Category Archives: performance

Joys of Accepting and Mastering Discomfort (aka. Stress Management and Mastery)

Reflect back on your life. The further back you remember, the more you can find what stands out and matters most to you. Do your best, your happiest, your most cherished memories include relationships that had ups and downs? Do they include new experiences that could not be predicted, no matter how small or mundane? Do they include memories when you worked really hard and achieved something that seemed impossible and you felt so proud? Do they include those thrilling moments when you knew you had created something incredible?

Yes. The greatest joys and personal growth often come from moments in life when you work through the discomfort and get to the other side. There are times in life when we accept or are forced to accept situations that we do not choose, that throw us into the unpredictable and uncontrollable, that make us uncomfortable. We all have to get to the other side of that. Let me share with you how you can make that journey a bit easier.

Here are the steps to mastering the discomfort. Writing this down or talking about this with a close confidant or neutral person can be helpful.

  1. Identify your discomfort and figure out what is in your control and what is not in your control. What is causing you discomfort? Why? Describe and label it.
  2. Take what is NOT in your control & “put it away.” Imagine putting it into a storage container or a mental file cabinet or write it down and put it away. You can re-visit this later -if you want.
  3. Take what IS in your control & “work it.” Think about best and worst case scenarios.
  4. Consider worst case scenarios and figure out ahead of time everything you in your control that you can do to prevent the worst case scenario and make a plan to do that. Figure out how you would manage it if the worse case still came to be. Consider how that scenario could be the Universe (whatever higher power you believe in) delivering you a gift to teach you something important you need to learn, to benefit you or another being, or to propel your personal growth forward and upwards. Recognize you are resilient and accept that you are doing the best you can with what IS in your control.
  5. Now, spend time focusing on what you DO want to have happen, the outcome you ARE aiming for. Visualize, dream, brainstorm, strategize and make plans to go for the BEST case scenario. Define it, label it, “see it.” Regularly repeat this step- the more the better.

Mastery is when you are in control of the discomfort rather than the discomfort in control of you. Remember that everything happens for a reason and we may not know the reason right away. Appreciate that the discomforts in our life are there as messages to help us refocus. Accept that there will be those times of discomfort and then make a plan to master the discomfort and keep moving forward. You’ve got this.

A Tool for High Performers: The Caffeine Nap

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We’ll keep this quick, because you have things to do. As a physician of high performers, sleep is a common discussion topic. Due to travel across time zones, irregular schedules, long days, responsibilities and/or having lots on the mind, there are times when sleep is limited and yet we need to be able to perform. Here’s a common formula: [Feeling Sleep Deprived & Tired] + [No Time for Full Night’s Sleep] + [Need to Perform at Peak Capacity] = [Unnecessary Unhealthy Stress.] This can be treated or prevented.

Here’s one tool (of many) that you may find helpful for those times: The Caffeine Nap*. (*If you have a caffeine sensitivity, are responsible for operating heavy machinery or are driving or flying, this is NOT recommended.)

1. Set alarm for 30 minutes.

2. Drink an unsweetened coffee or espresso.

3. Nap. (We will review HOW to fall asleep quickly in a future post)

4. Wake up to the alarm as your caffeine kicks in and your mind is in “Game On!” Mode.

5. Know that you’ve got this.

Let me know how you’re doing. Drop me a line.

Healthier Together Series: 6D. Putting it all together – Organizing Your Day For Productivity & Success

hannah-olinger-NXiIVnzBwZ8-unsplashToday, we are finishing up our 6th series. You have all the tools and knowledge to make the choices to optimize your health. How do you make it all happen? Here’s how to set yourself up for success. Make adaptations to make it your own. Here’s the basics.

Once a week:

  1. Review what happened last week. Make notes about what you learned, what you need to do, what has to be carried over from last week. Are you making decisions that align with your mission statement and your values?
  2. Brain Dump. Make a list of everything on your mind, everything you need to do, everything you are worried about, anything that is taking up mental space. Empty the brain of distracting thoughts.
  3. Prioritize your goals for the week. What do you need to accomplish this week? Include your goals for nutrition, physical activity, sleep and relaxation as well as any social goals.
  4. Develop action items, or next steps towards achieving those goals. Prioritize them or mark the most important ones so you work on those first. Also, it helps to have  a list of action items that are take less than 10 minutes to complete so that you can easily complete those tasks when you have sudden open moments like when a meeting ends early or you find yourself waiting for an appointment.
  5. Next to each action item, it helps make some notation or color code it to indicate a location. For example, some actions require you to be at your computer (sending an email or creating a powerpoint or editing a document) or at home (pack for trip).
  6. Review your calendar for the week ahead and fill in any of the necessary appointments or usual activities and block out those times. Account for every hour of every day. Remember to include your commute times, food prep, eating, shower, workouts, relaxation times, sleep times, etc. There are 24 hours in a day and remember that you cannot be in 2 places at the same time.
  7. Now you see how much of your week is open for discretionary time. Find the largest blocks of time and block those for your most important projects or creative activities so you can do a dive deep into them. Fill in the smaller chunks of time with errands and To Do’s that don’t require much thought or creativity but take up some of your time.

