3 Quick Ways to Add a Bit of Panache To Any Space

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I am spending a lot more time at home these days — and as a result, paying much more attention to my personal surroundings. (Our physical surroundings do affect us.) When it comes to building an interesting design aesthetic that offers a sense of comfort, the small things really do matter.

So — if you find yourself rearranging your furniture & accessories with less than spectacular results, we’ve collected a few ideas to indulge your whims, while minimizing the financial commitment.

Our suggestions:

  1. Invest in Unique Pillow Covers. We’ve developed a devoted following to West Elm’s ever-changing collection of pillow covers. (I have a few in my linen closet, waiting in the wings.) The fabrics are not only stylish, but possess a certain level of quality not usually seen at their price point. Options run the gamut from bohemian to chunky knits — to modern and sleek. Once you invest in the pillow inserts (Amazon likely has what you need), you are good to change things out to your heart’s desire. Snare a couple on clearance to give them an initial try on. It’s a win-win.
West Elm’s Canyon Pillow Cover

2. Create Your Own Art with Pressed Flower Frames. These frames open up a world of opportunity for those bits & treasures you would like to enjoy on a bedside table, shelf or gallery wall. (Ikea’s LERBODA frame is a current favorite. It does double-duty as an easel style frame, with a detachable chain to also function as a wall hanging.) You can insert art, photos, pressed flowers or any other element that would have design impact and bring you joy.

Ikea’s LERBODA Frame

3. A New Lampshade (or Two). As we all know, lamps can be a significant investment even on their best day. So, when changing your base isn’t possible — a new shade could be the answer. There are more textures and fabrics than I can count; so finding the right style is really just all about shopping around. BTW, don’t overlook sites such as Etsy (check out shops like Morlibird & Blue Crocus Textiles). We’ll admit they are not entirely inexpensive, but a better option than replacing the entire base/shade combo.

Voyage Maison Fabric Lampshade
from Blue Crocus Textiles

Have another idea? Share it in comments.

Live.Work.Think.Play shares observations concerning a wide array of topics from founding a company — to the perfect gift. It is designed to share lessons learned from a variety of perspectives.


6 Ideas to Help You Rediscover the Joy of Reading

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Most of us would hesitate to admit that we are not reading (or not reading nearly enough). There is an unspoken pressure to do so — with so many messages that tell us that more books is, well, just more. I do a fair share of my reading on-line, in the form of articles. However, my interactions with books has fallen sharply over the last few years. Simply put, there are things that stand in the way.

Here are a few quick suggestions concerning the elements that may require our attention. Hopefully, one or two, may help.

  • Acknowledge that less, can be more. A slim book stack doesn’t signal an issue, unless you make it one. Digesting fewer books on productivity, for example — yet actually applying what you’ve learned — is preferable to tearing through multiple books simply for the sake of it. Speed reading, isn’t everyone’s speed. Remember that.
  • Set a reasonable goal to reconnect. Utilize the Pomodoro technique (25 minutes) or James Clear’s page target (20 pages a day). Limit the pressure.
  • Consider the subject. If your life or work could be characterized as heavy or stressful and you have the inclination toward engaging with more heavy topics as reading material, more power to you. However, I’ll wager that a change of “mental scenery” could make reading more approachable. While many would poo-poo a pure fiction series such as Bridgerton — or a even a light memoir — this might be what is necessary to move you back into the fold. (More fiction picks below. See our book list as well.) Sometimes Jane Eyre or the inner workings of our economy, just isn’t what you need.
  • A personal book nook. Where you read is an integral part of rediscovering a love for books. Find that location that is comfortable, quiet and somewhat free of interruptions.
  • A time for reading. Daily rituals matter. Designating a time for reading, will help you fall into the habit of opening a book. Remember to keep your latest read in a place where it won’t be overlooked. Hopefully, the cover alone will remind you of what you read last and help you to anticipate the next pages.
  • The eyes have it. Tired or stressed eyes, can deter you from engaging with a book for pleasure. If you require glasses to read close-up for any length of time, remember to be certain that your prescription is up to date. Because of the pandemic, many of us haven’t rounded back to have our eyes checked.

