What is Coaching?

Here is a link to another blog to which I contribute:  The Coaching Source.

I get right to the heart of the matter regarding Coaching…have a look!

What is Coaching?

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Being at choice

You’ve arrived at the capstone post for better living! Congratulations! If you review the penultimate post, “understanding attraction,” you’ll notice that the attraction activities I have encouraged are much more than things to do, they are ways to be. Being, not Doing. And that, of course, is what Better Living is all about. Being who you are, rather than doing what you think is expected of you.

You need energy to be you. Energy sources in your life are a lot like energy sources in the environment: clean, or unclean. In choosing attraction, you are connecting with a clean, “forward-focused” source of energy. Sure, there are other sources of energy…the friction of dissatisfaction, the adrenaline created from the rush to a deadline, the “power” of being a martyr.
Statements like: “I don’t work well under pressure, but it is the only time I work”
“If I’m not in crisis, how do I know I’m breathing?”
may be funny utterances in the moment, but they certainly are not “clean.” They take a toll…and year after year, the toll increases. You receive clean, renewable energy from being at choice with better living.

In the integrity post, I said that with integrity, you are comfortably and effortlessly aware of what is going on in you, and around you, because you have integrated all the aspects of yourself. It is from this source of awareness—integrity—that you can select your better living choices. You can choose to respond, or you can choose not to respond. Additionally, you can choose HOW to respond.

Being at choice is liberating. It frees you up. What’s more, it “unshackles” the other people in your life, too. Because you’ve stopped reacting internally, you are no longer reacting externally with others. You have released them from your expectations. You are letting them be. As Anne LaMott stated so eloquently: “Expectations are resentments under construction.” What a relief for all!

Through your better living choice of responsiveness, you create an environment where others can be at choice to respond as well. Letting someone “be” illustrates the wonderful paradox of human interactions. By letting go of the expectations you have for another, you untether your presumed control in the relationship. Yet that is the only way to foster affirmative choice for each to BE in the relationship! Do less, be more.

Now what? Well, of course, you get to choose! The coaching topics I’ve selected for this series are what I believe make up the essential components for your better living center. I hope that you engaged in the process, and have “constructed” your better living center to allow authentic expression of yourself. So, as with all things of value, I encourage you to continue to assess and invest in maintaining your better living center.

Save your notes, and select a time to review them. On January 1? Perhaps at your birthday? Every time you have a big transition? Whatever makes best sense, make a date with yourself, and keep it.

With kind curiosity, proceed:
• You’ll notice that your needs will change, and tolerations may creep back. That’s ok! Just assess what needs to be handled, and do it thoroughly.
• It’s likely you’ll choose to raise your standards…therefore, assess if your boundaries will need to be shored-up, too.
• Consider your valuables. Are they remaining central in your choices? If not, look at your integrity sheets. Do you need to tap back into a neglected dimension of yourself?
• Are you finding more gifts? How are you expressing them?
• What more have you learned about attraction and being “at choice?”

Take good care, and enjoy better living!

© 2011
Mary Ellen Sailer, Ed.D.

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Understanding Attraction


Here is where better living gets really enjoyable!  Remember the shift that occurred when you named what you most treasured? In the post entitled “the treasures of your life,” I wrote:

This new value orientation will also cause a dramatic shift in your better living “propulsion.” Through the declaration and revelation of your core treasures, you will now be pulled forward by them. They’ll clearly illuminate your better living path, purpose, and vision.

This, in fact is the nexus of attraction in better living. You can’t work to achieve it. Attraction comes naturally when you’re in integrity, when you are allowing yourself to reveal what you treasure.  Adding value is attractive.   Self-promotion isn’t needed, and it actually works in opposition with attraction.

Consider the following:

  • How do you define attraction?
  • What people do you find attractive? Why?
  • Do others find you attractive? How do you know?

With attraction, chasing and pursuing is over. Instead, good things come to you. Because of all the steps you’ve followed to achieve better living, good people, good experiences, goodness are all attracted to YOU.

The critical thing to understand about attraction is that it is essential for quality connections. When you work on the quality of you, the connections occur. (When you force the connections, you come off as needy, which is NOT attractive!)

Attraction Behaviors that engender quality connections for better living include:

  • Tell people who they are, not just what they do.  Show that you care!  Let them know how they impact you.
  • Want “for” others, and on behalf of others, regardless of whether they “want for” them selves.  Sharing your enthusiasm for them builds caring connections.
  • Behave.  One of the best speeches I ever heard expounded on the thesis that the number one responsibility of a leader is to BEHAVE!  Resolve the problems and concerns you have, because they are yours. That is what an adult does.  Period.
  • Don’t pretend to be someone else.
  • Listen with the intent to be influenced.  Back when we began this path to better living, I encouraged you to eschew “problem solving” for curiosity.  To really listen to someone is to have no expectations regarding what they will say.  It requires you to be fully present.  It requires you to NOT TALK.  Listen…and learn.
  • Be constructive.  For example, being a learner is attractive, being a know-it-all is not.  When you are working with someone, think about what to say, and how to say it, in a way that advances their learning.  Be constructive in your conversations and in your interactions with everyone.
  • Deliver.  Deliver what you promise…and more.  No, this isn’t about your old, “needy ways,” when you said yes but meant NO.  It’s a whole new orientation to others.  With your clear standards, and strong boundaries, you know what, and who, you want to invest in.   So say yes to providing less, and choose to give more.  It will delight them!

