For the past four weeks, I've been collaborating with my friend, fellow martial artist, and personal trainer extraordinaire, Christine Eldridge, on a program called Whole Life Solution. It's a mix of fitness training and life coaching topics aimed at bringing about sustainable healthy changes. We have 10 enthusiastic participants, and I'm loving every minute of it. What happens in WLS stays in WLS, but let's just say that I'm learning a lot and enjoying the process of creating and delivering this program.
One concept that I'm teaching in both the group and with my individual clients is that of Limiting Beliefs. Here's the gist of it:
Consider this: Your mind is like a web browser. What you put into the search bar is extremely indicative of what you will get out. Think about cats as pets (I'm going for something controversial, but not political...haha). If you put "Cats are the best pets" into your search bar, you will get tons of pictures of cute and cuddly felines. However, if you put "Cats are the worst pets," you will get plenty of images like this:
Our brains are similar. For instance, if you think "I'm not an athlete" and that's how you identify, you will notice every time you stumble, get out of breath, miss a catch or do something clumsy. In fact, you probably won't even attempt physical activities because you have this limiting belief about yourself. All of this equals evidence that you are not an athlete, and the limiting belief becomes more solidified. However, if you start to think, "I can do this" or "I can become more athletic" or "I've got skills," you will flip the search and start to notice when you coordinate all your limbs or when you run up the stairs without feeling light-headed. You will be more likely to try athletic endeavors and you will be more forgiving of yourself when you do make mistakes.
We often tell kids that when they say "I can't," they are probably right. On the other hand, if those same children say "I can," they are also probably right. This is the power of your beliefs--what you believe about yourself, your abilities, and the greater world around you. As adults, we don't always take this to heart. We get jaded by negative feedback. We get set in our ways. We get trapped in a default version of our lives and fear the effort and response should we try to change things up. But the idea that we have to continue to live how we are currently living simply because we are adults is itself a limiting belief. It is NEVER too late to make positive changes. What limiting beliefs are holding you back? Start with your thoughts. Let me know if I can help.
Life coaching has changed my life. Honestly, I stumbled into it because it seemed to fit with my interests, skills, and lifestyle. I liked the idea of helping people live their best lives, being my own boss, and flexing my creative muscles to create workshops and exercises for clients. I know that some people think life coaching is a joke. One stranger on a facebook group we both belong to called life coaches "control freaks who bilk other people for money" or something along those lines. And to be honest, I don't blame him or anyone else for their skepticism. Because I once thought that life coaching seemed frivolous or even silly. Even as I signed up for classes to become one, I still found myself thinking, "Do people really need a coach to figure out their own lives?"
But I'm a believer. I've seen the power of spending time on self improvement. In my own life, I've become more compassionate and patient with myself and others, raised my awareness about my inner voice and the way I process emotions, and gotten better at setting meaningful goals and working diligently toward them. It truly works.
However, I believe another myth exists that life coaches are able to tackle all challenging circumstances full of positivity and self control, somehow immune to negative emotions. Yes, my mindset has gotten better, but I still struggle. Like last night...
My youngest was having a day. As you may know by now, she is the challenging, emotional one. I always joke that we've been dealing with the terrible twos for 5 years now. She's wonderful, but she busts my butt on the daily. Usually, she can have a melt down, stomp and slam and scream her way into her room, pet her cats to calm down, and come back downstairs with an attitude adjustment that lasts a while. Last night, however, she would reset only to come back and get all wound up again, for reasons that remain a mystery to the rest of the family. By the 3rd major fit in less than an hour, my sympathy and patience pots were nearly empty. I raised my voice, I got angry, and I told her that I was tired of her taking what should be a nice, relaxing (and rare) evening at home and creating fight after fight after fight over nothing. Now, I know that for her sensitive 7-year-old mind, it isn't "nothing," but I was done trying to understand.
Now I was stomping and sighing my way around the house. My husband came by and I started to air my grievances and worries about our youngest. She's only 7, after all, in a supportive and well resourced family. Her life isn't going to get any easier, and I want her to learn to cope and process before middle school homework, hormones and heartbreaks kick in. And as a life coach, I feel like I should be able to give her some tools. Goodness knows I'm trying. But on days like yesterday, I question my parenting, my ability to coach my daughter, and my ability to coach myself to handle it all better.
My husband is more stoic, patient and collected than I am, and he basically started coaching me about not engaging with her when she's in these moods and not letting her get to me and ruin my own good mood. Mind you, he's an ER doctor. While he was in no way attacking me and was actually accurately representing the situation, I didn't want to hear it. I was fighting to find ground to stand on that would allow me to default to my annoyance and anger. It didn't feel good, but it felt familiar and justified. And since I couldn't continue to argue with my daughter, I transferred my aggression to my husband. I tried to make my current anger my daughter's fault, and when he logically disputed that, I tried to make it his fault. Being angry was easier than admitting I was wrong.
