What We Can Learn From Vermonters

One of my favorite vacations ever was a bicycle trip through the state of Vermont some years back. I spent 5 days biking from one quaint village town to another, enjoying the peaceful Vermont countryside and picnic lunches along the way. Each night was spent at a different bed-and-breakfast, charming and antique-filled, with wonderfully prepared meals and time to relax on the porch or explore after dinner. A beautiful state and great memories. I also recall being struck by the vitality of the people I met there, so it was no surprise when I read that a recent Gallup poll ranked Vermont first in two areas of major importance to optimal health: diet and exercise.

I’m a big believer in keeping things as simple as possible, so here are a couple simple ways to incorporate healthier habits into your life today, courtesy of the state of Vermont.

• Go for shorter workouts. The majority of adults in the state of Vermont report exercising three or more days a week for at least 30 minutes. (Hawaii and Montana placed second and third.) Physical activity and the outdoors is a way of life in this state, and Vermonters spend lots of time being active at both work and play.

Even a few short exercise sessions a week boosts metabolism, improves heart health, and helps you stay strong. Exercise sessions can be broken up throughout the day, as long as each session lasts at least 10 minutes. (Research shows that exercising in ten-minute increments at a moderate intensity can be just as effective as exercising for 30 minutes straight.) Walking or biking to and from work, to lunch or class, or after dinner all count. Shorter workouts also have the advantage of being easier to add into your day. You may not have time on a Tuesday for an hour at the gym, but you can likely find 20 minutes for a brisk walk or jog. Doing something is always better than doing nothing and it all adds up.

• Eat your vegetables. The Gallup poll also found that residents of Vermont consume the most produce on a regular basis. Over 67% of Vermonters stated that they ate at least five servings of vegetables four or more days per week. (Montana was second, and Washington state third.) Fresh and cooked vegetables add key nutrients and fiber, and vegetables overall are generally lower in calories. It’s probably no coincidence that Vermont also ranked in the lower one-third in state obesity rankings.

A salad with protein for lunch, or a side salad at dinner with an extra serving of steamed or grilled vegetables is an easy way to get your servings in. There are also lots of delicious vegetarian main dishes and soups on menus these days.

These healthful practices are easily incorporated into anyone’s life, and will help you live better, stronger and longer – no matter what state you’re in.

Keep Your Workouts Going This Winter

As I’m writing this, it’s a sunny winter day and right around 50 degrees outside my window. A couple of weeks ago, though, it was -25 degrees one morning! Welcome to winter in Colorado. The state of Colorado has a bit of a reputation for extremes – extreme sports, extreme mountains, extreme beauty, and extreme weather, with good reason. During the course of a day hiking in the mountains, I have experienced warm sunshine, rain, hail and, by the time we got to the top, snow!
Winter has hit hard for a lot of us this year. One thing I hear a lot from clients is their difficulty keeping up with their exercise routines in the winter, particularly if they are used to working out outdoors. It can also be hard to get back into a routine when warm weather hits, once you’ve gotten out of the habit. I’m not crazy about going out for a run in sub-zero weather myself, and there are actually lots of options for colder weather workouts. Here are a few:

• After one particularly harrowing morning when, dressed in approximately 5 layers of clothing and a face mask, I slipped and slid down the street trying to run, the light bulb went on for me. I had contemplated the idea of getting a treadmill for those days when it was feeling too dicey to get out but this was the day the decision was made. I wasn’t having any fun, jogging was a challenge, and probably dangerous to boot. By the next week, I was the proud owner of a brand-new treadmill and enjoying my workouts overlooking the snowy scene before me in the comfort of my nice (warm!) basement. I’ve had one ever since, and it’s one of the best investments I’ve made.

If running or walking isn’t your thing, that’s ok. There’s a wide variety of aerobic exercise equipment available these days, at a range of price points. Try checking out an elliptical machine, a recumbent bicycle, or even a rowing machine. All of these offer an excellent cardio workout. Some companies even offer these types of equipment for lease with an option to purchase.

• Gyms and recreation centers offer a variety of cardio equipment. You can set up a seasonal membership and head back outside when it warms up.

• There are all sorts of fitness and aerobic workout classes out there these days. Classes are often included in a gym membership or offered at a nominal charge. There are also fitness centers and studios that offer classes. Try spin, Zumba, barre, or cardio kickboxing, to name just a few possibilities.

• If time or weather is an issue, workout DVD’s are another great option, and you can also find online fitness classes. There is something for everyone, at any fitness level, with any fitness goal. Try yoga, Pilates, circuit training, dance – the list is endless.

By now, you’re starting to get my point. There’s really no reason (excuse?) for you to get off track with your workout schedule during the winter months. (I didn’t even begin to go into outdoor options such as cross-county skiing or snowshoeing. Keyword – layers!) Staying fit and healthy is too important for every aspect of your life not to keep it up all year long.

