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You Know It’s Working When … A Simple Guide to Behavior Change & Goal Achievement

People like to do what they know they are able to do. Conversely, people don’t like to do what they don’t know they are able to do. When trying to change your own or someone else’s behavior, knowing the desirable behavior is not enough to lead to change. Knowing and liking are totally different things.

 

If people only like doing what they know they can do, it explains why most of us continue with bad habits even when we know they’re bad! A new behavior is daunting, because we don’t know if we can do it, and that makes it un-likable!

 

What’s the good news? Now you know why it’s hard (impossible) to change habits! You can easily see why people seem to be doing things that don’t appear healthy, engaging or even fun. People just do what they know they can do, what they have always done. For them (or you), it’s better than doing something un-likable.

 

What’s the bad news? Knowing the answer is totally different from liking the answer…it’s still really hard to change habits and behavior!

 

Even more good news though, is if you are a person that likes improvement…either in your own life of the lives of people around you (or both)…you will want to learn to simplify the process for behavior change and goal achievement.

 

The secret?…Measurement.

 

People expect to fail at new things, and most behavior choices are unconsciously based in fear. However, if a change-maker shifts this fear into the expectation of success, activities that previously seemed un-likable, may become inherently likable.

 

Nothing succeeds like success. Therefore, knowing you are able to do something creates an expectation of success. Whether you are trying to change an undesirable personal habit, your child’s behavior, or an entire organizational system…the hindrances are the same and the catalysts for successful change are the same.

 

When you break down a habit into the vital behaviors and the moments in which decisions are made to engage in the behavior, AND can measure the progress in these two areas, your confidence in your ability to change will grow. Therefore, the un-likable becomes likable!

 

You might think investigating and planning around these important factors, although it most assuredly will lead to successful (and sustainable) goal achievement, just takes too darn long. And frankly, you may think, who has time for that?

 

A more important question, however, is: do you have time to enjoy reaching your goals or not? And even: How much money and time do you spend on trying to change your own or someone else’s behavior to no avail? For how long have you been doing it and how much longer will you continue to do it?

 

Now, think about investing a few more weeks and coming up with a well-thought out change management plan and compare the two. If you are not willing to do the latter, you are really not engaging in behavior change, but merely toying with it.

 

If you’re still reading, you are up for what it takes. Congratulations!

 

First, discernment is your main weapon. Discern what is hindering behavior change, and what is promoting behavior change. To make it simple, I’ve supplied a list of most common hindrances and promoters of positive behavior change. They’re short lists, but remember this is the ‘simple’ version!

 

Hindrances to Successful Change:

         1-Believing Bad Data or No Data

         2-Wrong Goals or Unclear Goals

         3-Absence of Social and Environmental Support

**

1-Believing bad data or no data:

To put this simply, we believe what is not true. Today people are constantly exposed to a great many streams of information and are forced to make unconscious choices about what they tune into and believe. This is highly subjective and usually not helpful. It is likely these unconscious choices are leading to reinforcement and entrenchment of current behavior. Further, when people inadvertently collect data on what they have already tried, they are usually confusing doubt and resignation (again subjective and not accurate…or ‘bad’… data) with actual data.

 

For example, let’s say someone wants to lose weight so they can enjoy looking and feeling better. They weigh themselves after some weeks of dieting and find they have not lost weight. They become discouraged and give up the diet. There are several problems with this type of data-gathering in decision-making.

 

Your first question is: are you measuring the right thing? Secondly, is your measurement subjective or objective? Consider: is weight really the best measure of weight loss and feeling good? Actually, no. Measuring inches, body mass index (ratio of fat to muscle) and water weight, as well as energy level, emotional wellness and how your clothes fit are all measures that are possibly more important and accurate than your scale. (How old is your scale anyway?…)

 

Testing for allergies and how you metabolize different foods is also an important element in weight loss. If you suffer from food addiction then weight data should not even be what you measure, but rather decdecreasing the likelihood of binging behavior.

 

2-Wrong or Unclear Goals

The fatal flaw in most people’s goal-forming is that their goals often are not linked to the actual behavior that determines the goal outcome. If your goal is ‘quit smoking’, without identifying clear and measurable results, you will fail. Why? Because it is not possible to reach this goal. Do you recall what was learned about people not liking to do things that are not do-able…?

 

People will not take action to reach an un-reachable or an un-doable goal. What is do-able, is a specific, time-bound result. For example, 1-explore at least 3 programs for combatting smoking addiction by the end of this week, 2-decide on one by the end of next week, 3-create a timeline for completion and start the program by August 15th.

 

When you set a goal, make sure that you can identify three actionable steps that can be taken immediately to reach it. If you cannot do this, you have chosen an un-reachable goal.

 

If we continue with the weight loss goal scenario, ‘weight loss’ alone is not enough to achieve your goal. You must break down the goal into crucial behaviors (i.e. reduce ‘cheat’ meals to one per week, walk or move at least 20 minutes every day, and plan a day ahead for the following day’s meals, etc.).

 

What these two examples have in common is that the vital behavior is identified and the goals pertain specifically to that.

 

3-Lack of Environmental or Social Support

Every bad habit or behavior was created in an environment. So, the environment, and therefore the people in the environment, have to be involved in changing it. In the book Influencer: The Power to Change Anything,1 the authors call this “turning a ‘me’ problem into a ‘we’ problem.”

 

Find a way to elicit the support of the people around you, share the goal with them. Let them know specific actions they can take to support you, and turn it into a game that everyone can play and win!

 

To address the structural part of the environment equation, make changes in your space so that it is easier to engage in the new habit. For example, put books or knitting needles around the house instead of ash trays or packs of cigarettes.

 

Or, if your goal is to snack on more healthy foods, prepare portion-size containers of carrots, hummus or nuts. (PS I am not a nutrition or weight loss expert, so please consider these examples only as hypothetical…and consult a nutritionist or medical professional for actual dietary advice.)

Promoters of Successful Change:

1-Gather and Believe Good Data (i.e. the right story)

2-Simplify, Clarify and Measure the Goal

3-Cultivate a Feeling of Control (mastery)

4-Celebrate

**

1-Gather and Believe in Good Data (i.e. the right story)

Each person makes hundreds of decisions every day…and the majority of them are unconscious. For example, the average person makes over 200 choices every day only in regard to food. Imagine all the other choices we make about every other behavior (when to speak, who with, how much effort to put forth and on and on!).

