Archive | March, 2012

In the zone…

30 Mar

Had a couple really satisfying sessions today with a couple of my mental edge clients.

Fortunately, it’s rare that I’ll take my headset off and think “Wow, THAT did not go as I’d hoped it would.”

I feel fortunate to have daily opportunities to dig around in the muck of my clients’ lives with them. You know, the stuff that accumulates over time– some of it crusty from severe droughts and some so thick and muddy and that we’ve lost a few pairs of shoes struggling to wade our way through it.

Sometimes, like today, there are moments during our calls when I am so focused and tuned into the frequency of the emotion and the words my client is conveying to me that I lose myself.  I don’t hear my replies when I’m speaking. I don’t see the words as they move from my brain to my lips. I couldn’t tell you afterward what prompted me at any point in the conversation to have a certain thought. I am in the zone.

“Zoned out?” you ask?

Well, kind of! Ever been in that place where time and space stand still? You drive somewhere but you don’t recall getting there? I’ve given seminars and workshops and felt this way. Am I zoned out?

I’m so zoned in that I’m operating with a level of disconnectedness and yet, at the same time, a crazy, intense directedness!

I tried to explain this to a friend of mine once after what I had felt was a particularly successful talk with a group of highly motivated and inspirationally hungry individuals, and she just stared at me blankly.

“It’s like I saw each face in the room, but I didn’t see them,” I explained excitedly.

I’d had other moments like this, and each time I do, I try to assess what got me there because I absolutely have to recreate it. I’m at my best. I’m creating without censoring. One thought feeds off another, and it’s effortless.

It’s like a musician you are watching and you can tell that she’s lost in the  music. She’s feeling every note, each vibration of her instrument, the delicate crescendos and the mountainous upbeats. She knows of nothing else but the music. Not the audience, not the time, not each written note on the score in front of her.

It’s like a stand up comedian who just goes on and on, run after run, one joke flowing into another….no hesitation, no awkward pauses.

Athletes speak of being in the zone– gymnasts describe the beam being wider, basketball players see the basket as being larger, and baseball players have talked of seeing the stitches on the ball.

Ever been there?

Being in the zone is magical.

Being in the zone is what I want more of.

Being in the zone is what I strive to create.

But being in the zone doesn’t just happen. It occurs with repeated actions and practice and visualization and a depth of experience. My ego disappears, my senses disappear, my focus on assessment and analysis and problem-solving disappear. But how?

The same way that you learned how to ride a bike or drive a car– through repeated, intentional, meticulous, sometimes painstaking and maddeningly frustrating efforts– you develop a skill that is fed by familiarity. And when you’re in the zone you’re not thinking about everything on the outside!You’re not judging, you’re not critiquing, you’re not worrying. You are just enjoying.

Researchers have shown through observation of individuals in this state, often termed “flow”, that their involvement is so intense, they are caught up in the pleasure of it. They are in “deep play.” See my previous post on observing children. They are prime examples of being “in the  moment” so fully that all externals no longer exist.

Here is what one client described as she filled me in on what her last workout was like. She is a chronically anxious, worried person. But she experienced the zone, and it was liberating.
Getting every single ounce out of the workout- Digging in.  Not thinking about anything else. Pushing myself as hard as I could and loving every moment of it. Feel proud.

Happy- Not worrying.  I was under the most physical amount of stress ever but felt complete calm emotionally. It was amazing. I just felt “relaxed.”
Fun- Doing something that I truly enjoy.  I knew I was having fun because I was smiling through the pain, didn’t want to be anywhere else and just wanted to keep that positive energy going all the time.
Inspired- I wanted to push harder, do more, run faster, be better. A truly awesome feeling!”
This is presentness– being right here, right now. It’s all we have, really. So why not immerse yourself in it.

Intro..Extro..Retro..who cares?

24 Mar


Does it even matter?!

The new book, The Introvert Advantage, speaks to the strengths that introverts possess. We’ve been given a bad rap over the years and labeled as shy, awkward, uncomfortable, and lacking the ability to be around people and have a conversation.

