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Personal Growth

Self-Care Habits to Use this Fall


Self-Care Habits to Use this Fall


So this summer was a unique one for me. I made a commitment to myself:

  1. I was not going to take any travel work projects

  2. I would commit to taking better care of myself

  3. I would spend more quality time with Autumn.

If I were to rate myself on a scale of 1 to 10 on how well I achieved this goal I would have initially given myself a 4.


But I would give myself a 4 and feel happy about it. I might even give myself a 3 1/2 and feel happy about it.  Even though it wasn’t exactly what I envisioned, my attitude improved about what I DID make happen.  

Typically, I would create a scenario where I would only focus on everything I should or should not have done instead of allowing myself to feel good about what I HAD done well.  And when I do that, it sends me into a spiraling story that ends in the space between guilt and shame.

However, this summer I stayed focused on how I could create more of what I wanted. Because I was focusing on that, my brain somehow let go of what I didn’t do well.

And here are a few tricks that helped me at least make some of it happen. These are the ones I plan to keep now that the summer is over:

  1. Create Calendar Commitments: I started putting time for what I wanted to focus on in my calendar (as if it were a meeting) BEFORE letting it fill up with my many obligations to others - clients, friends, extended family, or even my own family.

    1. I literally put a calendar entry in my calendar for “April happy heart” time. This summer I was able to create 4 whole days of this. I originally wanted to do that every week but what a gift it was to have several full days where I woke up and did what my heart wanted.

    2. Now don’t get me wrong, usually about the time I was about to embark on my dreamland to do what April wants, I would inevitably get bombarded with something urgent or a fire to put out, or my computer breaking etc.

    3. So not every “full day” was dedicated completely to “April’s happy heart” but even so, I found that if I would honor the calendar commitment I made to myself, at least some space would get set aside for that purpose.

  2. Little to No Pre-Planning: Ok, so now that I had a “calendar commitment”, I felt like I needed a “plan” to ensure it was fruitful. But then, planning “free time” felt somewhat ironic. What I learned is that the biggest value of having space for myself was that I was able to get out of my normal planning mode. Instead, I:

    1. Created a “bucket list” of passions, interests, and other things I would like to do on Trello so that when my free time started, at least I wasn’t racking my brain for “what do I do now?” (ok, so maybe that counts as some planning….)

    2. On the day of my commitment to self, I would wake up, look at my Trello list and pick something that felt good in that moment.

    3. To be honest, one of my favorite ways to spend my time was to simply “rest” – I had, up until this summer, devalued the beauty and benefits of resting.

  3. Protect My Time: It’s surprising how much I (up until now) tend to value everyone else’s time over my own. I don’t know if it’s because I was taught to “put others before yourself” or if it has to do with my strength of Empathy . Who knows but regardless, I am learning that I can show up for other’s needs in a healthier way if I allow myself to have time for me. I love the way Jordan Gray puts it here. So, I am seeing the value of:

    1. Saying “no”

    2. Staying focused on my goals

    3. Treating myself like I would my clients - protecting my time as if I had a very important meeting with someone that I couldn’t miss.

  4. Take more Epson salt baths. This may sound ridiculous or overly simple, but the beauty of a bath is not to be overlooked! I got to where I was taking a bath almost 5 nights a week. It feels so indulgent and yet it really doesn’t take much to make that happen. For me, the key is to:

    1. Wait until Autumn goes down, then lock my bathroom door

    2. Put in 4 cups of Epson salt

    3. 8 drops of Serenity doterra oil

    4. Light five white candles

    5. Turn the lights off.

    6. Maybe listen to an audio book or soothing music (here are the 5 books on my Audible play list now)

      1. Girl Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be

      2. The Art of Empathy

      3. Kick Ass with Mel Robbins

      4. Big Magic

So, here’s the most interesting part.  The reason I initially gave myself a 4 is because I didn’t feel good about my time with Autumn.  It felt harder for me to define or qualify what was “quality time” with Autumn.

Yes, we vacationed together. Yes, we got a handful of lazy mornings together. But honestly, there were lots of camps, lots of spur of the moment changes in plans, lots of her getting to socialize and be with her friends

That was all great – but how much did that count as quality time with me? 


I had separated quality time with myself from quality time with her. I was “measuring”, “calculating”, “analyzing” my time with her.

