Tag Archives: Relationships

The Year of Thoughtfulness: Six Simple Actions to Show Others You Care in 2015

Have you ever heard someone comment that thoughtfulness seems to be going the way of the dinosaurs? Perhaps you’ve had the same thought yourself from time to time. We’ve all experienced an every-man-for-himself attitude at work, given gifts that weren’t acknowledged, walked down streets that seemed full of bad attitudes…and much more.

I think that as a society, we might be becoming less considerate to others than we were in the past. But let me be clear: The problem isn’t that we don’t care or that we’re trying to be rude. We’re simply busier, more stressed, and more overwhelmed than ever before! As we navigate our hectic everyday lives to the best of our ability, going out of our way to make others feel good simply doesn’t cross our minds. We’re so focused on checking all the boxes on our growing to-do lists that we don’t have extra mental bandwidth to devote to anyone else. Believe me, I get it!

Fortunately, acknowledging others in a positive way doesn’t require very much of your time and energy—which means that being more thoughtful is a New Year’s resolution that will be easy to keep! Taking one or two minutes to engage with someone else won’t set you back very far on your to-do list, but it can completely change the tone of that person’s day (and improve your own mood, too!).

In 2015, I hope you’ll join me in committing regular acts of thoughtfulness. Here are six simple ways to do just that:

Remember birthdays. In the age of smartphones, electronic calendars, and automated alerts, it has never been easier to remember when a friend’s, loved one’s, or colleague’s birthday is coming up. And even though many of us downplay the significance of this occasion, deep down, it feels nice when someone else acknowledges us on our special day.

I have always enjoyed wishing people in my life a happy birthday. To me, birthdays are a very important day of the year, and no matter how many candles are on the cake, I believe they’re occasions to celebrate. Sometimes I call the person. Sometimes I mail a card with a personal note, or do both. These actions take only a few minutes to accomplish, and they make such a wonderful impression. They make me feel great, too!

Ask, “How are you doing?”…and mean it. We all have challenges. We’re all dealing with various issues in our lives that most other people have no idea exist. That’s why it’s so meaningful to sincerely ask others how they’re doing and what’s happening in their lives.

If someone doesn’t want to share the details of his or her life with you, it’s easy for that person to say, “I’m fine” and leave it at that. But many times, the other person will be grateful for a sympathetic ear and perhaps some advice. Devoting a few minutes of your time solely to someone else can make a huge difference in letting that person know he or she is not alone and that others care.

Pass compliments along. Picture this: You’re talking to a friend, and she mentions how much she loves your mutual hairstylist. The next time you have an appointment, don’t just describe the cut and color you’d like; make a point to let the stylist know how much your friend appreciates her.

When I hear something nice about someone, I love to pass along the compliment. Recently, I worked with a client who has cancer and is going through chemo. She was always cheerful, upbeat, and inspiring to the designer, salesperson, and me. When I called to see how she was feeling before a big family event to which she was wearing one of her new outfits, she was so touched that I had called. She thanked me and mentioned how nice the designer and salesperson had been to her. I couldn’t wait to pass along the compliment. The salesperson and designer were thrilled to hear that our client was doing well and were so grateful that I’d passed along her kind words.

Send handwritten thank-you notes. We’ve all heard this suggestion before—and for good reason. Handwritten notes are so much more meaningful than texts or emails. They’re a tangible reminder to the recipient that you are grateful.

It’s so nice to receive and open a thank-you card. I love knowing that someone else truly appreciated the present, dinner, or weekend visiting our home, for example. Remember, handwritten thank-you notes don’t have to be literary masterpieces. A few sentences that take less than five minutes to write can make someone’s day!

Smile. The next time you’re out in public—taking the bus to work, picking up groceries, or walking your dog in the park, for instance—take notice of other people’s demeanors. How many of them look happy? How many of them smile at you in greeting? Chances are, you’ll find that most people go about their business with single-minded purpose, avoiding eye contact and connection with others. Their faces look closed-off and serious—some of them may even be scowling!

That’s why a simple smile can be so meaningful. Smiles can lift the moods of strangers and friends alike, whether you’re engaged in conversation or not. Try to make it a habit to smile at everyone you encounter: your boss, the cashier at the store, the people you pass on the street. Trust me; you will make a positive impression. You’ll start to feel better too, because genuine smiles open your heart and cause your body to release mood-boosting endorphins!

Acknowledge good news that you hear. When you read about someone you know winning an award, publishing a book or article, or hear news of a birth or a promotion, take the time to send a note of congratulations or mention it the next time you see that person.

Those are just a few examples of the good news that is all around us. Unfortunately, we mostly tend to talk about bad news instead. It is much more gratifying to talk about and share good news than to share unhappy news or gossip. If you’re going to engage with someone, make it a positive interaction.

 

Give it a try. Resolve to commit regular acts of thoughtfulness in 2015. You’ll have a positive effect on other people’s lives and on your own outlook. There’s no reason why our to-do lists should dictate our moods and relationships!

Six Positive Things to Do for Yourself This Holiday Season

This is known as the most wonderful time of the year—and for good reason! We all look forward to holiday events, traditions, gatherings, and more. But as you decorate your home, cook for your family, shop for your loved ones, and attend celebrations in your community, it can be easy to forget about something very important—yourself.