At this time, you likely have a brain dump list, a prioritized list of goals, a prioritized list of action items with locations and a prioritized list of “10 minutes or less” tasks.

Daily:

  1. At the end of your day, review your day (see #10 below) and then review the weekly calendar for tomorrow. Make sure you have carved out enough time for a bedtime routine and sleep and personal hygiene. Review your list of remaining action items and “10 minutes or less” tasks. Determine which of those items and tasks need to make it onto your calendar- pick the most important ones first. Print out or write your schedule for the day with action items and tasks.
  2. Figure out your foods and drinks for tomorrow and prepare or plan for optimal nutrition. If you are going to eat out, make a plan for what you will have. If you are monitoring or logging your foods, you could enter in what you plan to eat or drink and review the nutrients and macros of your planned foods and drinks. This allows you to make modifications.
  3. Confirm your physical activity plan for tomorrow based on your body state, your schedule and time available. If you drank alcohol, your body will benefit by some exercise tomorrow morning.
  4. Identify a pocket of time for self care and self reflection – whatever will be best for you. Some days, your physical activity plan may also include self care and self reflection.
  5. In the morning, follow your healthy morning routine and check in with your personal mission statement, your goals and your day calendar. Avoid checking email or social media when you wake up. This is to prevent other people or outside demands from taking control of your mind and mood so early in the morning.
  6. Start your day in control and do what’s best for you.
  7. Use your calendar and lists to help you maximize your accomplishments during the day. This will save you from spending time trying to figure out what to do with your time.
  8. If you happen to have an unexpected time that’s open, make a choice to move around, listen to music, draw, sit in nature, meditate or work on your “10 minutes or less” tasks.
  9. Cross off the items or tasks as you accomplish them throughout the day. It feels so good to do that! Write in anything extra you complete or any alterations to your schedule so that you have a log of how you spent your time.
  10. At the end of the day, review your day. Look for patterns and learn from your day. Over time, you may identify patterns of your best, most productive times of the day, or that some things take longer than others, or that other items on your calendar are constantly skipped and may not be a true priority for you.

***Share your wisdom in the comments below.***

Photo by Hannah Olinger on Unsplash

5 Food & Drink Tips for Performance & Wellness Despite Frequent Business Travel

eva-darron-oCdVtGFeDC0-unsplashDo you have to travel across multiple time zones for work? If so, you have multiple factors to consider. We will start with food and drink tips.

On your travel day and/or on the day you have to “perform,” maintain steady energy and power up your mind:

  1. Hold the sugar, wheat and alcohol. In addition to increasing your waistline, this causes your energy levels to fluctuate and also messes with your circadian rhythm.
  2. Stay hydrated. A water bottle can be refilled at many airports and at your destination. Drink lots of clear liquids, especially water or other unsweetened beverages like unsweetened tea, coffee (cream ok) or flavored sparkling water. Make sure you are drinking extra fluids when you are very physically active, in hot weather, or if you are high altitude, such as on a plane. You are mostly water, so keep the fluids flowing.
  3. It’s better NOT to eat if you are not hungry. If you skip a meal because there aren’t good food options for you, that’s ok- we call that “Intermittent Fasting”. *Note: If you take medications for blood sugars or diabetes, talk to your doctor about timing your medications and foods as you travel across time zone.
  4. The other option would be to pack travel friendly high performance fuels for those times when choices are limited. Have options that will satisfy your needs: salty, crunchy, creamy, etc.
  5. As a last resort, consider meal replacements with monk fruit or stevia (ie. Vega Essentials) as a sweetener or NO sweetener (ie. Bob’s Red Mill Protein & Fiber Nutritional Booster). Stay away from sucralose or fruit juice if possible as they will cause you to be more hungry very soon after. Look at the nutrition label and confirm NET carbs 5 grams or less. (Total carbohydrates in grams – Dietary Fiber in grams = NET carbs)

Have any other tips for eating or drinking while traveling, AND maintaining your steady energy and powering your mind?

 

Healthier Together Series: Cycle 6C. Relaxation & Sleep – Focus your mind, Relax your body

camilo-jimenez-mUCnQpBZzXA-unsplashWant to learn how to immediately relax your body and focus your mind when your fight or flight response has been triggered – Naturally- without drugs or medications?

Let me introduce you to the Quieting Reflex, developed by Charles F. Strobel.

