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/

Balance and Personal Boundaries

More often than not, when I ask others what they struggle with the most, the topic of work-life balance comes up.   Work vs. personal time, family time, the to-do list, errands,  maintaining friendships, time to exercise and for self-care, downtime – the list seems endless. How to make time for it all?  And what the heck is work-life balance, anyway?

The idea of work-life balance probably means different things to different people.  For simplicity’s sake, let’s think of it as how we spend our time and what that looks like.  Unless we are full-time moms (or dads) or retired, most of us spend a certain amount of time at “work,” be that at a workplace or on our businesses and careers.  The additional time that we devote to family, household responsibilities, pleasurable activities, fitness, hobbies or community/spiritual activities makes up the rest.  Fortunately, the notion that we can have/do it all seems to have fallen by the wayside in recent years.  The reality is that most of us have to prioritize what is most important to us, and that is where the topic of personal boundaries comes in.

A personal boundary is, simply, what you choose to allow into your life, or not.  If you say yes to one thing, generally you will have to say no to something else. For example, if you choose to work late two nights in a row, you end up missing dinner with your family.  If you choose to sleep that extra-half hour in the morning, you won’t have time for your morning run.  It’s all about choices, and the reality is that most of us don’t do it perfectly or even close to that.  Here are some ideas on finding what works for you when it comes to making those choices.

  • There are lots of things we can’t control in life – the weather, occasional work pressures, other people.   Knowing that, focus your time and attention on things you can control.  You may not be able to extend that project deadline for Friday at 5:00 pm, but you can wake up 30 minutes earlier to make sure you get your morning run in or plan a relaxing dinner out with your spouse to unwind for the weekend.  Plus, you’ll have something to look forward to beyond that deadline, and that’s a mood booster.
  • See the big picture.  When we are in the middle of a busy day or week, it’s easy to get caught up in what is going on in the moment, and lose sight of our bigger aims.  When you’re asked to contribute your time or energy to an activity, train yourself to pause before responding automatically.  If you agree to put in time at work on Saturday, is there something important that you will have to give up?  Are you willing to do that?  Is there another option?  Think of it this way – whenever you say yes to something, you are saying no to something else.  Is what you are saying yes to worth the cost of what you are saying no to? 
  • Take stock of how you are currently spending your time.  Are there activities or people that continually feel draining to you?  Are you wasting time on the internet or social media?  That’s a common occurrence these days but is it really how you want to spend your time?  Make a conscious effort to become more aware of how you spend your day, and limit or drop those activities that don’t enhance the quality of your life.
  • What about those things that we all have to do– grocery shopping, laundry, errands and the like?  Are there more efficient ways to use your time, such as ordering online?  One person I know utilizes drugstore.com for ordering miscellaneous household necessities, and saves herself an extra trip to the store every week or two.

    Many grocery stores now deliver, and there are dry cleaners that pickup and deliver, too.  If you work full-time, having someone to clean your house a couple times a month can free you up to do what you love on the weekend, or create a space for much-needed downtime.  Hire a handyman for a day to come in and take care of all those nagging chores you never seem to get to.  The price you pay for the additional help can be worth its weight in gold in terms of the time you save.
  • Little things can mean a lot.   Research on happiness shows that the most contented among us share common characteristics.  They have close connections with family and friends, tend to savor life’s pleasures, exercise regularly, enjoy helping others, and exhibit gratitude for what they have.  Taking even 10 minutes out of your day to connect with a friend, extend a hand, or enjoy some time outside in the sunshine, can contribute enormously to your sense of balance and wellbeing.

Creating boundaries around your time and how you spend it doesn’t have to be complicated.  It’s more about awareness and making choices.  Think about what you value most, and begin to operate from that, even in small ways.  That’s the first step, because once you know what’s most important to you, making those choices gets a lot easier.

Coach’s action step:    Pick any one of the above ideas and try it for a week.  Notice if it makes any difference in your sense of well-being.  If it does, keep doing it. 

Breakfast & My Go-To Smoothie Recipe

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

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

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

Favorite Smoothie

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things I’ve Learned: Part II

You can’t build a house without a solid foundation. A proper house foundation does more than just hold the house above ground. It keeps out the elements, and keeps the entire structure strong against whatever might come its way.  It’s built to last.  I’ve found the same to be true for just about anything in life.  A child raised without a solid foundation of support early in life will likely struggle later.  Same goes for a career or business, a marriage, a weight-loss plan – most endeavors we consider worthwhile.

What makes for a solid foundation may look different, depending on the individual, but it has to be there.  Some people find their foundation in their faith or spirituality, others in strong family support, or education.  Values such as honesty, integrity, loyalty and compassion can all be part of a personal foundation.  Businesses thrive on having a clear objective, a mission, with the appropriate training, systems and management in place to support continued growth.  Without these, the business is in danger of collapsing.

From time to time, I have found it helpful to pause and reflect:   Am I keeping my foundation strong?  My foundation includes my spirituality, my personal values, my family, close friends, my health and wellness, including exercise, sleep and fun, my work and my continued learning.  When any of those are out of sync, I feel it and that’s when cracks in my foundation can start to appear.  By keeping my foundation relatively strong on an ongoing basis, I’m prepared to weather what might come my way.  What do you need to keep your foundation strong?

A commitment to yourself is a commitment.  Most of us are pretty good at keeping commitments to those around us that we care about. What about those commitments you make to yourself?   Do you place the same importance on them, or do you tend to blow them off, make them less significant?

