Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Practicing Gratitude

Psychological research finds that people's happiness levels are remarkably stable over the long-term. A possible explanation comes from studies in the psychology of gratitude. Yes, you read that correctly -- being thankful just may be the secret to happiness.
The study* cited that people who were in the gratitude condition felt fully 25% happier -- they were more optimistic about the future, they felt better about their lives.

The words "gratitude" and "grace" share a common Latin origin, gratus, meaning "pleasing" or "thankful." When you are in a deep state of gratitude, you may feel the presence of grace. Reflect on this. As we become more mindful of the present moment, we begin to recognize the things around us that we may have taken for granted.

Learning to practice gratitude is one of life's most valuable lessons. As Aristotle taught us, all virtues have value and the virtue of gratitude helps to increase feelings of satisfaction with our lives and keeps us from falling into the excess of a greedy or entitled frame of mind.

There are many simple, yet powerful ways to practice gratitude on a daily basis.
  • Thank, separately, both the cashier and the bagger at the grocery store.
  • Send a hand-written thank you note when you receive a gift, however small.
  • Make "thank you" a common phrase in your vocabulary.
  • Keep a gratitude journal. Each night write 1-3 things for which you were grateful during the day.
And remember to live a gracious and flourishing life.

*Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377-389

Monday, February 10, 2020

Five Dimensions of Leadership

"The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind." ~ William James

When I present leadership program, I often reference information from studies on leadership conducted by McKinsey & Company. While the 5 dimensions discussed below focus on leadership in the workplace, I do think they are quite valuable in how we live our lives in general. Here are some highlights from the article How Centered Leaders Achieve Extraordinary Results.*

McKinsey & Company's Centered Leadership Program distilled a leadership model that is comprised of five interrelated dimensions. This 5-dimensional model is useful for helping people realize their full potential and to maximize the most of your team and process. As the name implies, it’s about having a well of physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual strength that drives personal achievement and, in turn, inspires others to follow.
Centered leadership emphasizes the role of positive emotions.

Meaning or finding your strengths and putting them to work in the service of an inspiring purpose. Meaning is the motivation that moves us. It translates into greater job satisfaction, higher productivity, lower turnover, and increased loyalty.

Managing energy or knowing where your energy comes from, where it goes, and what you can do to manage it. This is where doing the first leadership element -- self-awareness -- can help you identify the conditions and situations that replenish your energy and those that sap it.

Positive framing or adopting a more constructive way to view your world, expand your horizons, and gain the resilience to move ahead even during conflict and crises.

Connecting or identifying who can help you grow, building stronger relationships, and increasing your sense -- and your team’s sense -- of belonging.

Engaging or finding your voice, becoming self-reliant and confident by accepting opportunities and the inherent risks they bring, and collaborating with others.

Barsh, J., Mogelof, J. & Webb, C. How Centered Leaders Achieve Extraordinary Results. Retrieved from

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Monday, January 27, 2020

What's Your Vision for 2020?

The new year is here. What will this new year look like for you? What is your plan, your goal for 2020? A fresh start? A desire to make changes (personally and/or professionally) to live a more motivated and inspired life?

To plan for the new year it is important to look back at the past year and examine what you've done and what you didn't do; what were your successes and what were your greatest challenges. Create a road map that details your 2019 journey. This map is vital to your success, to plotting the journey that lies ahead.

In creating your New Year goals, your year in review roadmap will show you the pattern of missteps and detours that derailed your 2019 goals, allowing you to challenge and change the greatest habits that do not serve you.

In preparation for my 2020 undertaking, I have spent the past few weeks examining the process and uncovering my self-sabotaging behaviors and the "explanations" I've attached to them. While I had to contend with some severe health challenges, I can look back at 2019 and see that I really did have the inner strength to push through. In fact, 2019 was my busiest year and I met every obligation and gave my best despite the physical pain.

While I am still finding ways to accept and to deal with some limitations, what I learned about myself in 2019 can be summed up in the lyrics of that Chumbawumba song: "I get knocked down, but I get up again. You are never gonna keep me down."

Wishing you all a success-filled new year and the courage, wisdom, and tenacity to get back up when circumstances knock you down and to reach your 2020 goals.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

An Unexpected Visit

"Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones.
A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you."
~ Shannon L. Alder
A few months ago, I received the following e-mail via my website:

Dear Ms. Schiano:
I am writing you with the hopes that you are Rita Schiano, the daughter of my beloved piano teacher, mentor, and second mother Jane Marie Notarthomas Schiano of Syracuse, NY. I was on Route 20, heading to the Brimfield Fair when I saw your name on a sign. If it is indeed you, I would love to say hello. I moved to Boston 27 years ago and am a church organist, thanks to the inspiration and teaching of Jane.
Sincerely, Bobby DeRegis

It took a few months to coordinate our schedules (and I must be honest and admit I let this fall through the cracks of time at one point). However, we found a few dates and decided that Westborough would be the logical, halfway meeting point.

Bobby suggested Friday, January 18, as he had an appointment in Westborough that day. Unfortunately, I had another commitment that afternoon.

I responded, "Perhaps the following Friday, 1/25 or 2/1? Actually, February 1 is the is the 33rd anniversary of my mom’s passing," I wrote. "Perhaps that might be a nice remembrance.”

Bobby responded, "I think February 1st might be a sign from above. Let's do it."

