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Coach Marc Santos

How to Set Goals to Ensure Your Success

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Whether stated in conversation or explained via text, everyone that begins their work with me receives this disclaimer:

“First I feel it necessary to point out that I do not subscribe to the idea that we should fit into the image that we are marketed to as beautiful, sexy, handsome, or in some way desirable.  I am only interested in one thing, and that is how does health and fitness contribute to our quality of life.  How does it help us manifest what we believe and value MORE?  And in that way how does it contribute to our growth as a person?  With that being said, the pursuit of aesthetic, symmetry,  weight loss and other related ambitions, while they are not out of the scope of my practice, their priority is variable.  Meaning that their pursuit is only as important inasmuch as they fit in within the context of what we value.  To that extent, if at any point the pursuit of such goals, puts our identity and our self image in jeopardy, thereby affecting the pursuit of higher ordered goals, then those goals must be dispatched until a more resolute understanding of how they fit in within the context of what we TRULY value in life becomes more coherent.”

So while the traditional goals associated with my field are definitely worth pursuing, they are not to be pursued at the expense of higher priorities and values.

Goals and the framework for designing them, in my opinion, is a largely misunderstood practice and therefore, ineffectively coached.
We are often told that we should have S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time bound) goals.  The problem with SMART goals is that they assume emotion, they don’t generate it.  I have talked to some degree about how emotion drives action, and that if we are to make changes that last and sustain over the course of time, then we need to find the emotion(s) that can fuel the efforts needed to make the transition.  The problem is, these big goals, the goals that we feel define us and give us purpose, do not fall within the guidelines of SMART goals.  No, these goals are often abstract and nebulous and, to large degree, that is by design, because they are meant to encompass a lot. Their obscurity allows us creative interpretation on how they might be manifested in our daily actions.
Therefore, I view goals within a hierarchy.  With the most meaningful goals at the top and the lower tier goals following suit until we reach the bottom level.
The top level goals are abstract and vague for reasons mentioned formerly, but as you travel further down the hierarchical chain, the less vague they become.  It is not until we reach the lower tier goals when SMART goals prove to be most valuable.
Setting up goals in this fashion allows us to take advantage of the two sides of us that are seemingly at odds with each other, and can be most poignantly summed up with the question, “why is it that I know what to do, but I can’t seem to get myself to do it?”

 

Goals, therefore, need to be a mix of both emotional, AND logical because knowing what you want without a clear path on how to get there will eventually result in apathy.

Now, the lower tier goals, are less important, and consequently can be changed on a whim. In fact, this is encouraged to some degree.  This is the area where we can encourage experimentation and trail and error.  It is also during this time where we can cultivate and foster a mindset that has a favorable response to failure, and bias toward growth and learning.

It is important that we nurture this perspective because one of the many truths of progress is that failure is not the exception, it is the rule, and if we do not equip ourselves with the mental fortitude to withstand these set backs our goals will soon meet an early demise.

It should be stated that harboring this mindset is not easy, especially in the landscape we currently find ourselves in.  One where we have a culture that champions innate talent, natural intelligence, and inborn ability in lieu of laborious effort, deliberate practice, and skill development.  A climate where we more inclined to have an answer given to us, rather than to critically think about the solution and whether it applies within the context who we are, how we live and what we value.  It is a system beliefs that define us as fixed, finite, and limited; and so we end up asking the question, “why even make an attempt if the outcome will remain unchanged?”

It is an ideology that is flawed, and yes, while some are born with distinct advantages, that tale of hard work, perseverance, and consistent effort leads to a more meaningful existence, and in turn a “happier” life.

In conclusion, when you embark to make meaningful changes in your life, reflect on what is important to you, and NOT once, but MANY times.
Reflection is better defined as engaging with the process.  Reviewing your successes, as well as your errors, gives you indispensable information as to how you might accumulate more triumphs moving forward.
Seek the goals that define you and give you purpose and let those fuel your actions as you make progress in small, but meaningful ways.  Then follow that up with a plan to get there.  In this way goals, give us purpose as well as a definitive road to get there, albeit one with detours, winding trails, and steep hills

Beginner Exercises: Modified Deadbug – Leg Lower

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If you are a complete beginner to exercise and core training this an excellent exercise to start with to learn the principles of proper core training.  By laying on your back you gain extra stability in regards to control because the ground provides you with support.  Also, by laying your arms out to the side you gain addition support by creating additional points of contact to the ground.

A modified deadbug usually comes after someone is taught what it means to maintain a neutral spine, how to breathe in relation to the task at hand, and how to properly brace “core” musculature.

Key Cues

  1. Brace and Breathe
  2. Keep your legs at a 90 degree angle
  3. Lower legs in a controlled manner
  4. Nothing should move except your legs

Common Mistake #1 – Not keeping a 90 degree angle

One of the most common mistakes is failing to keep a 90 degree angle from your thigh to your shins.  Many people with bend their knees to shorten the distance they need to travel in order to reach the ground.

Common Mistake #2 – Arching the Lower Back

Arching the lower back also called (lumbar hyper extension) defeats the purpose of this exercise in it’s entirety.  Here you see my stomach/chest lift off the ground when trying to lower my leg.  This is an example of poor core control.

