Let’s be honest. How often have you heard someone (maybe even you?) say something like: “It’s normal to gain weight at the holidays,” or “Who doesn’t gain weight on vacation?” Granted, there are absolutely going to be more opportunities to eat, drink and be merry this time of year, and no one is arguing that vacations are the time to let go of routine. Lots of pleasure in life comes from times when we gather over a meal with family and friends.
I’m just wondering if there are times that we subtly give ourselves permission or explain away unhealthy behaviors that we’re trying to change because “it’s that time of year,” or “everyone else does the same thing.” Is that really true? Or are we making excuses? Setting ourselves up for a fall?
With Christmas just around the corner, it might be a good time to examine your mindset about how you approach your healthy lifestyle habits at this time of year. Do they fall by the wayside completely? Do you tell yourself it’s no use, you’ll get back on track in January? Is it “not your fault” because you are just inundated with delicious goodies everywhere you go (and you don’t want to be rude……)
Here are some ideas and strategies to help you stay on track and enjoy the pleasures of the season:
- Ok, the holidays are filled with an abundance of occasions to eat, drink, and stay out late. Whatever the occasion, we’re likely to enjoy it most if we’re at our best. If we’re overdoing it on anything (food, drink, not getting enough rest and sleep, or whatever) there’s just no way we’re going to be at the top of our game. And isn’t that especially important at this time of year so that we can truly enjoy the season? Keeping a “big picture” perspective might be useful here, such as: “How am I going to feel tomorrow if I overindulge tonight?” Is it really worth it?
- The “I blew it today, I might as well go ahead and really blow it,” syndrome. This is usually followed by “Oh, well, I can start again tomorrow…..” or “What the heck…..I’m going to enjoy the holiday, my time off, etc.” Invariably, when tomorrow comes, it’s harder to get back on track then you anticipated, or you end up upset with yourself come January 2nd because here you go again, starting over……..The antidote: Don’t use going off the rails as an excuse to really go off the rails.
- You have a choice. You really do. If you’re done eating and you’re still being offered food, a polite “I can’t eat another bite. Everything was delicious,” is all that’s necessary. Really.
- Ultimately, parties – and the season – are about people. This is the time of year to connect – with family, friends, and those people who add meaning to our lives. Here’s where redefining our idea of a holiday gathering can come in handy. Try moving away from the buffet table once you’ve eaten, and focus your energies on the celebration and conversation. That’s why you’re there, right?
- Plan ahead. If dinner is at 4:00 pm, you’re not going to want a big lunch. If you’re going to a late party, have a snack of fruit and cheese at 5:00 pm so that you don’t arrive famished. If you know there’s a special dish you love, go ahead and have a serving, but not seconds. Planning ahead keeps you from making a less-than-healthy choices when you are over-tired, rushed or starved.
Your mindset determines your outcome. All the “diet tips and tricks” in the world won’t do you any good without the right mindset. Deciding that, while you may not lose any weight during the holidays, you will hold at your current weight may be just the “mindset” goal that you need. Having that mindset – that big picture thinking – can serve to direct your choices and help you make ones that will take you through the season feeling your best and ready to go on January 2nd!
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.”
University 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.”
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!
If you’ve ever seen The Wizard of Oz, it’s hard to forget the scene when Dorothy is waiting for Glinda the Good Witch to arrive and send her home to Kansas. She’s been trying to get home for the better part of the movie, and finally help has arrived. When Glinda does show up, Dorothy finds out she could have found her way home all along, without the help of Glinda or anyone else. She always had the power. She just had to discover that for herself.
It’s a great metaphor for life. Who hasn’t waited for something or someone – a person, place or thing – to come along because when “it happens,” then, we’ll finally find happiness/contentment/freedom from ____________(you fill in the blank.) And guess what – we are happy, at least for a while. Over time, though, we tend to adapt to the new situation and most of us, research has shown, return to a somewhat inherent basic “set point” of happiness.
Recent research also shows that our level of happiness and contentment is typically influenced 50% by genetics, and 10% by our life circumstances – that is, income, where we live, whether we are single or married, etc. That leaves 40% where we get to have some say and that’s the good news because here is where our choices and our behavior are in the driver’s seat.
That 40% piece of the pie is where we have the power to influence our days and our futures for good. So how can we make the most of it?
