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Why “Going To The Gym” Doesn’t Work

“We first make our habits, and then our habits make us.” – John Dryden

The month of February is starting next week. How are you doing with your New Year’s resolution? You know, the one that you are going to “go to the gym” at least three times a week? If you’re like most people, you are already slacking on this. Statistically, over 80% of you are already sliding on this and will be completely over it by Valentine’s Day. What’s going on? Bought the right clothing for it, you planned it out well, or at least you thought you did. You even put the cool looking ID badge on your key ring to remind you of all the hard work you were doing. Now that ID badge is a constant reminder to you, nagging you that you are failing on a promise you made to yourself. What’s going on with you? Why can’t you “go to the gym?”

The answer lies in the reasons that you need to go to the gym in the first place. Most people decide to go to the gym were at one point in their life in pretty decent shape. They remained pretty active during high school and college, and perhaps were once quite athletic. By their early 30s jobs, careers, marriage, family, and children all came along and gradually changed their lifestyle. People find themselves trying to salvage small bits of their schedule to carve out some “me time,” where they can get in a workout. For most people, the lifestyle of trying to survive in the 21st century changes their daily habits. A person wakes up one day, looks in the mirror, and sees a large stranger staring back at them. After the initial realization that the stranger is actually them, thoughts change to, “What happened?” A person usually decides that they’re going to change and “get back to” some past physical size or capability that they had in their youth. You know, back to my weight when I got married, back to my 34 inch waist, back to my what ever. But how? How do I get it back?

The media, television, and the Internet-three indulgences that got you out of shape in the first place-eventually provides the answer. Join a gym! Simple! Three easy words, join a gym! 10 bucks a month! What could this possibly go wrong with this? Some of these gyms even guarantee that you will not feel embarrassed being there, promising that no one is going to judge you, there will be no muscled out bodybuilders juiced out of their minds actually working hard. You can go there, listen to a little pop music, putter around on a few shiny machines, and even attend their pizza night on Fridays. Within six weeks you look fantastic, all your friends will be telling you how great you look, and life will be puppies and rainbows.

So what goes wrong? What goes wrong is your willpower and habits need to be built up before you begin to work on your body. You’ve gotten out of shape because of a lifestyle that you developed because you have responsibilities. This fast-paced lifestyle that probably includes job and family stress that’s led to high levels of cortisol, eating on-the-fly when you get a chance, not enough time, and eventually too much on your plate. Literally and figuratively, too much on your plate. You’re too busy, eating a little too much of what ever is available when you’re hungry, and not moving enough during your day.

“You’ve decided to change, but nothing else has. Whatever got you here in the first place is still out there.”- Original quote from the author

The problem with this logic is that the reason you got out of shape in the first place is that your lifestyle changed your habits. Modern life is a Chinese water torture, slowly but surely dripping, dripping, eroding willpower and motivation. Going to the gym without building motivation first is the biggest mistake, setting you up for inevitable failure. The second mistake is announcing it to everyone. “I’m going to go to the gym, get back in shape.” Everyone knows it, and you emphasize it by putting that fashionable ID badge on your key ring. Within a couple of months it serves as a nagging reminder that you are fooling yourself. Eventually, you even stop looking at yourself in the mirror, stop stepping on the scale, and start feeling bad about yourself… again. You start believing that you’re lazy. In all reality, you wouldn’t be if you had the time to work out. You don’t! At least not in the traditional way of “going to the gym.” You have more important things in your life, or so you think… Telling yourself that you are going to “go to the gym” a regular basis is unrealistic in a setup for failure.

The solution? A little reality check. You can find the time. In fact, despite what you think, we all have the same amount of time-24 hours each day. How do you learn to utilize your time in a way that allows you to stay fit? Here are some practical, but not very sexy, suggestions:

⦁ Start by building up your motivation! It’s not that you don’t want to be in shape, you’ve lost your drive, motivation and willpower. Start by building this back first. The way to do this is with small, and I mean really small, bouts of exercise, 10 minutes or less, one to two times per day. It needs to be simple. Things like a 10 minutes stretching routine in the morning, parking your car a few blocks away from your job and walking, skipping the elevator for the stairs, or walking your dog after work, are good examples. No excuses! If the weather is unfavorable, then do 10 crunches and 10 push-ups on the floor. Write these down in a notebook! This is very important. It may seem trivial, but trust me, it’s not. You have to write this down with the date in what you did for those 10 minutes. Do not do any more than this for the first month! The goal for this month is to gradually get you used to moving again as pain-free as possible. If you go to a gym, your enthusiasm will take over in a way that your body cannot accommodate. You’ll get sore muscles, sore joints, pain, and will feel rundown. Nothing kills motivation faster.
⦁ Do not buy any equipment that you don’t already own! Nothing is a bigger reminder of your lack of motivation than a dusty exercise bike in your basement, or some $1500 exercise machine that you used for a few weeks. Remember, you’re building motivation first, and slowly. If you do have exercise equipment do not do a long routine of any type. 10 minutes periods of time only! If you feel enthusiastic indulge yourself with a second 5 minute period of time only if at least eight hours are between episodes. And, stick with this for a full month.
⦁ Not having any equipment to use is not an excuse. Start by using your body weight and learn how to move again. Equipment, although great, tends to put strain on the joints more so than body weight exercises. Pain is the killer of motivation, remember that.
⦁ Do not join a gym or spend any money on your exercise routine for at least 30 days! Work is probably one of the reasons you haven’t had the time to exercise over the years. Wasted money on trying to get fit is a nagging reminder that you are lazy, unmotivated, and out of shape. Before you spend a dime on your exercise program, be sure that you can stick to a routine for at least 30 days.
⦁ After 30 days you may begin to ramp up your exercise routine to approximately 30 minutes per day. This 30 minutes may be done consecutively or it can be broken down into two, 15 minute sessions. Again, it is imperative that this is recorded in your notebook with the date, the length of time, and what you did for exercise. Even though you made it through the first month or so, Do not go to the gym! The reason is you run the risk of sabotaging your exercise routine by the commitment of time it will take to get there, work out, shower and change, and return to your real life.
⦁ After 90 days of exercise, you’re on your own! Feel free to amp up your daily routine to as much as you want. If you want to buy home equipment, then do so. Whatever you do for a daily routine, just make sure it fits your schedule. Never drastically alter your schedule for your exercise routine! Remember, the reason you stopped exercising in the first place was because of your schedule. Make your routine fit your schedule by working out in the morning before your day starts, doing something during your lunch break at work, closing your office door for some push-ups, crunches, or stretching, doing an exercise tape every afternoon when you get home, walking your dog twice a day, etc. Your routine needs to be as natural as brushing your teeth or taking a shower. Getting in the car, driving to a commercial gym, changing into some fashionable clothing, working out in a warehouse under the scrutiny of others on shiny machines, showering, and returning to your real-world is not natural, at least not for you. There are select few who are wired to thrive at a commercial gym. You are not one of them! If you were, you’d never would have gotten out of shape in the first place. Don’t fool yourself! Do not go to the gym!