 

Unfortunately, we may not even be aware that we are making the decisions so we most certainly are not aware of why. The ‘why’ probably has more to do with information we have absorbed that wasn’t processed or analyzed, then with our own intentions. The secret is to begin to become aware of where you are getting information. Don’t rely on just one source. Question what you are believing and who you are believing. If you are not sure who or what to believe, it’s now easier than ever to do your own research. Look at scientific research by going onto Google Scholar. You can find just about any topic that’s has been studied and published in a peer-reviewed journal.

 

Lastly, sometimes the worst source of data is the information we tell ourselves. When we have a flop, we may make up a meaning about it that we decide is the truth. For example, if a prospect doesn’t call you back you may think, “He thinks I’m a fraud and doesn’t want to do business with me.” For some reason, this type of information seems to carry enough weight for all of us to believe our own terrible stories! The actual truth may be the prospect was busy, or needed more information and wanted to call but lost your number. Why not resist creating a news story until you actually have the facts! Or, tell yourself a story that is inspiring instead of disheartening (i.e. There is someone out there waiting for my call and they are going to be thrilled about my product!)

2-Simplify, Clarify and Measure the Goal

To make sure you are choosing ‘reachable’ goals, you have to be able to clearly determine when you do not reach the goal. For example, to ‘feel better’ is not a reachable goal because you don’t know how you feel now, and you don’t know how much better you want to feel. Instead, you could say, “My goal is to have more pain-free days per month than I currently have, starting today. Since I now have 12 pain-free days per month, this next month I will have at least 13.” This is now a reachable goal, and therefore a likable goal! This goal gives one energy and inspiration because of its clarity and do-ableness.

 

You also need to make the behavior that effects the goal outcome a very clear element of the goal. For example, if doing your physical therapy exercises leads to more pain-free days, make doing the exercises the goal. Make the desired behavior simple, and likely.

 

Further, when you accomplish this, make sure to measure it. Measuring drives behavior. There is something inherently satisfying about checking a box when you have done something. When the behavior connects to intrinsic satisfaction, you are internally motivated.

 

3-Cultivate a Feeling of Control or Mastery

People perform better in an environment a feeling of competence and mastery, informing and deliberate practice experience. Change-makers in organizations, companies and behavioral health, make sure that the participant maintains control over actions and outcomes by measuring actions and results. As mentioned in #2, the more people feel they are competent and capable of reaching goals, the more they will take action to reach the goals, and therefore, experience success. Measuring a growing ability and acknowledging when the accomplishment of an important step to reaching a goal, gives one a sense of control.

 

I use ‘score charts’ that hang on the wall to give team members (or children) a way to feel in control of their own choices and therefore to feel accountable for them. Recording your own measures allows you to see the impact of your work, and thereby gaining confidence in your ability to do the thing you previously didn’t want to do. Putting it somewhere that everyone can see it enables a feeling of control over the environment and enlisting others in the game.

 

4-Celebrate

Celebration is an element that bonds people together…and some research suggests it increases happiness2. When people are united in their joy regarding an achievement, new baby, new house, graduation, or any number of things, the bonds they form are usually lasting and invigorating. The same thing happens when we allow ourselves to celebrate our own actions. Notice I do not say celebrate our ‘success’, but rather ‘actions’. When we celebrate our actions, we our reinforcing the behavior of taking action! This is required before we can experience success, or failure, or anything! That is why it is important to acknowledge and celebrate any and all actions you take towards a goal.

 

It doesn’t have to be huge. For example, taking a few moments to dance around your office, allowing yourself the time to take a walk through the woods, or laying in a hammock with a glass of lemonade, these are all ways to celebrate yourself. Self-talk is also a reward. You can say, “I did the thing that was on my list!”, or, “I made the phone call I have been putting off for two months!”, or just keep it simple, “Yay me!”. This may feel silly and hokey, but just trust me. Allowing ourselves to feel good about taking action is one of the best ways to make sure you keep taking action.

 

Hopefully, this blogpost gives you some new ideas how to be more effective when instigating change and achieving goals…whether for yourself or your team. Although a greatly simplified list (research and literature on this topic is quite extensive!) it is still a lot to process at one sitting. If I may suggest, take one or two suggestions at a time and see what can most easily be integrated into your way of doing things. And, of course if you need support with any aspect of setting goals, creating a behavior change implementation or monitoring program, or if you simply know you need a coach, you know how to reach me, right? Dana@DanasMyCoach.com

 

1- Patterson, K., & Grenny, J. (2007). Influencer: The power to change anything. Tata McGraw-Hill Education.

2- Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). The how of happiness: A scientific approach to getting the life you want. Penguin.

 

How You Can Know You Really Lived…

Nothing brings our focus to the passing of time like the approach of a new year! Yes, a year of life has passed for all of us. It’s a time to press the reset button and start anew. Tradition has us making resolutions about what we’d like to change in the future. In this case, tradition leads us astray!

In truth, making resolutions is not what leads to change. We do not change-on-demand. Instead, change happens with growth, and growth requires a special mindset. Having a mindset for growth leads us to a path. It is on this path where change, and therefore growth occurs. Finding the path is a commitment to the process as well as the outcome.

As Seth Godin says, “Start your journey before you see the outcome…your resistance wants to be guaranteed the prize at the end…but it’s entirely possible that there won’t be a standing ovation at the end of your journey…And that’s ok, at least you know you have lived.”

So at year-end, you can again try the shortcut…list your resolutions and submit your order for change. Then wait while nothing happens. Or, take some moments to inquire, reflect and find your path. Ask yourself the questions below, and take meaningful action. To find out where you are headed and how you will grow please be willing to look at the path you’ve been on already. Then you discover how to influence your path next year, and the years after that.

If at the end of next year you can say you took the risk of creating magic where there was not magic before, you can say you lived. You can do this, you know you can. And in our current connection economy, it’s a must. Life requires you to live!

Questions to ask*:

What am I better at?

Have I asked a difficult question lately?

Do people trust me more than they did?

Am I hiding more (or less) than I did the last time I checked?

