Simplify to Care

Here in St. Louis spring is in full bloom. Many gardeners are tilling the soil, pulling up old roots and planting new seed. Spring is a time when we can create new visions for our home and family life. What do you want to plant in the garden of your life? This is a good time to reflect on caring for ourselves and others by simplifying our lives.

Simplify to Care

We live in a materialistic consumer oriented culture. Often the focus has been on money and stuff. We believe that our things reflect our importance in the world. The deeper truth is that who we are as persons has a much more powerful impact. Let this spring be a time to acknowledge the gift that you are. What are the gifts and strengths within yourself that you can now begin to express? What purpose would you like to serve? When you acknowledge the gifts that you have and that which gives you meaning, it is easier to let go of material items that no longer serve you.

Honor Your Relationships

Research over the last years has shown that our relationships bring a greater sense of well being and joy than status or the accumulation of stuff. Releasing your extra stuff allows you to share your compassion and feel connected to community. It gives a renewed sense of appreciation for others and yourself. It helps you feel connected to a broader purpose. Enjoy your community celebrations. Take a moment to acknowledge your value as a person, connect with your strengths and share. Happiness comes from connection.

Appreciate Nature

Take time to get out and appreciate nature. As we enjoy the sun, the air, the blooming flowers and the trees, it helps us to slow down and become more grounded. As we appreciate nature, we are reminded that we are a part of a much larger whole. Nature can give us a sense of awe. It helps us to reduce stress and put things in perspective.

You Matter, Take Action, Make a Difference

You Matter

Many of us have good ideas. We want to make a difference, but the action needed seems too big and the ideas get tucked away. Then we feel frustrated, angry and depressed because the problems did not get solved. Today, more and more people are taking action to make a difference. It is spreading like wildfire.
More and more people are waking up to a deeper truth. Ordinary people taking action has an effect. When our actions stand for our deeper values and principles, as justice, opportunity, fairness, and dignity, it serves a critical purpose. It helps to define and defend who we really are. Then ordinary people become heroes and heroines. This e-newsletter focuses on the importance of everyday heroic acts, and what you can do.

Inspired Action Counts

Taking action to make a difference is important. With the many challenges before us, global warming, unemployment, declining resources, we cannot always wait for an expert or leader’s permission to act. Sometimes, you just know what you have to do and may have no other authority than the good intentions and caring in your heart. It may not be the most perfect solution. Still it is the best you can do. You face disappointments and setbacks and still, you find the courage to keep on.

You may not even be aware of the impact that it has. Yet, when aligned with your deeper character strengths it has an impact because it serves the greater good. When you do so, you access a higher power for life and you become a hero for just being who you are. It enhances the happiness and well being of us all. This is much better than complaining, feeling overwhelmed and depressed. I call this a heroic act

Story Power

When you take action it is important to share your personal story. Often we hear statistics and information on the need to make a change, only to find it overwhelming. Other times we may feel guilty for not doing anything. When you take action and tell your story, it is important because it shows it CAN be done. Even more it gives concrete ideas on HOW to do it. This inspires and fuels the action of others.

I once worked with a lady who came to me for serious depression. When she discovered her strength of generosity, she decided to help with volunteer projects at work. At first only a few volunteered, but soon it caught on, and many others began volunteering too. She got over her depression and made new friends. Her efforts and those of her co-workers helped to create a more humane environment.

We learn and become inspired by each other’s actions. When we share our stories, it amplifies our efforts. It gives us ideas and opportunities to reflect on the deeper truth. This creates more opportunities for change and builds the grass roots community.

You matter. Your story matters. Make a difference.

Dr. Alice

Empower Yourself: Align Your Intentions and Goals With Your Strengths

January is a month for setting new intentions and goals. These intentions reflect our higher aspirations. A major challenge in carrying them out is handling the obstacles, disappointments, and setbacks that inevitably occur. Success is more than setting an intention and visualizing the positive. It requires us to persist in following our goals, transforming our challenges into a positive direction.

