online coaching using mind and body for a life worth living

The Secret Is…

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work”-Thomas Edison

In 2006 a popular book was turned into a movie called “The Secret.” It was based on a belief called the Law of Attraction that claimed positive thinking can create life-changing results in health, wealth, wishrelationships, and areas of success. The book sold 19 million copies and was translated into 46 languages. The premise was that there is a natural law, the law of attraction, in which a person merely places their desire into the universe, and the universe satisfies the desire. The “science” behind the belief was the theory that people’s thoughts are sent into the universe by a “frequency” and the universe responds by “matching that frequency.” The book was called The Secret because this was the secret to life changing results and happiness. The claim was that this is a natural law because “like attracts like.”

There is some element of truth to the idea that like attracts like. For example, people who live their life with preset beliefs frequently find people and events that affirm their beliefs. This is because our brains are wired towards pattern recognition. We seek that which is familiar in order to make sense of our world. If a woman believes, for example, that all men are untrustworthy, and is attracted to and gets involved with men who are untrustworthy, then for her it becomes true. If someone believes that there are no worthwhile employment opportunities out there, and does not pursue education or self-improvement, then for them it becomes true. If someone watches hours and hours of television news, it would not be surprising that they found the world inconsistent and unsafe. We tend to have our focus drawn to things that validate our already held beliefs.

The Secret promised more for less and this was part of its attraction. The word “manifesting” was used for this practice of putting your vibration into the universe and having the universe return your handsupdesires. The book espoused some positive skills that are in fact very useful. Positive thinking is incredibly powerful, as is visualization, two skills that The Secret promoted. Where the book went off the rails was with the outrageous examples of how it occurred in real life for those who knew the secret. For example, desire for new car would result in the car being “manifested” if one began to be thankful for the car and have positive feelings about the car as if they already had it. Actions like finding a parking space for it, and getting insurance quotes for it, would result in the car being placed into your life for real. Great stuff, but unfortunately this law does not exist, at least not to this extent.

Self-help author, Dan Millman, has a different perspective that combines ideas of The Secret with real-world practicality. Millman is the author of a perennial best-selling book called “The Way of the Peaceful Warrior,” a great read once you get past the comic book sounding title. The book is written as a novel, a hyperbolic semi-biographical work loosely based on Millman’s life. Millman was a world-class gymnast whose leg was shattered in a motorcycle accident while he was in college. The accident forced him to reassess his sense of self and entire world view. From these events he developed a philosophy of life which combines aspects of mysticism, positive thinking, and athletic conditioning. While he acknowledges the benefits of pure positive thinking, and even manifesting, he preaches taking committed uncritical action in the pursuit of goals. His advice is simple and has and athletic tone: “Just do it!”

Millman teaches that positive thoughts do not override negative behaviors or lack of action. All the positive thinking in the world will not physically condition an athlete who does not train, make money for one who spends wildly, or create good relationships for a nasty person. A person who has perpetual negative thoughts is probably not going to attain many of their goals. Millman says that “Positive thoughts don’t override negative. We don’t have a spam filter for our negative thoughts. We must push negative thinking aside and act anyway.” Action despite doubt is the critical element that separates Millman’s ideas from The Secret.

Combining positive thinking with committed action is, according to Millman, what it takes to attain lofty goals. “A little of something is better than a lot of nothing” he states. We should focus on what we do, as action changes our thoughts and a cycle of positive behavior creating positive thought begins to create momentum. Less focus on thinking, feeling, and analyzing, more concentration on what we are doing and our actions, create positive outcomes. Starting small, attending to one task at a time, and seeking constant, incremental improvement yields success. Negative thoughts will be pushed aside by committed action. Just do something! Negative thoughts do not go away easy, but certainly action can drown them out.

So the secret is…. Hard work, Just do it, Plan and Take Action! Adjust as you go and don’t listen to the committee in your mind telling you that it can’t be done! If someone else in the universe has caineaccomplished what you are seeking, then it is quite possible that you can attain the same thing. You won’t know until you try!!

“Men do not beat drums before they hunt for tigers.” – Kwai Chang Caine

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The Rule Of Three

The number three has mystical significance in many world cultures and religions. It also has significance in human survival. It is often quoted that generally a person cannot go more than three mbsweeks without food, three days without water, and three minutes without breathing. Human beings around the world tend to eat three times per day, and we are told that to remain healthy we should sleep approximately one third of our life, work another third, and use the other third for ourselves. This rule of threes is certainly not ironclad. It could be, however, the key to leading a balanced life.