By focusing on these behaviors, good things will come to you. You won’t have to chase them. You will be a role model, without striving for the title of “role model.” How cool is that?

© 2011
Mary Ellen Sailer, Ed.D.

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Accept and Enjoy your Gifts

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There is nothing enlightening about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.”

Marianne Williamson

Known to millions as “Nelson Mandela’s inaugural speech,” this quote beautifully illustrates the power of our gifts: they are brilliant, and they can terrify!

Understanding gifts is the heart of coaching. The first step is to understand that a gift IS a gift. Unfortunately, a lot of us have learned to “gloss over” what we do well, to minimize it, or even to deny it. Just because it comes naturally to you, doesn’t mean it isn’t special! Appreciating that which is special is something we more easily do when we see it in another than when it is in ourselves.

Twenty years ago, I saw the renowned Pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton speak. During the question and answer session, a mother had a question about her toddler’s activities, and from snickers and the other side comments, it was clear she didn’t have support from many in the audience. Rather than focusing on the mother, I was riveted by Dr. Brazelton. He just kept looking at her, expecting her to continue. When she faltered, he gave an encouraging nod to let her know he was listening. He listened as if she was the only person in the room. He then answered her with honesty, with respect, and with encouragement. I was enraptured. This man had such a gift for creating trust and fostering caring communications!

I was so inspired by Dr. Bazelton, that I told people about the experience. In response to my story, I learned that when I’m at my best, I do the same thing as he. What an awesome thing to learn! What do you admire in others, but overlook in yourself?

Blanchard and Homan (Leverage your best, ditch the rest) created an excellent process for identifying your gifts. Please answer the following questions:
• What do I naturally, easily, and effortlessly do when no one is looking?
• What about me inspires others, even though it is easy for me?
• What did I learn easily and continue to develop effortlessly?
• What do I get compliments on that I never even have to think about? (Some examples include humor, perceptiveness, style, logical thinking, physical courage, a flair for design.)
• What about me makes people jealous?
• What do I know is special about me but try to hide?
• What about me gives me guilty pleasure?
• What is my secret vanity?

Better living requires you to not just identify your gifts, but to embrace the value they can bring to you and to others. You also need to accept the responsibility for the impact your gifts have. And, as with all better living topics, you can CHOOSE to use your gifts, or not.

© 2011
Mary Ellen Sailer, Ed.D.

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The Treasures of your Brilliant Life

What do you find to be exquisite in your life? What is really valuable to you? Do you know what matters most to you? The things you value guide the way you act. They shape the decisions you make. It is through the prism of your values that you assess the quality of your life…and are drawn forth on your quest for better living.

If you are squirming a bit right now because you’re not really quite sure what you would name as the treasures of your life, that’s ok! The tricky thing about core values (treasures) is that they are quiet. They are in you, they ARE you, frankly, but they can easily be shouted down by unmet needs, or by “shoulds” (trying to live by someone else’s standards). Additional distractions from living what you treasure could be tolerations, running rampant over you.

Since you’ve embarked on this better living journey, hopefully you have already attended to those distractions. Therefore, you’re now in a place where you can identify, define, expand and tailor your life around that which you truly treasure. As you have learned, getting your needs met has brought you satisfaction. Orienting your life around what you value will bring you fulfillment!

This new value orientation will also cause a dramatic shift in your better living “propulsion.” Through the declaration and revelation of your core treasures, you will now be pulled forward by them. They’ll clearly illuminate your better living path, purpose, and vision.

You can begin to identify your treasures, your core values, right now. Jot down a number of the qualities you admire. Truth. Tenderness. Beauty. You get the idea. Keep adding to your list. Grab a thesaurus and expand your list of nouns and verbs. Your task is to immerse yourself in the excavation of your treasures, and remain engrossed until you can “claim” four treasures that are your essence.

For example, I was coaching a leader in the software industry. Liz was phenomenal in shipping products and hitting deadlines. But something wasn’t right…and of course, that was due to the fact that she hadn’t clearly oriented around what she treasured. We began with a long list, and she found that Beauty was remaining important, but wasn’t quite “it.” We expanded on Beauty, and came up with:
• Grace
• Loveliness
• Magnificence
• Elegance
• Gorgeousness
• Prettiness
• Gloriousness
And at that word, she said: “THAT IS IT!” The treasure of gloriousness resonated in her to her core. She confessed that it almost felt embarrassing, the pull that word had for her. Obviously, it made perfect sense to claim it as one of her treasured core values.

After Liz selected her four most essential treasures (gloriousness among them), I requested that Liz identify 10 steps—small or large—to honor gloriousness and orient herself around it. Her first idea was to get out and photograph nature. Another was to promise to “revel” in hitting a ship-it date by enjoying a day at a spa. And so on…

Over the years, Liz has learned what to do, with whom, and how, so as to express her core treasures. Once your treasures are claimed, and you know how to align yourself to express them, your values will pull you forward in your brilliant life.

When you find yourself out of sorts, invariably it is because you have not been expressing one or another of your core values. Taking a step to express a treasured value puts you back in congruence. That is the effectiveness of Better Living!

