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.

What We Can Learn From Vermonters

One of my favorite vacations ever was a bicycle trip through the state of Vermont some years back. I spent 5 days biking from one quaint village town to another, enjoying the peaceful Vermont countryside and picnic lunches along the way. Each night was spent at a different bed-and-breakfast, charming and antique-filled, with wonderfully prepared meals and time to relax on the porch or explore after dinner. A beautiful state and great memories. I also recall being struck by the vitality of the people I met there, so it was no surprise when I read that a recent Gallup poll ranked Vermont first in two areas of major importance to optimal health: diet and exercise.

I’m a big believer in keeping things as simple as possible, so here are a couple simple ways to incorporate healthier habits into your life today, courtesy of the state of Vermont.

• Go for shorter workouts. The majority of adults in the state of Vermont report exercising three or more days a week for at least 30 minutes. (Hawaii and Montana placed second and third.) Physical activity and the outdoors is a way of life in this state, and Vermonters spend lots of time being active at both work and play.

Even a few short exercise sessions a week boosts metabolism, improves heart health, and helps you stay strong. Exercise sessions can be broken up throughout the day, as long as each session lasts at least 10 minutes. (Research shows that exercising in ten-minute increments at a moderate intensity can be just as effective as exercising for 30 minutes straight.) Walking or biking to and from work, to lunch or class, or after dinner all count. Shorter workouts also have the advantage of being easier to add into your day. You may not have time on a Tuesday for an hour at the gym, but you can likely find 20 minutes for a brisk walk or jog. Doing something is always better than doing nothing and it all adds up.

• Eat your vegetables. The Gallup poll also found that residents of Vermont consume the most produce on a regular basis. Over 67% of Vermonters stated that they ate at least five servings of vegetables four or more days per week. (Montana was second, and Washington state third.) Fresh and cooked vegetables add key nutrients and fiber, and vegetables overall are generally lower in calories. It’s probably no coincidence that Vermont also ranked in the lower one-third in state obesity rankings.

A salad with protein for lunch, or a side salad at dinner with an extra serving of steamed or grilled vegetables is an easy way to get your servings in. There are also lots of delicious vegetarian main dishes and soups on menus these days.

These healthful practices are easily incorporated into anyone’s life, and will help you live better, stronger and longer – no matter what state you’re in.

What to Look For When Choosing a Life Coach

Life coaching and life coaches have hit the mainstream in recent years.  Once reserved for athletes and executives, coaching of all kinds is now accessible to everyone.  There are coaches who specialize in health and wellness, business and career, relationships, parenting, leadership, retirement – the list goes on.

Because of the growing popularity of coaching and the growth of the profession in general, how to go about choosing a coach can be confusing or unclear.  And what, exactly, does a life coach do, anyway?

A life coach can be a powerful partner in helping you take your life to the next level.  Life coaching is NOT therapy and a reputable life coach will usually refer a potential client to a qualified professional if he/she feels this is necessary.

A life coach can help you to achieve your goals and move forward in your life more directly and purposefully.  A qualified coach will assist you in assessing your values, strengths, and deepest interests, and help you to create a plan to move forward with realistic steps and strategies.  A coach will also support you and help you to navigate the pitfalls and challenges that inevitably occur on the way to making a significant change or achieving a dreamed-of goal.

People who come to coaching do so because they have been unable to make a change or reach a goal on their own.  They may be successful in many aspects of their lives, but have a particular area that continues to frustrate them.  A properly trained coach can be an invaluable resource when it comes to achieving your aims.  So what’s the best way to find one?  Here are some suggestions.

