All posts by Lisa

My daughter and I on a recent trip to Germany. Photo: Thomas Paul

Lets change some lives together…

Lots of people I talk to don’t know what it is I do as a coach, or who I can help. Can I clarify things for you, so you can help me spread the word?

I’m a little nervous about it. I’m not a fan of marketing spiels (and I’m guessing you’re not either). It is important, though, because I can’t help people who don’t know I’m here or what I do. And what I want to do most of all is to help more people. So, here’s the short answer:

I change lives for the better.

Every client I have worked with has left our coaching sessions a changed person, and it gives me so much satisfaction to think of the ripples of positive change that flow out from each of those clients. It’s my small way of changing the world, one person at a time.

“Really?”, you might be thinking. “That’s a big claim…”

Well, the magic of the transformative coaching technique I’m trained in is that it does what it says on the box – it transforms people. You can read my testimonials here and see for yourself the difference it makes. Here’s one client’s words that get right to the guts of it:

“My sessions with Lisa lead to life changing behaviour. In five weeks I went from frustrated and angry to calm and contented, and enjoying my job more fully than I have done for many years.”

As I work with my clients they shift perspective. They understand what is important to them, they see through the blocks that hold them back, and they learn new mindsets. The accountability, motivation and support I provide helps them make changes.

The added special sauce is the confidence and strength that comes from knowing they can rise above their own challenges and break through old limits. I don’t tell my clients what to do. I help them figure it out, and then do it for themselves, which is so much more powerful.

The result is long term, sustainable change.

“Yeah, but”, I hear you thinking, “I’m good. Coaching is not for me.”

Maybe so, but do you recognise yourself, or someone you know, in one of these statements?

  • “I hate my job but I don’t know what to do about it”
  • “I’ve got everything I thought I wanted in life – but why am I not happier?”
  • “My life is so busy – I’m cracking under the pressure.”
  • “I’m turning into a grouch and my family is hating it. It’s not who I want to be.”
  • “I feel frustrated and stuck and want to get back to loving life again.”
  • “I want to take on that next challenge, but something is holding me back.”

Coaching can help anyone who is stuck in their life and ready to fix it.

If that’s you, or someone you know, get in touch to book an assessment with me. No obligation. No cost. We can talk online, by phone or in person (in Rotorua).

Thanks for reading and passing this on.

Lets change some lives together.

Lisa

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Travel can open the mind, and shrink the ego

I’m back at my desk, at home in Rotorua, and loving getting my brain going again. It’s been wonderful, and challenging at times, to have seven weeks in Europe, much of the time alone with my girl.

The biggest challenges were days when my daughter recognised her introverted needs and demanded a day inside, away from all those people speaking another language. Got to respect a girl who knows what she needs! Even if spending a whole day inside role-playing with Playmobile figures was some kind of hell for me, most days I was all she had as a playmate, friend, mother and teacher.

Its been good for me to try and find joy in the things I usually think of as trials – to get to work re-writing some of my own stories. Anything is possible if we let go of expectations and choose to take delight in what is.

The story that I  found most challenging to let go of was that I need time alone to restore my energy and manage my well-being. While I certainly took off for walks on my own when I could, this wasn’t possible most days when my husband was working, However, I found I could work on finding a sense of calm while in the presence of others.

My natural state is to be highly aware of people around me, and this state of vigilance can become draining, hence my desire for restorative alone time. Developing an off-switch for this vigilance is a challenge, but I’m working on it. It’s kind of like practicing meditation. The big shift is changing my story so the door opens to the possibility of things being different.

So my reality right now is time to work alone or with clients while my daughter is at school. But I know that as I keep working on developing my vigilance off-switch, I can be less dependent on that restorative alone time, and be ready to take on new challenges.

Oh, in case you’re wondering about the pictures, Cass and I had fun exploring this magical playground in Freiburg, Germany. Thankfully the shrinking effect was not permanent. (Photo credits: Cassidy Berndt and Lisa Berndt).

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Are your stories holding you back?

I never used to floss my teeth. I just didn’t like doing it, so I didn’t.

