How to want what you have when it’s not what you want

IMG_5787Last year I found out, rather unceremoniously, that I had lost my job. I was a part of a small private practice that was bought by a competitor, a change facing many physician practices today. Unbeknownst to us, we were not going to be offered employee contracts as we had previously been told and instead, we were pushed out of town entirely. As the most recent hire and youngest of my group, I was the first to go despite four years of service. Not only that, I was given three weeks notice.

Three weeks.

The competing group had known for months in advance that they wouldn’t keep me on but they chose not to disclose the information. Of course, I was bitter. It’s not exactly easy to find a position as a pathologist these days. Even after accepting an offer, it takes months to get hospital approvals and state licenses. So there I was without a job for the first time ever in my life and I had no idea when I would be working again. I didn’t know how to process the shock of what had just happened let alone make decisions about the future.

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5 ways wellness coaching can change your life

IMG_0558One of the most important people to include on your journey to wellness is a wellness coach.

These are professionals who already have an established background in the areas of healthcare, nutrition and exercise science and who have elected to undergo additional training and certification to help you reach your wellness goals. But a coach is not your nutritionist, trainer or your doctor. Unlike those other services, which some coaches might also still provide outside of their coaching business, you are not purchasing information or a program to follow. Instead, you are learning how to partner with your intuition through the guidance of your coach, so that eventually you can coach yourself. This is why coaching of any sort is so valuable and worth the investment.

Specifically though, how can wellness coaching benefit you?

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An unhealthy focus on a healthy life

heartGardenThere is only one question you need to ask yourself when you consider making any change to be healthier.

Is my desire to change based on fear, or love?

Many of our attempts to eat well, exercise, and to generally live a healthy life are actually based in fear when we look closer. I’ve found that the more time and effort someone puts into a health endeavor (such as finding the optimal diet), often the more motivated they are by fear. If you follow some popular health and fitness blogs, the messages are clear: Eat (insert optimal diet here i.e. vegan, low-fat, etc) to prevent chronic illness and disease. Exercise (insert activity and intensity) to prevent dying early or debilitation.

The problem with coming from a fear based perspective is that you are setting yourself up for added stress even as you attempt to live a healthier life, with all the benefits it has to offer. Being fanatical about a strict diet or exercise regimen is identifying with a certain set of behaviors so much that without them, you don’t know who you are. There are all kinds of programs out there to help you stick to positive changes, and many focus on learning to identify yourself as “someone who doesn’t eat cake” or “someone who loves to be active”. But the problem is that if you do end up eating that piece of cake, or staying at home to watch TV instead of hitting the gym, you end up feeling like you did something wrong that you have to make up for the next day. How many times have we all thought that working out extra hard the day following an indulgence would counteract it? Not only does our metabolism not work that way, but that mindset reinforces our fear that there is always a perfect decision we should have made, that we failed to make.

It’s a life-changing and literally brain-altering experience to come from a place of love when you make your lifestyle choices. If you choose to eat healthy, do so because you love the flavor of the food and how it nourishes your body. When you decide to lift weights at the gym, do so because it exhilarates you to witness your own strength and progress. Find joy in each healthy behavior, not because it is helping you change how you look physically or is preventing a disease, but simply because each of these behaviors is an expression of self-love. It’s no different than reading a sweet child a bedtime story and tucking him in with his teddy bear. That’s how loving you want to be with yourself when you are on a journey of healthy living.

When you do experience a “setback” or “relapse”, which is essentially engaging in a behavior that ultimately does not serve your higher purpose, do it with love. This sounds somewhat paradoxical, because how can it be self-loving to indulge in a behavior you have pre-identified as harmful to your health? The answer is that no single behavior in and of itself is healthy or harmful. Every choice you make occurs in a context. Eating spinach is healthy, but only if you are eating plenty of other things as well. A spinach-only diet would lead to malnutrition pretty quickly! Eating birthday cake might lead to some unfavorable hormone and blood sugar fluctuations temporarily, but if this is an occasional treat then you can trust your body will recover and suffer no ill effect from a once-in-a-while indulgence. As long as your overall context for your choices is love, you can feel comfortable that any choice you make will be aligned with the healthy life you truly want.

