Cheri Timko: “Add some blank space to your day”

Add some blank space to your day. If you are like me, you probably have more things to do than can reasonably be done in the day. It is tempting to work from an overwhelming “to-do” list that will never really be finished. Add some blank space to your day and do something that is […]

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Add some blank space to your day. If you are like me, you probably have more things to do than can reasonably be done in the day. It is tempting to work from an overwhelming “to-do” list that will never really be finished. Add some blank space to your day and do something that is truly rejuvenating. Usually, we fill our blank space with numbing activities where we zone out (watching videos/tv, scrolling mindlessly through social media). Instead try something that will fill you up. You will be surprised that you feel better after even 10 minutes.

It sometimes feels like it is so hard to avoid feeling down or depressed these days. Between the sad news coming from world headlines, the impact of the ongoing raging pandemic, and the constant negative messages popping up on social and traditional media, it sometimes feels like the entire world is pulling you down. What do you do to feel happiness and joy during these troubled and turbulent times? In this interview series called “Finding Happiness and Joy During Turbulent Times” we are talking to experts, authors, and mental health professionals who share lessons from their research or experience about “How To Find Happiness and Joy During Troubled & Turbulent Times”.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cheri Timko.

Cheri Timko has specialized in couples counseling at her psychotherapy private practice for almost twenty years. She recently started a coaching business to provide support and education to couples who want to have an extraordinary relationship. She has been happily married for over twenty years and is a homeschooling mother to three daughters.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I grew up as a child of the 70s in a traditional family. Compared to now, childhood was a carefree time. As kids, we were usually able to be blissfully unaware of what was happening in the world. My dad repaired copy machines and my mom stayed home to take care of us. In a household with four kids, it was a busy place to grow up. I was a focused student and active in many activities. My parents raised us to be well-rounded, hardworking, productive adults.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

As a child, I believed that I could be anything I wanted when I grew up, if I was willing to put the work into it. Before starting college, I remember sitting down with the list of academic areas I could major in. Taking a logical approach to the question of my future, I went through all of the options with a randomly chosen list of criteria. I ended up studying psychology by process of elimination. In the end, it was a good choice for me.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

In college, I was assigned to work at the University Counseling Center. It turned out to be the best opportunity for me. I was surrounded by psychologists who shaped how I thought of the work I would do. Although my job was to make copies and run errands, I had the ear of several successful professionals who generously answered my random questions. They nurtured my love of the study of people. Their personalities ranged so widely, from studious to organized to quirky. I could see myself fitting into the profession. The group of them were great mentors.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

The biggest mistake I have made, and continue to make today, is to hesitate. Personally, I grow by venturing into new territory and challenges. I understand that making mistakes is how I get more information about how to solve a problem. However, I frequently hesitate when I should take a step forward. There is a huge opportunity cost to hesitation. In fact, I would guess that I have lost out on a lot more by hesitating than I would if I have moved forward in almost every situation.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

I am in the middle of a huge pivot. I have worked as a psychotherapist for many years. The pandemic gave me time to think and explore where my career is headed. In January, I opened a couples coaching business. This will allow me to reach a wider audience and impact the lives of more couples. When couples have better relationships, it spills over to their families and friends who will all benefit. I am excited about this new project.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

  1. Hardworking

From an early age, I was taught to do a good job at everything I tried. I was encouraged to take pride in my work. I learned to set and achieve goals. This has helped me achieve my current success and will propel me towards future achievement.

2. Detail oriented

When I look at a system, the parts that are not working well usually stand out in sharp contrast to the rest of the picture. It is harder to see when I am really close to the project, but when I can take a step back, I often can pick out the problem. This allows me to work effectively towards a goal. When I am stuck or too close to a problem, I use a trick that helps break the problem loose. I take a shower which somehow allows me to relax my brain enough to let the details fall into a new order, giving me better clarity on the next step.

