2014 Magic SquareI remember laughing in class after hearing the classic question: “What would you do if you could not fail?” I thought, That’s silly, at some point in time everyone fails. I can learn from my and other people’s mistakes, so failing can be transformed into a good thing. But I played the instructor’s game and quickly realized the exercise was designed to motivate me beyond my fear of failure and to act. While his challenging question jumpstarted my brain into action, I found more freedom and success from a difference workshop that featured the concept of the magic square.

When I imagine my life is like a magic square, then every direction I travel is in the right path. Whether I go up, down, left, right, diagonal, or fly to the four corners, I will reach the right destination. Try it. Add any four numbers from the magic square – up, down, left, right, diagonal or the four corners – and see what you get.

To me, this means I’m always in the right place at the right time with the right number to make magical things happen. If I work hard towards any of my 2014 New Year’s resolutions and give 501 percent then I have five different winning solutions.

I cannot fail.

True, sometimes it might take me longer to realize the right path. I might focus on the obvious left/right, up/down, and diagonal options and overlook the less obvious –like the four bottom right or four center squares. Success often comes from the most unlikely places.

The magic square method proves we are not alone. We are part of an intelligent solution –a piece of the puzzle within the bigger picture. In a word: teamwork. As Michael Jordan said, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.”

To offer a real-world example, when we celebrate life’s events, (We Bid You Good Cheer) the recipient(s), the party, the audience and quite possibly a tasteful toast can be parts of your magic square. The words said in loving tribute, a.k.a. the toast, is your contribution to the winning combination and will help enhance the evening’s festivities moving us along the right path.


Your turn: How can the lesson of the magic square help you?

Write Your GoalsBecoming a self-motivated dynamo is easy as one, two, three and generates three glorious benefits: clarity, confidence and charisma. We’ll do this together. Get a blank piece of paper and pen – I know, so “old school” – but this allows you to read and write as we go step by step.


1. Write down your goals.

Merchandising mogul J.C. Penny said, “Give me a stock clerk with a goal, and I will give you a man who will make history. Give me a man without a goal, and I will give you a stock clerk.” Let’s make your history. Get your goals out of your head and on paper so you can see and read what you want. This gives you immediate focus and clarity.


2. Write down specific goals.

Look at your list and edit each line to be specific. The more detailed you are the better. Here are a couple of examples of how to modify your list.


Good: I want to lose weight.

Better: I will lose 12 pounds.


Good: I want to save money.

Better: I will save $140.


Good: I want to give a tasteful toast.

Better: I will say a tasteful toast for Bob’s birthday.


E.B. White, American author best known for English language style guide, The Elements of Style, and Charlotte’s Web said, “I rewrite a good deal to make it clear.” With minor practice you’ll skip step two and get-it-all-done in step number one, which reinforces clarity and builds your confidence.


3. Write down due dates.

“Goals are dreams with deadlines,” is a quote from Think and Grow Rich author Napoleon Hill. Adding a simple target due date feeds your instinctual need to achieve and succeed.


Better: I will lose 12 pounds.

Best: I will lose 12 pounds by March 15th (1 pound a week).


Better: I will save $140.

Best: I will save $140 a month ($5 a day).


Better: I will say a tasteful toast for Bob’s birthday.

Best: I will say a tasteful toast for Bob’s birthday on July 20th.


Review your list and prioritize based upon the earliest due date. Look at item number one and write down the first three actions you need to take in order to complete this goal, then do items one, two and three.


Clarity and confidence are intangible feelings that grow out of achievement, which translate into charisma that will manifest in the way you walk and talk as you complete each step in reaching your ultimate goal.


Follow the above write steps and you’ll be in the right place at the right time and be a winner!


Related Articles:

Pick One and Get It Done

Find Your Focus and Win Your Game

New Year’s Nuptials


Your turn: What goal are you going to focus on and follow through to completion?

Tasteful Toasts 3 Ways to Maintain Your MotivationI’m envious and occasionally jealous of people who have a single-minded focus and boundless energy towards their personal and professional projects. How do they find the time to get it all done? Are they eating special super-foods? Can I learn to be just as successful? I discovered all high achievers from bodybuilder, actor and politician Arnold Schwarzenegger to actor, singer and dancer Hugh Jackman to motivational speaker Tony Robbins always have help getting to the top. I’ll share a few of their secrets.

I’m not going to tell you the same ol’ transcendental stuff like, believe in yourself, follow your passion and remain positive. While those are good and true, you must have a goal to pursue then you can apply any one of these three practical ways to maintain your motivation.

Find a Friend

Tasteful Toasts 3 Ways to Maintain Your MotivationYou can don your Superman cape and go it alone, but why? When you find a friend, not just any friend, but someone that is willing to work with you as you tackle each baby-step to your ultimate goal, then you develop a powerful support team.

