I Stand Corrected: I am an Overachiever, Underachiever!

My last newsletter was titled I Am the Worst in Class: If you did not read it, check it out.

After I sent the newsletter, I received this email from my older daughter: How much fun it that?

Subject line: Ellen’s philosophy on being a beginner  07c066f2-5eb0-4f7c-b085-95d6486b772b

If I am going to be a beginner, I am going to be the best damn beginner in the whole class. And I will write a newsletter about how excellent (expert, even) I am at being a beginner! I think you’re great!

After I stopped laughing, my first reaction was one of elation- my daughter was reading my newsletters! Then I started thinking about her response. She had me pegged. I am still an overachiever even when I am the worst! I have to face the fact- I am not cured from perfectionism.

I enjoy reading Brene Brown’s work. The focus of her book Daring Greatly is on vulnerability. Early in the book she talks about our fear of being ordinary. She says: “I know that yearning to believe that what I’m doing matters and how easy it is to confuse that with the drive to be extraordinary. I know how seductive it is to use the celebrity culture yardstick to measure the smallness of our lives.”

We can easily be seduced into measuring ourselves to others and feeling less than.

It is difficult to just be ordinary, part of the pack. I admit, using my jewelry class as an example is a stretch, but it reminds me of how many of us get caught in the spiral of wanting to be the best or extraordinary at something, and chase after the notion of what or where we should be. Even if we are really good at what we do, it is easy to find someone who is more successful and it robs us of feeling at ease with ourselves. I venture to say everyone deals with this. I have dipped into that space over the years and it is no fun.

As for my jewelry class, I guess I knew I could not be the best, so I am mastering being the worst. Last week I broke 4 blades trying to saw my necklace shape. I guess having my beginning necklace be a circular shape was a bit overachieving after all! I do see other beginners in the class making mistakes. Now I can go and just be oaky- not the best, not the worst (still up for debate!) Just part of the pack.

We all have areas where we excel and areas where we are not strong. When we accept that we are an ordinary part of the pack, we are able to relate more to others- a part of, rather than apart from. I will always strive to improve, and for now I want to improve just being Ellen- cute, messy, and fun!

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Stress Buster Tip: The Truth be told–NO MORE BS!!!

f0TsGdDv5ue6laU8EaxCAvHv5BK8IzhH9Cy0gHEoKDUI treated myself to a marketing/messaging intensive in Bozeman, Montana with the most amazing wordsmith, Stella Orange. This was part of my 60th birthday treat to myself. I was joined by 13 other females who I had never met. It took all of 10 seconds to feel at home among these powerful entrepreneurs, and the experience was life changing.

I learned a lot about messaging, but what made this experience so rich was the personal truth that unfolded. Each one of us was given a half hour “hot seat” to work on whatever messaging or program we chose.

I was working on my program name as I had been told it was too passive (and I am anything but passive!). When I told them I was Custom Calm helping people live a calmer life, especially those dealing with stress, pain, and illness, the group erupted with a resounding- “Calm??? That is hardly how we would describe you!” I must admit, I felt a bit defensive as they did not understand my definition of calm. My response was: “I am kick-ass, no BS in my work and calm-living is the ability to take charge and not allow chaos and reaction take you over–it gives you more of an edge. Calm living in my book is not being all sweet and Zen–it is rolling with the punches of life and having choice of how you want to react.”

As I finished my passionate narrative, they asked me why I was not being true to my beliefs by being passive and “in the box” with descriptions of my work. I am hardly the mainstream, socially acceptable, even keel image that I put out there.

That got me thinking- there was truth in what they were saying. I was not being authentic in who I am because of the fear of being too bold. What I realize is bold and real is what I am and what people need: fearless, realistic, and honest. I never claim to be above what anyone is experiencing and am in the trenches with everyone, doing the best I can.

Why does this have to do with stress? Not living in truth is living life with shackles on, robbing you of the joy of being relaxed in yourself. It causes stress and pain. Many live this way, and it has taken me years to gradually move into who I am and what I believe is true. My children have taught me this lesson so well and I am in awe of their guts.

Now it is time for me to fully step into living my truth in every area of life, because that is the key ingredient in cultivating calm living.

Here goes: My work at Custom Calm and new tag line is (drum roll please):

No BS solutions for stress, pain, and illness.

My commitment as I enter this next decade of life is to be true to myself and let everyone know what I am really about: No BS! That is what makes my work life changing. So, why not say it up front?

Thank you Stella and the gang in Bozeman. I got more than messaging and marketing from this intensive. I got the best 60th birthday present ever: ME!

