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

Q & A: Divorce and Separation: Dealing with Disillusionment

Q. “I’m struggling with trying to understand how my husband was not the man I thought he was. His family is also really disillusioned with him. How can this happen to someone? How did I miss so much?”

A. Divorce can really warp your sense of reality. One day you’re madly in love with someone, planning your future, starting a family and deciding what you’ll do together in your golden years. Then there’s the day where you might be standing in your lawyer’s office, signing legal documents about asset division and child custody, wondering “Who the heck is this person I was married to?”

The disillusionment and disbelief you’re feeling is something many people who are separated or divorced is quite common. Sometimes you see the relationship failing, or you might be the person who initiated the divorce. But coming to grips with no longer being in an intimate, lifelong relationship with your spouse brings up all kinds of questions. How can someone I thought I loved turn out to be like this? How can it be that I missed all these signs, or had poor judgment to begin with? How do I make sure I don’t get blindsided and disappointed like this again?

The first tip I recommend to you is that love, life and relationships will always have many twists and turns. Your logical mind can easily get stuck into a repetitive loop trying to understand your ex-husband and have his actions and choices “make sense.” The truth is that sometimes things don’t make sense. People can be duplicitous, deceptive or even irrational. It can happen in the workplace just as easily in your matrimonial home. But pouring your time and energy into trying to figure out the emotional wiring of someone else is not going to get you any clarity that will make a difference for you in the long run.

The second tip is to lovingly and with a lot of compassion for yourself start to harvest the wisdom of your marriage breakup. It is so important to take the time to reflect on what we’ve learned from our past challenges so we can grow and make more aligned and empowering choices in the future. There are a lot of resources to help you choose the thrive after divorce and harvest your wisdom in my award-winning Divorce Resource Kit.

Here are a few questions to help you reflect on the soul curriculum lessons that are here for you to learn. Were there signs of incompatibility that you missed or tried to deny? Where did you stay silent, disconnect or simply tolerate any feelings that your marriage was under some stress? Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently in future relationships? Be patient and very gentle as you do these pieces of what I call “emotional homework” and you’ll start to feel more clear and grounded as you dig into it.

I wish you all the best!

Find Your Flow: 5 Life Lessons from the Dance Studio

“You are unique, and if that is not fulfilled, then something has been lost.”

Martha Graham

So you think you can dance?

Do you realize we are dancing every day? How we engage and interact with life is really a dance that shows up everywhere – in our relationships, with our clients, with our children, with our issues.

Are you in the flow of life? Or are you getting your toes stomped or being a wallflower?

Dancing is a great metaphor for how to tap into our divine flow and energy. Apply these 5 lessons and watch how your moves on the dance floor of life and business starts to shift!

Dancing has always been something I enjoyed as entertainment. Seeing the grace, strength and artistry of ballet continues to amaze me. But I never thought of myself as a dancer. Being a tall girl in grade school, a head higher than most of my peers until later in high school, I felt fairly clunky and awkward with my gangly limbs.

I decided to stretch my comfort zone and embrace my love of music and movement by taking a world music dance class. We dance to the music of African tribes, South American villages and contemporary music. Not only has it been a lot of fun, but it’s proved to be a great metaphor for creating success in life and business too!

Here are 5 lessons I learned in the dance studio that can help you find your flow and express your fullest, most joyful self!

Lesson 1 – Break Things Down

What may look effortless on the dance floor starts with breaking things down into individual steps. The polished and powerful performance is the results of hours and hours of practice, effort and commitment.

Sometimes we sabotage ourselves by thinking we should already know how to handle tragedy, or have a difficult conversation, or run a business. Start from where you are right now.  Break things into bite-sized, actionable choices you can make immediately.

Lesson 2 – Don’t Overthink Things

Thinking about changing your life in some way won’t happen if you overthink things. Pondering how to enjoy more love, money or peace in your life won’t happen until you take action. Getting concerned about whether you are doing it “right” or if others will approve just blocks your flow.

Getting out on the dance floor of your life, clunky and awkward, is where you’ll experience the polishing that helps you discover talents and strengths you may never have known you had.

