Are You Doing What You Love?

happypigeonsHere is a stress-test scenario for you.  Are you doing what you love to do?  Whether at work or at home, are you engaged in activities that bring you joy and fulfillment?  Simple questions, really.  Unfortunately, when I ask these questions many people respond with a negative answer.  Most people say they are doing what they have to do to make a living, pay the mortgage and the bills, and work toward retirement.  Or they have to make dinner because the kids have to eat and if they don’t do it everyone starves.   Very few people say they are following their dream and that they find satisfaction and happiness in their daily activities.

Doing something that you do not want to do is one of the major ways to increase stress in your daily life.  It can lead to feelings of frustration and helplessness, especially if the act is continually repeated.  A good example is going to a job you hate everyday  because you need to pay the bills.  If you do it long enough, you may not even notice that your stress symptoms are off the charts.  After a while, we just accept it as a part of life.

So here is one way to fix that and lower the stress levels.  If you are doing something you do not want to do–don’t do it.  Seriously, it is that simple.   Think of the old joke about the man who goes to the doctor  because it hurts when he raises his arm.  The doctor’s answer is also simple–if it hurts, don’t do it.

Of course, there is a catch.  It may be a simple fix, but no one said that simple was easy.   I am not advocating that you walk away from your job and responsibilities because you don’t like going to office.  What I am suggesting is that you have a choice.   You may choose to  do something or not, but you need to be clear on why you are doing it if you want to lower stress and increase happiness.   In most cases, we do things we don’t like to do because we are not clear on what is motivating our actions.

Very often we do things because we think we should.  We chase the high paying job because we should–it proves we are successful.  We marry and have children because it is what we are supposed to do–everyone else does it.   We need to go to work everyday to pay for the car, the house, and all the stuff we have acquired.  We use that stuff to define ourselves and we need to maintain the definition.

Ultimately, motivation for our actions falls into three  categories:  want to, have to, or should.   Not surprisingly, stress levels increase across each category.    Doing something because we love it involves almost no stress at all.  We do it because it is in alignment with our core values, it feels right, and it is inspiring and fulfilling.  At the opposite end of the spectrum is doing something because we feel we should.  It usually has something to do with self-image, but is not in alignment with values, and doesn’t sit right with us when we do it.   Acting out of “should” can only increase stress levels correspondingly.  In the middle is doing things because we have to.  This is a means to an end or necessary to achieve something.   Feeling that we have to do something increases pressure and stress. The good news is that we have the choice to find other means to that end we are looking for.  We can always do something else to get where we want to go.

Once we define motivation and realize that we have a choice in all our actions, it becomes easier to change those actions–if we want to.

Another option is changing perspective.  Perhaps the job isn’t perfect  but we go because we love our family and want to provide for them.   Working then becomes a positive action with a positive outcome.  Some of the stress is automatically lessened when we view the situation in that light. The job may not be perfect, but it is better.   Again, the viewpoint is our choice.

One final thought on this simple fix:  not doing what you don’t want to do is not easy.  Especially if society and your inner critic is telling you that you should be doing exactly that.  However, it is worth the effort.   Remember, choices have consequences. If you can align your actions with your core values and draw motivation from there,  it doesn’t matter what others say.   Doing what you love can only increase your happiness and reduce stress.

And that is a pretty delicious way to live.

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.

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Yoga as Part of a Wellness Program

If you are thinking about starting a wellness program in  2013,  chances are pretty good that you are considering some sort of exercise as a part of that program.   Once you make that decision, the next step is deciding which type of exercise is right for you.  What will you enjoy doing so it doesn’t seem so much like work?  If you don’t enjoy the exercise you do, it will be pretty hard to keep the effort up in the long run.

yogaclassI have to admit that I’ve had an exercise program for years.  Since I was never very athletic as a child, I was never comfortable in team sport situations.  In fact, I avoided physical activity as much as possible.  It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I discovered the benefits of cardio, and from then I was hooked.  Now I practice a daily cardio workout along with weekly strength training.  Although I felt I was covering all the bases, I still felt a piece was missing from my program.

About two years ago I rediscovered yoga.  I had toyed with it as a child when I would see the programs on PBS (no longer a part of the lineup!), but never stuck with it.  Let’s face it, it can be really hard to keep any momentum going when you are the only one practicing in your living room, especially when you are nine years old.   So I let it slide until a particularly stressful time in my corporate life.