Modern Americans live lives that are easily pulled out of balance. We have instant access to information, family, friends, work, and thousands of activities. Some of these connections are beneficial, others not so much. A text from a loved one during a busy workday can often help adjust your attitude and get you through. A phone call or Skype message from someone you haven’t seen in a while and are missing can be incredibly uplifting. We also, unfortunately, have instant access to stress, some our own, and some from people that we don’t know and will never meet. Virtually any texttechnological advance – television, phone, or computer – will cut in with the latest details of the daily news as soon as it happens. This occurs whether we want to know or not. News sources want us to pay attention, so they make their information as triggering and sensational as possible. They want to rope us in and make us feel that we are a part of the story, and focus on a lot of events that are not the norm and which we can’t control.

In keeping with the rule of three, we would do well to try to customize this rule for our own benefit in a personalized way. Some positive uses of this rule could be ways to balance physical, emotional, and spiritual experiences on a daily basis. By following the rule of threes in an habitual way we can do a better job keeping our lives in balance. Paying attention to mind, body, and spirit at least three times a day can keep us on an even keel, be more focused and balanced.

Let’s take a look at some practical ways to implement this rule of three in our daily life by attending to mind, body, and spirit:
Mind-Starting your day in a positive frame of mind is critical to keeping your thoughts, and therefore your emotions, in balance. Taking a moment before your feet hit the floor to focus on as many positive aspects of your life as you can think of helps a lot. Asking yourself what you are grateful for, who is important to you, and what you are looking forward to in your life gets your mind churning in the right direction. Don’t start your day by thinking about all that you have to do that day, these intrusive thoughts do not need to be kindled. They will start burning soon enough.

During the day take at least three mini breaks where you we focus on positive elements of your life. Favorite activities, loved ones, and things you are grateful for should be focused on during these breaks. If you can call or text a loved one the break can really be energizing. These breaks tend to get you out of your own way, create a feeling of connectedness to others, and give a positive purpose to your life.

Body-Do something at least three times a day for your physical body. A structured morning or evening spinwork out should be a part of this at least three days a week. This structured workout may include something like running, weight training, or an exercise class of your choice. These structured workouts can be the cornerstone of your fitness regimen. Structured workouts, however, are not for everyone. If you enjoy regimented and rigorous training that’s great, if not then you should still attend to the rule of three for your body.

At least three times a day consider mini activities you can do to adjust your physiology. A brief walk at lunch, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking through the building where you work, stretching at your desk-use your imagination here. The goal is to get you out of your head for a moment and into your body. Getting in touch with your physical body keeps you emotionally and physically in balance. You’d be surprised at how easy it is to increase your physical flexibility and release aches and pains using this method.

Spirit-Anything that gives you a sense of connectedness to something greater than yourself is a spiritual event. This can be from a formal religious practice or from whatever spiritual discipline thatsunset works for you. Brief moments of prayer, contemplation, or meditation relax the mind, calm the spirit, and give us a sense that everything is going to be okay. Breathing exercises are a great way to connect to the physical world and give us a feeling of groundedness. Emptying your mind and turning your troubles over to something greater than yourself can be a huge relief and tends to make our problems seem less significant.

If you are an early riser watching a sunrise might do the trick. Of course, sunsets work just as well for you night people.

Seek out times during your day where you can implement this rule of three. Of course, if you find yourself having a hard time confining these beneficial activities to three, then so much the better. Using the combination of mind and body to your advantage can create a more balanced, rewarding, and satisfying life.

We only have so much energy, so let’s use it wisely!

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“Drop and Give Me 20!”

“Are you quitting on me private? Then go ahead and quit! You slimy looking piece of @*&+!”-Sgt. Hartmann

If you’ve been in the military, participated in athletics, or been pushed by a hard driving boss, you’ve probably wondered what all the yelling and screaming was about. What’s the purpose of making someone so anxious that they can barely function? Wouldn’t it have been easier to coax and encourage us to do bigger and better things? Well, in many cases, and with many activities the answer is no. There are some solid psychological principles behind the nasty language of both Sgt. and coach, and their words made you better.

The reason for this is a behavioral principle which is called state dependent learning, a phenomenon where the retrieval of a memory or a learned behavior is more effectively recall when the subject is in the same state of emotion and consciousness as when the learning first occurred. In more simpler terms this means that you will perform best if you can duplicate the emotional state that you will be in during competition while practicing. For example, if crowds make you anxious and are distracting then you must create anxiety and distraction in practice. If it is difficult for you to function in competition because of a large number of tasks you must perform then it makes sense to try to overwhelm you during your training. If you can function well in training, stay focused on the task at hand, then you are far more likely to perform well during and intense competition.