It wasn’t until one night the week before school started that something shifted in the way I was thinking about my time with her.  I would call it a magical moment.  When putting her to bed, I had this moment where I just laid there, noticing her beauty and listening to her as if for the first time.  I suddenly had this feeling that nothing else mattered except this moment with us.  It was like time stopped. 

And suddenly, I really got how the time with me “filling my cup” really DID translate to the connection with her. 


I saw that time with me = more capacity to be with her.  Can I hashtag that? - don’t know if you’re supposed to do that with a blog. #timewithmeequalsmorecapacitywithher. 

Instead of anxiously worrying about whether I was doing “good enough” and being a mom who could measure up, I shifted into a space of just being grateful for the moment I had with her. 

And with that gratitude, I saw that the act of analyzing and measuring my “effectiveness as a mom” was actually taking me away from the very thing I was trying to create with her.  Special moments.

So, maybe I’ll give myself a 10!


Going Through the Emotional Journey of a Writing Retreat

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Going Through the Emotional Journey of a Writing Retreat

In July, I took a week by myself to write in Tulum, Mexico.  That’s right - write.  I have been wanting to write an online course to teach small businesses how to use empathy to build a brand for about 2 years.  I have THOUGHT about doing it for over 2 years, y’all! That’s a lot of thinking.  Oh wait, I did a lot of research about it, too.  I researched others who were doing it, I bought several online courses.  I brainstormed about the type of content it would need, but I didn’t actually start DOING anything about it until this spring.  This spring I started acting on it.  Even then, my actions swirled around everything BUT the writing of the course.  Actually getting something, anything on paper (well, computer) was the missing part in my whole process.   

It’s fascinating, because get what my #1 strength on Strengthfinders is?  Activator. Seriously???? That strength has been the backbone of my business – I am typically really good at acting on what I need to do.  So, I have had to ask myself recently, why have I struggled so much with acting on this project I really want to do?  There I am again, going back to the questions, the thoughts, the analysis. “Stop and act, April”, I would say to myself.  And still, I watched distractions grab at me every turn, especially when I had taken out time to write. I knew I had to eliminate as many as possible to give myself the time and space to write.  

So, 3 things occurred simultaneously as I was telling myself it was time to act:

  1. My mom at the last minute asked if she could take Autumn for a week

  2. A research project got cancelled

  3. I had a random conversation with a friend about Tulum, Mexico,

In a moment, I made a snap decision to book a flight to Cancun, get a car to Tulum by myself and spend the week writing on the beach. 

Sounds wonderful, eh?  I was giddy proud of myself for this “action” as I settled into my cute, bohemian boutique hotel.  This blog, however, is not about the glamour of this week to myself, it is about the painful mind journey that happened AFTER deciding to book the trip.


By the end of the week, I definitely had clarity on the battle that goes on in my brain.  I realized I didn’t know how crazy I was until I was alone with my thoughts, trying to do something totally new for several days. 

So, that brings me to Tulum. 



I learned that “getting away” is only part of the hurdle when it comes to having a specific goal of writing.  I wasn’t fully aware of how much resistance I have to writing and how the self-talk prevents me from doing the 1 thing I want to do most.  I had to ask myself, “why is this so hard?” and I think it’s this:  my brain is more comfortable consuming information than it is creating it. You see, I love to read, and the more I read, the more I know.  But transferring knowledge into something that’s meaningful is a completely different story.  I have read 2 of Steven Pressfield’s books, which are incredible:  The War of Art and Do The Work.  And they sum up quite nicely what he talks about as Resistance.  I experienced it in full force that week.  The battle in my mind went something like this:

  1. This is fun, I’m excited and nervous.

  2. WTF am I doing?

  3. Hmmm…this hotel is nice but I really wish it had air conditioning. I’m definitely not going to be able to write in a non-A/C’d room.

  4. Where is the perfect place to write? There is no perfect place to write.

  5. The beach would be good but I’ll get sand in my computer; the hammock would be good but how am I going to type while I'm swinging.

  6. How can I see the ocean while I’m writing – that will definitely help.

  7. I’m pretty sure this is a dumb idea.

  8. It’s for sure a dumb idea.

  9. I’m not safe, someone’s going to kill or rape me down here.

  10. When can I let myself have a margarita?

  11. I love myself.

  12. I can do this.

  13. How can I make myself do this?

  14. Ok, I’ve figured it out. I’m going to make it a game and give myself a treat for every module I write.

  15. I made a checklist, now I’m pumped.

  16. Are we there yet?

  17. I rocked the 1st module, I’m a badass.

  18. 5 more to go, this is definitely a dumb idea.