- First off, you have to know that you do, indeed, have the power. We’ve all met the guy (or gal) who walks through life with the slightly droopy affect and posture, and proclaims: “This is just me. It’s just the way I am.” Genetically speaking that may be, to some extent, true. But we all have the power to make choices that influence our sense of well-being and happiness, both on a daily basis, and over time.
- When was the last time you engaged in an activity for the sheer joy of it? If you’re struggling to remember, it may be time to add some of that back into your life more regularly. It’s easy to get caught up in our daily rounds of work, kids, chores, errands, pickups and deliveries. But what if you gave yourself the gift of an hour – or an afternoon – to do something you love every week or two. It could be just getting cozy with a good book and a fire, or a Sunday drive with your partner to see the fall colors. I once had an attorney friend who had a standing plan to horseback ride in the country every Sunday morning, a far cry from her normal workweeks. It fed her soul and gave her joy, because she made a conscious decision to make it part of the landscape of her life. Choose to bring activities into your life that you feel happy doing. The more you do this, the better you will feel; the better you feel, the stronger your overall sense of wellbeing.
- Just because you have free time doesn’t mean you have to fill it with the next thing on your to-do list. When we find ourselves with an unexpected block of free time, it’s tempting to use it to “get things done.” If you have a good friend you don’t have enough time to see, how about a spontaneous invite for coffee or a walk? Or an afternoon movie, if you close the office early or an appointment cancels. These are things that we can consciously do to add more pleasure into our days, and that add up over time to create our “life.”
- It’s all about people. Research shows that those of us who have strong connections with others – family, friends and community – tend to feel the best about themselves, their lives and the world around them.
- Move. There is no substitute for physical activity if you want to feel better, look better, and have more energy. If you incorporate regular exercise into your life you will simply live better, and you may live longer. It’s about as close to a fountain of youth as there is.
- Express your appreciation to the people around you. When we let others know they matter to us, we strengthen our relationships with them. Taking time to reflect on the gratitude we have for others benefits us as well, because we are the beneficiaries of the positive and warm feelings these thoughts generate.
So what’s the takeaway? One of the basic aims of positive psychology is to build well-being, and building well-being is possible by making conscious choices about our behaviors and attitude. We don’t have to wait – for Glinda, or that new job, or the right relationship, or anything really. You have the power to live the good life now. You always have.
Fall is always a time when I feel energized. I’m not sure if it’s conditioning from childhood – back to school time – or the cooler, crisper days, but I always feel inspired and ready for new ideas and projects at this time of year. With that in mind, the notion of the importance of self-discipline (which often gets a bad rap) came to mind.
I have no idea where I first heard the phrase, “Discipline is freedom.” I do know that it was a game changer for me. Up until that time I think I felt, as many do, that discipline meant deprivation, tedium, no fun at all! In coaching, we use a skill called “reframe,” which means to take information and look at it in a new way, from another perspective. Looking at discipline as “freedom” was a huge reframe for me, and one I’ve benefitted from ever since.
Self-discipline is essential to success, whatever the goal. When you look at anyone who’s achieved a high degree of success in their chosen field, you can bet that being disciplined played an important role in getting them there. In this age of instant and on-demand, it’s to get caught up in “I should be able to have/do this yesterday,” kind of thinking but that’s not how real life usually works. Yes, choosing immediate gratification over long-term accomplishment may feel good – in the moment. Choosing a cupcake over a fruit cup may seem like a good idea at the time, but isn’t going to work in favor of your weight loss goals over the long-term. The new suit that makes you look and feel fabulous may not feel quite as fab when your credit card bill arrives, and there goes your vacation deposit – again. Running a marathon is probably going to challenge your determination – big time – somewhere around mile 20 (give or take a few miles.) Hitching a ride back from your sister may alleviate the immediate pain, but so much for the finish line. You get the idea.
So how can we develop the type of discipline that enables us to not only achieve our goals but enjoy the journey?
- First, some good news to motivate you. A study first published in the Journal of Personality, and reported in Time magazine, found a high correlation between high levels of self-control and life satisfaction. In other words, those among us with higher self-discipline tend to be happier and more content in their lives generally. Think about that!