© 2011
Mary Ellen Sailer, Ed.D.

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In the small matters trust your mind; in the large ones, the heart.

Sigmund Freud

What is integrity? Integrity isn’t something you pull off the shelf, or out of a safe, when times are difficult. Integrity is a unifying way of being. It is what integrates all the aspects of better living. I see it as a golden thread in the whole cloth of my life.

As you read in the first post, I’ve taken my fancy with the Better Living Center at the Big E to serve as the metaphor for this series. What has kept that building standing all these years is the fact that it was built with integrity. Assembled properly, and with a deep foundation, girded with steel beams, interlocked with the strength of the bricks and mortar and the load bearing walls, the building has stood the test of time. It doesn’t need to be propped-up, it just needs to be maintained. And, the same can be said for your better living center, too.

The steps you’ve followed, from surveying your “site,” to clearing out the past to have a present focus, then addressing needs, eliminating tolerations, declaring your standards and building your boundaries were required steps to assure the integrity of your better living system.

What is the benefit of integrity for better living? Imagine it as a custom designed seat in the cockpit of your life. You are comfortably and effortlessly aware of what is going on in, because you can see it all! With integrity for better living:
• You have the ability to respond, not react, to what happens
• You have a clarity of perspective
• There are fewer problems
• You feel at ease
• You enjoy the freedom of choice

It’s the integrity benefit of “being at choice” that is most exciting. It allows you to evolve beyond choosing to respond, or not. With true integrity, you are able to choose HOW to respond, too! Many cultures, including American culture, promote a compartmentalized view of life. For example, an expectation that you only use your brain at work, and save emotions (your heart) for what is going on at home. It is unrealistic, it is unhealthy, and it is exhausting. Better living requires that you integrate all of your dimensions—heart, mind, body and soul. Then you can fully arrive wherever you go, and CHOOSE how to respond.

How does this apply to you? Have YOU compartmentalized your heart from you head? How would your life be different if you checked in with all of yourself? Do you ever have a “gut reaction?” Do you ignore it? Why? Your body may be trying to tell you something that your head doesn’t want to address.

Create the opportunity for greater integrity in your better living center. Rather than using your mind to have the last say in all your decisions, allow yourself to “check in” with heart, with your body, and with your soul as well.

Select a few of the following activities to expand your use of yourself from “just” your head, or “just” your heart, to see where else you can derive wisdom for better living:
• Write in a journal, seeking to address thoughts, feelings and sensations
• Practice meditation
• Discuss what you’re learning with a caring other
• Adopt a new physical activity, and let your mind wander in this kinesthetic experience

By reinforcing your awareness that your dimensions of heart, mind body and soul are integrated to support your better living, you will expand your ability to benefit from all of your dimensions.

© 2011
Mary Ellen Sailer, Ed.D.

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Claim the necessary boundaries

(If you have skipped the post on Standards for Better Living, please go back and read it before reading this one.)

One of the most liberating realizations I had in understand the mechanics of better living was learning about the true reason for boundaries. Prior to embracing better living, I had heard that boundaries are things that are needed to keep other people AWAY. I also had heard the explanation that weak people had weak boundaries…or that really pushy people had really pushy boundaries. Maybe that is what you had learned, too?

Because of better living, I now know the truth: the reason we need boundaries is to protect and uphold our standards! What a difference! The focus is where it needs to be—on you, not on “the other.” And the reason for boundaries is supportive, not defensive.

The illustration that best symbolizes the relationship between boundaries and standards is that of a lighthouse. The lighthouse is solidly constructed and tall. It is illuminated 24 hours a day, and is visible no matter what the weather. The lighthouse is also well fortified, set on the summit of a rocky island, with large rocks buttressing the impact of the waves of the ocean well before they can hit the lighthouse.

Cape Cod

Imagine the lighthouse as your standards, and the siting of the lighthouse as your boundaries. YOU are the lighthouse, and the boundaries keep you and your standards visible for all to see. Nice, eh?

So…the boundaries help you define who you are, and you need boundaries to BE who you are.

As you learned in the post on standards, your standards are personal and must be chosen by you. To effectively protect and support your standards for better living, it’s quite likely that your boundaries will address two basic categories: your time and your emotions. Please consider the following questions to help you zero in on the boundaries you will need to claim and fortify:

Do you have enough time? If not, why not? Is it because you say “yes” when you want to say “no?” Is it because you’re everyone’s “got to” person to get things done, or to get support, or to get advice? Even though it tires you, do you find you secretly enjoy this “go to” status? How do the demands that others place on you (which raid your time and emotional strength) support your better living standards?

To counter against your tradition of giving away your time and emotions, a good strategy is to set boundaries bigger than you think you need. For example: rather than thinking that “everyone is counting on me” to chair the committee, remind yourself about how you have a standard of telling the truth, without becoming defensive. “No” is a complete sentence. You can also practice another response (“I won’t be accepting any more committee work”), and have it ready to repeat as often as necessary. It will be uncomfortable, it may surprise others, but it is REALLY worth it!

Benefits of extensive boundaries:

  • You show you have respect for yourself
  • True friends, excellent colleagues and loving family members will endorse you for extending your boundaries to support your better living standards.
  • You’ll attract like-minded people
  • You will have the ease to enjoy better living sine you’ll no longer feel drained or violated
  • Your standards will have the room to rise when you so choose


© 2011
Mary Ellen Sailer, Ed.D.