I encourage you to evaluate your health behaviors and investigate whether you tend to approach them from love or fear. For those that are rooted in fear, how can you be more loving towards yourself as you make a change? Apply this question to other areas of your life, and you might just find that health is the natural outcome of love itself.

How to change your brain

brainIn my previous post, I introduced you to the concept of neuroplasticity. This means that your nervous system is “plastic”, it can change to form new, healthier neuronal connections and pathways to help you live the life you have always wanted. This idea alone can be a lot to take in for most people. It goes against what scientists have believed for decades, that essentially we are born with a fixed number of neurons, and once certain habits/pathways set in, (usually in childhood) they are very difficult to change. We have immense hope in the scientific discoveries that are showing that this just isn’t the case. We can literally change our brains, our thoughts, and our habits. We can harness this plasticity of our nervous system to change our lives for the better. But the big question is, how?

It might be a surprise to some of you, or no surprise at all to others, that the techniques to change our brains have been around for millennia. Many ancient eastern traditions have utilized tools such as mindfulness, meditation, and compassion to affect neuroplasticity. No matter what cultural terminology you would like to use, western neuroscience and eastern philosophy have come to the same conclusion. Through the conscious application of certain practices, we can begin to change our brains (and therefore our lives). What follows are a few steps that can help anyone benefit from the principles of neuroplasticity:

1. Begin a daily practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is a term used in spiritual and non-spiritual circles alike that simply means “paying attention”. The act of paying attention is essentially just focused concentration. We consciously activate areas of our frontal lobe that are normally active when we are totally immersed in some activity. The easiest, and hardest, way to begin to practice mindfulness is through meditation. Sit for five minutes twice a day in stillness, actively concentrating on your breath as it travels in through your nose, deep into your chest, and out again through your nose. It might feel to you that you should really be paying attention to the thoughts that are flitting in and out of your mind. This is not what you want to focus on. Those thoughts are distractions. Focus on your breath instead.

2. Experience compassion. If you can do this daily, that is a plus. If not, find at least three times a week where you can sit in stillness, but rather than meditating as described above, focus on the feeling of compassion. When was a time you felt deep compassion for someone else? What was going on? What made you feel compassionate, and how did it make your body feel? End this exercise by feeling compassion for yourself. In what areas of your life do you most need compassion? How would you express compassion to yourself, if you were your own best friend?

3. Practice change. Pick one habit this week you do regularly, automatically, that you would like to change. Is it automatically reaching for your phone to check email, Facebook,  or texts several times a day? Is it binge eating after work, late in the evenings? Is it ruminating over some thought that is disturbing you? Once you identify the habit, sit quietly and imagine yourself doing it. Visualize clearly, as if you were watching yourself on a big movie screen, what you look like as you are engaging in this habit. What is your facial expression and body posture? What is going on around you? How much time elapses? Notice how it feels to be watched while you engage in this habit. Become aware of your body in the present moment, as it is responding to the mental images of yourself. Once you can identify how your body feels in this present moment, begin to change the image. Imagine that while in the midst of engaging in the habit, you become aware of what you are doing, and stop. You either put your phone away and focus on a task that needs completing, or you put down the bag of chips and go for a walk outdoors, or you snap yourself out of obsessive thoughts and move on to something else. See yourself on the movie screen stop the habit and move onto something more productive. Stay with this image long enough until you notice your body responding to this new image. What does it feel like, and how has it changed from before? Really notice any subtle shifts in your posture, tension or relaxation of muscles, and your overall energy levels. Stay with this awareness for as long as you would like, for as long as it takes to sink in. And make the conscious effort that at least once this week, when you find yourself engaging in the habit you chose to examine for this exercise, you will follow through with your visualization of changing that behavior.