Instead of stretching yourself so thin that you’re running on fumes by New Year’s Eve, remember to give yourself the gift of kindness by spending time and energy on your own well-being throughout the coming weeks. When you nurture yourself physically, emotionally, and socially, you’ll be able to enjoy a holiday season that reflects your values while emphasizing gratitude and joy.

Here are six things I do for my own well-being and nourishment over the holidays. They help me to savor the season instead of feeling stressed—and I hope they can do the same for you!

Find peace before starting each day. Each morning, I spend a few quiet moments getting grounded and focusing on all of the goodness in my life. Before embarking on a busy day, it is so calming to breathe in and out as I consciously place my focus on all of the things I’m thankful for and remind myself of my priorities and values. I’ve found that this small investment of time can create a positive, peaceful mood that lasts all day.

Celebrate friendship with time together. The best gift we can give to our closest friends isn’t something that can be placed in a box and wrapped. That’s why I make sure to plan a lunch or event with my best friends that doesn’t include the pressure of exchanging gifts. Instead, we’re able to enjoy each other’s presence as we celebrate life and our friendship.

For instance, my friend Donna and I have a holiday tradition we fondly call the “Christmas Walk.” We meet in front of the tree at Rockefeller Center around 5:00 in the evening and watch the light show across the street at Saks, which repeats every 15 minutes. After we’ve enjoyed the display, we take a selfie in front of the tree (or ask someone to photograph us), and then start our walk. We check out holiday window displays and always enjoy shopping at Henri Bendel because of all the small gift items on the first floor. We end the evening at a fun restaurant. It doesn’t matter how cold or stormy it is…Donna and I take our “Christmas Walk” every year! It’s always a special treat and a great way to savor our friendship.

Make plans to pamper yourself. Especially during a time of year when our social calendars tend to be full, it’s important to schedule some quiet time for yourself. (And no, locking yourself in your house to catch up on laundry and cleaning doesn’t count!) I’m talking about something that you’ll find restful and rejuvenating—perhaps a massage, facial, or manicure/pedicure. Think of it as a holiday gift to your mind, body, and spirit!

Let yourself off the social hook occasionally. No matter how much you love your family and friends, too much social interaction can be taxing or overwhelming. When that happens, give yourself permission to (as my dear friend Rick says) “change the channel” for a few minutes. For instance, instead of forcing yourself to paste a polite smile on your face and make small talk for the third hour in a row at your extended family’s get-together, take a walk around the block or go into another room, close your eyes, and breathe for a minute. Or if you’re hosting guests for several days, leave the house for a few hours and see a movie. When you rejoin the festivities, I promise you’ll feel much fresher.

Give yourself the gift of good health. This time of year, I find that it’s easy to overindulge while neglecting healthy routines. So, plan ahead to make sure that your well-being doesn’t fall by the wayside. If you can give your body a rest from unhealthy food and liquor for a day before and after a big feast, that will be a real gift. (Personally, I’ve found that drinking green juices and lots of water is a big help in allowing my body to heal and rejuvenate.)

Maintaining your exercise routine is also very important at this time of year. I know I always feel so calm and peaceful after a workout, and I’m more energetic during the day. Even a long walk is effective if you can’t get to the gym! So clear some time on your schedule for physical activity, and don’t forget to pack that workout gear when you travel. Both of these strategies are great ways to ensure that you don’t have to face the dreaded “diet” in January.

Hydrate throughout the holidays. If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, this last piece of advice won’t be new to you, but it is very important: Drink lots of water! (This is something we all tend to forget during the colder months.) Water keeps your organs and digestive system functioning properly and your skin looking radiant. It also gives you energy and can help stave off headaches caused by dehydration. I’m not saying you have to avoid tasty beverages altogether, but when you find yourself reaching for coffee, hot chocolate, or a cocktail, ask yourself if water might be a better choice. This time of year, I make sure to carry a bottle of water with me on all my errands.

While there is no “right” way to celebrate the holidays, taking care of ourselves is something we should all prioritize! So don’t (as I blogged about last year) overdo it—and do focus on honoring yourself. You have more control over how you feel during this hectic time of year than you may think! Here’s to a season that’s full of love, joy, peace, and friendship.

 

Seven Tips for Keeping Your Sanity During Summertime Entertaining

As the summer unfolds, you may be planning to host houseguests for a weekend getaway. Of course you’re looking forward to spending time with friends and/or family. But you may also be just a bit concerned about how to have fun while taking care of the hundred-and-one details of entertaining others in your home. It can be difficult to maintain the balance between being a gracious host and feeling like an indentured servant.

I understand! My husband, Barry, and I enjoy entertaining guests in the summer at our home in Southampton. It’s important to both of us that our guests feel welcome, at home, and well taken care of. Personally, I tend to be very particular about each visit, giving much attention to detail; but there is a fine line between taking care of all the details and running yourself ragged.

And, of course, entertaining isn’t for everyone (and that’s okay!). If you don’t get genuine enjoyment out of opening your home to others, preparing for their visits, and entertaining guests, remember that you’re under no obligation to do so. There are plenty of other ways to make summertime memories with friends. (One important caveat: If you do choose to entertain, don’t do so with the expectation that others should reciprocate—doing so only sets you up for disappointment and resentment if your friends don’t share your love of entertaining.)

