Things I’ve Learned: Listen to Your Inner Compass

One of the really good things about getting older is the wisdom that often comes only through experience.  We go through different stages in life, and what seemed sooooo important at one stage can be almost inconsequential at another. Case in point:  I had my son when I was 38, so as he was growing I often found myself at events or play dates with other mothers who were ten or more years younger.  I remember some of them often longing for a night out – maybe dinner and the theater, or a weekend away, a little adventure or excitement away from the never-ending responsibility of a little one.  Perfectly understandable, too – everyone needs to have to relax and have some fun, and there are not a lot of breaks with small children.  That’s when I realized, though, that as an “older” parent, I was in a very different place.   I love a nice evening out (still do!), love to travel, love to have a good time – but for me having fun meant watching my son slowly wake up from his nap and hold his arms out for me, with that beautiful smile.  Or watching The Lion King for the 8th time.  (I still can recite some of the lines from memory.)  What I learned at that time was that my idea of fun had changed, rather dramatically.  I also learned to pay attention to my inner wisdom that told me there was nowhere more important for me to be.  Occasionally I had others (well-intentioned, for sure) remind me that I “needed to get away” or that “time out with the girls” was imperative if I was to keep my sanity.  Most of the time, I would get away or take time off only to find myself impatient to get back to my little guy, who I missed more than the world if I was away from him for more than a couple hours!  My husband, fortunately, was somewhat like-minded.  We had both had our share of nights out on the town, travel, etc., and knew we would have them again.  This time felt precious, and so Matthew became very portable and most times came with us, because that’s the way we liked it.  On the occasional nights when we would get a sitter and go to dinner, we found ourselves ready to come home right after coffee, and be a threesome again.  I learned some things about myself and my values during this time, and here are a few of them:

      1. Listen to your inner compass.  We all have a guide within that will direct us to what is right for us at any given time.  No one else really knows what is best for you, however well-intentioned they may be.
      2. Don’t miss the special moments.  They pass so quickly.  The thing I heard the most from wistful strangers who would stop to smile at my child in the park or grocery store was this:  Enjoy this time.  It goes so quickly.  I am grateful every day that I paid attention to those words.  Don’t get me wrong – I had my moments when the thought of playing Thomas the Tank Engine one more time was not a happiness for me.  But then, one day, he no longer wanted to play Thomas the Tank Engine, and that time had passed forever.  Now I’m so glad I was there.
      3. Nothing is more important than the people you love and who love you.  Everything else is secondary.  (This is self-explanatory.)
      4. Have your own life.  Being a wife and mother has been and still is a top priority for me.  I also know that it’s important for me to be my own person beyond those roles, and I have worked hard to do that.  I value my close friendships, my interests, my work, and my physical and spiritual health, and I make time for these things.  They are all components of who I am, and add depth and richness to my life.  Having a rich life feels joyous to me, and I bring that joy back to my relationships.  In the end, we are multi-dimensional creatures, and no one role is going to complete us always and forever.

I’ve written about the concept of being a lifelong learner in the past.  I think it applies as much to one’s personal and emotional/spiritual growth as anything, maybe more.   On that path, I’ve always find that paying attention to my inner compass never fails me.  Call it your inner voice, intuition, your gut – what have you – but call upon it.  It’s an available inner resource that can help you live richly.

Coach’s action step:  Undecided about a decision or course of action this week?  Take the time to get quiet within, and access your inner wisdom.  What feels right to you, what is your gut feeling?  Pay attention to the direction that is there for you.

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.

What to Look For When Choosing a Life Coach

Life coaching and life coaches have hit the mainstream in recent years.  Once reserved for athletes and executives, coaching of all kinds is now accessible to everyone.  There are coaches who specialize in health and wellness, business and career, relationships, parenting, leadership, retirement – the list goes on.

Because of the growing popularity of coaching and the growth of the profession in general, how to go about choosing a coach can be confusing or unclear.  And what, exactly, does a life coach do, anyway?

A life coach can be a powerful partner in helping you take your life to the next level.  Life coaching is NOT therapy and a reputable life coach will usually refer a potential client to a qualified professional if he/she feels this is necessary.

A life coach can help you to achieve your goals and move forward in your life more directly and purposefully.  A qualified coach will assist you in assessing your values, strengths, and deepest interests, and help you to create a plan to move forward with realistic steps and strategies.  A coach will also support you and help you to navigate the pitfalls and challenges that inevitably occur on the way to making a significant change or achieving a dreamed-of goal.

People who come to coaching do so because they have been unable to make a change or reach a goal on their own.  They may be successful in many aspects of their lives, but have a particular area that continues to frustrate them.  A properly trained coach can be an invaluable resource when it comes to achieving your aims.  So what’s the best way to find one?  Here are some suggestions.

  • Be an informed consumer and get educated.  There is an abundance of information about coaching out there – articles, websites, professional organizations.
  • Know your goal.  What is the result you are seeking from working with a coach?  Knowing your objectives is key in determining the type of coach you choose.  A coach that specializes in executive and leadership coaching will not have the same approach as one who specializes in small business coaching.
  • Interview a prospective coach before you decide.  Many coaches offer a complimentary session, in which you can ask questions and determine if you might be a good fit.  Be sure to ask about his or her experience, qualifications, skills and approach.  You can also ask a prospective coach for references.
  • Ask the coach about any specialized training they have or certifications they hold.  Not all certifications are created equally.  Some require months of training, some may require 2-3 years or more.

The International Coach Federation (ICF) is the leading globally recognized coaching organization, and requires that its members have  “completed stringent education and experience requirements and a dedicated commitment to excellence in coaching,”  including adherence to its standards and ethics.  The ICF website contains a wealth of useful information about coaching in general and can be found at http://www.coachfederation.org/.  Some universities, such as Columbia University, also offer their own certifications.

  • If you know the type of coach you are looking for (i.e., career, health and wellness) there are professional organizations and certifying bodies specifically dedicated to particular coaching niches.   Try the http://www.wellcoachesschool.com referral service.  Most reputable coaching programs, as well as the ICF, also contain referral databases.  Ones to try are the MentorCoach Training Program at http://www.mentorcoach.com/index.html; also the Coach Training Institute, http://www.thecoaches.com/.  Any professional organization should provide you, the prospective client, with the assurance that you will receive quality coaching so be sure to do your homework.
  • Ask for a referral.  If you know someone who has been working with a coach and had positive results, ask that person for the name of the coach they have been working with.  As mentioned earlier, most coaches will offer a 15-30 telephone consult to give you a chance to get to know them and how they work.

The coach you choose will be an important relationship, and you will be working closely with him or her.  Take your time and talk to more than one to get a feel for their philosophy and approach.  Selecting the right coach   can make all the difference in your success.  It’s an important decision and an investment in yourself.  Approach it as you would any important decision.  Hiring the right one could change your life for the better.

Coach’s action step:   Is there something in your life that you would like to change?    Maybe you are not feeling as fulfilled in your career as you once did.  Do you struggle in some area (losing weight, exercising, quitting smoking, relationships?)  Consider whether it might benefit you to have outside support in the form of a coach, group coaching, or accountability partner. If the answer is yes, make it a point to take one step forward this week towards finding the support you need.

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.