In many martial arts there is a saying, “You’ll fight the way you train.” Many stories are out there in the martial arts world about high ranking students who were beaten badly in street fights by untrained opponents. As a 25 year practitioner of Uechi Ryu karate do, I’ve often wondered why this is. How could this happen? The answer lies within state dependent learning. These practitioners practiced diligently and rigorously but they did not duplicate the intense emotional state all of street combat. Their training was not defective, but their state of mind was because they never had duplicated in the dojo the intense fear, and confusion of an actual attack. Understanding state dependent learning could have prevented these outcomes.

There is a reason that successful athletic coaches, drill sergeants, hard driving CEOs, and driven bosses get good results. Those who they motivate are learning to practice in the same emotional state that they will be in when it really counts. They will develop a type of distress tolerance that allows them to accept their fear, anxiety, and self-doubt and do what needs to be done anyway. Yes, there are people who have no fear, no anxieties, and rarely if ever a doubt themselves. These people are not the norm, they tend to be personality disordered, or even sociopathic! The rest of us mortals have to figure out how to bring out our best when it truly counts in athletic competition or in the competition of life.

Understanding state dependent learning is the key to enhancing performance. We need a certain level of performance anxiety in order to function at our best. Too much performance anxiety leads to an inability to function. Progressively increasing anxiety and learning to accept and control it, is the critical element that brings out the best in those who succeed.

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable in your practice of any skill that you will need to use in a pressure situation. Push yourself while developing these skills, and learn to welcome the words and criticisms of those that push you. When it’s time to perform you will be better for it. Don’t take it personal, see it for what it is, an opportunity to improve.

“Fear is your best friend or your worst enemy. It’s like fire. If you can control it, it can cook for you; it can heat your house. If you can’t control it, it will burn everything around you and destroy you. If you can control your fear, it makes you more alert, like a deer coming across the lawn.”- Mike Tyson

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The Mind As Muscle Connection

“What does not destroy me, makes me stronger.” Nietzsche

People who exercise, especially those who have trained with weights, often hear of what is referred to peteas the “mind muscle connection,” and “muscle memory.” Both terms refer to how the mind and body are linked during exercise. The mind muscle connection refers to using thought to increase the effect of an exercise during the workout. Muscle memory, on the other hand, refers to physical skills that have not been used for a while returning quickly when a person returns to the original sport or exercise. Muscle and athletic skill are built through a constant Yin Yang experience of breakdown and recovery. It is during these periods of recovery that muscles get stronger, and athletic skills improve.

Recent studies of the human brain imply that the human mind is not much different. Our minds, and therefore our brains, are constantly being tested by the demands of life in the same way that our muscles are tested through exercise and sport. Most of us have had events happen to us that we thought we would never get over – the death of a loved one, a heart wrenching breakup, debilitating injuries, and painful events that life throws at us are all good examples. If we reflect back, we realized that the world didn’t end, and we moved on. Some painful life events can never be forgotten, and probably shouldn’t be. The death of someone we care about will, and probably should be, always painful. We do, however, find things that allow us to have joy in our lives once again.

Dan Gilbert, author of “Stumbling on Happiness,” has studied human resiliency and the capacity we all have to regain sources of happiness after catastrophic life events. He found that “Human beings have this marvelous adaptation that they can actually have experiences in their heads before they try them out in real life. This is a trick that none of our ancestors could do, and that no other animal can do quite like we can.” He found that we also have a similar ability to process things in our head after real life events. It is in this after the event processing that the mind shows its resiliency and recuperative ability. Gilbert calls this process a “psychological immune system,” where a person has the ability to rebound from painful events and become happy again, often to a degree that they did not have previously. Gilbert’s study included disgraced politicians, bankrupt millionaires, falsely convicted prisoners, and people who narrowly missed out on great life opportunities.

An example of somebody who “almost made it big,” was Pete Best, the original drummer of the Beatles. Best was abruptly bounced from the band when he was replaced by Ringo Starr during a bestEuropean tour. Best went on to a career as a studio drummer while Ringo Starr went on to become, well, Ringo Starr. In a 1994 interview Best had this to say about these events: “I’m happier than I would have been with the Beatles.”

Gilbert acknowledges that human logic creates defense mechanisms as part of this psychological immune system that we have and that it does not happen automatically or even easily. But it does happen. And, it feels as real as any other kind of happiness. It occurs over time due to the human capacity to process and make sense of catastrophic events. It is the making sense of aspect that is the key to happiness. Much like exercise there is the stress, rest and adaptation, and stronger person that emerges.

If you take a moment to examine your own life you will find events that you thought you’d never get komesover. Some of these traumatic events are virtually entirely forgotten. “What was that girl’s name that broke up with me in high school?” is an example. Other events need to be processed, made spiritual sense of, and will never entirely go away. People make sense of such losses by finding something positive to take from the event and pay it forward. The Susan B.Komen Walk for a Cure, fundraisers running the Boston Marathon for the bomb victims, and those that create memorials for loved ones who have passed away, are great examples of people making spiritual sense from events that will permanently leave their mark.

