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.

A Wellness Plan for the Holiday Season

As a Certified Wellness Coach, one of the first things I often do with my clients is  help them develop their own customized Wellness Plan.  This is a plan tailored individually to them and their unique needs and lifestyle.  Everyone’s life and circumstances are different, so there’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to a Wellness Plan.  A plan that might work perfectly for one person might not fit at all for another.

Before the season is in full swing, you might want to consider giving some thought to what you need to feel and be at your best in the coming weeks.  The components of a Wellness Plan can vary from one person to the next, but here are some you might want to consider including.

  • Nutrition – how you eat, and what you eat.  When do you feel at your best?  What foods seem to give you energy, and which ones drag you down?  Since so many activities revolve around eating during the holidays, awareness of what you are eating and how it affects you can be significant.For example, if you tend towards drinking sodas, coffee drinks, sports drinks, and juices sweetened with high fructose corn syrup (as many are), you’re adding in increased calories and sugar.   Water, on the other hand, goes a long toward enhancing health.  Every cell in your body needs it to function well, and it also helps with digestion.   You might want to include in your wellness plan the following:

    I will substitute sugary drinks for water and drink six to eight glasses a day.  I will start and end my day with a tall glass of water and keep a water bottle with me during the day.

  • Exercise – What’s the minimum you need to be at your best?  What type of exercise will you do and when will you do it?  The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise per week.  This can be met through 30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (five days per week) or 20-60 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise (three days per week).  Your plan might read:

    I will do at least a 30 minute cardio workout of moderate intensity Monday through Friday.

  • Sleep – Sleep is essential for optimal functioning.  How much you need will vary from one person to another, but most healthy adults need between 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night.  A good night’s sleep is restorative, so you may want to include a regular sleep/wake schedule in your plan.  Most experts recommend going to bed and waking at the same time each night – consider what you need to feel and look your best.
  • Stress and Time Management – Do you feel extra stressed around the holidays?  As much as being the season of love and good cheer, the holidays are often also the season of additional pressures on our time, our energy and our finances.  Knowing this, it may be important to include some strategies for dealing with stress, and staying out of overwhelm.  For example, if too many holiday festivities end up leaving you frazzled or drained, you may want to consider this going into the season.  Your wellness plan might include reducing the amount of stress you experience by picking 2or 3 holiday festivities you truly enjoy and letting go of others.

Something else to include in your plan might be defining your limits. There’s no rule that says you have to stay at the party all night.  If there are certain activities (or a difficult relation) you prefer to avoid at other times of the year, have an advance strategy for how you’ll cope, and limit your exposure.  Be sure to include those things that fill you up and restore you.  This can be as simple as watching a holiday movie with your spouse and kids, reading a book by the fire, or plain and simple downtime.

Think about how you feel when you are at your best.  What is that like for you?  What kinds of things are you doing?  How much are you sleeping, exercising?  How much downtime do you need?   The best Wellness Plan is one that gets you through the holidays feeling healthy, happy and strong.  The better you feel, the more you can enjoy the season and give to those special people around you.  And isn’t that really what the holidays are about?

Coach’s action step:   Pick the areas above, or create your own, and craft your own custom Wellness Plan for the holiday season.  Include in it whatever you need to feel and be at your best.  Make it your blueprint for how to navigate the holidays  in peak condition.

A Healthy Holiday Season

It’s here…..the holiday season is here.  As you read this, Thanksgiving is around the corner and after that the season is in full swing.  Whatever your holiday style, be it going to events and parties, or casual and laid back time with family and friends, the common denominator seems to be lots more occasions to potentially indulge in holiday feasts of one sort or another.  If you are trying to eat healthfully, or even lose weight, possibilities for getting off-track abound.

Here are some simple ideas for navigating – and enjoying – holiday parties and dinners, so that you come away with your healthy eating plan intact.

