"There are no second acts in American lives." ( F. Scott Fitzgerald )
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Clear up your wardrobe and your life - Part II : Identify the intruders

By Tessa Ivascu | Section(s): GET... , | Add Your comment

Want to downsize your wardrobe and upsize your life ? As already mentioned in Part I, a closet full of « stuff » can be a fair reflection of inner turmoil. If you decided to take action, start by identifying the root causes of your wardrobe clutter and / or your emotional clutter. In both cases, your primary goal is to determine what is important to you. Give yourself access to it. Make space. Remember : where there is space, growth occurs.

Once you made space, you will be able to develop a knowledge of how to play up your assets and play down your flaws. Only then you can start building a strategy for a complete make-over.

Here’s a simple checklist you can apply to sort out « the wheat from the chaff » and get rid of the intruders in your closet and in your life.

Intruder #1.

in your closet
The fashion mistake. You considered it a « must have » because of the brand or because it looked « fantastic » on somebody else. Even if it’s not «really you», you force yourself to wear it anyway. Whenever you blame yourself for not daring to throw it away, you find the perfect excuse : it was sooo expensive ! Or : it was suuuch a bargain !

in your life
The false identity. The relationship, activity or lifestyle that forces you to play a part that is not consistent with your values and abilities, but is seen as a status symbol by somebody else or by a group you wanted to belong to.
The actions that earned you to be labelled as …(fill the blank) cost you so many efforts that you don’t dare to change the wrong label for the genuine «you». But when you are stuck and need to empower yourself to break free of your rut, this false identity is just dead load.

Intruder #2.

in your closet
The go-to. It is the opposite of the « fashion mistake ». This item is « so you » that you find yourself buying over and over again, only to discover you have already a pile in your closet (makes me think of four pairs of trousers, all brown with thin beige stripes, I presently have in my closet).

in your life
Automatic responses. They work as long as life is «fixed» (routines, relationships), so you don’t even notice how much they keep you from growing. But when facing an important change, hanging on to automatic response patterns definitely alters your ability to take up the challenge.

Sort out the wheat from the chaff.

Intruder #3.

in your closet
The shabby old favorite. This item may be comfortable and practical, but makes you look a hundred years old.

in your life
Fear of change.
It’s your «comfort zone» : a risk-free relationship, daily routine, way of thinking or life-style that protects you from the «unknown», but deprives you of the energy, boldness and shine you need the day you have to deal with the «unknown».

Intruder #4.

in your closet
The misfit.
The questionable item that someone else bought for you or advised you to buy. You wear it half-heartedly, to please the buyer or the fashion advisor. After all, these people meant well. The road to hell is paved with good intentions too.

in your life
The right path.
It may be the goal or the «right» way of living that someone else (family, society, a mentor, etc…) chose for you and you put up with it, not noticing that it weighs down your intrinsic motivation when you try to move forward in your life.
Or maybe you underestimate your potential and consciously dull your shine for other people, devoting yourself to fulfilling their goal. Of course, you can adopt somebody else’s goal and make it your own. How do you know it is really your own ? If you answer «yes» to the question : «Is it under my control ?»

Intruder #5.

in your closet
The outdated «must have». Clothes that made you look your best…in a previous episode. Today, they no longer suit your body shape, your complexion, your life style. They are too small / big / gaudy faded / plain / sophisticated to ever see the light of day.

in your life
Living in the past.
Ideals, resolutions, lists of «things to do before I am 40/50/80», values, expectations that you have grown out of. You put them in the back of your mind but somehow, they always come in your way when you need to make an important choice or to focus on your present life and future plans.

If you want to use this « intruder typology » to identify causes of emotional clutter, a good idea is to make a separate list for each type of intruder. For instance, you can name the first one «the false identity», then list areas of your life (jobs, relationships, habits, ideas, items…) where your personality is wrongly labelled. Make another list with examples of your «automatic responses», and so on.

Don’t mistake a familiar item (one which makes you feel you belong and which brings temporary comfort) with an important item (one which you love and which permanently strengthens your self-image).