While on his quest for the world’s top bodybuilding titles, one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s training partners was Franco Columbo. “I knew that he [Franco] was the training partner who could weather the ferocious workouts necessary in the coming year,” said the muscle man. Schwarzenegger went on to win the Mr. Universe title at age 20 and the Mr. Olympia contest seven times.

You can also have more than one friend working with you. Schwarzenegger has several other men including Dave Draper, Ric Drasin and his life-long mentor Reg Park.

Mentor Me

Tasteful Toasts 3 Ways to Maintain Your MotivationHaven’t done it before? Scared? Terrified? Find someone who has completed the job successfully and ask for assistance. Again, you don’t have to go it alone. In fact, you’ll be more productive and avoid pitfalls when you have the right mentor for guidance and advice.

When Hugh Jackman, PEOPLE magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” – my wife made me add that – was asked to host the Academy Awards (the Oscars), he sought out advice from veteran hosts Steve Martin and Billy Crystal. “I’ve always said ‘yes’ to the thing I’m most scared about then I work through it with someone more seasoned than me,” Jackman explained. Being a stand-up guy he offered his advice to the next year’s host Seth MacFarlane.

If having a mentor is good enough for X-Men’s Wolverine, then it’s good enough for you.

Reward Yourself

Tasteful Toasts 3 Ways to Maintain Your MotivationAfter each milestone is completed, take some time to pat yourself on the back. Yes, there’s more work to be done, but a little break and reward will keep your spirits up.

Master motivator Tony Robbins believes when you complete a task and reward yourself, you’re one step closer to your goal and you feel good about it. Repeat often. Robbins says, “It's not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives, but what we do consistently.”

When I’m finished with this article I’m treating myself to lunch…at In-N-Out Burger. Thanks, Tony.

Now let me answer the questions that started this piece:

Q: How do they find the time to get it all done?
A: Set a single, specific goal. This article will help: Pick One and Get It Done.

Q: Are they eating special super-foods?
A: Not really, but they typically eat a proper balanced diet and exercise.

Q: Can I learn to be just as successful?
A: Absolutely.

Your Turn: How do you maintain your motivation?  

Leadership and Communication Expo Chair Bob Dietrich (left) with Facebook expert Michael Varma are all smiles at the sold-out Leadership and Communication Expo in San Diego, Calif.After teaching a workshop at the sold-out Leadership and Communication Expo in San Diego, Calif., I had an epiphany. You can use the same five Facebook posting techniques to keep yourself energized about your New Year’s resolutions. My session, Facebook for Fun and Profit, listed five ways to engage website viewers to click-and-order or visit your brick-and-mortar place of business.


Here is an excerpt from the workshop that I’m providing you for free:


Posting relevant and compelling content on Facebook maintains your current fans and encourages others to “Like” you. An immediate connection can be made with your audience through a photo with happy smiling people and a simple succinct sentence about the image. Facebook is all about F.A.C.E.S., which is a good acronym for remembering what types of pictures to post (page five of the handout - PDF 876 kb).


What Engages Viewers?Fun.

A picture of people having fun is the number one motivator. You’ll hear, “That looks like fun. I want to do that, too.” Find a picture or create a vision board of people succeeding in a similar project.


[Fun photo: my dad and sister offering a tasteful toast at my 10th wedding anniversary party.]



Actions are stronger than words – cliché but it elicits powerful memories to move you to act. Watch video clips of people achieving your target goal


[Action photo: my friends and the second couple I married as a wedding officiant.]



A person with strong character can alter the ambience of an event. Surround yourself with positive people who affect your mood (lift you up without dragging them down).


[Character photo: my wife’s cousin, Tom, goes by the nickname “Bubba” – enough said.]



Photos that elicit emotions enter your head and heart. You’ll become an unstoppable force and reach your goal when encouraged by a favorite photograph of a loved one or cherished event.


[Emotion photo: the first couple I married were head-over-heels in love – see The Magical Minister – Bubba is groom’s father.]



Winners inspire success in others. “I want that” and “I can do that” quickly transforms into “I believe it,” and “I will achieve it.”


[Success photo: Daniel Rex, the Executive Director of Toastmasters International presenting the Distinguished Toastmaster award to Michael Varma.]


Choose one or all five ways to follow through in February and I’ll see you in the winner’s circle.


Your turn: What part of F.A.C.E.S. most motivates you to action?



Barbara and Michael Varma Celebrate 2013

Every January you read dozens of articles on New Year’s resolutions, everything from how to eat right, exercise, and balance the work/home life. But all are missing a vital piece of information.


I’ve even written a few articles that were printed in newspapers and circled the globe online and yet I, too, overlooked the basic ingredient every successful person knows: Pick one and get it done.


My wife (Barbara) and I recently updated our Home Wish List for 2013. It’s in Excel (because I’m such a nerd) and it lists all the things we want to do to make our house a home. For example, we want to get new floor lamps, put up crown molding and paint an accent wall in the living room. You might call it just another Fix-It or a Honey Do list – we have those, too—but the Home Wish List is geared toward things we’d like to get done this coming year.