  • Be an informed consumer and get educated.  There is an abundance of information about coaching out there – articles, websites, professional organizations.
  • Know your goal.  What is the result you are seeking from working with a coach?  Knowing your objectives is key in determining the type of coach you choose.  A coach that specializes in executive and leadership coaching will not have the same approach as one who specializes in small business coaching.
  • Interview a prospective coach before you decide.  Many coaches offer a complimentary session, in which you can ask questions and determine if you might be a good fit.  Be sure to ask about his or her experience, qualifications, skills and approach.  You can also ask a prospective coach for references.
  • Ask the coach about any specialized training they have or certifications they hold.  Not all certifications are created equally.  Some require months of training, some may require 2-3 years or more.

The International Coach Federation (ICF) is the leading globally recognized coaching organization, and requires that its members have  “completed stringent education and experience requirements and a dedicated commitment to excellence in coaching,”  including adherence to its standards and ethics.  The ICF website contains a wealth of useful information about coaching in general and can be found at http://www.coachfederation.org/.  Some universities, such as Columbia University, also offer their own certifications.

  • If you know the type of coach you are looking for (i.e., career, health and wellness) there are professional organizations and certifying bodies specifically dedicated to particular coaching niches.   Try the http://www.wellcoachesschool.com referral service.  Most reputable coaching programs, as well as the ICF, also contain referral databases.  Ones to try are the MentorCoach Training Program at http://www.mentorcoach.com/index.html; also the Coach Training Institute, http://www.thecoaches.com/.  Any professional organization should provide you, the prospective client, with the assurance that you will receive quality coaching so be sure to do your homework.
  • Ask for a referral.  If you know someone who has been working with a coach and had positive results, ask that person for the name of the coach they have been working with.  As mentioned earlier, most coaches will offer a 15-30 telephone consult to give you a chance to get to know them and how they work.

The coach you choose will be an important relationship, and you will be working closely with him or her.  Take your time and talk to more than one to get a feel for their philosophy and approach.  Selecting the right coach   can make all the difference in your success.  It’s an important decision and an investment in yourself.  Approach it as you would any important decision.  Hiring the right one could change your life for the better.

Coach’s action step:   Is there something in your life that you would like to change?    Maybe you are not feeling as fulfilled in your career as you once did.  Do you struggle in some area (losing weight, exercising, quitting smoking, relationships?)  Consider whether it might benefit you to have outside support in the form of a coach, group coaching, or accountability partner. If the answer is yes, make it a point to take one step forward this week towards finding the support you need.

Keep Your Workouts Going This Winter

As I’m writing this, it’s a sunny winter day and right around 50 degrees outside my window. A couple of weeks ago, though, it was -25 degrees one morning! Welcome to winter in Colorado. The state of Colorado has a bit of a reputation for extremes – extreme sports, extreme mountains, extreme beauty, and extreme weather, with good reason. During the course of a day hiking in the mountains, I have experienced warm sunshine, rain, hail and, by the time we got to the top, snow!
Winter has hit hard for a lot of us this year. One thing I hear a lot from clients is their difficulty keeping up with their exercise routines in the winter, particularly if they are used to working out outdoors. It can also be hard to get back into a routine when warm weather hits, once you’ve gotten out of the habit. I’m not crazy about going out for a run in sub-zero weather myself, and there are actually lots of options for colder weather workouts. Here are a few:

• After one particularly harrowing morning when, dressed in approximately 5 layers of clothing and a face mask, I slipped and slid down the street trying to run, the light bulb went on for me. I had contemplated the idea of getting a treadmill for those days when it was feeling too dicey to get out but this was the day the decision was made. I wasn’t having any fun, jogging was a challenge, and probably dangerous to boot. By the next week, I was the proud owner of a brand-new treadmill and enjoying my workouts overlooking the snowy scene before me in the comfort of my nice (warm!) basement. I’ve had one ever since, and it’s one of the best investments I’ve made.

If running or walking isn’t your thing, that’s ok. There’s a wide variety of aerobic exercise equipment available these days, at a range of price points. Try checking out an elliptical machine, a recumbent bicycle, or even a rowing machine. All of these offer an excellent cardio workout. Some companies even offer these types of equipment for lease with an option to purchase.