When considering your intentions for this year, consider aligning them with your character strengths. Your strengths are the places where you naturally feel happier, are in the flow, and are enthusiastic about developing projects. When you align your intentions with your strengths, your setbacks can form the corner stone for the further development of your character. They help you to see the deeper truth about yourself. You can discover your strengths by taking the VIA strengths test at

For example, one of my intentions this year is to focus. One of my big challenges is dealing with techology. Technology is not my strength. It frequently leaves me overwhelmed, seeing myself in a negative light. My strengths are in the areas of perspective and wanting to serve a higher purpose. By working with web master, I found I could better meet my challenges with technology. This allows me to honor my intention with a spirit of adventure and purpose rather than hesitation and fear. Then when setbacks and obstacles occur, instead of constricting or avoiding dealing with them, I can face them with co-creative teamwork and a sense of purpose.

Honor your strengths, use them to help you accomplish your intentions and goals. You will find yourself more productive, happier and joyful in the process.

Warm Regards,

Dr. Alice

Holiday Gifts: From Pricy to Priceless

During this time of the year we are all thinking about gifts. So many times we associate gifts with material items. We search the catalogs, malls, and stores to find the perfect gift, only to feel drained and tired. Shopping for gifts may not be as attractive as we thought.

Actually, it may not be the material item that is most important, but what it means to us. We want to express a grateful heart and love. There are many ways of sharing our joy for the loved ones in our lives. For example, Gary Chapman has spoken of five languages of love, of which material gifts are only one. The other love languages are acts of service, physical touch, quality time, and words of affirmation. Watch your loved ones and see if you can
determine language that resonates most with them, then give a gift in that language.

You might want to consider the following:

Physical Touch – Pass out hugs and kisses. They are very easy to give. It lets children know you care about them and is one of the fastest ways to show it. Even cool teenagers appreciate a quick arm around the shoulder and a squeeze when their friends aren’t looking.

Acts of Service – How about cooking? Try baking some foods you remember as a child and tell the family stories that go with them. You might want to note your children’s favorite foods and have a meal around those items. Or, you might want to have a cooking party, when your children or friends gather together to bake and have fun. This is also a great time to give and help out in the community. Check your local organizations for those that need help.

Quality Time – Spend time with your loved ones doing an activity you all enjoy. It could be reading a special book, taking time to listen to their favorite story, or going through photo albums. Your undivided attention is something that often is not put on a list. Nonetheless it is one we all appreciate and enjoy.

Words of Affirmation: You might want to create a poem, or just write up a story of what you have noticed and appreciated over the last year. It helps all to better appreciate who we are.

Physical Gifts. Gifts do not need to be pricy to become priceless. Many small items are meaningful. For example, for very young children, one of the most popular toys are blocks. They are fascinating to children because they can be used to create so many other structures. As we become older a small physical representation of a deeper quality of love can be most meaningful.

Once we become aware of the many ways in which our loved ones can appreciate our gratitude and love, we have many more choices than just shopping. Now isn’t that attractive?

Warm Regards, Dr. Alice

Create Peace and Harmony – Be Kind

Today more and more people are simplifying their lives, reducing their material consumption, developing a sense of place, and investing in restoring a healthy balance with the earth. Rather than continually consuming more stuff, people are building their relationships with family, community, and nature. When we act considering the needs and well being of all, it becomes deeply gratifying because it serves a deeper purpose.

In a world menaced by all kinds of destructiveness, loving kindness is a necessity. Loving-kindness, whether in deed, word, or thought is the only constructive means for promoting accord, peace, and mutual understanding.
Loving-kindness is a source of well-being and safety. To promote one’s own self interest is a primitive motivation of human nature. When transformed into the desire to promote the interest and happiness of others, the basic urge of self-seeking overcome, and the mind becomes universal by identifying its own interest with the interest of all.