Dr. Laney, the author of The Introvert Advantage, dispels many of these myths, explaining how while introverts enjoy time by themselves, they work well with others and are highly intuitive, maintain close friendships (but with fewer individuals than do extroverts), are more self-contained, and are great listeners.

He points out that many high profile people are introverts- scientists, writers, and many artists. It is not that they are withdrawn and lonely nerds who are shut-ins and lack social skills, rather, they appreciate being alone to explore and muse on possibilities, to self-reflect, to responsibly assess their surroundings and their impact on the world and on others, to be creative, and to be observers! They relish their independence– it is not a source of loneliness.

I love being with people, but I do find it exhausting at times. I’m filled up by the closeness of friends and the connection I derive from my relationships. But unlike a person who wants to be out and about with their buddies all the time, I value the quiet space of my dining room table, laptop perched in front of me, the sun streaming through the window. Lonely? Not at all. Alone? Yep, and I crave it.

Dr. Laney explains that it is the source of their energy that separates intros and extros. I talk all the time about finding your strengths, working with them, and assessing how you’d like to change but doing so in a manner that is not guided by what you may be perceiving in a negative way “should” be modified.

Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, embrace you.




From To Do to “Ta Da!!”

19 Mar

Sitting here with my lap top, my mind wanders to the various other tasks I’ve got on my agenda. I’ve constructed multiple lists- some I have on a note card in my purse, another I’ve drafted in the nifty electronic program called Evernote, and another I’ve nestled neatly away on the sticky notes of my desktop. What I’ve learned is never to try to keep all of your goals or to-dos tucked in the folds of your brain. You’ll forget them.

Because goal attainment and completing the tasks that are important to you requires a significant amount of brain power, developing an organized, methodical, and individually appropriate method of managing your responsibilities is crucial.  I’ll leave the organizational piece up to you, but I want to address some of the pit falls that most of you likely fall into as you work toward accomplishing your goals.

I have an obsession with how our brains work, the anomalies that occur with human behavior, and how our minds can play tricks on us.  I’ve donated my life (this is the first time I’ve stated this goal out loud) to understanding and teasing apart the intricacies of my own behavior, my thinking patterns, and the circuitous games and justifications I play in order to get my needs met and not fall apart. I have decided to call it my Break it Down in order to Not Break Down experiment. Are you with me? Today I am going to break down a few key concepts that I have found to be significant for goal attainment. Cue “Let Go” by Frou  Frou. (Great song and apt for sinking into making your life your own science experiment. Life is limitless, and so are your TA-DA’s! The link here if you are so inclined:

1.                  Identify your brain rules.

We’ve all got them, and they cause us to react in automatic ways. We’ve been using them for years, so they’re well worn and comfortable. Until we realize that we’re NOT comfortable, and that something is holding us back. That “something” is often a rule.

These rules are designed to relieve us of discomfort, to keep our lives on an even keel, and to keep us from teeter-tottering through life.  For example, as a young child you may have learned that you were to keep quiet. Adult discussion was not something you were invited to participate in. The rule is “I am to be seen but  not heard.” Something a bit more external might be that “carbs are bad.” If you’re dieting, and your weight stays the same for one week, your rule pops up and screams at you to stop eating carbs. While at some points in our lives the rules we acquired were probably effective (i.e. staying quiet prevented you from being punished; avoiding carbs did net you some weight loss that one time before you gained all your weight back and more), more often than not, they create walls in our ability to move forward with our goals.

Ever notice, however, that when you question the rule, it doesn’t feel so good? Uncertainly can rise up and slap you in the face. “Eh? What are you doing? That’s not your typical mode of operation! You sure you want to go there?” Go there. Assess whether your rule is valid, and identify the alternatives. The more you question, the more you’re living less emotionally. And that brings us to concept number two.