There are more techniques that can be used, but for most people, these three will be enough and can offer rich rewards when engaged in regularly. The key to all of them is consistency. You want to begin making these practices a part of your daily, or at least weekly, routine so that you give your brain the stimulation it needs to change. It is quite normal to feel an effortless commitment to these new practices during the first two weeks, only to feel your motivation taper off afterward. But stick with it, and you will find that even fifteen minutes of these pracices a few times a week is enough to start seeing change.

The change that you are seeing outwardly in your life is only possible because inwardly your brain is actually starting to change its structure. Take that as reinforcement that your hard work is paying off. You are worth the investment.

The one thing that will derail your New Year’s resolutions (and how to overcome it)

file4281249501933In January, most of us set some sort of resolution for what we hope to accomplish in the next twelve months. Resolutions are important, but more importantly, our intentions behind them speak volumes for who we dream of being. The difference between an intention and resolution is this: an intention reflects our deeper purpose in life, and our resolution is our decision to act upon it. The problem so many of us face when carrying out our resolutions is that we often lose the motivation or energy to stick with it, despite our intention. How is it that we can feel a deep desire and inner purpose to achieve some goal, and yet remain complacent in the status quo? I have written about the quality of grit, which is important to cultivate because it alone can make a huge difference in reaching our goals. But another piece of the puzzle is termed “resistance”, which will be the focus of this post.

In his book “The War of Art“, Steven Pressfield coins a term for that mysterious, invisible force that keeps us stuck where we are, especially when we pursue creative and self-improvement endeavors. He calls it “resistance”, and it can manifest as distraction, procrastination, anxiety or even as depression. Like gravity, resistance is a natural law. It represents the equal but opposite force in response to our efforts to elevate ourselves into higher levels of being. Said simply, resistance pulls us back when we try to push ourselves forward. It doesn’t matter what the activity is that we are engaging in either, just as long as it is something meaningful to us. It might be walking a few blocks around the neighborhood each evening, or sitting down to finish the next great American novel. Anything that we pursue in attempts to develop ourselves further than we currently are will be met with resistance. The more strongly you feel about pursuing a goal, the more you will feel resistance pulling you in the other direction.

Resistance’s purpose is to prevent you from changing. It comes from the ego, and is threatened by those things that connect you to your higher Self and calling. That is why the more you try to pursue those specific goals in the area of your gift and calling in the world, the stronger resistance will tug at you. It might seem unfair, but look at it this way: When you feel resistance, you know you are on the right track. When you start to recognize that it is becoming harder to push yourself towards your health goals or creative projects, you know without a doubt that you are on the brink of transformation. Resistance is your guide, and you will feel it more intensely the closer you get to the finish line.

Overcoming resistance is a matter of taking a strict approach with it. It requires setting a schedule, and sticking to it (there’s grit again). Pressfield writes that it’s about seeing yourself as a professional in whatever activity you are engaged in. You might pursue the activity out of love, but if it is important to you, then you must look at it like you would any other job. You show up, get the work done, and go home. It’s not a matter of doing it when you have time, or when you feel like it. It’s knowing that if you don’t do it, you aren’t living the life you truly want. You aren’t living. Ultimately, it’s a matter of life or death in the spiritual sense.

Be careful, because often resistance masks itself in perfectionism. You might feel that unless you do something perfectly, it isn’t worth doing at all. But this is what resistance wants you to believe. It knows that when you are tired, or having a bad day, that you’ll throw in the towel because you don’t feel like any effort you put forth is good enough. But it’s not about doing anything perfectly. Maybe you write a page of your book that you just end up throwing out. The goal isn’t to complete each task as you imagined you will on your absolute best day, but merely to look resistance straight in the face and get the work done anyway, even on your worst day.

Steven Pressfield doesn’t measure the day’s success by the work he accomplished. He measures it by the answer to this one question: How well did I overcome resistance? I’ve started posing this question to myself at the close of each day. The answer comes to me immediately and intuitively, and I find that keeping the concept of resistance in mind helps me stick to my creative and self-improvement endeavors the following day. If you want 2014 to be year of exponential growth, of achieving the goals you set forth in your New Year’s resolutions, become acquainted with resistance and how it shows up in your own life.

