What NOT to Do During the Holidays

Statistically, the most likely time for an American man to die is just before Christmas. For an American woman, doomsday comes just after New Years. My theory about why this is so is that people let themselves off the hook when they finally get a chance for a well-earned rest. Men exhaust themselves in the period leading up to the holidays and then let go; for women, the holidays themselves represent a brutal overload of work. This year, I say we stage a revolution. Let’s turn this holiday into an actual holiday! 

Every now and then, I am asked to write recommendations about what we should allow ourselves not to do. For most people, this is more challenging — but more productive — than a “to-do” list. I’ve never done such a list specifically for the holidays, until now. So, if you’re onboard with our holiday life-saving strategies, read on!

  • Don’t cook. I mean this; you will receive approximately 45,000 calories of holiday goodies this year. Desperate people who have no gift-selecting ability are praying that you will actually want the cheese log or the moose munch that they picked up for you. It will only make these people sad if they find you elbow deep in cookie dough or fruitcake. For goodness sake, have some compassion.
  • Don’t send cards. Every hour, human beings chop down an area of primordial forest the size of a football field. Why contribute to this carnage just so people can glance at a holiday greeting and immediately consign it to landfills? Christmas cards are evil. Do not send them.
  • Do not buy gifts for people you do not like. Honestly, why send the wrong message? The body is a natural lie detector and it loathes hypocrisy. Do you honestly want to grow weak and sick purchasing a foot massager for a boss whom everyone knows is going to hell? Stop the madness!
  • Don’t go to horrible parties. By the time we’ve passed Thanksgiving, you’re almost certain to feel deeply stressed about fitting into your little black dress or cummerbund. This is the time to lie down quietly and reflect on ways to eliminate excess calories so that January does not find you deeply mired in self-loathing. You know perfectly well that you react to social anxiety by eating like a grisly bear preparing to hibernate. Going to bad parties is simply putting your body in harm’s way. That’s not, in my opinion, what Baby Jesus would do.
  • Don’t be virtuous. If you’re virtuous all the time, go ahead and sustain it during the holidays. But if December is a time you go into a frenzy of Scrooge-after-the-ghost generosity, you will disrupt your psychological homeostasis, and potentially, as we have seen, cause your own death. This is no holiday gift to give your children! This year, vow to be as nasty and selfish as your truly are.

I know some of you may be shocked and indignant after reading my recommendations — so please be cautious. Your blood pressure may already be at dangerous levels. Seriously, the holidays are about renewal, kindness, and joy. Judgment and oppression are the enemy of these sentiments. Just see how much more genuine holiday spirit you’ll generate when you follow your own bliss, rather than someone else’s holiday traditions.

Creativity Tips from Martha

One thing’s for sure… If any one of us unleashes our creativity, our world will split open. We’ll find unprecedented ways of solving problems and expressing our souls, and our lives will be forever changed. 

But perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of creative expression is that it depends on resistance to the opinions and interference of others. For the many of us worried about doing something “wrong,” in the eyes of others, Martha has two sure-fire exercises that will help us develop that resistance muscle and keep it strengthening.

Exercise 1: Get a piece of paper and write down the words “I’m so ashamed that _________________.” Finish the sentence with whatever pops into your mind. Feel the shame. Observe it. Notice that it does not motivate any positive action — only paralysis, fear, and self-hatred.

Now, stand up to your shame and the people who have shamed you. Question them (on paper, not in person). Start by writing phrases like “What makes you think you can shame me for making mistakes? What makes you think you can stop me from moving forward, learning, and growing? What makes you think I should be ashamed of the person I was created to be and the things I am meant to create?” You get the idea… and notice now how you’re moving from a place of shame to a place of empowerment.

Exercise 2: Find a private spot to sit down. Now take your notepad and write: “If I didn’t give a damn what anyone thought, I would _____________.” Finish the sentence any way you want, as long as it’s true.

If the action you’ve listed is ethical, legal, and wise, promise yourself to do it when you’re ready. If not, pat yourself on the back and promise yourself a treat (a mocha Frappuccino instead of ordinary coffee, and a half-hour alone in the park) for being honest. Keep your promises!

