Courtney’s Blog

Want to Live Better? Write a Bucket List

When we think about bucket lists, we think about dying: fitting in those major goals or last few accomplishments before we, well… kick the bucket. But a bucket list doesn’t belong in such a narrow bucket (tee hee!), because creating and carrying out a bucket list is actually a great way to live.


Long-Term Goals Mean Long-Term Happiness


We all know that goal-setting is a great strategy for making us more successful. But the act of setting goals can actually make us feel happier and more fulfilled, as well. Research shows that individuals who feel meaning and purpose in life report much higher levels of contentment. Plus, when we set and reach a goal (even a small one) our brains release feel-good chemicals like dopamine as a celebration.


When you create a bucket list, you combine vision and purpose to make a personal statement about your life. It’s like goal-setting on steroids. Your bucket list is a list of long-term goals meant to reflect your values and your purpose in life. As you fulfill that list, your sense of contentment grows, and your happiness right along with it. If you need a little help setting goals that will actually lead to happiness, I like the advice in this Fast Company article.


The Science of Savoring


Getting something you want is terrific. Setting a goal and reaching it is terrific. But research suggests that WAITING to get what you want – a process called “savoring” – can lead to even greater enjoyment. When we wait for our desire to be fulfilled, and we anticipate how great it’s going to be when it arrives, we appreciate it even more when we finally get it. (Check out this research if you want to know more about how savoring works.)


A bucket list is the ultimate opportunity for savoring. We imagine the most epic experiences of our lives, write them down, and then make a plan to bring them to life someday. We may have months or years to dream about the activity, and all those days of imagining actually make the experience even richer when it arrives. Savoring gives us enjoyment in the present, while we imagine the event, plus maximizes our enjoyment in the future, when we finally jump out of the plane, record an album, or make pastries in Italy.


Wouldn’t You Like More Power Over Your Life?


Did you know that success is transferrable? When you experience a “win” in some area of your life, your personal power receives a boost that carries over into all the different environments in your life. In my second book, The Successful Struggle, I researched how having a successful moment in your home life helps you increase your sense of personal power if you’re struggling at work. Achievements in any area of your life carry over into all the areas of your life, making you feel more powerful and in control.


As you tick items off your bucket list, your personal power grows, giving you fuel to accomplish more at home, at work, in your hobbies, and everywhere. By nurturing your sense of accomplishment, your bucket list will generate returns far beyond just experiencing the activities you’ve written down.



So what’s on your bucket list?


I started thinking about bucket lists at last week’s board meeting for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. The LLS Team in Training program is climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, which I know is a bucket list item for several people. I haven’t decided if that’s really on my list yet, but if it’s on yours, you could travel to Africa, climb Kili, AND raise money to fight cancer, all in one fell swoop. If you go, write me and let me know so I can donate to your climb!


As for me, my first book was a major bucket list item, as was starting both of my businesses, moving to New York at 17, and getting certified to SCUBA dive. I’ve still never been to Paris (I know! Can you believe it?!?!) or many other places I’d like to visit. I know it’s cliché, but I’d really like to sky dive (bungee jumping, on the other hand, holds no appeal to me).


Grab a journal and a nice pen, and crank out a first draft of a bucket list. A bucket list isn’t about dying, it’s about living. So get to it.


Why is Growth So Uncomfortable?

The process of change and growth is usually necessary, but it often feels uncomfortable. Learn from one huge commercial brand what they do to push through the pain in order to make progress, and why a little discomfort is good for you, too.

Are You About to be Burned Out at Work? This 3-Question Burnout Test Will Tell You

Work burnout is a scary thing – it takes dedicated, passionate employees and turns them into frustrated, detached time bombs. Burnout is a key component of employee turnover, and turnover has high costs both fiscally and for morale.


So it should go without saying that burnout is to be avoided at all costs. But do you always know when you’re at risk of burning out at work? Here’s a short test to help you find out…


1. How do you feel at the beginning of the workday?

a. tired

b. frazzled

c. raring to go


You probably guessed that “c” is a great answer to give. But if you think that option “b” is the prime indicator of burnout, you’re wrong. Feeling frazzled at work, especially at the beginning of the day, isn’t great news, but actual burnout results in a feeling of exhaustion before you even start. The reality is that you can be busy without being burned out. So just because you have a lot on your plate doesn’t automatically mean you’re at risk of burnout. It can lead to future burnout, so be careful. But don’t assume burnout just because you’re busy. It’s when you feel tired even when there’s a stack of work to be done that you’re at greatest risk. This element of burnout is called emotional exhaustion, and it’s one of the first indicators of burnout we might notice.