Basic Principle of Core Training

What’s Needed to Change and Asking a Better Question

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Transcript

When people come to see me for the first time and then they start to get to working with me, within this process of weight loss, and health, and wellness, and what ever this is to you.  They often exclaim to me that working with me is something that is very different than what they are used to, and I can see how that is.  Because how I view this whole process of weight loss and health and wellness, I view it within the context of what actually means to change something.  Because I think that’s what were trying to do.

On a very fundamental level what we’re trying to do is change.

And if I were to break this down; now there’s a multitude of factors that are involved in the creation of change and the sustainability of a change.  But if I were to break it down to the very nuts and bolts of how change actually occurs it first starts with our perspective and how we view things; and then second, it involves the development of skills that we don’t already posses.  Changing our perspective. Changing our view of things.  It’s this idea of metacognition and psychoanalysis.  It’s this idea of thinking about our thinking.  To be able to step back from our own pool of thoughts and say “could I be wrong?”  And that’s not easy for people to do because we like to be right.  And we think that our perspective is the only perspective, and so, getting into a practice of where you’re continually challenging your own thought is not an easy task, but it’s something that I think is very vital when it comes to making changes. To be able to say to yourself is there a perspective that I have not yet entertained, that if I did, that could possibly move me forward…is powerful.

You know, and this goes back to a mantra that I teach my clients and live my life by, and it’s “ask a better question.”  When you get stuck, as a better question.  And there’s only one rule that I give to people when it comes to asking a better question, and that’s it can’t be a question that has a binary response.  What I mean by that is that it can’t be “yes or no”, “true or false”, or “either or”.  The reason why I say that is because when we talk about making changes, you know, a lot of these things can be daunting.  You know, when it comes to weight loss, and when it comes to health, and some of these things we’re trying to do.  It can be overwhelming to some people, and when we lack self confidence, and when we lack self esteem, and we lack self efficacy, you know.  If I ask myself “can I do this?”  I might just say no and I might just give up.  And so when I say the questions that you ask can’t have a binary response, is that’s what I mean.  If you tell yourself “can I do this?” Your default answer might be no, and I don’t want you to go there.  So what a better question might be is “how can I do this?”  It could be that simple.  How could I do this? Because when we ask a question like that it brings our resources to bare, right.  We start to think about, okay, how could I solve this problem.  And ultimately what I’m trying to do, in this whole process, is I’m trying to get you to think critically about your situation.  There’s a quote out there that I forgot who said it.  If it was Jim Rohn or Zig Zigglar. It was one of those guys.  And he said, you know, “don’t ask for less problems, as for more skills.”  And that’s very true.

Moving Away From Answer Dependency

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Transcript

So, you’re going to have to really look into yourself, really reflect and review on what you think is working and what’s not working. I think this where we fall short sometimes, because we become a very answer-dependent culture, and where we feel like, just get me the answer. Tell me what to do and I’ll do it. Most people, if I ask you, what are five things you should be doing, and you’re just not doing it? You can probably rattle off five or seven things. So, the fundamental thing that I think that people approach this wrong is that they’re answer-dependent. They’re looking for an answer to be given rather than an answer to be learned and discovered and figured out. When this change, a change where it involves health, wellness, weight loss, whatever it might be, is an adaptable change. It will change as the process moves on because you can predict life, but then you get sick or then your child gets sick or then a family member passes away or then you have to move. These are all life. These are part of life. So, what do you do then? And this is why I say that I don’t have answers for you.

The answers are something that we’re going to have to figure out together and that is the key to things, though, you see, because it’s not the strategy. It’s not what you’re doing that is so important. It’s how you thought about it. What was your train of thought to get there? Because you will need to apply that same thought pattern, that same principle of thinking, again and again and again, because you will need to adapt. You will need to change as life changes, as your beliefs change, as your identity grows bigger. So, the first step is, don’t look for answers to be given to you. Now, I’m not saying don’t be resourceful. Go look for perspective. Go look for other ideas, of course, but understand how those things fit in within the context of who you are and the life you live. It has to pass through that filter. I say this time and time again. Strategies tend to lose their utility. At one point in time, they will become useless to you. So, what do you do then? What happens? And this is all I’m asking.

Weight Loss Tip: Think Smaller to Make Big Changes

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If you do not already know, losing weight is largely about calories in versus calories out.  That should be no secret.  Now how you accomplish this task, is where things can get a little tricky.  So today I would like to share with you a simple trick or environmental manipulation that I use to help me reduce the amount of calories I take in without giving it a second thought.

Mint and Chip Ice Cream

I love ice cream, especially the mint and chip variety.  In fact, it is for this reason that I indulge in that creamy goodness every night!  I know…shocker right??  Not really, for those of you reading this that know me, that is not a far stretch AT ALL.  What can I say…I love my sweets.  But too much of anything is not a good thing, and when it came to eating ice cream I was approaching that “too much” mark exceedingly fast–so I needed to make a few adjustments.

“Minimize” Me?

During my ice cream escapades I started to notice that the lifespan of the ice cream tub was lessening every week.  It went from lasting me about a week, to about half that.  Which could have only meant one of two things–A) I was eating more than I thought or B) My GF was eating some of it too.  But option B wasn’t much of an option, because my GF does not share my same enthusiasm for ritualistic ice cream eating in the evening hours.  So I was left with myself to blame.

