Discipline is Freedom

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.

enjoyingthescenerySelf-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.

Clean Eating

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.

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photos-fresh-organic-fruits-vegetables-table-image36245578Eating clean isn’t complicated, but it does take some forethought and planning.  Here are some basics to get you started:

  • 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.

Time For a Change?

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.

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photos-waiting-sign-action-happiness-bright-future-image37904038Coaching, 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.

Your Foundation

I think it’s super important for coaches – at least for this one – to walk their talk. I’m a big believer in the benefits to body and mind that come from breaks in our routines.  In that spirit, I am taking some time off for a holiday to enjoy time with my family and am re-running one of my very first blogs, in case you missed it the first time around (or need a refresher, as we all do at times!)  Enjoy!

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Everyone is busy these days.  We’re juggling family, home, work, school and social obligations with the never-ending list of things “to-do” we have on our plate – grocery shopping, household tasks, and getting the kids to the dentist. Some of us may be concerned with getting Mom or Dad to the dentist or grocery store, too, in this day of the “sandwich generation.” Finding the time to do it all and take care of ourselves in the process can feel overwhelming.  Add the stresses of an uncertain economy in recent years, and taking the right care of ourselves can easily get lost in the shuffle.

Yet, there’s nothing more important.  Taking care of yourself, feeling well, giving our bodies good fuel and exercise is what makes all the other things possible.  Our health and well-being are fundamental.  Think of what happens when you are hit with the flu.  Everything stops, you can’t work or get anything done because, well, you can’t move.   And with the flu, at least you know it will pass (even though it doesn’t feel like it at the moment…..) What about a warning from your doctor that you really need to get that extra 20 pounds off? Or something more serious?  Even if your health doesn’t seem to be overtly affected now, if you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed in your daily life, how much fun is that?

Your health, your well-being, is the foundation of the rest of your life.  Making time to eat right, exercise, sleep and enjoy some down time isn’t a luxury. It’s basic.  How well can you really do the rest of your life when you struggle with your weight, a chronic lack of energy, or unhealthy behaviors? Maybe you are constantly catching the latest bug, often a result of too much stress and decreased resistance. A certain amount of stress in life is unavoidable and can actually be desirable (think new baby, or finally landing that dream job) but chronic stress over time takes a toll on health and well-being.

The good news is that while certain life situations and circumstances may be beyond our control, there are things we can all do to ensure that we are in the best shape possible to meet those challenges and enjoy our daily round.  True wellness is about much more than eating well and exercising. How are you living your life?  The choices we make today affect not only how we live today, but how well we live in the future.  Getting older doesn’t have to mean getting old!  Many of the factors that predict good health and longevity are within your control.  And those are the factors that contribute not only to successful aging, but living well now.

Some of those factors are obvious, and we all know what they are – eating right, getting adequate exercise, not smoking or quitting if we do.  Other factors may not be discussed quite as often but can be just as vital to our well-being. For example, we all know that we need to get enough sleep to function at our optimum, but did you know that not getting enough sleep can contribute to weight gain?  Various research studies, including a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, show evidence supporting a link between sleep deprivation and weight gain. There are a few possible explanations for this. Some studies have shown that sleep-deprived people burn fewer calories. Another explanation may be that when people are tired, they are less likely to make healthy food choices.  Still another explanation involves hormones. A lack of sleep causes an increase in the hormone, ghrelin, which stimulates appetite.  Simultaneously, there is a decrease in the hormone, leptin, which helps one feel full.  Not getting enough sleep has also been tied to a higher risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and breast cancer.  Add to that the fact that you will simply look and feel better, and it’s obvious that getting enough rest should be high on anyone’s priority list.  Getting enough sleep is a basic element of good health.

Running is a great way to stay fit and it’s portable, so you can do it anytime and anywhere!

Don’t shortchange yourself.  What you do is important.  You are important. And you are important to the people around you. Get a good foundation for the rest of your life.

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/