Following these suggestions will allow you to develop internal reasons for exercise. You can learn to enjoy exercise in and of itself, rather than for the external reasons where you are rewarded by what others think of you. The activity itself needs to be your reward. You need to consider it as being equally beneficial to your mental health as it is to your physical health. Once you start connecting the mind benefits with the body benefits, your hooked.

Just remember these simple rules:

⦁ At least three substantial workouts a week
⦁ Never go more than three days without some kind of workout.
⦁ A brief workout is better than no workout.
⦁ Do something daily, even if it is a few minutes of stretching on your “off” day. Mowing the lawn, shoveling snow, and physical projects around the house all count as a workout.
⦁ Balance cardiovascular workouts with resistance work such as weights, body weight exercises, or resistance bands.
⦁ Don’t Diet! Just be sure to cut down on sugar, simple carbohydrates, and allow yourself sugary, sweet, desserts around one time per week.

Following these principles sets yourself up for success rather than failure. Build back the motivation you once had and remember how much fun it was to feel fit and move.

“And now you gotta get it back, and the way to get it back is to go back to the beginning. You know what I mean? “- Apollo Creed


P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

The Dickens Technique: Lessons From Ebenezer Scrooge

“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”
“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.” – Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

It is Christmas week, and many of us will be watching some tried-and-true classic Christmas movies. Perhaps the most notable of all Christmas stories is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, first published in London in 1843. The novel met with instant success, and the story has been told, retold, modified, and adapt into hundreds of plays and movies. It tells the story of a bitter old miser named Ebenezer Scrooge, who has a Christmas Eve epiphany about his own role in creating his miserable life. He is visited by three spirits who show him his past, giving him insight into how he became such a miserable bastard, his present life in all its misery, and his future if he remains the same and doesn’t change anything about himself. Of course, we all know how the story ends, he wakes the next morning and exclaims, “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!” He lives up to his promise, and lives out the rest of his days as a happy and generous philanthropist, loved and revered by all.

Wouldn’t it be great if change were that simple? Is it possible that anyone can change their life so drastically, dramatically, and permanently, practically overnight? While it’s not quite that simple, it’s also not that complicated either. It is possible that dramatic change can be attained using a technique from neurolinguistic programming called The Dickens Technique.

The strategy, while simple, is highly effective and is based on a lot of proven strategies for therapeutic change and personal growth. It must be done exactly as outlined here. It must be written down! Not entered into your iPad iPhone, it must be written down! There is a neurological reason for this. The act of writing something out, in your own handwriting and on paper, makes it effective and transformative. The process of thinking about change, writing it out, and periodically reviewing it, creates new neurological pathways in the brain. These pathways will lead to new behaviors and, over time, permanent change.

Here’s how it’s done:
The first step is to sit down with a notebook and visit the Ghost of Christmas Past. Choose a part of your life you are not happy with, for example your fitness level, diet, relationship status, income, job, etc. Write out as many of your core beliefs about that subject as possible. Start with yourself, asking yourself the question “Who am I?” Begin with the words, I am… and write out as many answers as you can until you pretty much exhausted all the things that you see yourself as being that relate to the are you want to change. Don’t think, write quickly and impulsively. You can sort it through later.

Next write “I believe… Write out as many of your beliefs as possible about whatever you would like to change. For example, if you wanted to change your body and fitness level, would write about what you believe about your body, ability to exercise, ability to endure physical discomfort from various types of exercise, ability to adhere to a healthy diet, and ability to stick to a exercise consistently.

If you wanted to change your beliefs about money, you would write about your current attitudes towards wealth. If you start with “money is the root of all evil,” you probably can see why you haven’t any. If you don’t have any, you’ll want to write out the excuses that you tell yourself are the reasons that you don’t have any. Write has many as you can without analyzing or filtering what you are writing. Write nonjudgmentally, in a stream of consciousness manner.

If you want to change your relationship status, start with your beliefs about the gender that you want to connect with. “Men are all pigs, women are all after your money, there are no good men out there,” etc. are all thoughts that set you up for failure.

The next step is to visit the Ghost of Christmas Present. Taking inventory of where you are currently with regard to the area you would like to change. For example, if you grew up associating certain foods with physical comfort, you can probably see that the BMI that you have of 32 is probably associated with those kinds of foods. If you think that all men or women are “losers”or that there just “isn’t anybody out there for me,” then you probably can see why you’re alone. If you believe that, “I just can’t save any money,” then of course you don’t have any. Really get in touch with the emotions and the pain that you currently feel about the area that you want to change. Pain, as most of us intuitively know, can be a great motivator and teacher. Although this is the hardest part of the Dickens Technique, it is very important to really dial in this emotion and lean into the associated pain.

The final step in the process is to visit the most feared ghost of all, the Ghost of Christmas Future. There is, however, a twist in the story here. Vividly envision the improvements in your designated area of life that will occur if you make some changes. Ask yourself, “If I can change my beliefs, truly change what I believe, where will I be in three months, six months, one year, three years, five years, etc.?” See yourself in your mind’s eye having the fitness level you want, the bank account you desire, or in a relationship with the kind of person that you know that you want and deserve. This visualization is an incredibly important part of the process, enabling you to “practice” what it will feel like when, not if, you attain these goals. When a person truly believes that change is possible, self efficacy is created, and goal attainment becomes more likely because they have convinced their mind, body, and spirit, that it is possible because they have seen it, and felt it, they accept that it can not only happen, but will happen if they create an action plan to get there. All change must start with the belief and conviction that it is possible. That’s the most important factor in the Dickens Technique.

Once you establish a firm conviction that this change is possible, you are well on your way towards getting there. Unlike Ebenezer Scrooge however, you must revisit this written exercise often, even daily in the early phases of your process. This exercise, written out in your own handwriting, becomes a call for action. You will become your own motivator. It’s important to visit the Ghost of Christmas Future as often as possible in order to change your perceptions of your capabilities. Practice visualization, use your imagination, see and feel the changes that you are creating. All success comes with belief in yourself. Set aside time each day to reinforce your new beliefs and get acquainted with your future self.

This brief and effective strategy follows the steps that are part of all therapeautic change. Don’t dismiss their power and effectiveness. Give yourself the Christmas gift of positive change!

“Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead, but if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.” -Ebenezer Scrooge

Merry Christmas to you and your tribe!


P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

The Five Minute Procrastination Cure

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way” – Marcus Aurelius

The world of self-help, coaching, and counseling is fraught with nonsense, gibberish, Confusedand analysis paralysis. Many on both sides of the couch assume that if one only knows why something is the way it is, then he will be miraculously resolved, worked through, and disappear. Problem solved due to insight. While sometimes insight and analysis can lead to change, it may just be a little bit more simple than. Sometimes action is required before one figures out why. Asking how is sometimes better than asking why.

Everyone, whether they engage in counseling or coaching or not, has feelings and behaviors that they wish to change. Each of us has something in our human experience that we wish was different. Sometimes they are major things, sometimes minor. Regardless of the size of the problem, the initial reaction tends to be stagnation, procrastination, and a feeling of stuckness. We all know that feeling, it’s as normal for a human being as breathing. The feeling is often accompanied by internal dialogue that says things like if only, I’m going to, I will soon, and some day. Often time passes, nothing changes, and someday never comes. This action can lead a person to feel incompetent, powerless, and stuck.

The answer is obvious: “Just Do It!” We all know this and have known well before Nike made it an ad campaign slogan in 1988. Duh! Why is it that so many of us don’t take the initiative and act upon this simple advice?

The reason is simple, you are waiting to feel inspired, and then you will act. Most humans believe that feelings are facts. We live in a world of parallel experiences, the outside, external world that we live in, and our own internal world of subjective feelings and emotions. We believe that our feelings and emotions are reality, after all they are the way that we interpret and negotiate with the outside world. Sometimes, however, we get caught up in our internal experience and allow that to dictate how we negotiate our environment. Procrastination often comes because of something internal, a feeling state, where we are waiting for inspiration to take action.

Behavioral scientists have an answer to this root cause of procrastination and inaction. Feelings often follow behavior. In other words, if you do something your feelings about that thing will begin to change. Your behavior creates the inspiration required to get a task done, to make a change, and to be productive. Your internal reality changes because you’ve done something, tangible proof that you can accomplish a task.

Not exactly rocket science here. Your entire life you’ve done this without noticing it. For example, as a child, you learned literally thousands of extremely complicated things because you took action, just did them, and didn’t think about it. We forget about how difficult it was to tie your shoes, learn to read a clock, write your name, (remember cursive writing?) read a book, throw a ball, etc. As a result, we also forget the intense pride, joy, and feeling of competence from accomplishing something that once appeared impossible.

The answer is simple, Just Do It! Before you say, “Yeah, right,” here’s a way to break it down using what is called the Five Minute Solution:

Pick that task that you have been putting off doing. You know the one, it’s been nagging you for weeks. On one level you know it’s simple, but you just can’t bring yourself to do it. Yeah, that’s the one.
Set aside five minutes. Five minutes, no more and no less. In fact, set an alarm on your watch or phone to make sure that you dedicate exactly five minutes to the task.
past dueStart. You can do any aspect of the task as long as it is toward the ultimate goal that you know you need to accomplish. For example, if you’ve been putting off your tax returns then spend five minutes gathering your W-2’s. If that takes less than five minutes then continue on to the next task, calling an accountant, tax preparer, or choose an online software program. If it’s paying bills, then gather the bills, lay out the statements on a table, get your checkbook ready, and begin. You get the idea.
Stop when the alarm goes off. This is where it gets interesting. Because you are only allowed five minutes, you’ll notice how frustrated you are when the alarm goes off because the rule is you have to stop at five minutes. That frustration is a feeling. Stop anyway. This has a paradoxical impact on your emotions. You find yourself frustrated that you can’t continue with a task that you dreaded starting in the first place.
Don’t hesitate or overthink during that five minutes. All thoughts, efforts, and behaviors during that five minutes should be dedicated toward accomplishing the tasks at hand. Stay focused on what you need to do next, then next, and then next, until that alarm goes off.

“Bodies in motion tend to stay in motion. Bodies at rest tend to stay at rest.”-Isaac Newton

Action creates momentum and trumps affirmations, self talk, willpower, and want to. leapStudies have shown consistently that actions can change brain chemistry and that the new neural connections create positive thinking and new belief systems. We are all more likely to continue toward attaining our goals if we believe that we can accomplish them. Give yourself five minutes to lean into some task that you have been putting off and just do it. You’ll be surprised how it feels.

“You may delay, but time will not.” – Benjamin Franklin


P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

What Ben Franklin Can Teach Us About Character

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”- Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, a brilliant, once Benin a generation personality whose influence lasted well beyond their lifetime. Franklin was a scientist, author, political theorist, inventor, diplomat, politician, and was the chairman of the Constitutional Convention, which authored the Constitution of the United States. In addition to these accomplishments he was the inventor of the lightning rod, an improved wood-burning stove, bifocals, and was the first postmaster general of the United States and created one of the nations first, free public libraries. A list of his accomplishments could easily fill this entire page.

To many Americans who grew up in the age of television and mass advertising campaigns however, Franklin has become something of a cartoonish character, used by corporations to sell insurance, promote fraternal organizations and political causes, and sell a host of products that never existed during his day. His image has become so iconic that we often forget that he was a real person who had far more important things that he could have sold us on.

Born into a working class family in Boston in 1706, Franklin’s life represents the quintessential American rags to riches story. One of the most brilliant minds in American history, Franklin never graduated from high school, dropping out of Boston Latin Academy at age 15. A voracious reader, virtually everything he learned was self taught, and he seldom forgot anything he read. He was also one of the first American self help and personal development authors, beginning his writing career at the age of 15 while writing anonymously for his brother’s newspaper. He wrote anonymously because no one, not even his brother, would take seriously the ideas of a 15-year-old. It was during the years from age 15 to his mid-20s were Franklin did most of his work on his personal development and developed most of his ideas on self-help.

Realizing at age 20 that he came from humble origins, Franklin set out to develop his own writingpersonal character through what he called his “Thirteen Virtues,” by which he attempted to live the rest of his life. These 13 virtues are worth repeating and can form the foundation for anyone’s personal development. The fact that they came from a 20-year-old shows the innate brilliance of Benjamin Franklin. He listed these 13 virtues in his autobiography, aptly titled The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin:
1. “Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.”
2. “Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.”
3. “Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.”
4. “Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.”
5. “Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.”
6. “Industry. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.”
7. “Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.”
8. “Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.”
9. “Moderation. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.”
10.”Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.”
11.”Tranquility. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.”
12.”Chastity. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.”
13.”Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.”

