Are You Setting a Healthy Example?

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We often see celebrities say that they shouldn’t be looked up to as role models when they’re caught doing something wrong. They claim it’s not their responsibility to “raise your kids” or that it is unfair that they are held to a higher standard because they are in the spotlight. Their actions, however, do have the potential to impact more people because of that exposure. Do you realize that you have that same power of influence within your own circle? Is the example you set for others important?

Yesterday, I was at a hospital visiting someone. I had to wait a bit so I sat in the hospital’s cafe. A group of nurses came in (I could see their RN badges) and they each ordered a “serious (large) double-caramel chocolate macchiato with extra whip cream.” Each of these nurses was overweight to obese. To make matters worse, this particular building housed the cardiac care unit. These were the same nurses that would be going back to talk to their overweight patients about the need to lose weight to prevent another coronary event.

How much impact do you think those conversations will have? We lead by example whether we like it or not. “Do as I say, not as I do” didn’t work when we were kids and it definitely doesn’t fly as an adult. If you’re in a healthcare position and you’re trying to persuade others to take better care of themselves, shouldn’t you do the same for yourself? If you’re overweight and talking about nutrition or smell of cigarette smoke and talking to a cancer patient, there is a disconnect that simply won’t allow you to be effective in delivering your message.

The parent-child relationship holds even more importance. If you have kids, are you setting them up to succeed and to be as healthy as possible? Are you keeping healthy food in the house or buying processed garbage because it’s just easier? Are you encouraging activity by playing with your kids and staying active yourself or do you plop in front of the TV for four hours every night? Children aren’t in a position to make well-thought decisions so they rely on your wisdom. They also watch everything you do. Yes, they may “want” the sugary cereal with the prize in the box but who is actually bringing that into the house? More kids are gaining weight and developing health problems at a young age. How can you turn this around? By setting a good example and taking responsibility for your own health.

I work with both men and women on this exact topic. I know it’s not easy. Some have tried to get their eating under control for years and they want to be more active but can’t seem to stick with a program. One of the most powerful motivators I’ve found is when they discover the impact they’re having on the health of others. It seems obvious, but for some it’s not real until someone holds a picture up in front of them. In one instance, I mean this quite literally. One father couldn’t stay committed to getting back in shape. He said he wanted to do it for his young son but just couldn’t make the connection between his actions and desires. We came up with the idea to put a picture of his son on the refrigerator and all of the cabinets. He even put a small one on his lunch bag and in his wallet. This made a huge difference. It forced him to reconsider his food choices and realign them with his goal to set a better example for his son. He’s doing quite well now.

Setting a positive example isn’t just related to health. Look at the way you treat yourself in all regards and compare that to what you tell others; particularly children. Does your message match your deeds or are you being somewhat hypocritical? What can you do right now to be a better example to those that you guide? Maybe you can even be an inspiration?

Photo credit: mikebaird / Foter.com / CC BY

You’re More Than a Label

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We have a lot of different ways to describe ourselves. We’re really complex as individuals and we have a lot to offer but, unfortunately, we tend to try and wrap ourselves up into neat little packages that can be explained with just a few words or numbers. You might see yourself as a number on a scale, an age, an IQ, or a salary range. Maybe you tag yourself with your gender, nationality or preferences. But you’re more than just numbers and labels.

When I first meet with a client, we often start our coaching relationship with an informal conversation. “Tell me about yourself” usually leads to a laundry list of these labels. Maybe we’ve been so conditioned to have a “30-second elevator speech” ready that we revert to this short-hand method of describing ourselves out of habit. Asking how others see them sometimes renders more details but just marginally. What tends to break the pattern is story telling.

When I ask “Tell me the story of your life and where you want it to go” that usually results in a more rich and detailed view of the individual. It’s difficult to move through a plot and fully describe a desired state with just a few words. This is a great exercise for anyone to go through to more fully understand who they are and where they want to go.