2.                 Enact immediate gratification annihilation!

Those pesky brain rules you’re now aware of (I hope I’ve got you reeling and digging now)…they like to persuade you into reacting without thinking. Remember that goal you had of losing weight to get healthier? That candy on your co-worker’s desk wasn’t part of your goal attainment strategy was it? My  point is this—we have to learn to think twice. Let that rule pop up, let is slap you, but then slap it back! Immediate gratification, essentially temptation acted upon to ‘feel good now’, is the perfect example of not avoiding an automatic response. What feels good now, however, won’t necessarily feel good in the future. When you’re calculating the sundae you ate and realize that you just consumed the amount of carbohydrates that  you  need for the next two days, the decision doesn’t seem so attractive. How do you go from just doing it (I love Nike’s slogan, but sometimes it’s not appropriate) to ta-da’ing it? Onward to number three.

3.                 Be value-driven!

Those of you in business will appreciate this.  In order to sell something, businesses put forth much effort to understand the values of their consumers. What is important to them? The same concept applies here.  Studies have shown that individuals who are working toward accomplishing a goal exhibit greater self-control when they get in touch with their core values.  Self-affirmation, identifying our positive characteristics, leads to a stronger defense system. Imagine this being like your suit of armor!

A study conducted in 2009 revealed that while self-control can be depleted quickly (go back to the decision you have to make about eating the candy from your co-worker’s stash), it can be replenished quickly also, by focusing on what is important to you.  Other studies have demonstrated that greater self-control is dependent on self-worth! What do you believe about yourself, and are you worth working hard for? When we’re feeling particularly compromised or vulnerable, an old brain rule might come in to visit: “I haven’t lost any weight in a week anyway. I might as well eat junk.” Time to break the rules, identify your values, refocus on the objective, and forge ahead.  That candy? I’d rather be lean and lithe so I go set a new record on the treadmill tomorrow morning!  That brings us to number four!

4.                 Counteract your propensity for intensity!

Please do not misunderstand me here. This is not a “rule”—at times, intensity is warranted. Like when I’m running on the treadmill! I’m talking more in the realm of emotional intensity. Know a drama queen in your life? Are you rolling your eyes right now? I understand.

Here’s the deal—we can make pretty poor decisions if we make them in times of emotional intensity.  That fight you had with your spouse recently when you threw out that name you swore you would never say again…..uh, yeah. You know what I’m talking about. We can be poor judges of how we might respond in an emotional situation.

The parts of our brains that are involved in higher level thinking–like when we are identifying your core values—has decided to take nap when we’re acting primitively! When we have large goals to meet, we must act intelligently.  Creating psychological distance between the present and what we want to attain, is a functional and effective method of lessening the intensity of in-the-moment emotion. For a dieter, this could mean looking forward when he’s hungry and reminding himself that he has another meal coming in a couple hours or looking forward to the free meal he has ahead in a few days. On a greater scale, he could be playing his goal out to when he has reached his 50-pound weight loss mark!

Your Ta-Da’s are sacred. Whether tiny or looming, if they are important to you, they deserve significant effort and attention.  These four factors will help you break them down for optimal attainment.  Ironic, or perhaps not so much, is the research illuminating four factors that give meaning to life.  Care to guess what they are?

  1. Purpose: developed through setting and reaching goals, which leads to a feeling of fulfillment.
  2. Values: a structure for understanding for one’s self what is important
  3. Efficacy: a sense of control and a feeling of impact on your circumstances
  4. Self-worth: being able to view ourselves positively


16 Mar

I was inspired today by a person whom I’m growing closer to. I suppose I could classify him as a friend at this point, although we have never met in person and have communicated only through email over the course of a few days.  A pen pal perhaps, he has shared with me his philosophy on life. I know- big topic. In as few as five or six replies he has enlightened me with some nuggets to chew on.  Here is what he had to say today.

“Ultimately, I feel it’s best to see life as it truly is: A canvas of gray. That way, when someone or something comes along and splatters a little color on your canvas, you really can experience the vibrance. I believe this to be a realistic-optimism. I’m not in favor of negative people either, because they’re mostly apathetic, but hey life’s hard, there’s no shame in admitting that. Most days are battles. All that said, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight the good fight.”

