Just for Laughs!

“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” – Proverbs 17:22

If you were ever a Seinfeld fan, perhaps you remember the episode in which Jerry dates a woman and his friends point out to him that she never laughs. Instead, when Jerry says something funny, she just says in a deadpan tone, “That’s funny.” It’s quite ironic since she’s dating a comedian. And it brings me to this point: Laughter is not meant to be held in, controlled, or watered down.

Lol is so overused today that no one really means lol when they say lol! Lol. Literally. Every day, something ought to make you laugh out loud. So open your mouth. Smile big. Laugh out loud – from your belly. No clothed-mouthed laughing allowed – besides, it sounds ridiculous and makes you look constipated. I once knew a woman who always laughed with her mouth closed, like she was going to get into trouble if she really let it out. She pressed her lips together and made a little giggle noise from her throat – and sometimes when it became way too hard for her to keep it in, the laughter would push its way out through her nose, like bad snoring on the exhale.

One day, I said, “How come you laugh quiet?”

She laughed (with her mouth closed) at my question, and then said, “I hadn’t thought about it. Is that what I do?”

“Yes! And I just want you to let it out!” I replied.

“You know, when I was a kid, I got in trouble for laughing and a relative told me it wasn’t ladylike for girls to laugh loud, so I came up with a cute laugh that wasn’t so loud” she reflected.

“Do you still believe that?” I asked.

“Well, actually, no,” she said.

Laughing is healthy. And as adults, we don’t do enough of it. If you have trouble laughing, get around babies. The average baby laughs 300 times a day. The average adult? Just 20 times a day. Like smiling, laughter is a universal human language. Neurophysiologists explain that laughter activates the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain the produces endorphins. Laughter has been shown to reduce the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine. It can actually boost your immune system – and your brain power. The resulting positive emotions expand your ability to learn and absorb new information. This is why speakers often start with a joke, and do well to incorporate humor into their presentations, no matter how serious the subject matter. So just how can you incorporate more laughter into your day.

Consider these ideas:

  • Lighten up and laugh at yourself!
  • Spend time around people who laugh.
  • Watch something funny.
  • Play with a baby or young children.
  • Tell and listen to humorous stories and memories.

So laugh this week! Even in those moments when you may be stressed, think back to a time when you had an uncontrollable laugh, or tell yourself a joke and see how it increases your mood for the day. What do you have to laugh or smile about this week? What happy thoughts can you reflect on that can give you a genuine laugh? Leave your comments below; I’d love to hear from you!

 

You Are What You Say You Are!

You’ve heard it many times: You are what you think. But thoughts often become words before they become actions. So it’s safe to say this: You are also what you say. In fact, neuroscientists have now proven that just saying powerful words can make you more powerful. For example, when you lift a weight, saying a word such as “strong” increases the force with which you lift that weight. Amazing, isn’t it? Proverbs 18:21 is literally true, scientifically proven: Life and death are in the power of the tongue.

I tested it out while doing a crazy workout video in which the guy leading the exercises keeps looking into the camera and telling me to, “dig deeper.” Panting, sweating and out of breath, I want to tell him to shut up. I’m trying to focus! But he keeps saying it, keeps encouraging me – and so I keep digging deeper for more energy and strength. And you know what? It works. Whether it is a word of encouragement from someone else or the words you speak to encourage yourself, words are powerful.

In fact, positive language is a happiness trigger. I like to call this language, “winning words.” They are words that trigger positive emotions and chemicals in the brain that cause you to feel happier and stronger. There are several ways to use your words to boost your happiness. See a few of them here:

  1. Speak in the affirmative.
  2. Surround yourself with positive words.
  3. Shorten your sob story.
  4. Write about your best possible future self – in the present tense.
  5. Receive positive words.
  6. Use words to bounce back

“From the fruit of their lips people are filled with good things.” – Proverbs 12:14.

Speak in the Affirmative

Say these statements aloud – slowly and intentionally.

–          I can do it.

–          My dream is possible.

–          I am happy about_________________.

–          God loves me.

–          I am loved and loveable.

–          I am blessed.

–          I am grateful for __________________.

–          I have gifts and talents that make the world a better place.

–          I like who I am becoming.

It may seem a little hokey to make positive statements out loud, but what most women feel after making such statements is lighter, stronger, happier, and more optimistic. What emotions do you feel after stating those words? Are these emotions positive? Leave your comments below; I’d love to hear from you!

 

What Makes Time Fly For You?