Franklin did not try to work on all these virtues at once, he would choose one per week and work exclusively on that, “leaving all others to their ordinary chance.” To record progress, he carried a small notebook with the virtues and when he found himself in violation of a precept, he placed a small dot in a column next to it. Over time he found the number of dots diminishing next to each one as he became more automatic in his positive behaviors and attitudes.

Franklin quite often fell short on these virtues, like many great men he had some pretty notable flaws. He was a womanizer and fell short as a husband and father on many occasions. He fathered an out of wedlock son, William, that he acknowledged only after he was born, and spent three years in Europe away from his wife Deborah. Deborah died in 1774. Franklin, “too busy” at the time, did not return until the following year. While living in France, he indulged in fine wines and food, growing into the portly persona that most of us know as Ben Franklin. Franklin admitted his faults and explained it this way, “Tho’ I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavour, a better and a happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it.”

It Franklin lived today, undoubtedly the media would have a field day with his personal life. The secondary lesson in this is that we do not necessarily need to be perfect in order to strive for perfection. We do need to be willing to face our flaws, fears and imperfections when trying to improve our character. We are going to fall short, that’s inevitable. The realization of this should not deter us from trying to better our character and lead a more virtuous life. Maybe that’s the reason why so many of us enjoy sensationalized media stories about politicians’ and celebrities’ moral failings. Perhaps savoring their failings and shortcomings is a distraction from facing our own.

We are often told to dare great things, dream big, and shoot for the stars. Maybe we Ben_Franklin_510should apply the same logic to our character. What’s to be afraid of? After all, are we really going to find out anything that we didn’t already know anyway? As Franklin said, honesty is the best policy.

“Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man.”- Benjamin Franklin


P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

Spring Cleaning For Your Lifestyle: Six Places To Clean

“The chief beauty about time is that you cannot waste it in advance. The next year, the next day, the next hour are lying ready for you, as perfect, as unspoiled, as if you had never wasted or misapplied a single moment in all your life. You can turn over a new leaf every hour if you choose.”- Arnold Bennett

I live in Massachusetts and Spring is finally here. This winter was a record springbreaker here for snow and extreme cold. Spring, for me, has always been a season where I am most aware of the great contrasts that life and nature have for us. I’ve always thought of Spring as being the best time of the year to initiate change and make adjustments to the way that one lives their life, their health habits, spiritual habits, exercise habits, relationships, and overall lifestyle. For me, it never made sense to try to initiate these changes on January 1. If you tried to make changes on New Year’s Day, it seems that you are the only thing trying to change. If you attempt the same changes in the Spring, it seems that nature and the entire universe is changing along with you.

The term, lifestyle, developed from the Austrian psychiatrist and psychotherapist, Alfred Adler. He originally used the term, style of life, for the dynamics of a human’s personality. He believed that we all have unique, often unconscious, ways of responding to or avoiding the primary tasks of living. He generalize these tasks into the categories of friendship, love, and work. Somewhere along the line his term became shortened to the word lifestyle. Springtime might be a good time for all of us to revise, change, and consciously choose, if needed, our lifestyle.

Lifestyle is one of those words that has been bastardized and overused for some time. Many consider it to be something that applies to the rich and famous, the beautiful people, celebrities, and people to whom life comes easy. In reality we all have a style of living, a lifestyle, that whether we realize it or not, we play a major role in creating. Springtime is a great season to assess our lifestyle and examine our responsibility and role in our style of living. We all have a lifestyle – rich, poor, famous, nondescript, fulfilled, or frustrated. Springtime just might be the best time to do a little lifestyle Spring cleaning.

“You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.”-Phil McGraw

The first step in initiating any kind of change is to acknowledge where you are currently. Think for a moment about the quality of your life with regard to:
Friendships. Who do you spend most of your time with? Are they supportive of your lifestyle and your goals? Are you supportive of theirs? Are they people who contribute to your energy and vitality, or are they “energy vampires,” that have the ability to suck the life right out of you?
Love. Who do you love? Do these people that you love know that you love them? If you say yes, then how can you be sure? Is your love for them reciprocated? If it is romantic love or relationship love, is it healthy or is it coming from a place of neediness on your part? Do you really “love” these people, or is it just something that you say because it is expected from either them or perhaps you yourself?
Work. Do you enjoy the work that you must do? How happy and fulfilled are you at your current job? If you’re not fulfilled, can you find a new one? If you can’t, then what can you do or change to make your current job situation a little more rewarding?

What does your lifestyle look like? If someone was viewing your life on a movie screen as a silent movie what would they see? What would they see with regard to the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of your lifestyle? Are you living a life where you are physically active, engaging in healthy activities? Are you connected to other living beings and to something larger than yourself? If you are, great. You probably have little to no major lifestyle changes that you would want to make. If not, then why be a passive victim to whatever life hands you?


If you don’t like the physical, emotional, or spiritual aspects of your life, then realize that you, and only you, have the power to change this. Regardless of how young or old you are, you probably have more power in these areas than you realize. Here’s a few suggestions:

famPhysical. Do you exercise regularly? If you do, do you enjoy and look forward to what you do? If you don’t enjoy your exercise, why not find something that you do enjoy? Too many people exercise for the wrong reasons. They do so to impress other people, or because they “have to.” Finding something that you look forward to is as emotionally good for you as it is physical. If you are not enthusiastic about exercise, then consider things like walking, bowling, horseshoes, gardening, anything that you can do 3 to 5 times per week. You don’t need to be Schwarzenegger at Venice Beach in 1970 to have a good exercise regimen.

Emotional. What’s the general mood, attitude, and emotional energy that you bring to your life? How frequently do you find yourself reacting to life events in ways that you are not happy about? What’s your general level of happiness, contentment, and the life satisfaction? If you find yourself lacking in any of these areas, taking a good look at your habitual thought processes, emotional triggers, and your habitual self talk is the first step towards making a change. Change your thinking and your self talk and your emotional life will begin to change immediately.

Spiritual. What should general sense of connectedness to things larger than yourself? What are your views on ultimate questions and concepts such as God, mortality, the spiritafterlife, and the universe? What does spirituality mean to you? It’s become fashionable for people to say, “I am not religious, I’m spiritual.” If you ask most people what this means, they really don’t have a clue. If you have an organized religion that you adhere to, then that’s great. A lot of the guesswork about this is eliminated for you, and your beliefs are a great gift you have. If you are one of those people that says “I’m spiritual, not religious,” then figure out what that means for you. Even an atheist or an agnostic can be spiritual. Having a general acceptance of your own spirituality is part of a more healthy and rewarding lifestyle.