  19. Why can’t I just be normal and let myself have/be fun?

  20. You’re a bad ass, brave woman…do it.

  21. I should be laying on the beach, that’s how I can get more creative.

  22. If I lay on a beach, I’m just going to want to read, drink margaritas and fall asleep, not necessarily in that order.

  23. Why are people bothering me on email and text? Don’t they know I’m trying to do something important?

  24. I definitely think laying on the beach is a good idea.

That was all during the morning of Day 1.  And Day 1 wasn’t the only battle, Day 3’s battle was different because it involved other people….


I had told a few friends that I was going, ones who I knew would be super supportive, and thank God their positive energy held me up.  Something triggered me to reach out to another friend on Day 2 evening.  I’ve known her for a long time, and after a couple of texts, I ended up texting her about what I was doing this and asked her to send me good vibes and for grace for myself as I was working through it.  Her text reply was something like “Good luck - that sounds horrible.”   That triggered Day 3’s battle – the battle of “needing other’s approval.”  When I got that text back, I was pissed because it certainly didn’t feel supportive.  However, after exploring my feelings further, I realized that me expecting others to approve or love what I’m doing is unrealistic.  I have typically (up until now) sought love from everyone around me but this week, it became clear that the more I could be kind to myself and love myself through it regardless of what anyone thought, the easier the process would be.  The more I “beat myself up” for not doing things good or perfect enough, the harder the process was.

By the end, I realized 2 things that were extremely valuable, and I wish I had learned them long ago.

  1. Work and Play can co-exist: Having fun and doing the hard word do not have to be mutually exclusive. Once I made the “work” of writing a game, and started “playing” with the idea of what time I could lay on the beach and have a margarita, I actually started having fun writing. I learned that when I made the choice that it would be fun, it was. It was fun because I chose doing something hard over thinking too much. In fact, even thought it was still a terrible first draft, I was “playing” with words for the first time in a really long time.

  2. Activating before Hesitating is the Key. The longer I sat around and thought about it, analyzed it, mulled it over, the harder it was to begin each day. When I just “started” moving my fingers over the keys, without letting my thoughts and distractions over take me, my brain followed my body. The words started to flow, and I wrote quite a bit more than I thought I would.

The irony of the whole deal, is that the battle is not over.  I got back and was sharing with someone else about the process I went through and the first thing they said was, “So, what’s your plan now for finishing it out?”  And I thought to myself, “Shit, now I have to more…” 


Will it get easier?  I hope.  I do know one thing.  It’s starting to take on a life of its own.  It’s like no matter what comes of it, I have to finish it, primarily because I don’t want all of that experience to be wasted.  But, now I'm ready for a REAL beach vacation.  I can’t wait to get back to the beach…and just lay around and read.  Maybe I’ll book one when I complete the course!

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Learnings from a Mommy Daughter Vacation to Mexico


Learnings from a Mommy Daughter Vacation to Mexico


I’m sure many might ask why I would chose to take a "girls trip" to Mexico with just me and my 7 year old daughter in the middle of spring. At least I asked myself that as the day of departure grew closer. When I first saw fares for $200 from Dallas to Cabo, I emailed my friend who lives there, and said "We’re coming!"  And I found a small window that could work, and bought the tickets!   But that was about 2 months ago…  As time grew closer, many fears started creeping in, wondering whether it was safe for us to go by ourselves, knowing that it would not be a typical "relaxing vacation" on the beach with just the 2 of us, as my primary concern would be her safety.  I also started stressing about taking the time off - we had just been on vacation for spring break and it felt a little indulgent to go again.  Plus, our lives are so freaking busy with work, school, activities, I mean it’s spring time, people.  "There’s soooo much to do!" I kept telling myself. It’s just not a good time.  I almost cancelled the trip.  




But at some point, a few days before we traveled, I made a choice.  I chose to make this the best mom and daughter trip we could possibly have together.  Tickets had already been purchased, and I became very cognizant of just how much of my life I spend "waiting for the perfect situation."  When she gets old enough, when we can all go as a family, when I am not so overwhelmed with work.  When, when, when.  When is now.  When is happening in front of me as I strive to perfect, perform and please.  I am so so grateful that I made the decision to go… Not only to go but to really BE with my daughter.  I learned so much about myself these past few days, and   about her. Here are a few...