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Stress Buster Tip: I’m Turning How Old???

07c066f2-5eb0-4f7c-b085-95d6486b772bIn six short days (or 144 hours) I will be turning 60!  I know; many say 60 is the new 50–I say 60 is 60, because I can count.  After a summer with some age related physical challenges, I find myself with mixed feelings about this birthday. The truth is, I look awesome and for the most part feel healthy.  I have a great life, but still there is this nagging sense of urgency.  Why?  Because I am human (as I admitted to you last newsletter.) This urgency can easily rob me of what I am doing each day.

You might be thinking, “Ellen you teach mindfulness and stress and pain solutions and you are stressed about getting older?”  Yes, and I do teach stress and pain solutions, and I live what I teach.  I never said that we will not have feelings. I never said we will not have fear or urgency.

Even though I realize feelings are not facts, at times mine take me into judgment and fear- but they do not have to take me over.  I do not become my feelings, I just have them. Big difference- and that is the key to living life in the here and now.  You can learn to ride the wave of your feelings, notice them and watch them come and go without getting stuck in them.

Now that I have shared an important pearl of wisdom (after all, I have accumulated a bit in 60 years), I realize it is high time I celebrate myself. It is easy to find what we want to improve upon, but not as easy to focus on how awesome we are.  That is a concept that has taken me time to learn: honoring myself and all that I am.  I am stepping out on a limb with you and listing some of what I am celebrating–there is power in this admission:

  • I am a kind person
  • I help many people to have a better life
  • I have a great sense of humor
  • I tell it like it is
  • I am generous
  • I give love freely
  • I am a great mother (Jennifer, Jamie, and Kiddo–I am okay if you affirm this publicly)
  • I am an awesome wife (right Robert?)
  • I am a great daughter, sibling, and friend
  • I am a gifted teacher and speaker
  • I am a talented writer
  • I have guts
  • I am not a particularly good cook, but was smart enough to marry a good cook!
  • I have class and style
  • I have built and am still building a successful business
  • I have great hair
  • I have the gift of making others feel at ease
  • I am thrilled to be me! 🙂

I decided to make this a birthday tradition, but one time per year is not enough, so I will make this a daily habit. I invite you to do the same. Celebrate all that you are–there are times in life when we need to remember this.  It is the fuel that moves us toward calm living every day.
Happy 60th Birthday to me–time treat myself to some indulgence!

Suggestions welcomed.

Warm Regards,

Ellen Sichel

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Stress Buster Tip: Would you could you? Yes you can…

z08U6SZf08j8ewG2Fv8tTfwANdCX-KH2Y_9wzeGLHaAAt a recent book signing event a woman told me: “I can’t meditate. My mind is too busy. I can’t sit still.” I hear this comment often. Many are stuck on what they think meditation is–sitting crossed legged for 20 minutes and going into the zone.

I was the same way. If you would have told me I would be writing about and teaching this topic I would have told you to have your head examined. This stressed out “Type A” needed realistic help with living life on life’s terms, not disappearing from the world in the cosmos.

Years back, I was dealing with Lupus, my daughter’s serious illness, while juggling my older daughter, husband, business, and extended family needs.

The relaxing practices of yoga, massage, walks, did not sustain me throughout the day. I had to go out and deal with the world. There was little time to take care of myself and my mind was in overdrive.

I came to a conclusion. I needed to find something quick and realistic to stay focused and calm or I would crash. Customized, simple meditation techniques and perspectives were the answer.

When I try to convince people that meditation is easy and they can do it, I feel like the Doctor Seuss story Green Eggs and Ham (for those of you who do not eat ham, substitute Tofu.)

“I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam-I-Am.”

“Try them, try them, and you may! Try them and you may, I say.”

Here is my meditation version of the Dr. Seuss quotes:

Would you, could you, in a bus? Would you, could you, at your office? Would you, could you at your parents house? Would you, could you, with your kids?

I say, try it, try it, yes you can!

I am so committed to this, that I designed my new in-person content packed awesome course:

Let’s Get Real About Meditation: Quick, practical, effective techniques–that work!

Wednesdays 7-8:30pm: October 8, 15, 22, 29.

I will extend the early bird offer until September 18.

For details and registration:

If you need to miss one class, I will catch you up.

Your stressed out mind hurts you in every way. Learn how to roll with the punches of life–no matter how chaotic–and have the skill to stay healthy, calm, focused, and energized. It works-that I know for sure.

If I can do it, anyone can.

Feel free to contact me with questions. Go to my Calendar and pick the 15 minute call option.

For those of you out of town, if you want this same course let me know–I will start a list for a virtual program.