"You're not helping," I finally said, exasperated.
He laughed it off, didn't engage, and walked away to let me process. That annoyed me too. He was handling me in the way I should've but failed to handle my daughter.
With time comes more rational thinking, and I can identify at least 5 better ways I could've handled the situation last night. My husband is right: it serves no-one when I get drawn into my 7 year old's drama. And when I let her ruin my day, I'm giving her more power than a 7 year old should have. I have coached a couple of clients to use the thought anchor "I've got the power" when they feel like their moods are easily influenced by the behaviors of others...yet there I was, giving all my power to a 2nd grader.
The point is this: Self improvement is damn hard. As I picked a fight with my husband, my rational mind was telling me, "He's right, you know." My emotional mind, however, was goading me: "You are justified. You should be mad. Show everyone how frustrated you are!"
I did reach some clarity through the process. I tend to exaggerate the importance of small moments. In the throes of my frustration and worries about my daughter, I felt like a parenting failure. Forget all the lovely moments we have, all the rave reviews from her teachers, all the growth I have seen in her...at that moment, everything was wrong.
"I hate to see you getting all mad and depressed over this," my husband said.
"I'm not depressed! This is just how I process!" (Loudly and with large gestures and tears in my eyes.)
You see, I'm coming to terms with the fact that emotions are not good or bad. They are simply emotions, and the human condition requires us to feel the full gamut. Fighting, ignoring or shaming the less pleasant ones just compounds the badness. I know myself pretty well by now, and I know that I have to let the emotions happen. My self-coaching work isn't in quashing the emotions. My work is in recognizing, feeling, and channeling the emotions into less destructive behavior. I don't need to scream and slam when I am angry. I can be angry and learn from my anger without throwing a fit. And ultimately, that's what I want to teach my daughter. Anger isn't bad. Anger is trying to tell you something. Allow the anger, but learn how to react in a less explosive way.
Finally, behavioral changes take time and practice. We come out wired a certain way, and our experiences solidify that wiring. Changing our wiring, especially if it's been there for decades, takes a lot of hard, uncomfortable work. Every time I feel angry, I have to practice feeling it without reacting to it. It is not a quick fix, but I know that it is one well worth pursuing. And fortunately, with my emotional child, I will continue to get a lot of practice.
Last week, I led a free workshop at the local library to help participants choose a "Guiding Word of the Year." This is one strategy to begin 2019 with intention. The idea is that you choose a word to focus on for the whole year. As you make big decisions, you think about your word. As you go about your daily business, you think about your word. The word becomes your compass as you decide what direction you will take throughout the year.
To prepare for my workshop, I tried a simplified version of the exercise with my daughters, ages 7 and 9. I asked them what they wanted to work on in 2019. What do you want to be better at? What kind of person do you want to be?
My children, while far from perfect, are somewhat self aware. So it's fitting that my smart and talented, but overly cautious and easily distractible eldest chose: DETERMINATION. My charismatic and social, but over-the-top emotional youngest chose SELF-CONTROL. While this is no magic fix (cue the stomping, screaming fit less than 20 minutes after we completed the activity), it does give us a common focal point and a place to start the discussion on making positive changes in behavior.
My workshop at the library was a fun one. I led seven women (where all the men at?!?) through a series of exercises to bring awareness and encourage brainstorming about areas of their lives that could use more intention. If you want to try it out, here are the steps you can take (adapted from this post):
1. Jot down answers to these questions. Do not edit or censor yourself.
-What could I use more of in my life?
-What could I use less of in my life?
-What characteristics would I like to have?
-How do I want to feel (more often than I do now)?
-What kind of person do I want to be?
*Funny side note: I completed the activities along with the others, and totally stumbled on the first question. I wrote what came to mind, and the first two words on that list were horses and vegetables. Ha! While I always want more horsey time and certainly don't eat enough vegetables (I mean, who does?), I knew that neither of those would be my word of the year. But that's the brainstorming process for you...anything goes. I eventually got to some more useful concepts such as organization, motivation, and planning.*
2. I led the group through a guided meditation and you can do this on your own. Spend some time in silence, thinking about your perfect day. It can be one from memory or a theoretical one that hasn't happened yet. Spend some time here. Where are you? Who are you with? What are you doing? What do you hear and see and smell? Most importantly, how do you feel? Consider what it means to be the best version of yourself in the best version of your life. Finally, take some time to just ponder the question: What word do I want to guide me through 2019?