  1. Walmart CAN be wonderful - I can’t believe I am saying this but when you’ve had a rough travel day and still need to get food, there’s nothing like having a Walmart in Mexico to stock up on breakfast items and snacks for your stay.

  2. There’s an "art" to planning- Figuring out the right level of planning for a vacation with a child is definitely an art form. Sunset sailing? Dinner at a Brazilian restaurant? Sounds wonderful, right? I am so lucky to have friends in Cabo and when my friend planned a wonderful sunset cruise she invited us to, I was thrilled. As time grew nearer and my daughter continued to enjoy herself in the pool, I knew that a sunset cruise for her wasn’t going to be joy-filled for anyone who showed up on that sailboat. Here’s the thing, I get that kids need to learn to go along with plans and adapt to situations, and it can’t be all about them. I also get that I can choose to stick to this belief doggedly or create a situation where (at least on vacation) we can adapt to how we’re feeling rather than sticking to a rigid plan. It’s an art, meaning there’s no perfect answer… and that’s ok.

  3. Being on the beach is great but being in the ocean is better - we were so blessed to go whale watching on the last day of the seasonand got to see a mother and child whale pair migrating together. I mean, can you even believe that luck??? It was AMAZING! Seeing a “baby” 10-foot humpback whale breaching (playing) was stunning and glorious and reminded me that the connection of a mom and child is a universal gift. My 7-year old may not understand what a miracle it was to witness this but then again, maybe she understands it even more than I do. Regardless, I am so glad for the miracle anyway. So, so grateful!!!!

  4. Limiting electronics is a rule for mommy, too - So we’re all concerned about the electronic addiction of kids, right? But I have to say that it’s funny how concerned I am about her electronic addiction and tend to ignore my own. It’s hard to put down the phone, knowing that clients, employees and others all have questions or other needs that “require” my attention. Oh, and just one quick peek on Facebook while I’m on the phone. It requires SERIOUS intention to just be ok with not responding immediately to every email/request/need/question that others have of me, and instead, choose to put down my phone, and be with her in the moment. It was not lost on me that my own addiction is looming in the background of my electronics rules for her. And breathing through that without all the guilt that goes with the realization helps me put down the phone more quickly.

  5. Boredom is beautiful - I learned that my child is evidently accustomed to an over-planned life, too, and that it’s ok for her to be "bored." When my daughter’s bored, I recognized my first reaction is to help her find something to do - put an activity in front of her, give her some ideas for using her time. However, awareness of this is the first step, right? And breathing through it is the 2nd. And then just being ok with her boredom, I realize that boredom has its beauty.

  6. Mommy melts down sometimes, too - My belief that I should be strong enough to weather even the biggest emotional storm of a child with total and complete calm is well, bullshit. Yes, breathing is good. Being with what is is even better - but sometimes, all of that just goes out the window and an emotional storm has to be met with an emotional storm. That’s ok, we can pick up and try again. And don’t blame me, dear, for the cuss word you just learned, I will certainly deny it and blame it on someone else who is unsuspecting!



Essential Oils for Everything


Essential Oils for Everything


I have become a little obsessed with essential oils starting a few years ago, increasingly so in the last few months.  I’ll be honest, the whole essential oil thing was all a little overwhelming and confusing at first.  Some oils could be used topically, some should be diffused, still others should be taken internally.  There were so many oils and so little time to understand what, when and how to use them.  Little by little, I have found some routines that have stuck and am now officially on the bandwagon.

Here are a few of my favorites and how I use them:  

  1. Serenity – my daughter uses this as a part of her nighttime ritual, rubbing it on her neck, chest and feet to help her relax (we put about 10 drops of it with fractionated coconut oil. I also put ~5 drops directly into my bathwater along 4 cups of Epsom salt.

  2. Frankincense – People claim this to be “the king of oils” because of its long history of healing properties but it’s expensive so I typically use this more sparingly but often by mixing a few drops in both my face and body lotions.

  3. Past Tense – one of our team members, Shelley Miller, first introduced this to me a few years ago and I swear by it. Rubbing this on the back of my neck can reduce tension and give a refreshed feeling for hours. I love this!