Spring is a great time for new beginnings. Maybe this is the year to do some more meaningful and significant spring cleaning. Take stock of your life with regard to work, friendships, and love, as well as your physical, emotional, and spiritual lifestyle. You may find that you are quite satisfied with where you are. If not, maybe it’s time for a little spring cleaning.

“You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of.”- Jim Rohn



P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

The Other Power Of Now: Why Today Is The Second Most Important Day Of Your Life.

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”- Chinese Proverb

As a coach, counselor, and educator, I’ve had the privilege of delving into the psyche of planting-a-treehundreds of people over the past 30 years. I’ve learned that almost every one of us needs to think about the power of this simple Chinese proverb now and again. It’s almost universal that once a person leaves school they get this feeling that their life is a race against time. They begin to feel that, as time passes, certain doors close for them. They spend a number of years rationalizing why they didn’t become a lot of the things that they dreamed about being when they were in school. They get caught up in the day-to-day existence of life, going with life’s flow, adjusting to life as it comes. Most of us live reactive, as opposed to proactive, lives. There comes a time for many of these same people, usually around their 40th birthday, where they begin to have second thoughts such as, “Maybe it’s not too late to…” and they come back to some dream that they had in their late teens. Most pass it off as folly, a fleeting thought, and let it go. Too bad. They have wasted the second most important day of their life.

In recent years many strategies for physical and mental wellness have embraced the ideas espoused by Eckhart Tolle in his 1997 book called The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. The book has become one of the most influential books of the past 20 years, going virtually viral when Oprah Winfrey recommended it as one of the books that changed her life. (Oprah, I hope you’re reading this… I should be so lucky.) Even if you’ve never read the book, you are probably familiar with Tolle, or are at least familiar with the phrase “living in the Now.” Tolle’s ideas, which he borrows from many great spiritual traditions, stress that we are not our thoughts, that our ego and sense of self cause us pain, and that one of the most important things for happiness is focus on the present moment, life’s journey rather than the destination. Undoubtedly, these ideas are some of the most sound and practical advice for us to embrace to enjoy a life of fulfillment. The idea of “living in the Now,” has permeated contemporary consciousness, psychotherapy, coaching, wellness and all the helping professions.

As a coach, I see all too many people given up on dreams and goals that they once had because they believe that it is “too late.” Most people view things in categories such as black or white, all or nothing, possible or impossible. It becomes very easily around that 40th birthday to become a victim of life’s second phase of the “terrible toos,”- as in too old, too late, and too difficult. My job in the psychotherapist part of my life is to explore the feelings, emotions, and sense of lost opportunity that they have around this. My job in the coach part of my life is to help them get there. As a former athletic coach, parent, and high school educator, I find myself far more comfortable helping someone get there. The Chinese proverb above is quite often a part of our discussion.

nowThe reality is that, although we live in the Now, we are going to have future. We often hesitate, fall victim to analysis paralysis, and overthink things. We want to “get more information” about what we are trying to accomplish, do “a little more research,” and think that we are increasing our chances of succeeding. Too often, the days pass, we stop kicking those tires, and end up not taking action. We miss the opportunity of the second most important day of our life.

With coaching clients, I often asked the question “Where do you see yourself in one, three, five, and 10 years from now?” This gets clients future oriented and opens their eyes to a world of possibilities. At some point along the way toward achieving the target goals to get them there, it’s going to get tough. It has to. That’s the way of the world and nature. When it gets tough, I try to remind the client that one year, three years, five years, and 10 years are going to come WHETHER YOU DO THIS OR NOT. Getting them to process this is critical to continued efforts, and continued effort is critical to success. Although we all live in the Now, the future will come regardless.

When you’re reflecting on this Chinese proverb, consider some of the regrets that youbanks_2477590b have about lost opportunities in your life. Consider jobs, career choices, relationships, business, and recreational activities that you woulda, coulda, and shoulda. Don’t fall victim to the terrible toos. While you may not get the same result that you might have gotten had you started 20 years ago, you just may be planting something beautiful and rewarding, allowing you to live a life with less regrets.



P. S. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

The Science Behind Goal Setting: Getting There In 2015

“Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.”― Oprah Winfrey

The year is winding down, and we are in that melancholy period of the holiday indexseason between Christmas and New Year’s. The media will soon be bombarding us with lists of celebrities that passed away, mistakes made by government leaders, the best of the year lists, and there’s sure to be some incessant playing of Auld Lang Syne. There may be a party or two left in 2014 but, come January 2, it’s business as usual. Many people will use this time of year to reflect on where they’re at and what they are doing with their lives. They will do an assessment of things, make a vow that the next year will be better, and then move forward into 2015, and nothing will change. Others will swear up and down to themselves that “this is the year” and actually take some actions toward accomplishing some concrete goals. They will actually do a little better, at least for a while, but usually by the end of February they are back where they started. We’ve all seen this, and maybe even experienced it firsthand. Why does this happen year after year to so many of us?

The answer to this is quite simple. Human behavior, although often unpredictable, does have some common themes. After all, it is considered Behavioral Science in that university catalog. While an individual’s behavior can vary greatly, there are trends, similarities, and commonalities in the way that most of us pursue goals and eventually give up on them. Attainment is most likely to occur if an individual is aware of the science behind goal setting, and the predictable potholes that will inevitably arise on the road to getting where you want to be.

I often talk to clients about homeostasis. Don’t be alarmed. If you read this blog regularly, then you know that I pride myself on keeping things simple. Homeostasis is the natural tendency of all things in nature to seek to maintain balance and equilibrium within its environment, even when facing external changes. In plain English, things naturally want to return to their prior condition, in a sort of “it is what it is” fashion. It is more natural and logical for us to fail when pursuing new challenges and new goals than it is for us to succeed. There’s a natural tendency for things to go back to their prior condition. Many people argue that they don’t like their current condition, but they keep finding themselves back there anyway. Why? Homeostasis.

So how can this return to mediocrity be avoided? There are a number of things to be aware of when setting goals. When goal setting, it is important to realize that you are essentially giving yourself a pep talk. Initially, the goal is a thought that must be made concrete, vivid, and real. You have to literally convince yourself that it’s possible for you to attain it. The first step is, like with a lot of things that are agreements, is Get it in writing! By this I mean be very clear and specific about what you are trying to accomplish. Review the article that I have written here on “Smarter” goal setting from this link: http://mindbodycoach.org/work-smarter-harder/ for the details of how to create a roadmap towards accomplishing your goal.

Be aware of the science of human change. There are clear tendencies that virtually all of us have when we pursue goals. It has been studied ad nauseum by experts in human psychology. Again, don’t worry, I’ve distilled it down for you in this article. http://mindbodycoach.org/id-love-change-world/ Just be aware that you will have some anticipatory concerns that may, or may not, be real. Your job is to tease out the facts from fiction.

