Optimistic By Nature

sunriseI would love to say that I am an optimistic person by nature.  I would love to say that–but I would be lying.   Unlike some of my friends who always seem to see the bright side,  I would usually plan for the worst case scenarios.  Optimism is not something that comes easy to me, but over the years I have discovered that optimism is a key factor in achieving happiness.

Optimism  plays an important role in determining how resilient we are when facing stressful situations.  Without an optimistic perspective, it can be very difficult and at times almost impossible to navigate some of life’s challenges and bounce back quickly .  The good news is that while we may not all be born optimists, we can train ourselves to be more optimistic.

There are good reasons to cultivate optimism if it isn’t one of your premier strengths.  The first one is simple–no one likes to be around a pessimistic person.  If someone is constantly expecting the worst, their attitude will begin to affect those around them. No one likes to be around a Gloomy Gus, so pessimism has an adverse affect on support networks, both personally and professionally.  Also, when someone is optimistic they tend to be more flexible and creative in their thinking.

This flexibility comes in very handy when coping with stress.  Mental flexibility helps people look at stressful situations from various perspectives.   It helps them reframe a situation in a positive manner.  Flexible people can explore multiple solutions to a problem, and they can also find a positive meaning in difficult events.  These techniques sound relatively simple, but they can be very difficult, especially during stressful times.

So how can you develop an optimistic outlook?  Just like getting to Carnegie Hall, it takes practice.  Here are some steps you can take when something bad happens.

  • Remember that difficulties won’t last forever.  The only thing that is constant is change.  Sometimes it is almost impossible to believe that problems won’t last forever, but they won’t.  Eventually the good times will come back.
  • Keep a problem in perspective–don’t let it spread into other aspects of your life.
  • Explore ways and resources available to solve the problem.  Take responsibility for your actions and don’t expect a problem to solve itself.
  • Be grateful for your support network and those around you who appreciate your struggle.

On the other hand, these are some things to do when something good happens (because good things do happen).

  • Accept responsibility for whatever part you played in the event.  As the old adage says–take credit where credit is due.
  • Feel gratitude  for what happened, whether it came by design or just good luck.
  • Think of ways to expand on the positive event.

These are a few ways to increase optimism, but are certainly not the only ones.  There are a lot of factors that determine how optimistic a person is.  Some are genetic and some are developmental, but it is possible to increase a positive outlook.  A few years ago, I decided to explore ways to increase my happiness and overall satisfaction with my life.  Stress seemed to be taking over, and I had trouble finding enjoyment in even the simple things.  It certainly wasn’t the way I wanted to live. In a nutshell, I just wanted to be happier.

After practicing these steps during both good and bad times I can now proudly say I am a realistic optimist (and much happier).  Building optimism and a positive outlook helped me to neutralize stress and find enjoyment in daily life.  I am not saying that optimism eliminates stress–that would be foolish.  But keeping an optimistic outlook helps to deal with bad times and minimize their consequences while enhancing the good times.  Maintaining an optimistic attitude may not always be easy, especially if it doesn’t come naturally, but it is certainly worth the effort.

Suggested Reading:  Resilience, The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges, Steven M. Southwick, M.D. and Dennis S.Charney, M.D., 2012



Exercising Self-Control

It is hard to believe that the Holidays are upon us.  After all, for those of us in the United States, Thanksgiving is happening next week.  From there it is a mad dash for the New Year with barely enough time to come up for air.  So it’s  not surprising that this is not the time of year that people think of making great changes in their lives.  If you look at corporate wellness campaigns during this season, most focus on a message of maintaining, not gaining.    I think that holds true for many of us in our personal lives as well.  What with the added pressure of the Holidays, year-end projects, and annual deadlines at work,   finding the time and energy to focus on change or growth can be nearly impossible.

What we can do during this season, however, is to start an exercise program so we can jumpstart our New Year’s resolutions.  Before you click delete, (after all who wants to start an exercise program around Thanksgiving?) let me explain.

One of the basics concepts behind behavioral change deals with self-control, or self-regulation.  In order to achieve a goal, we usually need to modify something we are currently doing that is blocking us from reaching our desired outcome.   That requires self-control.  Or willpower.  As a wellness coach, one of the most common reasons I hear when clients discuss previous unsuccessful attempts to make or sustain a behavioral change is that they just didn’t have the willpower.

