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 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 Separation: Stopping the Negative Mental Loops


How can you stop the negative loops recalling what went wrong (and what was so right)? How do you stop trying to ‘fix’ it in your own mind?”


Divorce, heartache, grief and rebuilding your life – it’s all part of the healing journey everyone must travel when your relationship ends. The mind is a beautiful problem-solving tool. But when it comes to matters of the heart and relationship, our brain is often not well-equipped to help us heal.

Having those cyclical thoughts and questions of “What if….?” or questioning what might have turned out differently if you’d made different choices in the past is quite natural. It is simply the brain sifting, sorting and trying to find patterns and solutions from past experiences it has stored to find a way out of the situation you find yourself in. Sometimes you know your relationship is on the rocks, and sometimes you don’t. So our powerful brain is literally scanning its memory banks to find pieces of data that might help you to create a solution and get to the other side of your heartache.

But your power and choices lie in each present moment. The problem with unchecked cyclical thoughts is that they keep you replaying the past or projecting yourself into a fantasy future that is sheer speculation. The key to making empowering choices for yourself and navigating through your divorce is when you stay present, moment-to-moment.

If you find yourself caught in a mental spin cycle, a great way to break out of it is to write it all down. Use a journal to capture your thoughts and questions. This will assure your brain you’re doing something productive with all of its gyrations and help loosen the grip of these negative loops on your mind.

You can also set some boundaries around this kind of thinking. Give yourself a time limit of some kind to fully review the good, bad and ugly about your situation and how you got there and then once your timer goes off, stop. Break your physical and mental state by putting on some great tunes and dancing, or do some jumping jacks, and then undertake another kind of activity.

It’s also important to ask great questions. Setting your brain to the task of “How could I “fix” things?” assumes that something is broken that you are responsible for fixing. Redirect your powerful mind to answering the question “If this experience is part of my soul curriculum, what are the gifts in it for me and my personal evolution?” or “What can I learn from this that will serve me in all future relationships?”

Have a question about divorce you’d like to see answered? Submit yours to Thrive after Divorce by sending an email to


Divorce in a Small Town


“I live in a small community. My biggest challenge is I am always seeing my ex and the woman he had an affair with and married on a weekly basis because of the children’s activities. I feel like I can’t “get over” my divorce because I am kept inflamed constantly in the present.”


Living in a small community where “everybody knows your name” can pose an additional challenge to those trying to rebuild their life after divorce, particularly when your ex and his partner seem to be omnipresent. Nonetheless, the basic principles of thriving after divorce … Continue reading

Divorce: Is It OK to Talk to Your Children When They are With Your Ex

Q. “My ex-wife will not let me speak to the kids when they are with her. She does not want me to call the house. Is there anything I can do about this? It breaks my heart.”

A. This is a great question and raises a thorny issue that needs to be negotiated, particularly when your separation is still fresh. On the one hand it’s important for the children to feel they are connected and able to have a relationship with both mom and dad. But on the other hand, mom and dad are separated now and children and adults alike need to ease into that new reality.

It is not clear how old your children are and I am not sure how long your separation has been in place. In the absence of that, there could be factors in your ex-wife’s request that you not have contact with your children. So I’d love to offer you some tips now to get you started, but would encourage you to work with a parenting coordinator or counselor to discuss this issue further so you can come up with a plan that is just right for your family.

If you don’t have your children often, having a phone call or two from dad just to touch base with them can be ….

very reassuring. Even though they aren’t with you, they know the channels of communication, love and support don’t disappear even when they aren’t with you physically.

The guiding principle should be to do what is in the best interests of the children. In the days of cell phones, texting and Skype, there are many ways to still communicate with your children, and they may even request that.

See if you can be clear with your ex-wife about your need to communicate with your kids and to do so in a way that isn’t so persistent or involving that it won’t rob her of their time with her. In some cases, having the other parent in constant communication might be confusing for the children, or open the door to have the children play one parent off the other (yes, they sometimes do that!) Have a conversation with your ex-wife and apply Stephen Covey’s principle of “Seek to understand.” Do your best to separate out what’s important to your children versus what’s your own emotional homework about processing how you feel about your divorce. It could be really helpful to get some third party assistance so you can address any other issues that might be fueling her unwillingness to have you contact them.

© 2012 Carolyn B. Ellis

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

Get Over Yourself: One Sure-Fire Way to Stop Playing Small

Sometimes the biggest obstacle you face in business or in your personal life is yourself. Those voices of self-doubt, fear and negativity can drown out your dreams and test your conviction in your vision. But there is brilliance and inspiration inside of every one of us, and it takes an enormous amount of energy to hold that back and play small. In this episode, I’ll share with you an exercise I created that will help you get out of your own way, stop modulating yourself and step into your confidence and commitment to share your true brilliance in the world.

Divorce and Dating: Fear of Failure in Relationship

Q. “I am dating a wonderful man. I am so afraid I don’t know how to be healthy in a relationship. I don’t want to blow it. I am 54, female and divorce for 3 years.”

A. First of all, a big congratulations on your new relationship and just from your question I can feel the joy and excitement you have in finding love again. After the heartache of divorce, when you find love again it is quite natural to question whether it is going to last. We get anxious about how you can preserve this state of happiness forever. Our old fears creep in and whisper that at some point, somehow, the other shoe is going to drop and somehow your relationship will fail.

The first step in not “blowing it” is to relax. Recognize the thoughts of worry and doubt as merely programming sub-routines in your brain circuitry that are firing up to try and protect you from heartache and pain. When we give these thoughts more energy and attention or believing they are real, we end up becoming emotionally disconnected and brittle. You can get more objectivity on these kind of anxious thoughts by journaling, talking to a friend or working with a coach. My award-winning Divorce Resource Kit is also packed with great tips, exercises and principles you can use to strengthen your internal foundation so you feel more confidence about you finding love after divorce.

I’d also recommend you be as authentic and open with your new partner as you can. Be honest about how happy you are and how much you appreciate him being in your life. Be honest about how you are still healing and learning about yourself, and that you want to keep the communication channels open about how you can both have the most magnificent, satisfying and incredible relationship of your lives together.

Wouldn’t it be more accurate and kind to yourself to say “I am learning how to be healthy in a relationship” instead of  “I don’t know how to be healthy in a relationship”? Our words are very powerful and carry a lot of energy. I encourage you to celebrate your wins and the wisdom and healing you have already done since your divorce. The more loving and acknowledging you are to yourself, the more loving and acknowledging our partners can become. I wish you every happiness!