Do you have a tip for someone who has lost their way, reading-wise? Share it in comments.

More: Here is a complete guide to fictional best seller’s from Rachael at The Booklist Queen.

Live.Work.Think.Play shares observations concerning a wide array of topics from founding a company — to the perfect gift. It is designed to share lessons learned from a variety of perspectives.


You Should Be Your Own Muse



1: any of the nine sister goddesses in Greek mythology presiding over song and poetry and the arts and sciences Clio is the Greek Muse of history.
2 : a source of inspiration especially : a guiding genius The writer’s beloved wife was his muse.
3 : poet

My grandmother used to stock a drawer on the end of her bright, pink kitchen with paper. When I visited her as a young child it was always waiting for me. Whether she placed that paper to indulge my penchant for sketching, I’ll never know. But, I’m grateful that she provided the materials which acknowledged the importance of creativity.

Being able to create something, whether great or small — helps us build a stronger core; one that extends to both life & work.

Yet, as we all know, inspiration can be difficult to come by, even in the best of circumstances.

In times such as these, it may seem frivolous to indulge the notion of an “inspirational state” (more about that here). But, I have come to think it essential to our lives. Something that underscores the best of being human. Of finding & expressing our own individuality. Yet, if we continually rely on other people to help the creative process ignite, this puts us at a distinct disadvantage.

While you are likely grateful for what you do have in this moment, your life & work may suffer now from a lack of inspiration. The usual “triggers” may be absent or limited (serendipitous hallway conversations, conferences, time away from our desks, quiet moments). But, I’m a stubborn sort and feel that there are ways to build the potential for creativity within our daily lives. I’ve relied on this vantage point for some time now. On some days I am successful. On others days, not as much. But, I am resolute and committed to the process.

To combat this internal gridlock, we must find what we might need from within ourselves. More specifically, to find our own energy sources. My own journey has led to a number of observations — including this:

We must learn to function as our own muse.

Here are a few of my tips & techniques:

Pay attention. You must become more sensitive to your own distant drummer & indulge the pangs of interest. What are you drawn toward? A development in an adjacent field? A new writer? Design thinking? Attempt to not dismiss a seemingly random element that attracts you, however unrelated it may appear to your work. Read more on that topic. Talk more about it. Ultimately, if your brain engages with something — the benefits are likely to spill into other areas.

Get a hold of morning rituals. What are you consuming along with your coffee, first thing in the morning? What fills the first moments each day? How might this affect you? How can you better control negativity, tension & stress (which likely fight inspiration and creativity)? Know this: cultivating inspiration & creativity is an art form — and not the result of divine intervention.

Stop the energy drain. There are people & situations that truly drain us — drowning our abilities to serve as our own muse. If someone or something consistently leaves you in a funk, stop the exposure or contain the effects as soon as possible. Process why the interactions affect you in that way. Resolve to change your perspective or move beyond it.

Edit your physical surroundings. Most of us have been sequestered to a much smaller world over the last 22 months. As a result, our immediate surroundings have become more and more important. Pay attention to where you work. Pull out items or mementos that help you feel safe & settled. Organize your office. Insert a healthy dose of art or music. Do what you can to trigger positivity.

Utilize a dreamy state. Writer’s block, a well-known ailment, known to be difficult to tackle — has been around for centuries. This article offers a glimpse regarding how mental imagery can open the door to recovery. In a sense, writer’s block is simply a creativity deficit. A frozen state, in which the sufferer is caught without a worthy muse.

Indulge, not stifle. Try not to shrug off an idea or collection of observations. Grab a notebook and record the source idea. Then use that page as a nexus for related thoughts & refinements. Return to those thoughts regularly and build on the threads. Be loose with your thoughts. Try not to edit your creative meanderings out of existence.