When I was a child, I would beg my mother to drop me off at the library. I didn’t really want her to go with me because for me, the world of books was an adventure. There was no telling what I might find on the next shelf! I didn’t want to be limited by time or a schedule. I wanted to get lost in the world of books – a never-ending abundance of stories and information. I didn’t realize it then, but I was in flow when I was at the library. When you’re truly in flow, you will accomplish and do things that others might find odd or simply would have no interest in doing. Case in point. During the summer between third and fourth grade, the librarians on the base where we were stationed encouraged me to enter a reading contest. I won. I still have my grand prize: a full color world encyclopedia. I thought, “More stuff to read! Yippee!” The thing is, I didn’t just win by a little. I read almost three times as many books (64 in total) as the second place winner (23). And no one pushed me to do it. I was having fun.

That summer, I joined Harriet Tubman on the Underground Railroad and Cassius Clay as he transformed into Muhammad Ali. I learned the answer to the question, “Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret” and made a bunch of barnyard friends in Charlotte’s Web. More than three decades later, I still remember how much I enjoyed the book reading challenge that summer. It made me happy. Still does. Drop me off at the local bookstore on a day when I have time. I never get bored. I just move from section to section, exploring the latest fun novels, self-help, Christian inspiration, and biographies. No wonder I’m an author. Books are my flow, whether reading them or writing them.

A friend pointed out to me one day that books grace every room in my house. They lie decoratively on tables, waiting to be picked up again, inviting new readers to flip through their pages. It happened organically. I don’t recall ever saying to myself, “Valorie, you should have books in every room.” I didn’t have to. I have a relationship with my books. Some of them helped me gain a new perspective or gave me hope when I needed it. Others made me laugh or accompanied me at the beach, keeping me entertained as I soaked up the sun and sounds of waves crashing on the shore. Still others took me on trips through history and allowed me to get up close and personal with fascinating people.

What’s your flow? What is it that you do that allows time to fly by?

What leads you into a state of flow is likely different from what does it for me. Think back to an activity you were engaged in in which time seemed to just fly by. If you can think of more than one, great! Make a list. This week, get in the flow! Choose one activity that makes time fly for you. Block out your distractions and then go for it! Let me hear from you – what’s on your list? How does it feel to be fully engaged in something you love?

Leave your comments below; I would love to hear from you!

How to Say “NO” in a Sticky Situation!

Women are some of the busiest people around, but life taming your hectic schedule could be as easy as learning to say “no” more often. If your life sometimes feels overloaded, read on. I’ll give you the script to speak up and stop taking on so much. The result? A happier, healthier you. Do you seem to find yourself saying “yes” when what you really want to say is “no”? Someone invites you to an event you really have no interest in, but you get tongue tied and agree to go – not because you want to, but because you can’t think of a gracious way to say “no.” A co-worker asks you to take on a project you really don’t have time to do. You want to be nice, so you say “yes,” only to find yourself stressing out about the deadline a week later. Manipulative people know who they can get to say “yes.” And in many instances they don’t even bother asking those of us who’ve learned to say otherwise.

So you get sucked into doing things because you won’t say one little word: NO. There’s only one reason you say “yes” when you don’t mean it: Fear. Whether the consequence is emotional blackmail, a temper tantrum or someone’s perception that you are selfish or not nice, it is your fear of the worst case scenario that causes you to say “yes.” But if you want to be authentic, you’ll need to learn to say “no.” It will feel uncomfortable at first, but it will also feel good – empowering. And it will free you up for the stuff you actually want to say “yes” to. Here are four simple ways to say “no,” even in the stickiest of situations:

1. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that will happen if I say no?” Seriously. In the moment it bombards you, confront your negative thinking. Your imagination can get the best of you when fear is involved. You might tell yourself, “She’ll never talk to me again,” when the reality is she’ll get over it by tomorrow. And even if she doesn’t, you really need to question the health of any relationship in which you cannot say “no” without dire consequences.

2. Let me think about it. If you find yourself on the verge of saying “yes,” and too afraid to just say what you want to say, then say, “Let me think about it and get back to you.” This gives you the opportunity to get clear about your thoughts, and even write down what you want to say. Then get back to them and say “no.”

3. Tell the truth. One of the most disarming ways to say “no” is to tell the person how anxious you feel about saying “no.” It goes something like this, “I have been really wrestling with telling you this because I’d really like to help, but I just can’t. I’m not sure if you’ll even understand, but I really hope you will. With all that’s on my plate, I can’t add anything else.”

4. A Simple N-O will do. In many situations, no explanation is necessary. Start practicing today. Say it with me: “No.” Out loud this time: “No.” Now, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Try it today with simple requests. And build up to bigger ones. Courage is a muscle. No is a word that will help you strengthen it.