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Stress Buster Tip: This Teacher is the Student

z08U6SZf08j8ewG2Fv8tTfwANdCX-KH2Y_9wzeGLHaAI made a decision not to seek inspiration for my newsletters from my dog Kiddo any longer.  Between knocking over our trash, eating road kill, and my recent broken hand, I have gotten more inspiration than I ever wanted!

I feel reflective this Labor Day.  As I think about the summer I realize how challenging it has been for me.  My plan was to take care of two minor surgeries–one for my deviated septum and one for my droopy eye (happy to say it is now perky.)  Both required that I take it slow for at least a week, so I spaced them one month apart. I thought I made a good plan, giving me time to recover and recharge.  What I did not plan on was a broken hand (thanks Kiddo), and low back pain stemming from my scoliosis.

I have to admit, it became too much for me to handle with my usual upbeat attitude. When I shared my dismay with a good friend, she said “Ellen, any one of those things is difficult to handle, and you had many more than one thing happen.”  That was news to me.

There are times we expect way too much of ourselves and I realize that for me this summer was one of those times.

 As I type a bit slowly after 6 weeks in a hard cast and one more month in a removable cast, I am thinking about what inspiration I could share with you.

Here goes:

Inspiration #1:  Ease up on yourself–we don’t realize at times that we are not superhuman.

Inspiration #2:  Sometimes we just have a tough time–resistance causes more stress and pain.

Inspiration #3:  Your attitude is a choice no matter what is happening.

Inspiration #4:  As my mentor says:  Just have a good cry and eat chocolate!

Inspiration #5:  Slow and steady action is the antidote for a funk.

I know I am always the student even though my role in my work is that of a teacher.  I think of all of my skills, knowing that and being real is the most important.  I am in the trenches with you all.

Yes, it is awesome to be human…


Warm Regards,


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Calm Living Tip: There Could Have Been a Brawl!

06_junThe other day, I stopped by my local gourmet grocer to have a bite to eat. I enjoy eating at their shaded seating area which surrounds a large tree. I noticed a pickup truck with the engine running right next to the eating area, so I placed myself as far away from it as possible.

A couple sat down closer to the truck and seemed annoyed by the fumes. As I was eating, a woman came by looking quite sporty. She was wearing a matching black and bright yellow warm-up suit with matching sneakers. I commented to her how great she looked and she introduced herself as Millie. As we chatted away—a bit off-put by the fumes coming out of the truck—we noticed the man at the other table getting annoyed. He went up to the truck, softly knocked on the window and asked the man to please turn off his engine.

The window did not open and the engine was not turned off. He knocked again, to no avail. He sat back down, finished his lunch and left.
After some time, an enraged man got out of the car, started yelling at us about how inconsiderate we were, as he was on a very “important” international call. How dare we disturb him!

My new friend Millie got up and calmly let the man know there were fumes from his truck and that it was inconsiderate. I was standing next to her and he got in my face yelling phrases: “Go somewhere else to eat”, “don’t breathe” (which I found quite amusing). I calmly told him, not to speak to me in that tone. Millie continued in a calm, matter-of-fact voice telling him that we were only asking him to move his truck.

The longer we were calm, the calmer the man got. He then replied that if it was a less important call—if he was talking with his mother—he would have responded to the knock on his window. My wise friend Millie told him that a call to his mother was more important than any business call! As he walked away, he muttered “I’m sorry.” Now that I did not expect!
I admit, my knee jerk reaction was to yell back (yes, the New Yorker in me still exists), but because I was able to take the moment needed to remain focused and calm (and care about staying alive!), I was able to respond, rather than react. Not easy, especially when the other person’s behavior was inappropriate. Remaining in the present moment is the antidote to a knee jerk inappropriate reaction. Had I gotten angry with him, the situation would have escalated and wreaked havoc on my physical and emotional wellbeing.

Thank you Millie for being my ally in calm living. You rock!!!

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Stress Buster Tip: The Shocking Truth!

electric shockI was listening to “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me” — an entertaining quiz show on NPR.  A question was asked concerning a recent scientific study.  Would a human rather do what than be alone with their thoughts for 15 minutes?  The answer was: Give themselves an electric shock!  The study was as follows: Leave a person alone in a room for 15 minutes and all they had was a button to give themselves an electric shock if they chose to.  They were given the shock one time before the study began to feel the power of the shock.

100 people were tested and the results were as follows:

2/3 of the men shocked themselves

1/3 of women shocked themselves (I guess there are fewer women who don’t like to inflict unnecessary pain upon themselves, or they have more common sense — hmm, food for thought.)