Be aware of Why this goal is important to you. Write down on paper your reasons as specifically and vividly as possible. Attach Strong Emotional Connection to being successful. Spend some time each day vividly Visualizing and Imagining how you will feel When the goal is accomplished. The purpose of these actions is twofold. You must create a compelling reason to attain this goal and you must believe that it is possible for you to attain it. For most goals that are reasonably realistic, the only thing stopping you is you and your attitude.

While pursuing goals, the number one reason that people fail by far is that they do not Anticipate and Expect that it Will Get Difficult! When writing out your actionhub-50-best-hikes-new-england-new-hampshires-welch-dickey-loop-2014-10-02_17-08-54-800x533goals and creating the action plan to get you there, be fully aware that there will be doubts that set in. The road to success is not a straight uphill climb. If you’ve ever climbed a mountain, then you are probably aware of what a switchback trail is. It is a trail taken that actually goes downhill for a period of time that makes it easier to get to the summit. When striving to attain a goal, there will be switchback trails that you must navigate on your way to the top of that mountain. Be willing to make adjustments as you go. If you analyze other times you’ve tried to set goals and failed, you may even notice that there is a pattern to what derails you. It could be negative self talk, worries about what other people may think, belief systems that you have about money, your ability, your past, etc. If you have a history of trying, with all the best of intentions, and failing anyway, then these are probably the details that are hiding your devils. Spend some time trying to figure out what has historically caused this for you in the past. Putting this on paper gets these negative beliefs out of your head, allowing you to see them for what they really are, just thoughts.

The best way to avoid tripping up when the switchback effect occurs is to Create Habits and Rituals that Lead To Your Goal. Habits are far more important than motivation when trying to make something happen. Motivation tends to be temporary, and it will definitely go away during the Switchback Effect. Habits and rituals, over time, become automatic, and are therefore more likely to continue, allowing you to break through during times of Switchback. If your positive behaviors are habitual, you are more likely to do them when the going gets tough.

Work on your goal the same time each day as much as possible. Stack Your Goal Setting on Your Existing Schedule. If your plan to climb that mountain fits in with what you are already doing, you are more likely to be consistent and persistent during that climb. Most people tend to do the same rituals each morning and each evening. That may be a good time to squeeze in a block of time to work on your goal. Maybe you do the same thing each day at lunch, or take an hour of time each day for yourself. Some work on your goal might make sense at these times. Stacking your efforts onto things that you are already doing make your efforts more consistent and, in attaining goals, it’s consistency that makes all the difference. (See also  http://mindbodycoach.org/kaizen-habit-change/)

You must be fully aware that there will also be outside factors that will make it difficult. They may be money, time, or unforeseen events that are out of your control. They Will Happen. Be aware of the Switchback Effect. Anticipate it, expect it, and learn to befriend it. When it happens tell yourself that this is only going to make the entire process better. It is part of the process, not something that is either good or bad, just something that is part of getting there.

Be Flexible and willing to adjust. There are two things that you must consider here. First, Be Willing to Change Your Methods. Don’t be quick to give up. Modifying the goal may be necessary, but should not be done until you have exhausted various options to attain it. Adjust how you are trying to get to the top of that mountain first. If all else fails, and you’ve exhausted your possibilities, then be willing to Modify Your Goal. Don’t give up entirely, modify the goal and get as close to it as you possibly can. Your goal may not be an all or nothing proposition. For example, if your goal was to lose 50 pounds and you lost only 25, aren’t you way ahead of the game anyway? If you wanted to add $25,000 to your IRA in 2015, is it a catastrophe that you only ended up with an additional $17,000? I think you get the idea here. Not too many things in life are black and white.

In order to make 2015 all that you hope it will be, stop hoping and start planning. Get clear on what you are trying to attain, in writing, using the SMARTER goal setting format. Be willing to modify the plan, adjusting to realities as they occur. Don’t hope that the Switchback Effect doesn’t set in, anticipate and expect it, because it is the number one reason that people give up. Stack your efforts and create rituals that you can add to the rituals and habits that you already have. Be persistent and consistent imagesand you can reach your goals.

“When the going gets tough…. the tough get going! Who’s with me? Let’s go!”- Bluto Blutarsky


P. S. Contact me if interested in online mindbody coaching or cognitive behavioral therapy. Please check out my author’s page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro or using the Amazon link on this page. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and social media. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

“He Who Hesitates…”

“He who hesitates is lost!”-Harold “Grump” Walker

The first time I ever heard this quote was as a high school freshman during football practice. The quote imageswas vigorously brought to my attention by my freshman coach, a 77-year-old coaching legend by the name of Harold Walker. Grump, as he was better known, was past his prime as a coach, but still had a lot of of enthusiasm and energy. He could quote Shakespeare, philosophy, science, and one of his claims to fame was he was once a minor league baseball teammate of the legendary Jim Thorpe. In addition to everything else, Grump was completely deaf. He probably threw that quote at me at least five times that afternoon. Over 40 years later his advice still has relevance.

One of the best remedies for many physical and mental health problems is taking action. Most of us humans have a built in denial system that kicks in when we are facing something in our life that is challenging. It can be personal relationships, job related, financial, physical, you name it, one of the first things we instinctively do is deny and wait. We suffer from analysis paralysis. Often, an opportunity is missed, a problem gets bigger, or someone else steps up and seizes is our opportunity. If you lived in the 70s, couldn’t you have thought up something better than the pet rock or the chia pet?

“Action beats reaction every time.”-Unknown

This expression about action versus reaction is commonly cited in self defense and personal protection imagestraining courses. In those venues it is applied to physical self-defense. It probably has more utility in protecting us from physical and emotional maladies. Most emotional issues that people are plagued with are more predictable than we would imagine. As a psychotherapist, I spend a lot of time with clients asking them to “tell me what goes on with you with regard to _____________.” The blank is filled in with your anxiety, depression, fear, sadness, marriage, job, etc. After listening for approximately 20 to 30 minutes a clear pattern emerges and after a few weeks a client realizes that the problem is a lot more predictable than they would ever have imagined. The therapeutic goal then becomes being prepared and/or taking action before the times when the problem, predictably, becomes difficult. The funny thing is that clients often know what to do, they simply need permission to act in the way that they intuitively know will be the most effective. The therapist, i.e. “expert,” gives them permission to take action.

