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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