Planning for Success: 5 Powerful Questions to Ask

PlanningForSuccessIn a world that is fast-moving and filled with challenge, something we can always count on is change. It seems that most people are in a state of transition nowadays. I see this with my clients, with my colleagues and with myself as well. There is a transition in my business, as I continue to evolve the ways I serve my clients and grow my business. There’s a transition in my homefront as well, as my children rotate in and out of the nest as they continue their education and start their own careers.

Traditional year-end review and making New Year’s resolutions can get a little stale and boring. Too often planning for success can become a very analytical and linear process. It’s easy to dial up success or turn down what didn’t work by taking incremental steps. The goals can feel like a “should” and your energy takes a nose dive. I find people having to work really hard to feel motivated or inspired by lists of new things you should do. Which is perhaps why only 8% of people making annual resolutions actually achieve them.

Research shows that almost 65% of us are visual learners. So when we make that list of endless resolutions or goals, if you’re not making them visual you’re missing out on an opportunity to get more deeply engaged and in love with your plans for success.

When I do strategic planning with a client and am drawing out their insights and desires in real time on a graphic map, it’s amazing how quickly they get a new perspective and get clear on their priorities. Bringing colors and images in to the planning process turns on creativity, insight and playfulness as they create a road map for their own success. When you make your plans for success visual, that is when magic and manifestation can really happen.

We live in a crazy, busy and quickly-changing world. The quality of the questions we ask when planning for success helps us set priorities and get clear on our values. What have you said “Yes” to that you now need to say “No” to so you can create space for what is to come?

Here are 5 powerful questions to help you plan for success in the year ahead!

1. What Do I Need?

What are your core needs? As Maslow articulated in his “Hierarchy of Needs”, until we address our basic survival and security needs, we won’t be able to  move forward to fulfilling other important social or self-actualization needs. Consider your most important needs and get as specific as you can. “I need to make at least $50,000 a year” is far more specific and powerful than just “I need enough money to live on” as a basic need.

2. Does This Bring Me Joy?

Is what you’re doing bringing you an experience of joy and expansion? Or do you feel a sense of drudgery and heaviness? If you’re feeling spread thin and approaching things with a sense of dread, chances are you have got some major commitment pruning to do. There will always be lots of things you could do or get asked to do by others, but it’s simply not possible to keep piling on the “Yes’s” and not end up exhausted at the end of the day. Become selective and look for how you can bring more joy into your life.

3. Does this Fulfill My Purpose?

Is what you’re doing an expression of your deepest gifts? Do you have a secret hankering to do something, but you keep holding yourself back? Spending your time and energy in ways that feels like a fit for your gifts and purpose is so rewarding, not just for you but for those around you as well.

4. Where Are My Blind Spots?

When you drive a car, you need the sideview mirror to check your blind spot. I see its message that “Objects may appear larger than they are” as really cosmic. Until we clearly see any disempowering behaviors we have, they have a huge energetic pull on us until we get them handled. Is what you eat, procrastination about paying bills, or being a committed conflict avoider a potential blind spot? Make the decision to look for these blind spots so you can refocus your energy in a constructive way that moves you ahead.

5. What Do I Need to Release?

The Universe loves a vacuum and will come rushing in to fill it with something new. And so it works with our life force as well. We must stop living like pack rats of choices and experiences, and release things that no longer align with our highest purpose (use Questions 2 and 3 to get clear on this). This may mean releasing limiting beliefs, physical clutter or relationships. Bless them, release them and welcome in the miracles that are to come in the year ahead!

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR E-ZINE OR WEB SITE? You can, as long as you include this complete statement with it: Success Strategist, coach and best-selling author, Carolyn B. Ellis, is the founder of, empowering you to thrive no matter what your outside circumstances are. To receive her “3 Essential Steps to Thrive After Divorce” free video training series, just visit

Boost Productivity and Clear Your Psychic Bandwidth in 3 Easy Steps

“I just don’t seem to have enough time to get everything done!” is a common refrain I’m hearing from my clients. Truth be told, I’ve muttered it more than a few times to myself as well! In a world where information, resources and tools are available at your fingertips, it can be a challenge to walk that fine line between being productive and being burnt out.

A friend of mine I spoke to told me she was struggling to decide on whether to accept a new opportunity in her business and that “I’m not sure I have the psychic bandwidth right now to really take that on!” I loved that phrase, because our brains do operate like computers. Let me share some strategies for good computer maintenance we can apply that can help us become more clear, productive and less overwhelmed.