Then one day, after the guilt of a dentist visit where, once again, I owned up to not being a flosser, I decided that actually I am going to be someone that flosses her teeth. I realized I had been repeating my old story to myself: ‘No, I don’t like flossing. I’m not someone who flosses.’ This had become a self-perpetuating prophesy. When I changed my story, suddenly the new story came true. Now, as I finish cleaning my teeth and think ‘shall I floss?’, I’m much more likely to answer myself with ‘yes I will, because I’m someone that flosses regularly.’

Sounds a bit too simple to be true doesn’t it? Well it is simple, and it is true. There is no reason why it can’t be both. You can use this technique to help break old habits, or to put in place new ones.

How?
First identify what it is you want to stop, or start, doing. Then listen carefully to hear the stories you tell yourself that make this change hard: “I don’t exercise because I’m too busy”; “I’m overweight because I have a bad relationship with food”; “I don’t speak up because I’m a shy person”. Maybe these are expectations of yourself you have carried around your whole life. Or maybe they are stories you’ve added on recently. The key is to recognize that they are stories. Just stories. And you have the power to change your stories, and in the process re-shape your reality.

The next step is to re-write the story: What would I say to myself if I was someone that exercised regularly? May be something like: “My life is full-on so I need to be at my best. My body and mind need exercise so I can function well. Getting some exercise is therefore a vital part of my day.”

As you dig around in your internal stories you might just come across one that says something like “I’m not good enough for this”, or “I don’t deserve this”. Take notice of this story. It can get in the way of a whole lot of success in your life. But it, too, is just a story. Experiment with how you can re-write that story. Is there any evidence to support this story? Would those close to you agree? What would it feel like if you were good enough?

If this all sounds a bit hocus-pocus for you, I get it. There’s safety in skepticism. But, before you dismiss the idea completely, watch this TED talk by Anil Seth. It explains how our minds create the reality we experience. So why not influence your mind to create a reality that works in your favour?

Oh, and don’t forget to floss your teeth. Your future self will thank you for it.

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Focus on what’s important: train your mind – like a puppy!

Is your mind anything like mine?

It feels like a constant battle to focus on what’s important, not get distracted by what’s interesting, and filter out the noise.

How do you hold on to that precious mental focus to create more space in your day for what is important? Your email and news feed will always be crammed with interesting things. Your phone will always be begging for your attention. But, you always have the choice of where to put that attention. Practice exercising that choice, and it will get easier to focus.

Its not easy, I know! Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  1. Set your priorities, and keep them front of mind. Make a small space in your day to decide where you want to focus. I like to set my goals for the day, jot down targets to achieve, and then fill in a daily schedule. I then check back in with that through the day to keep myself on track. The biggest benefit I get from this is reducing decision fatigue. Decide once, then just get on with it.
  2. Catch that wandering mind. As you work through your tasks, notice when your mind drifts off to play with something new and shiny. To stop this throwing you off task, instill a little discipline. Our minds are not great at focus. Imagine your mind is like a puppy wanting to play; gently but firmly return it to the task at hand, and eventually it will learn. Still distracted? Check in with how productive you are being. Do you need a short break, a brain-boosting snack, or a drink of water? Or maybe you’ve been focusing too long and need to switch tasks? Learn what your daily rhythms of focus and distraction are and work to those.
  3. Learn to say no, with grace. And I don’t just mean when someone interrupts us with a new demand (although this is important too). We are constantly making micro-decisions as we navigate our day. How good are you at owning your priorities and saying no to distractions when its appropriate? Often we are swayed off task by feelings and sensations such as boredom, fear of missing out, the excitement of novelty. If we are strong in our purpose, and clear about what it takes to achieve it, it is easier to turn down distractions and keep that puppy focused. If a fear of inconveniencing others leads you to undervalue your own priorities and be easily pulled off task, then check in with your sense of self worth. Do you truly value yourself enough to feel you are worthy of putting your needs equal with others?

Best of luck out there as you train your attention, reduce stress and create more space in your day for the important things. As you practice this skill you might notice how much time and energy you expend dealing with the frustration caused by distractions. Time and energy much better spent on your priorities!

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Introvert’s Guide to Making Networking Fun

Going to conferences as a student was exciting, but it was always tinged with fear at the thought of networking. It was easy to hang out with the other students, but we all knew we should be off talking to people and making connections. That was how you got ahead in science: make an impression, develop a collaboration, get a job, secure funding. Networking was the thing that got you there, and as a shy introvert it didn’t come naturally to me.