On paper or online, create two pages. Title one “How I Got Here” and the other “Where I Will Go.” Take about an hour and write these two stories using complete sentences and with detail. Put them aside for a day or two then come back and read them.

How does your detailed story change how you think about yourself? How will you talk about yourself to others going forward? It’s likely you now have a more full picture and a few labels simply won’t be able to convey all of the great things you have to say about yourself!

Give this exercise a try and let me know how it went for you.

Photo credit: Christi Nielsen / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

How We Treat Ourselves

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Coaching is about asking questions and listening. You help people bring out their own wisdom to move forward in their life. Often, the coach learns a lot by being exposed to others’ knowledge.

During a recent session, a client made a values statement that really struck me. They said “Whenever I hear someone say ‘I don’t have time’ I always tell them to tack on the words ‘for you’ because that’s what you really mean when you say ‘I don’t have time’….’I don’t have time for you.’ ” I had never really thought of it that way before but it rings true. That was completely accurate for this person. They always make time for others. What’s interesting is that this may also be at the root of personal care issues because the statement “I don’t have time for myself” seems to be acceptable to this individual.

We often treat ourselves differently from how we treat others. I’ve worked with some of the most kind, generous and caring people that were harsh and ruthless towards themselves. In theory, we’re not supposed to be able to love and care for others more than we do ourselves. I don’t think these individuals dislike who are what they are. Instead they have a misplaced sense of guilt. They feel like they shouldn’t like themselves or feel worthy because false perceptions tell them that others don’t.

To get out of this trap, do away with the external judgements. Others likely don’t know what a great person you are and their opinion really doesn’t matter anyway. Acknowledge your strengths and gifts and celebrate successes publicly. You may be surprised by how many are celebrating with you. Also, take time to care for yourself. If you have the attitude of “I don’t care about myself” then you’re showing the people that love and depend on you that “I don’t care about myself…or you.”

Are there inconsistencies between how you treat yourself and others? How might you bring those more in line?

Photo credit: Stephen Poff / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Self Acceptance

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I recently had a talk with a woman about an emotional experience she had at a gym. It was her first visit. She’s overweight and she felt really self-conscious being at the gym. She felt everyone was watching her, thinking why was she there and that she wasn’t good enough to be there. She worked herself into such a negative mental state that she stopped her workout after only a few minutes and left the gym in tears.

A similar incident was mentioned in my post about fear. The same false evidence was coming into play for this woman but the issue went deeper. As we talked, she uncovered that she felt unaccepted. She also couldn’t accept herself.

Acceptance is the basis of compassion. To truly empathize with another, you have to accept them for who they are instead of trying to change them to what you want; that’s simply manipulation. When people think about self-acceptance, however, the thoughts are less charitable. For some reason, we equate acceptance with “settling” and they are completely different.

Look at the incident at the gym. She obviously wasn’t settling for her current physical state. She was in the gym doing something about it to better herself. At the same time, this desire for change also interfered with her accepting who she is right now. She saw herself as less than others. A little coaching got her to realizing she is equal and simply a person in a state of transition. It was a very subtle change in perception, but the discovery allowed her to return to the gym and start working towards her new level of fitness.

Accepting yourself for who you are in the moment does not mean you’re giving up any vision of a better you for your future. It means you’re acknowledging your strengths and weaknesses and allowing yourself to grow and progress without any false, negative self-judgement. You’re showing yourself the same compassion you would have towards anyone else.

How might accepting yourself for who you are allow you to make progress towards what you’d like to become?

Photo credit: Jon Newman / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

How to Manage Perceptions of Limited Scope

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You get what you look for…..

We tend to cloud our thoughts with perceptions of limited scope. Have you ever used one of those puzzles where something is printed in red and blue ink and, to see something hidden in the printing, you look through a red plastic film? Our perceptions are just like that. If we look at life through a single colored lens, we’re going to miss the whole picture.

