Book Review – The War of Art

Every so often someone will recommend to me a good book, a must-read. When the same book keeps getting mentioned to me repeatedly, that usually gets my attention. I had this experience recently with The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield. At first, I wasn’t quite sure why it was being recommended to me. I’ve never considered myself particularly artistic, much as I admire those who are. (I fall into the category of maybe I can draw a half-decent stick figure on a good day.) I read a few reviews here and there, all of which mentioned either procrastination or resistance. I’m not one to procrastinate typically and I didn’t really get what was meant by resistance, but still…….the fact that I kept hearing about it intrigued me.

Having just finished it, what I realize now is that it wasn’t really a book about being an artist, at least not in the way I was thinking of it. What it really was about, at least for me, was the 1001 ways we find to avoid the scary place of really putting ourselves out there, of discovering what it is that is inside us and somehow bringing that forth, however clumsily. This doesn’t necessarily mean the creation of a beautiful painting, or a great piece of literature. It can just as easily mean taking the risk to begin a new career or business, or explore the cultures and rainforests of the Amazon, if that’s something we’ve always wanted to do. What Pressfield’s mission really is with The War of Art is pushing us to live up to our potential, and not settle for less.

The resistance Pressfield writes about is really about how we hold ourselves back, consciously or unconsciously, from becoming all we are meant to be, from finding our purpose, and operating from that. Research confirms that those of us who live with a sense of purpose and meaning in their lives and work benefit in a multitude of ways. They’re healthier overall, live longer, have better relationships, and enjoy more life satisfaction in general. Why would anyone in their right mind resist that?

One of Pressfield’s main points in the book is that there is something each one of is here to do, is meant to do – that we each have a calling. Resistance is the myriad number of ways we find to avoid doing it: I don’t have the time, the right circumstances, the money, I’ll start tomorrow, when the kids are grown, and on and on. We are the ones who hold ourselves back, and only we can remove the obstacles that we have put in our path. Whatever keeps us from starting – or finishing – that which calls to us – that is our resistance and the only way around it is to get honest with ourselves. By acknowledging our blocks and letting go of excuses, we can get on with our real work in the world – expressing the creativity that resides in all of us, whether it lies in creating a sculpture, a second career, or our own version of a successful business.

The author doesn’t pull any punches; he calls it the way he sees it. As a result, it might not be for everyone. For myself, I’m going to read it again.

The Zen of Less Stuff

I must admit I’ve always been intrigued by a minimalist approach. Not intrigued enough, apparently, to necessarily practice it but intrigued nonetheless.

The trend towards minimalism has been growing. New articles, blogs, websites and books are popping up all the time. Interestingly, millenials seem to be leading the pack towards having less stuff. That silver service (that belonged to her mother) Granny wants to offload on your son or daughter when they get married? Not happening. Why? They simply don’t want it. Millenials are way less into “stuff” than the generations before them. And that may actually be a good thing.

Research in positive psychology by Dr. Martin Seligman, author of several books on the subject, describes happiness or well-being (his preferred term) as measured by the following: Positive emotion, engagement, meaning, relationships and accomplishment. Positive emotion is described as happiness and life satisfaction. Engagement refers to using one’s abilities and interests in service to an absorbing interest or calling , while meaning refers to using our strengths to contribute to a larger purpose. Accomplishment and relationships round out the five, which Seligman identifies by the acronym “PERMA.”

Millenials, having come through the recession, concerns about the environment and sustainable lifestyles, not to mention the prospect of student loan debt, seem to be more focused on living a scaled-back lifestyle, on having experiences rather than acquiring stuff. If that’s the case, according to Seligman’s ideas, they may be on to something. According to an article in the Harvard Business Review (May 2010), millennials “place a strong emphasis on finding work that’s personally fulfilling,” and “are the most socially conscious generation since the 1960’s.”

The beauty of less.

The beauty of less.

The idea of paring down isn’t just limited to millennials. Although better living through consumerism isn’t going away anytime soon, there is a noticeable trend towards the idea of less being more. The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo, was a number one New York Times bestseller, and currently ranks as #1 in Religion and Spirituality on Amazon. (Yes, religion and spirituality.) Examples of minimalist living are everywhere. Steve Jobs, a noted minimalist, favored simplicity both in his designs and his personal life, and was well-known for his signature look of black turtleneck, blue jeans and sneakers.  The clothing store and website,, celebrates a life “filled with fewer, better things,” and features simple shapes in neutral colors. It even encourages the reader to join their “Lean Closet Movement,” simplifying personal wardrobes and donating items no longer worn to those who can use them.

It’s not difficult to see why a movement towards simplicity appeals. In a world that seems increasingly complicated, a simpler lifestyle translates to less pressure, reduced expenses, and more freedom. As many of us transition to different lifestyles, such as being solopreneurs with home offices (my case), more clutter – more stuff – equals more distraction and expenditure of mental and physical energy that could be focused elsewhere.