  1. Breathe in deeply so that your belly rises first when you breathe in (breathing from your diaphragm) and say to yourself, “Alert, amused mind.”
  2.  Breathe out through your mouth, saying to yourself, “Calm body, ” as you release the tension in your jaw.
  3. Let the tension flow out through your arms and smile inwardly to yourself.

If you practice this now, your mind can learn to respond automatically and become alert, while your body will relax. Then, you will be able to use this when you really need it – when you are overwhelmed, stressed or anxious and you need your mind to be sharp and focused.

Stroebel, Charles F., MD. QT – The Quieting Reflex. NY: Berkley Books, 1967, pp 110-112

Photo by camilo jimenez on Unsplash

List of Travel-Friendly High Performance Fuels – Low carb friendly, most are keto friendly too.

selective focus photo of desk globe

If you are traveling for work and you need to eat to fuel your body and mind, but won’t have always have time or access for healthy whole food choices and fresh vegetables, here are some options to consider packing for your travels.

***Remember that your essential fuels include water, proteins (amino acids) and fats. “Essential” means you have to eat or drink it because your body cannot make it. ***

This list was originally created for flight attendants who travel frequently, may not have access to many healthy food options and who need to be able to perform at their peak for long periods of time. Since this was originally created, there have been some modifications and many requests for copies of this list from business travelers, college students and medical professionals.

Proteins

  • Deli roll ups – freeze (thaw for first half or shorter trips)
  • Deli roll ups or cheese quesadillas made w/ Mission Carb Balance or FlatOut tortillas
  • Hard boiled eggs (invest <$20 in an egg steamer that will make easy peel hard boiled eggs) (requires refrigeration)
  • Deviled eggs (requires refrigeration)
  • Cottage cheese (on way to airport) (requires refrigeration)
  • Yogurt:
    • Oikos triple zero yogurt
    • Two Good yogurt
    • Chobani or Fage full fat Plain Greek Yogurt (optional add any: nuts, nut butter, cocoa nibs, hemp seeds, chias seeds, ¼ berries)
  • Shelf-stable cheese sticks
  • Babybel cheese, (requires refrigeration)
  • Cheese crisps
    • Whisps
    • Moon Cheese (Starbucks)
    • Make your own: microwave small amounts of cheese on parchment paper.  Or place the cheese mounds on parchment paper into the oven at 320F (160c) and bake for 5 minutes.
  • Starkist tuna & salmon packets
  • Bumble Bee Seasoned Tuna (with spoon)
  • Canned sardines
  • Bars
    • Quest bars (Avoid the ones with sucralose listed as an ingredient)
    • Epic meat bars
    • Just the Cheese bars (crunchy)
  • Vega One or Orgain protein powder (make or buy individual packets), add to bottled water
  • Trader Joe’s beef, turkey, or salmon jerky
  • Sabra Hummus packs

Fats

  • Dang or Bare toasted coconut flakes
  • Avocados
    • Whole
    • Wholly Guacamole mini’s
  • Adapt bars (small & filling, various flavors, keto friendly)
  • Nuts
    • Macadamia nuts, pecans, almonds, walnuts, brazil nuts, hazelnuts, peanuts
    • Blue Diamond flavored almonds
  • Nut and seed butters (almond, peanut butter)
    • Jif To Go Natural peanut butter
    • Rx nut butter (honey cinnamon PB, vanilla almond butter, plain PB-5 or 6 net carbs so limit to 1)
    • Justin’s almond or peanut butter (classic)
    • Yumbutter squeeze packs (sunflower, almond, peanut)
    • Soom tahini squeeze packs
  • Nut packs
    • Sahale snacks all natural nut blends
    • Imperial nuts energy blend
    • Patagonia Provisions savory seeds
    • Nut Harvest nut & fruit mix
    • Emerald salt & pepper cashew 100 calorie packs
  • Homemade trail mix
    • Combine your favorite: peanuts, almonds, walnuts, pecans, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds
  • Olives
    • Pearls Olives To Go!
    • Oloves (olives)
    • Mario Camacho brineless Snack olives
    • Trader Joe’s Handful of Olives packets
    • Olive Pickle Pak

Extras

  • Veg with salad dressing or dips that are NOT sweet.
    • Carrots
    • Cucumbers
    • Jicama
    • Radishes
    • Celery
  • Dill pickles
  • Trail mix extras:
    • Montmorency dried tart cherries, dark chocolate chips, or unsweetened coconut flakes
  • Chips and crackers and crunchy
    • Pork rinds
    • Trader Joe’s Roasted Seaweed Snacks (plain or wasabi)
    • Rhythm superfoods kale chips
    • Flackers
    • Splitz original crunchy split pea crisp snacks
    • Seapoint farms dry roasted edamame
    • Biena roasted chick pea snacks
    • Saffron Road crunchy chickpeas
  • Smoked salmon wrap– put smoked salmon in iceberg lettuce, add avocado, a few capers and cream cheese
  • Lark Ellen Farm Grain Free Granola Bites – Vanilla Cinnamon
  • Norwegian Baked Knekkebrod crisp bread

