Self-Reliance is Worth Pursuing

Where would I be without my family, my friends and my dog? Sometimes I think I’d be lost. And yet, I value the quality of self-reliance and believe it to be an important element of wellness.

It’s worth defining what I mean by ‘self-reliance’. It doesn’t mean not caring for others and it doesn’t mean shying away from others caring for you. It doesn’t mean being a hermit, looking for gold or the meaning of life in a shack on a mountain. It DOES mean trusting yourself, developing some strengths and being confident in your abilities to navigate your life on your own terms.

What strengths do we find in self-reliance?

·         We can deal with the ups and downs of life

·         We can take on new roles, new careers, new challenges

·         We can help those around us instead of being needy

·         We can lead others, save the world, do good things

·         We can love, care for and trust ourselves

I find this a compelling argument to develop my self-reliance. I came across some good advice recently, from a columnist named Darius Foroux, about how to do this. Ironically, his thoughts were based on Ralph Waldo Emerson so none of this is NEW. But I’m finding it helpful and you may also.

Foroux suggested these six things would help me find greater self-reliance.

1)      Have a voice. Interesting, since I was taught to always say the nice thing, or nothing at all. He suggests we speak up more-- though not aggressively—when we disagree. He suggests we not avoid confrontation.

2)      Learn how to master your emotions. While not as difficult (since I was taught to always be nice, also), he goes on to explain that this is not about masking or hiding your emotions but about identifying the times you get emotional about unimportant things in order to filter them. He supports being emotional about important things but suggests that we should ‘check’ times when we get annoyed by small things, feel childish emotions or get ‘stuck’ on our own baggage.

3)      Celebrate adversity. Ah, easier said than done. But we all understand that adversity will happen and that those tough times and experiences make us grow up and be our best selves. This is not a completely new thought, of course, but one that needs frequent consideration.

4)      Separate yourself from everything. Foroux points out that we will eventually lose the people we love and, likely, will suffer the loss of other things important to us. He suggests keeping that in mind so that we celebrate and maximize every moment with our family and friends and strive to thoroughly enjoy the activities, places and events that matter to us. Good advice.

5)      Get comfortable with yourself.  Learn, Foroux says, to love your own company. Find ways to be content by yourself; develop things to do when alone—even if you must plan for it.

6)      Live without regrets. You can’t change the past and life is more random than we want – and expect – it to be. Get past it; don’t waste time thinking ‘what if?’. Keep moving forward.

 I am sure we all agree that we could benefit from greater trust in our own self-reliance. I found these good points to incorporate into my life and wanted to share them. I hope it’s helpful.

Shake up Your Routine—But Not Too Often!

Routine. I like it. It provides structure, comfort, and makes me productive. It makes me feel like I am moving forward, each day, the way I should AND the toward goals and aspirations that I’ve identified. What could be more healthy?

Hmmm. Did you know, however, that routine can be your downfall as well? Whether you are thinking about your physical activity, your worklife or your social life, too much routine can lead to burn out and apathy. If you do the same thing, the same way, without change, over time you will find that you DO not get the same effect. I see this in the studio, working with my clients, which is why I am always managing their time to keep our work together fresh and moving forward.

But the same principle applies to my own exercise practice. I try to push myself, regularly, to new limits. BUT, and this is important, I also give myself time to get ‘comfortable’ with that new level. That is as important as setting new goals. There is something called allostasis-defined as ‘an organism’s capacity to take on stressors, quickly adapt to them, and return to a normal state.’ You need to allow that to happen because, if you do not, your body will pay the price of that excess stress through injury and pain.

Not surprisingly, you can apply this same principle to other areas of your life beyond physical activity. We have all seen that our work lives can become unfulfilling if there is not enough ‘learning and growing’. We also know that a workplace or role that is in constant chaos can be overly stressful. Finding that balance – where there are new tasks but, also, time to become competent—is essential.

Relationships of all sorts can suffer, too, from too much ‘sameness’ or too much ‘craziness’. This is another area of our lives where we want, and need, both familiarity and spontaneity. Therefore, striving for a good mix of predictability and fun is a goal to pursue in our relationships as well.

