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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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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Choose Well and Just Keep Going

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My wife came home from her yoga class the other day and she was really excited.

Wife: “I did really well in class today!”
Me: “Really, what’d you do?”
Wife: “I was doing baddha konasana [bound angle pose] and I went to my usual spot and stopped. Then something told me to ‘just keep going’ and I did!”

My first thought was, wow, it really is that simple. What if we did the same more often in our lives? What if, every time we reached some self-imposed limitation, we simply “just keep going?”

Think of how often we create our own barriers in our careers, relationships and personal care. You’re not going for that promotion because “you’re not smart enough.” You’ve stopped looking for the right person because “you’re not attractive enough.” You just aren’t getting to the gym because “you’re too tired.” Motivation, determination and will-power are great—if you have them. The “something” that we all can use to move forward, and you’ve heard me say this before, is choice.

We’re choosing machines. Our lives are full of choices, big and small. We can fairly easily decide what to wear each day, what we want for lunch and whether to watch TV or read a book in the evening. These are easy choices because there’s little risk. What makes some choices really difficult is fear. Fear of failure and disappointment.

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Our fears of failure and disappointment originate from some twisted reality we’ve created in our mind. Let’s take the gym thing as an example. Quite often when working with clients, together we uncover that the “I’m too tired to go to the gym” is really “I’m afraid to go to the gym because everyone is looking at me and I’ll be embarrassed.”

False Evidence #1- What’s the likelihood that everybody really is looking at you? What’s their purpose for being at the gym?
False Evidence #2- Whose choice is it to be embarrassed?
False Evidence #3- OK, what if everyone was looking at you and you did feel embarrassed? What choices do you still have?

It’s that third one that really instills the fear. Many people feel they wouldn’t have the fortitude to stick it out and they’d chalk it up as one big failure on their part.

It always comes down to choice. Are you going to stop at your usual spot or just keep going?

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Is stress eating you? Or are you eating it?

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What would happen if you were in a room full of some of your favorite foods and were also under a lot of stress? With the holiday season, both the food and the stress are all too prevalent. A lot of people wonder if “stress eating” ever goes away. The answer is up to you.

First, a statement that’s going to mess with your mind—there is no such thing as “stress.” What we call stress is really our reaction to some external stimulus. Nothing is inherently stressful; instead, our thoughts give these external events the power to throw us into what we recognize as a stressful state. Your reaction to the stimulus lies in your understanding that you have choices in how you perceive and respond to the situation.

Here’s an example you might recognize. You’ve been invited to your company pot-luck and everyone is encouraged to bring their favorite treats so “we can eat all day long!” You immediately break into a cold sweat, panic and think “man, how can I take that day off?” You’ve stressed yourself out. However, you haven’t considered all of your options nor have you thought about the ramifications of your reaction. I’ve written in the past about how excluding yourself from social events because of the presence of food is counterproductive. It only sets you apart from others, socially isolating you, and prevents you from participating in an enjoyable event. Instead of panicking, look at your options. First, you have complete control over what you’re going to bring to the pot-luck. How about something healthy that you could nibble on all day like a veggie platter? You might be thanked for being the only person that thought to bring something good for you. Your second choice is what you actually put in your mouth. You brought something you know you can eat without guilt, so start there. Next, fill up on light foods, drink a lot of water, use really small plates, circle the table a few times before you take anything and pick one indulgence that you’ll save for the end. When you eat that, you’re done. You’ve likely built up your own techniques for dealing with “all you care to eat” scenarios so pull those tricks out of your bag. See, instead of being stressed, there are plenty of other options as to how you view this event.

Your behaviors in stressful situations are learned responses triggered by thoughts. The cool thing is we have complete control over what shoots through our brain. Your first line of defense against stress eating is knocking out the root cause. However, there are times when your thoughts will get away from you. Your backup plan is to use something called “countering.” If you find yourself in a situation where you’re stressed out and your reflex reaction is to reach for food, counter that action with a gating mechanism; preferably something that’s good for you. For me, I used push-ups. Every time I went for a snack, I dropped and did 50 pushups. Now if I’m a little stressed, it’s physical activity I crave and not food. What might work best for you? What would sidetrack you from reaching for that donut or beer? (Or both?)