Is my list of insightful, useful and frightening stats about my work, my budgets and my challenges complete? And have I shared it with someone I trust?

If selling ideas is a skill, am I more skilled at it than I was?

Who have I developed?

Have I had any significant failures (learning opportunities) lately, and what have I learned?

What predictions have I made that have come to pass? Am I better at seeing what’s going to happen next?

Who have I helped? Especially when there was no upside for me…

Am I more likely to be leading or following?

If I could reach an audience, what would I say?

If I could lead a tribe, which tribe would I lead?

 

Meaningful actions to take:

Learn to sell what you have made

Speak in public

See the world as it is

Teach others

Write daily

Connect others

Find your tribe,

Lead,

Invent

Find someone filled with hope and excitement and get behind them

Be willing to admit when you are lost

Be brave enough to organize, invent and create art projects…spin something out of nothing, create value where there was none before

Create something that touches someone

GO!

*Excerpts from Seth Godin Blog

 

 

 

I’m Not Super-Mom But I’m Super at Something, And so Are You! … (Although It’s Probably Not What You Think)

Self-help is a thriving and ever-expanding industry. Facebook and Twitter abound with helpful and uplifting messages. And, a plethora of people are finding their way into helping professions like coaching and training. But the current conundrum is; why do people seem to be more unsettled than ever?

After cogitating on the conundrum (yes, I LOVE alliteration!): When you don’t realize you don’t know what you want, you don’t know what stops you from obtaining what you probably don’t want as you continually try to become the person you think you should be but not necessarily who you really are.

Confused? Me, too! Or, at least I was. Then, I used the principle of ‘self-acceptance’ to get what I didn’t know I wanted. By the way, self-acceptance is considered the way to empower yourself to take targeted, methodical action in order to reach goals. This is confirmed by both scientific research and mythology. A basic tenet of Gestalt theory says, “The more one tries to be what one is not, the more one stays the same.”

It happened to me as I was hurriedly scrambling through the morning hustle on the second day of school after coming back from three weeks of vacation, enduring summer school and a sprawl of summer activities. I suddenly realized I was just not up to packing a lunch (for me not the kids) supervising the brushing of teeth (the kids’ teeth, not mine), organizing backpacks, finding long-lost shoes, packing my work and school supplies, gym clothes, clean underwear (etc.) and preparing for a 20 minute drive at the crack of dawn.

So, I did something I never imagined myself doing. I locked myself in my bedroom and lay down. Sweet surrender! Pretty soon there was a knock at the door. It was the kids, “Mom, we need you to drive us to school.” “Can you walk?” I asked. I knew the answer before they answered. “Of course not! It’s too far, we have to go on the freeway, we don’t know how to get there, it would take us hours!” Unfortunately, all of that was true. “That’s too bad, because I quit. I. can’t. do. it.” I heard silence outside the door and then whispering… and then, ”Well…we really need you to drive us and we can help you. Let’s make it work.” “Okaaaaaaayyyy” I said reluctantly, and I meant it.

It was like we all suddenly realized I’m not Super-mom. And in that truthful moment of acceptance, we really could make it work. I opened the door. “What do you need us to do?” My sons asked simultaneously. And, miraculously, I got exactly what I wanted…ease and cooperation in the mechanics of being a mom. And I got there by…drumroll and trumpets…accepting that I’m NOT there! Weird huh?

Since then, I’ve been thinking about how to explain what happened. I could say the answer is quitting, but that wouldn’t really be fair to you because that is not the truth. The truest truth about not knowing what you want and not knowing what is stopping you and not knowing where your power lies boils down to three things:

1) Too much focus on self-concept actualizing, rather than self-actualizing.

2) Overestimating our will to reach our goals

3) Overgeneralizing the obstacle(s) preventing us from reaching them.

Self-concept actualizing as opposed to self-actualizing means trying to evolve into a fixed picture of who you think you want to be. True self-actualizing is expressing more and more thoroughly in small and sometimes seemingly insignificant aspects of your life, your essence.

In other words, I may think I want to be someone who is kind and loving and funny. A more evolved me based on this self-concept would be kind and loving to more people and being more funny all the time. However, doing this would take a lot of effort, and as just described, I’m not a person whose up for something that takes that kind of effort!

If it feels like effort, I’m probably ignoring part of myself. For example, the part that is quite caustic and serious and analytical and likes to dissect interactions with other people. Sometimes that’s not so funny and does not seem kind. So true self-actualization for me is to be whatever I am (serious, analytical, kind, loving…) without caring if it fits into my (or anyone’s) self-concept. You see the distinction? I hope you’re not as confused as I am!

I could say the antidote (which I predict you are not going to like) is that being alive and naturally, growing, is messy and complex. So I’m not going to say that.

Instead, I’ll say this: the antidote is rest. In resting, you’ll stop with the ‘trying to be what I should be in order to evolve perfectly’ game, and instead play the ‘I am what I am and by accepting that I empower myself to take methodic action which leads to outcomes that I can’t imagine yet’ game. The latter doesn’t take effort, but it takes awareness.

 Similarly, overestimating your will to achieve and overgeneralizing obstacles preventing you from said achievements require another type of awareness. This quote from David Deida illuminates the reason, “you have very little control over your life. Your thoughts and feelings can be intentionally shaped to some degree, but mostly you are a creature composed of habit. You can set new habits in motion, but few stick…Your life is carved by patterns and forces playing far beyond your awareness.”

Your will is guided by intention and intention is what we often hide from ourselves. In the previous example, I thought my will was to be in control of the morning activities so I tried to exert control. My true intention, which was revealed when I locked myself in the bedroom and surrendered, was to NOT be in control, but rather to have the mechanics run smoothly without my control.

Accepting the truth of what I want is what initiated it. Not accepting this also led to overgeneralizing the obstacles to having things ‘under control’. My assumption was that the problem was not being loud enough to exert control (no I’m not proud of it, but I was getting loud).

However, this was an overgeneralization. Giving instructions in a louder voice was not helpful, but letting my instinctive desire become louder was. When I let that drive my behavior, things resolved themselves. See the difference? My verbal loudness = not the problem=overgeneralization; increasing loudness of instinctive desire/drive/intention=problem solved!