We all know that exercise is a great stress buster, but my program didn’t seem to be doing much good to keep me calm.  I had heard about the benefits of yoga, so I decided to revisit the possibilities.  Now, I have to say that I was a little skeptical.  My idea of a good workout involves an increased heart rate and a lot of sweat.  How hard could a yoga class be?   After one class I had my answer, and yoga has been a part of my wellness program ever since.

There are many reasons to practice yoga.  One of the first to come to mind is flexibility.  As we age, it is vital that we maintain a supple body.  Obviously yoga involves a variety of stretching postures that can target all parts of the body.   Greater flexibility also means greater mobility and balance–two more things most of us hope to maintain as we age.

Practicing yoga improves endurance.  It may not look like much (okay certain poses-or asanas–look pretty impressive), but staying in warrior pose for any length of time can really push up the heart rate.  I have long since given up the idea that I shouldn’t sweat in a yoga class.  After ten minutes on the mat I am  reaching for my towel so I can personally attest to the fact that yoga is one heck of a work out.

There are a couple of other reasons you may want to explore yoga as an exercise and wellness choice.  Perhaps one of the most important is the calming effect yoga has on the mind.  The practice is designed to help the mind find stillness–blocking out extraneous thoughts and focusing on the postures along with what the body and breath are doing.  Many people find it to be the ultimate mindfulness exercise.  At its core, yoga is about the integration of mind, body, and spirit.  Once you are in the flow of a practice, you can actually concentrate on what the body needs. The worries of the day fade away and you are truly in the moment.  It is a deeply peaceful yet exhilarating  feeling.

Another reason to consider a yoga class is the sense of community it provides.  As I mentioned earlier, I am in no way comfortable with team sports.  Originally I was apprehensive about actually going to a class.  It’s hard not to compare yourself to others in class, or so I thought.  But in fact, I found that just the opposite was true.  The yoga community is a very supportive and caring network.  No matter how competitive you may be,  comparison during class is just not part of the picture.  The focus is on what your body can do in the moment–not how you did a posture yesterday,how you will do it tomorrow,  or feel it should be done today.  And certainly not what the person on the next mat is doing.  A yoga class is one of the few places where you are accepted for who you are–without judgement.   That doesn’t happen very often in this society.

Of course, the yoga studio you chose will have a lot to do with the experience you have.  I find that I enjoy local studios rather than  classes in a franchise or health club.  Local studios usually have smaller classes, and there is more personal attention during class.  With smaller groups  a stronger bond develops over time, which strengthens the yogic support network.   For instance, when I am in Napa I attend Ubuntu Yoga, a small organic studio in downtown Napa.  The staff and the fellow yogis provide a sense of community and support that is so vital to overall wellness.

It may sound odd, but the type of exercise a person choses is a very personal thing.  Yoga provides both physical and mental benefits that are so necessary to function well in today’s fast-paced world.   There is really nothing like the sense of tranquility that comes after a practice, and that tranquility spills over into my daily life.  My partner sometimes even wonders what happened to the high-strung stress puppy he met sixteen years ago.

So if you are thinking about improving your health and wellness in 2013, consider yoga as a part of your wellness program. You may find that your time on the mat is one of  the highlights of your week.  And enjoyment will play a big part in establishing and maintaining a consistent and healthy  long-term exercise program.

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.


Celebrate Yourself


I think it is fair to say  that we all need a cheering section.  People standing on the sidelines applauding as we move toward our goals or more importantly, just through the day.  Just as the bystanders in a marathon energize the runners , our cheering sections should keep us moving forward in a positive manner.   But even if we do have a cheering section,  the truth is sometimes we are just too busy and stressed to pay attention.

It is so easy to get wrapped up in to-do lists, projects, deliverables, or daily errands that oftentimes we forget look at what we have already done, and what has already been accomplished.   When we fall into that trap, we are in danger of losing our biggest cheerleader–ourselves.   It’s not surprising that most of us focus on what hasn’t been done, what hasn’t been crossed off the list.  We are wired to fixate more on the negative than the positive.  It is simply the negativity bias  kicking in and trying to keep us safe.   The problem is that this can set us on a treadmill of continual effort to finish things, without any of the satisfaction that we anticipate when we do.   If we don’t take the time to celebrate ourselves and our achievements when they happen,  we risk experiencing longterm burnout.