No matter what resolutions you have set for this year, the prerequisite to every one will be overcoming resistance. The way gravity pulls your foot back to the earth after each step, resistance wants to keep you standing still. Don’t let it.

How the most radical change of your life can be as quiet as a whisper

file0001363797321When you think about making changes in your life, what do you think of? Is it a flash forward to yourself twenty pounds thinner, or twenty grand richer? Do you picture yourself living on the beach, maybe with a new partner, or finally living the dream you long ago laid to rest?

Often, when we imagine great changes in our lives that reflect our deepest values and dreams, images like those above are conjured in our minds. We generally think of how the situations around us would be different, even seeing the future “us” as an entirely different person from who we are now. Living the life of our dreams can seem so out of reach from this perspective. Not only that, when we do make attempts to get ‘there”, we often experience setbacks and failures, further discouraging us so that we stay stuck where we are, as we are, with feelings of general discontent. It is an ongoing challenge to balance wanting to make positive changes for a better future, while also appreciating what life brings us in each moment.

Detailed visions are very important to construct because it helps our neurons fire and wire together in ways that help us change. I like to consider these visions as “sensory visions”; I encourage my clients to use their five senses when describing their vision to begin laying down new neuronal circuitry that will facilitate change. This is an important step because it prepares the brain for what comes next…which is essentially a series of incredibly small changes that my clients never really factored into their grand vision in the first place. It is not unusual during the coaching process for these small changes to take a client by surprise, especially when they occur after a client thinks he or she has “failed” at some task. I love when that happens. As is the case in life, when we don’t get what we asked for, we often get something better.

For example, by working toward a healthy weight for your body, you find you have somehow developed the deep capacity to love yourself unconditionally. By committing to a daily 30 minute walk, you renew your connection with the natural world and express gratitude for its beauty. Or by deciding to improve communications with your partner regarding your health efforts, you infuse your relationship with vitality that it hasn’t seen since you first got together.

Sometimes, the changes that have the most radical impact on our lives are like gentle whispers in our ear. We make an almost imperceptible shift in our behavior, that is in line with our higher values, and see the effects echoing loudly in other areas of our lives. While the coaching process is about setting and attaining realistic goals, the biggest growth occurs when we realize important things about ourselves we were previously unaware of. These are the little insights, the “Aha!” moments, that connect us deeply to ourselves and each other. Our vision is a dream, that we can only work toward by becoming awake.

Dream your wildest vision for yourself, and then when you are done, wake up to the life you have. Wake up to who you are. Commit to small changes you can stick with, as if you were listening to a lover whisper in your ear. I promise you, these whispers will change your life.

A healthy mental diet

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou have to guard what enters your mind just as carefully as what enters your body. And like packaged “health food”, sometimes what seems mentally or emotionally healthy, might not actually be. It might be those very things that are actually making you sick. That are not allowing you to move forward. Maybe they are certain words of inspiration, or images of what we want to achieve in life, but these very things might just reinforce our current attachments and false beliefs that we are not enough as we are. Maybe what we feel as motivation or inspiration, is just an influx of energy coming from that egoic place that makes us feel like “yeah, ok, let’s do this!” and yet, somehow we fail yet again. Why is that?

If you want to lose weight, and you view images of healthy toned people as inspiration, it might give you the motivation to exercise in the short term. It might help you visualize your goal, which is very important; except that often your brain interprets the “you” who has reached the goal as a person different than who you are right now. This is where the problem arises. When you think of yourself in the future as a different person, you become even more detached from the present moment. Inspiration to make positive changes is great; inspiration to be another person is not.

Allow inspiration to come to you in a form that supports where you are right now. If you create vision boards, or collect inspiring images and quotes to help you achieve your goals, be aware of how they make you feel in the current moment. If they make you feel worse about yourself now, with the hope of feeling better later, then likely they will keep you stuck. But if they foster appreciation for who you are now, while also motivating you to reach your goals, you can use that positive momentum to grow into your better self.