Coach’s action step: We still have some winter to go and exercise, with its mood-boosting and stress-reducing components, is a great way to shake the February doldrums. Try one of the suggestions here, or create something of your own. Just keep at it. By the time spring comes, you won’t have to play catchup.

Love 2.0

Love is the theme of Valentine’s Day so let’s talk about it here today.  And not just romantic love – wonderful as that is – but love as a basis for our relationships with those we care about and for how we live our lives.  Let’s face it – is there any topic more popular?  We all grow up with our varied notions of love:  what it means, what it looks like, what the latest songs have to say about it.   By the time we’re adults, we are usually pretty fixed in our views of what love is, and what it isn’t.

In her recent, groundbreaking book, Love 2.0,:  Finding Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection, psychology researcher Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D., approaches love from a more global vantage point  – the vantage point of how this positive emotion can and does affect more than just our closer relationships.  According to Dr. Fredrickson, love is a renewable resource that affects our health and sense of well-being and connectedness to the world around us and to ourselves.  She’s spent years studying the effect of positive emotions and the emotion of love as director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.   After years of study on the topic, Dr. Fredrickson  has concluded that this healthy emotion literally affects our very biology and health  in ways previously unsuspected.  She states:  “The love you do or do not experience today may quite literally change key  aspects of your cellular architecture next season and next year – cells that affect your physical health, your vitality, and your overall wellbeing.”   Having loving connections in our lives literally makes us healthier.

Some of her other findings include:

  • Feelings of love can blossom virtually at any time between people when they reflect and connect over a shared positive emotion.  Dr. Fredrickson’s term for this is “positivity resonance.”  Simply put, love is connection.
  • Love builds resources.  It can make us more effective and productive, and more resilient.  It makes us wiser and more attuned to others.  It nourishes our bodies and builds stronger immune systems. 
  • Because love is a positive emotion, it broadens our awareness which can lead to an increase in problem-solving capabilities and creativity.
  • Opportunities for loving connections are everywhere – at home, at work, and in your community. These micro-moments of connection, as Fredrickson refers to them, can be intentionally created and cultivated in such ways as  being open, freely offering attention and interest, sharing thoughts and feelings, and staying present as the other person shares theirs.
  • In a larger sense, these micro-moments of love, of connection benefit both the giver and the recipient.  This back-and-forth helps not only the individuals involved but also, over time, can help establish and strengthen healthy communities and cultures.

So what’s the take-away for you?   In Fredrickson’s view, love is the supreme emotion and “perhaps the most essential emotional experience for thriving and health.”  Love “influences everything we feel, think, do, and become.”  Connect with others.  Care about them.  Stay in touch.  Pay a compliment. Smile, make eye contact.  Be open to everyday opportunities with those around you.  Share your stories and be present to others sharing theirs.  Barbara Fredrickson believes you have everything to gain.

Coach’s action step:   At least three times this week, seek out chances to connect with others in a spirit of warmth, caring and respect.  Notice and reflect on how these interchanges impact you. If you find yourself feeling a bit more uplifted, more positive, you may want to do this more often.

Look Out for Bright Shiny Objects

It seems I hear the same thing over and over from clients, friends and acquaintances – there seems to be so much to do, so many tasks and responsibilities vying for our attention – and never enough time!  Can you spell O-V-E-R-W-H-E-L-M?

For lots of us, managing competing priorities and responsibilities, distractions and the like – seems to take up a fair amount of our day.  And checking in on Facebook?  Don’t even think about it – you may never be heard from again!  So much to see, hear, absorb, and do!   And just when you are about to get to that project that has been sitting on the floor beside your computer, there’s this really interesting headline that grabs your attention…….

It all points to something I’ve heard called “Bright Shiny Object Syndrome.”  And it can take up a lot of time and space in your day, and prevent you from ever getting to what is truly important.  Unless you have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which is an entirely different matter, Bright Shiny Object Syndrome is more a matter of setting priorities, managing distractions and focusing on follow through. And, let’s face it, everyday life presents ongoing opportunities for distractions these days – probably more than ever.  With cell phones and smart phones, the internet, social media, texts, Skype, regular old TV, you-name-it – the possibilities are endless.  This can leave us feeling frazzled, scrambling to get everything done, and feeling guilty because we didn’t.  And then – guess what – more overwhelm.  Is there any hope in today’s fast paced era of instant communication and entertainment?

Here are a few strategies, most of which I have used myself.  They absolutely work, when you work them.