The mind as muscle analogy applies to all events where the human spirit is tested, both large and small. Our mind is truly a “muscle,” with the capacity to grow from whatever life throws at it.

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”-Victor Frankl

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Find Your Flow

waterfallsHave you ever been so involved in an activity that time seemed to stand still? You know, those seemingly perfect moments where you were immersed fully in an enjoyable activity and felt energized and “in the zone ?” Such moments are fleeting, but most of us have experienced them. These seemingly perfect moments are like trying to grasp water. We all have had them, but most of us don’t know how to create them.

Such moments are referred to by Positive Psychology as “flow states.” They have been examined quite extensively by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, one of the best-known influences in the field of positive psychology. Csíkszentmihályi identified the concept of flow states while studying factors that create human happiness. His initial studies surprised him when he found that there was no positive correlation between wealth and happiness. He became curious about what made people happy. He found that people who were happy routinely engaged in activities that made profound positive changes in brain chemistry and led to states of ecstasy. These ecstatic states occurred in everyday life, sometimes planned, and sometimes part of the persons every day routine. He called these states “flow states” because at those moments a person feels to be outside of themselves, watching things happen, simply allowing things to “flow.”

According to Csikszentmihalyi, flow is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate experience in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. The key component of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, deep focus on the activity, and a loss of self-awareness. At that moment nothing is important or noticed except the activity, not even one’s self or one’s emotions.

Csikszentmihalyi says that there are seven key components to being in a flow state:
1. Complete involvement in the activity, focused and concentrated
2. A sense of complete ecstasy, being outside every day reality
3. Inner clarity, knowing what we are doing and what needs to be doneartist
4. Knowing the activity is doable, that our skills are adequate for the task
5. A sense of serenity, there are no fears for the self. Ego is suspended
6. Timelessness, hours passed like minutes, full focus and attention is on the present
7. Intrinsic motivation, the activity that produces flow becomes its own reward

Csikszentmihalyi studied thousands of people who were able to attain flow. They ranged from adrenaline junkies who base jump, to surfers, extreme athletes, Buddhist monks, CEOs, video gamers, housewives, and every day people. Virtually everybody has activities that have the capacity to put them into flow states. His findings were that people who are happiest are those that get into flow state more frequently. The greater amount of flow in their life, the greater their sense of happiness. Money, power, and fame, Csikszentmihalyi feels, have little to do with true happiness.

Most positive psychologists,Csikszentmihalyi included, believe that we have certain setpoints for positivity. These tend to be biological, that is we are born with a tendency to reach a certain degree of happiness.Csikszentmihalyi believes that tapping into flow more regularly increases the setpoint and it elevates our quality of life.

Csikszentmihalyi admits that it is easy to recognize flow in athletics. Athletes are the easiest people to convince of the existence and benefits of flow, particularly those that are intrinsically motivated. Extreme athletes such as mountain climbers, skateboarders, and combat athletes are used to pushing the envelope regularly in getting into a state of flow. “Flow hackers,” as some call them tend to be intrinsically motivated. They have a need to get into flow state and could care less if they have an audience or get paid for it. Flow becomes the reward in itself. Video games also produce flow states for some. Again, flow becomes the reward.

At this point you may be asking yourself how you can attain a flow state.Csikszentmihalyi is adamant Tonythat all of us have activities that could create this. Think about it for a moment, what activities give you joy? Music, art, photography, cooking, there has to be something. It may even be something spiritual or related to your job. We all have something that can put us in a state of flow. Next time you have that feeling of being “in the zone’ take notice. That could be a feeling you can create more frequently.

Find what puts you in the zone and try to get there as often as possible. Csikszentmihalyi’s research indicates that this is a bigger factor in your state of happiness than money, or perhaps anything else. Find your flow and go with it!

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“Just Win Baby!”

“Americans love a winner. Americans will not tolerate a loser. Americans despise cowards. Americans pattonplay to win all of the time.”- George S. Patton

Americans truly are fascinated with winners, whether it be the Super Bowl, World Series, Presidential election, who got voted off the island, or which Stars dance better with which. We use the terms win and winners constantly in business, education, and life in general. One of the best compliments we can make about someone is that he or she is a “winner.” It would seem that General Patton was right, Americans do seem to love our winners, and we have little tolerance for losers.