So here is the good news.  Self-control has the same characteristics as a muscle.  If you exercise it, it will grow stronger.  But here is the kicker.   Just like any muscle, strength training needs to be gradual.  You cannot spend 24/7 in a gym, exercising all the major muscle groups at the same time and expect to get anywhere except exhausted.  If you have a plan though, and exercise different muscles at different times, allowing rest periods in between sessions, you will see results.  The muscles will grow, get stronger, and be able to lift heavier burdens as the training continues.  The same can be said for developing self-control.   If you exercise it on a regular basis, it will get stronger.  If you exercise it continually, it will fatigue and let you down.  If you don’t exercise it at all, it will atrophy and you will lose it.

The Holidays can be a great time to strengthen self-control and put us in a position to kick butt when it comes to our New Year’s resolutions.  One way to do this is to target exercises for a given period of time.

For example:  we all know that this is the time of year that offices and workplaces are filled with special holiday treats.  Co-workers bring in cookies, vendors send gifts of candy, or  popcorn, or nuts.  All of it is enough to drive us nuts if we are trying to maintain our weight during the season.  This is a prime scenario for trying to resist all temptation all the time.  Ultimately, self-control gives in and we end up grazing through whatever we can find.  Try this instead–avoid the treats during the day, but let yourself have a healthier snack once home.  Or chose one item per day to indulge in–but stop there.    You can still enjoy the holidays, not feel deprived, and still feel like you have some control over your behavior.    And you are building self-control at the same time.

If battling the office treats seems like too ambitious a start, try beginning with something smaller.  Maybe increasing the amount of water you drink during the day.  Dehydration is a major problem during the winter months,  so increasing water consumption for a period of time can be a great exercise in self-regulation.   Possibly you just may want to carve out a half an hour per evening just to focus on downtime for you.  Can you lose one sitcom a night to give yourself quiet time or a self-care period?  Maybe read a book, meditate, write in a journal, or take a bath.

Do this for a week and see how you feel.  Usually when people target a self-regulatory behavior, they notice improvement in self-efficacy.  The control they develop in one situation spills over into other aspects of the their lives, and suddenly there is more confidence in their own self-control as a whole.    The changes they would like to make in other areas suddenly  don’t seem so impossible or out of reach.

If you practice some form of self-control exercise during this season, chances are that you will feel less stressed and more in control during this most hectic time of year.  That is one great side benefit.  Another will be a very solid foundation for the coming year, when you are ready to focus on your own personal development.

And that is a great thing.  After all, when it comes to keeping those resolutions,  most of us can use all the help we can get.





Reality Check

Lately I’ve been hearing some misconceptions about what working with a wellness or life coach can do for you.  There seem to be some people who are looking for the ultimate fix.  The silver bullet that will eliminate all the issues standing between them and happiness.  I would love to say that as coaches, we have all the answers.   We can fix your life, remove all  barriers, and hand you an issue-free life on a platter.  I would love to say that.  And  I would be lying.

The truth is that a happy existence is not one free of strife or difficulties.  We all have good days and bad days.  Sometimes they are even great days or horrible days. Or weeks or months.   The difference, however, between having a happy existence or a miserable one lies in how we view and deal with  life’s challenges as well as its rewards.  Learning how to eliminate setbacks or problems is not the key to a happy life. The key to a happy life can be determined by our attitude and behavior when managing those setbacks or problems.

One of the most important tools for crafting a satisfying existence is very simple one.


Optimism is crucial to understanding that bad situations are temporary and will change at some point.  That understanding  is an incredibly powerful tool.  The people who hold this attitude are more likely to navigate through bad times more quickly and with less adverse effects than those who cannot see an end to a problem.

Sounds great.   But what if you are not someone who always sees the glass as half full?  Is there anything you can do to change that?

The short answer is–yes, you can.

One way to do this is to start with something called the Three Good Things Exercise.  Every evening for at least a week, write down three good things that happened to you during the day.  They don’t have to big things.  Could be getting a parking space close to the store.  Or they could be big things.  Getting a new job or promotion would count on that list.   For every item, ask yourself these questions.  1)  Why did this happen?  2) How does it effect you?  3)  Can you manifest more of this in the future? 4) Are you grateful for it?