The last time I saw Bobby was in 1986, at my mom's funeral. He was seventeen years old. Now a man of fifty, I was so heartened by the extraordinary detail with which he remembered her.

"She saved me in so many ways. Helped me through difficult times and losses," he told me. "She gave me a love for music. And she had such deep faith."

Over the next few hours as we talked of her passionate, loving and giving soul, Bobby would pause often to wipe a few tears from his cheek.

In my office at home I have a framed newspaper article written about her many years ago. The columnist described Mom as a ". . . big, warm-hearted woman whose delicious sense of humor dances in her dark eyes. She is also a woman of deep religious faith revealed through her music."

In addition to teaching private piano and voice lessons, Mom was the organist and choir director at St. John the Baptist Church in Syracuse, NY. Although a Catholic, mom shared her rich, dramatic contralto voice in the quartet at the Temple Society of Concord worship services every Friday night.
And she was extremely proud of her special choral group, the Out of Sight Singers. "They may lack eyesight, but not voices, and I love every minute I work with them," she said.

Bobby is not the only person to reach out to me about my mom over the years. Numerous people have contacted me via Facebook and shared their memories of her. And like Bobby, many have gone on to study music in college and work as professional musicians and music teachers. And each and every one makes it a point to say, "I loved her."

I loved her, too. I was blessed to have her as my mom and mentor in life. The greatest lesson I learned from my mom is to be mindful of how my words and deeds affect the people I interact with each day. Be it a friend, colleague, cashier, attendant, someone I pass by in a store or on the street.

"See them," she’d say. "Look beyond appearances. Be grateful for the smallest act. And always show the world your true self."

Words to live by, indeed.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Musings from a Recovering Worrywart

Unless you knew me when I was very a young girl, you might be surprised to learn I was quite the worrier. My mother used to say, “You’re such a Worrywart, Rita.” And the tag fit. I was a worrywart. I did tend to dwell unduly on perceived difficulties in my life that developed a pattern (habitude) of troubled emotions and thought patterns.

Then one day I saw a book on my mother’s nightstand entitled Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz. The book was a gift to her from her sister Vera. My Aunt Vera was a beloved, albeit feisty, woman ahead of her times. She lived in Hollywood, CA and she was always sending Mom books, articles, and such on personal development. (To this day I carry in my handbag the miniature, red leather copy of As A Man Thinketh by James Allen that she gave my mom back in 1968.) 

I devoured Maltz’s book in a matter of days. It seemed that with the turn of each page my mind opened and expanded to a new way of thinking about myself and how I move through the world. By the time I was done, it was crystal clear to me that my thinking truly did affect the outcome of my life.

Now I was about 13 years old when I read that transformative book. Being a voracious reader, I went to the library and began what became my lifelong journey to understand the cycle of how thoughts effect emotions and thus behavior. I gobbled up the writings of untold thinkers, beginning with the Ancient Greek philosophers up to modern-day thought leaders, all of whom had (and have) a very similar message: You are what you think about all day long.

My being a worrywart hasn’t truly dissipated. It is a pattern (neuro-circuitry) of thinking and reacting (habitude) that formed when I was quite young. When times get tough, when something is troubling me, I can feel that old worrywart downward spiral begin. However, what I now do is I recognize the habitude sooner and I put into motion the various strategies I’ve developed for myself to slow down the activity in my mind.

As I said, these habitudes took root and deepened and strengthened at an early. Those of you who have heard me speak, have come to one of my workshops, have heard me share my story of some of the events in my life that shaped my initial belief system.

Worrywarts habitually travel down a dark, long, narrow road replete with obstacles such as fear, all-or-nothing thinking, and other cognitive distortions. Yet, what I know is this. We can change our lives by changing our thinking. We can change our outcomes by exploring those habitudes that don't serve us and by be willing to do the work to strengthen the habitudes that do serve us and create more positive thought patterns.

We can travel a different road, enlightened by understanding and widened by a willingness and desire to explore the realm of possibilities. You can change your thinking, change your patterns, and change your life. I know this because I did.
~ Rita

PS Want to learn more about changing your Habitudes? VIsit my website:

Monday, January 29, 2018

Are You Feeling Challenged By Obstacles?

Are you feeling challenged by obstacles? Are you clear as to what that "thing" is that is preventing or hindering your progress?

I view any obstacle that gets in my way as an opportunity to learn something new. It's not always an easy lesson. And sometimes the learning of the lesson takes time, patience, and reflection.

Changing the way we think about obstacles effects our success rate for as the Zen Buddhists say, "The obstacle is the path." To begin, we have to identify the type and source of the obstacle. Ask yourself: Do you view the obstacle metaphorically as a pebble, a rock, or a boulder? Is it external or internal?

External obstacles are those things outside of your control, such as environment, money, physical limitations. Yet, because they are external does not mean you should give up. What is always in your control is how you choose to respond (cognitively) not react (emotionally) to the challenge.

Internal obstacles are things such as fear, self-doubt, and what I call your Habitudes -- Patterns of thought and behavior affecting our attitudes towards life; habitual ways of thinking and acting that may or may not serve you.

Our beliefs and thoughts about a situation affect our reaction to it. The way we think about things can actually give things more meaning than they actually deserve. By giving meaning to things, we give them power in our lives. That's why I asked you to think metaphorically about the obstacle. What is its size? How easily, based on that size - pebble, rock, boulder -- can you remove it from your pathway?

"Obstacles don't have to stop you," said Michael Jordan. "If you run into a wall, don't turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it."