If you think the world is full of people out to get you, that’s all you’ll see because that’s all you’re looking for. You’ll miss the fact that someone offered to help you with an assignment or complimented your choice in music. If you’re unhappy with your looks and are always finding flaws in the mirror, you’ll miss those striking eyes or beautiful skin. You belittle yourself because you’re not making progress at work and lose sight of the fact that you’re an incredible father and husband. We all have these lenses but the more we can learn to drop them, the more fulfilled lives we’ll lead.

We trap ourselves into these limited perceptions simply through habit. We can expand our perceptions by learning to question ourselves and testing whether we’re operating from true knowledge. Once simple technique is “relabeling.” When you find yourself using a limiting viewpoint, mentally label it as such and give yourself a new label. For example, if you’re looking in the mirror and noticing all of the wrinkles and thinking how old they make you look, stop and think “I’ve just labeled myself as ‘old.’ From now on, these wrinkles are called ‘wisdom.’ ” In a while, you’ll notice that the way you see the world will start to expand and your perceptions will become less negative and constrictive.

What labels do you incorrectly use for yourself and how can you create some new ones?

What if you had to lose a few inches to keep your job?

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Getting in shape, improving your diet and regaining your health can be tough. Like any other change, you have to want it for it to happen.

Everyone goes through the same cycle: you first realize you need to make a change, you decide to make the change, you create a plan of action and then you get working on that plan. All too often, people simply never make it to that last step. The main culprit, often cloaked in “it’s too hard,” is really “I’m too scared.” People are afraid of failure not realizing that failure is a natural part of the process. It just takes some determination and grit to pick yourself back up and keep going. I often use the analogy of learning to ride a bike as a child. You fall a few times but you’re so excited to be learning to ride and you have such strong visions of riding off with your friends and having fun that you just keep getting back up; skinned legs and all. The process of weight-loss really isn’t any different but it often makes people shut down and give up hope.

Yesterday, I read an article about an Airforce Colonel that threw away his military career instead of losing two inches. Now, there may be more to the story, but this really struck me. To meet the minimum requirement, he had to drop his waist size by two inches. It varies by individual but, for me, that would have been about 12 pounds. I’m assuming the colonel knew the requirements and was likely aware of his upcoming fitness test. He couldn’t find it within himself to prepare and shed a few pounds? Was the choice to do so that threatening that he preferred to simply step down?

It’s scary but if you really want to take control of your life and create a healthy lifestyle then know that you can do it. Like learning to ride a bike, you just need to have a clear picture of your goal. Break it down to smaller goals if you have a long way to go. One technique I use with my coaching clients is called dialoguing. I walk them through the process of clearly visualizing their new, healthy self then we have a conversation that takes place six months in the future. We talk about how they got to their goal, how their life has changed and where they’re going next. I’ve seen this exercise completely change the mindset of people that just couldn’t quite get into full action mode. It gives them that vision they need to get back on the bike.

If you look in the mirror and feel like you need to make a change then move forward with the confidence knowing it’s completely within your power. If you really want it, it’s yours!

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Ignore Your Itty Bitty Sh*tty Committee

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We each have our own inner critic or gremlin. I’ve even heard it called the “Itty Bitty Sh*tty Committee.” This is that voice (or the voices) you hear in your head telling you that you’re not good enough, smart enough, trim enough, rich enough, strong enough….to have the life you deserve to live. Some of its favorite words are “can’t,” “shouldn’t” or “should have” and “never.”

Most of us can probably name or point out our gremlin. It’s been with us so long that we’re very familiar with how it behaves. For example, I’ve named mine “Killjoy.” My gremlin loves to taunt me with an overly burdensome sense of responsibility…for everyone and everything. There’s no time for fun and play when there’s so much that needs to be done! My gremlin has a particularly good time needling me because it knows it is completely contradictory to a core value I hold and that’s the importance of being playful.

So, I wage war with my gremlin and “smite” it on a regular basis, right? Hardly! Our gremlins are very strong and they thrive on our energy. The more attention we give them, the stronger they fight back. Instead of fighting, the key is first acknowledgement then dismissal. You really hurt your gremlin when it knows it has been seen yet you’re strong enough to do your own thing. In his book, Taming Your Gremlin, Rick Carson tells us that

To be at choice from situation to situation and from moment to moment is vitally important in taming your gremlin.