3. Do a mind dump! Looking at the lists from the questions in #1 and thinking about what came to you in #2, write all the words that come to mind. Don't hesitate. Don't judge or revise. This is the google idea board phase...anything goes! Allow yourself to be surprised by your own ideas. Don't stop when the flow ceases being easy. Wallow in the writer's block for a few moments and see what else surfaces from the depths. If you need inspiration, you can check out this list.
4. From your hopefully long list of ideas, pick 3-5 words that call to you the loudest. Star or highlight them. Then, spend a minute contemplating each word separately. Notice how it makes you feel. Excited? Scared? Peaceful? If you just came out of a stressful time, you might want to go with the more calming word. If you are bored or restless, pick the one that excites you. Don't overthink it. Listen to your inner voice.
5. Make yourself a visual reminder. At the workshop, we made rearview mirror hangers. My oldest daughter is using hers as a bookmark. Make a sign to put up in your bedroom or office. Set a reminder on your phone. Whatever works for you.
My final three words were AMBITION, COMPASSION, and DECLUTTER. I settled on DECLUTTER. It wasn't my favorite word...not by a long shot. I chose it because 1) It's necessary. I need to declutter my physical space and my mental space. I need to declutter the way I spend my time so that I can focus on what's important. I need to declutter my mind chatter and get in better touch with my inner voice. I need to get rid of junk, organize my spaces, and simplify. 2) It's challenging. Of the words I brainstormed, declutter presents the greatest challenge. It will take time and intention. I will need to do a lot of decluttering just to tackle the process of decluttering. 3) It has the potential to bring the most benefit. If I can really focus on this word, I can streamline my life, my thoughts, and my space. I'm nervous, I'm excited, and I'm motivated.
Other great words came out of the workshop. Some participants came in with an idea and stuck with it. Others changed their word, a couple to their own surprise. Everyone had excellent reasons for the words they chose, which include: FEARLESS, AUTHENTICITY, LUMINESCE, WISDOM, PEACE, THRIVE and LOVE.
Choosing a word is a great start, but to keep it from remaining just a vague or abstract idea, here are a few extension activities to help you apply it.
I would love to hear what word you choose and how you implement it in your life. And if you want help setting goals or applying ideas, contact me to schedule a complimentary mini session to explore how a life coach can assist you in making positive changes.
On Tuesday, my husband and I returned from a short but worthwhile trip in the backcountry near Breckenridge, CO. We skied in to a small cabin that is maintained by the 10th Mountain Division Huts here in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. For 24 hours, we were "out of service," only using our phones to take pictures and occasionally listen to music. The place we stayed, Ken's Cabin, was named after a young doctor and avid skier who died in an avalanche. It is a rustic, one-bedroom log cabin with a wood-burning stove and very basic amenities.
Adventures like this always give me time to think and therefore, I learn about myself. I want to share some of those lessons with you.
The Journey as a Metaphor
From the comfort of my home and safely tucked behind my computer screen, 6.2 miles didn't seem so bad. Sure, it's uphill. Sure, there might be some weather. Sure, it's our first all-terrain outing of the season. Sure, we'll be carrying backpacks with sleeping bags, clothes and food. Let's do this!
Fast forward to the actual day, the blowing snow, the cold hands and feet and untrained muscles, the lower oxygen of being at high altitude and the reality of our undertaking soon differentiated itself from the fantasy. The first 3 miles were pleasant enough. We were mostly shielded by trees and the mountain from the wind we could hear howling above. Visibility was limited, so we saw no grand vistas, but it was still beautiful, with the snow-covered rocks, trees and path. We saw a few other skiers, snow-shoers and dogs, but it was mostly just the two of us, alternatively chatting and just being in the zone with the repetitive motion of gliding one ski in front of the other.
At about 3 miles, what we thought was halfway, I started to tire, sore in the shoulders and low back from the weight of the backpack, and running low on energy from the output of the skiing up a long and gradual hill. We stopped at an old and scenic water tank, ate a snack bar, took off our packs for a bit, and braced ourselves for the second half of the journey.
The break reenergized me for a short time, but as we climbed higher, I got more easily winded. The whole trip is done above 10,000 feet, topping out at 11,500 feet. While I know I am in fairly decent shape, I struggled. We hadn't really trained for this, and 6 miles is no short distance, especially considering the conditions (and the fact that it ended up being closer to 7 miles, but that's another story). I wanted to stop many times. I wanted to eat all the snacks. I wanted to take off my pack. At one point, I even imagined laying down and taking a little nap.