Doing so actually promotes one’s own well-being in the best possible manner. Here are a three ways you can be kind.
To Yourself – Take to time to appreciate the things you do well, to care of yourself, and rest. Pace yourself, reduce expectations, create meaningful experiences. It will bring you happiness and joy.
To Others – On a daily basis, let others know what you appreciate. It builds your relationships and good will.
To the World – Consider donating to charity or giving a helping hand. Serving a purpose larger than yourself is deeply gratifying and lasting.

Psychologists estimate, on average, that more than eighty percent of your happiness comes from relationships, health, spiritual life, friends, and work fulfillment. Only seven percent is about money. Take time to be kind.


Dr. Alice

Tips for Managing Family Differences

I recently visited my roots, my family of origin. We had a successful gathering. We enjoyed being with each other, and also had to make decisions regarding our larger family goals, such as managing the family farm. In almost every family, individual members often can have different views. While this can give rise to potential conflict, it can also lead to stronger and more effective teamwork. The challenge is to stay positive, working in individual perspectives, while also looking at the best interest of the whole. Here are three tips for managing differences so as to create success.

Focus on the Positive

Celebrate your strengths. We all have individual strengths and at the same time share deeper values and strengths with the people we love. Recognizing your character strengths, such honesty, love of learning, sense of humor, is important because it focuses on what you love to do that also serves the greater good. Family is a good place to discover and share them. When you can use your strengths to serve a cause greater than yourself, it is deeply gratifying. You can learn more about the power of the character strengths in my article, “The Hidden Power,”

Express your appreciation and gratitude. It builds positive energy, broadens your perspective, and facilitates your productivity and creativity. It will help you become more inclusive, considering the views of everyone, rather than fighting over one solution or another. Over time, the positive is more powerful than the negative. When you express your appreciation, it brings out the higher positive power of life.

Be Aware of the Ghosts

Every family has ghosts. These are old patterns from the past, not fully resolved, that threaten to destroy the family unity and joy. Suspect a ghost if you are picking up negative vibes, gossip, blaming, or a constricted view. Be curious, is this really true? Then work to take positive action. You cannot change another person, but you can change yourself. Facing challenges and choosing to transform them is deeply empowering. A major success in any family is to keep the ghosts away.

Ask yourself, what can I do to create a more positive solution? Often, negativity stems from false assumptions from the past. When you release them, it creates a much brighter future and helps you to communicate more effectively. Even better, the work of any one person in the family has a positive impact on the whole.

If you are having difficulty staying positive, check out Barbara Fredrickson’s positivity website, and take the online test. Fredrickson discovered that experiencing positive emotions in a 3-to-1 ratio with negative ones leads people to a tipping point towards flourishing and resilience. Successful businesses have a positivity/negativity ratio 2.9/1. Successful marriages have a positivity/negativity ratio of 5/1. If you find your ratio is negative, then look for ways to raise it. If you need help, call me.

Let Solutions Emerge

I have found in my family that decisions are much easier when we have short and long range goals. Some decisions need to be made immediately while others can wait. Think through your priorities and sort out your short-term goals from the long-term goals. Then create a holding space for the longer term goals. When you are positive, this holding space allows for the goodness of life and necessary time for new solutions to emerge. It keeps you minds open, allowing for creativity and resilience, rather than fighting over one or another position. You will be surprised at the success of your ability to work together.

Warmly, Dr. Alice

© 2015 Alice Vlietstra. All rights reserved.

Family Success: Tap Into Your Hidden Power

If there was one key factor that you would focus on to make your relationships great, what would it be? One of the greatest strengths you and your family can bring to your family and community are your values. When translated into behavior, they form a Code of Honor. It is a cornerstone for family and business success.

A Code of Honor

What holds a family together when it faces a crisis? What holds a business together when cash is tight? It is something deep. It shows its face when the pressure is on and when the stakes are high. It shows up when we are put to the test and have to deliver. Blair Singer calls it, a “Code of Honor.”

A Code of Honor is a set of powerful values and beliefs that we are willing to take a stand for and defend. They form the standards whereby we hold ourselves accountable. They are heart and spirit of any successful organization. They are values acted upon, the values that are extended into real, physical behavior.