Looking back now, I guess I figured it out. In my science career most of my positions were found through connections. Some of those connections were people I met at conferences. So what’s the trick to networking successfully as an introvert? Here are my tips:

  1. Know your strengths and work to them, not against them. Don’t try and be an extrovert if you’re not. If you are at your best in deep conversation, seek out opportunities to connect to people in that way. If you’re happiest listening, prepare a few open ended questions in advance and try them out on someone who loves to talk. Pace yourself at a crowded event, and take breaks to recharge. You may discover pockets of other introverts hiding in the corners you can talk to.
  2. Drop the word networking – it loads up the pressure as something you have to do to get ahead. Instead focus on the fun of connecting with others and getting to know their story. Making an authentic connection is the key, then keep in touch. This will lead to long term relationships that develop opportunities. Trying to fake it and ‘sell’ yourself with an elevator pitch will not.
  3. Don’t aim too high. We all know the extrovert at the conference who ends up chatting to the key note speaker and heading off to dinner with the senior scientists. Nothing is guaranteed to make the introverts feel more of a failure as we end up at the boring table at the conference dinner and leave early while everyone else is dancing. Take the pressure off, and set a more manageable goal for yourself. Challenge yourself to start at least two conversations. If it’s a real struggle, notice who in the room looks more uncomfortable than you and open a conversation with them about how hard networking can be. Offer them your best tip. They’ll be grateful, and you never know they may just be a fascinating person to get to know. As a reward, give yourself a break away from the crowd to recharge.
  4. Congratulate yourself on your successes and don’t compare yourself to those around you. If asking one question in a meeting is a big deal for you, challenge yourself, prepare and go for it. Then see it as a win given the fact that your heart was pounding and your brain freezes under stress. Don’t allow yourself to dwell on how many questions others ask. We all have our strengths and our weaknesses.
  5. Find an ally so you can encourage each other to meet more people. It could be someone you bonded with in the lunch queue, or the fellow introvert you shared a networking tip with. You could make it a game, make a list and challenge each other to talk to everyone on it.
  6. Help those around you to network. Once you’re in a conversation you might notice others lurking on the edges hoping to join in. We’ve all been in that position, so give them a break and bring them into the conversation. Don’t forget to make introductions.
  7. Make peace with discomfort. Have you ever hit a flat spot at an event where it feels like everyone else is chatting away, and you feel left out? Your first instinct is to get out of there, but just think of the interesting people you might miss out on meeting. Instead challenge yourself to stick it out, despite the discomfort. Think of all the tactics you could use – cruise the room, grab a drink, go to the bathroom. Keep an eye out for a conversation you could join, or someone else on their own. Bump into them if necessary and apologize for spilling their drink! Hey, it will sure start a conversation, if you can overcome the desire to run away.
  8. Work on your unhelpful mental habits. Practice noticing when you fall into worrying about yourself and how others see you, and try shifting your attention to someone else. What’s going on for them? What are they interested in? What do they think about the presentations, food or venue? See if you can find something to complement them on, and open a conversation that way. When your mind slips back into self obsession, gently guide it back to focusing on others. Rumination is a mental habit that can be retrained with practice – it’s not a personal failing so make sure you stay away from self criticism.

Still don’t believe me that networking can be fun? The main thing is to keep in mind that probably half the room is as uncomfortable with networking as you are, and everyone feels insecure – some are just better at hiding it. Unfortunately it’s the extroverts we hear most about, so we tend to judge ourselves against their behaviour.

If you can work to your strengths, reward your successes and relax, networking will start to feel more natural. You may just meet your next employer, or your new best friend.

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My own sweet success story

DSC02062I loved my career as a scientist: the freedom, the travel, the connections with other scientists, and the fascinating quirkiness of studying insects for a living. I especially loved the ability to mentor others to develop their own career in science. One day I realised that I wasn’t living up to my own expectations of what a good scientist should be: I didn’t care so much about the problems that my research was trying to solve – I cared more about the people I was working with and how I could help them be their best. Understanding that led me to develop my leadership capacity and led me to take on a team manager role alongside my role as a scientist. Then motherhood happened. After a year out on maternity leave I knew I needed to work part time. I was offered a part time role as a team manager, and with that I stepped away from my nine-year career as a scientist.