Journaling Assignment:  Think about it. What fear causes you to say “yes” when you really want to say “no”?

My Challenge to You:  Be courageous. The next time you’re presented with a sticky situation, say “no”. Leave your comments below; I’d love to hear from you!

Your Haters Don’t Hate … They Fear

“I have worked hard, I’ve stayed focused and I’ve been blessed,” a woman told me recently. “But my family is jealous. They make comments about how much easier my life is because I finished college and I have a good position with a great company.  I used to feel guilty.  I didn’t want to share good news because I felt like I was bragging.”

My heart hurt for her as she shared her experience. She’s happy, but careful not to show it, always pointing out the hard parts of her life to justify the good parts.  Maybe you can relate. Unfortunately, not everyone will be happy for your success. It isn’t a reflection of you, but of them. Not everyone can celebrate others.  When you live in a place of fear and regret, another’s success or happiness can remind you of where you might be had you made a different set of choices.  It is a place of scarcity that believes that when your sister, co-worker or neighbor makes stride, it somehow sets you back.  The truth is when another succeeds, we can find hope in their wins if we choose to.  The happiness of another can be a reminder of God’s goodness and grace. And it can be contagious if you don’t inoculate yourself to the joy of genuinely wishing another well.

It hurts when those you love don’t celebrate with you. But when you work hard to improve your life and find your joy, don’t let anybody make you feel guilty about your success and happiness. You don’t have to prove your right to be happy. Be intentional about finding and nurturing relationships where you are celebrated. Rather than being angry for those in your life who don’t fit into that category, pray for them.

My challenge to you this week:
Let go of any guilt about your success or happiness.

Journal about it:
When do you find yourself downplaying your happiness or good news? Who in your life genuinely celebrates you? What could you do to further nurture that relationship? Who do you need to pray for in this area?

To get Valorie’s e-newsletter column in your inbox each week, subscribe at the top right of the page at www.valorieburton.com.

Humility and the Right Place

To say my first year of college was a humbling experience is an understatement.  I went from a high school career good enough to get me into one of the toughest universities in the nation to spending an entire year on academic probation.  I don’t mean “I got a D in one class” academic probation. I mean, like, “I’m failing two classes and thank God swimming is a class because it’s my only hope for a B” academic probation.

Other stuff stressed me out that year, too. Like the average four hours of sleep a night I was getting. Like my parents’ divorce during my first semester. Like the day I was so buckled over with pain on the lower, right side of my abdomen that I had to be wheeled into the emergency room because I could not stand up. They thought maybe it was my appendix. Turned out I needed surgery for an ovarian cyst that burst that morning as I was preparing to march to breakfast with my squadron.  The rigorous physical and military schedule was tough, but that wasn’t what stressed me most. It was the fact that nothing came naturally to me in that environment. It was a true honor to be at the Air Force Academy, but it wasn’t my calling.  Truth is, if I had done well academically, I would have stayed rather than leaving after my first year.  Sometimes you have to fail miserably to be forced onto your right path.

This week, I want to remind you that sometimes an intense struggle isn’t God’s way of teaching you something, but rather God’s way of telling you that are moving in the wrong direction. Rather than forcing something that doesn’t fit or beating yourself up for “not being good enough,” why not ask this question:  Is it possible that there is a better path for me?  One that aligns with my unique gifts and strengths? And if so, what is it?

You must find the right place for you. Whether in your career or relationships, the place that looks impressive to everyone else, may not be the right place for you. A good place isn’t the same as the right place.

 

My challenge to you:
If you’re moving in the wrong direction, be humble and willing to change course.

Journaling assignment:
In what way(s) are you forcing something to happen that simply is not a good fit? In what way(s) does pride (or caring too much about what others think) keep you moving in a direction that is not meant for you?  What new direction might it be time to embrace? Leave your comments below; I’d love to hear from you!

It’s Time to Make a Bold Decision!

I’m not sure who this message is for, but I felt a strong urge to write it, so since you’re reading it, perhaps I wrote it just for you. It’s short and sweet. Enjoy…

A real sign of growing up spiritually and emotionally occurs when you stop making decisions based on everyone else’s expectations. You end unhealthy relationships, take a leap of faith towards a new career path, or speak up for what is right. Some decisions in life are tough. Some conversations are uncomfortable. Some choices will not be popular. And yet, there are moments when you are called to go against popular opinion and stand apart from the crowd. When you lay your head down at night, there is no better feeling than being at peace with God. If you must compromise that peace in order to please others, you’ve compromised everything. Don’t do it.