One of the most common gremlins for anyone that used to be overweight is self doubt or fear; lacking confidence and always worrying about gaining weight back. The voice tells you, “You might have success now but you can’t sustain this.” or “You’ll never be able to relax in your new skin. You’ll always have to worry about every little thing you put in your mouth because you know you’ll mess up eventually.” When these really negative thoughts pop up, first recognize them for what they are; untruths being sustained by runaway perceptions. Next, remember, you always have choices. In whatever situation you find yourself, will you choose to listen to your inner critic or will you use information you know to be true? How did you lose that last pound, or ten or hundred pounds, in the first place? You know what your body needs to be healthy now. No gremlin can suddenly take the power of your knowing away from you. Ignore it and choose what’s right for you.

Be aware that your gremlin is pretty smart. As you get better at ignoring its voice, it will change and turn into something new trying to get your attention again. Stay wary and never let the bugger get the better of you.

Photo credit: practicalowl / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Don’t Let Your New Year’s Resolution Wreck Your Image

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With the start of the new year, there are going to be a number of resolutions made to “get in shape.” For some, this means losing a few pounds. For others, they might want to build muscle. One area of concern for guys is the tendency to over-compensate for a “skinny” body image by deciding to do some “body building.” This often creates eating issues of its own. To add muscle fast, you attempt to take in more calories than you burn. (To make this sound cool, we call it “bulking.”) That might be the exact same behavior you just worked so hard to change!

I’m a strong advocate of adding resistance training to any weight loss program but particularly for men. If you have anxiety about the gym, now’s as good a time as any to work through it. Lean mass helps you burn fat. It also has a huge impact on a man’s body image. When a guy loses a lot of weight but hasn’t built much muscle, there’s a chance that they still won’t be satisfied with their appearance. They’ll want to “bulk up” and they end up putting on a lot of unhealthy weight again. When weight training is added to weight loss, the final result is a trim, fit and athletic build.

What’s a bit ironic is that being bulky isn’t even the preferred look any longer. According to a CNN article on the new ideal physique for men, cultural preferences are trending towards lean and athletic. Looking naturally fit and healthy without having spent your life in the gym or wasted money on countless supplements is what’s favored in the media and fitness magazines. It’s also being popularized by fitness trends like MoveNat. It’s a look that many men can actually achieve and maintain.

If you think you’re too skinny now, pick up some weights before you pick up that extra meal. A man with moderate muscle mass but low body fat can look a lot more “buff” than a bulky guy with no definition. You’ll be healthier and you’ll prevent yourself from entering a cycle of yo-yo dieting that can do more harm than good.

Photo credit: alphadesigner / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Overcoming Shame and a Negative Body Image

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One of the most often voiced issues by men after losing weight is that they “still feel fat.” Often, they still have a hard time looking in the mirror or taking their shirt off in public without applying a lot of self-criticism. Sometimes they still see someone that’s heavy but, just as often, they now see someone that is TOO skinny and “out of shape.” There’s a general awkward feeling in their new skin and a poor body image remains.

To make a full and healthy transition from being an overweight individual, it’s important to develop an acceptance and even appreciation of your new body. Some of the awkwardness comes from the fact that it is a new body. It’s lighter and moves more easily than before. Your muscles simply need to get used to the lighter load. The physical aspect resolves quickly but the mental picture often needs some repainting.

Losing weight doesn’t magically boost your confidence. You might be getting a lot of positive feedback and compliments but those often seem superficial. Your body image is far more than just skin deep. It comes from your self perception and, worse, is clouded by often false beliefs regarding others’ perceptions of you.

