Everyone feels a certain amount of stress from time to time. Stressful events or circumstances sooner or later impact everyone’s life. A certain amount of stress is normal, and can even be healthy. Having a deadline about getting a project or report done can spur you to completion. Stress in one form or another is a fact of life, but chronic stress can take a toll on our health. The good news is that our lifestyle choices have a lot to do with how much influence stress has on our daily life.
The American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America (2015) survey provides data on the leading causes of stress in our society, and there’s both good news and not-so-good news. Since 2007, the year of the survey’s inception, stress levels have been trending downward overall, however, women, young adults and parents still report higher levels of stress. The survey also found that “Regardless of group, Americans continue to report stress at levels higher than what they believe is healthy, struggle to achieve their health and lifestyle goals, and manage stress in ineffective ways.”
By now the interconnection of mind/body/spirit is well established yet many people in Western culture still neglect their basic health needs – nutrition, exercise, and getting enough rest/sleep. It’s easy to skimp on sleep or grab a fast food lunch when we’re on the go, but neglecting our health impacts everything else in our lives – our families, our work, our enjoyment of life.
We all want satisfaction and fulfillment from life, but what really drives these things? Science has come up with some answers. What researchers have discovered over decades is this: Happiness is determined 50% by genetics, 40% by our behavior and choices, and only 10%(!) by our circumstances (i.e., marital status, income, etc.) That’s great news because it means we have a lot of control in influencing our wellbeing, including how we deal with stress.
Successful people know that they need to be in top physical shape to perform at their best. This includes both body and mind. A meditation practice provides proven benefits such as reduced stress, increased focus and clarity, enhanced levels of productivity and greater energy.
Many highly effective individuals and public personalities have a regular meditation practice that enables them to sustain their high levels of achievement and sense of wellbeing. Ray Dalio – the billionaire CEO and founder of Bridgewater Associates, the largest global hedge fund, has been a regular meditator for years and has said that meditation has played a role in every success he has had in life. Oprah meditates daily, as does Ariana Huffington, Russell Simmons, Jerry Steinfeld, and George Stephanopoulus, to name just a few. Far from being a passing trend, meditation is now mainstream, a part of daily life for many.
What other behaviors and choices can determine our reactions to stressors in our life?
- According to the APA survey, those of us who have others they can rely on for emotional support (family, friends or community) have lower stress levels than those without. The answer: Build relationships with trustworthy people you can count on (and who can count on you.) Nurture and make time for relationships with family and friends, and be open to new ones. If you’re dealing with a specific challenge such as a chronic illness, or a difficult family situation, consider finding a support group to meet others who are experiencing similar difficulties.
- Take a walk. The benefits of a regular exercise routine continue to pile up. Aerobic exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones – adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators. Release of endorphins promotes feelings of both mental and physical relaxation. Even a brisk 20 minute walk, jog or bike ride can take the edge off when you’re having a difficult day.
- Take a break. Walking away from a tough or challenging situation even for a short time can provide much needed breathing room, and enable you to return with a clear head and different perspective.
- Share a laugh. If you’ve ever been in the middle of a tense situation that suddenly turned comical, you’ve experienced the power of laughter as a stress reliever. It may not be a cure for everything that ails you, but there’s a reason for the old adage, “Laughter is the best medicine.”
- Help someone else. The APA study reports that, “when it comes to longevity, research suggests that providing social support to friends and family may be even more important than receiving it.” (Psychological Science 14(4), 320-327.)
If ongoing stress is impairing your ability to function, it may be necessary to consult with a licensed mental health professional. Such a person can help to identify and develop helpful strategies to manage the stress in your life more effectively.
I’ve been addressing the basics recently – Sleep, Food, Mood and Exercise – the fundamentals of a healthy lifestyle. Today, let’s talk about food – healthy nutrition and how good food habits impact optimal health and performance.
Food is a very popular topic nowadays. From vegan to gluten-free to Paleo to low-carb, there are a multitude of options to choose from. And lots of information out there as to why a particular one is the best for you.
I am personally not a proponent of any particular diet plan. Clients who wish to lose weight will often ask me to recommend one or the other, and I have to admit my reluctance to do so.
Why? Because research shows that around 95% of people who lose weight on a diet will regain it in 5 years. Being on a particular diet is, by definition, temporary. Following a prescribed diet in order to lose weight may help you to lose the weight in the short term, but often neglects teaching healthy eating habits over the long term. Losing weight without learning how to make different choices in eating is going to lead back to the same eating patterns that caused the weight gain to begin with. And you’re back at square one.