  • Have a plan.  Instead of being restrictive, having a plan can be freeing.  Look at it this way – if you know you are going to be eating a certain way, you won’t be tempted to make unhealthy decisions at the restaurant or buffet table.  If you are going gluten-free, then you make decisions based around that.  If you are currently on Weight Watcher’s or a Mediterranean eating plan, you don’t have to think about what you will have – you eat according to your plan.  Having a plan in advance saves you from having to make in-the-moment decisions, and indulging in ways you won’t feel good about later.
  • Speaking of buffets…… The buffet table is a place where we can get tripped up with the best of intentions. Lots of choices, combined with the opportunity for second helpings, can spell trouble for even the most committed.  Having a plan in place there can help, too.  How about this for starters:  One trip to the buffet, one plate.

Have what you like, enjoy some holiday favorites, but limit yourself to one helping.  Most buffets these days offer healthy options, so you really don’t have to get completely off-track.  If there is a dish you really want to try, go ahead and include it. Your overall goal is to be healthy and eat well, and enjoying your favorite dishes in moderation are not going to sink those efforts.

  • Parties are about people.  Holiday parties include catching up with friends and family we don’t get to see at other times, and it’s great to do that over good food. Parties are about socializing and celebrating our connections with others.  If you find yourself tempted to overeat, it might be time to move on and find that old friend from home you want to catch up with.  Focusing on enjoying the company can provide just the distraction you need in that moment, as well as being fun.  And isn’t that why you’re there?
  • Don’t forget to exercise!  I’m not going to list all the numerous benefits of exercise here because by now we all know them.  I will, however, encourage you to keep up your exercise routine during the season.   It can be tempting to let our workouts go when we feel pressed for time, but it’s actually the best time to make exercise a priority.  Regular exercise keeps stress at bay, energy up and  weight in check.
  • Give yourself a break.  I try to help my clients adopt the idea that a healthy lifestyle is a “marathon, and not a sprint.”  In the course of life, there will be ups and downs and the same is true for making changes to how and what we eat.  If you go off your plan and splurge on something you feel you shouldn’t have, it’s ok. Give yourself permission to not have to be perfect.  Above all, don’t say something to yourself like:  “Well, I blew it. I must as well go ahead and really blow it, and start over again tomorrow.”  Everyone blows it at times.  Just acknowledge it and move on.

The holidays are a time to give thanks for and enjoy the gifts of family and friends and the blessings we share.  As we go into the season, my wish for you is that you enjoy all the abundance your heart can hold!

Coach’s action step:  Take one of the tips above and put it to work for you at a holiday event.  Have a plan.  If you’re going to a buffet, try one trip to the buffet table, and one plate.  Take time to schedule your workouts for the week in your calendar, and make that time non-negotiable.  Make healthy eating and enjoyment a priority – they do go together!

The Power of Accountability

What is accountability?  What makes it a powerful coaching tool?  Why does it make a difference when it comes to setting and reaching your goals and objectives?

I thought about these questions today after my work with a client.   She frequently tells me how important her weekly accountability check-in is to keep her moving forward.

It’s easy to set goals.  Realizing those goals is often an altogether different matter.  A main reason that clients come to coaching is because they have been unable to achieve an important aim on their own.  They may also need help in clarifying goals, and then mapping out a plan, a strategy to keep them on track.  Once they begin to move forward, it’s key that they continue to stay on their path, especially at those times that life circumstances might threaten to derail them.  There’s always the danger, too, of losing motivation when we encounter obstacles, or fail to get results as quickly as we had hoped.

In coaching, that’s where accountability comes in.  Accountability is having your clients regularly account for what they said they were going to do.  As a coach, accountability is characterized by the asking of three questions:  What will you do?  When will you do it?  How will I know?   These questions are not for the coach; they are for the client.  The coach has no attachment to the results of a client’s accountability, other than the coach’s commitment to the client’s overall vision. The coach holds the client accountable to the commitment they have made towards that intended goal.  No judgment occurs with accountability.  The intention is to keep a client steadily moving forward towards an overall objective, step- by- step.