If you grew up playing sports, especially team sports, you are probably quite familiar with the life as a sport metaphor. Metaphors are great therapeutic tools that are quite useful in the counseling room. In the hands of a skilled counselor or coach a metaphor can be magical. These tend to be the things that you remember forever. Even now, 40+ years later, I can recall my high school football coach, Hugo “Scooch” Giargiari, making the comparison, “The game of football is like the game of life.” Or even a college teammate, Ron Reardon, who reminded us all at the end of practice that “If you cheat in sprints, you cheat in life.” These are the kind of experiences that are hard to forget due to the combination of physical, mental, and emotional connections that occur at those moments in time. Metaphors are powerful.

In my coaching and counseling practice I also like to use acronyms. Acronyms tend to be simple, easily remembered, and therefore readily available when needed. One of my favorite acronyms is W. I. N. This acronym means what’s important now, who’s important now, and why important now. It is a problem-solving, and crisis management tool for those moments when our brain is overloaded, we are not sure what to do next, and we are at risk for analysis paralysis.

Let’s look at a few ways that the W. I. N. Strategy can be used:
What’s Important Now ?-This coping strategy has infinite applications. It can be useful for creating To Do lists, bill paying, handling emergencies, or virtually any situation where your mind is overloaded. A quick question that you ask yourself, “What’s important now?” followed by a quick breath is often enough to get you started. It is a way of prioritizing from most important to least important and it tends to get you moving and thinking in a problem-solving frame of mind. For most situations you won’t be facing life or death decisions. It could be something as simply as a messy desk, which call to make first, or whether or not you pay your electric or cable bill first. The goal of What’s Important Now is to get you doing something in turn you from a spectator to a participant in the current situation.
Who’s Important Now ?-This strategy is useful for when we need to listen to or attend to the needs of others. It’s that skill that politicians often have where they have the ability to make people they come in contact with feel important and heard. Some uses of this strategy are obvious. For example, if you return home at the end of a workday and your wife wants to vent, then it that moment she is the most important person in the world, or at least you should make her feel that way. If you work in sales, or speak on the phone to customers or clients, then the people you are in contact with are the most important people at that particular moment. Taken to in extreme, the cashier and bag person at theguy win supermarket will briefly be the most important person when you are checking out. This skill simply means to pay attention to people in your life and people you come into contact with.

Why Important Now ?-This strategy can be used spontaneously, in the moment, or as a tool for long-term planning. It can be helpful to ask yourself questions about why you are doing something. For example, if you are trying to drop a few pounds you may want to consider why it is important to opt for the Caesar Salad instead of the double cheeseburger. Why is it important to select the salad when that menu is staring you in the face? Another example is adhering to a financial plan. Why is it important now to save money for retirement, or the kids education? Why Important Now is a strategy that allows you to think it through for event’s that are likely to happen in the future. Knowing why something is important, or why you are doing something, creates a sense of clarity and purpose and makes it more likely that you will follow through.

maddenW. I. N. is a simple strategy, easy to remember, and simple to practice. It is a cognitive behavioral strategy that should be practiced often and in the moment to create better crisis management and problem solving skills. Use it often, and be sure to notice the positive outcomes.

“Just W. I. N. Baby!”-Al Davis

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My Boss, My Trainer

Wouldn’t it be great to have your own personal trainer and life coach available to you whenever you needed a little motivation? Imagine having a highly motivated, encouraging and inspiring trainer that could get you out the door consistently, give you structure and discipline, and teach you life lessons better than a Buddhist monk? Well, I’ve had one for the past 3 1/2 years. He’s relatively inexpensive, and you can have one too.

BossGoing to let you in on another mindbody secret. My trainer is my dog! Yeah, you’ve read that right, my 3 1/2-year-old boxer named Boss.

Much has been studied and written about the positive impact of pet ownership. Most of the literature describes the emotional benefits of owning a pet. Any pet will do as long as the owner feels a positive emotional connection to their pet. Remember Bill Murray’s pet fish Gill in the movie “What About Bob?” Then you get the idea, the emotional connection is beneficial, health producing, and gives life some purpose. I am partial to dogs, with all due respect to cat people, for reasons I’ll get into in a moment.

I bought Boss over three years ago after our youngest had turned 18. Although we had two shih tzus at the time, they really weren’t what I was looking for in my definition of a companion. With no sons at home to tagalong as my boys did I was kind a lost. We decided to get another larger dog and decided on a boxer. If you are a dog person then you know that dogs of different breeds have different temperaments and energy levels. Boxers are on the high-end of the energy level spectrum. Lots of attention and lots of energy are required.