Whenever it comes time for me to change a habit I am always thinking of ways to make my decisions easier; therefore, I do not have to expend much of my willpower energy to accomplish what needs to be done.  With that being said, I always look to manage three areas of influence.

  1. People–relationships
  2. Places–environments
  3. Things–items that can help me accomplish my task.

In this case, “things” by way of bowls, utensils, and ice cream cones, made a huge difference in helping me reducing the total amount of calories I ate during the week.

I started off by using a smaller bowl.  This had a positive effect for a bit, but then I found that was starting to compensate for the reduction in bowl width, by adding more ice cream to the top, effectively negating the whole concept of using a smaller bowl to begin with.  So then I decided to shrink the bowl EVEN MORE.  This helped a bit more because, the visual of seeing such a small bowl stacked with SO MUCH ice cream on top served as a reality check, because there was no excuse for having that much ice cream in such a small bowl besides the fact that I was just trying to stuff my face. So gradually the amount of ice cream started to fit in the way a bowl of that size should be utilized.

portion-sizes

So I figured the bowl out.  But then I ran into another issue.  I like to eat it while I am winding down watching TV, but I started to notice that my ice cream wasn’t lasting that long in terms of amount of time it took me to it eat it, which was leaving me a little dissatisfied to say the least.  I felt that desert was not serving me in the way that it should be.  So to resolve this issue, I knew that I needed to eat slower, but I did not want to be mindful of my eating, because it would defeat the purpose of being able to watch TV AND eat dessert at the same time. So guess what I did?  I got a smaller spoon!  Smaller bites would mean that it would last longer, and I was right.  It did last longer, and as a result my desert time became a little more pleasureable.  By this time I was into it.  I wanted to see if I could improve my dessert eating experience AND keep myself in line with reducing my overall caloric intake.  Enter the ice cream cone…BOOM!

By placing my ice cream in an ice cream cone I was forced to lick my ice cream to death, like a damn tootsie pop..and how long does it take to get to the center of those things again?  

By manipulating the way I consume my dessert I was able to reduce my overall caloric intake by 1500 to 2100 cals each week, and when this is combined with my other efforts such as making better food choices and exercise it can make a big difference.

In conclusion, sustainable weight loss is largely about finding out what is going to work for you.  It is good to think in terms of how you can influence yourself to make better choices.  Managing these three areas of influence–relationships, environment, and tools–can markedly improve your chances of success.  

So ditch the idea of diet cults and trending fads, and get creative with the solutions to your problems and figure out what’s going to work for you.

3 Strategies to “Dream Big” Better

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We are exposed to it time and time again, and yet, every separate occurrence it seems as if we may have never been informed of it prior to our most recent experience.

Life has a tendency to not give a sh*t about our plans

We try to be as cognizant to our surroundings as possible.  We try to account for variables; possible outcomes; and the like, but life may prefer to veto your original blueprint in lieu of it’s most recent “etch-a-sketch” of what your experience should entail.

It is for this reason, that I tell everyone, that in whatever change you are attempting to make, just know that it WILL take LONGER expected. Because SOMETHING will happen.  I cannot tell you what it is–just be confident that it will.  Not to sound like some esoteric palm reader, but I see it often enough to make an educated guess, that your “vision of success” rarely matches what reality has in store for you.

The Unrealistic Optimist

We are often told of the benefits of being optimistic; a lot of which is true. For example, practicing optimism boasts benefits such as longer life, resilience, happiness, athleticism, better job opportunities, etc. almost ANYTHING equated with success can be associated with maintaining a positive attitude. This partly why, more often than not, I search for silver linings, buried lessons, and try to envision the best possible outcomes–I have become a practitioner of a seemingly very useful skill. But this does not mean that I forego my diet of skepticism and scrutiny in light of blue skies and sunny days.

Because optimism without regard for failure is best defined as ignorance–and for some, blissfully so.

Yet, even with what we know to be true, we STILL attempt “change” with rose colored spectacles.  We somehow fool ourselves into believing that everything will go as expected and our faith, will, motivation, or lack of skill will somehow remain undaunted–never wavering for a moment.

A common example of this is when we decide to lose that “spare tire” or “pouch” that seems to have taken up occupancy around our midsections.  We believe that we will workout five days a week, disregarding our lack of effort over the previous three months. We will start to “eat clean” (whatever that means), and pass on our evening ritual of ice cream followed by a glass of wine.  We never, for a moment, think about the reality of our situation. And this can be likened to premeditated failure, which leads to apathy or a reluctance to try again.

But why do we behave in this way, even when we KNOW that this is, almost certainly, a recipe for disaster?

“Dreaming Big” Feels REALLY Good

When we make elaborate plans to achieve success, and envision ourselves doing it, we feel good about ourselves…REALLY good.  But why did we decided to make such elaborate plans to begin with?  Taking a closer look at the reason why we decided to change in the first place, can give us some insight into why we are so prone to setting ourselves up for failure.

When we think about what we DON’T like about ourselves we get stressed out.  And when we get stressed out we search for relief, and often times this can come in the form of vice.  For example, when someone that smokes get’s into a heated argument, they tend to grab a smoke to “blow off steam”, or when we have had a stressful day at work, we see if we can get off early enough to catch happy hour before it ends.  There is an immediate level of gratification that satisfies our need to find some normalcy or a level of comfort, but rarely (if ever) do these “solutions” solve our problems.  They simply provide us with a means to cope.  