What I am a HUGE advocate of is eating a variety of healthy foods, in moderation. I’m also an advocate of finding what works for you, of having a plan of eating that helps you function at your best. If you find that you feel better on a gluten-free plan, then go with it. There has been a huge rise in the number of vegetarians in the United States which some individuals choose for health reasons, environmental concerns or animal rights. The USDA adopted the MyPlate icon in 2011 to encourage consumers to adopt a healthy style of eating, emphasizing fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy. There are lots of options to choose from, and there are also general guidelines that seem to be applicable across the board. These include:
- Fruits and vegetables are mainstays of a healthy eating plan. A minimum of 5 servings a day is recommended. The more colorful, the better. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables ensures a diet high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
- Choosing unprocessed food in its most whole, natural state, without additives or preservatives is the way to go whenever possible. A great way to do this is to choose regionally or locally grown foods in season. Look for simple recipes that include a few fresh ingredients.
- Don’t forget about water. Don’t go through the day dehydrated. Water is vital to essential functions that rid our bodies of waste and toxins. Drinking water is also essential to the health of our skin, hair and nails. Not drinking enough can cause us to feel tiredness, lack of energy, and increased feelings of hunger. Staying hydrated throughout the day ensures that your body – and you – will operate at an optimal level.
- Choose high-quality protein. If you eat meat, do so occasionally and choose lean cuts; vary your protein intake with fish, chicken, or plant-based proteins such as nuts, beans or tofu. Choose low-fat milk and cheeses over whole.
- Healthy fats are vital for optimum brain and cell functioning, and include those found in olive and canola oils. Good food sources of healthy fats are avocadoes, certain nuts, and fatty fish such as salmon. Avoid saturated fats found in animal and dairy products, and trans fats found in processed and fried foods and chips.
Most nutrition experts can agree upon these ideas. The goal for healthy eating is to develop a way to eat that is sustainable over the long haul, not just until you lose the weight. Food is the fuel our bodies operate on, and we need a balance of nutrients. And, in the end, we should enjoy our food and how it makes us feel.
“Be as you wish to seem.” – Socrates
We all have dreams and wishes in life. Sometimes our wishes come true and our dreams come to fruition. As a Certified Life Coach and a Certified Wellness coach, that is often why clients seek me out to begin with – to achieve a cherished dream or goal. And my objective for my clients is always that they will see their wishes come to pass.
Only in coaching, we do a lot more than wish! Dreams and goals have to be backed up with a deliberate plan, and that plan has to be put into action. There will be bumps in the road, and sometimes detours, when Life will intervene. What role does a professional coach play in the process?
- Athletic coaches help athletes train and improve their skills and performance, individually as well as in teams. Acting and voice coaches zero in on making the most of those talents. Life coaches help clients identify their strengths and values, clarify goals, and maximize potential.
- A well-trained coach can help a client recognize what might be holding them back and find ways to get “unstuck.” Using their professional skills and objectivity, they can help the client find a path to the Bigger Picture of their goal, and design a step-by-step strategy to get there.
- Clients come to coaching because, for whatever reason, what they have been doing in the past isn’t working. A coach’s ability to reframe a particular situation or challenge can offer a new and much-needed perspective that enables the client to move forward with a renewed approach to their circumstances.
- Empowering clients to discover, and capitalize, on their Signature Strengths is an important part of coaching. Recognizing and applying core strengths in the pursuit of goals has been demonstrated to lead to greater happiness, well-being and success in work and in life.
- Having a positive attitude is a key component of success in life, but just as important is positive action. Taking positive actions – what you do – changes who you are which, in turn, produces different results. One of the hallmarks of the coaching relationship is accountability, that is, defining and taking actions towards objectives. Having accountabilities provides a structure for the client and also serves as a learning tool in the coaching relationship. If a particular action doesn’t work as planned, client and coach can revisit and revise that strategy. This collaboration can open up a fresh approach to a previously frustrating situation.
Increasingly, coaches specialize in areas such as health and wellness, small business, re-careering and parenting, among others. It’s important to ask a prospective coach what specific education and training they have received, what credentials he or she holds, and what their areas of specialty are. An excellent resource is the International Coach Federation (ICF); http://www.coachfederation.org/ which requires members to complete stringent educational and training requirements, as well as continuing education.
A coach can be a valuable ally in making your dreams come true. Take your time and choose one that’s the right fit for you.
As you’re reading this, we’re already almost halfway into January of 2015! Crazy, right?