Any good business leader will tell you that in order to keep projects on task,  it is imperative to provide constant positive feedback in a realtime fashion.   Not only does it help keep people on track, it helps to build confidence, creativity, and enthusiasm.  The same holds true in our personal lives.   And as we manage our personal lives, it is just as important to recognize positive behaviors and actions in order to keep our own momentum flourishing.

One way to do this is to take some time each week and review what has been accomplished.  This is especially important when focusing on longterm goals such as weight loss or changing to healthier eating habits.    It is so easy to get discouraged if we don’t feel we are where we should be or where we had planned to be.   So during this personal review session,  focus on what did happen, not what didn’t.    Every step we take is part of a process that leads to a milestone, and those steps deserve to be celebrated just as much as the ultimate goal.

The next step is to decide how to reward yourself.  Sometimes just recognizing how much you have accomplished is enough to provide satisfaction.  Sometimes, though, the rewards should be more tangible.   Remember–bonuses serve a great purpose in the workplace,  and they can do the same in our personal space.  Maybe it’s an afternoon out , or a new pair of jeans, or even a spa day.  Perhaps it is a walk in the woods or coffee with friends.   The goal here is to reward yourself and break up the routine, since routine can be deadly to progress.  Once we fall into a routine we are more likely to function on autopilot and get through the day without really thinking about what we are doing.  When that happens we are less likely to recognize our progress, and that threatens our momentum and enthusiasm.   Without enthusiasm, it is much more difficult to see a project or a goal through to completion.

So give yourself a break and celebrate what you’ve done this week.  Chances are you have accomplished more than you give yourself credit for.   Once you realize that and allow yourself to feel satisfied about what has been done rather than what remains to do,   you will find that you have much more energy to keep moving forward.  And having more energy should be a great reason to be your own best cheerleader.

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.


Tender Times

I don’t think anyone would disagree that we are in the midst of some very difficult times.   I know every generation has said that, and I’m sure that every time it was true.  But with our technological advances, and the flattening of the global playing field, it is more difficult for us to escape, even for a moment, than past generations.  In this information age,  we know immediately when a crisis across the globe erupts, and more importantly, we are told how it could adversely affect our daily lives.  These days it is even tough to take a break and browse Facebook without the latest political headlines jumping off our home pages.

Mix that all up with our own personal dramas, and I think you have the setting for the perfect storm.

We are all trying to work through issues.  Maybe it’s a job loss, or the fear of a job loss.  Possibly it’s a divorce, or the stress of kids starting school.  Maybe it’s teenagers spiraling out of control and turning your life into a Movie of the Week you never wanted to see.  Perhaps you have even gotten to where you wanted to be–only to find out it isn’t what you expected.  Whatever it may be, one thing is certain.  If you keep plugging away 24/7 without a break, you are going to cave in at some point.

I like to think we all want to live the best life possible.  That definition is different for each person, but certainly underlying concepts remain constant.  One of those is self-care.  As a wellness coach, I find it to be one of the most important tools in the toolbox.   Without it, there is no way we can stay at the top of our game for any extended period of time.

Here is a coaching tip, along with a bit of common sense.  If you want to be able to give to those around you, you have to be able to give to yourself.  That goes for work life as well as personal life.  Many of us have been raised to be persistent, keep up the fight.  We can rest when everything is over.  I know a lot of people who say they will reward themselves after they have reached a goal.   Here’s the deal–it’s a lot easier to reach that goal when you reward yourself along the way.

A lot of people are afraid to take time for themselves for the very simple reason they feel they don’t deserve it.  It goes back to the ingrained concept of not getting a reward until the task is completed.   But we all deserve to take care of ourselves.  And there are lots of ways to do it.  My mother used to say she loved ironing.  It gave her the time to stay in one place (no easy feat with four kids), and think without being disturbed.  It was a win/win situation for her.  She got something off her list, and didn’t have to feel guilty about snatching a half an hour or so to allow her mind to wander.  Ironing wasn’t really a chore for her, it was her time to reflect on her day and renew herself for the rest of the day ahead.