Setting elaborate, unrealistic goals can have the same effect.  As I noted before when we, in effect, “dream big” we feel virtuous.  We feel REALLY good.  We get a shot of awe inspiring hope and this can leave us feeling invigorated and motivated.  We do this in response to undesirable feelings about a certain aspect of who we are or circumstances in our life, otherwise why would we even entertain the thought of changing…right?  In other words, we get “stressed” and this leads us to seek relief, and the “solution” most appropriate to resolve these negative feelings, is to “DREAM BIG”–and the bigger the dream, the better we feel.

So am I saying that we should NOT “DREAM BIG”?  Not by any means.  But I AM saying that “dreaming big” without context for how such idea should be applied is foolish.

A Better Way to “Dream Big”

dream_big

Big dreams have an uncanny way of inspiring motivation–and that is something that can prove to be a catalyst to create change when we need it most.  But big dreams without direction and a practice in discipline and resolve will soon transform into angst, lethargy, and discontent.  So below are three strategies you can use to “Dream Big” better.

One:  Get a Healthy Dose of Pessimism

Pessimism is often seen in a negative light, and when pessimism swings too far in one direction, such as the proverbial Debbie Downers and Negative Nancys (or Neds) of the world, it is most certainly an annoyance to experience. But pessimism has its benefits.  According to some studies pessimism is correlated with longer marriages, more productivity, and longer lives.  The trick is applying pessimism to identify, understand, and plan for your potential downfall.  Which leads us to our next strategy.

Two: Plan To Fail

Failure is not the exception, it is the rule.  Write this down and reference it every time you resolve to change something.  When we plan for our missteps, the failure itself becomes apart of our strategy for change.  We become better equipped to deal disasters, trials, and tribulations.  It also gives us a level of control, which can bolster your confidence in yourself to complete what you set out to accomplish.

Three:  Falling Down is Not So Bad, As Long As You GET BACK UP

Enough cannot be said for cultivating a mindset that does not allow you to wallow in your sorrow.  When we encounter experiences that do not favor us, or our situation, being able to regain composure and move forward is the hallmark of every success story you are likely to hear. Our ability to be resilient despite unfavorable circumstances is what being “optimistic” is all about.

Talk is Not Cheap: How You Talk to Yourself Makes A REALLY Big Difference.

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In the last article I spoke about awareness and the practice of being mindful.  In today’s post,  we will discuss how to utilize that practice in more depth to start to facilitate change.

A Tale of Two Selves

What if I told you that I would pay for the vacation of your dreams, would you take it?  I am sure that most of you would say, “yes!”  Okay, what if I told you that I would pay for it, contingent on the condition that you couldn’t take any photos, and upon your return, you would have to take a drug that erases the entire experience from your memory. Effectively, you would be erasing any evidence that the vacation took place.  Would you take it then, or would you rather pay for your own vacation?  I think that most of us would rather just pay for our own vacation and keep the memories.

This is a scenario that author, researcher, and psychologist, Daniel Kahneman, poses to an audience during a TED talk to express the concept that we are of “two selves”–our experiencing self and our remembering self.  Think of our experiencing self as the part of us that says “ouch” when we are stung by a bee or pricked by a thorn–this side of us is THERE from moment to moment. The remembering self is the part of us that interprets (how we feel, connect, remember, etc.) our experience, and therefore, largely dictates our satisfaction with our lives.  Given the scenario mentioned above, we shun the idea of a vacation without being able to remember it because it is the interpretation of our experiences that equate to emotion and feelings of satisfaction.

I make this distinction early on because moving forward, we will be addressing the part of you that is interpreting your experience.  

Hi Marc! My Name is Marc

Language is how we relate to our world and communicate our experience.  The meaning of words inherent in a specific language, used in accordance with structure and context, has a significant impact on how we talk, and in turn, on the way we think.  If fact, one study suggest that having the ability to speak more than one language can change the way you think based on which language you choose to “think” in. This has far reaching effects when considering how to change an aspect of our lives, because a belief is nothing more than a thought that we choose to endorse with emotional backing–and beliefs dictate our actions.  So, if we jump on the “deductive reasoning train”:

change the way you talk to change the way you think;

change the way you think to change your beliefs

change your beliefs to change your actions.

Now, I’m not asking you to learn a whole new language in order to change, but I am asking that you recognize the connection between how you conversate with yourself and the effect it has on your life experience and emotions.

What You “See” is What You Get

The average width of a doorway is a approximately 3 feet give or a take a few inches.  I am a fairly sizeable 220 pound male, that takes part in strength training, so that leaves me with a shoulder width of under 2 feet.  Needless to say, I wouldn’t have to adjust the way I walk to get through a doorway. I certainly wouldn’t have to turn my body sideways to get into my house, but that’s just me.  But in a study where female participants suffered from anorexia, this was not the case.

In the study out of the Netherlands, a group of researchers sought to discover if the way participants (suffering from anorexia) PERCEIVED themselves, would have a direct effect on the way they behaved unconsciously.

They gathered 19 participants and had them walk through doorways with varying width.  What they observed was that participants started to turn their bodies in doorways that were 40 percent WIDER than their respective shoulders.  The participants thought of themselves as being much larger than they really were; therefore, they felt as if they needed to “squeeze” through doorways when there was plenty of available room.

