Is Doing More, Better? The Success Trap.

As you might know I recently started grad school for clinical psychology. I made the decision last Fall and started dialing down my business duties with BCSF slowly until by the time December rolled around, I was finished with my biz duties and just teaching classes, which was the goal.

Basically, I’d pared down my schedule and the semester didn’t start until January 25th. Which in the end, meant I had several work weeks where after training between 10 and 18 hours of clients, I was left with a wee bit of spare time on my hands.

This is not a state of being that I have much experience with as an adult. The last time I had this much freedom in my day was when I moved to San Francisco 12 years ago and was looking for jobs. At the time of my departure, I’d been running BCSF for nearly 10 years. To say this was a new reality is undoubtedly an understatement.

I’m not someone that gets bored easily. My house is filled with books and magazines. I have plenty of ways to watch movies. I like to workout and have a home gym in my garage! I have a dog that loves to hit the dog park. I love to cook and experiment in the kitchen!

books

And I knew that I should value this time, this precious break between running an entire company and starting grad school. This punctuation in time that I’d probably look back on fondly and with jealousy once the midterms and papers were in full swing.

Yet, when I went to take a nap one day, I felt guilty. Like I should be doing something. I questioned whether I was being a productive member of society. I wondered whether a truly successful adult can justify taking a nap every day.

Wait, whaaaat? I immediately had a little chat with myself, because as someone that promotes self-care like no one’s business, I was a little frustrated that I was feeling this way. It made me confront the topic:  Is doing more better? Is busier better? Is having a fully stacked schedule, better?

I know in my heart of hearts that the answer is, no.

Why do we feel this way, though? Well, it’s my opinion (and research has shown this, too) that we equate success with being busy.

yosemiiiiiiittteee

But here’s why it’s bad for us to perpetuate this myth on a practical level:

Cortisol Levels

You’ve likely heard that cortisol is the “stress” hormone. Which it is. It’s attached to our fight or flight response and would be the first thing to rise up should a lion come bounding your way. It’s super useful for that kind of fight, but in our modern times we our stressors are different. It’s the to-do list, the crazy boss, ensuring our kids are getting the best. So many of us have elevated cortisol levels which is bad because it also eats away at some of our feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine. Translation? If you’re highly stressed all the time, the chances that you are happy also, are not so good.

Focus:  Multitasking is bad for our brains. 

Doing too many things at once is something that many of us pride ourselves on. I know I’ve been there! Ohhh, I can do this and that and that other thing. But we’re not going to do them as well, typically, and it trains our brains to work in a way that is well, a bit mindless.

flowers

Here’s the thing:  life is meant for enjoying and not scraping by. We can’t escape our lives. We can’t eschew our responsibilities — I mean, is your boss going to really care about your cortisol levels when they ask you to cover for your colleague’s vacation? Probably not. But here are a few things you can do, even when you’re busier than you think you can handle:

  1. Practice Mindfulness. This is the one thing that researchers (even one of my new professors talked about this already in my neuro class!) The thing is, is that you can do this almost anytime, anywhere, because in reality it’s simply a way to slow down. To appreciate what is going on around you, to appreciate the sensations of what you’re doing in the moment — such as taking time to feel the bristles against your teeth when you are brushing, thinking about each swipe as you wash dishes, etc.
  2. Turn Down The Noise. When I’m feeling especially antsy and I am driving somewhere, I turn off the radio. Seriously. It helps! And when I’m reading, I try to turn off everything around me because I find I absorb things more — and as a grad student, I’m guessing I’ll be doing this more often.
  3. Laugh! If I’m feeling stressed and want to chill out, I put on Netflix and immediately head to Parks & Recreation. If I can’t do that, I head to Instagram and scroll through my favorite funny meme accounts. It’s simple, but helps.
  4. Mediate. It goes without saying, but just to say it anyway:  mediation is a kind of mindfulness.
  5. Exercise. ‘Nuff said? Okay, just in case you needed more evidence:  “…enriched environments and exercise have been shown to lead to increased density of synpatic connections, and especially to an increased number of neurons and actual volume of the hippocampus a region important for learning and memory.” Translation:  exercise leads to new pathways being built in your brain. This is good for you. And while intense exercise does lead to cortisol being released — because exercise is an inherent “stress” on the body, in the longterm exercise will help regulate cortisol in your body. There is something to be said in this regard, though, for not having all your exercise sessions be 100% balls to the walls, to take rest days and to consider adding some cardio and yoga to your routine if you are struggling with stress.

The moral of this story is that taking care of yourself is important. And sometimes taking care of yourself means saying no to doing more. It means taking some time every day to be you.