A Code of Honor affects little things, like “deal direct,” focus on what works, take responsibility, acknowledge and say “Thank You” and the big things, like the Declaration of Independence.

Uplifting Power

A shared Code of Honor comes from our most deeply held values. It represents our higher motivations and aspirations and it helps us to move forward to accomplish our higher goals. It helps a business accomplish the broader vision that goes beyond the bottom line. Organizations that have lasting success typically honor a higher motivation that enables its members to feel pride and to believe in what they are doing to serve the community.

A Code of Honor defines the “glue” that holds a family or team together, In every family and business, conflict will ALWAYS arise. Conflict can destroy a group or it can pull the group to work together as a team at a higher level.

When “push comes to shove,” individuals can criticize and blame each other or they can choose to take personal responsibility to do what is needed. It is our shared values and personal Code that holds us accountable to do our work.

While values help us define our higher ideals, they also help us acknowledge our humanity. We all have moments when life goes crazy. A set of rules with clearly defined values, developed in the SANE moments, helps us see our way through this craziness to a higher level of functioning.

Your Code of Honor

Every individual, family, and business has a set of values that is deeply meaningful to their lives. It arises from our real experience and our deepest strivings.

Are you committed to being your best? All of us have a greatness waiting to be revealed. The challenge is to find it, develop it, train it and use it to better your life and those around you.

Families also have strengths that are deeply meaningful and that benefit the community. They can be discovered by listening to the challenges that have been overcome, the stories,
and the struggles faced by previous generations.

One way to discover the values that are important in your life is to take “Values in Action” survey at and have family members take it as well. It will help you identify your signature strengths as well as those in your family. Then check them out and see if they are consistent with your experiences.

Your values and your Code of Honor can bring out the best of yourself, your family, and your team. When you make a conscious decision to create a Code of Honor you set the stage for greatness to emerge. You can facilitate this by playing your strengths and by learning how to form a shared Code. This with be the subject of the next two e-newsletters.

Warm Regards,

Dr. Alice


Singer, Blair. The ABC’s of Building a Business Team That Wins. New York: Warner Books, Inc., 2004.

Become Empowered: Accept and Define Yourself

One of the keys to success in your personal life, your family life, and in your business is to be able to accept and define yourself. This is called differentiation. It is your ability to define your own life goals apart from the influence of others. You see it when you stand up for what you believe when others are pressuring you. For example, if you are being pressured by the kids to buy products you are not comfortable, you can firmly and calmly give them an alternative and tell them, “no.”

When you are differentiated, you can remain calm in the midst of upsetting situations. You hold your own, being an “I” while still being connected to the “We.” The ability to stand in our own truth while interacting with others is the basis for effective leadership. When different views are shared, each individual can take leadership according to his or her unque strengths and the requirements of the situation. Effective solutions to problems then can emerge because power and leadership are shared.

One of the best ways for you to differentiate yourself is to identify your unique character strengths. When you clarify them and how you like to use them, you know your area of contribution and can better appreciate the contribution of others. The same strengths show up in all areas of your life, personal, family, and business. It makes it much easier to make meaningful decisions and have mor positivity and joy in your life.

Celebrate Your Strengths

What is it that enables you to cultivate your talents, build deep lasting relationships with others, feel pleasure, and contribute to the world? What is it that allows you to develop a sense of well being? We all have character strengths that empower our lives. When you tap into your strengths, it leads to a solid foundation of self esteem and increases your optimism, enthusiasm, and joy. Here are some ways in which they show up.

During the day, when do you feel the most strong, enthusiastic, and deeply absorbed in your work? These are the times you are in your strengths. Your strengths are the areas where you can become deeply engaged. When you use your strengths more frequently, it increases your happiness, sense of well being, and joy.