Get visual. Creativity breeds creativity. So being a bit closer to the visual arts, may help you feel more productive. I challenge you to discover 5 inspiring photographs or photographers at Unsplash. Note the subject matter and why you are drawn to it.

Go ahead and create something, anything. Whether you have raw talent or not — dabble. Choose a vehicle that attracts you, whether it involves paint, pencil, ink, a hammer or a camera. Remember that creative acts, can be pursued solely for your consumption and no one else’s.

Please note that you do not have to work in an known “creative field”, to benefit from the contributions of inspiration & creativity into your life. I would wager that both of these elements, fund both our well-being and problem-solving abilities.

Inspiration requires that we become aware our own creative triggers.

Let’s find them.

Then pull the thread.

Read more: Thoughts on Asimov’s The Eureka Phenomenon here.

Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life & have appeared at Harvard Business Review, Forbes, BBC Work Life, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

Live.Work.Think.Play shares observations concerning a wide array of topics from founding a company — to the perfect gift. It is designed to share lessons learned from a variety of perspectives.

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Short Notes: 6 Steps to Start Rebuilding Joy at Work

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If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading. – Lao Tzu

You may have a dossier of secret facts about your work life — rarely shared with others. This dossier may contain bits of conversations, observations and difficult truths. It may reflect that you’ve noticed the number of buoyant, fulfilling work days is decreasing. That your patience may be wearing thin. That you may not feel the “gusto” when approaching the tasks you might normally find engaging.

That the work somehow feels more difficult.

That joy is largely absent.

Time to open that dossier.

First things first. Have you stopped to process its contents or simply continued to muddle through without pausing? Know that to remain on the positive side of the joy equation, attention to this situation is vital. You can improve your joy factor. However, step one is to slow down, acknowledge the issue and develop a plan to help you address the deficit.

Here are a few steps to consider:

  • Allow yourself that moment of recognition. You are experiencing a joy deficit. Stop fighting what you are feeling. Offer yourself the freedom to admit that things feel “off”. Attempt to leave any judgement concerning this state behind. Simply feel the emotion. We cannot affect, what we do not recognize.
  • Acknowledge joy as a priority. Where has it been written that joy cannot be synonymous with work life? In fact according to research, most of us expect joy from our work, but many fail to experience it. There is always room in our work lives to build or seek joy — in elements both large and small.
  • Examine your personal history. I’m certain this isn’t the first time you have felt weary at work. Look to your past and note when you might have felt the most drained (psychologically, spiritually, creatively). What was happening? Then, examine how & why you came through the impasse. Was it simply the passage of time? Was it a change of pace? A new chapter? What impacted your joy factor? What moves the needle?
  • Try the arts for a kick-start. Solace can arrive in a multitude of forms. The arts can offer a time-worn solutions to spark the joy that could spill over to work life. Choose one form — art, film, poetry, photography, short-stories and dive in. Try the Pomodoro Method to help get the momentum going. Give it 5 days. Then check back with your mood & see if anything has shifted.
  • Talk it out. Never under-estimate the power of sharing your feelings with another human being. Explaining how you feel, to a sympathetic ear should never be avoided. Whether this is a friend, counselor, psychologist or trusted colleague, try the cathartic method and share, share, share.
  • Write it down. I’m not going to go on and on about the benefits of writing/journaling. The process of laying out your experiences in written form & a plan to affect it, can become a joy deficit shifter. Begin by answering this question: What brings me joy at work? Is it landing a new client contract? Building a great team? Sharing your work? Recognizing the contributions of others? The connections you’ve made among colleagues? Self-knowledge is power.

Have a minute? Share the elements that increase your work life joy coffers in comments.