They reported that one man shocked himself 190 times.  I will reserve comment on that person.  

Yes it’s true, we are addicted to distraction.  Getting quiet with our thoughts is too much for many of us to handle and it’s exhausting.  One common complaint I hear about seated meditation is, “Ellen, my mind gets busier when I meditate.”  The truth is that their mind was always that busy.  It is when we try to subdue our thoughts, that we notice just how crazy and busy our mind is.  It is less painful to inflict shockwaves upon ourselves, than get still.  In the yoga world, they refer to this as “monkey mind”- it swings from branch to branch, eats bananas, and loves to be entertained. 

I understand — I am guilty of checking my cell phone too often and I know I am in the vast majority. How do we help to calm the endless chatter of our mind?  

1.  Understand you cannot “stop” your mind and if you do try, it will resist and get busier.

2.  Learn to notice your thoughts without judgment.  Your thoughts are like a cloud in the sky changing shape.  Sometimes they move quickly and other times they hang around. 

3.  You need tools and consistent practice to find inner calm, it is no easy task.  Below is a simple beginning:

As I have said before, the breath is a great help and an easy way to start.  Similar to your thoughts, your breath has movement.  Begin to notice the full movement of your breath cycle.  Every time your mind gets too busy, come back to your breath, over and over again.

Keep in mind that there are many ways to quickly calm the chatter, other than sitting still and noticing your breathing.  Years back, I could not sit still for more than a minute and even now there are days when my mind is crazy busy, so I need to use a different technique. This is called: normal. It is not helpful to force yourself to stay with one specific technique. It is much more beneficial to have a variety of techniques to choose from.  You will feel comfortable in your own skin, without the need distract yourself with busy thoughts.  Then, when the big challenges come along you will be able to handle them with ease. 

It is worth your time to gain the skill to calm your mind.  The benefit is a life where you are able to focus on the task at hand.  You will get more done, have more fun, transform your fear, lower your pain, improve your focus, and increase your stamina.  

Sound unachievable?  It isn’t. Find out for yourself and sign up for my free teleseminar:

How to Stop the Endless Chatter in Your Mind:  The surefire way to calm the voices in your head so you can finally have some peace and joy. Thursday, August 14th at 7pm. 

Until then, begin to become aware of your busy thoughts.  Notice when you feel rushed, distracted, or anxious.  See if you can let go of judgment and simply notice as if you were noticing the clouds changing shape and moving through the sky. 

I admit, I am often entertained by noticing where my thoughts can take me, and I am sure you will too if you do not take this too seriously. If you want to dive in a bit deeper, when your mind get’s distracted, notice the cycle of your breath.  For now, enjoy the process, be kind to yourself and let me know what you noticed. Remember, a little awareness will go a long way.  

The best part is, you don’t have to press shock buttons for distraction!

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Stress Buster Tip: There really are angry birds!


I did it again.  I asked my dog Kiddo to take a walk so I could get inspiration for a newsletter.  When will I learn?  

Often when Kiddo and I walk, there are mockingbirds singing away.  Kiddo is enamored with them and she stands at full point, staring.  Yesterday as we walked, a mockingbird swooped down and went toward Kiddo.  Let me assure you I had learned my lesson from our road kill fiasco- I was not on my cell phone and was present in our walk.

I pulled Kiddo away from the bird, as they are very aggressive.  Known as “the bullies of the bird world”, I was protecting my dog from possible harm.  Wouldn’t you?  I got tangled in her legs, fell off the curb, and landed on my wrist and arm.  Yes, I broke it, cut my arm, received a tetanus shot. I will need surgery.

My husband comes to the ER and the first comforting words that come out of his mouth:  “You should have been more mindful. Mr. not-mindful himself is sharing his wisdom with me. Are you kidding?  I am happy to report that he is still alive and well (it is good I teach how to un-hook from reaction.)  

As I look hard for the lesson, I am reminded of a story I shared years back.  It’s worth repeating:

Years ago my husband, daughter and I were driving home from her art class when we went under an overpass and heard a loud thump.  Something had hit our car, splattered and cracked our windshield.

As we pulled over, saw something had mashed and were speculating about what could possibly cause that kind of damage.  I speculated; “it must have been a cantaloupe or watermelon to do that kind of damage”.  

My daughter took a look and came back reporting that it was a banana.  

I was outraged that someone purposely threw a banana, (probably frozen) on our car! 

After some time reacting, talking about the velocity, I began to ponder what the message was.  Following a few moments of deep contemplation,  I  announced that it was probably a sign for us to slow down and take things easy.