For those of you who are expecting guests this summer, I’d like to share a few strategies I’ve developed that will keep you from burning out, whether you’re having overnight guests or a simple luncheon or dinner party.

Consider your guest list. If you’re planning to invite several individuals at the same time, take time to consider how they might get along with each other. The last thing you want to do is invite people who have a negative history together. Individuals who have completely different (and clashing) personalities or viewpoints might not make for an enjoyable visit, either. (But don’t overthink this—you know your friends and loved ones and how they tend to behave in groups. If instinct tells you that certain people won’t work well together, follow your intuition and invite them on separate occasions.)

When Barry and I are planning on hosting multiple guests, our top priority is simply to invite people who will enjoy each other’s company. And since these are special “getaway” weekends for Barry and me as well, we don’t invite clients from business unless they also happen to be personal friends of ours. These weekends are for our enjoyment, too!

Plan your meals ahead of time. While this may seem like common sense, I can’t emphasize enough how vital planning can be in having a smooth, hiccup-free weekend. I like to check off as many things as I can before my guests arrive. For example, I typically check with guests to see if there is anything they are allergic to or don’t eat before heading out to the grocery store.

I usually make out the menu for the entire weekend about a week in advance, so I’ll know what to shop for and won’t be scrambling for meal ideas at the last minute. I typically place my order for fresh fish, chicken, or meat a few days before and schedule a pick-up for Friday morning. At this point, I’ll also pick up any last-minute items. Oh, and one more tip: I’ve found that I save a lot of time and money by growing a nice variety of herbs on the deck outside our kitchen, which ensures that we have fresh, flavorful seasonings for our salads and main dishes.

Freshen up your guest room(s). Over the course of daily life, most of us don’t spend much time in our guest bedroom(s). You may even keep the doors closed! That’s why it’s a good idea to air them out a day or two before your guests arrive. Make sure that everything is in order and that the linens are fresh. You might also want to plug in an air freshener or light an aromatic candle before your guests arrive. Personally, I’ll often put a fresh flower from our garden in my guests’ bathroom or bedroom to welcome them. I think this adds a nice touch!

Cook their first meal (and stick with what you know). If your guests have been traveling, it’s likely that they’d prefer to relax at your house, rather than get dressed up to run out shortly after arriving. That’s why Barry and I usually cook at home on Friday nights. We try out new recipes on weekends when we don’t have guests (so we don’t have any surprises!), then serve the “winners” to our friends. Barry handles the grill while I put the finishing touches on the rest of the dinner. If guests offer to help, I often ask them to set the table, put out hors d’oeuvres, or help serve drinks so that we can talk and enjoy each other’s company.

Make breakfast easy. After a good night’s sleep, you don’t want your guests to feel like they need to rush in the morning. Unless you’ve all agreed on an early morning activity ahead of time, let them know that they’re free to wake up when they want and come down for breakfast when they feel ready. For breakfast, Barry and I put out cereals, English muffins, yogurt, fresh fruit, coffee, etc. and let everyone eat what they want.

Ask your guests what they want to do. As a host, you’re the expert on your area, so you’ll probably need to take the lead in suggesting activities. But before you make any firm plans, offer several options to your guests and ask them what they want to do. Try to make the weekend about them. For instance, Barry and I usually ask our guests if they want to visit one of the special small villages like Sag Harbor or Southampton, shop and walk around, go to the beach, play tennis, or just relax and take a nap by our pool. The most important thing is that our guests feel comfortable and enjoy the weekend.

Spend a night on the town. If your guests will be with you for several days, you’ll probably want them to see all that your town has to offer. Saturday night is a great time for this. We usually take our guests out to dinner, allowing them to choose between a few favorite restaurants we like. Afterward, we might stop for an ice cream cone and walk around one of the villages. It’s such a fun way to end the evening!

Ultimately, the most important thing is that you and your guests enjoy their time at your home. The more you plan ahead and take into account individual preferences, the more likely that will be. I hope you all enjoy your summer visits, whenever and with whomever they may be!

Anniversary Reflections: The Little Things Are the Big Things

“A soul mate is someone who has locks that fit our keys and keys to fit our locks. When we feel safe enough to open the locks, our truest selves step out and we can be completely and honestly who we are; we can be loved for who we are and not for who we’re pretending to be. Each unveils the best part of the other. No matter what else goes wrong around us, with that one person we’re safe in our own paradise.”
—Richard Bach

On May 21st, my husband, Barry, and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary. Hardly a day goes by that we don’t talk about how lucky we feel to have found such a wonderful relationship that’s characterized by respect, trust, and communication, and marriage has only made it better. When you feel loved by another and trust in that love, you are able to become your best self because of your partner’s support.

Barry and I have found that we’re able to keep our relationship strong because we pay attention and work at it every day—it doesn’t just happen. Here, I’d like to share some everyday ways Barry and I nurture our relationship. The overarching theme is being present in each other’s lives and making each other our first priority—I can’t emphasize enough how important that is! Turns out, the “little” things aren’t really little at all. They make a tremendous difference.

Barry and I certainly aren’t the “authority” on good relationships—we’ve simply sought out strategies that are proven to work, and indeed, these do work for us.