When I was new in the field of mental health, I worked part-time on a locked psychiatric unit in a hospital in the greater Boston area. I worked 3 to 4 shifts per week over a three-year period, learning a lot about mental health problems of all kinds and degrees of severity. Because my shifts were spaced out over the course of a week, I was easily able to see the progress that clients made from day to day. It was fascinating to see the response that most had to their treatment. It became obvious to me that one of the major factors in patients getting well was a routine that all patients adhered to. They were encouraged to get up in the morning, clean up, eat, socialize, rest, and recreate on a regular schedule. Patients who were “too depressed to get out of bed” would be gently encouraged by staff to get moving, to take action. It became quite clear to me that it was action, as much as anything else, that brought them to a state of wellness. Action leads to wellness.

An exercise that works well to create insight and leads to the development of an action plan is to write out a history of your identified problem. This is what a therapist does in one of the early sessions of a course of psychotherapy. Writing, if you are brutally honest with yourself, can serve the same purpose as a self-help exercise. Ask yourself the tough questions.
What is the problem that I am having? Be detailed, but just identify the problem.
When do I experience the problem? Where, when, and with whom? Pay attention to particular people, time of year, anniversary issue, and environmental details. If possible, detail the last few, specific times you’ve experienced this difficulty.
What are the patterns? If you are honest with yourself and have done your introspection diligently, you will probably notice that some patterns have emerged. You may notice, for example, that you almost always have difficulties in a particular month of the year, at a particular place, or with the same people over and over again. This exercise done carefully virtually always will create insight.
What actions can I take? What thoughts or behaviors are in my capacity to change? How can I view this differently? What can I focus on to feel differently? Can I view this more productively? Can I quit the job, leave the relationship, plan things out better etc.? Writing out the pros and cons of a course of action usually leads to clearer, more well thought out decisions.

After engaging in this self reflection, you will more clearly see what your best options are. It is necessary that this activity be done in writing. There is something brutally honest about the written word. You see your own thoughts, on paper, in black and white, in your own handwriting. Your words become your own call to action to initiate change.

So, if you struggling with some difficulty, heed Grump’s advice. When you’re feeling lost, don’t hesitateimages to take action.

P. S. Please check out my author’s page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro. Kindle books from mindbodycoach.org are available using the link to the right of this post. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

I’d Love To Change The World, But….

“I love to change the world, but I don’t know what to do, so I’ll leave it up to you.”- Alvin Lee

Change, is perhaps the only constant of human life. Despite this law of nature, it is something that changehumans resist. We want change in a lot of areas but, on a deeper level, we fear it, we resist it, and we often engage in subtle self sabotage which prevents it from occurring. Why is this, and how can we get ourselves to bring about change to improve our lives?

Change is a basic principle of the universe, the only truly constant thing in existence. It is in conflict with another universal principle, homeostasis. Homeostasis is the tendency for living things to stay the same through a pattern of adjustment, internal regulation, and resistance. When it comes to human beings trying to initiate change, homeostasis tends to win more often than not. It’s easier for humans to stay the same in the face of a behavioral change that is desired. Homeostasis wins because it’s far easier for us to fail than it is to succeed. In other words, failure is easy, changing is a lot more difficult.

The psychology behind human change has been studied rather extensively over the past forty years. In 1977 James O. Prochaska of the University of Rhode Island and his colleagues developed what they called the trans-theoretical model, since known simply as the Stages of Change. While the model was originally applied to drug and alcohol addiction, it has been adapted to all types of human behavioral and lifestyle changes. It has been referred to as “arguably the dominant model of health behavior change” of the last 50 years. The Stages of Change model is a simple one, and understanding it can help all of us make change a lot more easy.

The Stages of Change are:
1. Precontemplation-In this stage a person has not yet acknowledged that there is a problem behavior that needs to change. The 300 pound man has not yet acknowledge he is overweight, the pack a day smoker doesn’t realize it’s a problem, the person living on minimum wage doesn’t think that things could be better. In this stage a person is not necessarily happy, but oblivious to the idea that change is possible, probably because they are not yet ready to attack the process of change.
2. Contemplation-At this point a person acknowledges that there is a problem, something is wrong, but is not yet ready for sure that they want to change. They weigh the pros and cons of change, and change usually gets delayed. I’ll start tomorrow, next week, next month, when X happens and so on. This getting-ready-to-get-ready stage is often where homeostasis wins and change is defeated.
3. Preparation-This stage is characterized by preparations to bring upon the change. A person is now jennette_fulda_fat_pantsdetermined to begin a process of change within the next 30 days. Commitments are made to themselves, and frequently others. The smoker promises his wife and kids that he will quit, the 300 pounder promises a friend that they will walk every day at lunch. At this stage positive self talk can make or break the process, especially when a person goes public with their plan. Thoughtful preparation is the key to getting through this stage. Breaking goals down, keeping them simple and doable, sets up a person through a successful ride through this stage. The “what ifs” and “yeah buts” need to be overridden by achievable action steps which generate confidence.
4. Action-At this point a person has engaged in steps towards the desirable outcome for a six month period on a fairly consistent basis. People in this stage have shown improvement and have made strides towards achieving the desired outcomes. When progress has been made, a person needs to make note of it and celebrate their successes. Noticing what works, and doing more of that, rather than noticing what does not, becomes the key to making these positive changes permanent. A question that I often ask clients in this stage is “What are you doing now that you want to win before, and what have you stopped doing that you were doing before?” The purpose of this question is to show the client that they are doing it. Progress is not luck, but is the result of their own consistent efforts. When a person realizes this, change becomes internalized, self image improves, and a person is ready for more of the same.
5. Maintenance-at this point a person has incorporated and internalized the desired changes. They have been successful with maintaining their change goal for over six months. In this stage it is important that a person is aware of thoughts and behaviors that could lead to their slipping back into their original patterns. Being aware of stressful situations that will arise and being able to cope with these stressors successfully, is what is necessary for maintenance.

Some strategies to keep in mind during the process of change are:
1. Getting education and how-to information about desired change. This can come from reading, professional help, and honest feedback from people that you trust.
2. Acceptance of what you are feeling. Realize that it is okay to have feelings of doubt, shame, and guilt. Accept that your feelings are not facts, they are merely interpretations and are not necessarily true. The goal is to notice these feelings and to continue to act appropriately despite them.
3. Getting help from supportive friends, colleagues, and professionals may be required to initiate or maintain positive momentum. If it gets tough, don’t go it alone.
4. Counteract your negativity. Replace unhealthy attitudes and behaviors with healthy ones. For images   example, replacing your morning cigarette with 10 minutes of deep breathing outdoors is one example. Replacing that second 20 ounce cup of coffee with a large glass of water is another example.
5. Notice and celebrate your successes. As with all behavioral changes, success builds upon success, and tends to bring more of the same. Change is a slow, gradual, yet steady process. Think in terms of “this is a process, not an event.” Find appropriate ways to reward yourself along the way to the desired goal.
6. Pen and paper are important tools to utilize during this process. Identify where you are in the process of change, writing out the obstacles and challenging them, and identifying appropriate steps to take, in writing, will help. If you are doing this without professional help, in a self-help format, then writing is imperative.