With this, my wise husband replied:  “Maybe it was just a banana!”

There are times where we have experiences and there was nothing we did to provoke another or cause the situation.  We still have a choice — our attitude.  I am choosing to see this for what it was:  One angry bird!

With this said, typing and performing daily tasks with only one hand is forcing me to be in the moment and aware of each action.  I guess there is a deeper meaning in this after all: slow down, accept what is, and ride the waves of life.



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Stress Buster: What kind of Fireworks do you Have?

80CmlChGk-DLqoLXOFuRjJ5-XJuUF7ynycZ7IGRFCd8The dictionary definition of independence is: Freedom from outside control; not depending on another’s authority.  Let’s explore what the dictionary says about dependence: The state of relying on or being controlled by someone or something else. Ahhh, this now makes sense – if we are not dependent to someone of something, then we are independent.

First let’s look at what or who has control over you on a daily basis. You might be thinking – well; my boss, my health, my children, the economy, my bank account, my dog (one of my personal favorites.) Yes, these things certainly affect us, but why would they control us? One simple reason: We allow them to. It boils down to your mind’s reaction to what is happening. We are bound by our thoughts and reactions, and it robs us of our freedom.  

Think about your day and look at the parts of the day when you feel out of control. I would venture to say that you will find it is due to your reaction to a given person, event, or situation.

This happened to me just the other day. I was on time for my 9:50am doctors follow-up visit and allowed 3 hours before I had an afternoon full of appointments. When I walked in (after looking for a parking space of 10 minutes) much to my dismay, there was a room full of people all waiting to be seen by my doctor. I asked about the wait time and get a 45 minute time frame. I know that 45 minutes is what it would take to get me to the back where I would wait another 45 minutes. I admit I felt frustrated. To keep me from feeling trapped in a circumstance beyond my control, I made a decision not to allow my wait time to keep me from working and enjoying my afternoon commitments – I rescheduled and walked out. I must admit, I was still frustrated as my time is as valuable as the doctors time and felt my old toughness seep in.

I would like to say that I sat, breathed, felt stillness and quickly returned to a Zen state, but the truth is this: The radio was playing Elton John’s song: The bitch is back and I laughed at how much I was relating at the moment! 

Yes, there are times when our thoughts will be taken over by circumstances that are out of our control. The question becomes: how long do you want to lose the freedom of enjoying your day? I lost about 10 minutes of my precious day and that is more than enough for me.

Here is the empowering concept that I find helpful so I can live my life with less dependence on people, places, and things.

It is not the event that is causing your stress but your reaction to the event.

This Fourth of July, celebrate your independence by remembering that you have a choice about how you want to show up to your day. When you do this; your fireworks will transform from frustration and anger to spontaneity, clarity, and joy. Happy Fourth of July!

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Stress Buster Tip: Roadkill and Your Mind-There is a Connection!

Stress Buster Tip:  Roadkill and Your Mind-There is a Connection!

My previous newsletter described how my daughter was lost in thought and not present to what she was doing. This week, it was I who was distracted.

I was getting ready to write this newsletter and needed inspiration. My pointer Kiddo and I took a walk and within moments, I had the needed inspiration. As we walked, I made a quick call, and as I was talking, another call clicked in. As I was fumbling with my phone, I looked up and saw Kiddo with roadkill in her mouth- yes an entire birdlike animal (I know this because the wings were hanging out!) I managed to put the phone down, open her mouth and shake out Kiddo’s trophy.

You might be thinking, why is Ellen grossing me out talking about roadkill? Keep reading. Here is why I learned from this experience:

1. I was not paying attention which meant I was missing my walk.

2. I was not present to Kiddo so I missed what she was doing (more than pointing!)

3. I did not keep Kiddo close to me, which created havoc.

Let’s look at number 3. When we allow our thoughts to run the show, we end up chewing on our own fears, frustrations, worries, harming us physically and emotionally- we are out of control.

When you think about it, this is not too different from Kiddos behavior- I let her out too far, did not pay attention and she ate roadkill.

The practice of noticing when our thoughts begin to spiral out of control is simpler then you might think. To harness your mind, you need to bring your awareness back to the moment. This is why on-the-spot techniques are so helpful. Picking one aspect of what you are doing to focus upon is all that is needed. For example: Walk and notice the rolling of your foot. Breathe and notice your exhale only. This will give you the moment needed to shorten the leash on your thoughts.

Give this a try or think of your own and let me know what you noticed. My biggest lessons from this experience?

  • Stay focused on what I am doing
  • Bring hand sanitizer on my walks!

Let me know how this worked and if you came up with a focus of your own.

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