Marla Gottschalk is an I/O Psychologist & work life blogger who explores core stability and its impact on work life. A charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program, her practice helps people, teams & organizations build stronger work life foundations through the practice of core stability. Her thoughts on work life have also appeared at the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, BBC Work Life, Quartz and The Huffington Post.


We Need to Let Go of Goals: Here Are the Reasons Why

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“Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go.” – Herman Hesse

Most of us are challenged to let go of disappointment, failure or regret within our work lives.

We bemoan the collaborations that didn’t prove fertile, the target we may have missed or the client that got away. We are taught repeatedly to “stick with things” and to “never give up“. Yet, I’ve seen this strategy backfire and cause a great deal of stress. In times such as these, taking an honest look at our goals to evaluate where we really are is critical. We must be aware of our available psychological resources and prevent further drain.

As a psychologist, I’ve seen an unusual type of guilt — “goal guilt” as I like to call it — affect all types of contributors from those new to the workforce, to seasoned CEOs and entrepreneurs. In may cases, the unfulfilled elements in the past, simply get in the way of a more fulfilling, more work life in our future.

Invariably, the elements that we value the most and live at the core, can cause us the most trouble.

Big, audacious goals are touted as a cornerstone of our work lives. (Some advice here, on how to set them wisely.) We are encouraged not only to set them, but to live alongside them with each and every breath we draw. I’m good with goals and we all need them. Yet, just like the battery that feeds our favorite device — goals have a “life span”. They reach a state, where they are no longer viable or serve as a meaningful motivator.

How this affects us is something we should pause and note.

People also cycle in and out, of our work lives. There are expectations attached to them as well — and not all of these might have been fulfilled. There may have been a mismatch, or we (or they) have changed or circumstances influenced the outcomes. Our time with them may have felt unproductive and frustrating, but inevitably, “it was what it was”.

All of this holding on requires energy and “headspace”. Yet, our attention cannot be infinitely divided. (Research has shown that our minds burns through 20% of our energy requirements though it represents only 2% of body mass.) In a sense, wasting that precious energy, is squandering our own potential.

Sometimes we simply must move on — and let go.

How you would describe your own history in this regard? Do you find it easy to let go? Or are you challenged to do so? If you lean toward the stubborn and notably inflexible end of the continuum, the process can be arduous. However, all of this hanging on doesn’t serve us. It can bring a fog that clouds new opportunities and can fuel bitterness. Nevertheless, turning away and leaving these things behind can be challenging and bring a certain sadness.

Letting go of people and goals that define yesterday can be a good thing. We must challenge our mindset to allow us to do so.

Here are a few thoughts concerning what letting go is and isn’t:

  • Letting go of a goal isn’t a defeat.
  • It does not signal failure on your part.
  • It may mean that the goal no longer serves you.
  • It may mean you have committed your best effort — and the outcomes/rewards weren’t there.
  • It is closure.
  • It is about shifting your energies to fertile ground.
  • It is about becoming more agile.
  • It can foster resilience.
  • It can build a sense of adventure; restore a certain hope and confidence in the future.
  • It can mark the moment of a new beginning.

In many cases letting go, creates room for pursuits that are far more rewarding — and carves out a place for the goals and people that will help move us forward.

I would say that softens the blow.

Is letting go challenging for you? Have you mastered the art? Share your experiences with our community.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.


What You Are Feeling is Burnout

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It’s time to talk about burnout. Considering what we have all muddled through (and are still going through) over the last year or so, it can come as no surprise that many of us are feeling deeply exhausted. For unknown reasons, I never thought to share my own burnout saga. However, I thought it might help in some small way. First let me say, that the dynamic was hastened by the pressures of the pandemic — yet it is very possible that the roots had already been established. I’ve also realized, that if we fail to see the writing on the wall early, burnout can take hold in a manner that can be difficult to shake.

Burnout is real. We need to act promptly. To protect ourselves and hopefully mitigate its long-term damage. (See an overview of the research here.)