Did you start out on January 1st with a goal or intention in mind for the coming year? While we may start out with the best of intentions, it’s a fact that most of us don’t succeed when it comes to our New Year resolutions, or goals. If you started out the year with great ambitions and are starting to waiver, you’re not alone and all is not lost. You can get back on track and stack the odds of success in your favor.
One of the main stumbling blocks when it comes to making changes is dealing with setbacks. And, trust me, you will have them. We often think of making changes as being a decision making process. You decide to lose 10 pounds (or quit smoking, drink less, meditate daily, get organized) and then you follow through on the decision. Only it doesn’t go that smoothly. You lose a couple pounds, then fall off the healthy eating wagon, gain them back, and think, “See, I just can’t do it. I keep trying, but losing these last 10 pounds never happens.” Or you’re meditating every day for 20 minutes – and making it a priority – until the morning you’re running late and it falls by the wayside. And then it falls by the wayside the next morning, but you’ll do it later in the day. (You forget…..) Another year’s resolution, down the well-travelled drain…….
Another familiar scenario is the “Well, it’s just the way I am, I’ve always been this way, I just don’t seem to be able to stick to things” explanation. Maybe a family member or early teacher said things that reinforced this particular notion about yourself and you’ve been carrying that around ever since.
There’s a concept in coaching called the “Inner Critic.” You know the critic. It’s that voice we all have in our head that comes up at times and judges us, makes us feel guilty, or inadequate, or unworthy. Often, we’re not even aware of it. Another name for it is The Saboteur, because it can quietly but effectively sabotage our efforts to change by undermining our confidence in ourselves. As above, it often originates with a past authority figure. But that doesn’t really matter. What matters is what you do now.
Here are some ways to deal with challenges, setbacks and quiet the Critic:
• Instead of seeing a setback as reason to throw in the towel, realize that it is only one occurrence in the much bigger picture of your overall goal. Everyone experiences challenges on the way to a Big Goal. It’s part of the process. If you realize that setbacks are simply part of the journey, it can go a long way towards keeping you going.
• Use setbacks as an opportunity to learn. Did you arrive at dinner starving because you skipped lunch and end up blowing your entire eating plan? Ok – next time, do things differently. If lunch may be on the run, brown bag it, including some protein and fruit. A little pre-planning can go a long way towards helping you stay on track with your Big Goal.
• Realize that you’re not alone. Anyone who has ever succeeded in realizing a goal has encountered their fair share of hurdles along the way. Know that going in, and that recognition alone can often keep you going when nothing else will. Decide that you will persist.
• Self-blame is counter-productive. Recognizing that your Inner Critic is on a rant (inside your head) is the first step in silencing it. Silence that critical voice within by refusing to acknowledge it, tell it to leave the room. If you’re a visual sort, draw a picture of it and sit on it. Whatever. Just don’t let it take over and hold you hostage. Perfection is a myth.
• Talk it out. If you simply cannot regain a healthy perspective, talking it out with a supportive person can make all the difference. You get it out of your head (where it’s doing you no good) and an objective friend can often provide a more balanced view to help you reframe things, and get back on track.
It’s been said that change is a process, not an event. Any process will have ups and downs, obstacles and achievements. It’s all part of it. As long as you keep going, you are in the process of getting to your Big Goal, so persist. Keep going. Pick yourself back up. Because you can.
Clients come to coaching because they are ready to make some sort of change or improvement in their life. They’ve come to a place where the status quo is no longer acceptable. It may be due to health concerns, a change in circumstances or something else, but whatever the motivation, some type of needed change is indicated. Sometimes they feel ready to change but aren’t sure how to proceed. They may have started down the path only to find themselves stuck or sidetracked, maybe more than once. Change – real change that becomes a part of one’s life – usually is not met by a quick fix. It’s a process. Sometimes changes are made only to be met with backslides, or a return to old habits or patterns. Change can be challenging and tricky, and almost invariably at some point we are going to come up against a wall. That’s where grit comes in.
Grit has of late become a buzzword of sorts being tossed around in some circles. But what is it and why is it important in the quest for change?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines grit in behavior as “firmness of character; indomitable spirit.” Another definition is, “The ability to work hard and respond resiliently to failure and adversity; the inner quality that enables individuals to work hard and stick to their long-term passions and goals.”
University of Pennsylvania psychologist and researcher Angela Lee Duckworth, who has conducted studies on the subject, defines it as “passion and perseverance in the pursuit of long term goals,” and believes it to be a (maybe the) central predictor of long-term success. You could also call it mental toughness.
If “being gritty” predicts achievement, how do you know if you have it? And how can you get it if you don’t?