Currently our “homework” roster has 37 items listed. Ambitious? Overwhelming? Yes and yes, but I'm sharing a simple secret to get it all done. Millionaire motivational speakers and authors, Tony Robbins and Brian Tracy among them, all recommend the same thing: prioritize your list then pick one and get it done. Focus on the single task and follow through until it’s completed.


Does it really work? Absolutely. When you identify one item to work on, all the other stress and pressure vanishes. Staying on course is much easier. For example, for years I’ve wanted to update my website (www.MichaelVarma.com) and share lots of free content and begin branding all my products under one name. During the December holidays I worked on one page at a time and within days I had more than 30 pages posted.


Want more proof? Our previous Home Wish Lists has a running tally of more than 80 accomplishments. We did get new floor lamps, put up crown molding and paint that accent wall. That makes Barbara very happy and you know that fabulous saying, “A happy wife makes a happy life.” We also did it within budget, which makes a happy hubby.


What’s next in 2013? Transform my products to ebooks and share with you on iTunes. I know I’ll be successful because I’ll follow the rule: pick one and get it done.


Your turn: What goal are you going to focus on and follow through to completion?


Related Articles:
Resolutions Worth Their Weight in GOLD
Find Your Focus to Win Your Game
Learning by Example


For a long time I believed accidents were always going to be in my future. Frequently I’d find myself in the wrong place at the wrong time. For example, once I was stopped at a red light and observed a car crash and another time, while out for a morning jog, a bicyclist wiped out fifty feet in front of me. Why was I a witness to so many painful accidents? Then I had an epiphany, what if I’m actually in the RIGHT place at the RIGHT time and the right person with the right skillset to provide assistance? – afterall, I had emergency medical training. I discovered that I’m not alone in this type of forward thinking.

Assess the AreaMy friend Barbara Higgins is a fabulous photographer who captures special moments in a nanosecond. While shooting her Newport Beach Reflections series, she was walking on the pier and saw a couple being married with a few onlookers crowding around. She briefly assessed the area and noticed the bride and groom’s reflections in the lense of beach binoculars. Barbara was in the right place at the right time with the right equipment and skillset to snap an award winning photo (see above). 

Some folks claim she is incredibly lucky, but I know she has honed her ability to assess the area and see what others have overlooked. “I’ve learned to survey the scene.” says Barbara. “I’ve done it for so long that now I’m natrually observant.”

Change the FocusThe question, “Why is this happening to me?” can be interpreted two ways: as a victim or a victor. In my initial scenarios I was being a Negative Ned whining about the collisions and calamity I saw until I changed my focus and relalized I could be a Positive Paul and provide assistance.

  • Victims complain, “Bad things always happen to me.
  • Victors ask, “What can I do to make this situation better?

This is a dressed up version of the classic question, “Is the glass half full or half empty?” but I’ll take it one step further and ask, “Regardless if the glass is half full or half empty, fill it to the rim!”

Take ActionEvery day you and I have many opportunities, in our personal and professional lives, for fixin’ our stinkin’ thinkin’. Start small and follow Nike’s motto: Just Do It. Barbara Higgins agrees, “I still have to get the camera up pretty quick, focus and press the plunger before I lose my chance. Yes, I miss a few shots, but I get more than I miss.” 

To be completely candid, I have not always found that simple solution when I ask, “What can I do to make the situation better?”, but I know it’s out there. Each of us have unique talents that will make a difference when we decide to ACTAssess the Area, Change the Focus and Take Action.

Your turn: How have you fixed some stinkin’ thinkin’?


Leprechauns are lucky, that’s for sure, but who do they search for to capture their fairy fortune? Nobody. These harding work elves discovered to be lucky simply offer one (or all four) magical well wishes related to the universally accepted symbol of good luck; the four-leaf clover: hope, faith, love, and luck.


DC Comic’s fictional Superman has been portrayed by many a man including Christopher Reeve and although not a leprechaun – or having a lick of Irish in him – he often stated, “Once you choose hope, anything's possible.”

  • When the World says, give up, hope whispers, try it one more time.
  • All it takes is one bloom of hope to make a spiritual garden.
  •  Hope is putting faith to work when doubting would be easier.


Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Baptist minister and civil rights activist who had a dream and preached, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.” Your internal belief – mental, spiritual or gut instinct, will drive success.

  • Feed your faith and your fears will starve to death.
  • A little faith brings your soul to heaven, but a lot of faith brings heaven to your soul.
  • Faith can move mountains, but don't be surprised if you receive a shovel.


Theodor Gisel, also known as Dr. Suess, wrote, “You know you're in love when you don't want to fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.” Of the 46 children’s books he wrote, all kept the universal theme: "love one another."