There are lots of ways to practice self-care.  The important thing is to use it as a time to relax and renew.  Sometimes it can be indulgent, like massages and spa treatments.  That sounds hedonistic, but there is a wealth of information on the benefits of massage.  One of the best things you can do to increase overall well-being is to schedule regular massages.

Some people find gardening to be therapeutic.  For some it isn’t time in a garden, but a hike in nature that is the perfect self-care prescription.  Maybe it’s a good run, or a daily cardio workout.   The key is that whatever method you chose, it needs to work for you, and it needs to take you outside of yourself for a while.  I find that  my morning stint on the elliptical trainer is a great time to reflect  and set intentions for the day ahead.  Plus I burn calories and lower cholesterol, so it’s a winning situation all around.

The important thing is to take the time for yourself.  It doesn’t have to be anything expensive–sometimes that would cause more harm than good.  But it does need to be something that you do for you–not anyone else.   When was the last time you read a book on a Sunday afternoon, even if the laundry still needed to be done or the car needed to be washed?  Sometimes there is a bigger task at hand–giving yourself permission to take a break.

When the world around us becomes more challenging, the commitment to care for ourselves becomes even more important.  Give yourself the time to relax and renew both mentally and physically.  Treat yourself tenderly, and you will be surprised at how much more you can put into– and get out of– your daily life.

 

Are you ready to feel how the power of one-to-one coaching can help you create the life of your dreams?  Click  here to schedule a complimentary strategic coaching session and see if wellness coaching is right for you.

 

 

 


Sign of the Times

As a wellness coach, there is one basic truth that I wish I did not have to admit.

We are all stressed.

Maybe that is a huge generalization and some would argue that it simply isn’t true.  I would love to be proven wrong, but I really don’t think I am.  I have come to believe that stress is part of the human condition.  Magnified by today’s economic environment, stress is a constant in the everyday landscape.  Always has been, always will be.

I talk to people every day who are stressed-out.  Some are trying to survive job loss, and find a way back to financial security.  Some have a thriving career; financial setbacks are the furthest thing from their minds. Doesn’t matter what situation you are in.  Chances are that something is going to stress you out.

The interesting thing is that once our basic needs are met, much of our stress is self- induced.  Many of us have an idealized version of who we should be, and who we want to be.  Trying to live up to that ideal, or trying to create it can be an impossible task.  We all have ideas of how productive we should be, how happy we should be, how successful we should be.  It seems that no matter what we do to achieve our goals, it is never enough. We can never reach that ideal—mainly because it is just that, an ideal.  It is as though we sabotage ourselves.  Ironically, in trying to move forward toward our goals we often hold ourselves back due to perceived failure.

I’m not suggesting we should give up on goals.  Goals are an integral part of well-being.  But how we approach them can make the difference between success and resignation.   The end goal can seem very distant. No matter what we do, after a while it can seem like we haven’t made progress or worse that we never will.  Enter the stress monster.

Part of the problem is that we focus on what should be, and neglect what is.  It is too easy to see what we haven’t done.  What we haven’t yet accomplished. This is where choice comes in.   We can continue to see only what is left to be done, or take a moment and reflect on has been accomplished.  Some might see it as a variation on the glass half-full philosophy.  I like to see it as a reality check.  Let’s face it—it’s a lot easier to keep moving forward when you have momentum than when you are just starting out.  When you realize what you have already done toward a goal, even if it is a small step, you can capitalize on that momentum.   More importantly, you can avoid the self-defeating stress associated with imaginary inertia.

I would love to be able to say that stress can be conquered once and for all.  I would be lying.   You cannot eliminate stress.  You can, however, choose how you want to deal with it.  Focusing on the moment instead of the future–of what should be–is one way to minimize stress.

Acknowledging that stress exists is another.  It is virtually impossible to make it through a day of multi-tasking, incredibly high expectations, and uncertain futures without feeling stressed.   It’s inevitable, and doesn’t mean you are less of a person for feeling it.  Ironically, once you recognize that fact, it is much easier to dial down the negative effects.

How do you deal with stress on a daily basis?  Yoga and meditation, both of which help to promote mindfulness, are great ways to manage stress.  Exercise is another great stress-buster.  I’d love to hear about your favorite go-to stress relief techniques.