Step 1. “Defrag Your Brain” Regularly

I loved the phrase “Defrag your brain” which I heard from innovator and thought leader, Andrea Lee. She notes most of us are more habituated to cleaning the lint drawer in our dryers than we are taking the “lint” that can collect in our minds.

The word “defrag” comes from the defragmentation process computers regularly undergo as a means to free up unused space in its memory. Over time, data gets stored in the computer in ways that isn’t efficient, with many gaps appearing between files. The data becomes fragmented, which slows down the speed of the computer.

Tip: Set aside regular times to “defrag your brain.” Beyond just an annual year-end review, I recommend setting aside at least once a quarter for big defrag/review sessions, as well as shorter monthly ones to keep you on track. Block off your next defrag session in your calendar before the end of today.

Step 2. What do I “No”?

We all know that when you run too many programs on your computer, the speed slows you down. To get back to peak efficiency, you need to find those unnecessary programs and turn them off.

A great question I learned from Andrea is “What do I ‘No’?” Even with the best time management, organization and priority-setting systems in the world, we can’t do it all – at least not all at the same time. If you say yes to everything, you end up diffusing your energy and focus. Not only are you spreading yourself thin, but you won’t be able to create the results you want.

Tip: To help defrag your brain, ask yourself what you need to say “No” to. What is on your plate that you know in your heart is not your highest priority, or an expression of your life’s purpose? If you feel a lukewarm response, that really means a “No” or a “No, not now.”

Step 3. Know When to Call Tech Support

Einstein was absolutely right when he said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. If you find yourself persistently in a pattern of procrastination, indecision or overwhelm, you might have picked up a mental virus somewhere along the line! Somewhere in your subconscious programming there is a sub-routine running in the background that needs to be removed or simply upgraded to support the next greatest version of you. Rather than continuing on your own, you can often save time, money and heartache by calling upon a coach or someone with specialized expertise who can help you to breakthrough the pattern. This way you get to clarity, confidence and results much quicker!

Tip: Notice if you feel stuck in a loop where your productivity seems to drop off regularly. If Steps 1 and 2 aren’t producing results, reach out for support from someone else to give you perspective and coaching. Working with a coach, finding an accountability buddy or joining a mastermind group are great ways to break through persistent and stubborn productivity and focus droughts!

© 2010 Carolyn B. Ellis

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR E-ZINE OR WEB SITE? You can, as long as you include this complete statement with it: Success Strategist, coach and best-selling author, Carolyn B. Ellis, is the founder of, empowering you to thrive no matter what your outside circumstances are. To get free tips on turning adversity into opportunity in order to improve your relationships, increase your self-confidence and reach your highest potential, visit

5 Steps to Beat Procrastination

Procrastination is a slippery challenge that seems to perpetually lurk around in my life. I’ll be honest and share that I have an on-again, off-again battle with putting off taking action on important priorities or projects. We’ve all got dreams and goals we want to achieve in our day or in our life.  But when we procrastinate, we start to lose our focus, drain our energy and ultimately cause our self-esteem to plummet.

We can procrastinate about obvious things – starting the diet, preparing our tax returns, having the tough conversation with someone we love or cleaning up cluttered areas.  However, we also procrastinate in more subtle forms…. Continue reading

Divorce and Separation: How to Handle The Reactions of Family and Friends

“I’ve been separated for a few months now and am still feeling pretty shell-shocked. How do I handle my friends and family? Everyone is telling me what to do, how I should feel, asking all sorts of questions I don’t feel like answering. I feel like shutting down.


The transition from going from married to separated can be pretty rocky. It sounds like your emotional stamina has been really tested, which is to be expected. Your family and friends and all of their advice and questions are well-intentioned, but it sounds like they aren’t really helping. So how do you ask for what you need?

Don’t be afraid to tell your supporters that you appreciate their help but right now the best way they could help you is simply to offer you love and to listen to you. Listening deeply to another without an agenda to “fix” them or solve their problem is such an important gift. Too often people listen more to what they want to say next, instead of ….

just listening and letting someone pour their heart out. Tell them the barrage of advice and “Here’s what I would do” are adding to your sense of overwhelm instead of helping you get your feet back on the ground.