- Cost vs. benefit. When you find yourself in a problematic situation, ask yourself: Is the short term pleasure I am about to experience worth the long-term price I’ll pay? Focusing on the long-term is the way to go.
- Set yourself up for success. If you decide in advance of your best friend’s big birthday dinner that second helpings are a no-no, you’ve made a decision that will eliminate the need to decide in a moment of weakness. You can go and have a good time knowing you have a plan in place. If you are trying to stop drinking, having lunch in a bar isn’t the best idea. Part of having good self-control is setting yourself up to avoid problem situations in the first place. Not exposing yourself to temptation is a great way to do that.
- You may have heard the saying “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.” Now, no one’s saying you’re nutty, but think about that one. If you want different results in your life, you are going to have to do things differently. That’s just reality. Think about what you’ve been doing so far. Is it getting you what you want?
- Lose the excuses. “I don’t have enough time” is a familiar one for most of us. How about: “I really blew it today, I’ll start again tomorrow.“ The fact is that most of us make the time for the priorities in our life. And if you ate something not on your plan at lunch, starting again “tomorrow” can disguise giving yourself a free pass for the rest of the day. The bottom line is honesty with yourself.
Having self-discipline can make or break you when it comes to achieving what you want in life, whether that’s attaining a promotion, running a marathon, or getting enough sleep. It’s the key to realizing the kind of freedom that ensures you are at your best.
More and more people are making the shift to eating healthier, unprocessed, whole foods. Farm-to-table restaurants, which emphasize locally sourced, seasonal ingredients, are gaining in popularity. Processed foods a/k/a convenience foods often contain excessive amounts of sugar, fat and/or sodium, and consuming these foods regularly can lead to health problems such as heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, and cancer.
Enter clean eating. Clean eating is, very simply, eating food as close to its natural state as possible. And it’s not so much about restriction. Eating clean is making positive choices about what we eat so that we feel better, look better, and live healthier. It’s also about eating well – fresh, locally grown foods taste better, and have more nutritional integrity since they don’t lose nutrients in the shipping process.
- Fruits and vegetables are mainstays of a clean diet. The latest dietary recommendations are for five to thirteen servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Variety is key for optimal health benefits, so don’t be afraid to mix it up. Try peaches, nectarines, apricots, oranges, blueberries, strawberries, bananas, melons. A salad of leafy greens is a delicious way to include vegetables – make it a habit to include one at lunch or dinner. A vegetable stir fry is a great side or main dish, as is a market mix of seasonal vegetables roasted lightly with olive oil.
- Protein is an important component of a clean diet – it helps build muscle, and keeps you feeling fuller longer. Look for lean meats (grass-fed when possible.) Organic free-range chicken raised without antibiotics or hormones, or wild caught salmon are also great choices. Nuts – almonds, walnuts, cashews, pecans – are loaded with nutrients and fiber, and are also a good source of protein.
- Whole grains. Whole grain foods are packed with nutrients including protein, fiber, B vitamins, antioxidants, and trace minerals (iron, zinc, copper, and magnesium). White breads and pasta are processed, and high in refined carbohydrates. Learn to read labels, and choose whole-grain breads, cereals, English muffins over white and refined. Try brown rice, and choose whole wheat pasta. Start your day with a bowl of whole grain cereal. Simple changes like these are easy ways to start to make the shift.
- Healthy fats. Processed foods typically contain trans fats from partially hydrogenated oil, and foods such as butter, ice cream, and red meats contain high amounts of saturated fats, which can increase the risk of disease. Opt for monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats – “the good fats” – which lower disease risk. Foods high in good fats include vegetable oils, such as olive, corn and canola, as well as nuts, seeds, and fish, such as salmon and anchovies.
- Water. Water is an essential component of clean eating. It keeps your organs functioning properly, and detoxifies. It hydrates cells, and affects both physical and mental performance. There are differing opinions on how much is enough, but the general recommendation is often in the area of 64 ounces a day (eight 8 oz glasses.) Some of this can include juice, but the more pure water you can drink, the better. Drink it often.
Adopting a clean way of eating can make a huge difference in how you look and feel. Besides improved health, eating this way can help you better manage your weight over time and eliminating processed, unhealthy foods offers benefits in the form of reduced risk of disease. You’ll have better energy, be more productive, and sleep better. And fresh, real food simply tastes better. Begin a cleaner style of eating, and experience it for yourself.