Mind Over Matter – Literally

Airport Hobo Life: Your ticket to happiness, with connections at Heathrow and La Guardia




Those of you who follow me on Facebook of Twitter may have noticed posts written by my alter ego, the Airport Hobo. Today I thought I’d explain who that is, so that 1) you’ll know what I’m talking about, and 2) perhaps you too can develop an Airport Hobo alter ego, should the need ever arise.

When I set out to become a writer, my objective was to earn a living without ever physically moving. But after publishing some books and articles I realized, to my horror, that we lowlier writers not only have to move about the house, but travel. A lot.

Now, I love many places that are far away from each other, but I do not consider getting there to be half the fun, or even .00000003 percent of the fun. So averse to travel am I that one day, as I packed for my seventeenth airplane trip in a month, I found myself…not myself. I had morphed into a creature designed specifically for airport travel: the Airport Hobo.

Since that day, whenever I’m called upon to fly, I find myself disappearing like Clark Kent, and Airport Hobo appearing like Superman, except that instead of being handsome and devoted to doing good, my alter ego is incredibly wrinkled (in clothing and body) and obsessed with tiny packets of snack mix.

As the name suggests, Airport Hobos are life forms specifically adapted to survive in airports and passenger jets, although small planes and ground transportation (such as taxis) are also suitable territory. You can recognize them because an Airport Hobo…

• …always carries enough travel-survival items on person to thrive even if all luggage is lost, stolen, or eaten by bears. See “kit and kaboodle,” below.


• …appears extremely patient and stoical: when plane is delayed, will lower metabolism and go into a light coma similar to hibernation.
• …can become aggressive when fighting to claim overhead luggage space.
• …has a morbid fear of babies.
• …gets through airport security lines at maximum possible speed (1 kilometer per week), despite carrying a full array of liquids and electronic equipment.
• …has a special, intimate relationship with all caffeinated beverages; may be observed pleading for them or whispering to them.
• …obsessively forages for electricity; will crouch for hours near any wall with a “hot” outlet, hoarding power in various appliances.
• … actively discourages conversation with other travelers; may feign language deficit or death to avoid chatting on planes.
• …walks with a forward-leaning stance, as if climbing a steep hill (and adaptation that developed to roll luggage).
• …speaks Airplane fluently (for example, the standard Airport Hobo phrase for making sexual overtures is, “Please be careful when opening overhead bins, as items may have shifted during takeoff and landing”).

Like Batman’s magical belt and Wonder Woman’s awesome pushup bustier. Airport Hobo’s outfit confers superpowers uniquely adapted to airport life. The basic outfit (kit) is pictured above. It includes:

• Cash. The lifeblood of travel. Most Airport Hobos, as shown here, try to carry at least thirty billion dollars in local currency at all times.

• Boots. For kicking off and slipping on. While another traveler unlaces and reties one pair of sneakers, Airport Hobo can take off and put on boots 12 to 15 times, and often does, to the amazement of other passengers and security personnel.

• Cheap sunglasses. These disguise Airport Hobo’s true identity, can be replaced at low cost when lost, broken, stolen, or offered as peacekeeping token to Airport Hobo’s most feared natural enemy: Babies.

• Scarf. The scarf is crucial equipment, as it can be loosened in a stuffy airplane parked at a gate, or used as a blanket once the plane is in flight through cold air. Airport Hobo can also drape it over his/her own face to discourage conversation or hide from babies.

• Passport holder. This is the Airport Hobo power source, as crucial as life itself. If an Airport Hobo loses this item, the next step is to jump out of a plane during flight. Holds cash and credit cards, as well as spare dental floss and a few gumdrops for bribing babies.


• Dried instant coffee. Can be used according to label, or offered as a sacramental tribute to Earl, the God Of Turbulence, Runway Traffic, and Unhappy Babies, or Jolene, the Goddess Of Those Tiny Lights In The Cockpit That Always Blink On at the Last Minute Before Takeoff And Prevent On-Time Departure. Dried coffee can also be eaten in jet-lag emergencies.

• Vest. This is actually a piece of luggage in disguise. Multiple pockets can carry enough supplies (kaboodle, see below) to keep Airport Hobo comfortable should flight attendants confiscate roll-aboard luggage, run out of coffee, or mutiny.