  4. Lemon, Slim & Sassy and Peppermint blend – Recently, I got creative and decided to create a mix of the best tasting oils. I used a partially empty bottle of Lemon and eye-balled it, putting equal parts of all 3 in the bottle. I use it daily, all day, dropping a few drops in every bottle of water. It’s refreshing, helps me get my water intake daily, and I notice feeling better. Tip: use a klean kanteen, swell or other bottle - not a plastic one.

  5. OnGuard Beadlets– we have made it through the seasonal season with only 2 days of a high temperature (crossing my fingers as I write) and I believe one of the reasons is because of our preventative daily dose of 5 beadlets. It’s anti-bacterial and germ-destroying properties are keeping our bodies from full on attack thus far.

  6. Emotional blends (Motivate, Peace, Cheer & Forgive) – these are a few of the ones I use. I love having them with me so that when I’m going into a high-pressure meeting, all day research, or just need to get myself in gear to focus, I use these to trigger the mood I want to move me forward. We love them so much, we gave these out as our Christmas gifts this year and they were a hit. Here are the cards we made along with them!

Motivate is an encouraging blend with elements of peppermint, citrus, and spices which help with feeling confident and courageous. 

Peace is a reassuring blend, which uses floral and mint scents to help cultivate feelings of tranquility and comfort. 

Cheer is an uplifting blend with a bright, fresh aroma that lifts spirits and creates positivity. 

Forgive is a rejuvenating blend that brings about relief and patience. The woodsy scent sooths strained nerves, helping heal through contentment. 


How to Make this Valentine's Day One to Remember


How to Make this Valentine's Day One to Remember

April Bell Research Group

When we decided to write a blog for Valentine’s Day, my first thought was “how are we going to talk about love in a way that’s interesting, non-cliché and meaningful? 

April Bell Research Group

Then, I asked myself: “what would I want to read?”  I want to read bullet points, ideas that are easy to act on, or could bring about a shift in my thinking. On a day where there is so much expectation about love, I wanted to write something that could go beyond a “significant other”.

So, the more questions I asked, the more I realized this blog should really be about key questions to ask on Valentine’s Day.  And as a researcher, this just felt better anyway!  So, here goes my list of Valentine’s Day questions as food for thought – along with some resources that helped me answer my questions!!

  1. What would happen if I smiled at everyone I saw today?  
  2. How would I feel if I complimented someone I admire?  
  3. Why is there so much talk about “self-love” being a precursor to loving others? 
  4. What are the things that make my heart happy? 
  5. How can I be more kind to people who really irk me? 
  6. How can I find time in my crazy schedule to spend more time with people I love? 
  7. What can I do to love more and stress less? Thank you, my dear fellow Texan, Brene Brown, for your poignant quote, downloadable here. 
  8. What can help give me an immediate lift of joy?
April Bell Research Group


Road Stories on how Married Couples Stop Doing Business Together Lesson #4


Road Stories on how Married Couples Stop Doing Business Together Lesson #4

They say that you’ll never know until you try. This is a story of trying and failing, but then knowing, and ultimately, growing.

Last year, Lloyd and I decided we were going to start working together, under the same business. My business. We had some stories to tell about that along the way. January 1st, 2017 marked the date we decided to make this intentional shift. January 1st, 2018 was our first and only business anniversary, because we’ve decided to pull the plug on this married couple working together thing.

What we are beginning to get comfortable with is that while it felt like a failure at first, in away it can be seen as a success. We have learned new things about ourselves and each other by choosing to do this. And we may have always wondered "what if?", if we had been too fearful of the "heat".  Well, we took the heat, and it nearly cooked the marriage!