Are you Breathing?

As you read this right now, pay attention to your posture and your breath. We both know you are breathing, but are you Breathing? Breathing, with a capital B, means you take full inhales deep into your belly, so that your diaphragm lowers and your lungs expand. The breath flows easily, usually in and out through your nostrils, and it is this breath that supports whatever activity you are doing. Whether you are sitting in a cozy chair with a cup of coffee reading your favorite book, stuck in your cubicle at work, or maybe even standing at your jerry rigged standing workstation that you constructed to get up off your butt, the question I want you to ask yourself is, are you Breathing?

Most likely, you are realizing your breaths are shallow. It’s your neck muscles involved in breathing, not your diaphragm. And right about now, you are taking some deeper breaths and realizing how good it feels, almost like the first stretch you take in the morning. This isn’t a far-fetched analogy. You are expanding your ribcage in a way that feels good, because it has been dormant for a long time. It feels good to Breathe.

Breathing is a focus of many ancient meditative and healing practices that has largely gone overlooked in the West. One of the first things you can do to improve your health is to Breathe. The breath fuels the rest of your life, it is the basis of everything that you do. Athletes and musicians are just a few people who actively train their breathing capacity so they can pursue their careers. But Breathing is an essential practice for all people, in all situations.

Do you hate your job? Maybe it’s because you aren’t Breathing. Who wouldn’t hate their work, when that work is being fueled by short, anxious breaths that are only relieved when the clock announces it’s 5pm and time to go home? That’s probably when you take a giant sigh of relief, and instantly feel better. If you hate your job, Breathe.

Are you in a frustrating argument with someone you care about? Maybe your frustration is so consuming because you aren’t Breathing. Dealing with a conflicting point of view, someone else’s error, or even their frank rudeness is a lot easier when your breath travels deep down into your chest, into your belly, and smoothly back out your nose. If you are in conflict with another person, Breathe.

Is illness a part of your life? Maybe you have a chronic illness, that seems to flare up at the worst times. Maybe you have an injury that is preventing you from reaching your fitness goals. No matter what it is, Breathe. Take those long, steady breaths in and out, this is when you need them the most.

Your breath is what calms your mind and eases distraction. It connects you mentally and emotionally to the present moment, where your body lives. If you are thinking about making positive changes in your life, or already embarking on that journey, know that conscious deep breathing can help carry you forward.

Discovering what’s true for you

There is a monstrous sea of information waiting to come crashing in on you at every moment and from every angle. Whether you are trying to improve your diet, fitness, relationships or work life, you can find almost any data to support any view with plenty of people to back it up with their testimony. Embarking on any change is scary enough, but sometimes it seems that even with the positive energy you bring to your data gathering phase, you can get swallowed up and spit out, to where you are left confused and filled with doubt.

Being confused quickly turns into being overwhelmed, which then leads to fatigue. And you may ask yourself “why bother?” because the desire to change is there, but the path to change is not. What good is desire, when it leaves you stranded in the ocean?

Life has gifted us with the amazing sense to be able to tell when something is right for us. That gift is our intuition. Our inner knowing. That guiding compass located deep within the essence of who we are, that can point us towards directions that will help us grow the most. Sometimes those directions may bring us discomfort, and sometimes it will bring ecstatic joy. We’ll find out when we get there. But the most beautiful thing about the process is that it is fine-tuned to each one of us. For no one else has your exact compass, combined with your experience in the world. Only you have access to your intuition. Most likely, there will be those around you who “know what’s best”, and make recommendations for whatever growth or change they think you need. And you may even find that some of these people are right. But they are only right when your intuition confirms they are right. They are only right when you can see into them as mirrors, and then deeper into yourself.

So, you know you have a valuable resource in your intuition that will guide you along your way. Now what? What happens if you can’t feel your intuition?