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Two years into my team manager role overseeing two teams, I found my stress levels increasing, my sleep quality reducing and a lack of energy taking the fun out of life. Then, over Christmas, my digestion packed in and I found I needed to change my diet to feel OK. Thankfully no medical causes were found and stress turned out to be the culprit. A session with a counsellor led me to investigate adrenal fatigue and how chronic stress impacts the body. I sought out the support of a naturopath, as the medical system offered me very little help on the subject. A coaching conversation with someone in HR helped me realise I needed to take a break from work to get my health back in order.

Stepping away from work allowed me to slow down and dial back the habitual stress state my body was in. I discovered, however, that the overactive mind and physical tension that drove the feelings of stress remained with me, despite having removed every external stressor I could. After talking to a doctor I realised I had generalised anxiety disorder, which for me translated as feeling physically jittery and mentally hypervigilant. Reluctantly I went on medication to increase my serotonin levels, and after a few months getting the dose right I found it made a massive difference. I was more able to calm the jitters and relax. It became easier to get into mindfulness meditation, which I knew would be important in managing my anxiety.

Over time, and with the support of a coaching group, I unpacked some of the ways of thinking that fed my anxiety and let go of a lot of residual fear. I realised the combination of medication, a change in diet and mindset, daily exercise and regular mindfulness practice had removed a baseline level of anxiety I had always lived with. It felt like a wall had been broken down and I was free.  I found I was more comfortable and confident with myself, and the arbitrary limits I had always held myself within had gone.

IMG_1012credit_BenKohOne day during a meditation, I realised I wanted to change my career and focus on helping people improve their wellbeing. As I investigated what this might look like I realised that re-training as a coach was my first step. I discovered I loved the work and had a natural affinity with it. From there I started developing my business, LifeLab Coaching.

After my experience with chronic stress I knew I needed to prioritise balance in my life to continue the self-care practices I had established. I also wanted to work part time so I could be the primary caregiver for my school-aged daughter, and manage the household tasks. Thankfully my husband’s full-time job gave me the freedom to develop my business and work in this way.

LL_logo_portraitsmallThe rest, as they say, is history. Here I am today, two years into my journey as a coach and business owner, and I can say I’m truly satisfied with my life and career choice. It ticks all my boxes: balance between work time, family time and self-care; freedom to create my own business and decide how to manage my days; and the immense satisfaction of transformational coaching conversations. Having found my own brand of success, it a great privilege as a coach to help my clients write their own sweet success stories.

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Enough is enough: Seven steps to get you out of overwhelm

Last year sucked. You felt like you were running on a treadmill you could never get off: Kids to get to school; work with its endless demands; food to prepare, washing to do, collapse into bed exhausted; wake up and repeat. You’ve lost yourself in there somewhere.

But, hey, it’s a new year and tomorrow is a new day. It’s time to make a change and no one is going to do it for you. Taking responsibility for your own wellbeing is scary – but in the end it’s the path to freedom. Feel the fear and do it anyway. Here’s how:

  1. Set time aside to take stock. I know this sounds counter-intuitive. You’re overloaded. You don’t have time to stop and think about things. Well it’s time to stop using that as an excuse for not looking after yourself. There is always going to be more to do in life than you can fit in. But you’ve only got one life, so spend it on the things that matter to you. Believe me, once you step away you’ll wonder why you thought all those things were so important anyway. Set aside some time and go somewhere quiet where you won’t be disturbed, or talk to a trusted friend or coach. Ask yourself the hard questions: What is not working in my life right now? In my heart of hearts, what do I really want to do about it? You may not like the answers you come up with, but stick with it – maybe that’s just fear talking.
  2. Look at the big picture. If something is feeling off in your life it’s important to take a step back and look at your life as a whole. Sometimes discontent in one area of your life can show up as problems in another area. Work through the Circle of Life exercise, which can be downloaded from my website here. Is your life in balance? What area is the source of dissatisfaction? What could you do to improve your levels of satisfaction in that area of your life?
  3. What is your why? Not everyone is driven by a particular passion, but if you lack a sense of purpose in life it can feel as if you are just treading water. Take a look back over your life – things that you’ve loved doing and things that you’ve hated. Can you see any pattern? Is there a particular type of activity that you are drawn to? Does this coincide with how you earn your living? If it doesn’t, are there ways you can bring that passion into your work and increase your job satisfaction? Even having a clearer understanding of what drives you can help reduce overwhelm by helping you focus your efforts on things that matter to you.
  4. Check in with your values. What values are fundamental to you? Maybe you value health and wellbeing, balance, or spirituality. Or maybe you need to have ambition, success, or recognition in your life to feel satisfied. If you’re not sure how to identify your values get in touch with me and we can work through it together. Are your values being met by your work or lifestyle? Are there any values that are in conflict? Maybe this is causing stress in your life. Understanding the values that are important to you helps you choose work and a lifestyle that meets your needs. When values are in conflict we may experience a deep sense of discomfort that makes life seem like hard work. Just understanding where that discomfort comes from can make a big difference to your sense of satisfaction in life.
  5. How healthy are your boundaries? If you are constantly pulled around by other people’s demands and you struggle to get your own work done because of it, you may need to look at your boundaries. Setting healthy boundaries and learning how to say no is really important in this day and age where demands are constant and information floods our senses. It can be challenging to assert your own needs in a way that doesn’t come across as aggressive, but it can be done. Think about any relationship where things don’t feel quite right: are you able to balance your own needs with those of the other person? Could you be clearer in asserting your boundaries so interactions don’t leave you feeling drained? Setting boundaries around things like use of social media or TV watching can also help reduce overwhelm. Ask yourself how much of that activity is as actually beneficial to you, and how much is draining. Then find ways to stick to the limits you set yourself.
  6. Get out of the busy trap. Your mind is running so fast that even when you don’t have much on you can’t relax. That’s the busy buzz of a constant adrenaline high. If you don’t give your body and mind time and space to relax and repair you’re on the fast track to burn out. The first few times you stop ‘doing’ and just ‘be’ you’re likely to find it really uncomfortable. That’s OK. Relaxing takes practice if you’re out of the habit. Be kind to yourself and give yourself permission to do something that helps you wind down. A gentle walk in nature. A hot bath. Or listen to a meditation. There are lots of ways to learn simple mindfulness techniques that will train your brain to focus and relax more easily. You’ll find some of my favourites here on my website.
  7. Make a plan. Now you can see what the problem is, and you’ve got a better idea of which areas of your life need some renovating, so take some time to make a plan. Create a vision for where you want to get to. Plan out the steps you need to take to get you closer to that ideal. Pick a short term goal that is achievable and break it down into action points. How do you keep yourself working towards what you really want in life? Keep your vision current and visible. Celebrate the successes as you make progress. Notice what pushes you off track and deal with it, but don’t punish yourself. It’s OK to adjust goals and plans as you go, and nothing has to be perfect. Consistent, imperfect action will get you there more quickly than procrastinating until you feel fully prepared.

Getting out of overwhelm is not easy, especially if your stress levels are affecting your health. I know: I’ve been there. It’s a downward spiral. To make the change you need to seek support. Once you open up about your struggles you’ll find many of your friends and colleagues have been there too, and many have suffered serious physical or mental health issues as a result.

Don’t let that be you.

I’d love to know if you found this article helpful, if you have a question, or need a hand. Contact me on lisa@lifelab.co.nz, +64 21 1851248, or check out my website www.lifelab.co.nz. If you’re ready for some coaching, get in touch to book in for a free, no obligation assessment.

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How’s that goal coming along?

Back in September I wrote a blog post about getting health and fitness habits to stick (read it here if you missed it). As I’ve been learning more about embedding new habits and changing old ones I’ve been testing the ideas out on myself. As I wrote in my last blog, my goal was to comfortably run 3km by November. Hey, look, its November already! You may be wondering how I am going with my goal….

Confession time. I haven’t yet comfortably run 3km, But do you know what I have done? I have a solidly embedded habit of walking every day, and most days I run about a third of the 3km distance of my walk. I don’t feel that I have failed, but I have realised I didn’t select the right goal. I know now that being able to run 3km doesn’t mean much to me. My heart is not in it. I formulated the goal to give myself a boost to get over some resistance I was facing to running more and getting fitter. And that part of it worked! I do feel embarrassed at having stated my goal publicly and not having achieved it. But its given me a reality check on what it really takes to achieve your goals while living true to yourself. To me, its more important to stay in tune with what my body and mind need to stay happy and healthy, than it is to achieve a particular action.