Boss is the sixth dog that my family has had so I am pretty aware of what it takes to train a dog. Virtually every dog person I know is familiar with Cesar Millan, TVs “Dog Whisperer.” His methods are somewhat controversial in the dog training world, but it is hard to dispute hismillan ability to understand and communicate with the most difficult canines. He believes that all dogs have three basic needs to behave well-exercise, discipline, and affection. These three needs must be satisfied daily, and in that order of priority, for your dog to be in what Milan calls a “balanced state.” Over the past 3 1/2 years I’ve noticed how working to create balance for my dog has benefited me.

How does a dog function as a personal trainer and life coach? In looking at Milan’s three canine needs we can arrive at a better understanding.
Exercise-Depending on the breed your best buddy will require a little or a lot of exercise. If you are considering a dog, research the exercise needs of the breed you choose. If you are high energy like I am, then a breed like a boxer, retriever, or terrier might fit the bill. Think about how you will exercise with your dog. Not exercise your dog, exercise with your dog. This is key if you are going to use your dog as your trainer. Do you enjoy long walks, running, or biking? Figure out the exercise that you want to do and select a breed that can keep up. Even if your version of exercise is getting outside and strolling a few hundred yards two to three times a day there is a dog out there that would be perfect.

Boss gets me out the door seven days a week, 365. He sprints next to me as I pedal my bike as fast as I can for 2 to 2 1/2 miles most days. I pay attention to feedback he gives me. I do other kinds of workouts as well, so I consider our bike work his work out not mine. Chasing squirrels is an added bonus.

Discipline-Dogs create discipline as a well-trained dog has a definite routine that it must adhere to. Developing this routine is your job. As you train your dog, your dog is also training you! Since you are doing these things together you are becoming training partners whether you are aware of it or not. Your best friend provides a framework for your day, first thing in the morning and the last thing before bed.

Training a dog is an exercise in patience and self discipline. It takes approximately 3 years or so to get your dog where you need him to be. Many people fall in love with a cute puppy, not realizing that within one year that puppy will become an energetic dog. In purchasing a dog you must realize you are committing to 8 to 12 years of a routine. Keep in mind the routine is just as good for you, if not even better, than it is for your dog. The first year of your dog’s life will be an exercise in patience for you. It can be a great learning experience if you focus on the benefits you are receiving as well as the progress your dog is making.

Affection-Not many people in our lives love us unconditionally. We say that to significant others and our children, but do we really? Dogs that we have connected to are fiercely loyal and are capable of unconditional love. If we have properly trained our dogs they can’t help but love us unconditionally, they simply don’t know any better. They are great listeners, rarely talk back, and are incapable of holding a grudge. They have the ability to teach empathy in a way that humans cannot teach it. Many correctional facilities use dog training as a way to instill discipline and empathy in hard-core inmates. There’s something about the human –  canine interaction that is hard to duplicate.

Boss is a tremendous listener. Boxers are known for being people pleasers. As intelligence goesboss attentive they rate below the border collies, the German shepherds, and many other working breeds. They are, however, very focused on their owner and truly want to understand what you are trying to say. I sometimes find it frustrating when I get home from work and my wife is engrossed in conversation with Boss. I usually have to wait my turn and when he is done cocking his head as some dogs are known to do, it’s my turn.

A dog is the ultimate mindbody personal trainer. A dog can provide you with exercise, teach you discipline, and allow you to give and receive affection. If you find yourself lacking in any boss carone of these three areas of your life, then consider getting your own live in personal mindbody coach. You will not regret it!

And, higher-priced trainers would never ride around with you in your truck with their head hanging out the window!

P. S. Contact me at john@mindbodycoach.org if you are interested in mindbody coaching. Like me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter

The Best State To Live In

The Best State to Live In.

This statement or some variation off it, appears on my Internet home page at least once a happyweek. The associated article usually explains or lists a number of states that are best for things like retiring, making money, healthcare, and quality of life. Of course the lists are very subjective and are subject to change from year to year. State, if looked up in the dictionary, can also apply to how individuals feel internally. Many psychologists and personal development authors talk about the power of state, meaning the internal state, psychologically and physically, that a person is in at a given time. Regardless of where we are geographically, this is the state that we are all living in.

State, in this context, is the sum total of our general experience. We are constantly switching our awareness from things outside us to our internal interpretation. How well we perform, how well we feel, and how successful we are all depend upon what goes on internally. We respond well to the external world when we are in a positive up beat mood, are feeling physically on top of our game, and in a state of flow. We’ve all experienced those days when we are “in the zone, clicking on all cylinders, and simply crushing it.” When we have those experiences we have great days. This is the best state for us to live in.