This study gives us some insight into how the way we choose to identify ourselves has a direct impact on the way we behave.  It may seem commonsensical, but we rarely acknowledge the effects of such a phenomenon. For example when I say that, “I don’t do well on roller coasters,” there is a very small probability that I will be enthusiastic about going to your favorite theme park.

Where Does this Leave Us?

“If you fight hard enough for your limitations, you get to keep them.”

In the beginning of any effort to make any change, it is important to recognize that you may be thinking in way that is limiting your progress.  But in order to spot a self limiting belief, we first need KNOW that we are holding the “spotlight” to begin with.  We sought to correct this dilemma by practicing being aware and mindful. This endows us with the ability to observe the conversations we have with ourselves (i.e. thoughts); but we can’t stop there.  The spotlight needs to shift to entertain new perspectives, thereby illuminating potential solutions that can move us toward progress.  

As easy as this may sound, this presents us with a problem. Because in order to think differently, you must first need to know HOW TO THINK because “you don’t know, what you don’t know”.  In other words, it would be impossible for us to adopt different perspectives if they remained outside our frame of reference.

For example, if you’re intently focused on all the reasons that you CAN’T exercise, there is little anyone can do to convince you otherwise.  This is the kind of conversation wherein every attempt to offer a solution is met with a reason for why it wouldn’t work.  This person’s way of thinking has the spotlight focused on one thing (I can’t do this, It’s not possible; I have no time, etc.), and they have no intention of relinquishing the limelight any time soon.  

So to answer the question–“how do we think to promote change?” Let’s take a look at a study where the probability of success was increased by the addition of a “?” (question mark).

In a study out of the University of Illinois, a group of participants were asked to solve a series of anagrams.  Prior to solving the anagrams, half of the  participants were told to ask themselves IF they could complete the task? And the other half was told to TELL themselves that they could complete the task.  

The results showed that the participants that ASKED themselves if they could complete the task solved significantly more of the anagrams.

In attempt to replicate these results, the researchers performed a follow up study in which they took three groups of participants and asked them to write 20 times one of the following prior to solving another set of anagrams:  “I will” (group 1), “Will I” (group 2), or “Will” (group 3).  

The results were the same.  The group that wrote “will I” 20 times before solving the anagrams completed TWICE as many than either of the two other groups.

Ask a Better Question, Get Better Results

It is a mantra that I have kept with me for years:

“Is there a better question?”  

I use this concept over and over to move myself from a position of helplessness to a position of empowerment.  When we speak to ourselves in the form questions, we bring all our resources to bear in an attempt to change our situation.  We open ourselves to the idea of possibility and by doing so, we weaken the beliefs that may have been holding us back.  This sounds simple enough, but there is one caveat because all questions are not created equal.

Whether or Not…Really?

A friend of mine who was dealing with relationship problems came to me one day.  She had been in a relationship for some time, but recently things have been “on the rocks”.  Any of us that have been in a committed relationship, for a length of time, knows that it isn’t all kittens and daffodils.   You will encounter ups and downs. There will be times when your patience is tested, and during certain points, this may occur more often than not.  She was going through one of these times.  Needless to say, she was in a bad way, and she was contemplating ending the relationship.  She informed me of her intention by asking, “should I leave him or not?”

This way of thinking is where most of us end up when it comes to decisions about our efforts to make change.  We leave ourselves with ultimatums rather than ACTUAL options.  For example, someone might say to themselves, “should I eat healthy so I can achieve my goals or should I just indulge in whatever I want, because you only live once?”

Wait!!  Where did EVERYTHING in between go??  Who says these concepts are mutually exclusive??

Wouldn’t a better questions be, “HOW can I make food choices in a way that allows me to achieve my goals, AND gives me the freedom to indulge from time to time?

When we remove ourselves from having to make decisions that are binary in nature (whether or not, yes or no, true or false) we become solution focused.  We, in effect, move our “spotlight” to see if we can navigate our way to more promising perspectives.

Getting back to my friend. As the conversation continued, I could tell that she really loved the guy, but she felt that they just couldn’t make it work. So I asked, “what if you HAD to make it work, or if you didn’t want to make it work, I would KILL you and everything you hold dear in life?  How would you do it? Where would you start?”  Dark and a little twisted, I know, but it was well intended to solicit a response.  

When I “forced” her to find a way to make it work, she came up with all kinds of solutions!  She said that they could seek counseling; she could plan “getaways” that could allow them reconnect with each other; she could see if they could both find ways to communicate better, etc.

The point of this story is that–questions that only allow a binary response do not bode well for those of us seeking to make changes in our lives.  They limit our options, and make us ineffective at being resourceful and creating solutions.  

Check Yo’Self Before You Wreck Yo’Self

This has been a longer than intended post so, let’s get a brief recap.

We have examined how we are of “two selves”.  And we have learned that it’s the way that we manage our “remembering self” that has a large effect on how we feel about ourselves and our life experience.  We’ve explained that the way our “remembering self” impacts us is through the use of language and how we communicate to ourselves. We also know that the conversations we have with ourselves can either impede our progress or usher us forward.  We’ve found that in our efforts to make progress, our “self conversations” should be inquisitive in nature, but with one caveat–the questions that we ask ourselves (to solicit action) should NOT promote a binary response because we have seen that questions with binary answers do little to aid us in creating solutions and developing new perspectives.