  • Let your love be like the misty rains, coming softly, but flooding the river.
  • Love is like a wild rose, beautiful and calm, but willing to draw blood in its defense.
  • Love is an act of endless forgiveness, a tender look which becomes a habit.


American television and radio host Larry King says, “Those who have succeeded at anything and don't mention luck are kidding themselves.” I believe King’s quote is true and that you’re always the right person, in the right place, at the right time and have the proper skillset to make a magical moment.

  • Luck is when opportunity knocks and you answer.
  • Luck never gives: it only lends.
  • Luck is the by-product of busting your butt.

You can waste years looking for leprechauns to try and steal their pot of gold or you could spend less time and follow their lead and find your own fortune. Learn to be Lucky and generate your own luck and offer your own tasteful toasts.

Your turn: What have you done to become lucky?

Tasteful Toasts - Find Your Focus

I recently attended a mystery writers workshop where authors shared their dirty little secrects for producing a ploethora of pages. Several described elaborate writing rituals of being in sacrosaint chairs with morning stimulants – coffee, tea, jelly beans. A few explained how they play a fifteen minute game: Write a thousand words in fifteen minutes or less, then get a reward. I revealed my trade secret for winning life’s games by using these handy three lines: Goal Line, Outline and Deadline.

Goal Line

American Football is simple in concept. Carry the ball across the goal line to gain points and win. All the players understand the purpose, are filled with passion for the game and motivated by awards, fame or money whether it’s salary or future endorsements.

To write a mystery novel, Tasteful Toast or any other project, follow the same steps, which are similar to constructing a vision board. What is your overall goal? Write an award-winning blockbuster thriller-mystery novel. Why? Because you love suspense stories and want to be independently wealthy and see your book made into a movie. Dream BIG!


To reach the endzone the quarter back (that’s you) must have several plays to go the distance. While you can complete one hundred yards in a single hail mary pass, most football games are won by inching along ten yards at a time.

Most project, writing or otherwise, will have an outline – some more detailed than others. I’ve noticed the most successful people have a written outline opposed to, “I’ve got it all in my head” authors. Once the hashmarks are on paper there’s a sense of accomplishment, satisfaction and pride. Often there is a need to edit. Adjustments are good and move the entire process forward.


Football is a game with a definitive timeframe. The referee helps administer four quarters lasting fifteen minutes that provide additional motivation – an urgency to beat the clock. Deadlines move the ball (and the world) toward the goal line. Newspaper reporters must meet or beat a deadline to file their story of who won the Super Bowl by a specific time or it won’t make the front page.

Whodunit’s have a ticking clock, too. A race against time or it’s curtains for someone. And if you don’t have a deadline for the next item in your outline, you’ll miss out on the victory dances from first down to touchdown.

My favorite Vince Lombardi quote, “The price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal is worthwhile.”

Find your focus and establish your three lines: goal line, outline and deadline. Put your game face on and work on the first three items listed in your outline and soon you’ll be crossing the finish line.

A New Year’s Toast:

Every year it comes around
Resolutions can be found
Have a vision, have a dream
It's easier than it seems
Avoid the worry, avoid the fear
Time to get yourself in gear

Your Turn: What are your New Year's goals?

Tasteful Toasts New Year Nuptials

New Year’s resolutions are all about making a promise to new beginnings, both to yourself and to the one(s) you love. Whether it’s spoken words sealed with a kiss or a written contract signed and witnessed, you pledge to modify your lifestyle. I offer three tips and toasts to jumpstart your New Year’s nuptials.

Write it down.

Write a realistic list, large or small, of your aspirations. Avoid vague goals like, “I want to save more money.” Be positive, definitive, and include a target due date to help motivate, “I will save twenty-five dollars a week, for the next three months, starting January 1.” You’ll net a cool $300 by the end of March and gain a bankable new habit.

Here's to your health this New Year's night,
Wishing your future is wealthy and bright.

Take immediate action.

Determine the first step necessary to achieve your goal and do it now! If saving money is your ultimate goal, take twenty-five dollars out of your wallet now and set it aside. Don’t have it? How about five bucks today and every day for the next seven days? That’ll equal thirty-five dollars a week and you’ll exceed your goal.

Avoid the worry, avoid the fear
Time to get yourself in gear!

Follow through daily.

Consistency is the key to success. Look at your list every day and determine the next step you need to take and, well, take it. If it’s five bucks a day or three today and seven tomorrow, follow through, daily. Each incremental success brings you closer to your overall goal.

Fifty-two weeks of fortitude,
Affords me much gratitude.

You can enlist the support of friends and family. They, too, might have similar goals and you’ll become a mutually supportive, encouraging, and winning team.