The last reason for being unsatisfied is that once we relax into who we are and acknowledge our instinctive desire, we are simply bad at follow-through. Tim Ferris (author of 4 Hour Work Week, etc. international speaker and self-made man) says, “No matter how good a plan is, or how sincere our intentions, humans are horrible at self-discipline. Instructions and info aren’t enough—you need incentives and consequences.” Tim Ferriss

Not to leave you on a downer note, but I have to say this is true. Incentives and consequences are important. In other words, make goals into games for yourself and play for the results. Enjoy playing! Enjoy the awareness and the feeling that comes with moving in the same direction as your intention is pointing you and the ease of being more and more who you are. After you have reached these two goals, self-discipline is a piece of cake!

In closing I leave you with this quote, “By thought, the thing you want is brought to you, by action, you receive it.” Wallace Wattles

 

The Surprising Ingredient To Doing What you Want (Instead of What you Don’t)

What would it take for you to have the exact life you want where you get to do exactly what you want, when you want? It doesn’t take a miracle, but it does take specific ingredients. Winning the lottery is NOT one of the ingredients (sorry if that is disappointing!)

It takes imagination because you need that in order to figure out what you want in the first place. It takes courage to go for it once you have dreamed up the ideal lifestyle. But it takes something more… this is the part that may surprise you…discipline. Imagination, courage and discipline are the ingredients. How you put those things together into a successful process requires help (a fourth ingredient).

Just like making scrambled eggs, you need all the ingredients, and, you also need to know what to do with them! And everyone needs these things, except maybe Richard Branson…well even he has all the ingredients and he seems to enjoy life. If you want proof, he owns an island…hello!

I for one I am not immune. Some years ago, (that’s as specific as I’m going to be!) I was the manager of the Floral Dept. in a happening gourmet grocery store near the convention center in downtown San Diego. Even though it was a piece of cake…40 set hours per week, full benefits, I got to play with flowers and meet interesting people all day…It was getting more and more clear that this job was not ‘it’ for me. Was I bored? Did I want to do something else instead? I HAD NO IDEA!

But I did know I had to try some different things, and that would take time. I also knew I did not want to lose my income while I experimented and fumbled around. I hatched a plan to ask my boss to let me work only part-time.

It would mean saying good-bye to benefits, to job security, to a set schedule and to my seniority (a job in the floral department was highly coveted by my grocery store co-workers!), but I had to do it! I needed at least a baseline income, and I needed a flexible schedule so I could take classes, and do projects until I found what I might like to do as a profession.

I hesitated for some days, building up courage (or that’s what I told myself). One day, sitting and stewing in my floral department a co-worker came by whom I had confided in about my plan.

“Have you talked to Mr. ‘C’ yet?” he asked.

“No…not yet.”

“Go now!” he said. “I just came from his office, it’s really slow, now’s the perfect time!”

I still hesitated.

“Don’t worry, I’ll watch the flowers!” and he literally pushed me toward the stairs leading to the administrators offices.

When I walked into my boss’s office and told him I wanted to give up my management position and be a part time floral floater, he said, “You want to give up your benefits? Your Monday-Friday-8-5-piece-of-cake schedule? Your seniority?”

“Yes” I said.

He looked at me in total shock. By his standards, I was living the grocery store employee dream. Why on earth would I give that up, he seemed to be wondering.

Because it wasn’t my dream.

I wound up working part time in floral for about nine months while I took broadcast journalism classes, got an internship at a news station, developed freelance writing clients and learned video editing. It was not long before I was hired full-time to write broadcast news at KUSI.

From there, I moved to New York City to study coaching and entrepreneurship with Sage University, then became a co-preneur with my partner training companies and individuals, speaking at women’s business conferences in the U.S. and in other countries, writing a book, raising a family and now that I’ve settled in the Texas Hill Country I am halfway to a graduate degree in Program Evaluation for Human Development.

None of this would have happened if I hadn’t learned to use discipline to clear a path for myself. Since that first time when I was pushed into making a leap of ‘faith’, I have learned that I need this discipline to push through the riffraff (or else allow myself to be pushed) in the direction I want to go! A life of adventure and challenge and fulfillment would not be mine if I wasn’t able to habitually sort out and dismiss irrelevant data, and focus on what is relevant to forward motion and an enjoyable life.

Now I am so grateful for that one colleague who shoved me up the stairs toward the boss’s office that day. Without him, who knows, maybe I would still be making floral bouquets; bitter with resentment about the life I never lived. I owe a lot to him for showing me how nice it can be to get pushed!

A few years ago I went back to visit him and to say thank you. He was still working at the same store. He’s a manager now. He was happy to hear how much of a difference he had made in my life. If he only knew…how much of a difference it made!

PS if you ever need someone to push you in the direction you want to go, I think you know how to find me! Dana@DanasMyCoach.com

Forget Resolutions, Asking Better Questions Can Lead to Inventing Your Way to a Better Life

Instead of resolutions for the New Year, how about committing to inventions? For example, I want to invent better questions. In school we heard teachers say that there are no stupid questions, as a way to encourage shy students to speak out. While this may be true, certainly there are questions and then there are better questions. Better questions are generous in that they elicit curiosity, rather than demand answers. Better questions have no expectation, and contain no veiled assumption.

Why inventions are more interesting than resolutions is that good inventions make life better, save time, save lives or allow us to do amazing things. Airplanes, vaccines, sewing machines, paper, the printing press, refrigeration…all these inventions make modern life better. If I want my life to be better, (and this is what resolutions are supposed to do, right?) then why wouldn’t I think of it like an inventor rather than a manager? Managers resolve. Inventors invent. A manager asks “How can I make you do this thing you don’t want to do?”, while the inventor asks, “What wants to exist that doesn’t already exist?” Inventions change how we do things, how we think about what we do, and how we make connections between the two.

On that topic, how about inventing a new way for humans to make unlikely connections with each other.

Elizabeth Lesser started a movement called ‘Take the Other to Lunch’. She put forth guidelines for two people to talk over lunch who fundamentally disagree with each other on some issue. Her guidelines helped thousands of people to form connections with someone they would have otherwise villainized.

And, after reading the biography of Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, I learned that the idea behind his invention was to create a platform for people to experience ‘emergence’. Emergence is something that happens in nature when a whole flock will seem to communicate wordlessly and move together, and with greater intelligence than any one animal.