Are you in a rut? Still struggling to get to the next level in your career? Not happy with your relationship, or the lack of one? At wit’s end with your kids? Maybe you’ve started an exercise program – again, and again, and again………. Guess what? There’s a coach for that!
Nowadays, there’s a coach for practically anything you want to improve upon in yourself. Life coaches, dating and relationship coaches, career coaches, parenting coaches, weight loss coaches, health coaches, ADHD coaches – the list goes on. Once reserved for athletes and sports teams, coaches today help their clients to achieve success in their career, relationships, or health and wellness.
Coaching, when all is said and done, is about change. It’s about achieving a specific end, developing a skill, reaching a new place, improving some aspect of your self or your life. Often, a client will seek out coaching to achieve a goal that they have been unable to achieve on their own – perhaps they seek to lose weight or quit smoking. It’s been on their minds for a long time. But are they really ready to change? How can they know? And why is permanent change often so elusive? And what’s with the two steps forward, one step back that often seems to accompany change?
Change, it turns out, can have fairly predictable, sequential features and knowing what these are – and which stage you are in – can be key not only to making changes, but being successful in maintaining those changes.
The way change unfolds in stages is detailed in Changing for Good, written in 1994 by psychology researchers James Prochaska, Ph.D., John Norcross, Ph.D., and Carlo Diclemente, Ph.D. Their six stages of change has become a respected model applied to a range of behaviors and circumstances. The stages of change model has been used in programs designed for quitting smoking, weight loss, beginning an exercise program, drug or alcohol dependence, delinquency in adolescents, and many other groups. The National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Drug Abuse are only two of the recognized programs that have adopted its use.
So what is it? The stages of change model or Transtheoretical Approach consists of these distinct stages:
- Precontemplation: Precontemplators are very often those that either deny having a problem or have no intention of changing a problem behavior that they admit may exist.
- Contemplation: Contemplators are able to acknowledge that they have a problem but are not quite ready to deal with it. They recognize that the difficulty exists, are beginning to think about possible solutions, but are still a ways off from moving forward in any concrete way.
- Preparation: Individuals who are in the preparation stage are getting ready to take action in the immediate future, and are beginning to make necessary adjustments. Examples of this may be creating a plan, shoring up support among friends or family, or clearing unhealthy foods and snacks from cupboards.
- Action: This is where you make your move. You begin to change your behavior and start practicing the new behavior you want to adopt. You put down the cigarettes, you put into practice your new eating plan. This is the stage that requires the most from you in terms of energy and focus.
- Maintenance: Change doesn’t end with the action stage. Maintenance is a vital stage where you continue to integrate and solidify your new behaviors. The tendency to lapse back into the old behavior may still be strong, and vigilance to maintain the new way is important. This stage can last anywhere from six months to a lifetime.
- Termination: There is debate about this stage but, in essence, this stage is when the problem behavior or addiction no longer poses any real temptation. The discussion over termination lies in the fact that one can stop a behavior (i.e., stop smoking cigarettes) but may have to remain somewhat alert to the possibility of temptation and relapse indefinitely. One can lose 15 pounds, and yet there is also the reality that one can gain it back if they return to former eating patterns. Regardless, in this stage the problem is no longer an issue and there is a certain degree of consistency and confidence in the new behaviors.
One of the major findings of this approach is that knowing what stage you are in is key to successful change. Research by the authors consistently showed that “people who try to accomplish changes they are not ready for set themselves up for failure.” Spending too much time in any one stage – contemplation, for example, can lead to paralysis and a continuing substitution of thinking for action. Leaping into action too quickly without the proper foundation of support and preparation can lower your chance of success.
So what’s the takeaway? True change is a process that takes place over time. Knowing what stage you are in can help you to successfully prepare for and navigate to the next stage, and the next. When we identify an area of our life where change needs to take place, the assumption is that we would like that change to be lasting. Using the information contained in these stages can guide you on your path, and stack the odds for success in your favor.
Source: Changing for Good: A Revolutionary Six-Stage Program for Overcoming Bad Habits and Moving Your Life Positively Forward, (1994) James O. Prochaska, Ph.D., John C. Norcross, Ph.D, and Carlo C. Diclemente, Ph.D.