So how does it work?  Here’s an example.  Say your goal is to secure a new position in 3 months.  What would be the first step?   Is it to clarify exactly what you are looking for?  If you are clear on your objective, will you need to create a plan for your search?   Will you need to review and update your resume, or your profile on professional sites, such as LinkedIn?  What needs to happen to begin the process?

Once you have a plan, accountability will keep you moving ahead.  If your next step is to update your resume and qualifications, by when will you have this done?  With a coach or an accountability partner, you commit to a time frame, a date by which you will have your resume prepared and ready to go.  You also commit to letting this person know that you have completed your commitment.  Once complete, you set your next goal.  Perhaps it will be to send out a certain number of resumes by a specific date.  On that date, you check in again.  If you completed your commitment, what’s the next step?  A follow up call or email may be in order.  There’s your next accountability.  And so on.  Slowly and steadily, you continue to move forward towards your aim.

By now the Big Question is probably lurking around in the back of your mind:  What happens if you don’t do what you said you were going to do?  Your coach is not there to judge you.  In a coaching relationship, an experienced coach will always ask you at the beginning of your relationship:  How do you want to be held accountable?  What works best for you – gentleness, a direct and firm manner, something in between?  If you consistently come to coaching sessions without  completing your commitments, it may be time to explore what is going on.  What’s blocking you?  What holds you back?  Is this goal truly important to you, or is it something you feel you have to or should do?  These are the places that people often get stuck or give up on their goal altogether.  A coach can help you explore those places, and find ways to navigate them to continue moving forward.

When it comes to beginning and staying with an exercise program, having an  accountability partner can mean the difference between getting up early to walk or turning over and going back to sleep.  Knowing someone is counting on you to show up three mornings a week at 7:00 am can make all the difference between success and failure – for both of you!

Every successful person will tell you that they had help along the way to achieving their dreams.  None of us do it alone.  There’s a reason professional athletes have coaches.  One of the main reasons is that they are held accountable.  And that’s because accountability works.

Coach’s action step:  Is there something you want to accomplish, but just haven’t been able to get done?  Find an accountability partner that you feel can remain objective (this is important), and ask that person to help you out for the week.  Commit to take one step towards your aim by a certain date, and to check back in at that time, regardless of whether you are complete.  See how it goes.  If you got it done, that’s great.  If not, explore what may have gotten in your way, make any necessary adjustments, and just keep going – you can do it!

The Key to Setting Goals

When was the last time you had an important goal?  What was it?  Was it a short-term goal or a long-term goal?  How did it go? Did you reach your objective?  Why or why not?

We all have goals and plans at one time or another.  They can range from hitting the two-mile mark on our daily walk, to going back to school for a second career, or checking off all those places on our bucket list.  And just about anything in between.  A toddler just learning to walk with fierce determination has set himself the highest of goals, even though he may still not have the language to describe it.

Yet very often we fail to reach the goals that are important to us.  Even if we do, there may be times of backsliding or losing motivation along the way, or even after we reach our objective.  It’s been said, “It’s easy to quit smoking (quit drinking, lose 10 pounds) – I do it all the time.” The trick is staying stopped, maintaining the change.  So what’s the best way to set yourself up for success?  Here are some tried-and-true ideas to inspire you.

  • Know your why.  Your “why” is your larger purpose.  Without a strong enough why, it’s difficult to maintain your focus and determination to succeed when obstacles present themselves on the way to your goal, as they surely will. What makes this goal important to you?  How will you benefit from its attainment?   Having a clearly defined “why” is the foundation of success.
  • Set SMART goals.  Goals that are focused and well-defined have a better chance of success.   SMART is an acronynm that stands for Specific, Measurable, Action Plan, Realistic and Time Framed. SMART goals help improve achievement and success because they clarify exactly what is expected A SMART goal defines specifically what the objective is, how success will be measured, and what actions will be taken. A SMART goal will also assess whether the goal is realistic and reasonable, and target a time frame for completion.
  • Enlist support.  This could mean family, friends, a support group, or a combination of all three.  Having the support of significant others can greatly increase the chances that we’ll achieve our goals.  Support can be tangible, such as a spouse volunteering to help with household chores so you can work on your project. Emotional support is just as important – encouragement and championing you at times when your motivation is fading can help you keep going in those times when the going is hard.
  • Accountability.  Having someone – a coach, a mentor, a support group – to be accountable to helps keep you honest, responsible, and moving forward.  You will need to choose someone with whom you can check in regularly, and they will need to be willing to ask you hard questions, if necessary.  Having someone to point out when you may be making excuses or getting off track can go a long way towards keeping you moving ahead. 
  • Mindset is key.  Confidence and a positive attitude, even in the face of obstacles, can mean the difference between success and failure.  Henry Ford may have said it best:  “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you are right.” 

