Resolutions Not Working? Try a Theme Instead.

 MWelcome to 2013 and the first full work week of the new year!  I have to admit that I love the holidays, but I am always glad when they are over.  It seems that I am not alone in that thought.  Whenever I talk to someone around this time of year they seem to feel the same way.  It is great to have the downtime and the time with family or friends, but it is also nice to get back into the normal routines of daily life.  After all, that is where we are the most comfortable and feel the most secure.  And depending on what you consider a routine or what you chose to focus on, it can also be the most exciting and challenging place to be.

Now that most of us are back at work, I’m going to guess that the buzz of the new year has pretty much faded into memory.  When I worked on the corporate playground, it only took about two hours for  the relaxation and glow of vacation time to wear off, leaving me wondering if I had really had any downtime.  It seems to be true for many people.  And as the next deadline looms, the joy of the holiday fades, as do the resolutions we promised ourselves were going to make stick this year.

It’s not really an unusual scenario.  We get caught up in the moment and make resolutions to change things we don’t particularly like about ourselves. We share  them at the holiday parties to show we are in the spirit of the occasion.  The problem is that most of us don’t really prepare for making those changes.   They may be important–and we may make progress for a week or so–but then real life comes back into the picture and those changes that were so important seem to lose priority little by little.  Pretty soon it is February and we decide to try again next year with the same set of resolutions.  It may not be true for everyone, but I know I spent many years vowing to lose the same twenty pounds every  December 31st.

Instead of resolutions, why not try a theme for 2013?  Resolutions focus on things we want to change.  Losing weight, getting out of debt, getting in shape–whatever the change may be it usually has a negative bias.  These are things we don’t like about ourselves and our situation, and we criticize ourselves for them.   By focusing on the negative we unintentionally reinforce it.  And it takes a lot more energy to change a negative situation than to create a positive situation.

Choosing a theme for 2013 allows you to focus on positive changes you would like to make in the coming year.  Instead of losing weight, chose a theme of health.  Instead of getting out of debt,  chose a theme of abundance.  Yes, weight loss plays a part in the theme, but it is not the focus.   Instead, decide what a healthy life means to you and what you can do to create that lifestyle.  Picture yourself throughout the year making what you feel to be healthy choices for meals, exercise, and overall wellbeing.   When you approach changes from a positive bias, it is much easier to make those decisions to move forward and create your vision.  Focusing only on losing weight  forces you to think about what you have to give up.  When you focus on a theme of healthy living for 2013, you can focus on all the positive things you will gain, such as increased energy and better mobility.

I think we can all agree that positive reinforcement is a better option than negative reinforcement, so why not give it a shot when planning 2013.  Don’t focus on what you need to change–instead, laser in on what you would like to create.  Take some time a paint a picture of what your life will look like when you integrate your new theme.  What are the major shifts in focus, and where might you feel changes that you didn’t expect?   Because you are creating it,  how your theme affects your life is up to you.  It can be as wide-reaching or as specific as you choose.  But it will always involve changes invoked from a positive bias, and that is a very good thing.

So why not choose a personal theme this year and see what happens.   It may be just what you need to create your best year ever.

There are a few spots left for my new bootcamp beginning  January 15, 2013.   Transform your life  From Surviving to Thriving in Six Weeks or Less!   Participation is limited so don’t be disappointed.   Reserve your space today and make this your best year ever.

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New Year’s Resolutions–One Step at a Time


Around this time of year,  many people begin to think about starting some sort of wellness program as part of their New Year’s resolutions.  Find a way to get healthy, lose weight, reduce stress, and improve overall well-being.  Seems like a pretty simple laundry list, really.  It’s also true that this is the same list that gets repeated every New Year’s Eve.  Why?   Because multi-tasking is a way of life and we are used to focusing on a million things at once.  We  live in a society of instant gratification.  We want  immediate results. Many of us are Type-A personalities and we expect to check off everything our list as soon as it goes on.  Unfortunately, that type of mindset often turns that exciting new list of resolutions into a recipe for failure.

