other things that distract us from giving our full attention to the people that matter are replaceable.

I stopped at my dad's house this weekend for Father's Day. I had just done my groceries beforehand and had not anticipated staying long. I had milk and ice cream in my car and it was a hot day. Turns out Dad was also hot and wanted his air conditioner installed. Well, it took a bit more time than I thought it would and at some point I thought to myself, "oh dear, my ice cream must be melting in the car!" but I had to stop and think, "well, I can always buy more ice cream. How much time do I have left with my Dad?"

You can't buy another Dad, another friend or another good inside joke. You can't buy those deep belly laughs you have when you talk to your best friend. But you can always buy another container of milk, another newspaper, or another shirt.

Time is short. Spend it doing what matters, with the people who matter to you. Give it all you've got for the short time you've got.
It's that simple :)


Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Marriage Advice: Don't Forget to Stop for Gas!

This is the speech I gave at my best friend's wedding, January 27th, 2007:

Katie was born exactly one week before me and for some reason she has done most big things in life before me - except for get married. I did that first, so I wanted to give her some advice.

I once heard a minister say that being married is like driving a car. If you want it to run smoothly, you have to stop every once and a while and put gas in it so it keeps going. You have to do regular maintenance. Well, I wanted to take that a step further - being married is like driving across Canada.

So you start out in the Atlantic provinces. The economy isn't great, the people might not have tons, but they're really friendly. So it's like when you first move in - you might not have everything you need, but you're happy and you make do.

Then you get into QC - there are some big exciting cities, it's fun, but people argue over silly little things like language - so it's like being newly married. You learn about each other's quirks, but you're still having a good time.

Then you get to Ontario. Ontario is huge! It takes two days to drive across it and everything starts to look the same...and the boredom starts to set in. It's all routine by now....

But the Prairies, oh no! So boring. You begin to wonder if you took a wrong turn. Maybe one of you wants to dip into the States to see if there's something more interesting down there. You wonder why you're still driving this way...maybe you should turn back, or maybe even just stop and give up.

But if you stay the course and keep driving, you end up in Alberta. Lots of oil, money...not really excitement, but there's a sense of stability there and you think, whew! we made it....until you get to the border with BC.

Suddenly you're in the Rockies, twisting and turning up and down hills. You can't see the edge of the cliff and you can't see what's coming up next and it's really scary. But in the end, if you take it slowly and have patience you'll get there.

Over the course of your marriage, you will symbolically drive across Canada over and over again. You'll have periods of big city excitement and really boring Prairies, but what will keep you going is always remembering to put gas in the car and having faith in each other; that you're navigating this together and you won't get lost.

You might not always end up on the path you expected, but as long as you love each other, it will be the right one.

Enjoy the ride because it's like no other. And don't forget to stop for gas.


Expressing Gratitude

One thing that can drastically change a gloomy mood is being thankful. People often forget to be thankful. We're all busy people and after we've gotten what we wanted, it's easy to forget how we got it.

The point to being truly thankful is to do it daily and to thank even when things didn't quite go the way you wanted them to. This is hard - I often forget to do this myself, but it's a valuable habit that needs to become more of a habit for more people.

Being thankful is just another way to give and it goes along with receiving. It doesn't have to be elaborate, it just needs to be sincere.

My general rule is: when someone does something for you, whether you asked them to or not, but especially if you asked them, say "thank you". This goes for the waiter who just filled your water glass, even though he is "just doing his job" and it took him 15 minutes to notice your glass was empty. Same goes for your housemate for taking out the garbage each week (and so often we forget to thank our lovers/partners for the little things!).

Another rule I have is: even if you have said thank you in the past to a particular person, you may need to say it again. One reason for this is people often don't hear compliments or thank yous the first time. They might not even hear it the second time. It depends on the person. One might respond better to you saying it in person. If you know the person doesn't take compliments very well, try writing them a card.
I'm not saying you need to bend over backwards trying to use every method possible to express your gratitude, but I am advocating putting at least a little effort in and by all means, not being forgetful or lazy about it.
A hand written card/letter is always lovely. Hand picked flowers are even nicer than store bought. Home baked cookies better than store bought - because it's about the time and effort you put into it. It's the thought that counts!

Never assume that the person "just knows" you are thankful. Let's say you ask to borrow your neighbour's lawn mower every weekend. You've said thanks the first few times and maybe you've invited him/her over for a bar-b-q, you feel, as an exchange. This does not mean you're even and get to stop being grateful. After all, you still haven't bought your own lawn mower. As long as someone is being helpful, you need to keep being grateful.

Here's a little exercise to help you practice gratitude in your daily life:

Stand in front of a mirror: you have a lot to be thankful for. Can't think of anything? Start small. Afterall, you're standing (or maybe sitting, but that's just as good. You have a seat!). You have a mirror! You can see yourself and/or hear yourself. You're breathing!
You are engaging in the act of trying to be thankful and that's a start.
Once you've come up with a few things, say thank you out loud. Thank your hands for all the things they do for you. If your hands don't work so well anymore, thank them for the things they once did. You don't have hands? Thank the next best thing to them! You get the idea.
Once you start there, you can move on to bigger things. Say thanks for your family, health, love, money, sunrises and sunsets, music, absolutely anything. Soon you'll find you won't be able to stop coming up with things to be thankful for.
Just make it a part of your life and I guarantee you'll feel happier. It's just that simple :)


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

It's Ok to Take

Not only do we have to give, we also have to receive, graciously. A lot of people are very humble and this is good, but a lot of people also don't have the self-esteem to receive. This becomes a vicious cycle, because when you never take anything of worth in, you can never improve your outlook on yourself.

Sometimes people just don't know how to receive or feel bad for taking.

It's OK to take. We need balance in the world and our lives and this means that sometimes we need to take. We should not feel guilty about that. It's just part of the ebb and flow of life.

Most people don't have a hard time taking food and drink at a party but have the hardest time taking a compliment or a blessing.

Compliments are precious gifts. When given with sincerity, they give love, acceptance, and respect. Many people's first reaction in response to a compliment is "oh, no no! It was nothing!" They negate it, let it blow over them, instead of absorbing it. I believe words have power. I believe they can fill you with different vibrations. Negative words give you a negative energy and you'll stew and fume for a bit. Positive words give you a positive energy. People will see you glowing and it breeds more positive energy. When you accept and take in positive energy, you will have more to give. Accept only negative energy and that's what you'll give to others and no one likes that.

Make a promise to yourself that the next time someone gives you a compliment, you will take it in. You will pause before saying anything. Maybe make your immediate response non-verbal, like a hug or a smile. Really, we don't *need* to say anything back. Let go of that. You do not need to compliment in return if it is not sincere. You don't need to quickly come up with anything to say. If you say nothing else, you can say "thank you". If that's hard for you to say, practice saying it in front of a mirror and smiling while you do it. You might feel silly, but you may also find that you have a lot to say thank you for.
Really, you don't need to say or do anything. You just need to take it in and let the positive vibes fill you. Let it put a hop in your step and a goofy smile on your face for the rest of the day. It's that simple :)