Some of you are probably thinking I should toughen up and stop making excuses. That is a perfectly valid response, and for some that might be the right response. As I said in my previous blog, our minds do throw up any excuse to avoid pain and effort, and sometimes you just need to toughen up. So how do I know that’s not right for me? I know my body and what it needs and I am well practiced at teasing out things my mind is trying to hide behind. I have been using coaching techniques on myself for years and I know how to listen for my inner truth. That is what I do for my clients as a professional coach – help them uncover the truths they are hiding from themselves.

OK, it’s time for a do-over. Imagine I’m a client seeking help from a coach to achieve my goal of running 3 km by November. I’ve seen an ad for LifeLab’s Change for Good coaching package. I’ve got in touch and had a free half-hour assessment, and this package is right for me. We’re into it and discussing my goal. What would I do as a coach to check if it is the right goal? Here’s a transcript of me coaching myself (yes, I know this is getting a bit weird, but hang in there..):

Coach: What goal would you like to work on over the next three months?

Client: I’d like to be able to comfortably run without stopping for 3km by November.

Coach: That’s a very clear and and specific goal – great work formulating that. Before we commit to this and move on to making it happen though, I’d just like to check in to see if we’ve really got the right goal for you. What’s important to you about achieving this goal?

Client: Well, I’ve had back problems for years and have finally found a physio who’s made a difference and we’re really making progress at fixing my posture so I don’t overload the wrong muscles and end up with back pain, as I have been for the past 15 years. Its taken a lot of work but I feel like I’ve made the big changes now and just need to get on and get fitter and stronger. My physio is happy for me to pick up the pace with running, but I feel like my mind is stuck in victim mode and is still afraid of making it worse. So I’m too easy on myself and give up as soon as its hard. I really don’t want to waste the progress I’ve made so I need a bit of a kick in the pants. This goal feels like the sort of push I need.

Coach: I can see you’ve thought this through really well. I can see how that goal could work for you. I wonder, though, what are you really trying to achieve here?

Client: Hmmm, I guess my overall goal is to fix my posture to resolve my back problems.

Coach: And how does being able to run 3km help you towards that goal?

Client: Well it gives me something to focus on that will give me a push. I definitely need to get my mind out of victim mode. But on the other hand, really listening to what my body needs, and doing that, has been really helpful. I’m not so keen on the idea of pushing through discomfort just for the sake of being able to say I can run 3 km. I know from working with the physio that exercising the wrong muscles is going to do more harm than good at this point. So it does feel like a bit of an artificial goal…. I don’t really know how my body is going to react, and if there are going to be any new sticking points that need fixing over the next three months.

Coach: Great awareness there, How might you re-phrase your goal so that it feels more real to you?

Client: …..well…. I guess my overall goal is to improve my posture,… and my immediate goal is to overcome my victim mindset that’s holding me back from working a bit harder…yes, I think that is it. I need to get my exercise routine to the next level to overcome my victim mindset that’s holding me back. I guess the running goal is a tool to help me get there, but I’m not really committed to the running itself. I don’t have an ambition to run more – I’m happy with daily walks and the occasional run to loosen things up.

Coach: That’s great! So how could you re-phrase your three month goal to make it work for you?

Client: I guess I’d like to put a bit more effort into my exercise routine by doing a bit more running, but I don’t want to commit to a particular distance…. how about “By November I will be in the habit of going for a 3km run or walk at least 5 days a week, while supporting the needs of my body as I change my posture.” Yes, I think the bit that wasn’t quite right was aiming to run the whole way. I’m much happier with being able to adjust my amount of running and walking depending on how my body is feeling.

Coach: How does it feel, setting out that new goal?

Client: Hmmm…. I’m not sure its quite there. It feels a bit messy…… Hang on a minute, I’ve already said that my goal is to improve my posture and reduce back pain. That is my goal. Setting this three month goal is a means to get me out of my victim mindset that’s holding me back. So the immediate goal is “to increase the amount of running I do in a week to overcome my limiting mindset and move closer to settling in my improved posture.” Still sounds a bit clunky, but hey, it doesn’t need to be perfect, just needs to do the job.

