I was a guest on a podcast recently called Five Things To Do Today where the host, Lee, shares five simple ideas listeners can do right then, to make their lives easier, happier or richer… all in 15 minutes!
My five things (plus a bonus sixth – because that’s how I roll) were:
1. Make Something
3. Use an Old-School Planner
4. Find Your Superpower
5. Research Your Genealogy
I quickly learned that 15 minutes goes by really quickly, and there is little time to elaborate on each of your things (especially if you add a sixth). I very much wanted to go deeper into the stories and the people and the benefits of my list of things, but couldn’t. One, due to the 15 minute time restraint, but another reason is that similar to radio, there is no give and take, no questions, no approving or disapproving – you just go with what comes out of your mouth and take it on faith that it will be good.
So, since Lee was kind enough to link Lala Land in his promotional posts, I feel like I can piggy back on those with this post, and go a little more in-depth with my “wisdom.”
- Make Something: When you’re a busy parent, one of the most frustrating things you can hear your child say is “I’m bored.” The temptation is to set them to scrubbing toilets, or sweeping sidewalks. My mother (mostly) resisted that temptation and taught me a wonderful life lesson in doing so. If I ever complained of boredom, she would respond with “Make something.” Adding, “make a cake; make a picture; make some noise; make a mess; make something up!” Once, she handed my 6-year-old self a button and a piece of string and said “make a toy.” I tried and tried to make something that could be used to play with, or amuse myself, but only succeeded in whacking myself in the eye when I tied the string through the button holes and swung it lasso-like over my head. When she came back to check on me, my mom took the string, and deftly threaded it through two of the large brown coat button’s holes. Then she tied a knot in the string, put her hands into the string circle then spun the button forward in a circular motion until it was all wound up. Then, when she pulled on the string and relaxed it, the button spun and hummed! Magic! My wise mother also added another caveat to her Make Something advice. With a twinkle in her eye, and her eyebrow arched a tiny bit, she’d say “But whatever you make, make doing it look like so much fun that others will want to join in!” This helped me to learn a lesson that was reawakened later in life when I read the fence whitewashing scene from Tom Sawyer – He had a chore to do that he made seem so fascinating, so exclusive, so fun that by the end of the day he had people vying for a chance to do it for him. Mary Poppins reiterated that sentiment, “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun, find that fun and SNAP, the jobs a game!” Anything can be fun, if you first decide that it is.
- Smile: This is simple straight-forward advice. No one wants to talk to someone who is grumpy, or preoccupied with worrying. Smile when you see someone, smile when you talk, smile when you’re on the phone, smile all by yourself! And not just a tight-lipped grin… involve your whole face, pull the corners of your mouth up like they could reach your ears. Make it a part of your morning routine, smile for all your worth for a minute or two. Behind this simple act is some serious science. By smiling, you might just trick your brain into thinking that you’re happy when you’re not. This is because smiling actually spurs a chemical reaction in your brain which increases a feeling of well-being, or happiness. Some say that the act of smiling can actually build up your immune system over time. Maybe, all I know is that it works for me. I smile in the middle of meetings, I smile in the car on my way to work, and yes, at the people in nearby cars. True, they may think I’m crazy, and usually do a double take, but in the end, they usually smile right back.
- Use an Old-School Planner: Shortly after my second child was born, in 1991, I went to a seminar called ‘Increasing Personal Productivity Through Effective Time Management’ where I received my first Franklin Planner. It is a paper based system consisting of a binder and calendar pages in different configurations. I use the one that has a page for every day of the year. Each day has its own Prioritized Daily Task List, and then a blank, lined, facing page. I use these pages to write down what’s important, what needs to be done, what is bothering me, lists I need to compile, and just about anything else that flits through my brain – every day (yes, I even take it on vacation with me). Where I used to jot things down on multiple sticky-notes, and then (gasp) throw those notes away, now, my thoughts, needs, etc. are all neatly collected within the pages of my planner, accessible when I need to look back. And, as an added bonus (here’s where the “old-school” part kicks in) when you write by hand using a pen or pencil and paper, your learning process is strengthened. Your brain literally gets feedback from the action of your hand and fingers as you create each letter. Studies have proven that the work your brain does when you’re writing actually helps your ability to recall what you’ve written. So, put down the smart phone, pick up a pen and a planner, and you’re on your way to being more organized, and smarter too!
