Stress Out or Not–Your Choice

Waiting in LineToday is a beautiful day in the Napa valley.   The sun is out, the rain is over, the air is clean, and we are breaking 70 degrees.  I am in short sleeves for the first time in weeks.  It really is a perfect Northern California January day.   Even during cold spells, which we have had a lot of lately, I always consider myself lucky to live here.  So I was quite surprised to hear people make themselves miserable today.  Perhaps I should explain.

During lunch I ran an errand up to my HMO pharmacy to pick up a couple of prescriptions.  Nothing major, just a regular thing for me.  I had re-ordered them online, and had gotten a call that they were ready so it seemed like a good idea to pick them up.  When I got there, after waiting in line to get to the counter, I found out that only one of the prescriptions had been filled.  No particular reason–it just didn’t get done.  The woman helping me was apologetic and asked if I would like to wait if they could rush it.  Although it was inconvenient, it was just one of those things so I took a seat to wait for my name–again.

I was sitting near the entrance to the pharmacy, so I couldn’t help but hear people as they queued up behind my chair.   As I sat, I was amazed at the reaction as people entered the pharmacy on a Friday afternoon.  The line was actually not too long, maybe ten people at a time.  But as each person came to pick up their prescription it seemed as though they were surprised that anyone else needed to do the same thing that they did.  I heard more than one expletive, and several conversations about how poorly the pharmacy was run.  As these people talked,  they seemed to feed on the negative energy, making the wait balloon into one of worst things that could possibly be happening in their lives.   The rising stress levels in the line were almost palpable.

Now, I have to say that people are not usually at their best when in a pharmacy.  They are probably there because they are ill and less than their best.  However, in today’s world standing in line to buy anything is not really a surprise.  And getting angry about having to do it is neither productive nor healthy.  I couldn’t help but think that this was a classic example of choice and picking your battles.

When we are faced with situations that are unpleasant we have to make a decision.  Can we do something about it, or is the situation out of our control?  And if it is out of our control, how do we choose to react to it?  These are fundamental questions but our world moves at warp speed these days and we don’t always have time to think about them.  The result is a lot of frustration and unnecessary stress.

In this example, the situation is out of our control but we do have a choice in our reaction.  We can wait or we can come back later.  Both are probably inconvenient, but getting angry about the inconvenience will only make us feel worse.  Perhaps a better way of dealing with the situation is to make a choice and take responsibility for it.   Wait or come back–our choice.  Getting angry and blaming the pharmacy, or worse the person behind the counter, will not change anything.  It will only raise blood pressure and most likely put a damper on the rest of the afternoon.   And that doesn’t seem like the best choice to me.

I’m not naive.  I know people are busy, and most are over-scheduled.  But letting situations over which you have no control upset you will do nothing but stress you out unnecessarily.  I know this because  I used to be the first to stress out if I had to wait for something.  I was busy, tired, and certainly didn’t have time to stand around and wait–I had a schedule to keep.  That was several years ago in my corporate life.

Flash forward to now.  I’m still busy (although I sleep better these days so I’m not really tired much), and don’t really have time to wait around for something.  I still have a schedule.  But I have a different perspective now. Indignation caused by inconvenience does no one any good.  I know that I can’t control everything and I take responsibility for my reactions.  By doing so, I still get my prescriptions, although it took a bit longer than expected.  The world did not end because I had to wait.  I also get a beautiful sunny afternoon, smiling conversations with people behind the counter,  and the ability to let the inconvenience go and get on with my day.  Because of it I have a lot more energy, a lot less stress, and a lot more enjoyment of my day.

Seems like the better choice to me.

How do you deal with inconvenience?  Do you let it stress you out or does your reaction let you enjoy your day?   


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.

A Christmas Wish

OWe have entered the countdown for the Christmas holiday.  Shopping for last-minute gifts, coughing up the overnight delivery charges, getting the house ready for guests.  The list goes on and on.  By the time Christmas gets here, we are exhausted and have no energy left to savor the joys of the holiday.

There is no doubt that the holidays are a stressful time.   There is usually too much to do and not enough time in a regular day, so adding holiday expectations into the mix can really throw some people over the edge.  For them, the holidays are not a time to celebrate and reflect with family and friends.  The holidays become just another series of check-marks on a to-do list.

So for them, and for all of us, here is my Christmas wish.  I wish everyone the joy of simply slowing down and savoring the moment.  There really aren’t a lot of opportunities where society pretty much stops for a day, so we should take advantage of that when we can.   We spend almost every other day of the year racing in high-speed, so hitting the brakes may not be easy, but it is certainly worth it.

Take the time to enjoy the holidays.   If you are a Type A personality, this can be difficult since we tend to try to control things and make them perfect.  Here is a suggestion that might make things easier.  Don’t judge.   It takes too much energy.  Santa can decide what is naughty or nice–all we have to do is enjoy what is.

We all have ideas of what the perfect Christmas is, but that vision is just that–an idea.  Don’t worry if the dinner isn’t perfect, or the gifts aren’t wrapped like a Martha Stewart holiday ad.   Trying to live up to self-imposed ideals  creates unnecessary stress and robs us of the joy of simply sharing the moment with others.

If we let go of the way things should be, we may find that the way things really are is better than we could have imagined.  It’s not always an easy thing to do, but is worth the effort.

So give it a try.  Slow down and live in the moment.  We can all rev up  to speed again on the 26th.

But if we slow down, we may just find that the moments we are actually present for become the memories we cherish the most.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to All.

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.

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.

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!