I find that consciously trying to ‘grow and change’ in all the important aspects of my life—but not too rapidly—is part of achieving wellness. I recommend you try to do the same.  

Exercise – What’s your Goal?

There is more than one reason to start exercising more. Some people are trying to fit into that slinky dress for a party, some people are recovering from illness and finally feeling well enough to move, some people have been handed a mandate from their physician, some are just newly inspired to embrace wellness.

Whatever you reason, it makes sense to identify your goal because it will affect what you do, how often you do and how you feel about it. If you are mainly interested in improving your health, there are a few things to know. First: Much of what you hear, or have long thought, is ‘marketing’. Sorry to disillusion you! For example, the mantra about 10,000 steps--it turns out it was a Japanese marketing team who came up with that in 1965 when naming an early pedometer their company was introducing. The Japanese character for 10,000 looks somewhat like a man walking, apparently. Hence, the pedometer was named ‘the 10,000-step meter’. Next thing you know, we all are convinced, mistakenly, that  10,000 steps is the magical number to walk each day to be ‘healthy’.

Instead, walking as little as 2,000 or 4,000 steps per day can give you a significant health boost IF you are very sedentary, older or otherwise daunted by the concept of 5 miles of walking. The key is to start somewhere and do some form of exercise that-over time-gives you real benefits.

If you are already fit and yet feel the urge to improve your health, then examine your lifestyle—your wellness. What other form of movement or activity is interesting and possible? Are you making the effort to get enough sleep—interestingly, the mantra about ‘8 hours of sleep’ HAS been scientifically proven (over and over) to be the real deal. Hydration—though not necessarily 8 glasses per day (also a myth) is a key area of improvement for all of us! Are you already satisfied with your eating habits? Could spending time and effort on that be a better way to reach your goal? Being clear about what you want to achieve should guide you.

If, instead, you really want to (or have been told to) lose weight, then—as we all know—it boils down to more activity, less food. I know I am over-simplifying it. But, while there are many programs, eating guidelines and well marketed diets, in the end, this is the only way. To prove my point, note that, recently, a very large study tried to answer the question… “Why am I exercising more but not losing weight?” The answer, quite clearly, was that many--if not most-- people, when they increase their exercise activity, also give themselves ‘permission’ to eat just a bit more. As little as an extra 90 calories/day offsets much of the weight loss they’d otherwise experience. So, if your intention is specifically to lose weight by increasing your activity level, remember that you should avoid allowing yourself to eat more. It seems like it will be ok, even necessary, but it will derail your plans!  Meanwhile, keep moving!

Making Decisions and Getting Things Done

One aspect of pursuing health and wellness is the cultivation of a positive mindset and the reduction of everyday stress. There are many ways to do so but it can also be important to identify what causes us stress and try to eliminate it before it even occurs.

For many of us, making decisions can be very stressful. I do know folks that can dither a long time over menu choices, but it is the bigger decisions that can feel somewhat ‘paralyzing’. I have heard, recently, that Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, uses the concept of ‘reversible’ and ‘irreversible’ decisions to choose the right process for decisions. His idea is that if a decision is ‘reversible’—if it doesn’t work out you can go back to how it was—you should make that decision very quickly even if you haven’t researched it as thoroughly as you could. 

On the other hand, if a decision is ‘irreversible--which he describes as going through a door knowing you will not be able to come back through that door--then you should be cautious and very thorough in making that decision. It’s not a bad way to think about things. Spending less time belaboring a decision that can be ‘reversed’ – even if there is some time, effort or money used in trying something that doesn’t work out—is definitely less stressful. Think about the last time you found yourself agonizing over a choice—awful! Make that decision, move on and have more time for healthier thoughts and less stress!