New years toastAs a  wellness coach, I have a question about planning New Year’s  resolutions.  What would happen if you focused on only one resolution at a time?   Would you be able to give that goal your complete attention and thereby increase the possibility of success?  And if you are successful in one area, might there be a ripple effect in other areas of your life you would like to change?  After that one change becomes a habit, would your self-efficacy improve so other changes don’t seem quite as improbable?

If you truly want to keep your resolutions this year, try tackling one item at a time.  Instead of declaring you will become an icon of healthy living in January, break the project down into pieces, and decide which piece seems to be the most important to you.  For example, we know that wellness is defined as the integration of mind, body, and spirit.  Which piece of that equation seems to be the most out-of-balance when you look at your life?

List the areas where you would like to see change,  then prioritize which of those changes is most important to you.  If you want to have a healthier body, is changing your diet the most important, or do you feel there would be more benefit to starting an exercise program?  You can tackle both, but if you focus on one item at a time so that each change becomes a habit, your odds of accomplishing both items increases.  Both are important to reach the overall goal of a healthier body, but let’s be real–we are busy.  There are only so many hours in a day and only so much energy we can dedicate to making changes.  If you get a regular, moderate exercise program in your wheelhouse,  you can use that as a base and turn your attention to making healthier eating choices.   Put the two together and you get a healthier body.

The truth is if we focus on making too many changes at once, we can easily become overwhelmed.   Trying to accomplish too much at one time only leads to frustration.  Remember, you can do it all–you just can’t do it all at one time.

The other half of this formula is to allow enough time for the change to become a habit.  As a rule, changes take about twelve weeks to become solidified in our minds.  Once that happens, they become fixed in our psyches and are no longer considered changes, simply new habits.   Since habits take less mental energy to maintain, at this point you can turn your focus to the next priority on your list.  Lather, rinse, repeat, all the while building on the success of your first accomplishment.   Before you know it, you will have managed a series of changes that not only support your resolutions, but create a new lifestyle as well.

This method can help you conquer any change, whether it be physical health, financial health, career issues, or relationship goals.  So why not give it a try for 2013?

Just be careful.  You may find that you have to find new resolutions for 2014 instead of recycling the familiar ones.  But is that really such a bad problem to have?  I’m guessing not.

Check out my new group coaching program beginning  January 15, 2013.   Transform your life  From Surviving to Thriving in Six Weeks or Less!   Participation is limited so don’t be disappointed.   Reserve your space today.


The Importance of Clarity for Health and Well Being

manwcrystalballI was talking with a friend  who was wanted to discuss a problem he had been facing recently.  He is in the second half of his life, and has been reading that people are living longer than ever before.  While many people would see this a good thing, he was concerned about it.  He felt he didn’t just want to live longer.  He wanted to live better.  In his view, living longer was not worth doing if it just meant eroding health and loss of independence were all he had to look forward to.

When I asked him what his definition of living better was, he hesitated.  It turns out he couldn’t really articulate his vision of better living, but he could tell me what it wasn’t.  This isn’t an unusual situation and he certainly is not alone.   He is just one of the later baby boomers  who is trying to figure out which next steps are important in his future.

At first glance, it doesn’t really seem like he should have any problems.  He is a successful professional who has followed his career to senior management in his organization.  He has authority and influence and lives a very comfortable lifestyle.  There is a stable family support network, a loving spouse, and few financial concerns.   So what could possibly be wrong?

The problem is that he is not clear about what he truly wants.  He has followed all the rules, created the lifestyle  he thought would provide happiness, health, and security, but still feels that something is missing.   He has focused so much on creating his external circumstances that he has neglected to nurture his own health and well-being.  He is lacking clarity when trying to envision what a longer, better life would be.

One thing I’ve realized over the years is that many of the guidelines for success in business and success in life are very similar.  In order to flourish as a business, you need  a  crystal clear vision of the product or service you provide and its benefit to your customers.   You also need a plan to guide you  where you want to go.  Without either of these things, chances are you won’t reach the level of success you hope to achieve.

The same holds true in life.  You need to put some time and effort into figuring out what is important to you.  What kind of lifestyle do you really want?  How much do you need–or don’t need, as the case may be?  When are you the happiest?  Is health a prime concern for you?  If so, are you willing to put in the work to make sure that your body serves you to its best ability as you age?