These two inventions are very different, but both have to do with connecting people in surprising ways, and both have the potential to bring out our humanity. Could our inventive minds reveal a new way to look at resolutions? If I resolve to connect with more people or be more empathetic with people, what invention would help me? L.L Zamenhoff went to the trouble of inventing a new language, in order to help people connect by speaking the same universal language, Esperanto.

If I were to make a resolution about connecting with more folks, I might force myself to change my behavior, based on known variables. For example, to connect with more people and have more empathy, I could force myself to approach one stranger a week and get to know them. Even though I love people I’m somehow not inspired by this, are you?

A better question would be how to create a controlled accident where other curious and empathetic people would suddenly find themselves riding together in a hot air balloon? The difference to me is one approach shuts down my curiousity, my passion, and the other awakens it.

Another example, take the topic of weight. If I want to lose weight (I don’t, but bear with me!), the common approach would be to limit caloric intake and make myself do workouts that I may or may not enjoy. This is a tried and true method and it does work. However, for me, limiting calories and doing something in my leisure time that is not based on enjoyment is just not a fun game. I used to be able to do that though. I could lose weight, then gain weight, then lose it again. I did both very effectively!

After I grew tired of the ups and downs of weight loss and gain, my goal eventually became having a sane eating and exercise plan that I would stick to for life, and to base this plan on enjoyment and nourishment. I found a food plan with healthy portions, a variety from each food group and no sugar, flour or wheat. Since then, and for a very long time, my goal has been to keep a sane food plan, invent new ways to enjoy the clean foods I can eat, and invent new ways to work out my body that feel good. All these commitments involve enjoyment, creativity and limitless possibility. All these things are fun. Guess what? I’ve been able to stick with it for 15 years, so, it must work! I know it works because I’m doing it, I like doing it and I don’t get bored with it. That’s not a resolution, that’s an invention!

My challenge to you is, what do you want to invent for yourself? What change or innovation do you desire either internally, or in your lifestyle, career, health or relationship? If you’re not sure of the answer, maybe you just need a better way to ask the question.

Keep asking until you can, as poet Rainer Maria Rilke says, “Love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way in to the answer.”

When to Take a Brain Check…and When to Take a Rain Check!

You don’t have to be a genius to be a genius. In fact, some of the smartest people I know are not necessarily geniuses at getting the best out of their brains. But they don’t have to, ‘cuz they’re already geniuses! Now I don’t have the IQ of a genius, but I can be a genius at getting my brain to do amazing things for me. By attending to a handful of details in life, you, or anyone can get your brain to work at a high level of health, power and awareness.

I know the arguments against changing how you do things, here it comes…”it will take too much time,” or, “it’s too much of a risk, what if it doesn’t work?” To that I say if you knew how much your brain is involved in every aspect of your life, it would shock you! Your beauty, your thoughts, your weight, your children’s performance in school, your partner’s health, your future, your memory, sleep patterns…and this is just a partial list!…are all directly and indirectly affected by how you treat your brain. In fact, I challenge you to come up with one thing that troubles you in your life right now that is not related to your brain’s health!

If you make a commitment to check in and attend to your brain, you will change your life. So states Dr. Daniel Amen in “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life” and “Unleash the Power of the Female Brain”. I wholeheartedly believe him! I have lived these results and can guarantee that if you commit to making your brain healthier your quality of living improves in unimaginable ways.

15 years ago, when I discovered my sensitivity to sugar, flour and wheat I made a decision that has changed my life. At the time, I didn’t know how much this decision would positively impact everything about my future, or, how much I would learn because of it. All I knew was that when I ate any food with a high glycemic index, or with sugar flour or wheat, my stomach caused me pain and worse, my thoughts caused me pain. I suffered.

Suffering is what made the decision to stop consuming those foods and to stop consuming alcohol, easy. Ever since then, for the most part, my thoughts and consciousness is a friendly place for me. My reasoning and decision-making functions much better than it ever did before, and feeling good is a strong motivator to keep feeling good! My brain is on my team and it works for me!

After reading Daniel Amen’s work, I realize why. Those substances were unhealthy for my brain. When my brain wasn’t functioning well, my thoughts and cognitions were not accurate, kind or gentle. In essence my thoughts were not useful or helpful to me. One of the most important recommendations made by Dr. Amen for giving yourself a brain check is to look at what you are feeding it.

After over 80,000 brain scans assessing the qualities of highly functioning and healthy brains, he says, data overwhelmingly shows that our thoughts, perceptions and cognitions are effected by what we put in our body. Smoking, drinking alcohol, eating high fat or high sugar foods, severely diminish our ability to make good decisions, control our thoughts and conduct ourselves in relationships and work. Now I don’t mean to be a big party pooper and it probably sounds boring to give up all that fun stuff, but wouldn’t it be more fun to feel good? Can you imagine how it would feel to rely on your perceptions and executive function 100%? You can when you give your brain the chance to really do it’s job.

Here is a short ‘Brain Check List’ for you to get started. It’s not a complete list so let this just be a beginning step toward befriending your brain and taking care of it, so it can take care of you.

1-Lifestyle: Find ways to feed your brain. Learn new things in a social environment with other people. Exercise or get out in nature every day, preferably with other people. This also feeds your brain, pumping good, oxygenated blood into it. Try this every day and watch how your thoughts start changing. Do brain puzzles. Start a project based on your curiosity. One of my clients recently did a project by accident. He followed his curiosity about the game Dungeons and Dragons and while he was at the bookstore looking at books about it he got into a conversation with the sales clerk. Next thing he knew, he was hosting a game at his house with a bunch of new friends and he and his girlfriend were having a fantastic time!

2-Biological: Get a brain scan or have your hormone levels checked. Having your hormones out of balance or trying to function when your body is low on certain nutrients heavily affects your brain’s ability to do good work. Learn what areas of your brain need attending to and strive for balance.

