The Roadblock Called Perfection

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A good portion of my coaching is around health and wellness. There are a lot of people that know they need to regain their health but they either can’t seem to get started or they keep getting stuck shortly afterward. One of the most common roadblocks to success is perfection.

Here’s a paraphrased typical conversation I have with clients. We’ll call this one Jen.

Jen: I can’t seem to get started on any real exercise program.
Me: What do you think is stopping you?
Jen: Well, what if I start and don’t finish?
Me: Jen, who has control over whether or not you finish?
Jen: Well, I guess I do.
Me: So, what else?
Jen: What if I miss a day?
Me: How would missing a single day impact your overall success?
Jen: Not much, I guess I’d just make it up the next day. As long as I don’t make it a habit. <smirk>
Me: What else is holding you back?
Jen: Well, I’ve tried doing a video workout and I’m not as good as the people in the video.
Me: Hmmm, I wonder why they were selected to do the video. What do you think?
Jen: OK, yeah. They’re pros and I’m not. But if I’m going to do a program, I need to do it right.
Me: What do you mean by “right?”
Jen: Well, I have to be perfect!

No!! Making a positive impact on your health has nothing to do with reaching some state that someone else has defined to be “perfect.” People often find themselves in the trap of shooting for an “ideal” weight or body measurements or an unblemished record of adherence to a course of action. Change isn’t perfect. It’s messy and complicated and full of spirals and twists. When you’re working towards better health, your goal needs to be meeting personal bests and developing a healthier version of you on your own terms, using your own strengths and talents.

You’ll have forward motion but the road taken and the time to travel it will be different for everyone. Detours and roadblocks happen but you still get where you’re going. Don’t let the idea of it not being a “perfect sunday drive” prevent you from leaving the garage.

What has you stuck? What’s keeping you from creating the healthy life you deserve?

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How to Turn Your Commitment to Change into Action

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Last week I wrote about how you decide to make a change. Once you’ve acknowledged the need to change a behavior and have made a commitment, you need to move from planning to some action.

Your life will be no better than the plans you make and the action you take. You are the architect and builder of your own life, fortune, destiny. —Alfred A. Montapert

When taking steps to bring about some desired change, you need to look at what has or has not worked for you in the past. You also need to be open to new ideas and be willing to change your course of action as you try new approaches. There is no right or wrong way to succeed in your goal; you need to discover through trial and error what works best for you.

One of the classic examples is losing weight. There are hundreds of diet and exercise plans and by combining these into a plan of action, there are likely millions of ways for someone to decrease their body weight to get to a comfortable number on the scale. Keep in mind that once you reach your goal, you also need to maintain the behavior. Maintaining your desired weight will likely require that you continue some or all of these activities for an extended period of time so you need to find options that are sustainable for you. For example, you might use a strict meal-plan system where all of the food is provided for you to drop some pounds. However, how likely is it that you’ll want to remain on that diet for the rest of your life? It probably wouldn’t be very enjoyable and would be expensive too.

For lasting change, consider the long-term maintenance of your desired behavior when creating a plan of action. Try to change your mindset to get to the root of the issue instead of using a quick fix that won’t last. There are two practices recommended by Prochaska that I pass along to coaching clients that can help bring about this mental shift; countering and environmental controls. Countering is replacing the undesired behavior with a healthy, more desirable one and environmental control means manipulating your setting or avoiding a location to prevent the behavior. Including either or both of these in your action plan will be helpful.

For example, let’s say you’re prone to snacking through the day. You can consciously replace that activity with another. For me, I started doing push-ups whenever I wanted a snack. This countering helped in two ways. I burned some extra calories and the activity usually made me forget the urge to snack. Over time, I began to crave physical activity when I was bored or restless and that has served me well. I also worked at a company that had a cafeteria that served cheap but gourmet quality meals. It was easy to overeat. I could have avoided the cafeteria but I would have also missed out on the social interactions that took place there. Instead, I simply started bringing my lunch. As everyone was in line getting their food, I’d eat my lunch. By the time they got to the table with the gourmet meal, I’d already be half done and fairly full. Once the conversation started, I was no longer tempted to get more food.

Once you have your steps in mind, I recommend the following:

  1. Write your plan down.
  2. Share your plan and goals with someone that will hold you accountable.
  3. Review your plan DAILY and note how you’ve done.
  4. Review your progress WEEKLY to see if your actions are working. If not, try something new.
  5. Finally, don’t give up. You’ll reach your goal over time.

There’s no single “magic bullet” that anyone can provide you to create the change you desire. All change has to come from within and you are the only person that can make it happen. Be strong, ask for help and stick with it. You’ll get there!

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Deciding to Make a Change

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Over the past week, I’ve had a number of friends commit to regaining their health by eating better or joining a gym. I applaud them!

Coaches help people get from point-A to point-B in their life but unless someone knows they want to make that trip, it’s a difficult road to travel. So, how do you decide that it’s time to change?