This is a variation on the gratitude exercise  in which you list three things you are grateful for.  The purpose is to shift attention away from the negative and focus more on the positive aspects of daily life.  Guess what?  It works.  Research shows that more people maintained a positive attitude for a longer period after completing the exercise than those who did not.   And not to go all Pollyanna, but I can vouch for it from personal experience.

Another exercise is a bit longer but worth the time.  For one month, keep a record as to whether it was a good or bad day, and what happened that made you feel that way.  This doesn’t have a to be a long journal entry.  Just a few words to note the condition of the day.  When you review the entries at the end of the month, chances are you will notice a pattern between good and bad entries.  The results will most likely support the phrase “This, too shall pass”.  If you see a pattern emerge as to how you regard and react to difficult situations, it can be easier to recognize them as a temporary period when they arise in the future.  This exercise can also act as a springboard for a mindfulness practice, but more on that later.

It is impossible to eliminate difficulties in this life.  To strive for that is simply unrealistic.  But how we deal with adversity has a great deal to do with the quality of our lives.   As Sylvia Boorstein points out in her classic book  It’s Easier Than You Think,  managing life’s difficulties gracefully is a something worth striving for.

So if you want to bring a little more positivity into your outlook, why not give these two exercises a go.  It can’t hurt.   It doesn’t cost anything, doesn’t take a lot of time, no equipment needed, and just may change the way you look at life for the better.

And especially in today’s world,  a little extra positive energy in our attitude is something we could all benefit from.

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.

Ref: Flourish, Martin Seligman,  2011

Ref: It’s Easier Than You Think, Sylvia Boorstein, 1997

Living Island Time

One of my favorite places in the world is Kona, Hawaii.  Located on the west coast of the Big Island, it is about as far away from the concrete jungles of Waikiki,  Honolulu, or San Francisco as you  can get.  Many people describe Kona a little slice of Heaven, and that really isn’t very far from the truth.  It is the perfect place for a vacation, a place to get away and recharge your batteries.

I see it as something more than that, though.  When I look at the island lifestyle, I see a world that is the epitome of a wellness-based existence.

Start with the location.  The weather doesn’t get much better anywhere, and this leads to equal time outdoors as well as in.  Most people eat on their lanais,  just as an example.  There is something about eating breakfast surrounded by flaming ginger plants and shaded by palm trees that makes just about anything taste better.   Throw in a glowing red sun as it drops into the Pacific each  evening, and you have nature’s own dinner show.  This is the only place I know where people pull over to the side of the road to watch the sunset and applaud when the  last splash of color  dips below the horizon.  I don’t think you could find a better example of living fully in the moment if you  tried. 

Of course, it is easy to romanticize life on an island especially if you don’t live here full time.  There are challenges to living in an isolated space.   I think that is why native Hawaiians, as well as those who now call the island home, have an amazingly strong social support network.  Ohana is the Hawaiian word for family, and it doesn’t only extend to blood relatives.  It encompasses the community, a place where people look out for each other, supporting each other in times of need.  People come together for celebration as well as support.  It’s not unusual to see gatherings of twenty, thirty, or more on Sunday afternoons, getting together to barbecue under the banyan trees, talk story, and surf or boogie board along the beaches off the main road.    It’s not a holiday or special occasion.  Just an afternoon that is made to be enjoyed with family and friends.  Again, a time to live in the moment.

People joke about island time, but it is very true.  Time, and how a person spends it, is viewed very differently here.  Things run more  slowly.  It’s not that people don’t work here, or don’t work hard.  Actually, just the opposite is true.  I know several people who have two or three  jobs.   It’s necessary when tourism and agriculture are the main industries, and there isn’t a lot of opportunity in a down market.  The same is true on the mainland, but the difference is perspective.  Work doesn’t overwhelm people or run their lives.  People here respect their work, but they also respect themselves and their families. No matter how much they work, they always make time to watch that perfect sunset.  The only  people who are tied to their iphones and blackberries are the tourists as they reply to the office emails and snap pictures to post on Facebook.   Locals are happy to savor the moment as it happens without needing to capture it for posterity. 