• Raincoat. Again, wearable luggage. Except for brief “dry” episodes at security stations, pockets hold bottles of water. An Airport Hobo with fully water-laden raincoat is able to travel tens of thousands of miles without stopping to hydrate, many times further than your average, non-flying camel.

In addition to the basic kit, Airport Hobos carry optional items (kaboodle) which may include:

• Electrical adaptors from around the globe, including mechanisms that plug directly into lightning bolts.

• Extra spoons.

• Oven mitt. This is of no known use to Airport Hobo, but this specific Hobo received it as a gift in a swag bag at an Oprah Magazine event, and kept it because of the basic philosophical position of all Airport Hobos, which is: You Never Know.

So the next time you travel, keep an eye out for Airport Hobos! Have no fear, they are usually non-aggressive (except near overhead luggage space, see above). On the other hand, use common sense: remember that Airport Hobos are antisocial, and will run into restroom stalls if pursued by a conversationalists or babies. Now, if you’ll forgive me…

Airport Hobo pack now. Go fly in plane. Please Earl make all babies go sleep.


Live Like a Lion, Love!


As I return home from almost 30 straight days on the road, having visited three continents, five countries, and three US states, I’m adding a new mascot to the bevy of beasts that have taught me how to live. The great things about being human is that, though we can’t quite equal the strengths of any other animal, we can do at least a half-assed imitation of any. (Yesterday on the History Channel I saw a blind man who echolocates like a bat, clicking his tongue and “reading” the sound echoes that bounce back to him from various objects.)

My current role model is Felix Leonis, the African lion, but not for the usual reasons. People have been identifying with lions forever because they’re big, strong, and have great hair. Me, I’m into their actual habits, which aren’t nearly as dignified and industrious as most people think.

First of all, lions sleep 20 hours a day. EXCELLENT! In Africa I met a wonderful Team member named Georgina Hamilton (now nicknamed Geo) who told me about a seminar she attended to learn lucid dreaming. For 10 days, the participants got up, ate breakfast, heard some instructions, and went back to sleep. Lunch, lecture, more sleep, dinner, much more sleep. What a concept! Listening to Geo I resolved to get serious about sleep—as aggressive as a challenged lioness, if need be.

Other than snoozing, lions have two major occupations. First, they hang out with their loved ones. I’ll never forget watching two leonine brothers—massive animals with manes like rock stars—wrap their front legs around one another and set to purring like tractor engines. Imagine two NFL nose guards with the social inclinations of Teletubbies. This I intend to imitate with anyone I love, and frequently.

The final lion occupation I intend to adopt is being silly. On the Masai Mara a few weeks ago, I flip-cammed these two youngsters playing with their food. Notice that they don’t actually eat the poor dead thing (at the height of the wildebeest migration, these lions were surpassingly well-fed) but use it for goofy hunting practice. You can practically hear them saying, “I will kill you some more! And more! Like this! You’re dead! Now you’re dead again! You are soooo dead this time!”

If you find this ghoulish, I understand. It takes some time to get used to the circle of life on the African savannah. But like a lion, I’m going to let you process that on your own. I’m feeling a little drowsy.

The Team Is Everywhere!

This guy could be more like you than your own relatives.

As you may know, I’m convinced that there are a bunch of us on earth at this point in history who are here to save the world. Of course, every generation has saved the world in its own way, but here in the 21st century there are so darn many humans that we literally have to change unless we want cockroaches to outlive us all.

Fortunately, all over the world there are people–ordinary people, people without fame or wealth–who feel this same mission. They’re starting a transformation in the way humans live and think. They’re doing it person by person, Team member by Team member. And it’s time we all began working together.

Tonight in Nairobi I met two Team members who have the same passions and aspirations as a middle-aged female life coach from suburban America. One is a Ugandan genius who creates home-made solar panels to bring sustainable, eco-friendly energy to impoverished people; the other is a thirty-something Maasai “elder.” He wants to start a small eco-tourism business to help his people earn a living by protecting wildlife, such as the elephants who compete for drinking water with the women of his village.

The video quality of the clip below is awful–you can barely see these wonderful guys–but it’s enough to show that the Team is not just idealistic middle-class Americans. It’s brave people all over the world, doing small things with great love (to quote Ma Teresa). These guys are just like any other Team members. We just happen to’ve been born in different places.