How did that happen? Let’s unpack that, and the lessons learned:

Lesson #1:  The Most Efficient Way to Learn is to “Fail”

I realized that I have been living my life for a long time in a tight box.  One that I had created and “felt safe” in.  I have been scared for so long to try something new, risky and “unknown.”  And trying to make a go of us working together was all of that. It certainly wasn’t comfortable the last year and yet, here we are a year later, with more clarity and passion for what we do want than we have been in 10 years of marriage!  So, if I think of this in terms of “efficiency”, we got more out of 1 year of failing than we had of 9 years of staying in status quo.  I loved Will Smith’s video about “failing forward” here:

Lesson #2: “Positioning” Matters when it comes to Job Titles

April Bell Research Group

When we started, we agreed that the “right role” for Lloyd was General Manager & Data Doctor, and our assumption going in is that his savant skills at creating business analytics solutions would easily translate into creating more quantitative Marketing Research projects for us.  And that until we got that business flowing in, Lloyd could run the business operations and manage staff.  What we discovered was this -  what I thought Lloyd’s job descriptions were, was apparently different than what Lloyd thought his job description included.  Interestingly enough, now that we’ve switched gears, and Lloyd is now a “consultant” for the business, I have received more of the work I wanted from him in 2 months than I did in the las 12!  So, I’ll stick with the “consultant” job title all day long – let’s keep that rolling, we have some catching up to do!

Lesson #3: Follow the money.

April Bell Research Group

Shortly after we made the change, Lloyd received some interesting work from a new client doing analytical work. For a while, he was able to do that and help with our business, too.  However, it soon became apparent that it was dividing his attention, and he was not able to fully give himself to our business operations and growth. Despite his client wanting to expand his project, we made the decision to decline the opportunity to give him a clear focus on helping manage, and bring in more research business. In hindsight, this decision didn’t result in new business, although the other path would have. In chasing a new business, we learned the hard way, it’s important to follow where customers are leading you.

Lesson #4: Hold on to what matters most.

It became apparent after awhile, probably after a series of “disagreements”, that this experiment was taking a toll on our marriage. At some point, we had to look up and say, “what really matters most here?”  We both tend to want to do it all, be everything to everybody, and still come out “ahead”.  And maybe that’s still possible but it may not all be possible at the same time.  At least for now, something had to “give”.  We realized how challenging marriage is on its own without intentionally burdening it further, particularly for the sake of doggedly holding to a career choice to build a business together. Love and respect are hard to remember when it’s the end of another long day of working together.

Lesson #5: Be Grateful for the Lessons

There are multiple ways we can look at the lessons we have learned – we can beat ourselves up for taking the plunge even though we were advised not to, we can be mad at each other for not getting what we wanted or needed from the other, we can be sad because here we are starting over yet again with a new plan OR we can just honor where we are and say, “Thank you.  Thank you for the opportunity to learn something new.”  And be at peace with what is.  That’s the lesson - the story I’m going breathe in.

Lesson #6:  Stop Pushing and Start Allowing

April Bell Research Group

I am crazy passionate about all kinds of personal assessments.  In fact, I asked Lloyd to take a Love Languages assessment on about the 5th date! In October, we discovered the Predictive Index assessment and in November, we discovered another assessment called The Harrison Assessment.  Both tools can create a “match” against behaviors of the test taker and the behaviors needed for “the job.”  The PI tool started opening our eyes to something not "quite being a fit", and then the Harrison tool completed the picture. The way we were operating was not a fit for our behavior style preferences.  Now, maybe those who know us best could have told us that without all of the assessments…but there’s nothing like seeing data and having your eyes opened from an unbiased perspective.  That was what helped us understand it was time to stop pushing what we wanted and to start allowing “what is.”  So, on to creating more based on our strengths.  I am more ready than ever to create a life and business that’s right FOR ME.  And Lloyd is more motivated to do that which is right FOR HIM.  Check. 

While we may create something together in the future, we know this time, we will do so with open eyes and more awareness of what we both want and need from it. 





Being Present Through A Lens


Being Present Through A Lens

When folks say “follow your passion”, what often comes to mind are big ideas. Major dreams, many times ones we believe are unattainable. Things like starting a business, writing a book, or climbing an 8,000-meter peak. But sometimes following your passion is a series of small things, an activity that you find a way to weave into your typical day. Even if we struggle between passion and exhaustion in the job we choose, we can inject passion by taking small moments to do things we enjoy just for the sake of doing them. And in that doing, unpredicted benefits arise. For me, that’s photography. 