Ok…we have taken in a lot here. I suggest that we allow some time for what we have learned today to sink in. So in a post to come, we will take a look at strategies to help you shine your “spotlight” elsewhere and how that communicates to actionable efforts to help you make REAL LIFE changes.

To Change ANYTHING…Start HERE

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Looking Ahead

  • Roughly 2000 words
  • Mindfulness is the start to making changes with success, health, and happiness.
  • Stop relating actions to “good vs. bad” it is more productive to ask “does this serve me in my attempts to achieve my goals or not?”
  • To be mindful requires deliberate practice.
  • It may be in your best interest to keep a journal or record of the progress you make to be a little bit better than before.
  • Mindfulness practice has a tangible effect on brain health including, but not limited to improved memory, learning, emotional regulation, and better responses to stress.

I think most of us tend to live in a reactionary state.  We tend to do things in a way that conveys our impulse rather than our conscious thought.  Being aware of our reactionary way of behaving and being mindful of our thoughts, emotions, and physical body is a practice in control and discipline.  

To be mindful is to be an observer.  Someone that does not pass judgement, but simply seeks to gain an understanding of how things are.  It is important to understand this perspective.  Our behaviors are not “bad” or “good”, there are only actions that serve us and those that do not.  This is an important distinction.  Once we give our actions moral license, we feel virtuous for acting on behaviors we deem “good”, which then gives us justification to be a little bit “bad”.  

An example of this would be for someone trying to lose weight to say “I did a hard 5 mile run today; I deserve to indulge in pizza and beer tonight.”  The problem with this statement is not the fact that they want to have pizza and beer, it’s because they chose to give “a hard 5 mile run” and “eating pizza and beer” a position on their moral compass.  If “the run” and the “indulgence on pizza and beer” were separate experiences not reliant on the outcome of one another, no moral justification would be needed, they are simply acts of preference.  When we assign virtue to certain behaviors and vice to others we become moral accountants constantly trying to balance our behaviors between “good” and “bad”.

integrity red word indicated by compass conceptual image on white background

To reaffirm the idea that our actions or behaviors are neither “good” or “bad”, and that a more productive approach would be to view our behaviors as “do they serve me in what I am trying to accomplish or not”, let’s take a look at a study that expresses how this idea of moral accounting can affect the decisions we make.

The Moral Accountant in Us

I think the act of giving to charity is seen as virtuous act in most of our eyes.  Given the opportunity, and the financial resources, I believe that most of us would make a donation to the charity that resonates with us.  The question in the study below is, would the amount of the donation change, if you were feeling “morally good” versus feeling “morally bad”?

In a study conducted out of Northwestern University, researchers took 46 participants and told them that they would be participating in a study that would be analyzing handwriting styles. The participants were then divided into three groups: neutral, positive, and negative.  In the neutral group, the participants were asked to copy a list of words and think carefully about what the words meant to them.  The list of words were neutral in nature–i.e. book, keys, house. The positive group was asked to do the same, but the list of words were positive in their distinction such as generous, caring, kind, and fair.  And finally the negative group receive the same instructions, but given words such as disloyal, greedy, mean, and selfish. After completing the copying task, the participants were then asked to write a brief story about themselves that included the words that they had just copied.  They also received a bit of advice that their story may be less daunting to write if they visualized how each word was relevant to their lives.

After giving the participants a break, in the form of a filler task, the researchers then asked the participants if they would like to make a small donation (up to $10.00), to the charity of their choosing, in an effort to increase social awareness.  Would the positive and negative stories about themselves make a difference??  They most certainly did!

On average the positive group (feeling morally righteous) donated LESS THAN HALF as much as the neutral (control) group; and the negative group (feeling morally bad) donated almost TWICE as much.  So when we are feeling “good” about our moral identity we are less likely to act saintly due the fact that we have, in a sense, “done our good deed for the day”.  And when we feel that our moral identity is threatened we will attempt compensate, to make up for it.  You can see how this concept of moral accounting can be a slippery slope.

I make this distinction between “good” and “bad” because when it comes to being mindful in an effort to change something in your life, acting in alignment with your core values and beliefs removes wrong and right, good vs. bad, and leaves us with…progress.

Awareness:  A Practice in Being Mindful

The most common practice of being mindful is meditation.  The word meditation conjures up visions of buddhist monks, martial arts masters, and asian guys with long white beards, but being mindful does not require that you “meditate” in what many may consider the traditional form.  Being mindful, is simply resisting impulse without defining the purpose for doing so. It is a brief pause to be present with your thoughts–to gain insight on how they affect you as well as the actions take part in.  This is the beginning of awareness, this is where change finds its origins, because to change anything you must first be aware of your current status quo.

It is a common occurrence for those just starting out with the practice of being aware to “suck” at it.  I am here to tell you that, that is a good thing.  Your inefficiency, and your ability to encourage your struggling mind is akin to using weights to build your muscles.  The paradox about control and discipline is in order to strengthen it, you must also HAVE it.  Your efforts to practice being mindful from moment to moment allows you to build the cognitive “muscle” necessary for willpower, control, and discipline.

A Willpower and Happiness Muscle?