Straight From the Elephant’s Mouth

So it’s like this: The human quarters at Londolozi game reserve are cordoned off by a thin electric wire, which doesn’t do much to discourage antelopes and monkeys—or for that matter, lions and leopards—but which does keep elephants from wandering in.

At least, that’s the idea.

More than a year ago, one bull elephant figured out how to pull down the wire and get into the camp, where he binges on the lovingly tended flower and vegetable gardens. He became such a regular visitor that the Londolozi residents took to calling him “Night Shift.”

Months ago, in an attempt to keep the elephant at bay, the staff added additional wires to the fence. Night Shift learned to uproot fence poles. Gaps in the fence, where cars drive through, are protected by metal grills on which most animals won’t walk; Night Shift has recently been seen daintily tiptoeing—all six tons of him—across the grills. Night Shift has caused tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of damage, and though he’s never harmed anyone, an African bull elephant looming up in the dark at close range could seriously freak someone out.

On Monday I was discussing this problem with Bronwyn, Boyd, and Shan Varty, three-fourths of the family who run Londolozi. Not far away, workers were reinstating several fence poles that Night Shift had merrily flicked aside the night before. At their wits’ end, the Vartys were wondering whether they should have the elephant relocated to some other part of Africa.

This is one reason I love the Vartys so much: when I suggested that we call a highly intuitive friend, who has been known to give accurate readings and predictions, they went for it. Within minutes, we’d made the call and Night Shift was coming in loud and clear. Here is part of the conversation that followed, verbatim (except for the gales of laughter that followed every message Night Shift supposedly sent).

Friend: “He wants his own camp.”

Us: “Could you please tell him that’s not feasible?”

Friend: “He understands.”

Us: “Will he please stop breaking in at night?”

Friend: “No. He loves people. Londolozi is his special project.”

Us: “Ooooh-kaaaay. Can we come to some sort of compromise?”

Friend: “He wants a sweet spot.”

Us: “A ‘sweet spot’? What the hell does that mean?”

Friend: “Oranges.”

Us: “He wants oranges?”

Friend: “He LOVES oranges. Also people.”orange

At this point, the other one-fourth of the Varty clan, patriarch Dave, walked onto the veranda. “Did you know Night Shift is in the front garden?” he said casually.

Without a word of consultation, everyone dashed into the kitchen, grabbed some oranges, and rushed out to the front garden. Sure enough, there was Night Shift, eating bushes.

Boyd began bowling oranges toward the elephant, applying plenty of elbow grease to get them through the tall grass. Don’t try this at home. Generally, you should expect wild elephants to react with alarm, if not aggression, should you start hurling objects toward them. Not Night Shift. He pounced on the oranges like a kid grabbing candy from a broken piñata, popping them into his mouth and scrunching joyfully, the way you might eat a Tic-Tac.

When we ran out of oranges, Night Shift wandered away (and I grabbed a camera to shoot the picture above). Our intuitive friend contacted us to communicate one more message: “Thanks!”

The next morning, Night Shift had uprooted no fewer than eight new fence posts. But as I lefft Londolozi, instead of stocking up on snub-nosed bullets or tranquilizer darts, the Vartys were assembling a big mesh bag filled with oranges. They’re trying to decide where to place them so that monkeys and baboons won’t get them and Night Shift will recognize them as fair trade for his leaving fences and gardens where they are. I’m sure they’ll figure it out in the end, because this is Londolozi, a term that in Zulu means “protector of all living things.”

For the camp’s sake, I hope Night Shift moves on quickly, or at least modifies his “special project” to make it less expensive for his beloved humans. But for my own sake, I’m thrilled he was here, busting in, making trouble, and requesting oranges from people just zany enough to grant his wish. As always, this is one spot where magic is not suppressed, and that makes me believe my own wishes can be magically granted as well.

So You Think You Can’t Dance: WHO CARES?

Once again yesterday, I got a lesson from my son, who’s been practicing ballroom dance in his man-cave.

Flipping the Switch to a Happier Life

Electric Switch ONbigstock_Light_Bulb_459906
Lately I’ve been happily devouring Chip and Dan Heath’s book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. The Heaths’ advice is enlightening on many levels, and has added some gangbuster techniques to my coaching tools. See how you like this one.