Other options

  • Qi’a Superfood Organic Hot Oatmeal in creamy coconut
  • Crepes: Crepini Egg White Thins
  • Emmy’s 2 oz. lemon ginger macaroons – spicy and sweet
  • Lindt 70% dark chocolate
  • Unreal dark chocolate PB cups
  • GoPicnic Ready-to-Eat Meals
  • Cocoa Nibs
  • Instant chocolate mousse– blend 1 avocado + 1 tbsp cocoa powder (unsweetened) + sweetener to taste
  • Trader Joe’s Organic coconut sesame clusters snack
  • Whole Foods 365 Candied Walnuts
  • Hu Get back to Human Chocolate covered hunks (chocolate covered cashews)

Drinks

  • Teas such as Tazo, Yogi, etc.
  • Instant Green Tea Powder (mix with water)
  • La Croix (Flavored sparkling water)
  • Bubly (Flavored sparkling water)
  • Starbucks VIA instant coffee
  • Half and half pods
  • Fruit in water bottle to infuse water
  • SeedLip (non alcoholic, “liquor”)

Condiments

  • Salt and pepper packets
  • Hot sauce packets
  • Mayonnaise packets
  • Mustard packets
  • Everything bagel seasoning
  • Tajin

The Secret to Successfully Starting Something New: Develop Your Self Compassion

simon-matzinger-UqCnDyc_3vA-unsplashDo you find that your good intentions to walk every day, plan & prepare healthy foods, incorporate new healthy habits into your life, start out well, but fizzle out too soon, before they become ingrained into your routine? You know what you need to do or what you want to do, you realize you can probably fit it into your day (instead of playing that mindless game on your smartphone) but do you find yourself eventually “blowing it off” or giving up & quitting? Does it feel like a failure? Well, I hear you. Been there, done that. But let’s take a step back before you feel bad about “yet another failed attempt.”

Life is about trial and error and success. Let’s recognize it’s about intentions, learning, forgiving and then adapting. Practice self-compassion. When you develop your capacity for self-compassion, you will have the courage to try something new, to work at it, reflect on the feedback and ultimately to adapt and grow. You develop your capacity for success in the area of your new focus – whether it is a new project, new hobby, new healthy lifestyle habit, new company, new goal. Here are the 4 steps to using reflection to develop your self compassion.

1. Intentions. Reflect on your intentions and appreciate your good intentions. It’s really a good thing…you want to be healthier. You want to incorporate new healthy habits. These are good things. Celebrate that you have good intentions for yourself! You may do a little research, figure out what you will improve, make plans, organize your schedule & your life to make it happen & you start out eager to get going with it.

BUT, life happens. That means there is change. Many changes. Whether it is the season, your routine, your body, the people around you, your surroundings. Here is how this looks…

It’s a new school year for the kids, summer is over. Everyone’s getting back on a “routine.” I am going to wake up earlier 30 minutes, 5 days a week so that I can introduce some gentle exercises before I hop in the shower & get the kids off to school & then head off to work. GREAT!

The first 2 weeks go great. I’m waking up earlier like I planned & I’m working out. Great. I’m into week 3 & my schedule changes…I have a school open house, team sports have picked up & clubs have started…they keep my kids & me busy & adjusting to a new schedule. It takes effort to keep it all straight.

To top it off, the kids can’t seem to get much done before I get home from work, and I’m running late. I am trying to get my kids to do their homework & at least get them into bed at a reasonable hour, but it somehow ends up close to 11 or 12 at night before they are in bed. I have some work that needs to be attended to & those regular monthly bills & the school forms that the kids have brought home that require signing & sending in more money…I’m just trying to catch up & it’s already midnight.

As I crawl into bed, WIPED out, I set my alarm for the “planned time” that will allow me to exercise for 30 minutes in the morning. I have the best intentions, but alas, when the alarm blares, my semi-conscious mind starts making irrational suggestions that sound good – “I will have a better day if I hit snooze 5 times & skip the workout. I will do my “make up” day on one of the days I was NOT planning to work out…” And there it goes.

Do I feel better after 30 minutes with the alarm going off every 6 minutes, pretending I am sleeping? NO. I know this…and yet that knowledge is missing so early in the morning after a 4 hour night of sleep. OR, someone gets sick OR there is a day I have to go into work earlier OR my week’s schedule is somehow altered & my entire “newly created healthy schedule” is thrown off.

Sometimes, my day has just been so hectic, I have to find a mindless activity that allows me to stop getting new input into my brain…I need “time off.” Getting back into the previously planned healthy “early morning” schedule no longer seems to be appealing. The momentum is gone. Now, it feels like another failure.