There are dozens of behavioral change models but I use Prochaska’s Transtheoretical Model of Behavioral Change. The first three stages are: Pre-contemplation when an individual can’t see or accept a problem or behavior and they resist change, Contemplation where a person acknowledges that change needs to occur and Preparation where they begin planning to take action. My friends are all in this planning phase.

Until someone accepts that a change needs to take place, (they reach that contemplation phase) there’s little that anyone else can do for them. You can try to educate, lead by example and even beg and plead but, until they see that there’s a problem, they are more likely to think that you’re the problem. What is effective is being there for them and listening. As soon as you have a hint that they are beginning to take responsibility for their behavior and have recognized the issue, then you can help them start moving forward.

Once someone is contemplating a change, they need support. People often get stuck in “I will someday” and a list of excuses here. One of the most effective tools described by Prochaska is “emotional arousal.” Expose this person to as many different experiences as possible that will reinforce the positive nature of them changing their habits. One popular example is the TV show Biggest Loser. Personal opinions aside, the show can be a great motivator. Someone watching the show that doesn’t think they have a weight issue will see it in a different light than someone that has just come to terms with the fact that they could be a contestant. Seeing others succeed gives them the encouragement that they could do the same and this might be just enough energy to stop thinking and actually start making plans for themselves.

Once you’re ready to make that change, you start planning on how to make that happen. Options here are limitless and vary depending on the behavior you’re trying to modify. The important part of this phase is that you keep moving and don’t get stuck in a cycle of “almost ready.” This is where a coach or other professional can provide great value. To see results, you need to eventually be done planning and start acting.

If you’ve recently made some change in your life, what was it that made you decide you needed to act? Once you reached that point, how long was it before you began making preparations to do something about it?

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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?

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Ask for Help When You Need It

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I was recently working with someone through some dietary issues. Through a few questions, I became fairly certain that knowledge wasn’t the reason why this individual was having a hard time eating a healthy diet. They often replied that they simply didn’t know how to shop but I was sensing something was missing so I had to challenge them. They eventually opened up. I learned that they were embarrassment to say they didn’t know how to shop within their budget. Now that the real issue was brought to light, it was something we could work on together.

I briefly switched into teaching mode and supplied some information on how to eat well within a budget. I’ve included that for you below. For the rest of the session, I had gained their permission to explore their thoughts around asking for help when they need it. In this instance, and others I’ve encountered, this hindrance was rooted in the same sense of shame or embarrassment that causes so many esteem issues. We’re afraid of the judgements others will make in light of our lack of complete perfection. For this individual, we walked through the scenarios of them asking or not asking for help. Not asking for help would have lead to further health issues while their eventual opening up and reaching out resolved the issue.

What they learned is that everyone needs help at points in their life. More important is that no one can help you if you don’t ask.

If you need help with something in your life right now, you have two options. Are you going to stay the course, afraid of the perceived sense of shame in asking for help, or will you be just a little brave and maybe quickly and easily solve the problem?

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Here are a few resources on how to eat healthy on a budget.
http://greatist.com/health/44-healthy-foods-under-1
http://www.choosemyplate.gov/healthy-eating-on-budget.html
http://www.mensfitness.com/ian-cohen/cheap-sources-of-healthy-protein

There’s No Need for Dieting

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Dieting stinks. In some cases, you have a list of foods you can’t eat or a limited list of things you can eat. There are others that require you to track everything that goes into your mouth and record calories or points or units or exchanges. Others require you to eat pre-packaged foods or starve yourself by only eating a meal replacement instead of real food. Regardless of the method, dieting simply isn’t fun. It also isn’t sustainable because that’s not how we were built to eat.

I work with a lot of people that feel they need someone to tell them what they should and shouldn’t eat. What I’ve discovered is that most people are naturally healthy eaters and can intuitively decide what is right for them to eat. I’ll admit that there is a percentage of the population that simply does not understand good nutrition. However, once they have the knowledge, they have all the tools they need to succeed in reaching a healthy weight. When asked, I’m guessing that most people would agree that 32 ounces of regular soda every day isn’t a good food choice. They know about shopping around the edge of the grocery store and they understand that processed foods aren’t a good choice. So why is eating right so difficult and we need to “go on a diet?”

For many, dieting can become a crutch. If you don’t eat right, you can blame the diet. It’s too hard to stick to, it’s too restrictive, the food doesn’t taste good. Ultimately, what you put in your mouth is your choice. If you eat too much fast food, eat more real food. If you eat too many sweets, cut them back or out completely. If you simply eat too much, decrease your portion sizes. It’s in our biology to know how to eat intuitively; you just need to start trusting yourself.

To eat intuitively, just keep these few questions in mind:

Are you really hungry right now? (You could be under stress, bored, thirsty or in an environment where you’ve been conditioned to eat.)
If you’re hungry, is what you’re about to eat a good choice? (Use your own knowledge and wisdom here.)
If you’re hungry and you’ve made a good choice, then are you taking too much food? (Would you be embarrassed to have someone else look at your plate right now?)