3-Cognitive: Question some of the thoughts that are causing you to suffer. It may seem simplistic to say that all you have to do is think different thoughts to feel better and if it were that easy, wouldn’t everyone just do that? You don’t have to change your thoughts to feel better, but sometimes you do have to question your thoughts. If you have a thought that causes you to suffer, for example, “My world is unsafe.” Then you can inquire about that. Check it out! It may be an old thought or belief leftover from past experiences. It may be a thought you can do something about. According to Dr. Amen, “Harmful habits and wrong ideas were ingrained into you since you were a child.” One of these may be stuck on a replay loop in your consciousness. Byron Katie has a wonderful worksheet to help you inquire about thoughts that cause you to suffer, and then dissolve them. If your thoughts seem to uncontrollably gravitate in a negative or disturbing direction, challenge them! Use other resources to help you!

4-Environment: Even though our brains are separated from the outside world by bone and skin, our brains are very fragile and susceptible to outside influences. Toxins or poisons in the air, even other people’s emotions and eating habits can directly impact us! Be where you are happy being. I recommend playing the ‘Brain Game’ with yourself and with loved ones. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing or planning to do, check in and see if it is healthy for your brain. Do a brain check and if it’s not a healthy option for your brain, take a rain check!

Note: for some healthy and delicious recipes go to HealthyCookingWithLove.

How to Not be Bored…or Scared…

Halloween is a day when you get scared on purpose. But most people don’t need a special holiday to get scared. We can scare ourselves plenty good just from thinking about committing to something we don’t know the outcome of, or, by doing something we may fail at. Apparently, fear of failure and fear of the unknown are two things many people greatly fear.

 

Eleaonor Roosevelt said to do something everyday that scares you. Why? Because then you can keep doing what scares you. If you practice trying something you may fail at, or, start something when you are not sure where it will lead, pretty soon, it becomes easier and easier and it’s less and less scary! When you choose to succumb to fear and limitations, however, your lifestyle and experiences become smaller and narrower. You may have an illusion that a life with limited choices and the same experiences would eliminate stress, but instead, it can create more stress. It simply is bad for your health to be too bored!

 

In fact, I have seen people spontaneously combust from being too bored for too long (I was almost one of them!). They weren’t bored because they didn’t have anything to do, they were bored because they had too much of the same kinds of things to do, day in and day out, with no hope of ever having more exciting problems. Instead, it’s the same problem, same worries, same protagonists. Boring is bad for your health because by nature, humans grow, as does everything in nature. We must take new form and seek nurturing in our environment, like a plant stretching toward the light. If we resist that growth pattern, what can our bodies and minds do but turn inward. Deterioration starts. Do you know how many people start having their health fail as soon as they retire? A lot! If you can, postpone your retirement and instead try to play at work. Work is not the opposite of play, boredom is. Live like you are as curious as a four-year-old. Four-year-olds know something most grownups don’t, how to play!

 

If you’re still not sure how to change your state of boredom, just look at the characteristics of play. Leading child development and play expert, Marjorie Kostelnik says “play is…sensory, imaginative, cooperative and/or competitive (in other words done with other people for the fun of it), voluntary, and non-literal.” Are you getting the picture?

 

Goethe said, “we are shaped and fashioned by what we love”. Maybe what he meant was to let yourself be shaped by what you play.

 

Are You Ready to Meet Someone Interesting..Would You Believe it’s You!?

Have you met yourself lately? If not, let me introduce you to…YOU! If you haven’t encountered a surprising aspect of yourself lately, maybe you needed that re-introduction.

Do you remember the famous song from the band The Who. (an oldie but a goodie!)

“Whoooo are you? Who-Who…Who..Who??” Research on human developmen indicates you could ask yourself that every day and still never get a complete answer! Why? Because we grow. Our brain parts that determine personality and behavior grow (ergo change).

Today I realize I am meeting myself …again…for the first time! Has this ever happened to you?

Just when I thought I knew my likes and strengths and pitfalls and methods and quirks…all by heart…I realize I’ve done it again.

I’ve gone and….ADAPTED! Human theorists like Erik Erikson and Jean Piaget say when we are born (humans, I mean) we begin to go through different phases of development. And, this continues FOR THE REST OF OUR LIFE!

Of all the ways to explain how we progress through various phases, one constant is that to successfully pass through a phase of development, one has to feel challenged, and then find a way to balance the tension between social demands and our own desires, and go on.

When you do that, voilà! (imagine a dramatic flip of the magician’s cape here) you have grown stronger, smarter and probably better-looking. (just kidding about the last part, but maybe it’s true!)

Whether you agree with evolution or not, there is pretty solid evidence that all species (no matter how we came into being) continue to adapt to their environment, based on what keeps them alive. I was surprised to find that this includes humans!

Returning to school to get my Master’s after a long avoidance …er I mean absence from University campuses, allows me to compare who I was back when I received my Undergraduate degrees and who I am now.  What a difference!

I see my brain has adapted to life and environment…dropping unnecessary or nonfunctioning parts…the natural selection process at work! In my classes they call the process ‘synaptic pruning’, or the brain’s way of getting rid of pathways that don’t serve the body or mind as an organism anymore, and instead focusing energy on growth of the more important synapses…or brain pathways.

Now, I think of my professors as peers, rather than towering giants of intellectual superiority. In fact, I am older than some of my professors! Also, I get excited to participate in class discussions instead of embarrassed (or even catatonic). Lastly, one of the biggest differences is that back then I was a kid. Now I’m raising kids, and helping others raise kids too. Again, what a difference!

In truth, I am not special. Everyone is constantly changing and evolving. Even a person who looks to be completely stagnant, or ‘stuck’ as you may call them, they are changing! How could they not, we are with every breath, closer to death or closer to aliveness. The key is to be able to meet yourself wherever you are. Meet yourself and be present with what you encounter. You may not look perfect, but presence may be a more important goal than perfect.

Can you do that? Can you love whoever you turn out to be? Yes. You must!

My Name is Not ‘No’, it’s ‘Yes’, or at Least ‘Maybe’

Have you heard that new pop song by Megan Trainor called ‘My Name is ‘No’?  In the song, you hear the refrain, “My name is ‘No’, my number is ‘No’, you need to let it go.’

It’s a lot of ‘No’s’ in one song. I’m not sure, but if my subliminal messaging were programmed with this song, I think it would lead to a lot of nothing.

Why?

You hear what you expect to hear and see what you expect to see. It’s a natural cognitive process called ‘selective perception’. It means, in short, we get what we think we’ll get and we see what we expect to see. Many of our thoughts and perceptions, unfortunately, are occurring without us even being aware of it!