I think it can be somewhat similar when it comes to getting things done. If you are a NASA engineer or a surgeon, ‘perfect’ is required for your work. And I’m sure that is incredibly intense. But, even for those people, the rest of life is lived differently. Many of us spend too much time focusing on getting something PERFECT when PRETTY DARN GOOD would be enough. In the same way that making most decisions more quickly is less stressful and smarter, so, too, is getting most things done to the PRETTY DARN GOOD stage. Spending that last 10% extra time on worrying to get the minute details right, going back and changing small things that don’t really matter and, generally, making yourself anxious about perfection is not very healthy. Do your best, check your work and then tell yourself it is ‘good enough’. And then use that extra time to do something that brings you joy, peace of mind and wellness!

Make your wellness ‘sticky’!

‘Sticky wellness’ might not sound that appealing but read on because it is exactly what you want. ‘Sticky’ is a concept that was first used to describe websites. Companies who developed websites to interact with their customers and potential customers looked for ways to bring them back again and again to the site. Frequent new information (like my blogs!) created a reason for people to come back to the site and nurtured the relationship that users had to the site and, therefore, the company.

Then came ‘apps’ for your smartphone, your computer, your tablets—all your devices (watches, cars, you name it). A successful app had to find ways to create habitual users—we all know which ones have caught us in their snare! ‘Activation’ was the word then used to describe that moment when the user ‘gets’ the benefit of the app and starts using it repeatedly.

What you want, therefore, is to find that ‘activation’ for your wellness and then to make exercise, healthy eating, a beneficial lifestyle –whatever your see as ‘your wellness’—something that draws you back in over and over and makes it hold your interest. You want to make it ‘sticky’.

The best way to do that is to choose the right behaviors and set the correct goal. Activation is personal—that is often why group classes don’t have the same impact as individual training. You—and only you—can identify what realistic, achievable goal will keep you coming back. Is it about fitness, serenity, flexibility, creativity, weight control, coming back from injury or illness?  Take the time to explore and determine one or two things that truly matter to you, personally. Don’t choose something you think you SHOULD do—whether its ‘lose 5 lbs’ or run a marathon. Choose something that will give you real satisfaction and that truly suits you and your life.

Then find a SHORT TERM way to measure yourself against that goal. Make it attainable. Make it something you can actually quantify--like one meatless dinner per week or doing a ‘plank’ for a minute every day. And then make it ‘sticky’ by checking in on it every week and keeping track. Give yourself huge congratulations each time you achieve this goal. This is a win, you are improving, you are reaching your objective! Change the goal as soon as you find it is not as motivating—it’s too easy, boring, You may push yourself to do more—two dinners, 5 pushups, initiating a new savings plan.... whatever will keep your wellness ‘sticky’. There are many ways to pursue wellness and many of them will be important to you, particularly over time. Designing your goals and actions to be ‘sticky’ will help you constantly grow into living a better life.




Do Deep Work with your Superpower… Concentration!

We all know that we allow ourselves to be distracted—most often by our devices but also by other things.

Perhaps we do not understand the downside of that as well as we could. Author Cal Newport has championed a concept called Deep Work and its opposite, Shallow Work. Shallow work is all that ‘stuff’ you must do at work and in life that does not require a lot of brain power--answering email, taking care of your house, administrative things. He suggests that these can take up too much time and that we should do them quickly and try to limit the time we allot to these tasks.

More important, though, he encourages us to set aside COMPLETELY undistracted time for ‘deep work’. This is the kind of task that requires real thinking and, to do this well, must be done without interruptions. Problem solving, projects, creative work-to do your best, you must give yourself uninterrupted time for this deep work.

 There is, apparently, a reaction to switching your focus, even for a brief moment---to check your email, look at a text, move the laundry from washer to dryer, make a phone call. This side effect is called ‘attention residue’. When you return to the hard task you were doing, this attention residue will affect your ability to focus for longer than you think. 

Newport encourages setting aside blocks of time for deep work. I’ve heard this before, in other famous time management theories. Remember the ‘big rocks first’ example from Stephen Covey? But Covey came up with that BEFORE we had our devices with us all the time—his famous, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People published in 1989! It is worthwhile to remember, now, to put away or turn off the devices altogether while you are working on something important or creative. And make sure to schedule real time, that you protect and use well, on your calendar for whatever is the deep work in your life.