Check in during the day if you can. A brief phone call or text is all it takes to let your partner know that he or she is on your mind. But the few seconds it takes to make that connection can turn an average day into a great one for both of you. In the midst of your other responsibilities, it’s wonderful when your partner affirms the importance of your relationship. Of course, life is busy, so don’t worry if there are days when you can’t check in until the workday is done!

Make dinner conversations count. I get it—at the end of the day, you’re exhausted and running on autopilot. But if you can muster up the energy, it’s a good idea to sit down over a meal and talk about one another’s days. This may be one of the few times when you’re together, so make it count! Pay attention to what you really want to talk about. Barry and I make it a point to touch on highlights of our days as well as things that might be bothering us. I really can’t stress enough how important it is to have these kinds of regular, meaningful interactions with your partner. That’s because communication develops trust, which leads to and sustains mutual respect. Without trust and respect, you’ll never be able to truly feel safe with another person or build a lasting relationship.

Ask for advice on issues that are troubling you. When you’re facing a challenge at work, your first instinct might be to approach people in the same business for advice. And if you’ve had an argument with a friend, you might ask a mutual acquaintance for insight on how to proceed. In either of these situations (and in many more!), ask your partner for advice, too. He or she may have expertise in areas that you don’t (and vice versa), and will probably also have a different perspective from your usual advisors. Asking for advice makes your partner feel valuable—but even if he or she isn’t able to resolve your concerns, this is still an invaluable way to stay up-to-date on what’s happening in each other’s lives. Just be sure that you focus on mutual support, not criticism. I’ve always really appreciated that when I ask Barry for advice, he is not judgmental.

Verbalize your appreciation. When you’re in a long-term relationship with someone, it’s easy to begin taking him or her for granted. That’s why it’s important to consciously identify the contributions your partner makes and express your thanks. For instance, I often have a busy schedule with work, but I make it a point to prepare one or two home-cooked meals a week for us. Barry does not expect me to do this, though, and always thanks me for cooking dinner. His gratitude never fails to lift my mood. And I appreciate the fact that he appreciates me!

Give “just because” gifts. Buying unexpected gifts for no particular occasion is a great way to let your partner know you’re thinking about him or her. And you definitely don’t have to break the bank to say, “You were on my mind,” either. A book, a card, or a bottle of wine to enjoy together can send a powerful message of love. Personally, if I see great socks or shirts that I think Barry will like while I’m shopping, I surprise him. And I love it when Barry brings home flowers for no special occasion.

Anticipate each other’s needs. Taking care of something before your partner thinks to ask is a great way to show that you care. Once again, this isn’t something that needs to be a big production—little gestures can be very meaningful when they make life easier for your partner. Here are a few simple examples of what I mean: Barry loves to eat blueberries and peanut butter in his oatmeal, so I try to make sure we always have enough on hand. And not too long ago, when Barry had knee surgery, I made sure there was always fresh ice in the freezer so he could keep the swelling down.

Participate in activities you both enjoy. Find an activity you and your partner both enjoy, and whenever possible, carve out time to participate in it together. You’ll have fun while growing closer together. Barry and I enjoy going to see plays and movies, visiting museums, sightseeing around NYC, and more. But no matter what you do together, I recommend assigning this activity a slot on your calendar—otherwise, it might never happen! You know how it goes…life has a habit of getting in the way of our best intentions otherwise. I do want to include one caveat to this piece of advice, though: I’m not advocating doing everything with your partner. Continue pursuing activities that you enjoy and respect your partner’s individual interests, too. (For instance, Barry plays tennis and I don’t. I like to hike, and he doesn’t.) It’s important to nurture and develop yourself as well as your relationship!

Go on dates. Dates don’t have to (and shouldn’t!) stop after you get married. Continue to go out with your partner and do the things that helped you to fall in love in the first place. They’ll help you stay in love, too! On many Friday nights, Barry and I drive out to Brooklyn to eat dinner at one of the restaurants we enjoy. And often, we’ll round out the evening by shopping together.

Get away from it all. Barry and I both love to travel and always have fun on the trips we take together. But while relaxation and enjoyment are always good things, I think our vacations serve another purpose, too. When you leave your distracting, hectic, and (sometimes) hum-drum routines behind, you and your partner are free to focus on each other. Whether you’re on a weeklong tropical vacation or are simply taking off on a Saturday day trip, “getting away from it all” is a great opportunity to reconnect with each other and your goals as a family.

If you’re married or in a long-term relationship, what do you and your partner do to keep your relationship strong and fulfilling? I’d love to read your feedback!

The Art of Listening: Eight Tips to Help You Truly Hear Others

If you were asked, “Are you a good listener?” chances are you’d answer “yes.” Maybe you pride yourself on your ability to stay quiet even when you really want to interject, or maybe you believe that you give sound advice after hearing another person’s problem or dilemma. But as I was reminded recently, you might not be listening as well as you think!

While taking a mindfulness course, I participated in an exercise that required each individual and a partner to take turns telling one another a story. The catch was that the listener couldn’t react at all. No smiling, nodding, changes in facial expression, hand gestures, verbal responses, etc. I was surprised by the impact this exercise had on me. I really felt heard, that my words were being fully considered but not judged. Not having to “play” to the other person was incredibly freeing!