This week, I feel led to encourage you to be bold and courageous in your decisions. Pray. Listen. Don’t overanalyze. Don’t “super-spiritualize” it either. Sometimes we pray for an answer, and when the prayers get answered through a person or event or opportunity, we don’t recognize it because it’s not a booming voice coming down from heaven. Use your common sense. Some decisions don’t require prayer when God has blessed you with the common sense to make the right choice. As a friend once told me as I agonized over making a change, “You’re like the frog in a pot of cool water who didn’t notice that the heat had been turned up and the water was starting to boil. All he had to do is jump out of the pot!”

Don’t worry about what others think. Do what you know is right. Your choices are between you and God. No one else has to live your life – or your consequences.

My challenge to you this week:
Rather than people-pleasing, be bold and courageous in your decisions.

Journaling assignment:
What decision am I hesitating about? Who am I trying to please? In my current situation, what would a bold and courageous decision look like? Leave your comments below; I’d love to hear from you!

Trigger Your Happiness with this One Habit

Around 2 o’clock this afternoon, after a day in the house doing laundry, sorting bills and writing, I stepped out on my back deck for a break.  May is finally here. The April rain is gone. And I needed a fix for the vitamin D deficiency my doctor just told me I have.  Take a supplement, he suggested. But being the outdoors girl I am, I asked if I could just spend some extra minutes in the sun. He said yes.

As I sat on the deck and turned my phone on, the rays of sun beaming down felt more like July than May. I tried to ignore it, but sweat beads soon started forming around the edges of my baseball cap.  I don’t know where you live, but here in Georgia, it feels like summer is here – 90 degrees in fact.  And that reminds me of all the fun stuff that is ahead.

My favorite happiness trigger is anticipation.  If you want to boost your happiness in a major way this spring, start creating some things to look forward to this summer.  Think about how you want to feel, then pinpoint the activities that will bring that feeling.  Want more adventure in your life? Perhaps it’s time for a road trip with your girlfriends?  Want to feel totally relaxed. Perhaps it’s time for a full vacation – not just a couple of days, but a week or (gasp!) two.

Ready to feel healthier and more energetic? Maybe it is a daily morning walk now that it won’t require a jacket and gloves.  Want to satisfy your creative genius? Plan to take a class that interests you or embrace a fun hobby.

And if you want to multiply the effect of anticipation as a happiness trigger, invite others to join you in the planning. Whether your family or your friends, start talking to the people you want to spend more time with about the plans you want to make for this upcoming season.  Remember, happiness doesn’t find you. You find it – by making intentional choices that lead you there.

My challenge to you:

Activate the happiness trigger of ANTICIPATION!

Journal about it:

What do you want to feel this summer? What would enable that feeling? Who do you want to do something fun with? Leave your comments below; I’d love to hear from you!

Motivation Killers

Have you ever joined a gym or bought the latest exercise video, only to lose motivation and quit altogether? If you’re like most folks, you know what I mean. Your intentions are good, but the fiery motivation that gets you going eventually fizzles and you find yourself right back where you started – or worse. So what is the secret to lasting motivation? Can you really change your lifestyle habits and become healthier for good?

The answer is YES. But first, you’ve got to get rid of what I call your “motivation killers.” Break these bad habits, and you’ll give new life to your health and fitness goals.

“There is a spiritual and mental element to health and fitness goals that is so important,” says fitness guru Donna Richardson Joyner, author of Witness to Fitness: Pumped Up! Powered Up! All things are Possible!.” “Taking care of your body is an act of gratitude for the divine gift of good health. When you change your thinking, you increase your chances for success.”

Psychologists note that a key to changing your thinking is making sure your motivation is solid. Your motivation is your “why” for going after the goal – and it needs to come from the inside out. Extrinsic motivation can be enticing, but it does not hold the sort of meaning that strengthens your perseverance. For example, you could motivate yourself to lose 20 pounds so that you look good for your upcoming high school reunion. But what happens after that? Intrinsic motivation is more meaningful. For example, “I finally want to experience the potential I know I am capable of,” or “I want to live long and see my grandchildren graduate from college” are intrinsic motivations for better health. It is OK to have some extrinsic motivators, but if all of your motivation is extrinsic, you are more likely to give up when the journey to your goal becomes tough. Just as dangerous as not finding a strong enough “why” is killing your motivation through some common bad habits.

Motivation killers: Are you guilty of one of these?