3. Relationship focused

Relationships drive almost everything I do. Feeling connected to others feeds my soul. I want my business to function in ways that support the relationships that give my life meaning, not steal from them. I try to keep strict limits around my work so I can have vibrant connections with others. My closest relationships are with my husband, kids, and close friends, but I also value the relationships with a wide range of acquaintances who I want to see succeed and thriving. I am at my best when I am involved in several collaborations that support everyone’s success.

For the benefit of our readers, can you briefly let us know why you are an authority about the topic of finding joy?

I have been a psychotherapist for the last twenty years. I have had the privilege of journeying with many who traveled from a place of darkness to joy. It has taught me a lot about what brings joy and what steals it away.

Ok, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about finding joy. Even before the pandemic hit, the United States was ranked at #19 in the World Happiness Report. Can you share a few reasons why you think the ranking is so low, despite all of the privileges and opportunities that we have in the US?

I can think of a few reasons that are impacting our happiness levels in the US.

  • We cultivate ambition by looking at those who are more successful than us and happiness by comparing ourselves to those who are less successful. In the US, our highly individualistic, competitive culture encourages us to compare ourselves to those above us. That feeds our drive to achieve but drains us of the rejuvenation of rest, free time, fun, and relationships.
  • We are bombarded with messages all day long that tell us we are “not enough.” Not smart enough, not pretty enough, not rich enough. It is hard to ignore these messages. They have the effect of causing us to compare ourselves to others, which is the root of unhappiness.
  • As an individualistic society, it is harder to be happy for the success of others because it feels like everyone is our competition. In more collective societies, they emphasize that everyone’s life improves when any one person has success, so they are able to share in the joy of success of each individual.

What are the main myths or misconceptions you’d like to dispel about finding joy and happiness? Can you please share some stories or examples?

Myths about happiness:

  1. Myth: What I see on social media is true.

Most people post a carefully curated story about their best times on their social media. Every now and then, you will see some of the messy parts slip through. It is unfair to compare your worst day to other’s best days. If you focus on how your life stacks up against others, you will have a hard time being happy.

2. Myth: There is a formula for being happy.

What makes one person might make another miserable. You need to create your own definition of happiness. Pay careful attention to the things that bring you true joy, then include more of those into your everyday life.

3. Myth: If I live my life just right, I will always be happy.

Humans are unique among animals because we have access to a broad range of emotions. Our emotions make our lives richer and deeper. We are supposed to feel all of them. If you were happy all of the time, you wouldn’t appreciate it much because it would just feel normal. We need the lows to accentuate the highs.

4. Myth: People who look happy on the outside are “happy people.”

Everyone has a range of emotions. People who look happy on the surface have the same emotions as anyone else. They might naturally be a little happier than average, or they might cultivate a happy attitude, but they still struggle with the same emotions as everyone else.

In a related, but slightly different question, what are the main mistakes you have seen people make when they try to find happiness? Can you please share some stories or examples?

The biggest mistakes:

  1. Believing that happiness is supposed to be constant.

It is impossible to feel one emotion all of the time. No matter how you organize your life, or how easygoing you are, you cannot be happy all of the time. Instead, we need to notice the joyful moments and savor them. When we feel sad or frustrated, it helps to know that there are more joyful moments coming. When we really watch for them, we will find some every day. The more of them that we notice, the better we will feel overall.

2. Not being present in the joy because they are too focused on the past or future.

So many of us have trouble being present in the moment. We are planning for what will come next. We are anticipating the letdown of when that moment ends. We are regretting that we don’t enjoy more time in there. It keeps us from truly enjoying and experiencing the current moment. Practicing mindfulness can help you ground yourself in the present and cut out some of the distractions.