The truth of the matter is that baby boomers (and near boomers) expect a lot out of life.   We are an active generation and are used to getting what we want.  The idea of aging as our parents and grandparents did is simply not acceptable to us.  Spending a lifetime working at a career, however satisfying, in order to retire, receive a gold watch, and recede from the world just isn’t in the cards.  Many boomers don’t even consider retirement as an option–they want to remain engaged and participating in the world around them as long as possible.

After our discussion, a few things became clearer for my friend.  He realized that most of his energy was spent dealing with the stress of his job (true of many boomers), which left him little time or energy to focus on himself.   His health had  suffered, but his energy had been so outwardly directed that he hadn’t had time to notice.   He realized that he had to take as active an interest in his own health as he had been taking in the health of his organization.   Once he made that decision, a new path opened and he could start planning steps to make that happen.

LIving longer should not be viewed as a bad thing.  It’s actually a good thing.  My friend is now exploring ways to integrate exercise, healthy eating habits, and stress management into his lifestyle.  Improving his health has become a concrete goal, and he is committed to success.  He says he is actually looking forward to his next chapter now, not dreading it.

Once you  have a clear picture of what you would like to accomplish, the chances of achievement become much greater.   Gaining clarity is not always easy–it can take a long time.   Sometimes we try too hard to figure out what we want.  In many cases it is simpler than we think.   In the case of my friend,  improving his health was a key to improving his enjoyment and quality of life.  A very basic idea, but one that many people overlook.

One thing is pretty clear.  Without clarity, it’s hard to get where you would like to go.  It’s simple in concept but can be very difficult in practice.

However, if you make the effort  it can yield amazing rewards.

Are you ready to discover how the power of one-on-one coaching can help you break down self-imposed barriers and reach your Personal Best?  Click  here to schedule a strategic coaching session to see if wellness coaching is right for you.

Check out my free teleclass for Your Best Year Ever and give yourself a head start to a great 2013!


Stress and the Pursuit of Happiness

Sunflower 1It is one of the founding principles of the United States.  We are entitled to the pursuit of happiness.  It is what we are put on this earth to do.  And if it is a right, it should be a pretty easy thing to do, right?  Define happiness,  get set, pursue, achieve.  Simple.

So why do so many people in today’s society feel like they are on a never-ending chase to find that elusive state?  And we all know that when we don’t seem to be able to achieve a goal, we find frustration and stress instead.   The harder we try to be happy, the harder it is to be happy.  Just when we figure out what will get us there, someone moves the finish line.  What we thought would be the end of the race turns out to be only another hurdle.

Finding happiness is important.  Why?  Because on a basic level, we equate happiness with well-being.  If we are to live a full and optimal life, we need to be happy.   We need to enjoy life and find the things that contribute to our happiness.   We need to be active in pursing happiness.

There is only one little fundamental flaw in this theory.  Most of us are pursing the wrong things.   Somewhere in our personal development, we decided what was important to each of us.  Subconsciously we designed a matrix that determined how we could be happy and what would be necessary to achieve it.  Sometimes we modeled that on early environmental factors, such as a stable home life.  Sometimes the opposite is true.  There was no stable home life and there was unhappiness.  Therefore, a stable home would be a requirement for happiness.

Many people equate financial success with happiness.  After all, we are bombarded with media images of wealthy, successful people all the time–and they certainly look happy.  Wealthy people don’t worry about money, so they have to be happy.  The goal becomes to have enough money to not have to worry about it ( which in itself is not possible, but that’s a different subject).  Of course, the problem here is deciding when enough is enough.   The reality is that when you allow money to determine happiness, you will almost always feel that there is never enough.  Kind of a self-defeating cycle.

The bad news for those of us who are goal-oriented, Type-A driven personalities,  is that we should stop the pursuit.  It is one of the hardest things to do–especially when we find value in action–but we have to stop taking the easy way out.

Here’s the issue.  It is much easier to assign responsibility to external factors as a basis for creating happiness.  We pursue these conditions, or goals, in hopes that they will make us happy.  A good relationship, a better job,  a bigger house.   It seems that we have been conditioned to believe that things, or conditions, will make us happy.  It is much more difficult, and more frightening, to accept responsibility for our own happiness.