Your abilities for control and discipline take up residence in your brain–they inhabit the prefrontal cortex.  This area of the brain is reserved for high order functions and decision making.  Your brain is comprised of two types of matter: gray matter and white matter.  White matter is responsible for the communication processes between different areas of the brain, and the gray matter (the one we are concerned with) is where our cognitive abilities lie–I.E. memory, attention, perceptual awareness, thought, language and consciousness.  

prefrontal cortex

In a study conducted by researcher and neuroscientist Sara Lazar of Harvard University, they found that practitioners of mediation (i.e. mindfulness) showed marked growth in the gray matter tissue in the prefrontal cortex.  The study was conducted on 20 participants, all of which were normal, everyday people that have made the practice of meditation a routine part of their lives, they were then paired with their control counterparts, which were matched for age, sex, race, and comparable education.  What they found, through MRIs performed on all participants, was that the mediation group had noticeably larger, thicker areas of gray matter–the areas associated with memory, attention, control, willpower, etc.–in relation to their control counterparts.  

In a follow up study, in an effort to silence all the critics suggesting that meditation (mindfulness) practice was not the cause the significant brain development, Lazar and her team designed a study in which they would take participates–novices to the practices of mindfulness–through an 8 week training in which they would be taught a technique referred to as mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR).  They took brain scans of all participants pre and post training and what they found was enlightening.  

In the group that took part in the 8 week training they found significant growth in the regions of the brain associated with learning, cognition, emotional regulation, perspective taking, empathy, and compassion.  They also found that the amygdala–the part of the brain associated with stress, anxiety, and fear–showed a marked reduction in size; suggesting that people that practice being mindful respond better to instances of stress and anxiety.

These findings are significant in the fact that the idea of being “mindful” is not as esoteric as we may have once believed.  When you hear your yoga teacher, or an eastern philosopher tout the benefits of being “present” with your experience, it’s not a bunch of baloney.  There is tangible evidence supporting what mindfulness practitioners have been echoing off of one another for years–mindfulness can, in a sense, bring you closer to peace; and in turn, bring about more experiences of joy and happiness.

Awareness and Coaching

The studies mentioned above are just a couple among the large body of research supporting the efficacy of mindfulness practice in improving the quality of your life, as well as in the treatment of depression, anxiety, ADD, chronic pain, etc.  It is for this reason, that learning to be aware and mindful of your experiences is where I start every one of my coaching clients.

I do not ask that people to take part in a “meditation” practice (although, I do say that it might be a good idea), but I do require that each of my clients to take part in a “mindfulness practice” by journaling and/or taking part in Daily Reflections.  The purpose for doing so is two fold:

  1. By documenting your journey you become a witness and an active participant to the progress you make.
  2. You become more in touch with who you are, who you would like to be, and and you gain an understanding of how that relates to your experience.

Why Don’t you Drive Professionally?

Once we learn how to drive a car most of us remain at the same skill level when getting behind a wheel as when we first started.  There may be a small amount of improvement the first few years, but there is a reason why many of my friends (myself included), do not drive in Nascar or any other field that requires highly skilled drivers.  You would think that, that would NOT be the case, given the amount of time each of us spend managing the gas and brake pedals.  You would THINK that many of us get A LOT of practice, but this is the difference between taking an active role in making progress versus being a lowly bystander to your experience.  

Deliberate Practice:  Perfect Practice

Taking an active role in making progress, in any endeavor, requires that you practice…deliberately.  What this means that you cannot just drive your car, without paying attention or focusing on the development of the skills required to be a professional driver, if this is something you are looking to pursue. Deliberate practice requires focus, attention, reflection, adjustment, and fine tuning–and it is the prerequisite for success in any achievement worth merit.

Journaling and Daily Reflections remind us that our process for discovering who we are and how we can be a little bit better than before, is of the utmost importance.  It keeps us grounded in our experience and allows to extract lessons from our missteps and gives us a tool recall our victories.  

Conclusion

Being mindful and reflecting on our lives aids us in the process of understanding and mastering the subject that should be the most important to us…ourselves.  We develop a deep knowledge of how to cope with failures, live contently, cultivate relationships, be more compassionate, take care of ourselves and our loved ones, etc.  We learn to live contently, without being complacent.  And from this foundation, we find more happiness and success.  All of this starts with being aware and mindful of our day to day experience.

*NOTE:  In this article I mentioned a tool I use with all of my coaching clients called Daily Reflections.  It is a method for evaluating and reflecting on your everyday experience and how those experiences align with the vision of who you are, and the person you are working towards.

The Worst Thing You Can do to Kill Your Motivation

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Humor me and follow along with your imagination…

It’s the day of a race your best friend had asked you come watch her run because you two are very close and she would love for you to be there.  You know she has been training for this race for months now; in fact, it always comes up as a topic of discussion every time you both talk on the phone.  You don’t get to see her much, so you know she will be surprised once she notices you in the bleachers.  Before the race, you are anxious for her, because you know how important this race has been to her over the past several weeks. You make sure to get a front row seat in the bleachers so you can see her as soon as she crosses the finish line.

The starting shot fires and you see her sprint as fast as she can toward the finish.  You stand up, looking on, hoping that all of her training pays off, and it seems like she is doing well, but then her effort starts to wane; she starts to slow down.  Eventually she is passed by not one, but three of her opponents, then the race ends.  She ends up coming in fourth.

You’re still standing, looking on hoping to catch your friends attention, but instead you see that she is lost in her own disappointment. Her head is down, her hands are on her hips until she eventually takes a knee.  She begins to cry.  Seeing that she is pain, you leave the bleachers to stand by her side…

Okay, lets stop the scene here.