But :

Don’t be too drastic either : when you clear up you wardrobe, keep in mind that clothing is supposed to be a means of expression, not an uniform. Your self-image needs to be expressed and conveyed to the next generation in more than one way. This applies to all areas of your life. Make space to grow not to grow weak.

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Clear up your wardrobe and learn how to clear up your life - Part I

By Tessa Ivascu | Section(s): GET... | Add Your comment

Wouldn’t it be great if you could clear up your life as fast as you purge your wardrobe when you put your mind to it ? Of course, personal change is no quick-fix and you cannot throw away bad habits, out of date « New Year resolutions » and toxic people in a few easy steps. But the choices you make prior to uncluttering your dresser can be an inspiration for the checklist questions you need to ask yourself if you want to update your mindset – and refashion your life.
WALL OF CLOTHES ©Derick Melander

An "S" shaped wall of stacked second-hand clothing, by American artist Derick Melander. The 2,908 individual garments weigh a total of 1,859 pounds.
©Derick Melander, 2009

You don’t have to become a feng shui expert (or addict) to find out that clutter can adversely affect your mental well-being, your energy, the overall quality of your life. In the same manner, your emotional clutter adversely affects your physical space. A cluttery house is a fair reflection of your inner turmoil. If your life is at a standstill, if you feel paralyzed by inertia and overwhelmed with problems you have left unaddressed, odds are your drawers and shelves groan under the weight of "stuff".

There is no better mirror for both emotional and physical clutter than your wardrobe. Maybe you know the French saying : « Dis-moi comment tu t’habilles, je te dirai qui tu es » (Tell me how you're dressed, I'll tell you who you are). You can easily change it into : "Tell me how you sort out your clothes, I’ll tell you how you sort out your life".

How many times have you looked in your wardrobe crammed full of clothes and sighed : "I have nothing to wear" (yes, men find themselves in this predicament too, only they keep it to themselves) ? How many times you looked at your life only to think : "I have nowhere to go ?"

Downsize your wardrobe = upsize your life

Both your wardrobe and the overall quality of your life obey to Pareto’s "80/20 rule" : we wear about 20 per cent of our wardrobe about 80 per cent of the time ; similarly, about 20 per cent of our activities provide about 80 per cent of benefits, rewards and satisfactions. Now this is more of an assumption than a rule, so forget the statistics. The idea is that most of our outputs come from a small amount of our inputs.

Back to the wardrobe situation, does this mean we simply need to identify the clothes we wear most of the time and throw the rest ? Not so fast. The tricky thing with clothes is that the outfits we wear most often are not necessarily those which suit us best and make us shine. Only we don’t notice it anymore… The same happens with our life. For instance, some activities or decisions provide a short-term or apparent benefit but have hidden costs and make us unhappy in the long run. Only, for some reason, we fail to notice the cause-effect relationship.

This is why, when you decide to refashion your wardrobe, you need to proceed wisely. Don’t rush. Before throwing 80 per cent of your outfits in bin bags, run each item through this five-point checklist to determine if it is a must-have… or a must-go. And why. By identifying the root causes of your present predicament you will learn how to avoid it in the future. This same checklist will help you to identify the unseen causes of your emotional clutter.

In both cases, don’t expect immediate results : uncluttering is just the first step towards downsizing your wardrobe and upsizing your life.

Go to Part II : Clear up your wardrobe and your life : identify the intruders.

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6 steps to productive daydreaming – Part III - Progressive relaxation

By Tessa Ivascu | Section(s): GET... , , | Add Your comment 1 comments

As mentioned in Part I and Part II of this Productive Daydreaming Series, progressive relaxation is a simple technique of stress management you can perform without the help of a trainer. When included in a planned daydreaming session, it helps you to rid your body of tension and it prepares your mind to travel to the imaginary setting of your daydream.

Tense and relax : a two-step cycle
This universally known relaxation method* consists in deliberately a) tensing then b) relaxing muscle groups (see pull quote) in a prescribed sequence. Choose the sequence that best suits you (see examples below) and proceed as follow :

Muscle Groups :
Group I:
Hands and forearms
Group II:
Forehead and face, neck and throat
Group III:
Chest, shoulders, back and stomach
Group IV:
Thighs, hips, calves and feet

1. Lean back in a comfortable chair, as described in Part II, Step 1. Take off your shoes, loosen your clothes and place your hands on your lap.