Like a lot of people my age who invest in photography, my interest started with back in high school where I learned to shoot black and white film on a manual camera. I enjoyed that tremendously, but It’s come and gone over the years without really sticking. I wasn’t willing to dedicate the time and money I felt was needed. Digital came on, but I wasn’t excited about the quality or expense – why spend a lot of money on a tool that may be out of date within two years, when you’re not even doing it that often to begin with?

photography umbrella.jpg

Over the years my life became more complex. Having a child, juggling two careers (1 helping my wife’s business + a corporate gig), which has now have morphed into one, making room for family, friends, two dogs and a Shasta trailer. In keeping up with all that, there became less and less time to pursue hobbies. About four years ago, I acquired two items that used to be passions of mine as a teenager – an electric guitar and a digital camera. That guitar has not seen much action, but the camera took off. It was something I could carry with me to the events of my life, and was especially encouraged if I was aiming at my now 6-year-old daughter. Perfect!

Noble winner, Daniel Kahneman has said there are 20,000 moments in every day. They are all different and your brain remembers them them in slices. When we recall a favorite moment in the past, we are often brought back to one of these slices that were especially meaningful to us. This is where our brain recorded that moment as the one that captured the feeling best.

photography butterfly.jpg

Photography trains you to be better aware of those moments. My daughter likes to take photographs now, too, on her waterproof/shockproof camera. This of course makes me very proud. Although she always likes looking at the pictures I’ve taken of her, she sometimes gets annoyed when I point the lens at her. To help her accept it, I told her that I am “collecting butterflies”. She asked me what that meant so I said, “memories are like butterflies that come in and then flutter away. I am trying to catch the pretty ones in my net so I can look at them later”.


Have I followed my passion by becoming a National Geographic photographer for a living? Not so much.



Have I followed it by weaving photography into the life I already have, and adding a layer of joy and appreciation to it? Yes, definitely.



What is that thing that you love to do for the sake of doing, that could maybe find a way back into your routine? You may be surprised by what it brings.

photography beach.jpg


Road Stories on how Married Couples go into Business Together Lesson #3


Road Stories on how Married Couples go into Business Together Lesson #3

Working for my wife has its challenges. In my last blog I talked about how it’s particularly fun when you quickly discover that your new role involves knowing the subtleties of what and how your wife likes her coffee. You will be getting a lot of that for her until you figure out how to bring in some bacon.

What’s positive about being married and working together is the flexibility. Although things get crazy at times and the ride is much less predictable, there is more flexibility in scheduling time off. Gone are the days when I had to disappoint her with the response that I can’t take an opportunistic four-day weekend, because I’ve used my corporate accrual allotment of vacation year-to-date. Like a lot of corporate terms, it’s hard to know what that means exactly but it’s safe to say that you’re screwed.   

I’m learning to be more grateful for the times that we can sneak away.

So, in this post I wanted to simply make that point, and share some photos I took of our trip we took to Cancun for her “birthday week”. Thank you, Marriott reward points!


Boy that water is a pretty blue.

Boy that water is a pretty blue.

And the sunsets are stunning above the sea

And the sunsets are stunning above the sea

April was pretty darn relaxed

April was pretty darn relaxed

And able to spend quality time with Autumn

And able to spend quality time with Autumn

My daughter thinks she is Moana

My daughter thinks she is Moana

And did her happy dance every day of the trip

And did her happy dance every day of the trip

April’s perspective:

When can I go back?


How to Love Spring Cleaning


How to Love Spring Cleaning

It’s that time of year again. There’s something primitive in the sense we get come springtime. Maybe we’re just wired this way. Spring brings with it a desire to clean house, to get rid of the stuff. The stuff that has magically survived the selection process and found what seems to be a permanent home in our garage, closet or pantry. We used it before, a long time ago, and it would really come in handy if that time ever came again. Yet it hasn’t, so it just sits and waits another day.

Here at ABRG, there are two things that describe us well: we love research, and we love learning about how to be more efficient (try running a thriving boutique research firm with four people and you’ll understand why). Recently, we had the opportunity to do both. While in an ideation workshop with a client, we conducted a practice brainstorming exercise on the topic of spring cleaning. To get people geared up and in the mode of ideation, we typically have them practice on an off-topic, non-business subject that’s ripe for multiple ideas.

The topic of spring cleaning fits well, so we asked them to come up with as many ideas they could on “what’s a creative way you could attack a spring cleaning exercise”? To set the stage we give them some guidance on how to keep coming up with ideas:

  1. Land on something, and think of other solutions
  2. Wish list it – what could I do if….
  3. If you feel that you can’t relate, think of who you could ask
  4. Work individually first, then as a group
  5. When you’re stuck, move around or talk to someone

The answers were creative, practical, and fun!