BUT, here’s the good news! It’s ok. You get to revise & improve your goals and plans. You have shown yourself that you have good intentions to get healthier & have  just provided yourself with a new experience to learn from & you can always get a fresh start.

2. Learning. Reflect on what works (that you can control) & what could be improved (that you can control). This is where to put your focus. These are valuable learning opportunities. Learn various contingency plans. Reconsider what happened & create the back up plan for similar future events. Each time you create a new “health kick plan” you are learning new ways to be healthy – maybe a new workout plan, maybe some new foods, maybe some new ways to be healthy like meditating. In fact, you are constantly learning. You are fine tuning your resiliency to things that act to push you away from your healthy intention. You are strengthening your drive to be healthy.

Life is constantly changing & we are constantly learning how to respond to what is happening in our lives. The act of responding takes extra activation energy and can cause some chaos with our plans to be healthy.  In other words, the energy that you need to respond to changes in your environment might at times in your life, make it hard to ALSO be creating new habits or may require extra time in our day to process, so taking time away from our planned healthy activity. However, we CAN respond to those changes & we can at any time, reintroduce more or different healthy habits into our life. This is learning.

In the above example, it would be helpful to have a back up exercise routine for the afternoon on days that the morning workout didn’t happen. For example, walking outside after dinner or doing the 7 minute workout. If you find you can’t get yourself to do that, it means your mind is on overload & you will need to give yourself 10 minutes of just being with yourself processing your day. This is the “default plan.” This can be as meditation, journalling, talking to someone or just playing a mindless solitaire game. Some people find it helps to organize & plan the areas of our life that we have more control over. Clearing off your desk top, organizing all the things you are carrying in you head, etc. This COUNTS as a healthy activity also. It can recharge you so that you are ready to get going again tomorrow.

3. Forgiveness. Remind yourself, “I am doing the best that I can, right now.” Because life is constantly changing & we are human, we can forgive ourselves when we are not being “perfect.” So you miss your workout today or you ate that food you didn’t want to eat…if it is now in the past, you can forgive & move on. Later, identify what caused the problem & think of ways to prevent or respond to a similar challenge in the future. That is the learning. Allow yourself to be human and accept yourself. Often, this again, means that you need to sit with yourself & process your day, your recent events, your experiences. But you can let go of your disappointment and instead, show yourself self- compassion. Nobody is perfect. Our goal is to learn and keep moving forward.

4. Adapting. Self compassion allows us to appreciate that change requires adaptation and adaptation takes time and may require some trial and error. Unless we practice self compassion, we can become rigid, stuck in negative self-talk when we make a mistake, become unable to tolerate change. This  lack of self compassion limits our ability to fully adapt. With self compassion, fear of failure diminishes. This allows us to try something new, take on a challenge. Then, this whole process results in allowing our natural adaptive process to develop and get better with time. This is personal growth. This is how we get better with age, incorporate new healthy habits into our lives. We continue to strive towards improving our health, trying new things, fine-tuning and reworking previous things we liked until eventually, something sticks and becomes routine.

Here’s an example:

Intention: You want to consistently include exercise as part of your healthy lifestyle. You may try 10 different workout routines over several years, but the new workout routine falls off around week 3-4. Write out your intention as a specific statement and as if it is already true. “Exercise 5 days per week is consistently part of my healthy lifestyle.”

Learning: Figure out what exactly is happening so you can identify the problem. What isn’t true about your intention statement right now and why?

You start strong, working out 5 days per week for 2 weeks, then work gets busy  or you travel or you drink coffee before bedtime one evening and end up unable to sleep that night or you have some change to your desired routine and you stay up late and miss out on your sleep. By the 3rd week, you may exercise 1-2 times and then being disappointed for not sticking to the plan, you stop working out. What isn’t true: you aren’t working out 5 days per week consistently.

  • What is meant by “consistently”? What happens if you exercise 5 days weekly every 2 out of 3 weeks? What if some weeks you don’t exercise 5 days? Could you be ok with that? Would missing a day “ruin” your healthy lifestyle? During your busiest times, would it be better to know you will exercise when you can and you will be ok if you miss a day?
  • What you do mean by “exercise”? What counts as exercise? If you perform 15 lunges, 15 squats, 10 push ups, 50 crunches and a minute of plank pose, would those 5 minutes count? Can you squeeze that in when you first wake up or before bedtime on days you missed your planned workout?
  • Do you recognize any patterns when you deviate from your plan? For example, you start falling off your plan around 3-4 weeks into any workout plan, or if your sleep schedule gets disrupted and you feel sleep deprived? Can you plan for those times? Maybe you need a new workout routine every 2 weeks so you stay interested or you can find a “back up” workout plan for when you need more time for catching up on sleep. This might be alternative body weight exercise that can be completed in a shorter time period without going to the gym or taking the stairs at work instead of the elevator?