Coach: Do you think this goal will do the job for you?

Client: yes I do actually. I’m much clearer about what I’m really trying to achieve and what motivates me to get there. I also feel more positive that I can achieve it. Thank you!

 

Well, enough self-coaching. I could go on for ages. Just so you know, that is legitimately me coaching myself. I had an idea of what the issue was but writing it down like that has been helpful, and has taken away the sneaky sense of guilt that I’d failed my goal.

I hope that insight into the process of working out goals has inspired you to clarify yours. Get in touch if you need a hand!

 

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Can’t get good health and fitness habits to stick?

How many times have you started a new health and fitness routine and failed to stick to it? Maybe it was a New Year’s resolution to go to the gym regularly, or a decision to cut back on unhealthy eating. How did it feel when you failed? Not great? You may have even decided that its not for you and have given up trying to improve your health and fitness. Over the last few weeks I’ve been learning about the psychology behind making sustainable change and embedding new habits as I prepare my new coaching package, Change for Good. It turns out there are lots of tricks you can use. So don’t give up, read on!

I’m currently working towards a goal of getting back into running. I’d like to be able to comfortable run the full distance of a trail in the local Redwoods forest by November. Not super ambitious (it’s only 2.9km) but I feel like its good to start with an achievable goal.

So this is Tip #1: Set realistic and achievable goals.

The satisfaction of being successful will go a long way towards you wanting to try harder next time and achieve more. If you aim too high you can set yourself up for failure which will reduce your desire to try.

Tip #2: Choose something you like doing at least a little bit.

Choose something that has some positives in it for you then focus on those good bits. Running feels good for my body, even though that feeling is pretty short lived. My aim is to extend out those good feelings so I can go further and get stronger and fitter while still enjoying it.

Tip #3: Set a goal, write it down and share it with others.

Its too easy to talk ourselves out of something hard, or change the goal in our head. Don’t cheat yourself. Set yourself up to succeed by setting a clear and specific goal and getting others to provide support and accountability. We also need to believe in our ability to achieve the goal. Visualize yourself reaching your goal. Enjoy the feelings of success. Savor the anticipation of sharing a win with someone supportive.

Tip #4: Make a plan and keep it real.

Be clear about what steps you need to take to reach your goal. Make the plan clear, specific and achievable. For me, I need to embed a habit of going for regular runs to reach my goal of 2.9km by 1 December. My plan is to turn my daily walk into a run three days a week. I’ll start out by running and walking in intervals, then decrease the length of the walks until I can run the whole way.

Tip #5: Establish the Cue, the Routine and the Reward.

These are the components that embed a habit in our brain, as described by Charles Duhigg in his book The Power of Habit. The cue is a trigger or signal that tells us to act in a certain way. An easy one for me – I walk my daughter to school every day, so that’s my cue to continue on to do my daily walk in the forest. To shift this to a run I know I just need to dress in my running clothes and call it a run rather than a walk in my head.

The routine is the behaviour that you want to instill. Its best if you clearly define this in an ‘if…, then…’ format. For example, my routine would be: “If I put my running gear on first thing, then I will run instead of walk after I’ve dropped my daughter at school.”

The reward is the thing that develops our emotional craving to complete the habit. Once the craving is embedded in our brain the habit is fully formed and becomes hard to break. Our brains easily fix onto sugary and fatty foods as a reward as evolution has designed us this way to meet our nutritional needs in an environment where food is scarce. Not so useful in today rich environment, and counter-productive to most health and fitness goals. An alternative is to develop your emotional rewards. How great do you feel when you achieve your goals?

The reward for me is the sense of satisfaction at having run further and kept a positive mindset. To do this I notice the good parts of running, feel the enjoyment and savor it, and anticipate the feelings of satisfaction I’ll have once I’ve achieved it. Of course there are negative feelings and sensations, but I choose not to dwell on them. This process starts to rewire my brain and will, with practice, make it easier to feel satisfied and positive about running.

Tip #6: Get curious, without judgement.