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Standards for Better Living

Remember how I stated that the most important relationship to address in the quest for better living is the one that you have with yourself? Therefore, it goes to follow that the standards for better living must be YOUR personal standards, and no one else’s. This will take some work!

Standards are the behavior and actions to which you have chosen to hold yourself accountable. The issue of choice in personal standards is essential. All too often, standards for behavior seem to be imposed, rather than chosen. Standards of acceptable behavior are taught implicitly by our families, and explicitly by some structures of our society (schools, churches, the military). Some of the standards each of us have experienced fit beautifully; while some may seem too low, and some impossibly high.

A lot of frustrations occur when unnamed standards are presumed, both in the workplace and in personal relationships. Something as simple as “what does it mean to be on time?” can cause suffering and loss of trust if not discussed and agreed upon.

Understanding personal standards MAKES YOU SMARTER. Knowing that others have standards, and being aware of the standards you have, can be the Rosetta stone in getting the “clue” as to what’s going wrong when interpersonal relationships get rocky.

Have you ever found yourself unable to give someone the benefit of the doubt, or find that you are focused on how they are wrong regardless of the topic?  Try this:  shift from thinking “it’s them” to seeing it may be a standards clash.

Ask yourself:

  • What’s going on that makes me react?
  • What is it that is so different between this person and me?
  • How does that make them better or worse than me?
  • What value do they offer that I don’t?
  • How does it serve me to undercut or devalue this person?

NEVER FORGET: your standards are yours, period. Expecting to impose your standards on others will keep you frustrated. Look for what’s working in the relationship, not what’s wrong in the person.

Can you name your standards? Upon naming them, do they seem to fit? If they are too high, they will feel like “shoulds.” If too low, can you raise them a bit?

Please chose and commit to your standards because they reflect the best of the behavior you’re willing to acknowledge for yourself.

Some basic personal standards would include:
• I am cordial to my neighbors
• I pay my bills on time

High personal standards look like this:
• I always tell the truth, and will not become defensive about the outcomes
• I always arrive five minutes early to my appointments.

After you identify the standards presently in your life, here are some guidelines to assist you in choosing the standards to keep which will support your better living:

• Understand that standards are a choice, not a requirement.
• Standards are for you to enjoy…not “examples” to force upon on others.
• The higher your standard, the faster your needs disappear…you’ll no longer be reacting to needs, but transcending them. (Refer to the “needs needs, we’ve all got needs” post.)
• Review your standards from time to time, and reset them as your circumstances change.
• Remember to always honor the standards of others.
• In working with others, be sure you are clear about your standards, and theirs, and get clear on shared standards so you can avoid unnecessary conflicts!

© 2011
Mary Ellen Sailer, Ed.D.

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Don’t Tolerate Anything, part two

Please recall the activities I requested that you do to clean up your past, unresolved issues (the “clean it up” post from August 21.) By completely addressing those issues, your immediate benefit was that you got rid of lugging around those numerous 5 lb bags of flour—metaphorically, of course! That, naturally, was the obvious reason I asked you to get these issues thoroughly done. But I had a second motive: I wanted you to completely handle the stuff so you can bring your focus out of the past and into the present, where better living occurs!

Having accepted and completing the “clean it up” challenge, you also benefited in the following ways:

  • You grew confidence because of the extra work you did to attain thoroughness and permanence. This confidence can be expanded into better living now.
  • You have a new appreciation for time. Time can be wasted, used, or saved. Completely handling past issues has shown you that planful work may take more time initially, but it saves time over the long term.
  • Handling something thoroughly means you don’t have to waste time and energy doing it again! It also means that you are free to create new opportunities. Imagine!

With your focus in the present, let’s take your freshly hewn confidence and newly reclaimed time to see what the heck you are tolerating. Grab a pad of paper, and make one sheet per area, and start listing what you’re tolerating, devoting one sheet per area. Areas to review include your home, your relationships, your workplace, your transportation, your wardrobe….you get the idea.

Here are some examples:
• Not enough room for weather gear
• Leaky sink
• Broken window shade
• Dirty floors
• People who take you for granted
• Sibling who is always late and doesn’t call or apologize
• Partner who is constantly critical
• Folks who make promises but don’t honor them.

OK, you get the idea. Keep writing—you may find you list 10, 20, even 50 items per sheet.

What to do with the lists? Madeleine Homan and Scott Blanchard created a creative way to triage tolerations in their book: Leverage your best and ditch the rest. They advise:
1. Put an E next to the tolerations you can simply eliminate.
2. Put a D next to the ones you can delegate.
3. Put a P next to the ones you can pay someone to do for you.
4. Put an NS next to the tolerations which seem to have no solution.

Questions to answer regarding the tolerations to Delegate include:
• Who might you ask to help you with this?
• How will you inspire them to help you?
• How will you be sure it gets done?
• How will you follow up?
• By what date will you have this handled?

Re-examine the “pay someone” list in a similar manner…
• Identify who
• However, if money is too tight, whom might you know who has the expertise to help you? Can you barter?
• Can you ask relatives to give you the gift of that “toleration elimination” for a gift?
• Begin a tolerations fund to slowly save up the necessary finances.