The truth is, there’s a lot more to listening than “just” letting people talk. Listening is actually a powerful skill that must be mindfully developed. When you truly listen to others, you give them the valuable gifts of respect, compassion, and acknowledgment. Becoming a good listener is an enhancement for your life, too, because it strengthens your relationships, helps you to learn more, keeps you in the moment, and shows others how to effectively listen to you.

Here are eight tips to help you cultivate the art of listening:

Eliminate distractions. Your physical environment can play a large role in how well you’re able to listen to other people. For instance, the hustle and bustle of a crowded restaurant might impact your focus and even your ability to hear your companion clearly. It’s not always possible, of course, but if you know that a conversation is important, be proactive about removing anything that might distract you from being totally present. Go to a quiet place, mute your cell phone, and turn off the television.

Turn off your mental track. Try to turn off the constant chatter in your head while the other person speaks. Don’t think ahead to formulate a response or try to figure out how to “fix” his problem, as this will distract you from being in the moment. Just listen. This will take some practice, since it probably goes against your habits and instincts! Try to engage not only your ears, but also your heart and mind, in fully understanding what is being said. Remember, a conversation in which you are primarily a listener is not about your own needs and desires, but the other person’s.

Be still. We are all familiar with the concept of an “animated speaker.” Most of us don’t think about animated listeners, but they exist too! Over the course of your next few conversations, pay attention to the other person’s body language as you talk: arm movements, facial expressions, shifting positions, etc. These things aren’t always, but can be, distracting. So especially when the conversation is serious or important, try to keep your nonverbal reactions to a minimum. You may find it helpful to clasp your hands in your lap and keep your eyes focused on a particular spot, such as the speaker’s face.

Restate what you heard. Especially when something important is being discussed, make sure that you understood (as opposed to simply heard) what was said. Once the other person has stopped speaking, confirm that you are both on the same page. For example, you might say, “So, what you’re telling me is that you think your boss has been avoiding you and you’re afraid you might be laid off, correct?” Or, “You aren’t sure how to resolve the argument you’re having with your spouse and you would like to hear my insights, is that right?”

Save your stories. When someone tells you a story, it’s human nature to want to fire back with your own. You know how it goes: “That’s so funny, because the same thing happened to my cousin one time…” Or, “I know exactly what you mean, because I was in a similar situation several years ago at my former job…” However, you need to suppress the impulse to respond this way, because it swings the conversation back to you. You may think you are connecting by finding common ground, but from the other person’s perspective, you’re downplaying the issues or concerns she has just laid on the table. Instead, stay focused on the point your companion is trying to make or the problem she is experiencing.

Ask how you can help. Especially if you’re talking to a friend or loved one who is going through a difficult time, you may want to find a solution or lessen the other person’s pain. However, keep in mind that sometimes what people need most is to unload and be heard, not to be fixed. That’s why I recommend explicitly asking the other person what he wants from you after he has finished talking. If your companion asks for your help or advice, give it. But don’t be surprised if you hear, “I just needed someone to listen. Thank you.” The fact is, engaging with other people’s feedback, especially when you’re upset, worried, or emotional, is exhausting. In my personal life, I find that I’m most honest and transparent with friends who just listen.

Be honest. From time to time, you may find yourself listening to someone who has the facts wrong or who is out of line. If this person asks for your feedback, how should you respond, knowing that she won’t like what you have to say? It’s not always easy, but part of being a good listener is being honest. You can’t condone the other person’s bad behavior or lie to them just to keep the peace. Be gentle, but tell the truth. In most cases, the other person will ultimately respect you for your honesty.

Keep it to yourself. Even if you think a conversation wasn’t important, be careful about whom you share it with. One of the most important aspects of listening is being trustworthy. This point may seem obvious, but the truth is, it’s often all too easy for your mouth to get ahead of your mind in conversations. And once you’ve developed a reputation as a gossip, it’s hard to repair. That’s why it’s important to stay mindful even after you’ve finished speaking with a particular person. You need to demonstrate that your friends and loved ones can feel safe with you, that you won’t spread their concerns around your social circle or judge them.

Overall, keep in mind that the art of listening revolves around being interested, not interesting. When another person is confiding in you, your primary role is not to be entertaining or even to offer solutions—it’s to show your companion consideration and respect.

Your Spring Awakening: Mind, Body, and Soul

As the temperatures rise and the flowers start to bloom, do you catch the spring cleaning bug? If so, you’re not alone. If you’re anything like me, when the bright, warm rays of spring sunlight begin to finally stream through your windows, you feel the urge to make sure everything in your home is fresh, shiny, and dirt-free.

This year, I encourage you not to stop with sponging the baseboards, dusting off the shelves, and washing your windows. Take this opportunity to clean out your life, too! Think about it this way: Just as it’s easy for dust and clutter to accumulate (relatively) unnoticed during the short, dark days of winter, it’s also easy for bad habits, poor outlooks, and unhealthy relationships to pile up in your life. If you don’t make a conscious effort to detox, they’ll continue to hold you back and weigh you down. And what better time than during the renewal of spring to refresh your mind, body, and soul?

Read on for six ways to breathe some fresh springtime air into your life.