Coach’s action step:  If you have had a goal in mind for a while, but haven’t yet taken action on it, take some time when you can focus and write your goal at the top of a page. Then write:  Why I want to achieve this goal, listing all the reasons why you, and others if included, might benefit from your achieving it.  If your goal is to obtain an advanced degree in your field, your why might include things such as:  to move up in your job, to start your own business, more meaning in your current position, more financial security for yourself and your family, taking great vacations, fulfilling a lifelong dream – whatever comes to mind. This exercise will increase your awareness of the positive rewards to be gained from attaining your aim, and build motivation to move forward

Mindfulness – What is It and How Can it Help You Live Better?

Mindfulness practice has been around for centuries, but it’s a hot topic these days and with good reason.  Mindfulness, with its roots in the Buddhist tradition, has been the focus of much scientific research in the last thirty years, and is  increasingly being used to treat a variety of both mental and physical conditions.

So what is it?  Simply put, mindfulness is the practice of focusing your attention on the present moment and appreciating and accepting it, without judgment.  It’s a way of being present in the moment, as opposed to being preoccupied with your to-do list, or last night’s difficult conversation with your sister.  It’s also a way to connect back to yourself, and the life you are in, instead of being lost in the past or future, as so often happens in the haste of our busy days.  Increasing your capacity for mindfulness makes it easier to enjoy the pleasurable moments in life, while also helping you engage more fully in the activities that make up your daily  round.  It increases your sense of well-being, mentally and physically.  This increased sense of well-being includes a greater capacity to enjoy life, as well as deal with the challenges and adversities that come your way.  It can also enhance your relationships with others, enabling you to be a better listener, more fully present, more “there.”  In the area of psychotherapy, some therapists have started to incorporate mindfulness meditation as a component in their treatment of problems such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse and eating disorders.  And, if that’s not enough, studies show that a mindfulness practice can help to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, improve sleep and help reduce chronic pain.  Scientists who study such things have found that being more mindful helps people to be happier, and who doesn’t want that?

Sounds good, right?  If the idea of a mindfulness practice appeals to you and you want to learn more, there are lots of relatively easy ways to do that.  Here are a few:

  • There are lots of books out on the subject these days.  You might begin with Mindfulness for Beginners:  Reclaiming the Present Moment–and Your Life, by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, a renowned scientist, writer, and teacher who has arguably been the most influential over the last few decades in bringing mindfulness into the mainstream.  A library or a bookstore or Google search is bound to give you a variety of choices.
  • Take a class or workshop.  You can check at local community colleges, yoga centers, or with wellness or holistic practitioners for recommendations.
  • Check into guided mindfulness audio programs.  There are lots to choose from.  One to try might be the Guided Mindfulness Meditation Series 1, by Jon Kabat-Zinn, or Body and Mind Are One: A Training in Mindfulness Audiobook CD, by Thich Nhat Hanh, a renowned Zen master and human rights activist.
  • You can also cultivate mindfulness more informally by simply practicing it as you go about your daily life.  Slow done and give whatever you do your full attention.   Let go of your habitual multi-tasking, and practice doing one thing at a time. Slow down, and be fully present.  If you are having dinner, just do that.  Concentrate on your meal, savor the different flavors, and let it involve all your senses.  If you’re doing the dishes or talking to your spouse, just do that.  If  you are taking a walk, practice being in the moment instead of planning what you need to do later. You can take just about any daily activity and use it to practice mindfulness.  If your mind starts to stray from the task at hand, just gently bring it back without judgment.