Finally, for the “no solutions” category. Ask yourself:
• What assumptions have I made that lead me to believe that this situation is unchangeable?
• If a friend were in this situation, what would I advise her or him to do?
• How do I see it differently when it’s “my” toleration, versus my friends?

By examining the things you are tolerating, and completely eliminating them, you STOP being distracted, and will access time and energy to devote to better living.

© 2011
Mary Ellen Sailer, Ed.D.

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Don’t Tolerate Anything, part one

Thomas Leonard, the founder of the coach training program “Coach U,” coined the word “tolerations” to describe the little things that occur in life that drain our energy. In putting up with tolerations, we are distracted from more important things. The insidious thing about tolerations is how they connect to each other, and accumulate. Tolerations adhere to and block you from succeeding in getting where you want to go. Think about trying to run in tar…or a garden of beautiful flowers being choked by weeds instead of thriving…or the drag on a once sleek boat, because it has become covered in barnacles.

When not addressed, tolerations collect and morph. What initially may seem negligible can grow in scope: first annoying, then inconvenient, and voila, suddenly there is a full fledged problem!

Here is an illustration of how a few tolerations become, well, intolerable:
You’re driving to work and know you’ll be late, because you had forgotten to write on your calendar that your garbage pick-up day had changed. Instead of leaving on time, you had to scramble around the house to empty the cans and get the barrel out to the curb. When you were at the end of the driveway, your dog ran out, because the latch on the door (which broke two weeks ago) still hasn’t been fixed. Chasing the pup back up from the dewy lawn did a number on your new shoes, too. (Yes, these are the shoes you bought for the presentation you’re making this morning!)
As you drive away, you realize that in your haste, you hadn’t secured the cabinet the kitchen pail was in…you know, the cabinet that also has the dog chow bag. You don’t dare imagine what the kitchen will be like when you return. You reach for your cell phone to call to say you’re running late, and it is out of charge. Then, the gas gauge light (which first lit up yesterday) is demanding that you get to the gas station NOW.

Perhaps the scenario is all too familiar?

Notice how just one of the above tolerations was, well, trivial. But added all together, they became very stressful. Compounded by the presentation at work, and the literal go/no go of a car low on gas, this situation now has set into crisis-mode.

You might be thinking, “here she goes, the next step she’ll propose is that I identify my tolerations. That seems too basic for a capable person like me.”  You are correct!  Why?  Remember how the post began:   Tolerations are insidious, and left unattended, proliferate like weeds in a garden.  I’m not just going to ask you to identify your tolerations, I want you to address them, fully.  This activity is so important to your better living that I’ve dedicated two posts to the topic!

This week, please consider the following:

• Tolerations don’t discriminate. EVERYONE, from the highly successful to the barely making it, can accumulate tolerations.
• Many keep their tolerations because, well, they don’t know how to get rid of them!
• Fully addressing tolerations will increase your energy, and the quality of your better living rises instantly.

Go to the post on tolerations, part two, to see how to eliminate your tolerations.

© 2011
Mary Ellen Sailer, Ed.D.

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Clean it up, completely

Everyone has incomplete projects. Perhaps it is sorting the recycling from last year. Cleaning the storage area. Fixing the bicycle. Submitting the expense report. The question is: is there a reason it is incomplete, (you have a plan with an end date), or is it just not done?

It is normal to have unresolved personal matters, too. Relationships require both give and take from both parties. But…well, you know what I am going to ask. Have you done what YOU can do regarding the unresolved situation? Or are you just walking around it, wishing it would go away, or holding your breath that it at least stays dormant until you get somewhere else?

Carrying around old, unresolved matters and incomplete projects takes a lot of your energy. I contend that it takes much more than you’ve allowed yourself to realize! Imagine an old resentment as a 5 lb bag of flour you are carrying around. And the unpainted hallway, the phone calls you owe, the un-filed taxes, the clothes strewn across the floor (still to be sorted) are each a 5 lb sack to carry, too. Imagine all your other “incompletions” too, and how each is an additional 5 lb bag. Envision how you have to maneuver with these bags. Perhaps you need to tie them together, hoist them from one arm to the other. You need to repair some if you’ve dragged them on the ground. You’re carrying a lot…do you need to get a wagon? You have to stop to rest, frequently, but you still keep adding more bags. Ugh.

Better living requires that you develop the skills to clean it all up, completely. The ultimate goal is to be clean and clear, so that you may fully handle new situations as they occur. The benefit in “being complete?”  More time, more space and more energy for better living today and therefore for the future.

Make a list of all your incompletions…from home, from work, and in your relationships, too. Consider your environments (house, car, office): what is undone? What’s incomplete in your activities (membership dues? Car pool schedule?) Think about your well-being (how new is that toothbrush? When was the last time you had a checkup?)

One concept that completely captivated me when I began my coach training over a dozen years ago is the distinction between doing something 95% and doing it 100%. The extra oomph is significant! The satisfaction of completely handling a project or an issue is worth reveling in. Try it yourself. Rather than attempting to do a little bit of some of the things on your incompletion list, do one COMPLETELY.