As a coach, I’ve discussed burnout with many individuals over the years. I’ve seen burnout manifest during unpredictable organizational change initiatives, as well as healthy industry peaks. It can occur because of one perpetually trying client or the full brunt of a dire economic downturn. Burnout is also rooted in our personal lives; too many burdens or disappointments, not enough joy, a defeated mindset or family issues.

Ultimately, no one is immune.

We do seem to experience burnout as individuals, so its course is also individual. This can throw us off the trail and likely leave us unprepared. Burnout will not look the same across people. As a result, it can fly under the radar, What you are feeling may not initially appear to be burnout.

Above all, we should be discussing the issue and sharing experiences. Personally, burnout manifested in my world as a thunderstorm gathering courage in the distance. There were signs it was approaching. Pangs of apathy and avoidance. Yet, because that is alarming on many levels — particularly because in most cases (as was with mine) the work is our livelihood — we try to ignore its presence. We may have trained for years or others may depend upon us; there are so many reasons that we cannot simply pick up, check out or change course.

As a rule, I believe that we opt to compensate however we know how and press on. We assume there is nothing to be done, as we cannot change the things we must (and in many cases previously loved) and should do.

However, there are costs to this strategy.

Engagement with our work wanes. Motivation plummets. As is the case now, we have also lived through a tumultuous time in history which has affected every breathing corner of our lives. We cannot expect all of this this to steer clear from our lives.

While we may not be able to walk away from life’s responsibilities, we can take the time to understand the winds within our own storm. This may offer clues that can lead to solutions. So, here are a few things to consider when attempting to understand burnout, and its roots, in life & work.

Hopefully, the topics may alert you to something that can be addressed.

  • We do not acknowledge broken agreements about work & life we have made with ourselves. In many cases, there is a psychological contract with ourselves, that we have breached. We may have briefly thought: “I’m extremely weary of this” or “I’m not as happy with this part of my career, as I used to be”, but we pressed on. The scales were tipping and we kept on going, without considering where that path might lead. The rewards were simply not keeping pace with the investment of time, trouble and emotion.
  • When to stop is never discussed. We are offered an abundance of advice about how to start something. Yet there is not nearly enough discussion about when and how (and why) we should slow down or step away from something in life or work. We conveniently forget that remaining productive & happy over the long-haul requires balance & rest, even with the tasks that we love. We may not have had the strategies in place to achieve this.
  • We wait for a savior. It is unlikely that someone will approach you to say, “Stop what you are still doing well.” or ” You should take a bit of time for yourself”. You must take on the responsibility of your own psychological resources. Monitor feelings of hope, self-efficacy, resilience and optimism. Pay attention if one has fallen precipitously.
  • Declare or wither. One pillar of core stability (my work lifestyle philosophy), is to embrace radical self-awareness regarding what you need to stay productive. We cannot always choose the roles, tasks, or people that are a part of our life’s journey. However, if it is humanly possible to affect core elements before burnout sets in, do this. Declare the elements that are vital to you as a contributor.
  • Acknowledge that living through history is an accelerator. As a child I used to try to imagine how others had lived through World Wars. What were they thinking? Could they go back to living normal lives, that would include joy or a sense of calm? I can only hypothesize that they would not want to return to the elements of their lives that were already worn or troublesome. They would want to grab life and live it to the fullest. That a clear purpose to live well, would dominate.

I do not have the answers — only more questions. However, acknowledging what we have lived through and how this affects our work is vital. Above all, know that our collective journeys are personal, and this requires a very personal solution.

Do you have a strategy to mitigate burnout? How has this helped you? Share it with this forum.

Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life & have appeared in the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, BBC Work Life, Quartz and The Huffington Post


A Kinder Take on New Year’s Resolutions Using Positive Psychology

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We all engage in goal setting.