Realize that your friends and family are likely going through their own emotional upset as well. People don’t get training manuals on divorce etiquette, so they are doing the best they can and may simply be feeling uncomfortable themselves. They may have strong feelings about your ex-partner, or are concerned about your well-being, or both. It could be bringing up their own feelings of insecurity or doubt about their own relationship. Regardless, it’s totally acceptable to let them know what you need. If the conversation starts to go down a road you don’t want to travel, simply tell them “You know, I’d rather not get into that right now. Let’s change the subject.” They will follow your cues.

It is important, however, that you do find some forum to express and explore your feelings. Divorce isn’t easy, but it’s an opportunity to discover new wisdom and strength within yourself, if you’re willing to look. So I wouldn’t recommend simply “shutting down” permanently. The risk there is that you could simply repeat past mistakes because the lessons that are in this separation for you haven’t been fully excavated and digested.

The Divorce Resource Kit offers many tools, such as the THRIVE Principles ™ and strategies to help you get your sense of center and confidence back. You may also want to work with a divorce coach or find a local support group where you can connect with others going through divorce. You don’t need to travel the divorce journey alone.

Ask your question, in confidence, by clicking here or you may email us at We’ll answer your question in upcoming issues!

Dealing with the Unknown: 3 Strategies for Handling Uncertainty

Uncertainty and dealing with the unknown is something we all must learn to cope with. John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” If that’s the case, are there ways to live with the unknown with a greater sense of mastery and ease? I believe so!

Living with uncertainty certainly isn’t comfortable and can show up on both a macro and a micro level. On the macro level, you may have been hit by one of life’s curve balls like a relationship meltdown, a workplace restructuring, a health scare or some other significant shift in the landscape of your life. On the micro level, Mercury goes retrograde again and your computer crashes right before you need to pull your major presentation out of it. You are working on something that you thought was your heart’s desire, but you …. Continue reading

Can You Remain Friends with Your Ex After 25 Years?

Q: “This was to be our 25 year anniversary but we are getting a divorce instead. We had a great life and I do not hate him. I want to remain friends with him and his family. We were very close and did things together a lot. Would it be bad for me and my grief recovery to remain friends? Should I just let our teenage boys maintain that relationship? If so how do I get past the jealousy of him getting to “keep that part of our life”?”

A. I know this isn’t how you might have imagined celebrating 25 years of marriage, but I commend you for the relative amicability you have been able to achieve so far. With teenage children in the mix, it is important that you are able to preserve your ability to co-parent and communicate with one another. You raise some great issues and I will do my best to address them.

In terms of your grief recovery, you will discover the degree to which you are able to remain friends with your ex. There are certainly examples of divorced couples who have found a way to maintain, or perhaps more accurately re-invent, a relationship after divorce that goes beyond simply co-parenting. However it requires willingness on both sides to have that as a goal, and to develop the communication skills and personal mastery skills to do this. As you move through your separation process, I recommend you tap into the resources of the expertise you’ll find in the Divorce Resource Kit or from an experienced counselor.

In terms of your teenage boys and their relationship with their father, I would certainly encourage you to do what you can to support their continued relationship with their dad. They are old enough as well to express their preferences. You say that you feel jealous about your husband being able to “keep that part of our life,” but with all due respect that precious part of your life, ie your teenage boys, was only made possible with the participation of your husband. It is the ego that feels jealousy or wants to compare if you receive more or less love.

But your higher self already knows that there is no shortage of love. What I recommend to help you through those feelings is to keep your children’s best interest in mind and resist any temptation to put your children in the middle of their divorcing parents. Keep the long term perspective in mind. How do you want your children to feel at a future milestone like a college graduation or wedding if both mom and dad are present? Build and celebrate your relationship with your sons. Let your relationship with them be your primary focus.



Ask your question, in confidence, by clicking here or you may email us at

5 Tips to Unplug, Unwind and Reboot Your Creativity

“Storms make oaks take roots.”

When was the last time you had a day with no electronics?

I’m talking no computer, no TV, no smartphone, and no email.

Can you remember when you were last “unplugged” from the electronic circuitry that has become so much a part of our daily lives?

Does even just the thought of even doing that make your breath get shorter? Or have a zillion thoughts of all the reasons why “I can’t do that!” just popped into your mind?

There is something very powerful and magical that happens when we unplug and unwind from the constant bombardment of stimulation we get on a daily basis. Apparently we receive more mental stimulation and demands for our attention in a single day, than our great-grandparents had at the turn of the century in an entire year!