- Find Your Superpower: I’m not talking about leaping tall buildings in a single bound, I’m talking about discovering and honing your own unique talent – your Superpower. What IS your Superpower? Think of it this way – at some point in your life, someone has said to you, “wow, you are the best ______ ever!” That might be your superpower. Oftentimes, that talent comes so easily to you that is doesn’t seem like a talent at all. What are you good at, what comes naturally to you, what do you love to do? That’s your superpower. And just to be clear, this doesn’t have to be a serious superpower. My petite daughter is the loudest burper in our family. Maybe that’s her superpower. My friend has a knack for guessing the final total at the grocery store checkout counter. That could be his superpower. Look, Peter Parker probably never thought that a spider bite could give him the ability to swoop around and stick to walls, he just had to look at the outcome of what happened creatively – and make a superhero suit. Just like I was never particularly logical, but thanks to a stint as a Destination Imagination volunteer, I now have my very own Logical Linda superhero suit hanging in a closet…
- Research Your Genealogy: Usually, people have a pretty good handle on who their parents are, and their grandparents, but from there, things can get a little fuzzy. Thank goodness for Ancestry.com and DNA testing! Compared to Downtown Dad though, I’m a newcomer to this genealogy research game. He’s been digging up ancestors (not literally) since the times when you had to visit the courthouse in the exact county in which your relative lived (or died), and dig through drawers of actual files. I joined in on the tail end of that process in the late eighties when we had the luxury of scrolling through microfiche slides in the research libraries of very large cities. Now though, through the magic of the Internet, all you have to do is flip open your laptop, or smart phone and with the help of an Ancestry app, your dead relatives’ stories practically tell themselves! Well, sometimes. Most times though you have to be a detective and search for clues. Sometimes its a misspelled last name on a census from 1880. Sometimes its a mention of a neighbor in a will from the 1700s. And sometimes, you just hit a brick wall. But the fun is in the chase, and in my case I chased down something very exciting. I’m a big Shakespeare fan, and always have my eyes peeled for a mention of one of his plays, or a new movie about him, or anything about his life. So while looking at the obituary of my 4th great grandfather in an Evansville, Indiana newspaper clipping, the words Stratford on Avon practically jumped off the page at me! After a little digging and sleuthing by Downtown Dad, who is after all the expert, I learned that I had relatives who not only had lived in Stratford on Avon, but one had owned a store on the main street of the town, and Susanna Barnard, Shakespeare’s daughter, had owned the building the store was in! That is a pretty close brush with fame if you ask me. Last year on our trip to England, we stayed in Stratford on Avon and made an appointment with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust to view the historic documents of my relative’s sale of his business – documents that probably had not been touched since the 1700s. Now, don’t you want to see if you have anything like that lurking in your family tree?
- Improvise: In Tina Fey’s biography Bossypants, she talks about how important the first two rules of improvisation are. Rule #1 Agree – say Yes. Rule #2 Not only say yes, say Yes, And. Agreeing, or saying yes first is in effect respecting what the other person has created. Come at whatever a person says to you with an open mind. Saying Yes, And is agreeing, then adding a little something of your own. And that’s where the magic comes in. You can now turn any conversation into a win win, you honor the other persons comment, and you are not afraid to contribute something of your own to it. I challenged myself to a year of saying Yes, And to anything someone said to me. Obviously I could not literally say yes to everything (well, I could have, but that’s another list of 5 Things) but it slowed me down enough to think very hard about the words that came out of my mouth. For instance, instead of saying ‘no I don’t have time’ when a coworker asked me if I could organize a company picnic, I said Yes, And you can be my co-captain. See how that works? Also, you don’t literally have to say yes, but thinking it stops you from saying no, which distressingly, is often all too easy. There will be times when you are asked to do something outside of your comfort zone, and you’ll want to say no. I suggest that you say Yes, And then, as Tina Fey herself says “you’ll figure it out afterward.” And is a doorway, Yes is agreeing to go through that doorway, and there is always fun and adventure on the other side of a Yes, And.