In the end, it is not so much what is wrong with distractions but what is so valuable about the opposite. “Concentration is like a superpower”, says Newport. “If you take the time to cultivate this power, you’ll never look back.” I like the sound of that!

How to Succeed at Failing...

Failing can ruin some people. They never really recover. For others, failure can be a good thing—something that provides a benefit down the road.

How do you make sure you are one of those folks who let failure propel them forward to success? One of the strongest indicators of how you are impacted by failure long-term is seen in how you respond immediately after you fail. Research shows that the tell-tale response is whether you ‘own the failure’ or not. If you can find it in yourself to say something like “I’m sorry; I made a mistake. It was my fault,” then you are likely to learn from your failure.

If, instead, you pass the buck, blame other or make excuses, your one failure creates more failure. Then you are less likely to recover well from your error.

I read an article by Allison Fallon a while ago. She listed the ways that failure can be good for us:

  • Failure teaches us that success — real success — rarely comes in the form of a “big break”. More often than not, it comes after months, even years, of hard work.

  • Failure teaches us to try many avenues before giving up on reaching a goal because, usually, there is more than one way to get there.

  • Failure teaches us not to trust everyone who says they are out to help us. It teaches us, instead, to trust that gut feeling, the intuitive sense inside us.

And Lewis Schiff, Forbes contributor and Executive Director of INC., Magazine’s Business Owners Council, listed the five ways failure can be a stepping stone to success. He said you must 1) really forgive yourself, 2) talk it over with someone who is not afraid to talk about failure, 3) be honest about what really went wrong, 4) take responsibility and 5) TRY, TRY AGAIN!

He described ‘failure faith’ as a “… powerful conviction that every setback offers vital lessons that could not be learned any other way.” This seems motivating to me and I think I can identify times, in my own life, where this was the case.

We all fail sometimes. And it doesn’t feel great. But when it happens, it can be an opportunity to turn those mistakes and missteps into something that moves us toward a better outcome in the future. And that would be the best way to ‘succeed at failure’!

Doing Nothing is So HARD!

I recently read an article about ‘lying fallow’ that argued that people, like crops in the field, need to have downtime for growth and health. The author wasn’t referring to taking vacations or your weekends—she argued that even work requires some time to be ‘dormant’, time to just think, to be unproductive because you are absorbing and observing.

And yet, this need for ‘downtime’ is not universally acknowledged. The ‘always on, always responding’ culture created by technology, the global economy and social media can be oppressive but also seductive.

Practicing real downtime and protecting it from constant interruption can be like an act of resistance. Friends and family may push back if you don’t respond immediately, employers may not, initially, understand the benefit of what appear to be unproductive activities, you own internal ‘time well spent meter’ will sound the alarm. But there is a benefit to be discovered, if you allow yourself this time to be an observer, a thinker instead of a constant ‘doer’. Rest, reading, relaxation, repose… whatever you choose to do while not DOING can help you be more creative and effective the rest of the time—whether you are solving problems, writing poetry,  raising children, managing a workplace team, or just living your life with mindfulness.

This is a challenge that I share—as I also have to fight my own nature in planning time to do nothing. I am suggesting, though, that you think about this concept, without your phone in hand! Then take 15 full minutes, this week, (it is a start!) to people-watch in a busy place, to read something that inspires you, or to walk quietly in nature without a device or a companion. Give yourself some ‘lying fallow’ time. It will probably be hard and feel ‘unproductive’. But it will be worth it.

The Real Cause of Procrastination and How to Help Yourself Through It

I am willing to bet that you did not know that procrastination is not about time management, lack of will power or being lazy. If you sometimes (or often) procrastinate, understanding how it works may help.

According to multiple experts who study it, procrastination is about mood regulation. Something about the task in front of you makes you feel boredom, anxiety, insecurity, frustration, resentment or self-doubt and, because of that, you choose to do something else instead. Ironically, then you feel even worse because you recognize that you made a poor choice to procrastinate and--of course--you still have the task to do.