Now, at first, I have to say, I went into my top-down thinking pattern– this would be my easy, automatic, less than thoughtful mode of operation in which I can get caught up in emotion and am more likely to find myself in a judgmental place. I thought, “Really? Eek. How drab, lifeLESS, pessimistic, and uninspiring.” Then I took some time to sink into his words.

I often speak of living in the gray and learning how to avoid those barrier-causing extremes. I like to think of myself as a “dimmer switch” as opposed to an on/off switch. Essentially, practicing being flexible, and having the skill to emotionally regulate rather than be impulsive, I find myself less drawn into palatial emotions and succumbing to the negative attitudes of others.  Black and white thinking and an always/never type mentality often sets us up for stuckness and lack of movement, mastery, or a sense of purpose.

Put in the way he described, I was left with a dark, foreboding feeling, and felt a sense of sadness. Why would one leave the color in life up to others? On the other hand, people can certainly color our worlds! Relationships provide connection, meaning, and richness. Sharing with others can help us to know ourselves better, and our friends can be the mirrors we need for more honest, personal assessment. But if we give the power to others, then we are just the canvas….waiting to be painted upon. Waiting. Waiting. And that is what I felt after reading his email too. I was yearning…

No! I want to be the painter! I want to be the one holding the brush and controlling the strokes,  be them short or stunted, long or sweeping!

Oscar Wilde said: “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” Gray.

When we merely exist we’re living on autopilot. We’re living unconsciously. We’re not in the driver’s seat. We’re not even in the passenger seat. We’re being drug along behind the dust covered, beat up station wagon that is attempting to four-wheel it through rut-ridden dirt roads, and we’re getting bruised up and battered. You may think that my description is a bit extreme, but this concept of living fully, experiencing, and paying attention is THAT important to me.

Another quote that resonates with me, by Anais Nin, demonstrates just how biased we can be, however, even when we are paying attention.

We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”

As human beings, our worlds are colored by our pasts, our presents, and what we imagine to be our futures. 95% of who we are, how we think, and the way we act is programmed in the first six years of our lives! We are in a repetitive program of learning during these crucial and formative years. Our brains are downloading information from our caregivers and environments.  Much of who we are today is default, like the background systems running on your computer. You don’t have to tell your computer to run these programs- it does it automatically. You do, however, have to push control/alt/delete in order to stop or override them!  Our brains work the same way.

Neuroplasticity is the term used to describe the malleable nature of the brain—through intention use of our mental processes, we can change the infrastructure of our brains.  Our prefrontal cortex, the part of our brains involved in planning, organizing, and assessing gives us the ability to override the preprogrammed systems. But we have to recognize them, then activate them.

Norman Doidge, a medical doctor and researcher, explains how these programs can be both negative and positive. For example, the individual who has experienced a traumatic event, perhaps a mugging, can become chronically anxious and avoid going out during the time of evening he was attacked. This man’s brain has been altered in a manner that has his nervous system functioning differently than before the incident.  However, through learning and intentionally focusing and repeatedly directing his attention toward a different response, the brain can plastically reintegrate in a more positive direction.  This is not mere existence; it is purposeful experience!

Perhaps  my friend is right—life IS hard. We can easily and without notice, yield to the brain’s automatic reactivity.  Ultimately, it is protective, but when it becomes dysfunctional as in this case, and requires consistent practice, yes, “hard” may be a good way to describe it, and this would be a great example of “fighting the good fight.”

My penpal’s nugget about “experiencing the vibrance” also made more sense when I viewed it in the context of our gray matter. Vibrance is a loaded word- a meaningful word. Vibrant does not exist without experience. Vibrance is color with the deepest of hues, with flavor and texture. A person living unconsciously wouldn’t necessarily notice vibrance.