Now, everyone’s body is different. No one can really say “This is the best diet for you and will help you lose X pounds.” There’s simply too many variables. Some of us don’t tolerate some foods well, for example, and we should eliminate those from our diet. Other than taking an expensive blood test, really the only way to know what’s right for you is to experiment and listen to your body. If wheat products tend to give you stomach problems, then cut them out for 30 days to see if they improve. If they do, then don’t start eating wheat again. Want to build lean mass? Then eat more protein but NOT milk if you’re lactose intolerant. Find something else that works well for you.

It takes a little time but learning what foods are best for you and eating in a pattern that’s right for you will allow you to have a much happier and healthy relationship with food. You’ll no longer fear it and dread meal times but, instead, enjoy eating as it was meant to be.

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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?

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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?

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Using Rituals to Create Lasting Change

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I recently worked with a client that talked about how rituals are important to him. This initially struck me as unusual because that word isn’t used very often. As he went deeper into his story, I started seeing how his rituals were, indeed, of great benefit and began exploring how I could introduce this concept to others.

Once you’ve achieved a mindset that will allow you to pursue a lasting change, whether it be related to health, career, relationships or finances, you’ll still need to successfully adopt your new behaviors and that will take time. Two common methods of reinforcing the desired behaviors include environmental control and conditioning. In the first, you ensure the environment you’re in supports your desired change. For example, if you’re trying to quit smoking, you no longer use the exit that goes right past where you used to hang out when you were a smoker. In conditioning, you simply exchange an unwanted behavior for a better one. For example, taking a drink of water when you’re about to grab an unhealthy snack. Looking at just these two examples, it would appear that rituals have really been used as part of behavior change for years; we just never used that word.

I like the idea of creating formal rituals to be used throughout the day. These can be used to set the framework for achieving goals, to keep things in perspective and to cement your intentions into memory and behavior. Let’s say you’re in a sales position and you hate making sales calls. You have a set monthly goal but you haven’t been making your numbers. What if you created a ritual that supported these goals? You get in the office and make yourself a cup of your favorite tea, take it back to your office and close the door. Next, you take a few minutes to just breathe. Maybe you have an inspirational picture or quote you can ponder. Now, you pick up the phone and work through your contact list for the day. You do this first thing and do nothing else until you’re done. Over time, this ritual simply becomes habit. You become more efficient and effective at making calls and meeting your numbers.

You can develop a ritual to support any change you want to make. Design it so that it has sensory elements that are important to you and pleasing. The more pleasant you make the action, the more likely you are to adopt it as a lasting behavior. Make it as intricate as you like; just make it your own.

What areas of your life could be positively impacted by creating your own ritual?

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How to Approach Mid-life Rediscovery

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I work with a lot of people, mainly men, that are in or nearing those years that we sometimes call “middle age.” Our society still places a stigma on age through a stereotype that older means less energy and creativity. Sometimes, people will go out of their way to restore or regain their virility, worth, liveliness and energy. This is sometimes given the derogatory label of a “mid-life crisis.” It’s not a “mid-life crisis;” you’re simply rediscovering yourself!

Let’s say you’re in these “mid-years” and think “That’s it, I can’t take this anymore. I’m doing something about this.” A common roadblock at that point is often a strong sense of guilt. At this age, you likely have a number of responsibilities; family, career (maybe more than one) and social commitments. I’ve worked with quite a few people that felt they simply couldn’t take the time to get some exercise, learn to eat right or spend time on creative pursuits because too many people are depending on them and they simply don’t have the time to do something for themselves.

Let’s highlight a phrase here: other people are depending on you! If you’re not at your best, you’re hurting more than yourself. You’re likely robbing the people you truly care about from being with the best version of you that you have to offer.

From a biological standpoint, there’s nothing that says we have to decline substantially physically as we age. Most of the change I see is all mental. As people get older, they can start to lose confidence in their ability to be fit, healthy and happy. They lose their edge. If they have health issues, they get trapped in a spiral of despair and worry instead of taking control of their health and doing what’s needed to restore the healthy life they deserve. Is it easy to turn that ship around? No. But you have a choice (you ALWAYS have a choice) you can either live the rest of your life unhealthy and unfulfilled or you can make the choice to live the life you were meant to live. And most likely the one that the world needs you to live.

If you make that move to restore your gusto, do it knowing you have the right to be healthy, happy and vibrant. Just hit 50 and you want to start a rock-band because it’s what you’ve always dreamed? Awesome! If you’re in your 60s and lifting weights, good for you! Nearing 70 and just starting yoga? Very cool! Never look at these opportunities to rediscover yourself as some sort of “crisis” and never feel guilty. This is your life to live….and you still have plenty of years to rock!

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