Happy Halloween and Headspace Review

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!

You’ve Always Had the Power

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.

The Ruby Slippers at a public unveiling of the screen-used Ruby Slippers from the Wizard of Oz, taken on: November 14th, 2011 ...© Sbukley | Dreamstime.com - Solange Azagury-Partridge Photo

The Ruby Slippers at a public unveiling of the screen-used Ruby Slippers from the Wizard of Oz, taken on: November 14th, 2011 …© Sbukley | Dreamstime.com – Solange Azagury-Partridge Photo

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.

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/