The truth is that each of us has the ability to be happy at any given time.   If you think about a time when you considered yourself happy, you probably weren’t actually thinking about being happy.  You simply were.  You were in the moment, and that moment was all that mattered.  The problem is that most of us don’t realize those moments matter.

There was a time I was walking my dogs (I have four, so walking them is no easy feat),  and  in spite of the tugging on the leashes or whatever problems, I was incredibly happy.  There was nothing special about the day but for some reason  I was actually aware of what I was doing, not just performing a task on autopilot.  I was completely in moment and it was a very peaceful, happy experience.   In the midst of a not-so-particularly great day I was happy.   When I stopped looking for it, I discovered happiness was there if I wanted it.

This is not to say that pursuing goals is a bad thing.  Far from it.  However, using the completion of a goal as a benchmark for happiness is an exercise in futility.  There will always be another goal, so if you attach your ideal of happiness to attaining a goal, you will set yourself up for an endless search.  And that search only leads to stress and dissatisfaction.  So create goals, but create them for the sake improving your situation, not for the expectation of how that achievement will make you feel.   How you feel about any situation at any time is completely up to you.   Enjoying a sense of satisfaction due to an achievement is not the same as expecting an achievement to satisfy you.   A subtle difference, but an important one.

We do have the right to be happy and to thrive to the best of our abilities in whatever environment we find ourselves.  Once we accept that we don’t have to search for happiness–that happiness can already be an integral part of our world if we just allow it– interesting things happen.  Stress levels drop, we have more energy to put toward positive pursuits,we find a sense of peace, and our health can actually improve.   Now that certainly seems like something worth pursuing.

Are you ready to discover how the power of one-on-one coaching can help you break down self-imposed barriers and reach your Personal Best?  Click  here to schedule a complimentary strategic coaching session and see if wellness coaching is right for you.

Check out my free teleclass for Your Best Year Ever and give yourself a head start to a great 2013!


Need a Change? Try Your Perspective

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Let’s face it–change is hard.  It doesn’t matter if it is a change for the better, such as committing to a healthier eating plan, or coping with  change caused by external sources, such as  a layoff.   Adjusting to change is just not something we humans tend to do well.  And initiating or maintaining change, especially self-change, can be even more difficult.   It doesn’t matter if we understand the changes could be beneficial.  Creating new habits and patterns is just not something that comes easily to most of us.

So what can we do if we are considering a positive change?  The first way to attempt a change is to make an external change.  A great example is deciding to go on a diet.  We alter our eating habits, thinking that this will help us lose weight and feel healthier.  And it works–for a while.  But the change doesn’t last.  We slowly revert to our old habits, and the weight returns.  Why is it so hard to maintain healthy changes?  Because so often we change the behavior, but do not  make a corresponding change in how we view our world.  We just don’t change our perspective.

One of the best ways to create lasting change in our lives is to change our perspective.  When we can change the way we see ourselves and the world around us, changing behavior becomes much less difficult.   Changing eating habits is a great strategy for weight loss, but deciding that a healthy lifestyle is more reflective of who you really are gives you a much greater chance of lasting success at achieving your goal.  If you believe that you are a healthy person, it will be easier to make healthy changes that complement that perception.

One of the best ways to change our perspective is to realize that we are responsible for our own reality.  Of course there are external factors that shape our world, but we are responsible for how we react to those factors.  When we make that connection, a very subtle but important shift happens within.   We are no longer victims of circumstance.  We become the creators of the type of life we want to live.  Our perception of our own worth and power changes in a very positive way.  And that is a very powerful tool.

Have you ever noticed that things you worry about tend to happen?  When we worry we fixate on the negative, and expending all that energy on negative thoughts tends to create a negative environment.  It is true that we see what we want to see.  If we shift our perception to focus on more positive aspects of our realities, we can create a more positive environment for growth and change.  Glass half full or glass half empty–you decide.