Look around your surroundings. What aspects of your home touch you the most deeply? Do you have favorite pictures, favorite sayings? What about your plants? Take a moment to connect with them and savor them. You will discover that they relate to your strengths. When placing items in your home, take notice how you connect with them. Do they make you feel stronger? Keep those items that give you meaning and joy. Other aspects of your surroundings you may not enjoy. Clear those out. It will make you much happier and help you to get things done.

When faced with challenges, what strengths bring you through? Is it your sense of humor? – Your ability to put things in perspective? – Your ability to learn new information to solve your problem? All of these reflect your underlying character strengths. Acknowledge them. They will help you to accomplish your goals.

Watch for the qualities you appreciate in others. Notice when your friends get excited and what gives them joy. Then ask them to tell you more about it. These are the areas of their strengths. When you give others feedback, it helps them see their strengths. You will discover it builds your relationships.

What gives you a deep sense of purpose and meaning? Are there institutions that give you deep sense of purpose? When you get to together with your family and friends, what are the activities that give you the most joy? Honor these moments. It helps you connect in a positive way and also helps you appreciate your ancestors.
Celebrate Your Strengths

July is the month when we celebrate the Declaration of Independence. It states that we are all “endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It is the character strengths that help us to exercise these rights. Take a moment this month to discover and celebrate them. If you would like to take a survey to help you identify the strengths you use most frequently, take the VIA survey of character strengths at www.authentichappiness org.

Communication Differences of Men and Women

WHAT Did You Just Say? Communication Differences of Men and Women

“He should just KNOW what I want if he loves me,” she exclaims.

“I TRY to solve her problems, but she gets mad when she’s upset and I give her advice,” he declares.

And both of them think they are right. And both of them have a right to see it that way.

And both of them would be wise to learn to see it from another point of view.

Individuality notwithstanding, the stereotypes are somewhat borne out by research: men are generally problem solvers and women generally want intuitive, compassionate responses. To put it another way, when we approach our partner with a problem, we expect them to react the way our best (same sex) friends do. Or to put it another way: Men “fix” and women “feel.”

“And here’s what you SHOULD do, wife…”

Men most often communicate in order to solve a problem, and they feel a sense of responsibility and love when their partner is upset. What he doesn’t realize is that she is not generally asking for advice, unless she comes out and says so. Instead, she would like to be listened to and valued while she processes her problem verbally. It tends to go something like this:
She: “I got so mad at my boss today.”
He: “Well, you should just quit that job and look for another. Here’s the employment listings.”
When he jumps directly to his solution for her life, she feels belittled, as if he feels she is not capable of adult decisions. She really just wanted him to listen, not solve!
So let’s look at a better way:
She: “I got so mad at my boss today.”
He: “You seem really upset. Tell me more.”

“If you LOVED me you would just KNOW, husband…”

A mistake that women often make when communicating with the opposite sex is called “mind reading:” that is, expecting to just hint, sigh, glare, or otherwise get him to pick up on what she wants. This conversation might go:
She: (sarcastically) “That trash really smells, doesn’t it?”
He: “Sure does.”
Of course, she wanted him to take the trash out, not agree with her! She winds up frustrated and furious that he didn’t bow to the control, hint, guilt and manipulation barely hidden in that remark.

A better way would be:
She: “Would you please take the trash out sometime in the next hour?”
He: “Sure, it’s my turn anyway.”
Women are socialized to be tactful, accommodating, and indirect, but this does not serve them well in the real world. Instead, women (and indeed, men as well) should be DIRECT, BRIEF, and SPECIFIC when asking for what they need. This could save a lot of resentment; we all appreciate honest, courteous, and upfront communication.

So it goes like this: men, you get in a lot of trouble when you offer solutions instead of focused, eye-to-eye, undivided attention and a listening ear when she is sharing her problems with you.
And women, you shut down any hope of getting what you need when you hint, sigh, use sarcasm, or otherwise expect him to read your mind. Instead, be direct (“the trash”), specific (“within the next hour”) and courteous (“please”).

Communication is a skill that must be learned, but the basic principles listed here can go a long way toward each person getting what they want- a “win-win” for all parties.