A dear friend said those words to me once, and I’ve never forgotten them.  I was in the middle of a particularly busy time, and feeling more than a little overwhelmed.  She asked me where I could have some breathing room and I’m sure I must have stared at her blankly.  She then said those words to me, and suggested it might help to take a look at what was essential for me to be at my best and function effectively, and make those things just as important.  I’ve tried to keep this in mind ever since and take my personal commitments (exercise, downtime, and the like) just as seriously as I do the commitments I make in other areas of my life.  If I need a quiet night at home, that’s what I do.  If I have time set aside for a workout, that’s my commitment.  I’ve learned that if I’m not taking care of myself, I can’t be at my best for anyone and the commitments I have to my wellbeing are every bit as important as the ones I make to others.

Doing nothing can be as important as doing something.  I used to think if a problem occurred, I had to do something, take some action or steps toward fixing it. Sometimes that’s true.  There are problems that absolutely require immediate attention, or steps toward a solution.  Over time, though, I’ve found out that there can be another way, and it can be just as effective: doing nothing.

What that looks like can be different depending on the circumstance.  Sometimes it means pausing, taking a breath, a step back, and waiting.  I’ve sometimes found that problems resolve themselves this way, without my having had to take any action.  For example, I get a phone call later in the day that the issue was solved.  Even if it becomes clear that I need to step in, taking some time to think about the best course enables me to come up with a more effective solution than if I had acted right away. I save myself time and energy.  Next time a dilemma presents itself and you’re not sure what to do, wait and see what develops before acting.  You may find the problem disappears all by itself, or a better solution occurs to you after taking time to respond.

Sleep is just as important as any component of a wellness plan.  It’s no secret that Americans are sleep-deprived.  Sleep is as vital to health as proper nutrition and exercise.  While you sleep, damaged cells are repaired, the immune system is revitalized, and your energy and brain power are recharged.  Sleep encourages glowing skin, a sunnier mood, and stable weight.  Lack of sleep over time has been linked to depression, anxiety, Type II diabetes, even stroke.  Chronic sleep deprivation may cause weight gain by affecting the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates, and by altering levels of hormones that affect our appetite.

The general recommendation for adequate sleep is 7 to 8 hours for adults, but the need for sleep is highly individual.  How you feel the next day is the best indicator; you may need more or less.  The bottom line for me is that I try not to skimp on sleep – being rested makes a huge difference in how much I enjoy my day.

From time to time, I may share other thoughts on what has contributed to my living more fully, more healthfully, and happily.   In the meantime, if there are life lessons that have been helpful to you on your own path, please share them with me.  I’m learning all the time!

Coach’s action step:  What is an important lesson you have learned over the course of your life?  How has this lesson impacted you?  How does it benefit you today?  Is it something you might pass on for others’ benefit?

5 Tips for Your Best Life Today

There is new research coming out all the time on what makes for a healthy life, as well as more information on what constitutes a wellness lifestyle. Here are five ideas that you can implement today that will make a difference in your overall health and happiness. Experiment by trying one a day for the next five days and notice the difference it makes for you. I guarantee that incorporating even one of these will benefit you – your energy, wellbeing and mood!

1. Get outside. We all know that regular exercise can help you live longer, look better and have more energy. It will help you manage your weight, increase your stamina, and keep you happier and smarter. It will lower your risk of disease, keep you strong and help you sleep better. A growing body of research also shows that outdoor activity can benefit you both physically and psychologically. Studies show that working out in nature — removed from the typical stressors of daily life — boosts mood and lowers tension, anxiety and stress levels. Spring is here, so take advantage of the change in weather – take your workouts outside to enjoy these benefits.

2. Meditate. Science is zeroing in on what eastern philosophies such as yoga have known for centuries – meditation can provide physical and biological benefits that can stave off stress and disease. Stress-induced conditions such as hypertension, infertility, depression, anxiety, even the aging process – all can benefit. Far from being a mysterious or esoteric practice, the kinds of things that occur during meditation produce beneficial effects throughout the body, not just in the brain. Even a short period of meditation combined with breathing techniques can be beneficial. There are lots of good basic books on beginning a meditation practice, as well as introductory classes in most communities. It can help you to be happier and healthier. Why not give it a go?

3. Eat clean. This isn’t about a diet; it’s about how you eat. What does eating clean mean? For starters, it’s about eating food in its most natural state, or as close to it as one can. Think fresh or steamed vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, whole grains. If your budget allows, choose organic when possible. It’s also about avoiding processed and refined foods such as white flour, sugar, and breads. Anything high in saturated and trans fats, anything fried, high in sugar, or highly processed is not a clean food. Lots of water. Easy-peasy.

4. Sleep. In today’s fast-paced world, getting a good night’s sleep sometimes falls by the wayside in favor of keeping up with all the to-do’s on our list. Yet, getting a good night’s sleep is critical to health and well-being. Lack of sleep can impact our metabolism function, in turn contributing to weight gain, as well as our immune systems, mood, memory, learning, and other vital functions. Studies show that getting inadequate sleep puts us at greater risk for a variety of diseases and health problems. We usually know what we need to feel at our best – the recommended range is 7 to 9 hours per night, and can vary from one person to the next. The bottom line – sleep matters and needs to be as much of a priority as nutrition and exercise if we want to function at our best.

5. Connect. Studies show that people with a healthy social community have nearly a 50 percent greater likelihood of survival than people without. Having a healthy community of support in family, friends and peers helps foster a sense of belonging, helps in coping with stress, increases your sense of self-worth, and an increased feeling of security. One of my favorite quotes is by the late Chris Peterson, a renowned psychologist and leader in the positive psychology movement: “Other people matter. Period.”

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.