There are lots of ways to a mindfulness practice. It may take a while to find what fits for you.  Practice different techniques and if one method isn’t for you, try another one.  Trust yourself in the process.  And don’t feel that you have to make a big commitment. You can begin a mindfulness practice with just a few minutes a day, increasing it if you like, until you find what feels right.   If you find yourself experiencing feelings of greater well-being, engagement, alertness, and focus as time goes on, chances are you’re on the right track.

Coach’s action step:  Try single-tasking—Pick one thing to do and just do that.  Try to give it your full attention.  For example, pick a song you enjoy and just listen to it. Sit outside in the sunshine and just be present enjoying the scene before you, whatever it is.  If you are in conversation with someone, just listen and give that person your full attention. Try this for a few minutes this week and notice how you feel afterwards.

Sun Care for All Seasons

Research shows that most skin cancers are related to sun exposure. Even with increased education and increased sunscreen use by the general public, skin cancer rates continue to rise.   According to a May, 2013, article in the New York Times, melanoma diagnoses have risen nearly 2 percent a year since 2000, and are increasing even more among young white women.  Why?  Some experts blame incorrect sunscreen use, such as not applying enough or not applying frequently enough. There is another concern, however.   Most sunscreens with a high sun protection factor, or SPF, were designed primarily to protect from the sun’s ultraviolet B rays, the main cause of sunburn. These sunscreens have allowed users to stay out longer but did not necessarily protect them from ultraviolet A rays. These are the rays that are associated with aging and skin damage, but that are also now being connected to skin cancer.

The latest advice recommends that people limit time in the sun, especially during the mid-day hours of 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.  In addition to limiting sun exposure, experts advise protecting yourself with hats and cover-ups, in addition to the use of sunscreen.  According to the New York Times article:

“Sunscreen is not a magic bullet,” said Dr. Steven Q. Wang, director of dermatologic surgery and dermatology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Basking Ridge, N.J. “It’s just one of the defenses against the harmful effect of UV radiation, and that message gets lost.”

Be sure to read the label of any sunscreen you buy.  “Broad spectrum protection”  means the sunscreen has been proved to protect against both UVA and UVB rays, although UVA protection may be somewhat weaker.  Any product with an SPF lower than 15 must also carry a warning stating that it will not protect against skin cancer.

Here are some guidelines for protecting yourself against the harmful effects of the sun while enjoying the outdoors year-round.

  • Get into the habit of wearing sunscreen daily.  The sun is now recognized to be the primary cause of skin aging.  Winter, summer and even overcast days call for sunscreen, as the sun’s UV light can and does get through on cloudy days. In fact, some UV rays can penetrate through glass, so you need to apply protection even when indoors or driving.  It all counts.
  • Be sure to read labels and choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen, which blocks both UVA and UVB rays, with an SPF of at least 30.
  • Babies younger than 6 months should be kept out of the sun completely, as their skin is especially sensitive. When outdoors, keep them covered and in the shade.  Sunscreen should not be applied on infants.
  • Try to keep older children inside when the sun’s rays are strongest, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.  According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, a bad sunburn in childhood can double the risk of melanoma later in life.
  • Look for products that contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as active ingredients.  These actually form a physical barrier to the sun’s rays, although they may leave a whitish residue on skin.
  • Finally, be sure that you are applying enough sunscreen and re-applying it every two hours when outdoors. How much is enough? It takes 1 ounce of sunscreen, which is enough to fill a shot glass, to protect your body properly.   And don’t forget less obvious areas, such as hands, feet and neck, where skin is thinner and even more vulnerable to the sun’s rays.

By following these guidelines, and using a little common-sense, you don’t have to curtail your outdoor activities, whether you’re on the beach or on the slopes.   Enjoy the outdoors!