The good stuff: you also notice you really like doing crunches and you feel like it really helps your body.

Forgiveness: Remind yourself that you are only human and practice self compassion.

Each time, something happens that derails your good intentions to exercise 5 days weekly and you are disappointed in yourself. You may even tell yourself, “I always fail, I just can’t stick to anything.” This is not helpful. In fact, if you wanted to start up again, you might hear yourself saying, “I will start next month when I can really focus. Right now, I can’t exercise 5 days weekly.” This is negative self-talk. This makes it harder to commit to exercise because there is the fear of (maybe even a belief of) failure…again.

When you take practice self compassion, you take this opportunity to forgive yourself and remind yourself you are only human. Life happens. You are getting wiser. You can continually learn from your experiences and be better prepared next time. Tell yourself, “I am doing the best that I can, right now. This is the best I can do right now.” Repeat it until you phase out the negative self-talk.

Adapting: Each time you reintroduce exercise into your life, you add crunches and walking into your routine. You decide that you will even do crunches at some down times even when you didn’t fit in your workout for the day. You like crunches, you feel good after doing it, & it becomes easier to continue to do it. This is adaptation & those healthy efforts that stick, are valuable & add up over a lifetime.

Over time,  you may find yourself choosing additional workouts that include crunches because you enjoy them.  You may have more flexible options for working out so it is easier to complete 5 exercise sessions per week. You may recognize that skipping a day or two or even a week, may happen from time to time but the key is to do the best you can, right now. You can always jump back in. You are free of the fear of failure and negative self talk.

Without the fear of failure, you will continue to add new workout activities you like. This will give you variety and also allow you to cross train. You will develop a larger pool of options to move you forward towards better health. It may be crunches and walking on the treadmill and working out to a favorite workout video. It could be kickboxing. It could be a new app for body weight exercises.

So jump in & enjoy each time you make an effort to start a new healthy habit, no matter how long it lasts.  With self compassion, you are free to explore, try something new or try again. Each experience can be an opportunity to learn and fine tune your process until you succeed in achieving your goal. Practice self compassion regularly. Be the best you, right now.

Photo by Simon Matzinger on Unsplash

Healthier Together Series: Cycle 5D. Putting It All Together – Words Matter: 7 Steps to Self-Compassion.

tim-mossholder-SR8ByN6xY3k-unsplashWords are powerful. I can see this when I am talking with patients, my children, my spouse and my friends and colleagues. In this post, I am thinking about how powerful words can be to someone who is scared, feeling out of control, or uncertain of what is going on. This situation is common in a doctor’s office and in the hospital where people seek help when something unpleasant is happening that seems to be out of the control of the individual seeking care.

Studies have shown that patient outcomes are often impacted by what they hear from healthcare providers even when they hear something indirectly- if they believe it is about them. Consider this: What happens to a patient in the ER, frightened and waiting for a test result, hearing someone outside of the room saying, “Yeah…he’s a train wreck. It’s not looking good. There’s not much we will be able to do. He will have to follow up with his primary care doctor…”? Later (feels like HOURS to the patient), the provider comes into the patient’s room and says, “Thank you for waiting. Your labs were unremarkable and your chest x-ray came back and you do not have pneumonia. It’s probably just a viral upper respiratory infection. We recommend you follow up with your primary care provider…” Might this person be reassured by this visit?

People can be scared, feeling out of control, or uncertain of what is going on outside of the doctor’s office or hospital.  There are times when our senses hyper-sensitized, when we are on high alert, and what we hear, enters deep into our subconscious mind and begins to influence our feelings, thinking and behaviors. This hyper-alert state is usually when we are feeling strong emotions, when our mind is “wide open.” Words at these times are very powerful. They may be accurate and rational, but they may not be. Sometimes, we are aware of these influences and many times we are not.

In my practice, I see that there is much suffering related to the hostile and negative words we have absorbed at various vulnerable times in our lives. Maybe a parent, family member, teacher, partner, close friend, colleague said something hostile or we misinterpreted some comments which were deeply painful and our brain absorbed it and was altered by it. When I hear hostile and negative words being used against oneself, “I was bad,” “I failed,” “I have no discipline,” “I just can’t do it,” “I’m not strong enough,” “I’m hopeless,” “I’m no good,” “I’m stupid,” “I can’t help it,” “I’m just out of control,” I recognize one of the keys to healing and success will be to develop a capacity for self-compassion.