If your subconscious mind is conditioned to expect to get ‘No’ then most likely you will get ‘No’s’ when you ask or seek out something. Unless, of course, your subconscious actually thinks you’ll get ‘Yes’. In which case, you will get ‘I don’t know!’

If you are not sure what all this means, ask yourself how many times you have had an idea to do something fun or different lately. Now, look back and count the number of times you have actually moved on any of those ideas. Compare the numbers.

If you’re like most people, the number of ideas you have had by far outweighs the number of action steps you have taken. But before you start chastising yourself for your inactivity, you need to realize how it happens. Besides, no one likes to be scolded!

Often, when you don’t take action steps to change your daily routine, it’s because the subliminal message you are giving yourself is ‘No’. This puts you in a resistance position. If this happens, you have essentially programmed yourself to lose your motivation before you take any action.

The Dalai Lama said, “…the easiest path to happiness is to do something.” If you want to change something in your life, you need to do something. If you don’t know what to do, then think about what you want and then make a move in that direction. Even the simplest move can generate a result, or a reaction.

Say you want a new living environment. A first step could be to drive around neighborhoods looking for one that inspires you. You’re taking a step in a direction!

What I know about steps is that one begets (fancy word for ‘leads to’) another. But most importantly, and here is THE KEY, when you take that step, you must have NO ATTACHMENT to how it turns out. Just take the step. Once you take it, you will intuitively know the next step. Pretty soon you are covering lots of ground! It’s called momentum. You’re getting somewhere.

In my life there have been periods of time when many things happened, and periods of time where not much happened. When I was bored, nothing happened and I ended up more bored. In the times where a lot happened it was because I told myself ‘yes’ and made myself do what I wanted to do.

For example, in the year I graduated from college, I went from working at a school library to being a bartender at a steakhouse in Koln, Germany. Also, in the timespan of one year (a different year!) I got married, appeared in a show on a stage in New York City, delivered twins and moved across country to Austin, Texas.

Also, the last few years have been full of activity…and especially these past few months. Since April I have taken the GRE, been accepted to a graduate program that will expand my business and skillset, sold my house and moved my family into a new home (my dream house!) produced the 35th episode of the One Minute Parent Video Segments, grew my practice, and will soon send my sons off to Middle School! Clearly I have been saying ‘yes’ to myself, and in turn, people have been saying ‘yes’ to me!

In between here and there were stretches of boredom where seemingly nothing new happened. These clearly were the times when my subconscious was tuned into channel ‘No’ and I was set on the setting of resistance.

Much of the fun and exciting changes I’ve experienced were not what I thought was possible. So how did any of these things start?

None of it happened overnight, but after a series of many steps. With getting accepted to school, it started with a trip to Half Price Books to pick up a copy of the GRE study workbook. Then, some research on the internet. Then a conversation with my realtor and dear friend Emily Apollo (while we were perusing neighborhoods where my dream house might be) told me about where she went to graduate school. I looked into it and found the ideal program for me.

I took little steps, one after the other, without knowing how or if they’ll lead anywhere. It makes sense to me because I already have a bias toward action. I like to check things out. Encounter. I’m not afraid to be surprised, to be embarrassed, disappointed…and follow my gut.

Over years (yes I am getting older!) I have found not everyone is like this. Many people are afraid to hear the word ‘No’. Imagine if I had gone to Half Price Books and asked for the GRE book and they said ‘No’. Would that mean academic career, graduate program over? Of course not! That’s so silly! I would simply ask them to find me the book! And if they said ‘No’ to that, well, guess what, I would go to another bookstore, or Amazon, or the library or ask a friend. The point is, the point doesn’t matter! What matters is the process. Stay on progress with the process.

If you want new things to happen…it doesn’t matter what things…maybe things you haven’t even thought of yet, or things that your cognitive mind cannot even understand, then you need to change the background music playing in your head. Change it from ‘No’ to ‘Yes’ or even ‘Oh yeah baby!’

Here are some musical programming suggestions:

“I Came to Win” by Nicki Minaj

“Life is a Highway” (and I’m gonna ride it all night loooong!)

“Let’s Get it ON”!

But, if for some reason you just can’t get out of that “NO” groove, just call me, cuz’ you know what I’ll be singing!

What are your songs for inspiration?

Got Thoughts…or Your Thoughts Got You?

or ‘How to Know if You are Thinking Your Own Thoughts or Someone Else’s and What to do About it!’

Fireworks, beer and barbecue were on the agenda for most Americans last week when we celebrated Independence Day. When the U.S. defeated Great Britain over 200 years ago, we won the right to govern ourselves…a great source of pride and celebration. And with good reason! Living in a Democracy means we have more freedom and more rights than many other nations on earth. It means, in short, we Americans have the right to think for ourselves, to express our thoughts, and even vote in accordance with our thoughts.

But are we really exercising our hard-won right to think for ourselves? Hmmm…

Maybe, maybe not.

From the time we are born, ideas, behaviors and values are downloaded into our brains and incorporated into our being, similar to how apps are installed into computers. Scientists who’ve argued for decades whether we are influenced by our genetics or by our experiences and surroundings in the age-old debate of nature vs. nurture…now agree the answer is…. ‘Both!’.

You and I were raised by humans so therefore we suffer (and also benefit) from the ideas, opinions and experiences embedded by our social environment. When socialization (the technical term for learning social norms and mores) is beneficial is to learn things like when to shake hands, when to say, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. But when it starts to go awry is when we learn what to be afraid of (ie. Stranger Danger!). Much of the info being downloaded into our brains as we are growing is useless, damaging or both. For example, are all strangers dangerous? Of course not! All of our friends were strangers at one time. Dr. Gwen Dewar says, “I am struck by how many people seem content to impose unreflective, conformist thinking on children.”

Even more important than teaching children to follow society’s conventions is to raise humans who can think and identify real events, make decisions, and recognize their own power in doing so. Actually, it serves them better to operate this way, rather than to adopt our distilled and sometimes-delusional world views and methods of interacting.

How do we teach this important skill to kiddos even while protecting them from danger? First, we can improve our own ability to think and make decisions, then share a little at a time what we are learning…like osmosis.