I knew I could do the trek, but my mind was trying to convince me that I couldn't, or at the very least, that I deserved to indulge in some rest and snacks. But like any worthy goal in life, stopping only ensures that you will stay in one place. My goal was to reach the cabin, hopefully still in daylight, and to do so, I had to continue forward progress. I knew I had enough fuel. I knew that napping wasn't really an option, but I still had a strong, almost overwhelming urge to give in to those desires, to give myself a break. Instead, I kept moving...sometimes extremely slowly, but always putting one ski in front of the other, push and glide, push and glide, push and glide, to make forward progress. It was a good reminder that action is always better than inaction.
Around mile 5, we left the shelter of the trees to ski across a bare and windswept slope. I don't like wind. In my opinion, it makes any weather condition worse, and this was no exception. As the wind whipped up snow, chilling my nose and obscuring my vision, I started to curse it. What a fun-ruining jerk the wind is. Why couldn't it be calm and clear? Why did the wind have to come in and make the journey that much more difficult? Stupid, useless, annoying wind.
Let me pause here for a moment to point out an important fact. Wind is a circumstance beyond my control. I cannot change the wind. No amount of cursing or whining can force submission. What do I have control over? My thoughts. I only have control over my thoughts about the wind, and those thoughts lead to my feelings, and those feelings lead to my actions.
At one point, the wind died down and it was still for a moment. Then, suddenly, it whipped up again, grabbing the snow and whirling it into what looked like- at least briefly- a herd of galloping white horses. The wind shifted again, and I saw a cresting wave. It whipped again into a snow dragon. I noticed little wind funnels forming around me. It was quite beautiful and mysterious. Mesmerized by this wind art, I suddenly didn't hate it. In fact, I felt it circle back around and give me a little push, something I probably wouldn't have noticed had I been busy cursing it. AND, as an added bonus, it made the trip feel that much more hard core, like something to be overcome. Once we finally made it to the cabin, the howling of the wind added to the ambience and increased our appreciation for the cozy little shelter. And when the next morning dawned sunny and fairly calm, we were more grateful because of the contrast. The moral of the story is this: You cannot change the wind (and you can substitute just about any circumstance here...the behavior of other people, the weather, politicians, etc), but you can change how you think about the wind, and you can always, always learn something from the wind.
The Power of Unplugging
We never get to unplug. Even 6 miles into the backcountry, I had intermittent service. I switched my phone to airplane mode just so that I didn't get text alerts or feel the urge to check my e-mail. During the long trek up to the cabin, I caught myself wishing I'd brought earphones so that I could put on music or a podcast. My mind was resistant to just being alone with itself. However, once I accepted the stillness, I consciously started to track my thoughts. I was able to go deep into some ideas that I'd only shallowly considered. We so rarely do that. We live in a world of distractions, and the constant interruptions hinder our ability to process situations and truly hear what's going on.
This constant distraction and reliance on technology are major reasons why we don't hear our inner voice until our habits are deeply imbedded. We don't even realize we have a pattern of thinking because the external stimulation monopolizes our brain power. Without constant interference, you can really start to listen to yourself and increase the awareness of your thought patterns, and awareness is the first step to making positive change. I encourage you to be deliberate in finding some unplugged time. Take your walks without your phone or music player. Drink your first cup of coffee without the television or radio playing in the background. Start the practice of "Screen-Free Sundays." If possible, spend an afternoon, a day, a week in nature without interruption. Hear your inner voice...really hear it. Get to know yourself...unplugged. Disconnect to reconnect...to your surroundings, to your loved ones, and mostly, to yourself.
Back to Basics
There is power, too, in getting back to basics. Once at the cabin, we had to start a fire for warmth. We had to gather, melt, and boil snow for drinking and cooking. We had to chop wood, sweep the snow out of the doorway, and shovel paths to the wood shed and bathroom. Going to the bathroom entailed putting on a coat, hat and boots, walking a snowy path to the outhouse, and sitting on a cold (very cold) toilet seat.
We are fortunate to live in a time when surviving is fairly easy for most. If you are reading this, you likely have food, shelter, and the basic comforts. Spending time on survival tasks is enlightening when we are used to a world of excess. And again, without technology, my husband and I spent our time reading, writing, talking, and looking at the view. I took a nap in front of the fire. It was glorious (and well-earned, I might add). This return to simplicity fed my soul and really reminded me of what's important.
Don't get me wrong, I was happy to get home to running water, an automatic thermostat, and an indoor bathroom. The added bonus of the trip is a greater appreciation for what I often take for granted. The trip was not easy or comfortable. It was hard on my body, but refreshing for my soul. And when I found myself feeling discouraged, I only had to look at the view, take a few deep breaths, and keep moving forward.