A good ideation generates multiple ideas without judging them on whether they are good or bad, because sometimes the crazy ideas lead to break-throughs of innovation.

  • Live in a hotel.
  • Open a bottle of wine.
  • Make the kids do it.
  • Buy stock in cleaning companies.
  • Ask Alexa.

Some responses had themes of minimalism, which ironically asserts that happiness is achieved in life by having less, not more. The less stuff we fill our space and lives with, the more we are open to things that really matter – time with family, focused effort on our passions, appreciation of our surroundings. One blog we follow at ABRG is Becoming Minimalist. If you follow the thread of minimalism you’ll recognize these suggestions to overcome decluttering:

  1. If you haven’t used it in three months/one year, throw it out.
  2. Does it bring you joy?
  3. Don’t start reminiscing.
  4. Would it be that hard to replace?
  5. Have I worn it in 2 months?

Some ideas had efficiency in mind, how to get through the emotionally tough nature of the process in a way that works. At ABRG, we follow Asian Efficiency and have gotten a ton of great advice through their resources over the past few years. There were some good ideas on how to best go about it:

  • Go room by room.
  • Clean as you go.
  • Hire people and give them each a room.
  • Go through the out-of-site, out-of-mind places.
  • Make someone else go through your stuff and throw out anything that doesn’t look good.
  • Buy storage bins with labels – prioritize what you store, and once the bin is full throw out the rest.

This year, we’re going to make this painful process more fun and efficient by tossing in a few of these ideas. We hope you pick up a few tips that help you, too!



No Nonsense Essential Oils


No Nonsense Essential Oils


Over the years, we’ve learned the hard way how important it is to take care of ourselves, especially when we need to travel for a project and during seasons of long research days. April introduced us to using health-promoting botanicals in the form of essential oils as a more natural approach to enhancing our general wellness by:

  • Inspiring a positive emotional state

  • Enhancing physical wellness

  • Enhancing spiritual awareness

  • Purifying the air



Since then, we’ve read more about how we can better use essential oils at work. In our continuous quest to lead a healthy life and create better moods during projects with clients, we’ve listed our favorite oils/blends brands and their uses:

essential oils
  • Peppermint by doTerra – to remove headaches, revive energy, freshens breath

  • InTune by doTerra – to enhance the senses and sustain focus

  • Digestzen by doTerra – for indigestion

  • Stress Away by Young Living – to combat stress

  • Thieves by Young Living – to purify

  • Lavender by doTerra – for relaxation (and sleep)

  • Lemon by doTerra – to cleanse

  • Frankincense by doTerra – helps boost immunity

  • Melaleuca by doTerra – fights bacteria and fungus

  • Oregano by doTerra – helps relieve common seasonal threats

We keep a stash of these oils in the office and our travel bag together with a diffuser so we can diffuse away (e.g. Peppermint during intense research days) or apply topically (e.g. Stress Away during concept work sessions) when we most need them.

Recently, April shared with us an article that talks about becoming aware of our basic tendencies so we can make better choices to support the harmony in body and mind.  And this article which tells the story about how choosing nourishing smells will awaken the mind’s innate healing powers and experience a natural vitality and wholeness based on our dosha. What is dosha, you ask?  Dosha is a person’s “mind-body” type and there are 3 primary types: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Are you curious what your dosha is?  Well, you can take a quiz here to find out! Briefly, these are what the doshas mean:

  • Vata: Movement and Change

    • Tends to be always on the go with an energetic and creative mind

  • Pitta: Transformation and Metabolism

    • Enjoy a strong appetite and ability to digest food, information, and experiences

  • Kapha: Structure and Fluidity

    • Solid, reliable, contented souls

Based on your mind-body type (dosha), there are certain aromas (essential oils) that can help evoke states of well-being:

  • Vata: floral, fruity, warm, sweet, and sour smells

    • Basil, Orange, Geranium, Clove, Vanilla, Patchouli

  • Pitta: cooling and sweet smells

    • Sandalwood, Mint, Rose, Jasmine, Ylang-Ylang, Lavender

  • Kapha: stimulating and spicy smells

    • Eucalyptus, Camphor, Juniper, Clove, Marjoram, Rosemary

We’re looking forward to taking the dosha quiz to understand which essential oils can support our goal of leading healthier lives!