Gray. Was he really referring to the gray matter between our ears? The part we must engage to peel and bend the plastic? My pen pal is on to something…

Want a lesson in experiencing freedom? Watch your children!

11 Mar

Remember when…

You didn’t project so far into the future as to talk yourself out of trying something new?

You imagined the future and all you felt was a sense of excitement of what was to come?

You laughed without a thought about what someone might think about your laugh?

You asked “why?” and “how come?” and didn’t fall apart when you had to make a decision?

You played, colored outside the lines, and danced with abandon?

You stopped eating even when half your meal was still on your plate because you just didn’t want it anymore, you got full, or you got distracted?


Remember when you were a child?

If you want a refreshing perspective on life, if you want to be reminded of the light-hearted nature and approach that you may  have lost as you matured, acquired new responsibilities, and transitioned through the stressors that often come with life, watch your children.

Of course, as we grow up we must learn how to navigate the developmental periods of our lives that often bring with them difficulty and pain, but learning how to find our inner child and adopt a spirit of joy may allow us to rediscover and be reminded of how we must create our happiness.

Going through the day to day minutiae of our lives- paying the bills, grocery shopping, cleaning the house, taking the kids to and from sports practices, completing the project your boss needed yesterday- can cause us to blindly shift into neutral.  At times we’re driving…striving….with the parking brake on, and when we smell something unfamiliar, we end up at the mechanic.  What if we were more childlike now? What if we shifted into drive and lived without fear of forging ahead but also with the openness, creativity, and curiosity that we did as children? In neutral we’re stagnant. Static. Unevolving. We’re not learning, we’re not growing, we’re not thriving.  In drive, we are navigating. We are stewards of our lives, assessing the terrain, watching the landscape ahead of us, and scanning for possibility.

What if you were more childlike now? This week, do an experiment. Observe your children. If you don’t have any, go sit outside of a school playground (don’t get picked up for loitering please) and soak up the magic.



Are You The YOU You Want to Be?

9 Mar

There will ALWAYS (yes, I’m speaking in black and white terms) be things that pop up, unexpectedly.
The way you navigate those is by learning how to be flexible and EXPECTING that life will always throw you curve balls. If you expect that you’ll always be able to do things exactly the same, all the time, you’ll always be disappointed. If you’re uncomfortable right now, because things aren’t as you necessarily want them to be, then you’re in the midst of change….or at least experiencing something outside of your norm.

Discomfort has to happen in order for change to occur. So decide what “improvement looks like” right now. What are you doing currently, and what do you want to do? What is your ideal? What’s the outcome you are wanting to aim for? Think about it. It won’t just magically happen. Perhaps you agree to one more cardio session per week for the next two weeks. Then you add one more. They may not be at the same time or in the same amounts, but that doesn’t mean you’re not meeting your goal!
You may have to define and redefine over and over again, what your expectations are.

Ever heard yourself say, “I don’t think I’ll ever have it all figured out” ? I hope you don’t ever have it all figured out! Who does ever have it 100% “figured out”? Isn’t that perfection? If you had everything figured out you’d never strive to learn again, grow, evolve, or gain new knowledge. That doesn’t sound like a very fun life! 🙂

What is difficult right now are those things you’ve never done before. What if you changed your perception from “this is terrible and difficult” to “what a great challenge this is for me! I’m being forced to live consciously and in a state of awareness that I’m unaccustomed to! What an opportunity to learn something new and become the me I want to be!” 🙂 See how different you feel. Say them both OUT LOUD.

So much of goal setting and striving to be a different person in health is about the games you play in your head.No one is without head games. No one. So many of us just don’t take the time and exhibit any effort toward assessment, analysis, and intentionality.

How are you choosing to focus? To think? To be? Are you a glass half empty person who wants to be more positive? You can be, but to be different you have to be different. Yes, you read that correctly. To be different you also have to feel different. Creating new ways of being requires new experiences in which you can create new memories so that now the new becomes the old and automatic. And then you look and search and learn about more new things to become the you you want to be!

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