2. If you have to talk to your boss about something critical, what do you do to prepare?

a. I don’t bother preparing, because my boss trusts my judgement and will do what I recommend

b. I don’t bother preparing, because my boss isn’t likely to listen to my ideas anyway

c. I over-prepared, because my boss can be critical of my work

d. I bring a few supporting documents to back up my recommendation


This question is testing your depersonalization, another element of burnout. It might seem like “c” is the answer most common in burnout. But (like the question above) while “c” might be an indicator of a poor workplace culture, it’s actually not a burnout indicator. The burnout indicator is “b,” because it suggests that you don’t even need to try because whatever you say to your boss will be ignored. When a conflict or struggle goes on for so long that you have depersonalized the other person (see this prior blog post for more examples of risky workplace conflict), you’re at risk of burnout.


3. If you were invited to go to an Elementary School for career day, what would you say is the most worthwhile part of your job?

a. The paycheck

b. Helping people

c. Using my skills/smarts/strengths


No big surprise, here: the burnout indicator is “a.” Answer “a” suggests reduced personal accomplishment, the final burnout indicator. We can stand long hours, poor pay, silly uniforms, even rude customers, as long as we feel that the work we’re doing is worthwhile. For many years I worked in the nonprofit sector, where I often faced aaaaaallllll of the above indignities, but my job had purpose and that fueled my fire even when the days were long and the pay was piddling. If you lose the feeling of pride in your work, then the slightest struggle will cause you to lose your motivation and be at risk of burning out.


Want to know more about the burnout indicators? Check out this article in Workplace Psychology.


Burnout doesn’t just come from being too busy. You can absolutely be busy without burning out, so don’t fret just because you have a long to-do list. Pay attention to your emotional exhaustion, your feelings of engagement with your colleagues, and your sense of accomplishment and pride in your work. Those are the three factors that will let you know if you’re at risk of flaming out. Catch them fast, and don’t let burnout get to you!


Surprising Ways to Handle Grief and Loss

How does someone behave when they’re grieving? You might think you know, but you may be surprised.

Not all loss follows the typical “stage” model of grief, so it’s important to know these unfamiliar strategies for handling loss, so you don’t assume you or your loved one are in denial.

How to Fight With Your Spouse Without Dropping the “D-Word”

This marriage can’t be saved. It’s over.


If you’ve ever found yourself thinking that in the middle of a fight, you’re not alone. Marital arguments are frustrating and uncomfortable, because the person we expect to be our biggest ally in the world, suddenly becomes our adversary.


And that’s the problem. When you start seeing your partner as your enemy, you’ve entered a dangerous element of conflict known as detachment. When we detach from someone else in the middle of a conflict, we see the two sides are “my side” and “their side.” We have a hard time acknowledging any common ground or common desires.


As you start to detach, you find yourself getting your emotional needs fulfilled everywhere but your marriage. Or you may find yourself “stonewalling,” where you freeze the other person out. John Gottman, Ph.D, who coined the phrase, says that stonewalling breeds resentment in both members of the couple.


Once you’ve detached from your partner, it’s easier to fight dirty. They’re not a real person to you anymore, in a sense, because your anger makes you blind to the human being (whom you hopefully love!) standing in front of you. They’re just the enemy. And the enemy must give in or be destroyed.  And once you’ve detached from your marriage, it’s MUCH easier to throw out phrases designed to kill. Phrases like “I want a divorce.”


Dropping the d-word is so much more than just a dirty fighting tactic. Threatening divorce is a signal to your partner – and to yourself – that you don’t’ trust the relationship enough to assume that it can weather the storm. You’re indicating that you’d rather just save yourself the fight because there’s nothing worth salvaging.


Now, don’t think I’m advocating that you can never bring up divorce in a marriage. Sometimes – and I’ve been there – two incompatible people have to start the process of considering divorce. But that needs to be a very well-though out, well-prepared conversation. Not a bomb dropped in the middle of a fight for shock value or to hurt your partner.


Threatening divorce is a signal to your partner – and to yourself – that you don’t’ trust the relationship enough to assume that it can weather the storm.


Using “I want a divorce” in a typical marital argument is the ultimate sign that you’ve allowed yourself to breed an unhealthy detachment from your spouse. If you realize you’ve detached, you can fix it.


For starters, find common ground in your argument. Try to go back to the root of the issue and find some kind of common ground. Common ground has been proven by scientists to help people in conflict avoid detachment and depersonalization.


There is almost always something you both want in common, even if that thing is “to stop fighting.” Maybe you both want financial security, but you disagree on the details. Or you both want a relaxing vacation, you just disagree about whether his mother should be there. Many arguments start as task-related arguments – a disagreement about how something should be accomplished. But when the disagreement goes unsolved for too long, it turns personal, and that’s when detachment happens.


“Divorce” is a dirty word in a marriage. There are far more productive ways to fight besides dropping the d-word bomb, so don’t say it if you don’t mean it. Instead, stay attached to your partner, find common ground, and fight healthy. It’s worth it!









Do This FIRST If You Get Fired

Losing your job is a punch in the gut. If you get fired, here’s the first thing you can do to keep a positive outlook and increase your chances of getting back out there and acing the interview process.

