So What (Exactly) is Grit and Why Is It important?

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.”

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-images-positive-bold-green-can-ends-row-dull-gray-can-t-illustrating-success-oriented-attitude-white-image30559044University 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.”

Happy Halloween and Headspace Review

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!

What a Difference a Day Makes!

Take rest; a field that has rested gives a beautiful crop.” Ovid

I recently stayed overnight at a yoga and meditation retreat. It’s the second time I’ve done this, and it amazed me (again!) what a difference just 24 hours away can make. The center I went to is little more than an hour’s drive from my home, in a remote area in the mountains, without cell service or internet. If you struggle with being unplugged for any length of time, it may not be the place for you. (Then again, it might be just the place for you!) In addition to being a yoga and retreat center, it’s a working ashram and spiritual community for those who live there and operate it. That particular concept might be off-putting to some, conveying some type of mysticism, but the fact is I have never felt anything but a warm welcome and invitation to partake as I choose to, or not, of the various offerings throughout the day. The teachers and staff are wonderful, and seem about as mystical as my next-door neighbors, albeit a bit more unhurried and centered, as far as I can tell.

The center offers what they call “anytime retreats,” which basically means you check in and stay for as long as you like – a day or a week – and a variety of yoga and meditation classes to choose from, starting at 5:00 am. (I have yet to appear before 7:00 am breakfast…..) From there, you have free time to hike the surrounding trails, take a private yoga class, schedule a massage, or relax and read – your choice. There are morning and late afternoon yoga classes, followed by meditation if you wish (I did.) Meals are vegetarian and served community style. Everything is fresh and organic, much of it grown on premises. Not to mention plentiful and delicious!

The idea of a retreat from daily life isn’t new. Throughout the ages, men and women have sought to take time out for renewal and inspiration. These days, a retreat can be a breath of fresh air in the busyness of modern living. The concept is simple – taking time away from your daily life and circumstances. It’s a time apart from our usual pace of routine and responsibilities, time for some quiet and peace. Given the way our lives are usually structured, with work, family and other responsibilities, having a day of quiet can almost seem like an impossibility. That’s why I liked the idea of an overnight – a day – something I can easily schedule, with a little planning.

It worked! In just a little over 24 hours (2 yoga classes, two meditation practices, a hike and some lovely meals later) I felt great – restored and energized.
The retreat schedule closes with saying: “We hope your stay at our ashram has left you relaxed, refreshed, and ready to face the world again.” It sure did.

Resources: There are lots of centers around the country and abroad offering facilities for structured and unstructured retreats for individuals. Some cater to a particular denomination, and many do not. A good place to check out what might be near you is: http://www.retreatfinder.com/

Summer Checklist

I received an email recently with an apology for a late reply, saying “Summer should NOT be so busy.”   Wow, I agree!  Summer is traditionally a time to slow down, and let go of some of the busyness that occupies us at other times of the year.  The idea of “The Pleasant Life,” a term coined by psychologist, Martin Seligman, is that of taking time to savor and appreciate life’s basic pleasures – family and friends, a sunrise or a summer breeze, a good meal, wonderful music.  Summer is the perfect time to do that.  So, instead of my usual to-do list, I came up with a summer checklist.  I’ve written about the value of being intentional, setting an intention for the day or a specific situation, and letting it guide us.  Here’s my intention for this Summer of 2014.  I’m creating it now so that I don’t find myself, come Labor Day, wondering:  “What happened?  Summer should NOT be so busy!”

  • Take more photos – of whatever, just for fun.
  • Eat outside more often – whether out or at home on our deck.
  • Canoeing or kayaking on Evergreen Lake.  (My teenager is renting boats there this summer, so I have no excuses….)
  • Hang with my family.
  • Appreciate spending time with my wonderful friends.
  • Slow way down – (on it.)
  • Walks and hikes in nature.
  • Salads and fruit salads.
  • Almost anything tastes better grilled.
  • Always a good book (or two!)
  • Sunscreen (ok, I tend to be on the practical side.)
  • Biking!
  • Giving myself time to daydream  or do nothing.
  • Writing – whatever – in my journal.
  • Summer movies.
  • Did I mention practically anything outdoors?
  • Keep it simple – Ask myself the question:  What brings me joy?  Do that!

Coach’s Action step:  What’s on your summer checklist? What would you like more of? Slow down and take a few minutes today to set your intention – there’s lot of summer left!

Mindfulness for Health AND Happiness!

We’ve long known for a long time that our thoughts, feelings and behavior are inter-connected. The science of positive psychology also tells us that positive emotions are related to better health, longer life, stronger relationships, and greater success. Negative emotions – anger, worry, and the like – can actually increase our risk of developing health issues, such as heart disease. When one is upset or agitated, for example, blood pressure rises, and levels of the stress hormone cortisol are elevated in the brain, which can result in lower immune function, and impairment of other functions such as learning and memory. In addition, numerous studies have shown that emotional intelligence is just as important a component in success as intellectual ability and, in some cases, even more.

It’s clear that being able to manage our emotions is beneficial on numerous fronts, but it’s not always simple to do. Learning to respond from a balanced perspective, instead of simply reacting to a stressful situation, can make all the difference when it comes to having constructive outcomes.

One of the best ways to learn to gain control over your mind and emotions is through the practice of mindfulness, which is a form of meditative practice used in parts of the world for thousands of years. The practice of mindfulness has been shown to positively influence both physical and emotional health, reducing anxiety, stress, depression, and improving sleep and the immune system. (Harvard Women’s Health Watch, 2004). Practicing mindfulness also increases self-awareness, a quality which can help us learn to manage our emotions more effectively in the moment.