• Be thorough. Imagine what it would take to not only complete the task, but to ensure it won’t recur for a long time. What is required?
• Delight yourself. Sometimes, to be sure, “done is better than not done.” But for this exercise, do it to delight yourself! If you’re sorting your vintage collection of vinyl records, what order would delight YOU? Alpha, or by artist? By year, or by genre? Go ahead, completely delight yourself!
• Make it permanent. Is what you’re doing to clean up this past unresolved issue a “quick fix,” or can it be repeated and systematized?

Once you’ve thoroughly addressed your past issues, you will move along to the post on tolerations with an expanded perspective on the benefits of better living.

© 2011 Mary Ellen Sailer, Ed. D.

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Needs, needs, we’ve all got needs

For reasons that can fill up volume and volumes of books on psychology shelves, human needs are some of the most vexing topics imaginable.  And, another inscrutable topic is the need to pretend that one has no needs!  Huh?  But, sadly, that is true.  The energy spent in pretending we have no needs is astonishing.

Let’s save the heavy lifting (off of the library shelves) and just cut to the core of the matter:

  • All humans have needs (ask Abraham Maslow if you don’t believe me)
  • The idea of being called “needy” is terrifying to most adults
  • Many of us were raised to be embarrassed by our needs, so therefore we may deny their very existence
  • HOWEVER, we will still attempt to get our needs met in one way or another…and if we have denied the needs, our unconscious will drive
  • Acknowledged or denied, everyone can see our needs anyway!
  • Getting un-declared needs met can wreak havoc—on us, and those around us
  • It’s “cleaner” to accept the need and get it met appropriately, than to deny it

What does this have to do with better living? Everything!  Since we were little, all of us have had encounters with rude, whiny, and demanding people.  Our parents and teachers have pronounced that these folks are SELFISH.  The lesson? “I don’t want to ever be talked about like that.”  So, we proceed through life, ignoring, denying and dismissing our needs.

The punch line, though, is the need didn’t go away.  Psychologist Linda Berens notes that when needs are not met, an “individual is drained of energy and suffers dissatisfaction or stress.”

Here’s an example:  I coached a vice president of sales who had been enjoying great success, but found herself feeling increasingly fussy and uninspired.  Her frustrations were spilling out in work meetings and around her kitchen table, too.  In questioning her about her activities, I learned that she is a master gardener.  However, over the years, she’d pruned back her time in the garden because of the demands from work. A-ha! In our coaching work, we were able to identify her essential needs:  to create beauty, order and to be a master.  She realized that returning to the garden would meet those needs in a more satisfactory way than expecting her sales force or children to meet them for her.  Within weeks, her team noted that she was less prickly and more developmental in her leadership.

Of course, returning to the garden suitably met a number of her needs…but I also asked her to consider where else her need for order could be met.  (She instituted a family calendar in the kitchen, and the children chose their own color for the markers which would signify their disparate activities.)  She also concluded that the need to be a master is more graciously attained in the garden than in her book club.

As you explore your own better living center, “owning” and satisfying your needs is an essential activity.  Here is one way to see if you have an unidentified, unmet need.

Think about a recent time when you found yourself behaving in a way you really can’t explain or condone.  Now, grab your pencil and start answering the following questions:

  • What was your behavior?
  • What need was not getting met?
  • What did it cost you in the eyes of others?
  • If this need were met, how would it add to better living?
  • Who can help you to get this need met?



© 2011

Mary Ellen Sailer, Ed.D.


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Make the commitment to Better Living

Perhaps it was seeing the discrepancy between how you spend your time in your actual day versus your ideal day.  Or, maybe you have found that you are upholding a lifestyle that isn’t serving you.  Or the concept of “navigating with curiosity” has piqued your interest!  Whatever it may be, something has brought you to this page in which you will make the commitment to better living. Congratulations!

Now what?

Making the commitment to better living begins with a re-commitment to your most important human relationship:  the one you have with yourself. In fulfilling this commitment, I will challenge and support you to examine every facet of your life.  I have to tell you, this will NOT work if you see yourself as deficient!  Recall the post where we examined the “problem with problem solvers…”  The defensiveness that problem solvers encounter from others in the workplace pales in comparison to the barriers and excuses we throw up in defense of ourselves when we feel threatened.  Instead of defensiveness, I request that you employ kind curiosity and appreciative inquiry as you honestly consider essential aspects of your life in your quest for better living.

Truly knowing yourself takes hard work, and honest reflection, and a lot of love.  It is the essence of Character.  To quote Helen Keller:

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet.  Only through experience of trial…can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”

Better living isn’t for sissies.  It’s for people with integrity, people who know who they are without apology or explanation.  They enjoy their own good company. They know what they can and cannot do…and are fine with both.  They not only add value to wherever they put their energy, they have the ease and grace to allow others to do the same.

To commit to better living means to accept that your life is perfect right now…so that it is from a place of strength that you are choosing better living.  (The commitment to better living means to accept paradoxes like “perfect now allows for better in the future!”)   The commitment will mean that you’ll champion yourself, be a self-advocate, and bestow upon yourself greater care and kindness than you’ve ever, ever done.

Please proceed if you can answer yes to the following questions:

  • I am curious about the concept of better living.
  • I agree that getting to know what I need, and learning how to ensure that I get it, will help me be more effective.
  • I will try new activities, stop some activities, and spend time in reflection to accomplish better living
  • I want to stop “carrying around” attitudes and behaviors that keep me from learning and which prevent better living.
  • I’m done with expecting to be annoyed.
  • I want people to know what I stand for.
  • I want to accomplish more than I ever dreamed possible.
  • I’m ready to express what is most valuable to me, every day.
  • I’ll appreciate and share my unique gifts, and respect those gifts in others.
  • I’m ready to enjoy instead of struggle with my life.