There isn’t always consensus about exactly what constitutes grit, but certain character traits appear to be key:
- Having a clear and focused goal, along with the ability to avoid distractions and stay focused;
- A strong motivation, a will to persist;
- Self-control – the ability to delay short-term gratification, in favor of the long term;
- An optimistic, positive outlook – the ability to meet challenges with confidence in one’s own abilities and the belief that things will work out;
- A growth mindset, i.e., the ability to look at challenges and setbacks as opportunities to learn and grow, rather than as “failures.”
We all recognize the importance of determined and persistent effort in the pursuit of a goal. What appears to differentiate grit seems to be a capacity to maintain one’s stamina over a long period of time despite the inevitable setbacks and adversities inherent in long-term goal achievement. Without the necessary grit – a quality which seems to come from deep within – even the most talented or intelligent among us can get discouraged and thrown off track. As Angela Duckworth says, “Grit is sticking with your future — day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years — and working really hard to make that future a reality. It’s living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
Wow – 2014 is flying by! Driving in the city this week I watched as hundreds of golden leaves blew from trees and piled up on sidewalks, and now Halloween is right around the corner!
As we head into November, and start planning for Thanksgiving, life can start to feel more harried and quiet spaces more elusive. I really think that, ultimately, “life” is not necessarily the culprit here, but what goes on in my head (or doesn’t) as the pace starts to feel like it’s picking up. I’ve discussed the value of meditation here before, and science keeps coming up with more research on its benefits. Particularly in this age of distractibility, it’s a great antidote to lack of focus, with its emphasis on single-minded attention. Practicing meditation regularly can, over time, lead to a decrease in stress and worry, and an increase in wellbeing and enhanced performance, among other things.
When I talk to people about meditation, one of the most common things I hear is “I can’t meditate,” because “thoughts keep going around in my head.” I want to share a secret: – I’ve been meditating on and off for nearly 30 years (mostly on) and guess what – thoughts keep going around in my head, too! It’s part of the process, and some days are just better than others. However I start out, I almost always end my meditation feeling more calm and centered, more spacious, then I did going in. And that seems to carry through into the rest of my day.
Recently, I felt in the mood to try something different so I tried an online offer I had come across called “Headspace.” Headspace calls itself “Meditation made simple,” and says you can “ Learn online, when you want, wherever you are, in just 10 minutes a day.” It was conceived by Andy Puddicombe (whose voice also guides the meditations) – a meditation and mindfulness expert and ordained Buddhist monk.
Even though I’m not new to meditation, I was in the mood for something different so I signed up for the free 10-day trial.
What I like a lot:
Very user-friendly. The website has a clean design, is easy to navigate, and has lots of practical information about meditation and mindfulness.
Anyone can find 10 minutes in the space of a day to be quiet, clear their head, just be. (If you can’t, there’s other websites out there that can help….)
Andy Puddicombe has a friendly, gentle and unassuming style and so the meditations come across as soothing (at least to me.) Plus, he has a rather nifty British accent if you like that sort of thing.
The mobile app is great if you are on the move, travelling, or otherwise removed from your computer so you can take time out whenever and wherever it suits you.
If community is important to you, you can find one here. You can submit questions for Andy, interact with others, share your own stories and gather ideas for how to integrate your meditation practice into your life.
You have lots of options. You can continue with a 10 minutes a day practice, and move on to 15 or 20. You can also choose from meditations that are specific to an area, say, performance or when you need a quick time out to regroup (entitled SOS.)
Here and there, a short video begins a session with helpful tips, such as how to deal with those pesky thoughts that keep coming up.
All in all, I liked my trial enough so that I signed up for a subscription. (I have no affiliation with the site, by the way.)
As meditation and mindfulness practice becomes more mainstream (Oprah meditates daily and has for years, as does Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini, and the Seattle Seahawks!) information and resources are growing. You might try: Deepak Chopra’s Center for Well-Being, http://www.chopra.com/welcome-to-the-chopra-center, which has a free library of information, along with guided meditations. Another good one is Dr. Barbara Frederickson’s website: http://positivityresonance.com/meditations.html. Dr. Frederickson is a leading researcher on positive emotions and the considerable benefits of meditation in enhancing those emotions. This website includes a variety of guided meditations including loving-kindness meditation, among others. My all-time favorite basic primer on meditation is: How to Meditate, A Guide to Self-Discovery, by Lawrence LeShan, and there are a wealth of others out there.
Explore and try different ones out – there are lots of options, and not every meditation style will be a “fit” for you. If you find yourself feeling happier, calmer and more focused, you’ll know you’re on the right track.
Have a magical Halloween!