For example, I recognize that I am sometimes lazy in my thoughts and let others’ opinions creep into my consciousness. Also I have a bad habit of letting other people make assumptions about me without correcting them. In other words, sometimes I’m guilty of operating on autopilot. Does this sound familiar? I believe I am not alone. Usually we are not aware of when we do this though, so becoming aware is a big step forward.

For decades, social psychologists have known about a phenomenon called ‘groupthink’. It occurs when a group of people values harmony and coherence over accurate analysis and critical evaluation. It can be any group (a family, company culture, team…), we are all susceptible, and it’s happening all the time. Groupthink has lead to some of the worst decisions, the most famous being the epic failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion. It occurs when every individual in a group makes an assumption that other people are exercising critical thinking so they don’t have to question or engage in any decision-making.

Why ?

Maybe it’s because of a fear of what people will think of us if we don’t agree, or maybe it’s because we don’t want to take responsibility for the outcome, and would rather hide behind a collective decision, rather than make a stand. Neither scenario puts human tendencies in a very good light, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel!

Last night some friends and I were at a restaurant listening while a waiter was going over the specials…speaking very rapidly. My friend stopped him and said “I don’t know what you’re saying.” In that moment I felt how trustworthy my friend is. To you, this may seem like a small detail, but it takes courage to break another person’s reality and state clearly how yours is different. In fact, self-actualization is defined by ‘reaching one’s potential through …a thorough grasp of the real world.’ Small steps like my friend letting the waiter know he was not reaching his goal of communicating bring us all closer to self-actualization. She pointed out her reality, knowing it was different than his assumption of it.

Young’uns who are not encouraged or allowed to experience the results of their choices…and in this way connect with reality.…cannot hope to ever reach self-actualization. Many parents are so frightened for their children, they constantly step in to manipulate the consequences of their children’s decisions. Such a child will surely struggle later in life (and perhaps struggle even now!) to distinguish why the world does not respond to his or her ministrations like mommy and daddy do.

If upgrading your thinking processes sounds to you like not the funnest project, just imagine the benefits. If you train yourself to make true and accurate observations, to allow yourself and your children to enjoy the results of your choices, and recognize you are in control of every aspect of your life, then you will really be a great model to your friends and children!

Also, you may be the next Thomas Edison or Madame Curie. In fact, right now I bet you can point to at least 10 things you enjoy in your world that are the result of someone thinking ‘out of the box’, or ‘against the grain’. If everyone subscribed to their culture’s homogenous thinking, no innovations would be possible.

Recently, I went with a group to the Museum of Science and Technology. Science has come a long way! And progress always happened when someone had the courage to dissent from mainstream thinking. People used to think the world is flat. Then, when they learned the world is round, they still believed the sky was flat, like a vast disc.

Thanks to Copernicus who, through tinkering, created the first crude telescope, came a more accurate grasp of the sky. Then, Galileo took the concept and created a more sophisticated version of the telescope so that he could study the stars. He reported his findings that the sky is a vast multi-dimensional network. Not a flat disc at all.

If we try to change from following mindlessly preprogrammed thoughts, let’s think about the opposite, mindFULness. Experience as many moments as consciously as possible. In a coaching relationship a coach can help discern whether your thoughts are yours or someone else’s squatting in your brain?

Through inquiry, you can discover the origins by yourself too. When you can feel a thought or idea lodged somewhere in your physical body, that is a most sure sign that the thought was installed in you. If it it’s organic, you can know it by how it feels. It is part of you.

One idea I grew up with …as a little girl growing up while the feminist movement gained momentum… is women should be independent. I internalized that so well that I became truly independent as a young woman, and truly alone! It made me sad.

Luckily, I met an incredible coach who helped me distinguish that belief was not mine. Even though I love empowerment and respectful treatment of women, at the same time, one of my biggest strengths is receptivity, so complete independence is not true to my nature. Making that distinction helped me learn to accept and receive help, input, friendship and love from others. At first, it did not feel natural (and still doesn’t sometimes). Prior to questioning my beliefs I could never imagine being as intimate with people as I am now. The gift of intimacy comes from a give and receive exchange. It makes me happy to feel interdependent, rather than independent.

Happiness is a true test of whether you have your own thoughts. When an idea comes through my consciousness that makes me feel excited and alive, that idea comes from my own heart and essence. Maybe someone made a suggestion or planted a seed that caused a connection, but if it feels good it is more likely to be congruent with me…my values.

If you’re still not sure, what you can do is to act and observe. When you take action on a belief how does it feel? How does it work for you in your life? Recently, a client was suffering from the thought that she needed to get a job. I suggested she apply at the TexMex Cantina across the street from where we were meeting which had a ‘help wanted’ sign. She did not light up at the suggestion and her face darkened. The suggestion of course was only a test. Her response told us both clearly that her idea of getting a job was not organic, and not what she needed to focus on in that moment.

Through inquiry we discovered the origin of the belief, released it and then formed a new plan based on her pleasure and coming straight from her heart. You know what? The plan coming from her heart and her essence, the one that makes her feel alive and aglow…that’s the plan that’ll work!

If you want your plans to work, get your thinking to work! Work for you, instead of against you, that is. You can stop being a victim of your own thoughts. But getting your thoughts to work for you does not mean getting smarter. Actually, since the discovery of groupthink and the damage it can do, a new school of thought studying how to raise intelligence in teams, rather than the opposite has emerged.

Studies overwhelmingly show that groups who get the best results and make the most effective decisions are never the groups with the smartest people, but they are the groups with people who listen to each other and give honest and accurate input to each other.

If you don’t believe me, go ahead, test out your thoughts and take action on them…only a small step is necessary to make a test. Our greatest thinkers agree action is key to thinking better. “Happiness consists of activity,” says John Mason Good.

“Activities that give us durable happiness are the ones we have a hand in creating. We don’t just sit back and receive pleasure. We actually generate the pleasure ourselves….that makes happiness ‘renewable.” says Sonja Lyubormirsky

If that doesn’t convince you, Dalai Lama said, “The easiest route to unhappiness is to do nothing…the easiest path to happiness is to do something.”

What beliefs are you questioning? I’d love to hear! Also, what are the 5 best innovations that came about during your lifetime, and what innovations do you want to see happen? I’d love to know!

 

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