A big part of wellness deals with transcendence–with a sense of spirituality.  I’m not speaking in religious terms,  although many people find spirituality within organized religion.  I’m talking about feeling connected to something bigger, something outside of yourself.  Hawaiians have always maintained a balance with,  and a respect for,  the natural environment.  Hawaiians  have a  strong connection to their physical world.  They recognize their place within it, and have a respect for their history and culture as well.  

It’s very easy to feel connected to something bigger while you sit on the lava rocks at the edge of the Pacific ocean.  To watch and feel the spray of the waves as they crash near your feet.  I always have a lot to do while I’m here.  Having a  home on an island requires a lot of maintenance when you aren’t there full time.  But I always find time during the day to sit by  the rocks and watch the waves.  I like to say that the sound of the waves massages my soul.  I really feel that is true.  People who visit us here are always surprised at how much time can pass while they just sit and watch the water.  I always tell them that it is one of the most important things  they can do for themselves while they are here.    Live fully in the moment without distraction.

Living mindfully–in the moment–is not always an easy thing to do, especially on the mainland.   But the culture of island life promotes it, without even trying.  More than the bags of Kona coffee or plumeria sticks ” guaranteed to grow in any climate”,  it’s that feeling of living in the moment that I always try to capture and bring back  with me.  It’s the best souvenir there is, and guaranteed to last forever and “grow in any climate”–if  you let it.


So What Do You Do For a Living?

We all know that work is a huge part of our lives.  It’s so important that many people define themselves by what they do.  It is a leading question when meeting someone socially–the perfect icebreaker, as it were.   Work seems to be even more important today as the  boundaries between work and home life blur.  Thanks to technology, most of us are tethered to the office, or shop, or store–no matter where we are or what we’re doing.   Even on vacation we are available for questions or issues which need our expertise.

 In fact, a recent article on CNN showed that most Americans work almost 45 days a year in overtime–for free!  Whether we like to admit it or not, that kind of toll is a huge drain on our mental and physical well-being.  It’s no surprise that many wellness clients spend a great deal of time exploring ways to turn the demands of  work into a benefit rather than a detriment.

Even in today’s economic environment most people polled will say that money is not the most important aspect of their job.  Actually, studies show that after fiscal needs are met, money has a diminishing effect when determining job satisfaction or happiness itself. 

So if we spend all that time making a living, and money is not the driving factor for job satisfaction, what is?    A Gallup poll shows that people are the most satisfied with their job when they can do something that utilizes their personal strengths.  Simple, right?  Just pick a job  where you can do  what you are best at and the rest all falls into place.  Okay, maybe not so  easy, but it’s a great place to start.  

I would say that a lot people I know didn’t choose their job  because it was what they did best.   I’ve heard all sorts of stories about how people ended up in a career they hadn’t really planned.  But for the most part they enjoy the work.   It just doesn’t really fulfill them.   Vacations, even ones where they are not fully disconnected, and retirement dreams bring more satisfaction than the job itself.

There are ways to bring more satisfaction into your daily work life.  More satisfaction equals more fulfillment.  from there, happiness is often not far away.  Imagine a world where you look forward to going to work!   You don’t need to quit your job and start  fresh (although I can recommend that from personal experience).

 A more realistic approach, and a more secure one, is to determine where your true strengths lie and then find ways to utilize them on a daily or weekly basis.   You don’t need a complete overhaul, either.  Sometimes just tweaking what you do, or the way you perceive your role is enough.  The key, however, is to act in accordance with your strengths and minimize activities that focus on your weaknesses.  Performing tasks that require us to use a lesser strength tends to leave us drained and depleted rather than energized and vibrant.  

If you are interested, you can take the VIA strength assessment on the internet.  It’s free, easy, and only takes about 15 minutes.  You automatically receive a ranking of your strengths, some of which may  surprise you.    It’s a great first step to determining what would bring you more fulfillment in your professional life.   Once you are comfortable with that, you can explore  ways to recraft your job and bring more of those strengths into play.   After  that, who knows?  You may enjoy your job so  much that you don’t even mind working those extra forty-five days a year!

So  how about it?  Do you  get to do something that uses your strengths?  How do you find satisfaction in your job?  Have you found ways to make your work fulfilling personally as well as financially?

If you know someone who would enjoy this post, please feel free to forward it–it’s good karma!