Here’s a little coaching exercise to help change your perspective and make your world a more positive place.  Complaining is a very negative habit, and it takes a lot of energy away from creating a positive lifestyle.  So here’s the deal.  Try not to complain about anything for one week.  This doesn’t mean that if you receive  the wrong order from Amazon you shouldn’t send it back, but don’t rant on about how awful and ineffectual the company is.  Just return it and move on.    Most importantly, don’t complain about the traffic, or the weather, or anything.  Don’t expend that energy.  It’s not easy, but you can really change your perception of yourself and your world  when you become mindful of how much energy is focused on  negative issues.

When you stop complaining, you can’t help but begin to see the world in a more positive light.  And that more positive light is a great tool to help change your overall perspective as well.

Are you ready to discover how the power of one-on-one coaching can help you break down self-imposed barriers and reach your Personal Best?  Click  here to schedule a complimentary strategic coaching session and see if wellness coaching is right for you.

Check out my free teleclass for Your Best Year Ever and give yourself a head start to a great 2013!


The Dangers of the To-Do List

If you are like me, and a lot of other people as well, you probably rely on your to-do list to keep your life sane and orderly.   Using the list to keep track of projects and daily issues is a way to stay in control of everything on your plate.  And it feels great to cross an item off the list after it has been accomplished.

That is the up-side of a to-do list.  The downside of maintaining that list is that it can begin to look eerily similar day after day, and week after week.  The same items go on the list, the same items get crossed off, some of them never seem to get touched.  Suddenly a month goes by, and then a year.  At some point that to-do list changes from a tool for measuring progress and becomes a roadmap of routine.

Routine is not altogether a bad thing.  Certain repetitive routines help us get through mundane tasks with minimal mental energy. Brushing your teeth, for example, takes no thought on your part, and is a necessary part of the day.  It is a routine, and because it takes very little thought, it doesn’t tax your mental energy.  Daily exercise habits and healthy eating patterns are other examples of good routines.

The danger of routine occurs when we no longer  think about what we are doing throughout the day.  Most of us have certain actions that expected of us on a daily basis.  We perform the same functions at work, pick up the kids after school,  get dinner on the table,  find some way to relax for a while (hopefully) in the evening, then get ready to do it all again tomorrow.  Whatever fills our days, chances are there is a lot of repetition required just to keep all the wheels turning.   It’s not surprising that one day starts to look like the next, and slowly we lose energy and creativity.  It is as if checking off the same items week after week is enough to give us a sense of satisfaction.  After all, we are accomplishing something, right?

The other problem with to-do lists is that most are focused on short-term goals.  Nothing wrong with that, of course.  But when we fill our days with easily attainable goals, or items that seem important but in the long run are actually trivial, we crowd out any time for focusing on long-term goals and dreams.  In a perverse sort of way, we can feel more satisfaction in cleaning up after dinner than spending an hour brainstorming ways to start a new project.  It is more immediate and tangible, something to crossed off the list, at least for the night.   It is almost impossible to successfully bring about long-term change or growth when we condition ourselves to only accept the satisfaction of short-term goals.

One way to break out the daily grind is to become aware  of it.   Try to recognize when you are running on autopilot.  Routines are not always a bad thing, but they always become a better thing when they are done mindfully.  Is there a different way to do something?  Can it be done better or more efficiently?  Does it have to be done at all?  Sometimes we continue to do things because we are comfortable with them, but they no longer serve us and we just don’t notice it.  If you awaken your mind to your actions, chances are  that you will become more conscious of aspects in your life you tend to overlook or no longer need to hang onto.

Another way to overcome mind numbing effects of to-lists and routines is to carve out some time each week to focus on a long-term goal.  Maybe it is a half an hour a day, or possibly just an hour a week.  But if you live by a list, make sure that block of time is on the list.  Design a plan to accomplish the goal, and determine what steps need are needed to get you there.   Establish interim benchmarks to mark your progress so you can celebrate along the way.  Also be ready to make alterations to the plan as you go along.   After all, very few things in life happen exactly as we expect them to.