Here are a few ideas on how adopting a more minimalist lifestyle can impact you.

  • More time. The more stuff we have the more time we need to take care of our stuff. Our things have to be organized, maintained and stored.  Sifting through a packed closet looking for our favorite blue blouse can be time consuming and frustrating. So can sorting through a crowded cabinet of office supplies trying to locate the stapler. Picture, if you will, a closet with several well-chosen items hanging and actual space in between the hangers and you can almost feel the difference.
  • More money. We’ve got to pay for all that stuff and the more we have, the more money goes out to do that. Moreover, we may even pay someone else to help us take care of it – maintenance, cleaning and the like. Choosing to buy less means being able to save money for other things – a dream vacation, retirement, education, and reducing the weight of debt.
  • More life satisfaction. Our consumer culture has for decades hyped the “When I get the (new car, new dress, new kitchen, latest whatever,) then I’ll be happy,” mentality. Advertisers depend on our buying into these notions. If you accept Seligman’s theory of PERMA, however, the life satisfaction doesn’t hold weight for the long-term. Some thoughtful folks are realizing that the happiness and satisfaction they seek is better found elsewhere – spending time with loved ones, in service to a cause they believe in, or challenging themselves to accomplishment or learning a new skill.
  • Less stuff means less stress on the environment. As recent generations have become more aware of how consumer consumption impacts the natural world, trying to minimize our footprint has become of increasing concern. More awareness has led us to recycle, re-use, and reduce non-essentials, positively impacting our natural surroundings.

What about you? I’m curious to know if you have considered simplifying, downsizing, or streamlining your life? I know I have. Right now I’m working on clearing out my overstuffed bookcases of books I no longer need. I’m donating them, along with some other items, to a shop in my community that supports a cause important to me. Not only am I reducing clutter and distractions at home, I also get to feel a sense of satisfaction and contribution. That’s something money can’t buy.

7 Daily Habits to Start Now That Will Set You Up for Success

How did your day start out today? Did you wake up feeling rested and ready for the day? Did you make time for a healthy breakfast to get you started on the right foot and take you through the morning with energy? Did you take a few minutes to set an intention or plan for the day so you can go into it with clarity and confidence? What about exercise? Do you make time in your schedule for it? If mornings don’t work for you, do you have a plan to fit it in somewhere in your day?

We live busy lives and often feel that “fitting one more thing in” just isn’t going to happen. Yet, there are ways to set ourselves up for a successful day that can affect the quality of our lives in a big way, and they don’t necessarily take up a lot of time. Successful days add up to a rich and rewarding life, and all it takes is establishing healthy habits that become routine over time. Taking 10 minutes for a brisk walk, some inspirational reading or quiet meditation can significantly affect how we feel and the quality of our day.

Here are some daily habits you can start now to make a real difference in the bigger picture of your life:

  1. Get a good night’s sleep. How you start your day can make a HUGE difference in just about everything – your mood, appetite, and level of performance and productivity. How much you need is individual – most research suggests anywhere from 7 to 9 hours per night.
  2. Water – Upon waking up after a night’s sleep your body is naturally dehydrated. Drinking a large 8-12 oz glass of water after waking up provides your cells with the necessary hydration to feel energized and will also flush out any unwanted toxins. You’ll feel refreshed and ready to go.
  3. Exercise – The proven benefits of physical activity are many: more energy, stress relief, weight control, a better mood, a good night’s sleep, a sharper brain, improved focus and learning. Regular exercise is essential for health of body, mind and spirit.
  4. Quiet – We live in an age of constant stimulation: emails, phones, texts, social media – the list goes on. With all that going on, finding some space in our life for quiet and silence is vital. Even 10 minutes a day can improve physical and mental wellbeing and enhance one’s feelings of relaxation and control.
  5. Remember what’s really important. Taking time to connect – daily – with those people who mean the most to us is essential to wellbeing. When asked for a definition of positive psychology, psychologist and university professor Chris Peterson said it could be summed up in three words, “Other people matter.” Research shows that close relations with others – family, friends, community – reduces stress and increases emotional well being so making the effort to nurture close relationships is well worth the effort.
  6. Reading stimulates ideas, broadens knowledge, improves analytical thinking, speaking and writing. It encourages interest in the world and people around you, while making you more interesting at the same time. An added benefit in this over-stimulated world is improved concentration – immersing yourself in a good book or interesting article can be one of the great pleasures of life.
  7. Do something for someone else. Research shows that doing kind acts for others also benefits us – we feel good about ourselves, more ethical and positive. People who are caring and kind to others reap the benefits of being happier people themselves.

One of my life’s treasures – with Matthew.

What about you? Do you have a daily practice or habit that adds value to your life? What has worked best to set you up for a good day? Please post comments on my blog – I’d love to hear from you!

What’s Stress Got to Do With it?

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.”

© Andresr |

© Andresr |

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.

Sleep, Food, Mood and Exercise – Part 2: Smart Eating

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. 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.

Why Hire a Coach

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); 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.