How can we create this “best state” on a more regular basis? State, as we are defining it here is the sum total of your internal perceptions. This includes physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Some ways to change these states are:

Mental states can be changed by changing your focus and your thinking. What are you paying attention to? What is the internal dialogue that you are having? What are you saying to yourself about situations? Some simple activities could change this negative thinking. runnerStrategies such as listing 10 things that you are grateful for, what jokes you find funny, music that creates empowering mood states, positive people that you can reach out to in person on the phone, all these have the power to change your mood pretty quickly. Anything that can cause you to feel more positive mentally is worth using. Manilow or Metallica it makes no difference. Whatever empowers you, and makes you feel powerful, is what you should listen to.

Physical states can be changed by action. Exercise has the ability to improve mood both during the activity and for a period of time after. Breaking up brief periods of exercise can keep you in a more positive state all day long. We’re not talking deadlifts or hitting the heavy bag here, stairsalthough we could be, we’re talking anything that gets the blood flowing. Brief stretching in the morning along with some breathing exercises, parking a little farther away in the parking lot, walking the stairs instead of taking the elevator and other brief periods of activity interspersed during the day can make a big difference. Paying attention to your posture can also make a big difference. The way you sit, stand, and walk can contribute to more powerful physical states that you can carry throughout the day. Use the search box on this blog for more ideas.

Emotional states can be created by getting excited about your life. By focusing on your sense of connectedness to family, friends, and significant others, you are creating a more empowering state. Comparisons to others can also help. Focusing what you have, and being truly grateful, creates powerful and positive emotions.

prayerSpiritual states can be created through activities such as prayer, meditation, and connecting to nature. Getting outside if weather permits is a great way to reconnect with spiritual feelings. Anything that connects you to things outside of, and greater than yourself can create a more powerful state.

The key to manipulating your state is to list activities, people, places, things etc. that make you feel good. These feel good things, however, must be things you can generate internally. Drugs alcohol, and chocolate don’t count! Do these things consistently to make them habits.

The categories section of this blog can link you to numerous articles, suggestions, and how to advice that can help you change your state. Self study and a willingness to experiment is all it takes. Have fun with these activities.

Maybe it’s time to move to a new state?

P. S. Contact me if interested about mindbody coaching at john@mindbodycoach.org. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter for more information.

“Don’t Look Down!”

“Don’t look down!”
If you’ve been involved in athletics in any sport at almost any level you’ve probably been told this. It is a kinesthetic principle that where we look tends to be where we go. “Keep your head tight ropeup!” is a reminder to maintain balance, stay focused, and to keep from keeling over. As a former athlete and coach, I’ve heard and said this thousands of times and witnessed what happens when one looks down. As a psychotherapist, counselor, and coach over the last 20 years I’ve seen hundreds of instances where the same advice can be applied to life challenges that my clients face.

What we focus on tends to be where we end up. The things that we most fear is likely to happen because we attend to it. When the fear becomes real in our minds it soon becomes real in actuality. It certainly happens much quicker in athletic events, but it is inevitable in real life, even if it doesn’t happen as quickly.

There’s a great story that I heard a number of years ago that I have repeated to clients countless times since. I recently looked up this story on the Internet and couldn’t find it. The story is, however, such a powerful illustration of  focus that I will continue to tell it even if I find that it is false. The story is something that New York Giants football coach Bill Parcells told his team prior to their first Super Bowl victory in 1987. If you’re not familiar with him, Parcells is a Hall of Fame coach and one of the great motivators in the game’s history. On the first day of practice Super Bowl week, Parcells brought his team to the middle of the practice field, had them all take a knee, and told them how important it was for them to stay focused that week. He told them that the best team doesn’t always win, but the most focused team parcellsusually does. He then had his assistant coaches bring out a balance beam and place it in the middle of the field. The balance beam was the kind used in women’s gymnastics, approximately 5 inches wide. The beam was set at its lowest level, a foot and a half off the ground. He then had the entire team walk across the beam in their stocking feet. They then lined up again and walked back the other way. The beam was removed from the field, and Parcells barked “Alright everybody take a knee!” He then launched into a lecture that is the take-home point of this story. “All of you had no problem with that. But what would happen if I raise that beam as high as possible? What would happen if I were to raise that beam and placed it between two buildings in downtown New York?… You know what would happen, you’d probably all fall. And you know why…? BECAUSE YOU LOOKED DOWN! YOU LOST FOCUS AND STOPPED LOOKING AT WHERE YOU ARE GOING!”

Not much more was said that day about focus. This experiential learning event made an impression on his players. They did remain focused and defeated the Denver Broncos 39 – 20 the following weekend in Super Bowl XXI. As I said before, I’m not sure even if the story is true as it is something that I remember hearing years ago. When I tell a client this story it never fails to make an impression. Their eyes usually glaze over a bit as they ponder the story, their eyes clear, usually they nod and say “Yeah, yeah…” Stories like this often become powerful vehicles of change for clients.

shot putSports Psychology has a lot of carryovers for Counseling Psychology. Perhaps no athletic principle is more applicable than “Don’t look down” and “keep your head up.” Think about this metaphor when struggling with motivation and staying on task with goals you have set for yourself.