Historically, we do more of this as we approach the New Year. I like to look at resolutions as wolf-like goals, but in sheep’s clothing. They are every bit as challenging to accomplish (perhaps, more so); but often vague & unstructured. As we’ve discussed previously, goals can help or hurt us — depending on their inherent ability to energize us. As a workplace strategist, I’ve often advised clients to refine or even lose goals that no longer serve them. Why? Goals can actually let us down and fail to direct our behavior in a meaningful way.

Resolutions often fall prey to this same malaise. So, I’m wondering — can we craft resolutions that are better for us?

One promising strategy, is to apply what we already know about positive psychology to the process. With roots in humanistic psychology, positive psychology theorizes that we have the power to re-frame our life experiences to help us become more positive and productive.

Goals & resolutions could stand some re-framing right now. So, let’s pursue this thread.

Consider the following passage:

“Positive psychology is…a call for psychological science and practice to be as concerned with strength as with weakness; as interested in building the best things in life as in repairing the worst; and as concerned with making the lives of normal people fulfilling as with healing pathology,” – Christopher Peterson

We could re-cast resolutions (and goals in general) with a nod toward what has gone right and not wrong. As we look toward the future, we might recognize what has worked over the past year — taking the time to remind ourselves of what we have accomplished. To acknowledge all of the positive steps we have forged, even if the end-state has not been reached. This might provide the fuel that we need to protect energy and build resilience.

So — ask yourself: What has brought you some measure of accomplishment recently? Have you overlooked some of the good? Have you cast a shadow over the small successes?

We should take a second look and consider that sustaining energy requires that we actively acknowledge all of our effort. That we acknowledge how small steps have power and can prove instrumental. That we make progress in ways that are often subtle, yet foundational.

Step 1.

Carefully consider a goal or resolution — and take a second look at what you have done to achieve it. Offer yourself credit, for your efforts. (If this a new resolution for 2021, you can jump to Step 2).

  • Draft a list of all of the steps already taken.
  • Do not apply a value judgement as grounds for inclusion.
  • Be sure your list is complete. All steps are progress. No step too small.
  • Now, what was obviously successful?
  • What steps may not have been entirely successful, yet had real value, after a second look? Why?
  • What have you learned from detours, failures or disappointments?
  • How have you managed to actively recover and continue to move forward? (This is also a success.)
  • How did the acquired knowledge in general, inform your journey?

Step 2

Craft behaviorally-anchored steps for the future which build upon progress noted in Step 1. Be sure to integrate what you have learned from previous highs and lows. If this is a new goal or resolution, try to improve upon any broad sweeping statements such as “be healthier” or “becoming an influencer”. Be specific. Think of yourself actively engaging in goal-directed behavior.

  • What are you actually doing?
  • What are the specific steps you will take?
  • Describe these steps. Verbs should figure prominently in your plan: reading, seeking, calling, contacting, developing, etc.
  • Add specificity to every action.

For example, if your broader resolution is “becoming an influencer” — you should note all discrete steps that may contribute to success, applying the specificity rule. For example: ” I will submit 2 pitches a week, to these 4 media outlets for potential articles/posts.”

Consider the following as positive steps, which are often overlooked.

  • Communication Channels. Establishing information networks to support your journey (joining a group, seeking guidance from a professional, engaging with social media).
  • Strategy preparation. Engaging with books, podcasts & articles to explore strategies.
  • The Deep Work. Taking steps to shift your outlook or mindset to support your journey.
  • The Everyday Work. Aligning your goal/resolution with specific habits or daily rituals.

Remember that progress is often synonymous with a collection of small steps — which occur with little fanfare. (I’ve lived this. In 2010, I made a resolution to establish myself as a work life write writer. It was pain-staking, but I tried to revel in the small successes.)

It may be high time — to offer those steps the glory they deserve.

Live.Work.Think.Play shares observations concerning a wide array of topics from founding a company — to the perfect gift. It is designed to share lessons learned from a variety of perspectives.