2. Inhale and tense up the muscles.

3. Hold it for about 8 seconds.

4. Let go as you simultaneously exhale

5. Focus on the difference between tension and relaxation.

Two popular sequences
In one of the most popular sequences you tense-relax muscle in this order :

  • Start with your hands
  • Move up to your arms, shoulders, neck, head
  • Move down your torso and legs
  • Finish with your feet.
If you are familiar with progressive relaxation sequences, please share your favorite one in the Comments. My favorite sequence goes like this :

  • Start with your feet
    (tense then release your : right foot > right lower leg and foot > entire right leg > left foot > left lower leg and foot > entire left leg)
  • Move to your hands
    (tense then release your : right hand > right forearm and hand > entire right arm > left hand > left forearm and hand > entire left arm)
  • Move to your abdomen
  • Move up to your chest, shoulders and neck
    (neck : tense the right side by looking to the left > release while looking forward > tense the left side by looking to the right > release > bring your chin towards your chest > bring your neck up).
  • Finish with your face
    (clench your jaws + tighten your lips + furrow your eye brows > release).
In the beginning, you will probably not be able to tense just one muscle while allowing all the other muscles of your body to relax. But with practice, you will learn to discern the fine muscles. This is why it is very important to focus on the difference between tension and relaxation.
As I mentioned before, you don’t need a personal trainer in order to practice progressive relaxation. But you should start by consulting with your physician if you have a history of back problems or muscle spasms.

Keep in mind that progressive relaxation not only prepares the ground for purposeful daydreaming. You can practice it on a daily basis or whenever you need to reduce stress, anxiety, blood pressure. If you suffer from insomnia, you should include it in your sleep hygiene.

* Developed by American physician Edmund Jacobson in the 1920s.

I deeply enjoyed writing this 3-part series about productive daydreaming. I hope you enjoyed reading it and that this method will help you to improve your productivity and reach your goals. I remember that at the end of one daydream I heard myself saying (in English) : "I hate working, I love doing". I have known it all along but it was the first time I really expressed it so flatly and unequivocally.

It really encouraged me to complete my goal : writing for people who are in the "second act" of their life, who decided to grow out of failure, express their dream and, finally, succeed in living their dream.

Yo can go back to :
Part I - Productive Daydreaming : Introduction.
Part II – Productive Daydreaming : Take the 6 Steps.

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6 steps to productive daydreaming – Part II Take the 6 steps

By Tessa Ivascu | Section(s): GET... , | Add Your comment

You can turn daydreaming into a good habit and purposefully use it to boost creativity, grasp the « bigger picture » and therefore reinforce your productivity. As I mentioned in the Introduction to this 3-part series, you don’t have to look for sophisticated and expensive « secret recipes » in order to practice productive daydreaming. Just use your imagination, follow the 6 steps below for a start and, in time, you will be able to build your own patterns.

1. Lean back in a comfortable chair in a dim-lighted room. You can listen to soft music but I personally prefer « natural sounds ». I guess it’s because I live on the 8th floor in a building surrounded by a garden, with birds singing in the trees and children playing on the ground. But if you are surrounded by unwanted noises, you should definitely use music to eliminate their effect on your mind.
You also need to have a pen and a pad, or a recorder, nearby, in order to get into the habit of writing down your daydreams (I will explain how in Step 6). But if you think you cannot relax or daydream easily, don’t bother to write down anything the first time.

2. Start a breathing exercise or, better, a progressive relaxation exercise, like the one explained in Part III of the Productive Daydreaming Series. This step will help you relax and, afterwards, enter a semi-trance state. Focus on your exercise and enjoy its effect on your body.

3. Once you start feeling relaxed, imagine yourself in a peaceful setting that can serve as metaphor for real-life situations. I often imagine myself in a setting similar to the one in the picture below :
4. Once you are « there », imagine feeling pleasant sensations and focus on making them real. For instance, when I find myself in the setting above, I focus on the sensation of my bare feet in contact with the jetee, while enjoying the feeling of the breeze on my skin and the sound of the waves in my ears.