Tasteful Toasts Movie Magic

Learn the three “A”s that make a magical marriage

It takes more than good communication to create the magical marriages seen in the movies. Wedded bliss is a combination of several movies genres: romance to attain love, comedy to induce laughter, and action to partake in life’s adventures. Read the secret scripts of the three “A”s: Attention, Attitude and Action to celebrate many wedding anniversaries in the future.


A quote from the screenplay Shakespeare in Love: “The greatest gift you can give another is the purity of your attention.” To pay attention to the large and dreams in your mate’s heart and mind demonstrates a regard like no other. This level of thoughtfulness and understanding can forge a bond to last a lifetime.


A winning attitude comes from the movie Good Will Hunting: “It doesn't matter if the guy is perfect or the girl is perfect, as long as they are perfect for each other.” Like two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, the husband and wife fit together perfectly – each completing the other’s picture. When she, the social butterfly, and he, the event planner, combine their talents they become the cosmic couple.


In When Harry Met Sally viewers heard: “When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” Such moments are vital to take action. When’s the perfect time to pop the question? Now. And like the characters in that movie, you’ll have your ups and downs and challenges that test the heart, but only when you seize the opportunity will you hear that magic word, “Yes.”

There are no minor roles in your life’s movie. Everyone from your immediate family to your friends and acquaintances plays a significant part; each one pushes you forward on your journey. And if you pay attention, keep a positive attitude, and take immediate action you’ll – you know it’s coming…live happily ever after.

Follow the three Vs to your pot of gold.

Tasteful Toasts - Learn to be Lucky

Some people seem to have all the luck. They not only avoid the pink-slip parade at work, they receive a promotion with a healthy increase in pay, to boot. Do they have a four-leaf clover hidden in their front pocket? No. These savvy folks have a simple secret. They generate luck by applying the three Vs: vision, valor and vigor.


Every prosperous person will cite a driving force: a vision. The ultimate dream, a heart’s desire or personal pot of gold can only be achieved once a goal has been established. Wanting to retire by the age of 42, becoming a published author or lecturing around the country commanding a five-figure fee are prime examples.

People with goals succeed because they know where they’re going.” ~ Earl Nightingale

Motivated individuals tend to have more than one ambition and each is clearly defined. A mental, and sometimes physical, outline starts them on their journey.


The next step in realizing a vision requires an act of bravery – to move forward and have the courage to divide that big dream into smaller, manageable actionable work assignments.

I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

You can – and should – ask for help with this chunking strategy. Often you will discover one or more subject matter experts – how lucky is that? – who may guide you through seemingly impossible tasks.


As you encounter insurmountable obstacles – and you will because that’s the reality of life – remain calm, be brave, and continue to ask for help along the way. True “luck” occurs when you recognize opportunities and take advantage of incoming phone calls and emails, visiting family and friends, and other helpful messengers of luck.

"Successful people keep moving." ~ Conrad Hilton

Celebrate the many minor matters you resolve and each major milestone you achieve. Every victory fosters self-confidence and strengthens your resolve, driving you to complete your original vision.

Consider the Arab proverb: Throw a lucky man into the sea and he will come up with a fish. Is he truly lucky or did he assess his dire situation and act boldly in order to survive being tossed into the ocean?

Luck frequently accompanies the men and women employing the three V’s. Whether it’s an original vision or the sighting of a golden opportunity, have the valor and vigor to pursue the prospect and find your pot of gold.

A tasteful toast to your good fortune:

May your pockets be heavy
And your heart be light
May good luck pursue you
Every morning, noon and night


Learn how the big guy gets it all done


Before putting on the magical red suit, Santa makes his list and checks it twice. Then, and only then, does the jolly old man race around the globe delivering presents. Modern day shippers like UPS and FedEx follow Santa’s lead and print manifests before deploying the motor pool. A source from the North Pole leaked the big guy’s secret formula of using the goal-setting acronym SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. 


Even if you don’t believe in Santa, you can refer to the dozens of research studies, published from the 1960s to current day that prove productivity increases when people give themselves specific goals. Saying, “I’ve got to purchase some presents,” is too general and probably won’t produce the desired result. Instead, state, “I want to buy gifts for Barbara, Missy, Pam, and Steve.” Your mind will identify appropriate goodies for each person on your list.


Define a start and finish line in order to measure your progress and celebrate each accomplishment along the way. In my example, I have four family members on my gift-giving list. After finding and paying for Barbara and Missy’s surprises I’ll be halfway done – so near to completion, my motivation will drive me until I reach 100 percent.


If you had millions of naughty and nice kids’ names to review by hand, it would be an insurmountable task. Many people tend to give up if a task seems impossible to reach – sometimes before the first attempt. Establish an attainable goal and vastly increase your chances of success.


Dreaming big is excellent advice especially when it is paired with rational and tangible goals. Attempting to be the earth’s next Santa Claus is grandiose, but wanting to be a local philanthropist is more realistic. Clearly visualize what you want and share the desires with your family and friends. This will generate additional excitement and propel you forward.