And as pampered, privileged and first-world as it sounds, the catch is, is that it actually helps you function better, keeps not only your body healthy, but your brain, too. And I’m gonna bet, you’ll actually do your jobs better when your feeling at the top of your game.

 

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“I Exercise to Look Good Naked”: Good Reasons to Exercise

How many times have you heard this? I’ve heard it. A LOT. I’ve seen it plastered on the walls of gyms, I’ve seen it on more social media posts than is possible to count and I’ve heard it said to me. A lot.

And I totally hate it! It’s not wrong to want to look sexy — yes, I get it. But there are so many other reasons to exercise that will actually sustain you for a lifetime. Because I can guarantee you that looking sexy is the last reason you’ll get out of bed to workout on a cold and rainy day when you’re lying next to someone you love that, get this, probably loves you just as you are already.

So, what are good reasons/motivators to exercise?

  • Well, for me, it’s a time when I’m in a flow state. Meaning, it’s time where I’m not thinking much about the rest of the world. I’m not thinking about what I need to do, where I should be. I am in the zone. This has an insanely calming effect on me.  Which is to say, exercise is stress reliever for me. I let go, I breathe, I lift, I run, I ride.
  • Knowing that it allows me to play, be free and have adventures has a powerful effect on my motivation. I want to be able to do things and not have my body hold me back. Last weekend I went snowshoeing in Yosemite. We went around 6 miles. There is no way you can do that much activity if you aren’t exercising on a somewhat regular basis. These are the kinds of moments that bring magic into my everyday life. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I mean, how can scenes like this not feel magical?!

Remember:   extrinsic motivators are far less likely to keep your routine going for the long-run. Finding intrinsic motivators, things that fuel your spirit, things that quite literally give you a spring in your step? These are the things that will make you leap out of that cozy bed in the morning.

Own Your Shit

Yesterday one of my class members thanked me for the great workout that burned over 400 calories (she wears a heart rate monitor).

“Well, you did all the work, I just told you what to do.”

“But telling us what to do is more than half the battle!”

Yes, I think I’m a good coach, that I plan an excellent workout and, of course, I am very grateful to be thanked for my efforts. That certainly feels good. But their workout is not about me. It’s their time. I think it’s important to be aware that I am a facilitator for my clients.

Because I will not always be there for them. Life situations, jobs, schedules — these things all change.

get unstuck cat image

What doesn’t change is knowing that you are in charge of you, your life, your body. You are in charge of choosing how and if you will exercise.

And if I won’t always have my clients in my stead, I want to give them the tools for keeping up their exercise routine for life. Those tools aren’t simply how to swing a kettlebell, but knowing that they can.

That is all to say — intrinsic motivation is what will serve us in the end. Doing something “for” someone else is a fleeting kind of motivation:  getting in shape for events, “looking good naked” so that someone will find us sexy? These things won’t get us unto the gym for years to come — for now, maybe, yes. But not forever.

And the thing about giving someone else credit for your workout? That fuels a pipeline of not giving YOURSELF CREDIT. You need to give yourself credit for what you are doing. You need to acknowledge that you showed up. You hauled your ass up and down the stairs, you picked up the kettlebells and your coach simply told you how to do it and gave you a pat on the back.

You’re doing it. Step up to the plate and own it.

2016 Give Me Your Magic

Being that it’s the New Year, I’ve done my fair share of reflecting on the past year and looking towards the future year. As I’ve been thinking about where I am, been and where I want to go, two words that keep coming up for me are adventure and magic.

I’ve realized they are each in their own way, core, guiding values for me. That is, it’s important for me to live life in a way that puts these values as a priority.

For me I practice adventure and magic in these ways:

TRAVEL: To see the world is an important way that I experience the world — to be humbled, to be charmed, to have my horizons broadened both literally and figuratively, to try new things, to meet new people — this is the ultimate adventure in my book, which so often leads to **magic**.

TALK TO STRANGERS: Talking to people when I’m out and about — you find out the most amazing things about people don’t you? I’m not perfect with this, but I try. And being that I’m a natural introvert, for me, trying is part of the way I have an adventure.

TRY NEW FOODS & THINGS: This is something I naturally do and want to do. I will try weird things on a menu, I will try combinations in my kitchen, even if they sound weird to others, if I’m intrigued, I go for it. One example:  brown rice noodles + lemon juice + 1 canof Italian tuna in olive oil drained + mayo + salt + parsley. Now, this isn’t the weirdest combo:  it has it’s roots in Italian cooking, for sure. But you have to admit it’s a little weird — but I made it one evening out of desperation and I love it. It was a magical little culinary adventure! And now it’s one of my favorite go-to dishes on a busy night when I want something relatively healthy and easy-peasy.