Clean your closet. A messy closet is a metaphor for a messy life. For many people, a reluctance to change something as simple as the contents of a closet is a symptom of a bigger problem. Maybe you’re afraid of change and what the future holds. Maybe you just ended a romantic relationship and are clinging to the past. Maybe you’re dissatisfied with your life overall and don’t feel ready to take the initiative to change it. Whatever the case may be, it’s time to stop procrastinating. Decluttering the spaces in your home will help declutter your life. I promise, there’s something really refreshing about walking into a clean, organized closet. It will make your mornings less stressful by cutting down on the time it takes to rifle through and find the perfect outfit for the day. And when you look good, you’ll feel good.

First, get rid of any clothes that are old or worn, that don’t fit, that you never wear, or that don’t honor you and your lifestyle (ask a friend for help if you want an outside perspective). Then, organize what’s left, and treat yourself to a few new pieces that embody the blooming spirit of spring. This is also a good time not only to give your closet a good scrub down, but also to evaluate your wardrobe. Your winter coats, wool scarves, and other cold weather items should be packed away until the fall to make room for floral prints and pastels.

Get some fresh air. Unless you’re fortunate enough to live in a location where it’s balmy all year round, you’ve probably been cooped up inside during the cold, icy winter months. Welcome the sunshine and springtime air by taking a walk (or run!) outside a few times a week. Not only will this help you clear your mind and make you feel more energized, it will also aid in shedding some of those unwanted pounds we all put on during the cold winter months. And as a special bonus, if you’re anything like me, seeing the beautiful colors of blooming flowers and trees will put you in a great mood for the whole day.

Do some weeding. I’m sure you know how a few weeds can ruin the beauty and health of a flowerbed…and also how quickly they can spread. Well, people are the same way. Individuals who are critical, mean-spirited, jealous, or just plain negative can spoil your own happiness and even infect you with their poor outlooks. It won’t be easy or enjoyable, but it is important to evaluate the relationships in your life.

Think especially about your friends: Are they supportive or snide? Do you feel energized when you spend time with them, or drained? Are compliments genuine or backhanded? If your friendship with a certain person isn’t enriching, back away. Choose to spend time with people whom you genuinely like and who make you feel good. Life is too short to spend time with people you don’t enjoy.

Set healthy boundaries. Moving away from toxic people is a good start when it comes to filling your life with healthy relationships…but don’t stop there! With everyone in your life—even with people who make you feel good and who have your best interests at heart—it’s important to set healthy boundaries. In other words, you need to be clear about what you need and what you expect from others.

For example, let people know what’s important to you. (“My birthday is something I really look forward to, and it’s important to me that we celebrate it as a family.”) Learn how and when to say no. Don’t let yourself be bullied or guilted into overcommitting and overextending yourself. Lastly, stop making excuses for other people; for instance, I’ll overlook that comment—that’s just how she is. If you don’t set clear boundaries like these, even good relationships can turn sour and become weighed down by resentment. But when you’re up-front about what’s best for you—in a kind way, of course—you’ll enjoy more authentic, mutually beneficial relationships.

Get rid of bad habits. Chances are, you can name several of your bad habits off the top of your head, and some focused thought would probably reveal a few more. Maybe you’re always running late or you’ve been overspending lately. Perhaps you tend to procrastinate on big projects until the last minute, or you stuff yourself with junk food when you’re stressed.

The truth is, we all have bad habits. And here’s the good news: You can change them! You can consciously improve your reactions, change your routines, and become healthier (mentally, emotionally, and physically!). For this spring cleaning project, pick one bad habit—something that causes you a lot of stress would be a good choice. Then design a game plan that will enable you to kick it once and for all. For instance, if you’re always dragging into work late, you might set out your clothes and pack your lunch the night before, wake up 15 minutes earlier, and refrain from turning on the TV until after you’re showered and dressed. You’ll probably find that in most instances, bad habits really aren’t that difficult to change. Summoning the motivation to change and taking that first step are the hardest parts!

Plant yourself in something new! If you want a flower to bloom as beautifully as possible, you make sure it’s planted in nutrient-rich soil and placed in a spot with just the right amount of sunlight, warmth, and water. The same principle will hold true for you, too. You’ll blossom when you’re doing things that make you feel happy and fulfilled. As the days get longer, take this opportunity to finally sign up for that art class you’ve been dying to try, for example, or attend a hot yoga session with a friend.

Overall, as you work to spring clean your life, I advise you to simply be aware. Be aware of what feels good and what doesn’t, of what’s healthy and what isn’t, of what makes you happy and what makes you sad. Try to pay attention to areas of your life that you normally take for granted, and ask yourself, Is this working? Does it honor the person I am right here and right now? You may be surprised by how much dead weight has been holding you back…and by how quickly you bloom when it’s gone!

You Are What You Feel: Six Ways to Rev Up Your Sex Appeal This Valentine’s Day

Cupid is calling, and Valentine’s Day is almost here again. Maybe you have some special plans in the works: a romantic getaway, attending a show or event, or simply hiring a babysitter so that you and your spouse can go to a restaurant that doesn’t give out crayons with the placemats.

However, if you’re like many women, you may not be feeling that excited. Chances are, carpool drop-offs, client meetings, and that laundry list a mile long have left you feeling anything but romantic. The truth is, we spend so much time being caught up in the everyday rat race that we often forget to take the time to make ourselves and our partners feel special.