To deliver a lump of coal or new toy to every deserving boy and girl within 10 to 12 hours can put on a little pressure on Mr. Claus, although deadlines do provide urgency. A little stress is good to help focus our intentions and energies toward completing a task and receiving a reward, financial incentive or a sincere “thank you” when your loved one tears open the present from underneath the Christmas tree.

Whether you believe in his Christmas Jelly-Belly-ness or not, you can admire and learn from his top-notch organizational skills. Keep your goals SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. High achievers know precisely what they want, because they’ve written it down in simple, clear terms to keep them focused.

Write down your list of goals (and check it twice) to increase your chance of success. Make your SMART list today!

Achieving balance during the holidays.

Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve! Oh my! How did Dorothy keep her girlish figure during the holidays? Jazzercise! She and her gaggle of friends danced down the yellow brick road to the hip tunes of the day. Well, that and she didn’t have multiple family gatherings and office parties with tempting high calorie treats to increase her waistline. But if Dorothy and her merry band did participate in the year-end food-o-rama, they’d provide the following tips for enjoying the holiday season without gaining weight.

“We've been walking a long ways.” ~ Dorothy Gale

The trek to the Emerald City was accomplished by walking every single day. And research from the National Health Services shows that walking 10,000 steps a day will significantly improve your health. Whether you walk, jog, bicycle or swim, daily physical activity will relieve stress and burn up extra calories and can balance out some holiday meals.

My, my goodness -- I can talk again!” ~ Tin Woodsman

Although food can be a big part of the season, it doesn’t have to be the focus. Holidays are a wonderful time to reunite with your buddies, share stories and give thanks. Friends have (healthy) benefits, so take advantage of the gathering to speak from the heart and offer a tasteful toast to your friends:

You are unique, morals sublime.
Character rich, one of a kind.

Ain't it the truth!” ~ Cowardly Lion

A realistic goal is weight maintenance versus weight loss during the holidays. Make reasonable food choices and you’ll succeed – the foundation of the Weight Watchers food plan. If you’re still worried about the tempting treats, avoid arriving famished at the celebration. Have the courage to eat a light meal before leaving the house – a cup of soup or cheese and crackers on the stomach can help you resist sampling everything at a potluck party.

Oh, joy, rapture! I've got a brain!” ~ Scarecrow

It’s okay to eat. Remember moderation. And there are plenty of low fat and low calorie recipes posted online that are truly tasty. Try using applesauce in place of oil in your favorite holiday breads or make pumpkin brownies, which are yummy and contain fiber – a helpful tip from Hungry-Girl.com.

To find the Wizard of Oz and achieve their heart’s desire, Dorothy and her friends possessed the necessary resources: brains, heart and courage. You, too, can use your brain to avoid known personal food triggers, talk from your heart to reconnect with your friends and have the courage to exercise in order to enjoy the holiday season without gaining weight.


People who whine about injustices rarely receive positive results because they are too busy complaining. But if you explain your position and suggest a solution, you’re more likely to get what you want. I’ll illustrate the process with a personal example by using the case of “The Disappearing Tree.”

My wife and I were excited to sponsor a tree to be planted in the Village Pond Park near our new home as part of the city’s “Expand the Forest” program. But a year after our Floss Silk tree was rooted, commemorating our wedding anniversary, I drove by the mini lake and was astonished – our sapling had vanished and was replaced by a metal monolith.

There was no phone call, no letter, no notification of any kind informing us our tree was going to be outsourced. While I was sure the lamp post would improve illumination for evening strollers and our feathered friends’ noturnal activities, I couldn’t help but feel angry, depressed, and jipped. I had to do something.

I wanted to complain. I needed to act upon those strong emotions (it’s only human) and get to the bottom of this foliage fiasco. Who took out our tree and why?

But if I started screaming obcenities at the city’s employees, from the secretary to the manager of the program, I’d only irritate them. They’d shut down and do as little as possible before calling me a whack job and hanging up the phone. And if by some minor miracle I didn’t completely alienate them and they were still willing to help me, they’d ask the all important question: “What do you want?”

I want a replacement tree.

I started my phone call with a succint explanantion of the situation (I paid for a tree and now it’s gone) and my disposition (I’m unhappy) then offered a possible resolution to my problem (I want a new tree). To elicit assistance and get me out of jeopardy, I phrased the last sentence in the form of a question. “Instead of a refund, can you help me determine what happened, and plant a new tree?” I essentially empowered the city employee to flex his authority and set him up as the “good guy.” Everyone wants to be a hero. Here was an opportunity to swoop in to save the day and the environment, too.

He put me on hold to check out my story. When the program manager came back on the line, he confirmed that we had in fact purchased a tree but wanted a maintenance crew to verify my claim of the disappearing tree. He apologized for my inconvenience – a feel-good bonus for me – and promised to call me back within two days with an action plan.