So what’s it going to take to get over this speed bump? Well, the most honest answer is simply “time.” You can do something to accelerate your mental shift, however. Start noting what situations make you feel less than awesome. Are they mainly in social gatherings or at times when you’re alone? Are they self induced from negative thoughts or do other’s comments bother you? Look it over and see if a pattern develops. If you start boiling it down, I’m guessing you’ll have words like “self conscious,” “embarrassed,” “insecure” and “unworthy.” Together, these simply result from the insidious human perception called shame.

Brené Brown is a renowned researcher on the topic of shame. In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, she says

Shame works like the zoom lens on a camera. When we are feeling shame, the camera is zoomed in tight and all we see is our flawed selves, alone and struggling.

Feelings of shame negatively impact confidence, self-esteem and well-being. What’s the cure for shame? According to Brown, it’s compassion, belonging and authenticity.

To be wrapped in compassion, fill your life with people that make you feel accepted as you are. Conversely, care for others. Create a sense of belonging by taking risks and joining in with your fellow human beings. Volunteer, expand your social circle, and make yourself open. Finally, strive to be the authentic you. Are you living to your full potential and within your values? Do you truly own every aspect of what it means to be you? Are you letting external forces or your inner critic prevent you from creating the life you deserve?

Let go of what others think; you have no control over their thoughts anyway. Stop giving outsiders the power to impact your life. They haven’t earned it.

Work at changing your perceptions to realize how truly wonderful and unique you are when you’re being the authentic you. Stomp shame. Regain your confidence and self-esteem and leave that fat-suit in the dust.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Clothes Make the Man: I Hated the Husky Section!

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For some it’s a pleasure while others see it as just a chore. It can also be terrifying. I’m talking about clothes shopping.

I don’t know if they still have them in department stores but I had to buy all of my clothes in the “husky” section when I was young. This was essentially a men’s section they put in the children’s clothing department for the fat boys. I was wearing a 42″ waist in eighth grade so there was no way I could fit into traditional kids’ clothes. Accordingly, most of my clothes weren’t in line with what other kids my age were wearing. [Great, just one more thing to set me apart from my peers.] I hated shopping for clothes at the start of each school year. My mom would just cart me off and we’d get it all done in one morning so that the trauma was minimized. For some, this negative experience continues into adulthood. I recently heard from one guy that simply lost it and broke into tears in the middle of the men’s department because he couldn’t find anything that fit.

For most men, buying clothes is a pop-in-and-just-get-what-I-need event or they buy online. However, this doesn’t stop retailers from marketing to men or those that buy their clothes for them. You can pick up any health magazine and see the most current trend being worn by a fitness model with a sub-30″ waist and 44″+ chest. While women have dealt with this for most of their lives, I think men are just now starting to feel similar pressure to look good. When you’re fit, buying new clothes might not be an issue (other than coughing up the dough) but when you’ve been buying your clothes in the big-and-tall section until recently, how do you make that transition?

As I started losing weight, shopping for clothes still wasn’t all that enjoyable because I had some vision of where I should be at any point in time. I’d pick up a large shirt and find I still needed an XL or my pant size hadn’t dropped. Though sometimes frustrated, I pushed ahead and eventually started seeing some progress. I started using clothes shopping as a motivator. I would regularly get a few new things in the smaller size so I knew I always had something that fit well and looked good. These first few new items were always a better brand (relatively expensive) too so there was a financial incentive to not go backwards. I donated my larger clothes as soon as I replaced them with smaller sizes. I felt I had “made it” when I took some shorts into the Abercrombie and Fitch dressing room and had to actually buy two sizes lower than I had expected.

So I share this with you as another example of some of the mental trash that can be taken to the curb once you have lost weight. I know guys that still buy clothes too large either because they simply haven’t thought to go to a smaller size or they’re still trying to hide their body. As you reach your goal weight and figure out what your new size is going to be, treat yourself to some new clothes that fit well. Take a friend or spouse/partner that knows something about style with you and have them give their opinion. You worked hard for the new body and you deserve to look and feel your best. Don’t let prior discomfort or lack of knowledge stop you from enjoying a simple pleasure of life.

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net