In his book, Crazy Busy: Overstretched, Overbooked and About to Snap!, Dr. Edward Hallowell shares how in a “world gone ADD” there are many of his patients come to him feeling chronically inattentive, disorganized and overwhelmed.

Hallowell warns that our technologically-driven, fast-paced, 24/7 open-for-business society is overloading our brains and that we are suffering from a “culturally induced state of ADD”. He calls it the “F-state” which is when the individual feels “frantic, frenzied, forgetful, flummoxed, frustrated and fragmented”. Can you relate to that?

Living in a perpetual F-state takes a toll on our ability to create and sustain relationships with family, partners and friends. It creates impatience and poor listening skills. Enjoying and feeling satisfied in our careers can become a challenge if we operate in the F-state. Clearly, always living in the adrenaline rush that characterizes the F-state isn’t great for our health or peace of mind.

The goal is to move to what Hallowell calls the “C-state.”  Here we are “clear, calm, collected, consistent, concentrated, creative, curious”?  I personally would add the word “conscious” to that list.

Here are my top 5 strategies to hitting the “pause” button and finding a sense of calm in your busy life.

1. Do Only What Matters Most to You

“While no one has total control over his or her life, most people have more control than they exert,” Hallowell notes.  There are so many options available to us and technology that can get the job done, but it’s not feasible to “do it all”. Let what is most important to you guide you. We must accept we have limits and be willing to let go or say no to those things don’t speak to your heart.

2. Practice Unplugging on a Regular Basis

Whether it’s for a week, a day or even just an hour, take some time to unplug yourself from electronics and other omnipresent sources of distraction. It’s hard to listen to the voice of our spirit or intuition when there is so much internal chatter and we are always exposing ourselves to external attention-grabbing media. Whether it’s through meditation, yoga, taking a walk in nature or even taking a day of silence, some form of unplugging helps us get more clarity and helps new ideas and creativity to come into our awareness.

3. Fuel Your Creative Juices

Take some time to do something that really feeds your creative juices. It might be taking a dance lesson, or trying out a new recipe, or just going for a walk in a new part of your town. Make time to let your creative side find more space in your life, and you’ll be delighted at how it will then spill over into every area of your life.

4. Create a Positive Emotional Environment

Positive emotion is a powerful fuel to keeping you living in a C-state. Look at how you’ve designed your external world (that includes elements such as your physical surroundings and your friends) and make sure you set yourself up for success. Make playtime a priority, no matter how old you are!

5. View Each Moment as a Precious Gift

The one resource we cannot create more of is our time – and we only get 525,600 minutes per year.  What is the wisest, most impactful and heart-fulfilling use of your next minute? Living in a state of gratitude for the abundance you have helps you cut through all the distractions and reconnect to your true values and priorities.

© 2013 Carolyn B. Ellis All Rights Reserved

Divorce and Separation: Being On Your Own Again

Divorce and Separation: Being On Your Own Again

Q. “How do I get used to being alone and not so addicted to trying to find a new mate?”

A. When you’re in pain at the ending of a relationship, it can be sooo tempting to just find someone quickly to fill that void. We torture ourselves with thoughts of “I’m going to be alone forever!” ringing in your ears. Particularly if your former spouse has already moved on with someone else, some people go even more all out to get their next relationship so they can “keep up” with or prove something to their ex.

But you’re wise to notice how strong your drive is right now to find a new partner, and to ask how you can get used to being alone. With about 50% of marriages ending in divorce, the statistics are even grimmer for second and third marriages! Unless you take the time to stop and as honestly as you can reflect on what went off the rails in your first marriage, you’re setting yourself up for a scenario where history may repeat itself in future relationships.

Here are some tips to help you in this transition period!

1. Date Yourself First

Treat yourself with the love, respect and appreciation that you would like to have in a romantic relationship. Little love gestures like giving yourself flowers or lighting candles for dinner add up to a lot in terms of setting the stage for new love.

2. Identify What You Want

Extract all the wisdom from your divorce by identifying what didn’t work in your relationship. Make a list of the characteristics and dynamics that didn’t serve you well, e.g. “My ex was close-minded.” Ask yourself what you do want instead in a new partner and write that down, “My partner is open-minded.” You’ll end up with a much clearer idea of what you do want in relationship.