In this situation, if you were the friend watching from the bleachers, what would you do?

I think many of us would offer an empathetic shoulder–a lot of us have been down before, and sometimes we just need someone to give us a lift and let us know that things are okay.  “They’ll be other races, so lets get back to training, and we’ll get the next one.” Right?

Now let’s take a look at how we treat ourselves when we don’t succeed in the way that we had planned to.  When we didn’t make it to the gym, or we ate that piece of cake, or we didn’t lose that pound before the week’s end.  Where’s our empathy here?  Why would we rather kick ourselves when we are down, then to offer the sage advice of, “don’t worry about this one, we will get the next one.”?  The truth is, we are our biggest critics, and that’s getting us nowhere fast.

You’re Doing This (probably) and It’s Killing Your Progress

Think back to the times when you got down on yourself or you felt shameful about not following through on an action that you had planned to.  Did you feel better after?  I’m willing bet that you didn’t.  In fact, you probably fell further into your disappointment, and in doing so you sought to find ways to make yourself feel better in that moment–which usually ends up being the vice or action you were trying to avoid.  It’s a vicious cycle.  We fail to do what we planned to do, we shame ourselves for doing so and in an effort to feel better we take part in the vice or action that had damned us in the first place–which sends us further into a downward spiral.  There has to be a better way.

Opting for Understanding over Self Hate

The reason why shaming ourselves into action never works is because it offers further evidence to our psyche that we are less than what we are.  We tend to use it to reinforce our negative perceptions of ourselves.  “You weren’t able to do that because you’re weak,” or “you can’t follow through on anything, because you’re incapable.”–these are the kind of conversations that follow when we choose shame and guilt over forgiveness and understanding.

Self compassion, on the other hand, has a unique ability that allows us to accept responsibility; and when we accept responsibility for our missteps, then that means we are also responsible for our achievements–and that idea gives us a level of control that can be very powerful.

Moving from a position of guilt to a position of self compassion can foster a mindset that allows us to learn from our mistakes.  We become creators of opportunities, rather than victims of circumstance.

Conclusion

It can sometimes escape us, the truth that is–failure, mistakes and missteps are part of the human condition.  It is part of how we experience our environment and relationships, and can offer us unique insights into who we are, and what we are capable of.  So next time you find yourself headed into that never-ending void of guilt and hopelessness, take a minute to take step back, and act like you give a shit about yourself–be that friend in the bleachers and help yourself back up.

Tracking the “Bright Spots”

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The term “bright spots” is one that picked up from authors, Chip and Dan Heath in the book, Switch.  A “bright spot” describes a time, action, or behavior that you have done, or are doing, that has lead to some success in the pursuit of a particular change.  For example, if you have lost weight in the past, what did you do, previously, that you found some success in?  Upon being asked that question, you can look back and examine the time, actions, and behaviors that have previously worked for you–and in doing so you can glean some ideas that may be applicable to your current situation.  This is a strategy that can provide you with some clues and, maybe, even a starting point to begin to change a specific habit or behavior.

How to Apply This Strategy

When applying this strategy, it is important to remember that our lives our not static, and when looking back to examine what has worked previously, we must understand that what may have worked before may have been successful due to your specific situation during that time, such as age, commitments, obligations, and priorities.  This cannot be overlooked–it may not be the most realistic “bright spot” to pursue if you’re 55 yrs old and you are attempting to try a strategy that worked for you when you were 21.  Therefore, it may be best to examine your most recent history to begin tracking your “bright spots”.

Bright Spot tracking, often times, gives you clues as to which strategies work well for you when employed concurrently, or in unison.  For example, if you look back into your recent history and found that you were successful losing weight during a time when you signed up as a part of group, you had a trainer instructing you to perform specific tasks, you regularly updated you friends about your progress, etc. you begin to gain a larger perspective of why, during this time, you were able to see some success with this particular area change.  Using the example given here you can glean the following:

  • You signed up as part of a group–this may have attributed to your success because there was a level of social support, and a feeling of “you are not in this alone”–which may have helped you stay inspired to continue your efforts.
  • You had a trainer–a trainer may have provided you with clear instructions, support, and a level of accountability; all of which may have had a profound affect on your success.
  • You regularly updated your friends about your progress–here you may have provided YOURSELF with a level of accountability because informing your friends and family (the people you are closest to), makes your efforts “real”, because when your friends and family notice it has a direct effect on your life–because your efforts may have been “validated” in personal social engagements.

As you can see, from the example above, accountability, social support, and clarity of actions all can be credited for making you previous change successful.

I find that tracking your bright spots is a good strategy to utilize early on, when considering making a change, because it can provide a landscape for what has made a previous change happen.

Questions to Consider

Here are a few questions for you to consider when Tracking your Bright Spots to get you started.

  • What time of day was it?
  • What relationships did you have?
  • What actions did you do that you feel attributed to your success?
  • Were you alone? If not, who supported you, and in what way?
  • How did you feel at that time?  Were you confident, happy, indifferent, or content?
  • Where were you? or Where did you go?

I find this strategy is best utilized when worked through with a trusted friend or coach.  It can also be done by yourself, but you must be diligent in recording your findings and asking yourself questions that promote solution based thinking.