Motivation Killer #1: Comparing “up”
When you constantly compare your body to those whom you perceive as more healthy or attractive or disciplined, you can dampen your motivation and become discouraged. It is OK to notice those around you, but do so in a balanced way. Don’t just notice those who have it all together – notice the ones who are struggling, too. By doing so, you realize you are not alone in your struggle. And when you compare yourself with someone who is doing better, ask empowering questions, such as, “What is she doing that helps her stay on track?” and “How does he stay away from those chocolate chip cookies?”

Solution: Instead of envy, educate yourself and learn from those who’ve “been there, done that.”

Motivation Killer #2: Too much ambition!
I know, it sounds almost un-American to tell you to curb your ambition. But too much ambition can be counterproductive. Have you ever started the New Year with a list of resolutions that goes something like this: exercise one hour per day, no soft drinks, drink 8 glasses of water per day, go to bed by 9 pm and no mid-afternoon runs to the vending machine for a pack of Twinkies! By Day 3, you’re failing miserably.

Solution: Choose one goal and move toward it with laser focus. After 21 days of focus, add another goal. Repeat this cycle until you reach all of your goals. Lifestyle changes happen incrementally, not overnight.

Motivation Killer #3: No Fun!
By going it alone or forcing yourself to do activities you truly don’t like, you sap your own motivation. Team up with a buddy, take a dance class or join a sports league. Make your exercise ritual a social endeavor and it will be more fun. Bonus: Research shows positive emotions generated by having fun actually help you persevere.

Solution: Stop thinking of exercise as a chore, and find a way to make it fun.

 

What are your motivation killers? Can you identify yourself in these scenarios? Leave your comments below; I’d love to hear from you!

Success is Right Under Your Nose!

I feel led this week to give you a few words of inspiration about how your words can propel you to success rather than sabotage your efforts. Success often comes to those who know what to say, when to say it and how to say it. Those with talent, but don’t communicate effectively often never get the satisfaction of fulfilling their potential. Are you a wise communicator?

In the busyness of life and work, we can sometimes forget the impact of our words. A few words spoken hastily can ruin a relationship or an opportunity. So can a few words gone unspoken. Sometimes the people around you need to hear you speak clearly about where you stand on certain issues or how you feel about them. The missing piece that will solidify success is in your relationships, job or entrepreneurial endeavors may be right under your nose! I have five simple ideas to share with you about the words that come out of your mouth:

1. Learn when to be quiet.
Some of us are more inclined to speak than others, but those who find the most success are often those who know when to be quiet. There may be a situation in your life right now that is hindered and not helped by more talking. Don’t be afraid of silence. Sometimes life’s best answers appear when we are quiet enough to listen.

2. Give yourself time to think.
We have all heard the saying, “think before you speak.” Consider this a reminder that it is always wise to consider the impact your words will have after they are spoken. Think of the best way to communicate what you need to say before you even open your mouth. Even when you are in a conversation and must respond immediately, take a few seconds first to gather your thoughts. You will come across as being more thoughtful, and you will feel more confident about what you say. If you need more time to think about how to respond, simply say, “Let me give that some thought.”

3. Refuse to murmur and complain.
We can always find something to complain about if we focus on the negative. Make a decision to appreciate the blessings in every situation and refuse to waste your words complaining and murmuring. Instead, ask, “What solution would help me eliminate the challenges I find myself complaining about?” Complaints drain your energy – and the energy of the people around you! Use your words to renew your energy, not deplete it.

4. Tell me something good!
In the seventies, Chaka Khan had a funky song that became her first hit, “Tell me somethin’ good.” I still love to sing it when I hear it on the radio. In a previous post I asked you to ask yourself and others every day, “What’s the best thing that’s happened to you lately?” Are you still asking yourself that question regularly? Stay in the habit of acknowledging the good things that are going on, so that you don’t find your conversation out of balance and focused solely on the negative realities you may face.

5. Speak your goals into existence.
One of the most common reasons many people never reach their goals is that they don’t really believe they can. Not only do they not believe it, but they speak negatively about their chances for success. Sometimes you have to speak your way into believing all that is possible for you. Speak positively about your vision for your life. “I will accomplish my goal by doing XYZ …”. Even if you hear your doubts swirling around in your head (“You can’t do that!” “Who do you think you are?!”), refuse to verbalize them. Eventually your thoughts will catch up with your words!

 

Challenge:
Watch what you say. Your words have tremendous power.

 

Journaling Assignment:
In what way(s) are your words hurting more than helping you? What specifically will you commit to doing differently this week when it comes to your words? Leave your comments below; I’d love to hear from you!