The Heaths suggest that it’s crucial to look for “bright spots” where we’re already succeeding, then replicate those results in other areas. Most of us look for “dark spots,” in our own lives, in our loved ones’ lives, in the world generally. As you may know, the reptile portion of our brains is tuned to danger, and the storytelling brain area takes ANY evidence of danger and perpetuates it through our personal Top Ten Tunes o’ Terror.

I’m a danger-story champion, but today I’m following the Heaths’ advice, so every time a dark spot turns up in my own mind, I’ll find a corresponding “bright spot” to replace it (or at least balance it). I’ll call this “Flipping the Switch.”

Step 1: Flip the Switch By Finding Brights to Balance Darks
Dark Thought: This morning, I didn’t get through to the woman I was coaching.
Bright Spot: But I got through to her husband.

Dark Thought: I barely talked to my son while I drove him to his workout.
Bright Spot: Adam thrives on silence, and he’s psychic, so he knows I love him.

Dark Thought: There are so many new technologies, and I can barely send email.
Bright Spot: I did eventually learn how to email.

Dark Thought: I haven’t finished my book.
Bright Spot: But yesterday I wrote 11 pages.

Step 2: Replicate the Bright Spots
Now my job is to replicate the conditions that caused the bright spots to occur. I’ll see what led to my successes, then extrapolate to other situations, which I basically manage by saying “Hmm…” Like this:

• I got through to my male client because I put very little pressure on him. Hmm: Put less pressure on clients.

• Adam’s psychic, so he knows I love him. Hmm: I sort of believe almost everyone can sense love at a distance. Hmm: Try just beaming love to my many adored ones, and see if they feel it.

• I learned how to email because I made a friend who preferred communicating that way. Hmm: When I want to learn a computer skill, I’ll get a friend who wants to learn it with me.

• I wrote 11 pages yesterday because I set an “action trigger”: while at the gym I pictured walking home, drinking a smoothie, and then writing. Hmm: Action triggers (visualized sequences of behavior) work. I’ll set another one to get me working on my book today. Let’s see…I’ll eat some Key Lime pie, sing along with three feisty Sheryl Crow songs, then write.

Having done this exercise, I’ve stopped brooding about my failures and begun seeing spots-bright spots. I feel way more motivated already. See if “flipping the switch” like this can work for you!

Is It Time For You to Take Some Minimum Days?

Dog walking.

This week I recalled a procedure that once regulated my life. I call it “Minimum Days.” A more accurate title would be “adrenal burnout recovery days.” Lately, I’ve come to believe almost everyone needs it from time to time.

Here are some symptoms of adrenal burnout, all of which were ragingly evident for me these past few weeks. See if they describe you, too:

• You wake up every morning not because you’re rested, but because “it’s time.”
• Absolutely nothing sounds interesting except sleep. If you won the lottery, it would make you want a nap.
• People keep genially commenting, “Hi! You look like crap!”
• You keep misplacing important things, such as your spouse and children.
• You have no will to live.
• Walking the dog sounds like climbing Everest.
• All you want to eat is Boston cream pie.
• All your Master Coaches keep telling you to REST, DAMMIT!

Okay, that last one may be specific to me. At any rate, this weekend, after getting mild cases of yellow fever, hepatitis, typhoid, polio, and lord knows what else from the vaccination lady here at Phoenix Travel Health (I believe this woman won the 2010 Most Pessimistic Person On God’s Green Earth Award), I went to sleep for almost three straight days. I got up only to eat Boston cream pie and whine intermittently.

This is what I mean by a Minimum Day—a day when you do virtually nothing but rest—and I do believe mine just pulled me back from the brink of exhaustion. These days, life is like a treadmill that’s lost its regulator and just speeds up, minute by minute. When things get too crazy, just jump off. Sleep and then sleep some more.

It took three Minimum Days to get me back to something like normalcy. It may take you one day, or five, or ten. This may feel exorbitant to you-mine did to me. But in my mind and heart (though not my driven ego) I believe humans were to sleep when it’s dark, to watch the wind in the leaves, to nap in the heat of the day. We long ago lost this natural pattern. Minimum Days help take back a bit of what we forfeited by becoming work- and clock-obsessed. I’ve been preaching about them forever. Now, having practiced them, I’m urging you all over again: go to sleep. Have some pie. Then go to sleep again. I’ll see you when your will to live returns.