© 2011

Mary Ellen Sailer, Ed.D.


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It’s your life…or is it?

Better Living is about creating your life from the inside – out.  Starting with the essence of YOU.  My intention with this post is to get really clear on whether you are living your life, or trying to maintain a lifestyle.

An easy way to understand this distinction is to see what has happened in the media over the past few decades.  There was a time when People was limited to one page in Newsweek Magazine.  The only celebrity “entertainment” television show was entitled, aptly enough:  Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Now, the marketing of celebrities and their lifestyles is a multi-media mega industry.  Whether you decide to watch the shows and buy the tabloids and magazines or not, no one can make it through the grocery line without seeing  “celebrity news” stories plastered across the headlines, with corresponding pictures of their homes, fashions, and jewelry.   And the insidious effect of this media saturation is that it has elevated the attainment of rich lifestyles (i.e. MORE) as the true pursuit of happiness.

How “happy” can you be if you are trapped in a too expensive lifestyle?  How happy can you be if your lifestyle is costing you an excessive amount of time, extracting a toll on your emotions and on your physical health?  Where is the happiness in exhaustive risk, stress, and pressure?  How happy can you be when you are spending more time commuting to and from work than being with your loved ones?  The tax on your life is significant, and it comes with compounded interest as the pressures increase.

Working hard is a wonderful thing, please don’t get me wrong!  I dedicate another post to the importance of discovering what you value, and orienting your life around it.  But that’s my point:  Hard Work as an expression of what you value is in integrity with better living. Slavishly working to uphold a lifestyle is NOT.

Your lifestyle should support your life, not the other way around.

My cautions about commutes and stress are not in reference to folks caught in the economic downturn, who have lost their jobs and access to healthcare and are in crisis mode.  However, it is still important to acknowledge that the propensity to live beyond one’s means preceded the stock market decline and the housing slump.  The presumption that a “thing” will make someone happy is an endorsed part of popular American culture.  Immediate gratification delivered through a credit card acquisition is more of a lifestyle seduction than a better living choice.

Return to the better living blog activity in which I asked you to create your ideal day.   It’s a safe bet that what you listed included people, work, activities and feelings.  Objects (or should I say “acquistions?”) were not as numerous or as important as events.  Again, better living is about your life, not your lifestyle!

Break the “lifestyle support cycle” by trusting that what you wrote for your ideal day really is most important to you…and let’s start reorienting your life around these fundamentals, not the lifestyles of neighbors or celebrities.


© 2011

Mary Ellen Sailer, Ed.D.


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What would Better Living look like?

So, how’s it going? Are you living the life you want? I mean, right now? John Lennon observed that “life is what is happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Good for a wry laugh. However, I prefer the call-to-action implied in Katherine Hepburn’s succinct statement: “Life is to be lived.”

All too often, people spend their days planning for the future, or recalling the past. Days can be chock-full of striving (for the future) activities, or hiding (from the past) activities, or both. But pre-occupying yourself with either doesn’t change the fact that all we really have is right now. Better Living asks for a present focus.

To me, the concept of better living means to be engaged, to be attuned, right now. To be an active participant in one’s life. Being able to respond to what is going on, not just reacting to it. To be able to be at choice and responsive requires the confidence that you’re living the life you want.

Are you? Earlier, I posited a few “curiosity questions” for you to ask yourself about your relationships with people, with your environment, and with money. The most important relationship, of course, is the one you have with yourself. Are you honest with yourself? Loving? Patient? Encouraging? Accepting? OR are you harshly critical of yourself? Do you minimize your effectiveness, lambast your output, and devalue yourself? That has to stop! It’s only with a kind and affirming eye (the better living way!) that you can honestly assess your life as it really is now. THEN you can actually be at choice to keep what works, and to change other aspects to meet what better living would mean for you.

Take a deep breath, and write down how you spent today. From how you well you slept, to the time you awoke, and all the activities you undertook to prepare for today. Get really detailed! Was your bed comfortable? Is the room dark enough? Quiet enough? Did an alarm awaken you? Music? Or was it the news reporter? Another person?

Onto the activities—did you have sufficient time for showering, or exercising? Or did you start the day in silent contemplation? Did you rush out the door? Did you eat well, did you feed others? Are you the captain of the morning for your household? If so, are you the ONLY one who must do ALL of the managing?! Did you enjoy the morning today?

As you can see, there were almost 20 questions to ask before even one hour had elapsed. Continue through the day—consider work, service activities, socializing, transportation, every activity that you did, and everyone with whom you interacted, until you’re back into your bed at the end of the day.

Now review what you’ve written about the day. Had you spent it in the way you’d wanted? Start a new page, and write now about your ideal day. Again, describe it fully from how you would awaken to how you complete it.

How do the days—the real and the ideal—differ? How are they the same? What do you want to do about it?

© 2011
Mary Ellen Sailer, Ed.D.