If you ask me, that’s exactly why February 14th is the perfect opportunity to give your look, and your confidence, a little boost. If you can create an outfit that makes you look romantic and sexy, that va-va-voom will translate into how you feel as well.

The trick to looking romantic for this special day is simple: Just shake things up a bit. Straying from your usual wardrobe, whether through vibrant new colors or special accessories and styling, will make you look and feel sexier. Here are six ways to get started:

Get dressed from the inside out. Before celebrating Valentine’s Day, take a few minutes to relax and focus on your inner beauty. After all, it’s hard to feel sexy when you’re frazzled from rushing around. If possible, plan ahead so that you can take your time getting ready. Now’s the time to clear your calendar, send your kids off to the sitter a little early, and indulge in some pampering so that you’ll be centered and calm before your big night out. Not only will you feel more confident, you’ll also look more refreshed and be ready to enjoy your Valentine’s Day on the inside and the outside.

Focus on the first layer. Before deciding on the perfect outfit, spend some extra time getting ready by layering on your favorite perfume and body lotion. Choose a fun new nail polish color, and finish off the “look” with a matching bra and pair of panties that you feel great in. Trust me, focusing on the details of your foundation will make you feel great and put together—and it will show.

Opt for not-so-basic black. Many of us love to wear black: It’s slimming, sophisticated, and sexy. So especially if you have a lot of black in your closet already, aim for a style in your favorite shade that’s different from what you would normally wear. Try a shirt with a lower neckline, a pencil skirt with a ruffled hemline, or a tailored jacket in a sexy silk or satin. Wearing something outside of the norm will make you feel beautiful on Valentine’s Day, and as a bonus, you’ll still be able to wear it for many other occasions.

Wrap yourself in winter white. Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to wear winter white, which is one of my all-time favorite looks. Whether you choose a dress, pantsuit, or a top and skirt combination, my best advice is to choose your accessories carefully. Pearls or crystal jewelry make a great pairing with this wintry hue, as does a simple metallic or neutral color shoe and handbag. (And if you’re wearing a skirt or dress, be sure to opt for nude stockings!) You will look glamorous and feel beautiful: Be prepared to get second looks!

See red. Red is a bold, sexy color that is often admired, and yet few people dare to wear it. Try incorporating red into your Valentine’s Day ensemble—you can tone down the accessories to balance its boldness if you wish. Wear a black strappy shoe, simple earrings, and choose a small black handbag. If red is not a color you feel comfortable in, you can still dress off the beaten path by trying something in a pink or purple hue. Play around with different combinations before your big night out—mix a beautiful purple or pink top with a simple black skirt or a skinny black pant, for instance—to find the outfit that makes you feel beautiful.

Shake things up a bit. Looking great and feeling special on Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to break your budget. There are plenty of tricks to make your look extra special that can be done without spending a dime. For example, styling your hair in soft curls or a sleek up-do creates a romantic look and costs you no more than a little extra time! You might also try a daring new shade of nail polish or a darker eye shadow to create a sexy, smoky look for your eyes. Finally, consider a trip to your favorite department store to visit a makeup artist—a service most stores offer for free! The trick is to just do something different. No matter what you do, getting out of your everyday routine will make you feel extra special, and that’s all that matters.

Looking great on Valentine’s Day all comes down to how you feel. If you feel confident, relaxed, and happy, it will show—no matter what your outfit looks like. Take some time out of your busy schedule to pamper yourself when Valentine’s Day rolls around this year. Your positive vibe and sexy attitude will be contagious. It just may be the best gift you give yourself, and your partner, this year.

Want to instantly improve your look? Add a smile!

During the years I have been an image consultant, I have identified one thing that always helps a person to improve his or her look, regardless of body type, coloring, or personal style. The thing I’m talking about is a smile, which is always free and always accessible.

That said, it surprises me how many people don’t top off their looks with a smile. When I am crossing 57th Street on my way to work each day, I take in all of the people I pass. And I am often shocked by all of the scowls I see! Instead of open, friendly, positive expressions, the sidewalk is dominated by intense, closed-off faces.

I think that a lot of people have never stopped to think about the role that smiles play in their lives and just how important they are. If that’s the case for you, consider the following:

  • When it comes to first impressions, people often notice your facial expression first. Then they move on to what you’re wearing, how well you’re groomed, and whether or not your shoes are polished.
  • Greeting someone with a smile can influence the tone of an entire conversation or meeting.
  • People who don’t speak your language can still understand a smile. I know from experience that smiling can smooth a lot of interactions when you’re traveling to other countries!
  • If you’re on the listening end of a discussion, a smile is a quiet message you can send to the other person to let him or her know that you care or that you understand.

The next time you go out or have a conversation with someone, try not to be a “frowner.” Understand that in order to smile more, you must be comfortable with and confident in yourself. When you’re happy about who you are and the situation you are in, your face will genuinely reflect those feelings and you’ll project positive vibes. You’ll even start to feel better, because authentic smiles cause your body to release endorphins, which boost your mood and produce a sense of well-being.

Whatever you do, don’t hide behind a giant, fake grin! (You know the kind I’m talking about.) Those exaggerated expressions are overbearing and off-putting, and people can usually see right through them. Plus, it’s exhausting not to be authentic.

So tomorrow morning as you’re getting ready for your day, remember the catchy song from the musical Annie: “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile.” It’s true!