• Gyms and recreation centers offer a variety of cardio equipment. You can set up a seasonal membership and head back outside when it warms up.

• There are all sorts of fitness and aerobic workout classes out there these days. Classes are often included in a gym membership or offered at a nominal charge. There are also fitness centers and studios that offer classes. Try spin, Zumba, barre, or cardio kickboxing, to name just a few possibilities.

• If time or weather is an issue, workout DVD’s are another great option, and you can also find online fitness classes. There is something for everyone, at any fitness level, with any fitness goal. Try yoga, Pilates, circuit training, dance – the list is endless.

By now, you’re starting to get my point. There’s really no reason (excuse?) for you to get off track with your workout schedule during the winter months. (I didn’t even begin to go into outdoor options such as cross-county skiing or snowshoeing. Keyword – layers!) Staying fit and healthy is too important for every aspect of your life not to keep it up all year long.

Coach’s action step: We still have some winter to go and exercise, with its mood-boosting and stress-reducing components, is a great way to shake the February doldrums. Try one of the suggestions here, or create something of your own. Just keep at it. By the time spring comes, you won’t have to play catchup.

Love 2.0

Love is the theme of Valentine’s Day so let’s talk about it here today.  And not just romantic love – wonderful as that is – but love as a basis for our relationships with those we care about and for how we live our lives.  Let’s face it – is there any topic more popular?  We all grow up with our varied notions of love:  what it means, what it looks like, what the latest songs have to say about it.   By the time we’re adults, we are usually pretty fixed in our views of what love is, and what it isn’t.

In her recent, groundbreaking book, Love 2.0,:  Finding Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection, psychology researcher Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D., approaches love from a more global vantage point  – the vantage point of how this positive emotion can and does affect more than just our closer relationships.  According to Dr. Fredrickson, love is a renewable resource that affects our health and sense of well-being and connectedness to the world around us and to ourselves.  She’s spent years studying the effect of positive emotions and the emotion of love as director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.   After years of study on the topic, Dr. Fredrickson  has concluded that this healthy emotion literally affects our very biology and health  in ways previously unsuspected.  She states:  “The love you do or do not experience today may quite literally change key  aspects of your cellular architecture next season and next year – cells that affect your physical health, your vitality, and your overall wellbeing.”   Having loving connections in our lives literally makes us healthier.

Some of her other findings include:

  • Feelings of love can blossom virtually at any time between people when they reflect and connect over a shared positive emotion.  Dr. Fredrickson’s term for this is “positivity resonance.”  Simply put, love is connection.
  • Love builds resources.  It can make us more effective and productive, and more resilient.  It makes us wiser and more attuned to others.  It nourishes our bodies and builds stronger immune systems. 
  • Because love is a positive emotion, it broadens our awareness which can lead to an increase in problem-solving capabilities and creativity.
  • Opportunities for loving connections are everywhere – at home, at work, and in your community. These micro-moments of connection, as Fredrickson refers to them, can be intentionally created and cultivated in such ways as  being open, freely offering attention and interest, sharing thoughts and feelings, and staying present as the other person shares theirs.
  • In a larger sense, these micro-moments of love, of connection benefit both the giver and the recipient.  This back-and-forth helps not only the individuals involved but also, over time, can help establish and strengthen healthy communities and cultures.

So what’s the take-away for you?   In Fredrickson’s view, love is the supreme emotion and “perhaps the most essential emotional experience for thriving and health.”  Love “influences everything we feel, think, do, and become.”  Connect with others.  Care about them.  Stay in touch.  Pay a compliment. Smile, make eye contact.  Be open to everyday opportunities with those around you.  Share your stories and be present to others sharing theirs.  Barbara Fredrickson believes you have everything to gain.

Coach’s action step:   At least three times this week, seek out chances to connect with others in a spirit of warmth, caring and respect.  Notice and reflect on how these interchanges impact you. If you find yourself feeling a bit more uplifted, more positive, you may want to do this more often.