Less than an hour later my phone rang. A member of the city’s landscaping team was at the “Duck Pond” and after a few radio calls, he corroborated my story. The answer was more simple than sinister. There was an existing powerline next to our tree which was ideal for erecting a lakeside lamppost and our timber was to be replaced but the paperwork had been delayed.

My wife and I now have a new magnolia to call our own.

So whether you’re calling in a complaint or writing about your woes, communicate clearly. Summarize the setback, briefly share your feelings on the matter and then offer a mutually beneficial solution. More often than not, you’ll get what you ask for.


Mom and Dad were there through our growing pains, teaching us the difference between our left and right. Right and wrong. And how to deal with the strong emotions of love and hate. A time will come when you’ll need more assistance beyond your parents’ tutelage. Early in my career, I admitted to myself I wasn’t Superman and needed help from an outside source. Granted that realization came after my “terrible trifecta” where I unwittingly embarrassed myself during three interviews (radio, newspaper and television). I wanted someone, a mentor, to show me how to fly, leap buildings in a single bound and prevent stumbling through another talk show. I decided to follow the three Ls: List, Look and Learn, to find a mentor.

Before you ask anyone to invest their time in your future success, write a wish list of what you want, both from yourself and from your mentor. Let this list be as long as necessary – mine was large enough for its own zip code.

I wrote things like, “I want to speak professionally when I talk about my books” and “Why was I so antsy during the interview?” Be honest. Write every candidly crazy question to discuss with your mentor during step number three, the Learn phase.

A mentor is someone you admire and respect. Often he or she works in your chosen career. Observe this successful person and analyze the qualities, values and traits exhibited then add those elements to the list you made in phase one.

I watched TV interviews and added dozens of positive attributes and nearly a hundred bad habits I hoped to never portray. Learning from other people’s mistakes taught me volumes.

Look at local leaders in your profession. Ask them a question or two seeking their advice. Absorb their comments and communication style. Determine if this person would be a good fit for you and could motivate you to do your best work.

The List and Look phases provide many opportunities for introspection and self-awareness. Revise your listing from the size of a telephone directory to a top ten prioritized list. Now you’re ready to approach your prospective role model to pop the question: “Will you be my mentor?”

Either answer is good news. A “No” – an honest and fair response – may mean they don’t have enough time to devote to this endeavor. “Yes,” denotes additional discussions will take place.

Show the work you’ve completed so far (both lists) then set goals and ground rules. Determine boundaries of confidentiality, accountability, time commitments and realistic expectations. A good mentor will listen and facilitate, fostering self-confidence and personal growth. I found this to be true from a highly structured mentoring program within Toastmasters.

Mentors help you capitalize upon your strengths and overcome your personal kryptonite. They provide a fresh perspective to real and perceived obstacles you face by suggesting alternatives instead of telling you what to do. Their empathy and experience will provide you the necessary guidance to build your own network and become successful.

Everyone one of us have had a mentor. These days we gather knowledge from workshops, seminars, lectures, podcasts or even e-learning. But one-on-one training is still out there. Just follow the three Ls (ListLook and Learn) and find your mentor. Then one day you’ll make the transition from apprentice to role model. Instead of learning by example you’ll be leading by example.


Clock Watcher

Clock watchers get left behind in economic times

Waiting for the perfect time to pitch an idea, write a query letter or send a resume? Then you might have missed the proverbial boat because your competition isn’t slowing down. Many people are fond of playing the waiting game, but the smart money is on folks following through during the slow season.

We’ve all heard “Businesses don’t hire during the holidays” and “I’ll have to update my resume.” Current excuses revolve around the

stalling economy: “I’ll start calling when things begin to pick up.” Until that magic time occurs, citizens head home to watch a little boob tube, grow old and complacent about the lack of prospects. Internal justifications quickly transform into the new procrastination tool and before you can say HDTV you’re hooked on the latest soap-opera-reality-game TV show.

Employers are constantly asking associates to do more with fewer resources. The new mantra – work smarter, not harder – is no longer lip service, it’s expected of every employee. American inventor and businessman Thomas Edison said it best: “There is a better way to do it. Find it.”

If your industry is truly slow then your first priority is to make yourself the top qualified talent and shine through the sea of mediocrity. Surpass the rest by being the best.

We are all sales people. We sell ourselves to prospective employers at a job interview, present our company’s goods to current and future customers, or write query letters to pitch our great American multi-million-dollar novel to an agent. And if you’re truly honest with yourself, you know there’s always something to do, like cultivate existing relationships to network for your eventual net worth.

Every farmer knows you wake up early, plant seeds now to harvest a fruitful future. Instead of watching the clock tick by, use those idle hours to improve or develop a new skill set.

Stop loitering in your life. Learn to reach out for assistance from a friend, boss or mentor and use your time wisely. Whether you’re climbing the corporate ladder or personal steps of success, winners know, the slow season is the grow season.