3. Indulge In Your Passions

Give yourself time to devote to your passions. Indulging in them not only fills up your emotional reserve tank, but it gives you the opportunity to connect with other people who share that same passion.

Harvest Your Wisdom for Future Success

When facing challenges or uncertainty, some of the greatest tools we have at our disposal is past experience. Every incident – whether joyful or traumatic – contains the seeds of your greatness that help you step into the next greatest evolution of you.

Too often we rush quickly past the missteps, the failures and even the successes in our drive to get on to the next thing. But in that rush to get to some preconceived destination, we miss the joy and the wisdom of the journey. Just as the vineyard owner carefully harvests the grapes to produce a fine wine, so we must take the time to harvest our own wisdom of life experience so we can savor the fullness of life.

I invite you to use these contemplations and action questions to help you harvest your own wisdom so you can apply it in service of your future success.

H – Heart

Too often when people are faced with a challenge, they try to “figure it all out” and lead from their head. (I know – I’ve done that many times myself!) Adopting a strictly rational approach and minimizing or denying our feelings is ultimately a recipe for disaster. This has been a year when so many people are waking up and feeling the call of their hearts to lead lives of more passion and deeper meaning. Letting yourself lead from your heart creates powerful connection to others.

What could be possible for you if you could let your heart’s wisdom and strength guide you even more powerfully this year?

A – Acceptance

Acceptance is a key ingredient to living with more peace and ease. Of course there are situations where wrongs must be righted, boundaries set or expectations clarified. But I see everything as part of a spiritual curriculum that we have created for ourselves. I accept that I can choose each day to live with as much heart and consciousness as I am able. Some days are easier than others to do that! I accept that heartaches, victories and quiet moments all contribute to the fabric of who I have become today, and I am grateful for it all.

Where have you been in resistance to something and how can you find a greater level of acceptance?

R – Resilience

The pace of our daily lives operates at such an accelerated rate and change is the only constant. More than ever, we need to be adaptable to changing and challenging circumstances. Resilience helps us to draw upon those inner resources and strength we may not have realized we had. It allows us to stay flexible and regroup when we need to.

Where can you acknowledge yourself for the great resilience you are already showing?

V – Vision

Like the beacon of a lighthouse guides a ship through rocky waters, our vision of who we want to be in the world and what we want to accomplish is our personal beacon. It can be easy to lose sight of that vision or to substitute someone else’s for your own. But creating a vision uplifts and motivates you to keep going through even the tough times because you keep the bigger picture in mind.

What elements need to be a part of your life’s vision so that it would inspire and uplift you?

E – Excellence

No matter what you do, bring your best effort and highest integrity to it. Hold an expectation of excellence for yourself and others. In the world today, there are too many people taking shortcuts or backdoors. When you commit to excellence you naturally alchemize the best that is already within you to come forward.

Where can you express excellence today?

S – Service

I’ve always had the perspective of leaving an environment a little better than when I found it. Even when I was working in a bullpen office on Wall Street putting together municipal bond deals, I was looking from the lens of “How can I make this process a bit better? How can I empower others to work together more effectively?”

How can you be of service – to others and to yourself – so that you leave the world at least a little better off than how you found it today?

T – Trust

Without trust, we become paralyzed. The road ahead can never become clear unless we are willing to take the first step out in trust. With trust, we know that we are never given more than we can handle.

What can you do today to feel more trust within yourself?

Divorce and the Holiday Season

Q. “The holiday season is coming up and I’m recently separated. I have two school-age boys. My stomach feels like a knot thinking how different the holidays are going to be now for them. Is there some way to make it easier?”

A. Family holidays are supposed to be relaxing and stress-free, but often they aren’t. Planning family holidays is a particular challenge for the millions of divorced families out there. In fact, one out of three Americans is part of a blended family (and I suspect the statistics are similar for Canadians).

Divorced families face an even bigger challenge with holiday planning with children shuttling back and forth between mom’s house and dad’s house. There are all those logistical questions. Whose turn is it to have the children for Christmas morning? What if both parents are having a turkey dinner on the same day? How do you handle summer break? What do you do if you end up solo on a major family celebration day?

The key for separated families, like yours, is to doing some advance planning and preparation. Without that, holidays can end up being a time for stress and re-opening of old wounds instead of a time to relax and unwind, both for divorced parents and their children. There are some tips I can offer to make it a bit easier. First of all, instead of planning your holidays one at a time, … Continue reading