THIS is What Mom REALLY Wants For Mother’s Day

Ask a mom what she wants for Mother’s Day, and you’re likely to get one of two answers: either she wants a fun family experience, or she wants some relaxing time by herself. Either a family fun day, or a spa day.


Those two answers seem opposite of one another: one mom wants quiet time, and the other wants quality time. One wants to be alone, the other wants to be with her spouse and kids. But the two answers aren’t really that different, if you look deeper. Both types of moms are asking for one thing: more meaning out of life.


When we all run around with the stressors of modern life hanging over our heads, we leave very little time to add meaning. Sure, we can find it in small moments, like reading bedtime stories, or once-a-month volunteer time. But in the rush of day-to-day living, stress often wins out over meaning in the battle of where we put our focus, time and attention.


The two polar opposite responses – one wanting more family time, one wanting more alone time – are in fact solutions to the same problem of not having enough meaningful moments in life.


I recently surveyed my readers, and I asked them the fill-in-the-blanks question “what would make your life easier or more enjoyable?” The top two answers were “relaxation/down time” and “time with friends and family.” (The #3 answer was along the lines of “fewer details/simplification”, just showing how much stress interferes with our life enjoyment.)


A Mom who wants quality family time doesn’t want just more hours with her family. She likely spends 18+ hours a day thinking about her spouse and kids! (even more during Science Fair season, right?) It’s not about more time, it’s about doing enjoyable things with that time. It’s about non-stressful time, where she doesn’t have to make anyone’s lunch or mediate a fight or use a plastic spoon to dig the last little chunk of stain stick out of the tube. It’s about building a meaningful memory, without stress getting in the way.


And a mom who wants quiet alone time doesn’t just want to be solitary. She is looking for space to hear herself think. She wants to hear the little voice in her head that reminds her of who she is outside of being a wife, mom, employee, daughter, sister, volunteer, boss, whatever. It’s about slowing down and remembering what’s really important to her.


When we let the stress and busy-ness of everyday life become our standard operating procedure, we don’t have a life with very much meaning. When life is one endless responsibility after the other, we don’t have a life with very much meaning. When peaceful, unstructured time (either by ourselves or with loved ones) is the best gift we can think of, we don’t have a life with very much meaning. What mom really wants for Mother’s Day this year is a little more meaning in her life. Can you find a bow big enough for that?


Is Your Kid Strong Enough to Handle Being Unpopular?

Friendships and popularity are of critical important for kids, but its equally important to be able to stand up for what’s right. Here’s the ONE key thing you can say to raise a child with strong enough self-esteem to be unpopular.

How To Build Mental Resilience in 5 Minutes With a Brain Game

Creating a strong, resilient personality seems like something you might either be born with, or else you could take a lifetime trying to build it. But it’s not true:  the strategies you can use to increase your resilience don’t have to be tedious or difficult.


Want proof? Check out this article in the Harvard Business Review by Jane McGonigal, a game designer who used gaming theories to bounce back after her traumatic brain injury. McGonigal noticed that it didn’t take much time or effort at all to take baby steps toward recovering her resilience. In fact, some of the smallest things she did had the biggest impact, like little mental counting games and other things that would usually be considered “time wasters.” Her findings back up what I experienced when I was recovering from my brain surgery: when I was laid up in bed for several weeks, I didn’t have the stamina to read (my favorite restful activity!) and my eyes weren’t even up to watching television. But I played round after round of solitaire, even when my neurons seemed to take five times as long as usual to notice the next move.


Jane and her twin sister went on to create the gaming app SuperBetter, specifically designed to help you build up your resilience and notice your already-resilient responses in everyday life. The most important payoff of these gaming activities? The McGonigal sisters say it’s a 3-to-1 positive-to-negative emotion ratio. For every negative emotion you experience in your everyday life, having three positive emotions helps your brain stay capable and your spirit stay resilient.


So what can you do in your life to keep a healthy 3-to-1 ratio? Will it be checking out fluffy animals on YouTube like the McGonigals? (if so, my personal favorite is The Dodo. You MUST check out the rescued baby goat who is only happy when she’s wearing costumes). Will it be solitaire, like me? I’m also a huge proponent of volunteering as a way of keeping a positive perspective. Research for my first book, The Giving Prescription, showed that helping someone else pays you back 5 huge benefits:

  • An increased sense of purpose
  • Deeper personal connections
  • Greater sense of personal power or ability
  • A measurable increase in endorphins dubbed “The Helper’s High”
  • Tangible payoffs like networking


Playing games may be great for your health after all. If you find yourself struggling to stay afloat, set aside 5 minutes to do something enjoyable, whatever that means to you. Try to focus on keeping a 3-to-1 positive ratio, and insert a little play in your life, and you may just find yourself better able to bounce back from life’s challenges faster.


Now that’s better than just winning a game!

How Men’s Brains Experience Stress (and Why the Difference Matters)

Everyone gets stressed out, but it turns out that when men get stressed, their brains make less of a particular hormone that helps keep us calm. Learn why men and women experience stress differently, and what men can do to beat their particular brand of stress.