There are ways to combat this:

“Our brains are always looking for relative rewards. If we have a habit loop around procrastination but we haven’t found a better reward, our brain is just going to keep doing it over and over until we give it something better to do,” said psychiatrist and neuroscientist Dr. Judson Brewer, Director of Research and Innovation at Brown University’s Mindfulness Center. He suggests that you try to focus on the positive—a time when you did something similar and it worked out alright or the benefits of getting it done or how you will feel about yourself when it is done.

Other tricks may help you, too:

Curiosity: When you find yourself ready to procrastinate, focus instead on WHY you are feeling that way. What is it about the task you want to avoid that creates negative feelings in you? What does it bring to the surface? And how does the urge to procrastinate change when you really observe it?

Fool yourself a bit: Consider the ‘next action’ after the first step as optional. So do the very first part of the task right away, thinking about the second part of it as a ‘maybe’. Consider that action as ‘what I might do next’. Action follows thought and you are likely to find yourself starting the task and then just continuing. But it is easier to start if you only commit to the very first part of the task.

Make it hard to delay:  Put obstacles in your own path to procrastination. For example, if you tend to turn to your social media when avoiding a task, delete those apps. If that is impossible (LOL), make your password really long and complicated. This is creating ‘friction’ around the avoidance. If you distract yourself from necessary tasks in the evening by watching TV, unplug it. Just making it so you have to plug it in each night may change your behavior.

Make it easier to get it done: Try to remove ALL obstacles to getting the task done. For example, if you find it hard to head out to exercise first thing in the morning, wear your gym clothes to bed. Then you can roll out of bed and straight to your workout with as little effort as possible.

To rewire any habit, we have to give our brains what Dr. Brewer called the “Bigger Better Offer” or “B.B.O.” The problem with this solution is that many of the better rewards we promise ourselves are ALSO ways to procrastinate.

A better solution is self-compassion, which is treating ourselves with kindness and understanding in the face of our mistakes and failures. Self-compassion doesn’t require anything external — just a commitment to meeting your challenges with greater acceptance and kindness rather than rumination and regret.

Just understanding why we do what we do is a big step toward doing things differently-and better. If you find that you sometimes or often procrastinate, I hope these tips will make it easier for you.

How do I Design ‘Intelligent Exercise’ for my Clients?

My responsibility to my clients is to use my extensive training in Pilates and my understanding of their bodies to help them be stronger, healthier and more fit. I take this so very seriously; it probably deserves further explanation.

As I design a plan for each client session, I will always select exercises that feature flexion, extension and lateral flexion as those are central to a well balanced Pilates workout. For weekly clients, I always incorporate work for both the upper body and the lower body, with an emphasis on the core, stability and control. I will incorporate exercises using a variety of Pilates equipment and Mat. For those clients who come in multiple times per week, I might focus one session more on upper and another on lower body, always with balance between the two. 

Despite my prior planning, each session begins with the questions, “How are you feeling today? Are there injuries, soreness, or problems?” If a problem is identified, my plan must change very quickly. I may devote the entire session to that issue and work to help alleviate the problem. The exercises I then choose to include may even be modified—perhaps we do them sitting or with legs in a more supported position—whatever is best for the client.

Likewise, when a client is new to Pilates, I’ll start with the foundational work emphasizing the core principles of Pilates. There are certain ‘building block’ exercises I will use first. One of the key goals is to make the client more ‘body aware’—to develop or further the connection between their mind and different parts of their body and muscles within their body. This is the very meaningful primary concept behind the phrase ‘mindful motion’.

If a client is new to me, though not to Pilates, I’m using my knowledge to observe their level and then design sessions that keep them moving forward. And as any client progresses, I’ll introduce more complex movements— combining a lower body movement with an upper body movement. This choreography of movement is more demanding on core and stability and the benefits, to the client, are noticeable.

In every case, I’m trying to carefully, but persistently, move my clients forward in their work. Pilates offers unique benefits—improvements in core strength, posture, lengthening, and overall fitness. I design sessions for each client that leverage the techniques, evolving over time, so they can expect to-- and actually reach--new levels of wellness. This is the ultimate goal of our relationship and I find it both challenging and gratifying.