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Curiosity as a Navigational Device

One of the best ways to stay stuck, to be fussy, and to feel frustrated is to see life as a problem to be solved. An either/or or a right/wrong paradigm of perspective is quite limiting, and it guarantees stress. Unfortunately, many of us were raised to search for the “one right way” to answer a question, or the “only” way to address (excuse me: to solve) a situation.

The ability to judge, to discern, to assess and to conclude are all essential qualities and they are important for adults to possess. The quest for better living, however, asks us to give some thought to how we think!

As they lament about their workplace struggles, some of my coaching clients have heard me observe, “The problem with being a good problem solver is that everything looks like a problem!” These good folks want to assist their colleagues and their direct reports by fixing what they perceive needs fixing. However, they are met with resistance, with defensiveness, and with non-cooperation.

Rather than as problems to be solved, what is another way to look at the issues and challenges at work, at home, and in life?

One of the best ways to extricate from this dynamic of “I’m right, you’re wrong” is to shift from being the expert to being the curious learner. When you resist the impulse to fix, you immediately succeed in removing the other person’s fearful and reflexive defensiveness. When you address the issue (remember: address it, don’t fix it!) you can employ new language, too.

Some suggested new phrases for your curiosity lexicon include:
• “hmmmmm, isn’t that interesting!”
• “What do you think?”
• “What else is important to consider?”
• “I wonder what we haven’t thought about yet…”
• “Who else could help us address this?”
• “What should we be sure NOT to do?”

Trying to NOT fix things might be hard (or… it might feel like a relief). You may fear your value to your workplace may evaporate, especially if you have defined yourself as the problem solver. Remember, you are YOU, and being a problem solver is but a skill, not an identity. Additionally, “problem-solvers” can carry the additional reputation as “know-it-all” or “ridged,” so that identity could be more of a hindrance than you might have realized…

Now that we’ve tested the curiosity-instead-of-problem approach in a work scenario, are you willing to try it on your living environment? The writer Annie Dillard said it perfectly: “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.”

With appreciative inquiry, ask yourself about how you spend your days:
• Are you getting enough sleep? Exercise? Healthy food?
• Do you have a circle of family and friends who love you?
• Are you living where you want to be living? Do you have enough personal space?
• Do you have the pets/activities/social outlets you desire?
• Are you learning new things every day?
• Are you “happily employed?”
• Do you live well and within your means?
• Do you pay your bills on time?
• Are you saving at least 10% of your income?
• Do you have annual medical and dental appointments?
• Do you donate time or money to causes beyond your immediate circle?
• Do you tell the truth?
• Do you have fun every day?

These are just a sampling of over one hundred questions to be considered in evaluating where to focus on a better living program.

© 2011
Mary Ellen Sailer, Ed.D.

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The Better Living Center

Every fall, western Massachusetts is home to New England’s biggest fair: the Eastern States Exposition. Affectionately known as “the Big E,” the fair combines all the traditional agricultural and educational aspects of state fairs. For three weeks each and every September, more than one million people enjoy the myriad exhibitions and competitions.

Established 95 years ago, the Big E is located on 175 acres and has numerous permanent structures. And the crown jewel of all is the building that has always captured my fancy: The Better Living Center. All it is, really, is a large exhibit hall. But that name! Oh, joy, rapture! Year after year, I am drawn to the building because of that extraordinary name. I try to imagine what must have possessed the original designers of the Big E in anointing it with THAT name among all other designations. I’ve concluded that the name was given because it offers the visitor not just that which is known to be good now, it offers possibilities of that which has yet to be imagined. Yes, that is Better Living indeed.

My attraction to that concept makes complete sense. Essentially, better living is my total focus as a professional coach. I work with folks to design and then thrive in their custom-created “better living centers.”

I have crafted these blog posts to serve as your virtual Better Living Center.
Effective coaches don’t tell people what to do; they help people build personalized frameworks and systems that bring out their best, now and in the future. In these posts, I’ll suggest, challenge, and support you to consider your own life. What’s working well? How can it be better? What used to work, but upon assessment, needs to be upgraded or eliminated? What resources do you need? Who believes in you? Who is working against you? Are you having the impact you intend to be having—at work? At home? What is holding you back from better living?

Each coaching topic in the succeeding weekly posts can be addressed on it’s own, and some of the topics and activities may be more interesting to you than others—that’s fine! However, the construction process followed 95 years ago by the Big E architects in laying the bricks and mortar for The Better Living Center is pertinent for creating YOUR Better Living Center, too. Therefore, the first six topics in the list below are especially critical to your “structural integrity” as you build your better living center:

• Curiosity as a navigation device
• What would better living look like?
• It’s your life…or is it?
• Make the commitment to better living
• Needs, needs, we’ve all got needs
• Clean it up
• Don’t tolerate anything
• Tolerations…part two
• Standards for better living
• Claim the necessary boundaries
• Integrity
• The treasures of your life
• Accept and enjoy your unique gifts
• Understanding Attraction
• Being “at choice”

Better Living is accessible to anyone who desires it. The appreciative perspective from which it is born affirms that there is a lot that is good, strong and enjoyable in life right now, and from that strength, even more can be attained.

Here’s to your curiosity in better living!

© 2011
Mary Ellen Sailer, Ed.D.

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Welcome to Brilliant Life!

Welcome to the Brilliant Life website!

My blog is under construction. Please check back soon for updates!

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