Auntie Mame

TRY NEW MOVEMENT: I try new exercises all the time. Just ask my clients that are like “UGH, what’s this new one she’s having us do today?!”. I like to move my kettlbells and weights in new ways, move my body in new ways. It’s exciting to see what it can do! And this upcoming weekend I am going to try snow-shoeing! Wee! To me, new movement, it’s always an adventure. Even if it means falling on my butt. Which I am sure I will do this weekend.

LAUGH: To me, this is a kind of everyday magic. The kind of magic that you can experience anywhere, anytime. No matter how small, how big, it’s special and worth noting in my opinion.

LOVE. Sometimes it’s easy to go along in life and just ho-hum along, but when you stop to realize how much love is in your life, how many people care for you and will help you out? That is a kind of magic that I never want to end.

Why is this relevant? Well, I think it’s hard to feel magic and to be adventurous when you’re not feeling healthy. It’s hard to run, it’s hard to breathe, it’s hard to feel the kind of peace that allows you to feel magic or try new things, when things are weighing you down (both physically and metaphorically).

I have never been healthier in my life or happier than I have been in the last few years. And I can safely say that I’ve had way more adventures and felt an extraordinary amount of magic, too. It’s hard to not see them as intrinsically connected.

I believe that magic is mostly a state of mind, though. It means you are able to see the world through a positive lens. You’re able to see what’s special about people. You’re able to see the little things in life that make this journey that much more special.

So, are you with me? Let’s make 2016 a year of magic and adventure!

 

 

Three Tactics to Meet Your 2016 Goals

Ten years ago when I started answering the phone for my fitness company I remember being struck by how much people wanted to talk before registering for classes.

After several months of 20 to 30 minute long phone calls, it dawned at me what was going on with most of these folks:   they felt vulnerable about joining an intense fitness program. And when we feel this way it’s often helpful to talk it out.

Realizing that changed the way I viewed fitness as an industry, forever.

brene brown vulnerability quote

No longer was the way I viewed the business of fitness as a cheesy, soulless and vain quest to get people better abs, but, for me, it became a quest to take people by the hand, give them good information, quality workouts and respect their feelings.

See, here’s the thing. Fitness is in logical terms, simple. We all know that working out is good for us. We all know that potato chips aren’t so good for us.

But that doesn’t make our feelings about these things simple.

It doesn’t make getting out of bed to get a workout in before a long commute, simple.

So, while I know that this is the time of year when many of us feel the need to go on a strict diet and be really, really hard on ourselves in the pursuit of fitness and health, I urge you to re-consider how you’re approaching your fitness and health goals as we head into 2016 using these three principles to guide you:

  • Acknowledge Your Vulnerabilities. It’s okay if you’re intimidated by the gym. It’s okay if you’re not sure how to use a machine, do a push-up properly or the best way to get more veggies in your day. This is all just information. You can figure this out. You can hire a coach (ahem!). You can talk to a gym-going friend. But acknowledging your feelings will help you. Trying to pretend that you don’t have insecurities will likely only get in the way of success. Because when we are putting our ego at the forefront, we are less likely to ask for help. And it’s my opinion that you are less likely to make true change without some help — be it via information gathering, coaching or support from a family member for things like childcare.
  • Practice Self-Compassion. You are going to have set-backs. You’re going to sleep in and miss your workout one day, you’re going to have a slice of pizza for lunch when you intended to have a huge-ass salad. The question is, how do you handle these situations? What isn’t going to serve you? Beating yourself up for these slip-ups. What will serve you? Realizing that you are in a bigger-picture scenario — that is, what you do most of the time defines your physique, your fitness and health, not what happens on a day when you didn’t get enough sleep.
  • Be Realistic With Your Goals. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Don’t decide that you are going to run a marathon in 4 months when you haven’t ran in 8 years. Sure, you might hear of people doing such things, but that is a rare case, not the norm. One of my goals is to be active and fit well into old-age. This guides me well because it means that I don’t do stupid things — I don’t train through injuries and I don’t try things that I know I’m not ready for.

You can definitely do this! Don’t let your vulnerabilities stop you. Don’t let your setbacks set you back 😉 And be honest about what is realistic for you, right now. You are worth this journey.

Here’s to healthy, happy and magical 2016!

P.S. If you need help with information gathering, don’t forget that I send out weekly workouts to my email list each Sunday. Sign up for my list here.