Lesson 3 – Let Your Spirit Move You

Dancing and other forms of creative expression are such a great way to have your creative, intuitive side partner up with your linear, analytic side of your brain. Immersing yourself in the dance will allow you to bust some moves that are part of your signature style. For example, before you sit down to have that difficult conversation with someone you might know exactly what you want to say. But you need to stay present to what is happening in the moment of the conversation itself, so you can truly listen, respond and create a solution to the conflict. Structure is great to get you started, but tapping into your own spirit and wisdom is where the magic happens.

Lesson 4 – Be Willing to Laugh

Life is too short to take everything, including ourselves, so seriously. The wall-to-wall mirror in the dance studio offers me glimpses of all of me –the dorky beginner, the lithe graceful dancer, the goofball, the committed student doing her best to learn a new move. Having a sense of humor when we take on a challenge or hit a bump in the road keeps us on the dance floor.

Lesson 5 – Celebrate the Stretch

One thing I love most about live performances, particularly dance or theater, is that the performers are giving it their all. They are spreading their wings and celebrating the stretch. Their blood, sweat and tears are right there for the audience to see.

The stretch isn’t comfortable as we are literally lengthened toughened sinews and muscles in our body. But out of the stretch, we get more mobility, flexibility and strength that can last a lifetime.

Leave a Legacy: 3 Ways You Can Make a Difference Today

Debbie Ford, one of my formative teachers and the woman who trained me to be a coach, passed away at the shockingly young age of 57. While she had been battling cancer for a few years, hearing that she had succumbed was nonetheless a shock to me. She was such a vibrant woman.

Debbie shared wisdom that impacted millions around the world through her books, courses and workshops. When I first met Debbie I was in the midst of a divorce and all the emotional and logistical upheaval that is part of that process. For several years I trained as a Master Coach and eventually helped to train coaches in her organization.

Her passing raises some important questions for all of us.

What legacy do you wish to leave behind?

What would be possible if you lived each day as if it was your last?

Mortality isn’t a popular subject, yet it’s an inevitable part of our journey.

After all, planning to leave something behind implies that you’re no longer here. This thought doesn’t make most of us comfortable, but it is a reality…

Debbie Ford made a difference in the lives of others. That someone so vibrant, fiery and committed to helping people find their own wholeness would suddenly fall silent seemed incomprehensible to me.

Yet Debbie Ford has left a very rich legacy behind her. There is tangible proof of the difference she has made in so many ways –  with her dedicated coaches, her staff, the people whose lives she touched in ways large and small, and with her son. I feel the difference she made in my life every day, and I am eternally grateful to her for that.

Life is indeed precious. To make your choices each day with a healthy appreciation for the gift of having one more day on the planet adds an urgency and context to the piddly, day-to-day distractions than can entangle us. Choosing to live life full-out helps set your priorities, drop the doubt and fear, and makes it easier to muster up the courage to go after your dreams and make a difference to others.

Whether you want to make a difference by becoming a world-renowned author and teacher, or by raising loving and responsible children, the world yearns for the difference only YOU can make. By following these 3 strategies, you can get started on leaving your legacy right now.

1.    Know Your Heart’s Bottom Line

What is truly important to you? What are your core values that drive you and have you willing to take a stand? When you tap into your heart’s bottom line, you ignite your passion. Feeling your passion, values and truth allows people to feel you and be moved by you. It is not about the information you are here to share, but leaving a legacy is about the vibrational impact you have on others that inspires them to shift their perspective and make a different choice for their highest good.

2. Feel Your Burning Why

Having a vision that inspires and motivates you is important to helping you get through the daily challenges and setbacks that are an inevitable part of life. Having a burning why gives you the fuel to keep going when you want to quit or coast. For Debbie Ford, a single mom, her son was her motivation to go out and help others learn to heal their inner wounds.

3.      Take One Bite at a Time

To leave a legacy doesn’t require you to become a best-selling author, public figure or Hollywood star. You can make a difference today by offering a smile to a stranger in the check-out line, or giving your child an extra word of encouragement. You can leave a legacy by choosing compassion for yourself instead of criticism.

Don’t let your ego minimize the difference you make when it judges your dreams as inconsequential or not big enough. If each of us consistently took one small step every day to commit to living with love and peace within ourselves we would melt away the violence and struggles that challenge our society.