By making a conscious effort to find time to focus on a long-term goal rather than simply filling the days checking off short-term goals, you may find something interesting happens.  So many people are frustrated at the end of the day because they aren’t sure where all the time went.  Suddenly the day is over and they don’t feel as if they accomplished much, even though they did hit all the required routines.   If you allow yourself to consciously address a dream or a goal that is going to take much longer than just an afternoon, a week, a month–or maybe even a year–to become a reality, you will give yourself the gift of long-term satisfaction.  And that satisfaction is much deeper and richer than the type that comes from crossing the same item off the to-do list time and time again.  It is the type of satisfaction that can give real meaning and joy to your life.

And that, in my opinion, is certainly something worth adding to your to-do list.

 


Managing Holiday Stress

With Thanksgiving just under a week away, we are truly at the starting gate of the holiday season.  Actually, if you are hosting the celebration, you may feel the holiday is already underway.  Just spending time at a grocery store will certainly tell you that something is in the air.   And in the aisles.  So like it or not,  we have reached another holiday season.

This season can be a wonderful time to reconnect with family and friends, spend time together, and actually sit down for a meal at the same table.  That’s something doesn’t always happen in a nuclear family, much less an extended family.  So if it is such a great time of year, why do I hear so many people say they can’t wait until it’s over and things get back to normal?

Let’s face it, most of us already have too much on our plates (yes, pun intended) as it is.  Adding the additional expectations for the holidays–entertaining, baking, gift choice and buying, mailing, parties, traffic, crowds, well the list goes on and on–can quite frankly be more than some people can handle.  So how can we get through the season without breaking down or stressing out?

There are lists of ways to cut down on stress at the holidays.  Set a budget, have pot luck parties to share responsibility, avoid alcohol and over indulging in sweets, shop online to avoid crowds.  All these suggestions are valuable and helpful, but there are a couple of things we can do that more appropriately address  some of the intrinsic causes of holiday stress.

Most of us have an idea of what the holidays should look like.   These ideas may come from family traditions, maybe even from generations of them.  Perhaps there was a certain year that sticks in our minds, when as a child everything seemed perfect.  Every year after, as an adult, we may try to recreate that year.   It might be simpler than that–Hollywood and Madison Avenue may have determined what we consider to be a perfect holiday season.   However we get there, most of us have a vision of what the perfect holiday would look like.

The problem, of course, is that perfection is highly overrated.  No matter how hard we try, chances are we will not be able to live up to an ideal scenario.  And that causes a lot of internal stress.  We may not even be aware that we are expending so much energy  trying to create the perfect dinner, or set the perfect table, or decorate the perfect tree.   All we know is we are tired, cranky, irritable, and ready for the season to end before it begins.

Once we recognize that we are focusing more on a ideal than a reality, we can actually give ourselves permission to relax and enjoy the holidays.  Realize that everything on your to-do list may not get done.   Take some time and decide what is most important for you to enjoy the holidays.  Is making the season memorable contingent upon have a spotless house or perfect decorations for the party?  Or is it more about spending time with the people at that party?  Does the menu have to be out of Gourmet magazine?  Are your guests or your family judging you on your hors-d’oeurves? Maybe, but my guess would be probably not.

Once we allow ourselves to accept that our holidays don’t have to be perfect, we eliminate  a great deal of negative self-talk and self-judgement.  And that is a good thing, especially if you happen to be a Type-A personality.   So before the festivities begin, take some time and set boundaries for your expectations.  If you can be mindful of what you can realistically accomplish this season, and identify what is truly important to you for the holidays,  you can stop trying to create something that does not exist and enjoy what is actually in the moment.

Another way to reduce intrinsic stress is to take Thanksgiving at a literal level and count your blessings.  Each night for a week think of three things you are grateful for, and write them down.  Review the list daily as it grows.  I’ve discussed this exercise before, but it is a powerful tool in creating a positive attitude and building authentic happiness and as such deserves repeating.   It’s a little bit harder to be stressed out in traffic when you can easily touch on three things you are grateful for.   Studies in positive psychology show that people who practice this exercise are happier and less stressed than control groups.  More importantly, this positive attitude has been found to have remain for up to six months after the study, so it is definitely worth a try.

So if you are one of those people who are just waiting for the holidays to be over, you may want to think about  reviewing personal expectations and counting your blessings.  Who knows, if you change your attitude and expectations, you may just have yourself the happiest holidays yet.  And that could be the best gift you receive all year.