3. Ignoring or devaluing the small moments of joy in favor of the mountaintop experiences.

The mountaintop moments of sheer joy are wonderful. When they happen, they can shift our outlook on everything. Of course, we want to stretch them out as long as we can and create as many of them as we can. In reality, they are likely to be few and far between. It takes a lot of effort to create them. When we focus on daily enjoyment of the little things that happen every day, we can create a tapestry of happiness that allows joy to permeate our lives. Enjoying the little things lets joy weave into the sad and frustrating times.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share with our readers your “5 things you need to live with more Joie De Vivre, more joy and happiness in life, particularly during turbulent times?” (Please share a story or an example for each.)

There are many ways to add more joy and happiness to your life. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. It is hard to exaggerate the power of gratitude. When a person feels down, identifying even one thing they are grateful for will often change the tide of their feelings. When you feel down or upset and you create a list of things that you are grateful for, including even the details, it can change the tone of how you are experiencing life. This is not to wipe away the problems, but it helps you keep a more accurate and balanced view of life. For example:
  2. Keep a daily gratitude journal with three thing you appreciate that day.
  3. Share with your partner something that you are grateful for.
  4. Use sadness as a trigger to list things that you appreciate.
  5. Add some blank space to your day. If you are like me, you probably have more things to do than can reasonably be done in the day. It is tempting to work from an overwhelming “to-do” list that will never really be finished. Add some blank space to your day and do something that is truly rejuvenating. Usually, we fill our blank space with numbing activities where we zone out (watching videos/tv, scrolling mindlessly through social media). Instead try something that will fill you up. You will be surprised that you feel better after even 10 minutes. Examples are:

Go for a short walk.

Meditate or pray.

Do gentle stretches.

Practice deep breathing.

Read something inspirational.

Create a bucket list. Usually, you are encouraged to think about the big things that you want to do before you die. Instead, think of the small things that will make your life feel better this week. Try to find 3–5 small things that will add a little more meaning and fun. What you choose will probably look very different than what others choose, but that is the point — choose activities that really enrich your life. Some examples:

Get your favorite coffee or snack.

Reach out to a friend who encourages you.

Read a chapter in a fun book.

Take the scenic way home.

Get takeout from your favorite restaurant.

Watch something that makes you laugh.

Gamify something boring in your life. Make a bingo card for things that you frequently see on the way to work. Create a list of five things you will do every day to improve your life and give yourself a treat on Friday if you accomplished it most days of the week. Take a big goal and break it down into weekly steps and reward yourself for sticking with the plan. You can add fun to any activity if you plan for it.

Know what you need. Identify the things that give you comfort when you are feeling down. Make sure to keep those things accessible for times when you are sad or overwhelmed. Some things to include are:

Your favorite foods (not just junk or comfort foods!)

Comfortable clothes, including things you can wear to work.

Inspiring quotes and stories.

Soothing activities (coloring, blowing bubbles, taking a bath).

Photos of loved ones or relaxing scenes.

What can concerned friends, colleagues, and life partners do to effectively help support someone they care about who is feeling down or depressed?

The most powerful thing you can do for others who are feeling down is to be there for them.

When you care about their well-being, without giving them a lot well-meaning advice, it is a reminder that their lives matter. You don’t have to wipe away their feelings or cheer them up, just listen and be present.

Find a way to do this that feels easy for you to do. Don’t set up lofty expectations that you won’t follow through with. If you can’t spend time with them in person, on a video call, or on the phone, then sending a quick text every couple of days, posting on their social media, or sending a funny meme or inspiring story will remind them that you care. Whatever you decide to do, focus on activities that you will remember to do regularly.

You won’t be able to wipe away their sadness or depression, but you will keep them from feeling entirely alone or forgotten.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I help couples have extraordinary relationships. I believe that just about every couple can have a great relationship. I started a Date Night movement (#datenight) to encourage and inspire couples to invest some time and energy into their relationship every week. We now have a Facebook group (Date Night Community) supporting couples who want the support and encouragement of other couples through date nights. I hope you will join in the fun.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

Recently I have been trying to channel my inner Seth Godin. He is forward thinking and prolific. I would love to have his ear for a few minutes.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

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