Mindfulness practices can also, over time, improve our memories and ability to concentrate. Because mindfulness involves returning our attention to what we are doing in the present moment, concentration is enhanced. Likewise, being very focused on an activity increases our chances of remembering the experience in more detail later. Finally, mindfulness practice activates the part of our brain that is connected to positivity and good feeling, the left prefrontal cortex. (Harvard Women’s Health Watch, 2004).

Practicing mindfulness can be structured or informal. The key is this: focusing your full attention on one thing, without judgment, in the present moment. To put it another way, when you are being mindful, you are in the moment, not worrying about what happened yesterday or what you have to do later today. It’s doing one thing at a time and being fully absorbed in that – no multi-tasking here!

You can easily begin to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life, by bringing your full attention to the things you are already doing. An example would be your morning walk. If you have gotten into the habit of walking along, thinking about a problem at work or the conversation you had with your spouse last night, you are likely missing most of what is going on right in front of you. Try bringing your attention back to the moment – how green the trees are after the rain, the sun just beginning to come up, the quiet before the start of the day. It’s easier said than done, but if you can accomplish this even for a few moments, you are being mindful. And if you can only accomplish it for a few moments, there is no need to judge yourself harshly. When you find your attention straying back to the rest of your life – and it will – just quietly come back to being in the moment right where you are.

Formal mindfulness practice involves setting aside a specific time, apart from your usual activities. This time can be structured so that you focus mindfully on one thing, perhaps something as simple as your breathing. Both formal and informal practices are important, and will help you to live your life more mindfully, instead of simply operating on automatic as most of us do. And, like anything, the more you practice, the easier it becomes!

This article is a simple overview of what mindfulness can do for you. There are lots of resources for mindfulness practice these days – a good one is the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society, at the University of Massachusetts Medical School; http://www.umassmed.edu/cfm/index.aspx.

In our often hectic, multi-tasking world, it’s easy to miss the simplest of experiences in our haste to get to the next thing. Mindfulness can bring you back to savoring those simpler experiences that are the essence of what life is often really about – and help you to be and feel healthier in the process.

Entrepreneurs and Small Business Owners – Announcing an exciting class you can’t afford to miss! Start date extended!

I am teaching this class along with co-instructor, Amy Tardio. We are both ICF accredited coaches with backgrounds in positive psychology and additional certifications in Wellness Coaching. This class will provide coaching for entrepreneurs in a confidential, supportive environment. We are experienced group facilitators and lead a number of success groups for professionals in small business and entrepreneurial endeavors.

The class begins on Monday, June 30, 2014, 2:00 p.m. EST. One of its many unique features is that it is delivered completely over the telephone. Class meets for 8, one-hour sessions via teleconference call. Note: All classes will be recorded so you don’t have to miss a class if you can’t be on the call “live.” For complete information and registration information, go to: http://evergreenlifeandwellness.com/small-business-development/

Breakfast & My Go-To Smoothie Recipe

This week, I want to share my go-to smoothie recipe, along with thoughts on having a good breakfast. Why is breakfast important? What makes for a good breakfast, and how do we find time for it in the rush of busy mornings?

Research shows that a good breakfast positively impacts both overall health and maintaining a healthy weight. Adults and children who eat breakfast regularly are more likely to meet their daily nutrition requirements and be at a healthy body weight than those who don’t. Having the proper fuel in our bodies to start the day also impacts performance, at work or at school. The right breakfast is one that provides a combination of complex carbohydrates, fiber, protein and a small amount of fat. This combination will give you the advantage of having better concentration, being more alert, and having more endurance.

Taking time to start the day with a nutritious breakfast might seem like a tall order some mornings, but it’s really not. Here’s my weekday go-to smoothie recipe. It’s my family favorite, and combines all the essential nutrients to help us start the day and stay energized for hours. Best of all it’s ready in just a few minutes!

Favorite Smoothie

Start with 1 scoop protein powder of your choice (I use a vanilla, vegan based protein powder. You may wish to choose vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free depending on your preference.)
Add fresh frozen fruit – I freeze sliced bananas and blueberries to use ahead of time. You can also use sliced strawberries, peaches, raspberries, mango – whatever you like.
4 oz soy or rice milk
4 oz organic juice – My favorites are pineapple coconut and blueberry, but here again you get to choose!
1-2 tablespoons raw wheat germ (a powerhouse of nutrition)

Add everything to blender and process until smooth. Serves 1, simply double or triple the recipe for additional servings.

This smoothie is filling and easily keeps me going until lunchtime. It’s got the right combination of protein, good carbohydrates and fiber. Having a well-rounded breakfast sets you up for a great day and this smoothie makes it easy. Enjoy!

Entrepreneurs and Small Business Owners – Announcing an exciting class you can’t afford to miss!

I am teaching this class along with co-instructor, Amy Tardio. We are both ICF accredited coaches with backgrounds in positive psychology and additional certifications in Wellness Coaching. This class will provide coaching for entrepreneurs in a confidential, supportive environment. We are experienced group facilitators and lead a number of success groups for professionals in small business and entrepreneurial endeavors.

The class begins on Monday, June 16, 2014, 2:00 p.m. EST. One of its many unique features is that it is delivered completely over the telephone. Class meets for 8, one-hour sessions via teleconference call. Note: All classes will be recorded so you don’t have to miss a class if you can’t be on the call “live.” For complete information and registration information, go to: http://evergreenlifeandwellness.com/small-business-development/