5. Now that you are perfectly relaxed, it is time to bring in the « what if » scenarios daydreams are made of. Imagine an activity or an experience in the setting of your choice and let your mind wander. Make your « what if » question as open as possible. For example :
What if :

  • … I built a house here ?
  • … I met somebody* here ?
  • … somebody* asked me who I am?
  • … somebody* told me what to do ?
  • … I threw a party in this place ?
  • … I saved somebody's life ?
  • … I wrote my Nobel prize speech ?
  • … I made a leap in time : this will be my life a year from now ?
(*) Somebody = friend, family, famous person, complete stranger...

6. The first 5 steps were easy, now comes the difficult part : when you step back from your daydream, you must write down or record it before it pops out of your mind. As I said before, don’t try to do this the first time you daydream on purpose. And when you do, don’t try to write or dictate more than you really need to remember. Sometimes, a single word is enough. The important thing is to understand your notes when you read them later.
Another way to do this is to answer the questions of a simple questionnaire after every daydream. These 4 open questions are all you need to grasp the meaning of your daydream :
  • What happened?
  • What were my feelings?
  • What were my thoughts?
  • What were my actions?
You will need to write down several daydreams before detecting those leading to an useful idea or to a new and creative connection. Also remember not to expect too much from it. Don’t turn a good habit into a bad one. Chronic daydreaming is definitely counterproductive.

You can go to :
Part I – Productive Daydreaming : Introduction.
Part III – Productive Daydreaming : Discover Progressive Relaxation.

Share with us :
- If you have a similar – or completely different – method of progressive daydreaming, share it in the Comments.

- If you find a picture similar to one of the settings of your daydreams, mail it to The Second Act (see Contact at the top of this page). I would love to publish a collective post showing your favorite locations for productive daydreaming.

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6 steps to productive daydreaming – Part I Introduction

By Tessa Ivascu | Section(s): GET... , | Add Your comment

GET CREATIVEYou are faced with a challenging problem, or you try to get back your productivity habit after a loss of motivation and energy. But your repeated efforts to solve the problem or to complete the task at hand have no effect. When you are stuck, productive daydreaming helps you to get things moving again – and to get them done - by allowing your brain to make new associations and connections. This 3-part series explains how to plan and practice productive daydreaming in 6 easy steps.

Introduction (Part I)
You're in the middle of your "second act" : you overcame a major setback in your life and, after a period of productivity exhaustion, you are in transition. You wish you could create a major change : you already set a realistic goal to improve your situation, developed a plan and a timetable, you have confidence in your energy and in your abilities to accomplish it. But... somehow you fall off track repeatedly when you try to get back to work. Instead of striving to finish your tasks, you find yourself daydreaming.

Don’t rush to put the blame on your inability to get things done. When we put too much effort into a specific task without making good progress, our mind naturally wanders away. Not because it is tired of working. On the contrary, research has now shown that while we are daydreaming, our mind is actually hard at work, sorting through problems and attempting to grasp the «bigger picture».

Moreover, daydreams can be harnessed to reinforce your productivity. If you purposefully plan and practice it, daydreaming is an invaluable tool for creativity, enabling you to make new connections, think of new perspectives, concentrate on higher goals, visualize different outcomes… Many artists, athletes, scientists use productive daydreaming to develop new ideas, focus on the steps leading to a goal and visualize success.

There are numerous sophisticated (and expensive !) methods or «secret recipes» meant to teach you how to make productive daydreaming a «key to success». I think that practicing productive daydreaming is just a good habit you can develop by trusting your imagination and by learning how to associate it with simple relaxation techniques. It is also a matter of common sense : only you can make the difference between a productive daydream and an entertaining daydream. Not an easy thing to do, all the more because some productive daydreams can be very... entertaining.

Part II – Productive Daydreaming : Take the 6 Steps.
Part III – Productive Daydreaming : Discover Progressive Relaxation.

Share with us :
Your own expertise, experience or opinion on productive daydreaming in the Comments.

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