The most important thing you can do, then, is to become acquainted with it. Say hi and introduce yourself. This is the friend who has been waiting for you to acknowledge her, standing quietly against the back wall of your heart, gently communicating to you through her whispers and sighs. (Okay, sometimes she gets angry and it’s more like a kick in the stomach.) Grab a cup of tea, and sit quietly, getting to know what she looks like, what her voice sounds like, what her deepest desires are. Let this introduction turn into regular meetings, as long as you turn the outside world off, and retreat inward into your soul. She will speak more clearly every time.

After a period of silence, begin to ask her how she feels about various things. Ask your intuition about your work. Be specific, and translate your question into images and feelings. Your intuition will not answer you in words. Rather, she will connect to you through visceral sensations. She will aid your body in discovering the answer, so tune into your body to figure out what she’s telling you. Sometimes, you may get a clear answer. Other times, you may just receive reassurance. And yet others, you may feel as if she hasn’t answered you at all; and with these times, know that the uncertainty that follows is a blessing in disguise, for life holds greater promise for you than what either of you could even dream.

Pick ten questions or statements you would like your intuition to speak to you specifically about. They can be anything from “Should I marry him?” to “How will I feel if I eat that bowl of ice cream?”. They can be questions you already know the answers to. But pick ten, and one by one, pose them to your intuition and wait until you have become acquainted with the response. Remember, your intuition will often communicate in soft, delicate vibrations that you feel in different parts of your body depending on the answer. If you are distracted and full of noise, you’re likely to miss them. Start learning the language that your specific intuition uses in response to these questions, and then observe how the effects of your intuition’s guidance show up in your life. You will slowly build up that trust necessary to put yourself in your intuition’s hands. You’ll begin to see that when you are confronted with choices and an overwhelming amount of information, your intuition is constantly communicating to you about which is best for you. It’s in your intuition’s best interest to keep you healthy, happy and well, after all. No one else’s.

By incorporating your intuition in all areas of your life – whether it’s what diet to follow, what event to attend, what job to choose – you begin to live a personalized life tailored to your own uniqueness. It’s as if you had the best nutritionist, trainer, coach, and lover all wrapped into one person who could help you live your best life possible because they know you. That’s your intuition, speaking to you within the recesses of your heart. Take a seat. Start listening. Discover what’s true for you.

When change is hard

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAEven though we may have a broad goal like losing weight, being healthier, living happier etc, we are in different phases of change and acceptance for the sub-components that make up those goals. For instance, losing weight requires changes in several different areas, from what we eat, to how we work out, to how much sleep we are getting and what our stress is like at work. It might be impacted by things like social situations and alcohol, or binge eating. We may accept that some of these areas will require change more readily than others; and yet, in certain areas we are still very resistant to change. Sometimes the biggest challenge is not in powering through those areas we feel resistant about, but rather learning how to acknowledge, accept and empathize with the resistance as a part of our current experience.

Most of our dissatisfaction with our current situation arises from comparing where we are in the present moment to where we were in the past, or where we want to be in the future. This is a natural way of thinking for the mind. It sacrifices present moment awareness in order to re-evaluate the past, or try and predict the future. The thing is, there is no such thing as the past or future. These are just linear constructs we use to understand the relevance of our current position in space and time. But while our current situation in some ways depended on our past to get us here, in actuality, it was just millions of tiny present moments strung together. The only thing that got you to where you are now, is where you are now. The only thing getting you to where you want to go, is where you are now. The only “you” that ever has been in existence, is the you that exists in the present moment.

Learning to accept our entire experience for where we are in the present moment, as it relates to larger goals we have set for ourselves, is the biggest challenge. Its easy to set a lofty outcome goal, and then fail because we don’t understand the process to get there. It’s even easier to fail when we don’t allow for resistance or ambivalence as a natural part of the process. When you feel a part of yourself push back against a change you want to make, gently observe with empathy and love. Understand that the resistance is related to underlying feelings and needs that are begging to be addressed. Start exploring the deeper issues without needing any particular outcome of the exploration. What you learn might be the exact missing link you needed to taking that giant leap forward towards your goals.