Friendly or Forceful: What’s Your Feedback Style?

Have you ever thought about how well you hand out feedback? For most of us, learning to accept critiques (or constructive criticism) is something we have had to work on at some point. It’s not easy to be on the receiving end of a critique, after all. But have you ever stopped to consider how you measure up as the critic? Are you helpful? Or do your critiques end up doing a little more harm than good?

In my line of work, I’m often faced with having to critique the outfits my clients have put together, or even an entire wardrobe during a closet audit. I have learned that in order for a critique to be effective, you have to do it in a constructive, kind way that steers clear of being critical.

 

Get to the point quickly. Hearing a critique can be uncomfortable for some people, so it’s best to get right to the point. You’ll risk losing their attention and your point may get lost if you are too lengthy. Save your more verbose comments for positive praise!

 

Be honest, but in a kind way. Being a good critic means that you are also honest. For example, if you tell your girlfriend that you like her blouse to offset or “cushion” a critique on her current hairstyle, when you really don’t think that the blouse flatters her, you aren’t actually doing her a favor. Be honest, but think about how your words will feel to her so that you present your thoughts in a kind, helpful way.

 

Be specific on the takeaways. Giving feedback to someone is about helping him to improve something about himself, and that works only if you give him an alternative to the thing you are critiquing. Don’t just tell someone that he has a bad habit; offer some specific alternatives to what he is doing to help him create a new behavior that does work.

 

Be on their side. Friendly feedback should come from a place of genuine concern. You are giving out this advice because you want the other person to better herself, not to put her down. Be clear that you are on her side and are not attacking her.

 

Remember: Unsolicited feedback will do more harm than good. While the urge to help someone out may be strong, you need to hold back from doling out your opinion to others unless they have asked for it. They won’t be open to the advice, and you could harm your relationship if you aren’t careful. Likewise, if you ever find that you are being given advice you didn’t ask for, don’t feel like you have to take it with a nod and a smile. You can be honest and tell the other person, “Thank you, but I wasn’t asking for your opinion.” It will save you both from saying things that could damage your relationship any further.

Try to focus on giving better critiques in one area of your life, like at work or with a friend or maybe even your spouse. Think about how you’ve felt when you’ve been the recipient and what felt good to you and what didn’t—and let that be a guide for you. In learning to be good at this, you also become a better recipient of feedback.

 

Less Busy, More Boundaries: Respecting Yourself Enough to Say No

In today’s world, having a busy schedule is a given. Whether it’s serving on the board of a charity, working long hours, or just trying to find time to have dinner with friends, it seems that there is no shortage of events to fill up your calendar. The problem is that most of us have simply accepted our over-scheduled-ness as a way of life, and that has led to a generation of women who neglect themselves in order to fulfill the duties others ask of them.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with making commitments and keeping them. I have a very full schedule and life myself. What I find, however, is that most of us allow those things—the meetings and obligations—to take over. We forget to do the things that make us happy, to take time to renew our minds, to rest our bodies, and to rejuvenate our spirits.

Sadly, most women say yes more than they say no because they feel as though they are expected to be everything to everyone. They don’t want to appear weak or incapable. And in refusing to set those boundaries, they are allowing others to take advantage of them and treat them badly. Do you have clear boundaries set in your life? Or are you allowing obligations to others to take up your precious time and energy? Give careful thought to how you will allow others to work with you. Consider the following tips to help you get your boundaries in check:

  • Be clear from the beginning. Setting boundaries has to happen at the beginning of any new relationship. Unfortunately, once you set the standard it’s nearly impossible to change. Make sure that you are clear with people—your boss, your employees, your acquaintances, etc.—about what you will and will not allow.
  • Be deliberate. Think carefully about what it is that you want out of your relationships, both professionally and personally. Make deliberate choices about what you want out of those relationships and what you will commit yourself to. If it helps, try writing it down in an actual list to help you see things more clearly. It’s a great way to prioritize!
  • Be where you are. When you’re out to dinner with your spouse, going for a run, or enjoying a cup of hot tea on your porch, turn off your phone, step away from your inbox, and let everything else go. If you allow yourself to be accessible all the time, people will try to get in touch with you—no matter what the day or hour. You need to have time to invest in yourself and your relationships. And you can’t give either of those the focus they deserve if your phone is ringing off the hook.
  • Be confident enough to say no. It’s okay to say no, but it can be hard to actually say it. Feel confident in your choice to opt out of something or to turn down an opportunity. If it isn’t right for you, then there shouldn’t be any reason why you can’t confidently tell other people so.
  • Be honest about why you are saying no. When we do say no, we often feel compelled to give an excuse along with our reply, and often that excuse isn’t entirely honest. You aren’t doing anyone any favors by being dishonest. In fact, the more honest you are about why you can’t or won’t do something, the better other people get to know you. You can’t expect people to understand your boundaries if you aren’t honest about them in the first place.

Remember, you’re not in this world to make everyone else happy and neglect yourself as a result. I challenge you to evaluate the commitments in your life. Which ones do you truly enjoy and value? Which ones are merely obligations you do because you feel you have to? Think about what you can feasibly cut out of your life so that you can start to re-invest in yourself.  Embrace the boundaries in your life. I promise you won’t regret it.