This is the guts of how mindfulness works, and is beautifully explained by psychologist Judson Brewer in his TED talk “A simple way to break a bad habit.” He talks about how, by turning your sense of curiosity towards your bad habits, you can undermine your craving and defuse the power the habit has over you. I think this idea can be used to create new good habits as well.

For example, I might notice what what my inner voice is telling me when my running gets hard. Often its being pretty negative – “time to stop and walk”, ” this is too hard”, “you’ve done enough, time for a rest”, etc. Then I get curious: is that voice helping me reach my goal? do I need to listen to it? what is the reality of the situation? how would it feel to just get to the next tree before listening to the voice? or the next tree after that?

Mindfulness teaches us to allow our thoughts and feelings to pass by, and return our attention to a focus point, such as our breath. To stop being dragged around emotionally by our wandering thoughts. By recognizing we are not our thoughts we can better observe and manage them and take control.

A key component of mindful noticing and applying curiosity to our thoughts is to do this without judgment and with a sense of compassion. If I notice my negative thoughts encouraging me to stop running, and then tell myself “I’ve failed again, my thoughts are sabotaging me, I’ll never have strong enough willpower to be a runner” etc., I’m punishing myself and reducing my sense of self worth. A better approach is to notice my negative thoughts, accept them as they are, and have a sense of compassion towards the part of me that feels it needs to undermine my goal of being fitter.

So there you have it – what I’ve learnt about how to get new habits to stick. First get clear about your goal and make a plan that is realistic and achievable, following the cue, routine, reward formula. Set yourself up for success by sharing your plans and seeking support. And most of all, remember to bring your mind along with you – it can be your greatest enemy or your biggest ally. When you believe you can do it and are in control of the negative self-talk you are much more likely to succeed.

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How to grow a five-year-old

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There is so much interesting information around at the moment about our brain’s ability to change at all ages of life. As a mother of a five year old I’m trying to get my head around how best support my daughter to grow into a confident learner. I’ve just been listening to a podcast from Radio New Zealand National’s Nine to Noon programme with parenting commentator Nathan Mikaere-Wallis about what 3-7 year olds need to learn. Fascinating stuff.

Research shows that a child’s belief in their ability to learn is the best predictor of success later in life.

How much they know and if the details are correct is not really important at this age. Cognitive learning, which is a more adult style of learning focusing on content and detail, happens from age 7. So at five, helping my daughter know she is capable of learning something new and encouraging her thinking process, not outcome, is most beneficial.

This lines up with Dr Carol Dweck’s research on mindset. People with a fixed mindset see themselves as having a fixed level of intelligence and focus on protecting their status. This mindset creates learners who avoid challenge for fear of failure. The alternative is having a growth mindset, where someone understands they are able to improve their level of intelligence through effort. Learners with this mindset look for challenge in order to learn more. Mikaere-Wallis suggests that the critical window for developing this mindset is between 3 and 7.

The kicker for parents and teachers is that these mindsets are influenced by how we praise.

So how can we use this knowledge to give our kids the best chance of success? Help our 3-7 year olds see themselves as good learners. Focus on praise for a successful thinking process, not a right or wrong outcome. Encourage imaginative, open-ended play and don’t worry if they haven’t got their facts straight or colour inside the lines. That stuff will come along later.

This is a challenge for me. I know I am, at heart, a fixed mindset learner (although I am now working hard to shift to a growth mindset). For me this means that my model of how to deal with learning and knowledge is firmly based in being correct. Information is right or wrong. All of my scientific training has reinforced this belief. I have in the past looked outside myself for someone else to validate my intelligence by giving me a grade or a ‘well done’ pat on the head. This mindset got me a long way in the knowledge-based world of scientific research, but its not so useful in helping me to think outside the square and be creative as a coach and business owner.

As a mother it is a definite liability. What I’m learning as a mum is that my intuition can be relied upon. That no one else has the answers for how to best support and grow my own child. Experiential learning is necessary. I need to be with my child and learn her rhythms. I need to help her understand how to maximise her strengths and accept and work with her weaknesses.

So my daily challenge is to listen to what I say to Cassidy and learn how to say things that help her recognise her own power to choose to be great in the world. To practice opening my own mind to possibility so I can demonstrate to her that limits only exist inside our own heads. And most of all to help her enjoy being a kid and not to take on the pressure of the structured, performance-driven school system too soon.

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