Four steps to fast-track your goals

Resolutions can be daunting, demanding a never-ending change in habits. That’s too much pressure to start the New Year, whereas goals imply a winner at the end of the game. More importantly, goals can begin any month or day of the week. I’ll dust off the classic fable, The Tortoise and the Hare, and show how our green friend fulfills his dream by going for the GOLD – Goals, Objectives,Logistics and Deadlines – to win the race.

Being successful takes time. It might happen today, next month, or 365 days from now, but defining your vision is step one.

Write down your ultimate goal. Is it to run your first marathon? Offer a tasteful toast at a wedding? Whether it’s a large task like writing a novel or a small chore like cleaning out the junk drawer – get it down on paper. Setting your project on paper begins the process of making it a reality.

If you can imagine it, you can achieve it.
If you can dream it, you can become it.
- William Arthur Ward

In the parable, the tortoise dreams of beating the hare in a foot race. An ambitious endeavor? Yes, but listing the objectives and tasks needed to accomplish the ultimate goal brings him closer to the finish line. Our shelled friend’s “to do” list might look like this:

1. Define the distance
2. Train on the track
3. Run the race

Write down the necessary steps to reach your goal. Modify your list as you encounter obstacles (we typically do) and remember what Mom always said, “The journey itself builds character.”

When you reach a road block, assess the situation. Look for options and determine if you can go over, around, under or through the barrier. A logistical lifeline is always available. Reach out to an expert or mentor for help.

He who is afraid of asking is ashamed of learning.
- Danish Proverb

Assign a target completion date for each objective. A schedule will emerge and magically propel you down the path toward success. Committing to each deadline will help prevent procrastination.

Had the hare followed through with his original intentions, instead of taking a nap under the oak tree, he’d be showered with champagne in the winner’s circle and not sassing about second place.

There are two mistakes one can make along the road.
Not going all the way and not starting.
- Buddha

Every mile finished in your personal marathon adds momentum, motivating you to “go the distance” – an accomplishment that deserves a victory dance. Winners go for the GOLD (Goals, Objectives, Logistics and Deadlines). Set your path on paper and you’ll be on the fast track to achieving your destiny.

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.
- Eleanor Roosevelt


Are you allergic to the holiday spirit?

Before the last trick-or-treater goes to sleep, retail elves start decking the shopping malls with holiday gifts. When Christmas usurps Halloween it’s easy to feel saturated with holiday cheer and become prematurely filled with the bah-humbugs. By the time Black Friday rolls around the day after Thanksgiving, you’re primed to knock over little old ladies and their walkers to get your loved ones the latest techno-gizmo. Clearly you’re in no shape to shop. Best to apply some mental medicine and fortify your immune system so you’re in the proper frame of mind.

Point of View
As a professional performer, I live the cliché “the show must go on” and know what’s truly vital is to maintain a healthy attitude. Several years ago I was booked to do a magic show at UCLA and made the mistake of having a cup of college coffee. The brew was so strong my hands shook like a workman operating a jackhammer. I could barely shuffle a deck of cards, but my audience didn’t care. They wanted to be entertained. If I were in a movie, it would be the pivotal scene where the hero (that’s me – played by Hugh Jackman) must decide what to do: run away to perform another day or levitate beyond the jolt of java coursing through my body. I chose to reveal my caffeine quandary. Coeds and tenured professors started to laugh with (and at) me all the way through my show. I learned two important lessons: stay away from college coffee and adopt a positive attitude for a positive outcome.

Proper Perspective
Google “positive attitude” and the Internet will return more than 11 million references in less than one second. There are hundreds of articles, quotes, books, essays, games, affirmations and poems devoted to this topic, but all share one basic theme: only you have the power to choose your ’tude.

Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”
Winston Churchill

There are no menial jobs, only menial attitudes.”
William Bennett

A human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes.”
William James

Rudolph Rage
Going to your “happy place” seems to be more of a challenge especially when faced with long seasonal checkout lines and even longer holiday traffic conditions. How do you release the pressure and return to your jolly jingle?


A well known speaker’s relaxation technique, proven to reduce tension and anxiety, is deep abdominal breathing. Relax your stomach muscles and slowly inhale a deep breath through your nose for five seconds completely filling lungs. Then exhale through the mouth. Most presenters repeat this process three times to get the desired effect – a calm body and clear head in less than 30 seconds.

You can complete this temperance trick in a car, in a bar, or in a line hopefully before you whine. My reference to Dr. Seuss has a point hidden within the rhyme. You can change your attitude anytime.

So while corporate America is out making a few bucks, it’s important to remember that clerks are just doing their jobs, taking your cash, check or charge. And when they say, “Have a nice day,” “Happy Holidays,” or whatever the latest politically correct phrase is, accept it with a smile. Better yet, take a deep breath, get some latitude in your attitude and wish them a Happy New Year!

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