You choose whether or not you’re stressed out. If you’re already there, your next choice is whether or not you reach for food. There is no direct link between that external stimulus and food going into your mouth. Remember that you’re in control!

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What Diet is Right for You?

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There are numerous diets and weight-loss plans out there. You can find anything—from eating only what your spiritual guide tells you to consuming massive quantities of tasteless and chemical-laden powder instead of real food. I talk with a lot of people, men and women, that want me to “tell them the right foods to eat.” While I have personal opinions and I know what works for me, I can’t tell anyone the best way to maintain their ideal body weight. And neither can anyone else.

In Biochemical Individuality by Dr. Roger Williams, he explains that everyone’s body and internal chemistry is different so there isn’t really an ideal diet. While genetics play a role in how we process nutrients, so do our environment and the foods we eat. A low fat diet may help some lose weight while for others it will cause weight gain. One person may need more protein than someone else to obtain the best body composition. Often, losing weight isn’t as simple as “calories in less than calories out.” It’s important that you be open to individual research, experimentation and discovery to find what method of eating is going to bring you optimal health and satisfaction.

When you try out a new eating plan, keep track of the following for 30 days or so:

  • What appeals to you about this way of eating?
  • What was your energy level like while you were on this plan?
  • Was the plan easy to follow? Did you skip it more than you stuck to it?
  • How successful were you in losing (or maintaining) weight?
  • How easily will this be sustained? (Consider both cost and your satisfaction.)
  • How do you feel about telling others about this way of eating?

Without a plan, you can easily falter and return to old habits. Have you ever been frustrated with your attempt to change your behavior and not really had anyone to support you? When things get tough, do you tend to get lazy and give up? Having someone hold you accountable might be just what you need to put your plan into action and achieve your goals.

A coach can help you develop a plan and will provide the support and accountability needed during this learning process. A coach won’t tell you how to eat. Instead, they’ll work with you to use your own knowledge and ability to learn to find the option that works best for you and that will lead to a lifetime of healthy eating.

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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.

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Adopting a Healthy Lifestyle Change

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A few days ago, I had a talk with a guy about why men tend to gain weight back after having lost it. I went into details of positive mindset, confidence, support systems and overall well-being. His reply was “That all makes sense, but I don’t think that’s the case for me. For me, it’s just laziness.”

Why do we lapse back into old behaviors? Is it because we’re lazy? Ask just about any guy if he’s lazy at work and you’ll likely get the indignant reply of “Of course not, I work my a** off.” If that’s the case, why do we suddenly get lazy in matters that are vital to our well-being?

According to the Transtheoretical Model of Behavioral Change (that’s a mouthful, just hang on for a few sentences) developed by James Prochaska, the maintenance phase of a new behavior is composed of a series of spirals where an individual often cycles back to earlier stages. These lapses are a normal part of adopting a healthier lifestyle. It’s only the transition to the final termination phase that ensures the behavior has been fully integrated.

I believe these temporary bouts of “laziness” are really just short lapses and people benefit from learning to recognize them as part of the change process. What’s important is eventually working through the maintenance stage and finally reaching the complete adoption of the healthy behavior. How can that be done?

First, you need to believe in your ability to make the change; this is called self liberation. I break this down further: believe change is possible, believe you deserve it, then take responsibility for making it happen. You also need people to support you in the change (helping relationships) and, finally, you need to substitute healthy ways of acting and thinking for the unhealthy (counter conditioning.) Overriding a self-defeating mindset can be tough on your own. This is where a strong support system is vital. You’ll also need to develop strategies for introducing healthier ways of behaving. This will take planning and discipline. If any of these are difficult for you, you may spiral into more of these lapses prior to finally reaching that termination state. Or you may never get there. If you can’t make it through this on your own, get someone you trust to work with you.

Once you’ve reached your wellness goal, whether that be weight loss or something else, your plan turns into “maintain.” This state of hovering raises the opportunity to slide backwards. If you do, realize it’s part of the process and don’t let your negative self-talk that you’re “lazy” undo all of the progress you have made. Keep moving forward.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net