  • If you’re the type that likes to get up and work out first thing in the morning, make sure it’s the first thing!  Checking email, texts, internet news or any social media is not your friend.  You will be drawn into the vortex of your curious and distractible mind and may not be heard from again for hours.  There goes the workout.
  • Set a timer.  Yes, a simple kitchen – or any timer – will do.  If you have a report to complete, or a project to finish, set a timer for 45 minutes and go to it. (There has been research that suggests 45 minutes is the optimal human limit for concentrating on a given task.)  Do not let anything – I mean anything (unless your hair catches fire) – take you away from your task.  You will be amazed at what you can do with 45 minutes of clear, focused time.  You may find yourself actually completing your task in one sitting – how cool is that?
  • Consciously practice mindfulness, which is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment (hard) and accepting it without judgment (harder.)  The good news is that it gets easier the more you do it, and one big benefit is that you will be more fully engaged in the activities you do pursue.  Long thought to be a way to enhance productivity and efficiency, newer research on multi-tasking demonstrates that we reduce our effectiveness and enjoyment of tasks by multi-tasking.  We’re not fully present for anything and something will suffer as a result.  Ever tried to watch a TV show and engage in a meaningful conversation with your child or spouse?  Isn’t going to happen.
  • Emails and junk e-mails can be an enormous time waster.  Unsubscribe to those you no longer find value in, or that have somehow simply “appeared” in your inbox.  Some people swear by setting a time limit for checking and answering email – say 30 minutes in the morning and 15 at night.  After the time is up, move on.

The bottom line here is to be aware – aware of your tendencies towards distraction and to take steps towards managing them.  An aside – sometimes distractions are our mind’s tricky little way of practicing avoidance or procrastination.  Could this be you? If that’s a possibility, it doesn’t call for much more than recognition and getting honest with yourself.  Then take steps to get on with it. A side benefit, I have found, is that life starts to feel a bit easier, simpler, and we gain found time – to do those things we find the most meaningful.

Coach’s action step:  This week, pay attention to your tendencies – do you get hooked by Bright Shiny Objects?  Choose one of the above ideas, or create one of your own, and see how it works for you.

Make Room for the New Year!

An annual review includes more than just personal or career ambitions.  Ideally, all five elements of well-being – Career, Social, Physical, Financial and Community – are in sync.   These may range from your business goals for the year, to your resolve to spend more time with family on the weekends, to getting that monthly massage.   Altogether, your wellbeing forms a system which may or may not be working for you.

Here are some questions and some ideas to consider going forward into the new year.

•What did you enjoy most this past year?  What special event or memory stands out for you?

•What are you most grateful for?

•Did you accomplish/achieve something in your personal or business life that you are especially happy about?

•What did you do well?

•What would you like to improve on in the coming year?

•Are there any skills, habits, competencies you would like to develop in the coming year?

•What do you value most at this time in your life (time with family and friends, achievement in your business, financial success, personal wellbeing?)  Are your goals and actions consistent with your values?

•Consider your finances. Are you managing your finances wisely to serve your standard of living now and in the future, and to minimize day-to-day stress?  Managing your finances well contributes to an overall sense of well-being.

•Maybe most important of all, do you look forward to each new day?  Do you like what you do and who you do it with?  Are you enjoying your work?  Would you like to be more involved in your community?   What can you do to bring more of what you love into your life on a daily basis?

Coach’s action step:  Take some time to reflect on these questions and write out your answers.  Then ask yourself what your top 3 goals are for 2014. Write them down and put them where you will see them daily.  What is your greatest challenge?   What one commitment are you willing to make to move towards overcoming that challenge?  If you feel like it, post a comment on my blog or email me and share it – going public with a commitment is a great way to keep yourself accountable.

Real Happy

At this time of year, it’s important to take a moment to reflect on what – and who – is really important to us. The holiday season is an extra-busy time for most of us and I hope that for you it is a wonderful time as well. It can be easy to get caught up in the “busy” and lose sight of the “wonderful,” but I hope that you are able during this time to stay in touch with what brings you true joy and meaning.

Recent research on happiness shows that happy people generally share common characteristics. Three of the main qualities shared by those of the happier among us are:

1. They are physically healthy and have healthy lifestyle habits;
2. They look for the positives in life; and,
3. They have rewarding and happy social ties – good marriages, trusting friendships, and good relationships at work and in their community.

Looking at these, it is apparent that – fortunately – these are all things that we as individuals can influence, to a greater or lesser degree. In looking at my own life, I know that the times I am at my best – and happiest – are when I am appreciating the rewards of all three. And even at those times when, say, we are not at our best in one area – perhaps sick in bed with the flu – I find that the attitudes I choose and the care of those around me, can go a long way towards improving how I feel.

So during this time of year, that is my wish for you – the rewards of good health, contentment, and fulfilling relationships with those you care about. In my book, there’s nothing better.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy Holiday Season.

Coach’s action step: Have a wonderful and joyous holiday and take time to savor and appreciate what brings you true contentment.