“See what you hit, hit what you see.”-A Lot of Anonymous Coaches


P. S. Check the categories section on this page for more articles like this. Contact me at john@mindbodycoach.org if interested in mindbody coaching. Like me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter.

Creatures Of Habit

Most of us believe that we are in control of our lives and what we do. We believe that we are in possession of free will, and we are constantly making choices as we move throughout our day. habit signThis control that we exercise makes us fully functioning human beings. This control, however, is one of life’s biggest illusions.

Author Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business,” estimates that as much as 45% of all daily behaviors are merely habits. Most behaviors are parts of routines that are mindlessly performed as we go through life. Despite what we think, we are literally creatures of habit. Most habits are not damaging and serve a positive function. Others, however, can become destructive, and ingrained, and in some cases even life threatening.

Duhigg’s research was done in laboratories at the Brain and Cognitive Sciences department of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They studied the brain and how it functioned before, during, and after habit formation. Our brains instill habits through a process that Duhigg calls The Habit Loop. We respond to something in our environment, a cue, that we respond to or have an emotional response to. It is followed by a routine, or a set of behaviors that occur as a result of that cue. For this behavior we receive a reward.


For example, a cigarette smoker has a habit of smoking while talking on the phone. The phone call is the cue and the physical response, the cigarette, is the reward. Between cue and reward there are a set of behaviors such as opening the pack, taking out the cigarette, lighting the match and so on. Initially the routine takes some thought and planning. Over time the brain smokershuts down, showing less neurological activity during the routine phase of this Habit Loop. The brain literally goes on automatic pilot during the routine and a habit is formed. If the smoker does not follow the routine during a phone call, craving is experienced, and the smoker feels compelled to smoke. Craving, Duhigg explains, is the hijacking of the brain’s ability to make rational choices. To protect itself from craving the brain automatically follows the routine in pursuit of the reward.

There is a biological reason for habit formation. Going on automatic pilot allows the brain to function without becoming confused and overwhelmed. Most of our daily habits are innocuous, and in most cases necessary. Think about how easily you do things like rush your teeth, tie your shoes, drive a car, opened the door, and literally thousands of things that you do efficiently on a daily basis. All of these could be defined as habits. It is when the habits become destructive and threatening to health and well-being that they need to be changed.

Interestingly enough, Duhigg’s theory implies that once a habit is learned it can never truly be extinguished. This explains why a smoker, addict, or alcoholic can experience craving years after their last use. Once the brain becomes “hijacked” craving is always a possibility. Duhigg does believe however, that we can manipulate the Habit Loop to consciously and systematically  correct bad behaviors. If rewards are used appropriately then the habit can be brought under control.

So how do we correct bad habits? Here are a few key points:

  • identify a specific negative behavior that you intend to change.
  • What are the cues that fire off, setting the Habit Loop into motion?
  • What are the rewards? This must be very specific and detailed. Look for the underlying reward. For example, is it the cigarette, or going outside to smoke? Is it eating chocolate, or is it the change in brain chemistry that the chocolate provides? This part of habit change needs to be reviewed periodically. Remember, all behaviors, even negative ones have a positive intention. Look carefully for the positive intention behind your negative behaviors.
  • Think carefully about the routine in Duhigg’s Habit Loop. When learning new, more positive behaviors being mindful of the Routine is critical. Remember that when the routine becomes automatic a habit has developed. Like many behaviors awareness is critical. You cannot change a behavior that you do not acknowledge and recognize.

Writing this out, drawing a new Habit Loop is necessary. Don’t take shortcuts! A coach or therapist can help you with this, but with some self-motivation you can change on your own. It is, however, practically impossible to do alone if you don’t write out these details. Don’t ask why, just do it! Trust me, it works.

Habit change begins to take place at around 21 days. Virtually all habits can be corrected at around 90 days. Duhigg’s research indicates that once a habit develops it is always lurking beneath the surface, and can return if you lose your awareness. It will no longer take conscious work to keep it away, but you should be aware when you feel triggered by environmental cues and act accordingly.

We are all truly creatures of habit. An awareness of habit formation and correction can help us develop positive habits that are in line with our beliefs and lifestyle choices. Most of us have things we’d like to change so “drop ’em like a bad habit!”

P. S. Contact me at john@mindbodycoach.org if interested in mindbody coaching. Use the categories section of this page to search for more useful information. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

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