So that’s the science behind human behavioral change. This model of change works, and works well. It has been tested, researched, and studied in thousands of experiments. Knowing where you are along the way to a desired goal, and knowing what steps to take, will get you where you want to be.

“It works if you work it.”-Anonymous

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The Problem With Positive Thinking

“Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”- James 2:17

In contemporary counseling, personal development, and self-help, positive thinking and affirmations are considered to be part of the process. Much has been written about the power of belief, expectation bias, the power of intention, and many other types of thinking that promise life changing results simply by changing the way we think. Undoubtedly, our thought processes play a huge role in the successes and failures in our lives, but there is certainly more to it than mere want-to.

I’m sure most of you are more than familiar with the power of positive thinking. The Power of Positive catThinking was actually the title of a well-known self-help book written by Norman Vincent Peale, a minister, author, and radio personality of the 1930s. He popularized the expression, the power of positive thinking, through his work as a Sunday host of a radio show. He, like many positive thinking advocates, made some pretty hefty claims about what positive thinking can do for us. Millions of people benefited from his thoughts, ideas, and teachings.

Affirmations are positive self statements made with the intention of changing harmful self talk and self beliefs. In and of themselves, they are beneficial, but in recent years the concept of how to use affirmations has changed. In 2006, a best selling book called “The Secret” came out and reinvented the way that most people think about and use affirmations. The book sold well, as there was a something for nothing mentality that the book implied. All one had to do was believe and wishes would be granted, attitudes would change, and you would soon be living the life of your dreams. The missing part of the equation, however, was good old fashion work.

Initially, positive thinking and affirmations do seem to work. Changing your thought processes from negativity to positivity quickly results in a change of attitude. A light goes on, one gets a wave of “yeah, I can do this,” and does feel differently. Using positive thinking and affirmation works…. until it doesn’t. Positive thinking and affirmations stop working when one’s goal exceeds one’s capacity to attain it. For example, if your goal is to drop 15 pounds for your 30th high school anniversary, your daughter’s wedding, or the beginning of track season, all the positive thinking in the world is not going to help unless you have a systematic plan of action to get that 15 pounds off of you. If your goal is to get a new job, you probably should begin to look for one. If you are hoping for a significant other with an “if it happens, it happens” attitude, then it probably ain’t going to happen. Positive thinking and affirmations work best when combined with a solid behavioral plan of action, A.K.A work.

In any process of goal attainment, there will be a point where doubt creeps in. We all know what that feels like. It’s that “this isn’t what I expected’ moment where rubber meets road, and men and boys, and women and girls get separated. This happens because positive thinking and affirmations can only have lasting utility if one works on the beliefs behind them. For example, that 15 pounds we talked about is more likely to be lost if affirmations and positive thinking are combined with a behavioral plan. Rather than repeating the mantra, “I will lose 15 pounds… I will lose 15 pounds..,” it makes more sense to repeat more realistic affirmations such as, “I will eat 2000 calories per day,” or “I will walk every day for 30 minutes at lunch.” Combining this more realistic mantra with some positive imagery and visualization will change your belief that it is possible.

sunPeople who gravitate towards positive thinking and affirmations usually don’t go into the process with a solid belief system in place. They are often people who have a tendency towards negative self talk. They usually are the kind of people who have an internal critic telling things like they’re not good enough, smart enough, good-looking enough, or worthy of success. They view a satisfying life as something that others have, and they’ll never have. When doubt creeps in to their plan of positive thinking and affirmations, they fold like a house of cards because it is simply what they do and how they react to a challenge. They can’t help it, their negative thinking is such a part of their world view.

So what is the corrective action here? How does one get to the point where they can utilize these techniques and reap the benefits of a more positive mindset? Here are some action steps:
1. Examine your beliefs about yourself. These are what we need to change. If you hold the same negative belief systems about your abilities, then when real life challenges your positive thinking you are likely to give up with an “I knew it!” type of response. Examining beliefs about yourself can be difficult and painful. It’s one of those things that you might want to do with a psychotherapist or coach, but it can be done alone if you can get yourself to be brutally honest. A pen and notebook are needed here, as seeing these negative beliefs in writing can be an eye-opener. You must work to improve your self image if you are going to be able to maintain positivity in multiple areas of life. You probably have some areas where you do feel competent, and others not so much. Examine the self talk that you have in areas of competence, and compare it to self talk in areas where you do not. What’s the difference? Identify ways, in writing, that you can realistically change the negative areas. Review this list at least two times per day, morning and evening, and consciously work to improve the negative areas.
2. Set realistic goals. Goals should be just slightly out of your comfort zone, not goals that are insurmountable. Here is where most affirmations and positive thinking fail. Accomplishing a goal that was slightly uncomfortable creates a higher baseline from which to work. For example, if your goal was to land your dream job then breaking that down into a plan of action is more realistic. Start with a subgoal of obtaining three interviews in the field in which you want to work. Focusing on subgoals slowly but surely increases your confidence that the perfect job is attainable. Set realistic time frames. If you just graduated from college, then that six figure dream job is going to take time to obtain. Setting yourself up for a series of smaller successes increases and grows your sense of confidence, making positive thinking and affirmations more useful. Use the search box and categories section to the right of this post to learn more about useful methods for goal setting. Use the SMARTER goals method, and adjust quite frequently as needed. If you are not getting the results you’re looking for, don’t change the goal, change the strategy to get there. This process is where positive thinking and affirmations will become useful tools.
3. Action, Action, Action! Actions do in fact speak louder than words. Noticing your successes, blog_skinny_kidrecording and writing them out creates lasting change. Beliefs aren’t real, actions are. Without taking action you will know, on some level, that affirmations and positive self talk are merely trying to fool yourself. Notice the action steps that you take towards your goals. Create affirmations and positive self talk along the way to attaining subgoals. Noticing your positive actions, even if some result in failures, will change your self image. Celebrate the actions and the process, and begin to speak positively to yourself about your efforts.

Again, I highly suggest you use the search box and categories section of this blog to build upon the ideas in this post. Positive thinking and affirmations are useful tools in the changing of human performance, but the emphasis should be on the word performance. Get out there and go after what you want. Learn to coach yourself realistically along the way.

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