We have mentioned self-compassion before. When we develop the capacity for self-compassion, healing begins. When we practice self-compassion, success follows. If you use hostile and negative words to describe yourself or your character, stop now. It seeps in unexpectedly and it has no purpose. It blocks your ability to progress and limits your success. Good news! This negative self talk can be phased out and left behind. Replace it with a healthy practice of self-compassion. Here’s how:

  1. Become aware of it if you hear yourself saying something judgmental and negative about yourself. “I was bad (this implies a character flaw), I ate that cake even though I knew I shouldn’t. (a routine character flaw)
  2. Identify it and label it. “That was my negative self talk and it’s not true.”
  3. Reframe it.I feel bad (this implies a temporary feeling). I ate that cake even though I knew it would interfere with my weight loss goals. (a simple mistake)
  4. Reflect. “I have been very stressed and bought the cake to “treat” myself. I don’t actually feel better after eating the cake. My stress is not improved after eating the cake.”
  5. Learn. “Taking a walk outside, listening to music, dancing, calling a friend, drawing, or journaling DOES relieve my stress and also would be distracting me from the desire to eat cake.”
  6. Empower yourself. “Next time, I can try some or all of my other stress relieving activities. If I still want the cake, then I can still choose to eat a smaller piece of cake, but maybe I won’t have it. If I do, I will own it and move on. I will know that I am doing the best that I can, at that moment.”
  7. Reaffirm. “I am doing the best that I can, right now.” If you then hear yourself responding, “Well…actually, I COULD do better…” then smile to yourself and say, “I know you can… And, you will when you are ready.”

Given the power of words, imagine what might happen if you protected yourself from negative self talk. Imagine what your day would be like if you heard warm, loving, supportive comments all day and accepted you are human and humans make mistakes and allowed yourself to regularly reflect and learn how to get better and better. Can you appreciate how much you’d flourish and achieve? When you practice self-compassion, you open yourself to your incredible capacity for success and joyful living.

Let me know how you have conquered negative self-talk or how you practice self-compassion.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

 

Healthier Together Series: Cycle 5C. Relaxation & Sleep — 7 Steps to Using Traffic and Commuting for Self-Care

aditya-chinchure-ghbepAO7BCs-unsplashAfter residency, I decided I wanted to live within 10 minutes from my practice so I would not have to spend my precious time commuting to and from work. I moved within a 7 minute drive from my work, no traffic. I loved the extra time I had on either end of my work day. First, I was exercising more, cooking more dinners, and having time for grocery shopping. It was great! As time went on, I was able to fit other activities into that extra time and I could spend more time doing work-related activities. I could run a few more errands each day and I began taking on more work duties that could be accomplished in the extra time I now had.

As a result of my increased number of activities, the exercise routine became more sporadic. Instead of working out before work, I could “get more stuff done” and then plan to workout in the evenings. Of course, EVEN IF my clinic didn’t run late with last minute add-on patients and phone calls or EVEN IF I wasn’t too fatigued or hungry after a full clinic day missing lunch, my family members needed my focused attention and my workouts would be further “postponed.” I now didn’t have time to workout. Basically, the “saved” time started out as more time for self-care, but ultimately was squeezed out with with more time spent on activities and obligations that I didn’t need to do BEFORE I eliminated my commute and less self-care. Poor planning…Lots of reflection and learning…

Fast forward to my current job that I love but that is far from home. (We can discuss in the future about how to grow into the job you love.) When considering this job, I had to accept that I would have a total daily commute of potentially up to 2.5-3 hours with the common severe traffic. I considered taking the train in. The hospital even offers a free shuttle to drive people to and from the train station. However, I do not live close to the train station, so it would still take me about 2-2.5 hours door to door to take the train, and without the flexibility of coming and going as I wanted. It was clear. With this new job, I would have a long commute to and from work, 5 days a week.

I began investigating how to optimize my commute time. After trial and error and rapid “quality improvement,” my commute is part of my self-care time. If you have a long commute, here are my 7 steps to achieving a Self Care Commute:

  1. Figure out when you HAVE to be in your office.
    • Can you work from home on some days?
    • Does it matter the exact time you get to work or leave work?
    • Can you adjust your work day start and end times? If no, move to #4.
  2. Figure out your transportation options that agree with your work hours.
    • Do you need personal space and time without other people during your commute? Do you have a car? If yes, move to #3.
    • Are there ride share or public transportation options for you to get to and from your work that you would consider? For example: Uber, Lyft, Train, Subway, Bus, Carpool with neighbor. List them.
    • How long does it take to get from your front door, to your office door for each of those options? Add to your list next to each option.
    • Is your schedule predictable enough that your schedule can match a ride share, bus or train schedule? If no, move to #3.
    • Will you need to travel from one site to another during the day? If so, will it be easier if you have your own car? If yes, move to #3. If no, list your options for travel during your workday. Include the door-to-door travel times and costs associated with each option.
  3. If commuting by car or truck, review the various driving routes to work and traffic patterns. 
    • Waze, ETA and other apps offer anticipated travel times to destinations at various hours of the day. Make a list.
    • Can you find the range of travel times for the times you could drive to and from work for the hours you need to be there. Circle those travel times.
  4. Make a list of the categories of activities you can do during your various commuting options that you would like more time for. For example, Train: knitting, reading, listening to music, audiobooks, podcasts, writing, closing eyes and visualizing. Car: listening to music, audiobooks, podcasts, sitting in silence, connecting and talking to family/friends hands-free, driving through scenic route.
  5. Figure out the options for your activities on the way TO work which may be different than the way FROM work to home. For example, I am focused and my brain is eager to learn early in the morning, so I listen to non-fiction educational audiobooks on the way TO work. At the end of my day, my brain needs to relax. I may process my day by listening to music or thinking in silence or I may connect with others by calling my family or friends or I may want to be entertained and eagerly listen to the next chapter in the current detective series.
  6. Organize your commute times to optimize your commute and productivity. For example, my commute is cut in half if I drive in extra early before my scheduled meetings or clinic. This works great for me since that is when my brain is most productive so I can use that early quiet time in the office to achieve more. On my ride home, my commute is not optimized and is longer (by choice). I love that the longer drive home allows me more protected time to “squeeze” in a chapter or two of a fiction audiobook (which I wouldn’t read otherwise), process my day and connect with family and friends.
  7. Try it out and adjust your daily routines to optimize your commute times. After adapting my schedule and travel times, my commute time is not as long as I anticipated. I am more productive, my time is spent more efficiently and I have protected self care time daily. Despite the long commute, I have better integration of my work life and personal life.
    • Maybe you will have more time to connect with more of your family and friends with hands free phone calls.
    • Maybe you will find a new podcast or book series that make that unexpected traffic delay enjoyable.
    • Maybe you will learn new skills with personal development audiobooks or a recorded lecture series.
    • Maybe you will use the time to process your day, think about your family, consider your future.
    • Maybe you will learn a new language and take that trip abroad or meet new people.
    • Maybe you will work out at the gym near work in the evening before you drive home so that your commute time will be shorter and you will achieve your daily workout goals.

Once you recognize your commute time can be protected time to fit in the enjoyable activities you currently don’t make time for, you will find it is a luxurious time. While sitting in traffic on my ride home, I am forced to slow down. There is no checking emails or texts or getting online. I am in control of and I choose which activity I engage in. I appreciate the extra time I have for those fun activities that I otherwise would not make time for. The traffic ensures that I dedicate more time to self-care.  It’s now my Self-Care Commute.

Photo by Aditya Chinchure on Unsplash

Healthier Together Series: Cycle 4D. Putting It All Together – Winter Well-Being

aaron-burden-cGW1w-qLix8-unsplashWinter in the Midwest – ice cold this year, but we don’t have the 7+ feet of snow as in Boston. The cold and darkness of winter are often used as excuses as to why someone is not exercising or eating as healthy. It’s used to explain “loss of motivation” to continue to make healthy choices. This “motivation” and “effort” may resume for a short time after the NEW year, but often dwindles away again until the days get much longer and warmer.

Here’s another option. Have “seasonal” wellness plans! Figure out what you need to include to maintain a healthy lifestyle: nutrition, physical activity and relaxation & sleep. There are many ways to incorporate those into each season. They don’t all have to be the same. In fact, the body will be optimized if you change it up periodically, so why not with the seasons? So change up your healthy lifestyle routines for the different seasons.

Here are some suggestions to get your creative juices flowing…Find what works for you.

If you workout in the mornings in the spring and summer, maybe in the winters, you meditate in the morning for a shorter duration than what your workout would have been? Maybe your workout is on the drive home from work or school or running errands- when you already are out of the house. Just DON’T go home first without the workout (as it can be hard to motivate to go out into the cold). Or maybe your workout is at home instead of at the gym. Maybe you use home workout DVD’s or smartphone exercise apps? The workout routine might be different – you may work more on strength or core training or take a different exercise class this season. If you have snow, you may choose to incorporate winter sports into you life – ice skating, skiing, snowboarding, snow shoeing, etc. A good friend introduced me to snow shoe-ing last year, and it’s wonderful! What a treat to be out in nature and having the brightness of the snow recharge me!

You may choose to rely on the crockpot more (especially if you are going to be working out after work and have less time to cook in the evening). You may get more of your veggies in a soup or stew. These also make great lunches the next day! You may cook more winter root vegetables- they last longer after purchase (less frequent grocery shopping trips).

The winter seems to have more quiet times of the day when it might be easy to stop and meditate, even if only for a brief time. There are many smartphone apps that help facilitate and time meditation sessions. You may even find incorporating meditative activities with physical activity is the answer for winter – Tai Chi and Yoga are popular ways to get both the relaxation and physical activity in one.

Sleep changes with the seasons and with stressors. Allow yourself to have a day once a week, when you can sleep in as much as you need. It will help you bring it all together and help keep your mind young and keep you upbeat throughout winter.

Please share what works for you!

 

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash