Book Club, Essays, Life Hacks, Lifestyle, Lifestyle Design, Organization, time management, Working Mom

How to Manage Your Time as a Working Mom – What My iCal Looks Like

Hello everyone!  At work this week I’ve been running a ton of presentations and doing a heck of a lot of coaching around time management, now that we are in the exciting month of September.

For many, this month marks a shift into a different pace and rhythm, especially those of you parents who have kiddos continuing (or starting!) school.  Doubly true for those of you who simultaneously work in industries that ramp up in the fall and winter!

As a higher education professional, that certainly applies to me!

First point, I want to say, is be gentle with yourself!  As you get into the rhythm of a new season, it’s going to take some adjustment over the month.  You’ll do too much, then you’ll go the other way and not enough and then you’ll find that “just right” rhythm. There’s a Scandinavian quote I love, “not too little, not too much, just enough.”  I believe you can’t find “just enough” until you try the other ends of the spectrum and your boundaries.   One person’s too much is another person’s just right.… right?

Personally, in my own time management life, I’m trying to figure out how to fit meal prep and a more effective morning routine into my life, but my ical and outlook schedules are pretty dialed in.  I’m also back at work after maternity leave and having to trust that my husband has the home front and home iCal under control while I am in sessions or workshops.  The hand off of child schedules during the daytime has been a wild (but awesome) adjustment for both of us, and we just keep the lines of communication open around our own personal strengths and weaknesses and where the other needs support.

Second point I want to make, is that we are all constantly working on time management, and then adjusting our schedules and rhythms as each new element comes in.  I am a time management expert and I have to work at it every day!

We NEVER discover a perfect system and then install it… we are ALWAYS adjusting and constantly responding to changes…  I’ll talk about this in the video.

On IGTV (Instagram TV) today I shared a behind the scenes video of how I manage my schedule as a working mother with a career, a few side hustles and 3 kids. I show you my iCal and my outlook, and the systems I use to stay on top of things.

I’ve also posted the video below, which is also saved to my channel on Youtube.  

 

FYI, I share lots of coaching, tips and insights on my Instagram account, so if you don’t already follow along, do check it out at https://www.instagram.com/great_maternity_leave_yyc/

I find it incredibly helpful to “see” what other peoples’ lives are like, and people’s work / home schedules are fascinating to me. I love studying them, but it’s often not something that people open up about and show (or even talk about in conversation.)  It’s kind of like finances in a way, so, that is exactly why I am sharing my own.

Let’s have these conversations!  They help us elevate our lives and manage the full days of parenthood.  Where do you excel? Where do you struggle? What has helped you?

If you are a working mother and are very curious about balancing multiple roles, I strongly recommend the book “I Know How She Does It” by Laura Vanderkam which has lots of ‘sample’ schedules of real working women she interviewed.  The paperback is $22 and the Kindle edition (I personally read this on Kindle so I can save and review the notes) is $16.

I Know How She Does it by Laura Vanderkam
One of my favourite books on maternity leave, it helped me with time management for working moms

Time management really is a passion of mine, I love how fluid it is and how it is an ever-shifting thing.  I have an entire category of the blog dedicated to it, so here are some additional articles that may be of interest.  I’ll also make a note to share my own notes on this book above!

EXTRA READING:  Other Time Management Articles on the GML

Why we should stop saying OMG I AM SO BUSY

Add This Approach to Your Time Management Practices

My Thoughts on the Whole “Too Busy / Too Overwhelmed” Dialogue In Society

 

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Essays, Grounding, Happiness, Learning, Mental health, The Fourth Trimester

Why Moms Should Practice Getting into Flow State. Tips to Overcome Post Partum Anxiety.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to what the heck happens to us on maternity leave.  Why do we become so afraid of things that were simple daily functions before (unfolding the stroller for the first time?  Going out in public with a baby for the first time?)

Seriously, where does all of this total internal doubt come from?  Why is it so bad on maternity leave?  Who is this fearful anxious person and where the hell did she come from?  

It is a strange experience to have your first baby and consequently have the shell of comfort and security cracked wide open.

EVERYTHING is new and NOTHING is comfortable in the fourth trimester.

It’s only when you look back at photos of newborn baby two years later that actually ‘enjoy’ your baby and have warm fuzzy memories.  And when you realize that you finally feel good about your mat leave a year afterwards, you’re like geez, what was I so worried about?  

I’ll tell you right now, it’s not you, it’s your brain.  It is designed to worry and keep you safe and alive, not happy and growing. 

I have come to believe (now that I’ve done it three times) that this initial torment of maternity leave and new motherhood is A GIFT.  It teaches us to overcome our own brain and our own biological instincts.

It will take me a few paragraphs to lay this idea out, so bear with me. 

We don’t like to push the edges of our comfort zones.  This is exactly why personal training as an industry exists.  Trainers push us harder than we would go.   It is a very small % of the population who push themselves beyond their comfort zone in the gym.  Usually, those people are professionals.

Having a baby is like having a personal trainer who pushes all of your comfort zones – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.

In addition to having all of our boundaries pushed, we get a bit messed up as well, because our day becomes one of many “human doing” tasks. Amongst all of the “doing” and “laundry” and “diapers” we retreat inside ourselves.  On maternity leave, our own internal chatter becomes a loud roar. There’s so much to do on the outside during maternity leave.  But there is SO MUCH MORE going on in the inside.  Massive love, massive fear, massive engagement, massive suffering, massive doubt, massive confidence.  It’s so confusing.

The fourth trimester is a time of contrasts.

There is rich growth + reflection + introspection.

There is also a hell of a lot of doubt, negative internal talk and fear.

Why? The brain and biology of a new mom screaming is a very anxious voice that is pointing out danger EVERYWHERE.  You can’t blame your brain.  It is collaborating with your hormones and nervous system to keep you and your baby alive and your hormones well tell you EVERYTHING IS DANGEROUS.  Your brain’s priority in the fourth trimester is not your happiness.  It is staying alive.

This is what your brain says to you in the fourth trimester: 

“F your sleep, you hear that baby crying?  YES.  I’m sending you panic hormones right now so that you hear every sound and snuffle, and you will definitely wake up to crying.  F your sleep.”

Your brain knows you won’t die with no sleep.  So it won’t let you.  See?  Your brain is entirely unconcerned with your happiness, your wellbeing or any of that.  It’s concerned with keeping you and babykins alive.  Basic needs.

So how do we manage this?

How do we prevent ourselves from spiralling down into a deep place of self doubt, isolation, anxiety and fear?

How do we make mat leave about growth and expansion rather than isolation and contraction?

 I really care about this topic because I contracted on the first, and somewhat on the second mat leave, and began to expand on the second and third mat leaves.

There are so many things to share with you but today, I want to share on Flow State.  It is a very specific, very intentional practice that SHUTS DOWN the parts of your brain that are concerned with doubt, self talk, anxiety, etc.  We have enough moments in our day where we worry and contract.  Let’s carve out some space in our internal worlds to trust and expand, and that starts with activities that put us in flow state.

If you’d like to dive into the science of flow state (they’ve literally scanned the brains of people in flow state) activities that get you in flow and how you can start doing it today, just click onto the next article.

https://thegreatmaternityleave.com/2018/08/21/how-to-overcome-post-partum-anxiety-with-flow-state-recovery-from-post-partum-depression/

If you read this article and thought YES, YES and YES this is me!  Then take the next step.  Learn about the science of flow state and start practising it in your life.  This is your first chance to practice growth and expansion on mat leave.  If you don’t click on the article, then you are staying where you are and staying comfortable. 🙂 That is okay too, sometimes we need to hold the boat steady, stop it from rocking.  But once it’s stopped rocking and we are ready to go somewhere, we need to put the sails back up.

(oh and sorry I HAD to use the Moana boat as an analogy.  I’m a parent of a 4 year old girl and Moana is AWESOME.  And the song lyrics are weirdly approprio for this article.)

Image result for moana boat
“See the light as it shines on the sea
It’s blinding
But no one knows how deep it goes
And it seems like it’s calling out to me
So come find me
And let me know
What’s beyond that line
Will I cross that line”
Ankylosing Spondylitis Journey, Essays, Free Life Coaching Guides, grief, Grounding, Happiness, health coaching, Lifestyle, Lifestyle Design, Mental health, Physical Wellness

Stop Repressing your Emotions. Start Feeling and Start Healing. My Ankylosing Spondylitis Remission Journey.

Recently Diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis_ (4)

 

Image: Stock Image, Colourbox.

This image right below, is of the Hoover Dam. An engineering marvel bordering Arizona and Nevada.  It is a powerful visual for today’s post.  Hold it in your mind, it will make sense in a few minutes.

preview_COLOURBOX16384159

Its concrete base is more than 600 ft thick.  Why?  The Hoover Dam holds back 45,000 lb of water pressure per square foot. Behind this massive concrete wall lies 247 square miles of water. That water is carefully controlled and flows through the dam.  A tiny, restricted flow of water generates enough energy in the plant’s turbines, to power the lives of 1.3 million people for a year.

Side note:  If you have attempted to keep bath water in the bath with a toddler, you will have an appreciation for the scale of this dam and water pressure, because with a toddler bath, you (the parent) with 5 or 6 feet of body, are trying to withstand approximately 100 gallons of water.  lol.  Anyways…

The water’s potential energy held behind that wall, is staggering.  It is there, bound up, waiting to be let through that dam.  The water that gets through, explodes with energy, transferring to kinetic energy, and eventually into electric energy for hundreds of thousands of homes.

If you remember back to your high school classes in physics, (assuming you actually attended those classes – I can’t say I did)  you may remember the first law of thermodynamics, the Law of Conservation of Energy: Energy can neither be created nor destroyed; energy can only be transferred or changed from one form to another.

I think about this all the time with parenthood – we all witness a huge range of energies & emotional states that  children move through.  They are incredibly dynamic.  Toddler kinetic energy (racing down the hall) can flash over to emotional energy in a heart beat! They will pick up any energy in the room like a sponge.  Even your baby does.  Trying to put your baby down quickly and easily when you are agitated and restless?  Yeah, good luck with that…

So, back to my point with energy only transfers. The human body experiences many forms of energy. Kinetic energy, chemical energy, thermal energy and electrical energy are all examples.   Energy is flowing within us and through us.   It leaves us, and comes to us.  It is a constant interplay between us and our environments.We’re in one giant circle of energy exchange.

Though we haven’t gotten a good handle on it yet, there are other forms of energy flowing in our body, too.  This energy is described in Eastern Medicine as Qi, but in the west we don’t really have a proper name for it yet other than the very loosey goosey description of someone’s “vibe.”

We have good days and bad days, on days and off days.  We feel the vibes of other people and we can’t help but raise to their level, or sink to their level, depending on where they are.  When our babies or children are in a different energy state from us, we are left trying to stay grounded while helping them move through their various states of being.

If you are super fascinated by energy states of children, I truly recommend Carol Tuttle’s book which describes different energy dispositions and how to work with them in children.   It has been hugely influential in my life and parenting.

Here we, are trying our best to manage our children’s energy and how we react to it, thinking we are the knowledgeable ones… BUT… children have something very, very important to teach us.  Children live in the present moment, and healthily process emotions.  They let themselves experience everything in full technicolour.  Then, as quickly as an emotion arrives, it passes.  Maybe 5 minutes later, maybe 2 weeks later.  It moves on.

Granted, we don’t want to go into full toddler style technicolour ranges of emotion and energy.  We are adults and self-regulation is important in environments like oh, say, our jobs? Extended family dinners?

BUT you know what we adults do? We repress our emotions and deny them. We are like the wall of the hoover dam, except we are not 600+ feet thick concrete.  We’re made of tissue, and bone, and organic materials that are constantly shifting and changing. I fully believe whatever emotions are being held back, the pressure of those is felt in our bodily structures.

We swallow emotions down and instead of letting them go through us and out of us. We push them deep into our subconscious and consequently, into our bodies.  They eventually show up, becuase energy changes state.  Perhaps bad dreams, or unconscious behaviours, or even chronic pain and illness.

In my own healing journey toward vitality and away from chronic pain and depressive symptoms and nightmares, I’ve come to understand that many of my own emotions have been repressed over the years, for various reasons.   From family, social and cultural pressure to have a stiff upper lip, to simply needing to get sh*t done in crisis situations and saving the emotions for later.

And here, is the main point of this article.  It turns out that having small children can be one of the most liberating things for your body, mind, spirit and soul, because they get our emotions back into free-flow mode.

Full disclosure, pre-kids, I used to see being emotional and crying as a trait of weakness and extremely undesirable. If I went to a movie with a friend or family, I’d inwardly roll my eyes if they were sobbing, and judge them – yet I’d be picking at my lip or fighting my own battle not to cry, staring at the back of people’s heads and trying to disconnect from the movie.

I took pride in being logical, un-emotional, stoic, etc.  I was simply modelling what I saw around me.  And you know what, for a long time it did truly serve me.  Locking down and getting stuff done and facing challenges was something I had to do for almost all of my teens and twenties.  It’s what I had to do then, and I honour it. That’s why we keep beliefs around, right?  At some point they were useful.

In 2013 I took care of my mum with stage IV lung cancer and I was pregnant at the same time. It was an honour to be in that role. I was locked down, efficient, stoic as F**** while so many people around me fell apart from grief.  I am careful not to judge it as a good thing or a bad thing – I have no regrets about how I handled my cancer caregiver role, however, keeping things on lock down did catch up with me, because those beliefs became more deeply embedded and my emotional range deeply decreased.  

When old beliefs begin impacting your current quality of life, it is time to say:

“you know what?  You served me once upon a time but you are not serving me anymore.  In fact, you are keeping me from moving forward and getting where I want to go in my life. It is time for you to go!” 

After the ultimate application of my ability to remain stoic and unemotional, I was thrown into motherhood, where my old beliefs about repressing emotion began to really backfire.  When my daughter was 3 months old, I was struggling to feel anything.  Joy, happiness, connection.  I realized that I had to get things flowing again, and feel something.  I began counseling, reading, keeping a dream journal and some deep somatic work. 

In order to let the good stuff flow, I learnt that I had to let the sad stuff flow, too.  The earliest hints of this were in my dreams which were really quite tortured and tragic.  Emotion was showing up in my dreams and my chronic pain was intense. 

From 2013 to 2018 I embarked on a journey to create non-self-judgemental space in my life let my emotions flow.  It was terrifying.  It was really hard, too. 

I believe that for any “logical” person, letting yourself finally connect with your emotional states and acknowledge that you are an emotional being, is the ultimate act of courage. Nobody wants to feel the hard stuff.  It’s why people get addicted to things.  We want to avoid it.  But in order to get to the other side (happiness and the good feels) you have to be brave enough to go through the hard feels.  

One of the practices I took on, was to cry in public. This was one of the most intense forms of self-regulation and repression that I used to do as a child and it was one of my most stubbornly held beliefs.  I knew this was a stubborn belief, because the thought of crying in public or around friends instantly made me recoil. 

 It was a hugely difficult practice at first to let myself cry publicly, but after some months of work, I did it! One of the first times I was able to truly let myself be and allow emotions to flow, was on an overnight flight to London Heathrow with my daughter who was 6 months old at that point.  The moment that plane flew over the twinkling Calgary skyline, I lost it. My mum and I had so many special memories of flying on that exact Air Canada flight back over to the UK to see our family (and when she lived there, me flying out to see her.) I was tired, and snuggling a baby and just feeling very, very lonely at that point of my life. I let myself sob.  It let it out, and let it go.  When people asked if I was okay, I said “not really.” I opened up.  That first time crying in front of a plane of concerned strangers was huge, and slowly I was able to do it in scarier situations – in front of my husband and friends.  

I would have NEVER done that pre-baby. Not. In. A. Million. Years.  Honestly, not even for $1000. Even 5 years later after tons of work, I find it hard to be emotional. I don’t think you can just simply decide to let deeply held beliefs go.  It’s a journey and you will move forward and sometimes backward. 

Rewinding back to 2013.  Once I had let myself experience tears,  there was plenty of room for the good stuff. Over the next five years, I was able to truly access joy again.  The water pressure against the dam released as I let some water (emotions) through the turbines.

By letting water flow through the dam’s power plant and turbines, energy is created. I found that analogy so true to my own life.  By letting emotions finally flow through, the trickle of water became a huge flow.  That emotional energy hit the turbines and converted to a different form.  The energy of growth, happiness and engagement. It released more energy to continue working toward the life I wanted, and more energy to access the good emotions.   

I can also say that it (has) helped relieve some of my chronic pain, though this has been something that has really come along in the last year (2017-2018)

  I truly think that when you have emotional pressure pushing against that wall (by the way that concrete wall is your own fear of emotions and “lockdown” mode)  some of that pressure has to transfer to parts of your body.  Headaches, back pain, maybe inflammation and illness or a bad digestive system?  Depends on you.

Energy is neither created nor destroyed, simply transferred elsewhere in different forms, right?  

In 2018 as I write this with far more emotional range, a gentler, kinder and more accepting attitude toward emotion, I can say that my pain is less, in all senses of the word.  I am more willing and able to express myself, embrace vulnerability and with those things has come a beautiful life, greater happiness and the confidence and faith to embrace highest visions for the life of myself and my family.   I am a better friend, wife, mother for being gentle not only with others in their emotional times, but also myself, and I wouldn’t take that back for the world.

I hope the dam visual lands with you, and that perhaps this causes some reflection on your own emotions, energy management, and the gift that your children have given you.

 

xo

 

Carina

 

Essays, Free Life Coaching Guides, Grounding, Happiness, Lifestyle Design, Mental health

The Power of the Spoken Word and Speech Acts – What Do You Speak into Existence?

 

Screen Shot 2018-07-21 at 9.38.52 PM

My oldest two children are 4 and 3 now, and this summer has been a blast in terms of communication. My three-year old’s language exploded in May (after about 2 months of shitty sleep patterns! ah hah! Mystery solved!) and he is now a chatty little guy, stringing sentences together.

They are listening and soaking up everything around them like a sponge.  They are practicing all of these new words, in new combinations, with new inflections in their voices. Words are being placed together into sentences, like their lego blocks into towers.

Do you remember taking language classes as a kid, and once you had the hang of a sentence you’d learn a slang word or a new word to put in to add some ‘style?’  But when you added that slang word, you kind of felt odd and waited to see how it landed with other people?

I think it’s the same for toddlers, they add in newly acquired words, look around and wait to see if it has landed with someone. Then, their little brains either file away for use again, or they discard it if it comes with shock and horror on part of the parents (like the first time my little man dropped an F-bomb.)

It got me reflecting on our own speech.

When we experience a thought in our mind that we want to put out there, it’s an interesting process.

We have a thought.  In six hundred miliseconds, we push air through our vocal chord, and shape with our mouths, in the process giving life and existence to that thought.   Researchers were only able to track this process for the first time in 2009.

(Don’t even get me started on what a ‘thought’ is, lol that keeps me up at night.)

It is very true that we “speak” things into existence.  Noone knows what we are thinking about, until we decide that it is worth bring from the brain, through the vocal chords and into our mouth where our anatomy forms consonants and vowels.

There are specific things we can do with speech:

We can ask for something (request) “hey could you do me a favour?”

We can offer something “I’d like to have you over next week.”

We can promise something ” I will run that race with you.”

We can declare something “today I am going to show up and crush it!”

We can judge something “She is too stressed.”

We can describe something “She has a frown on her face.”

 

I love to listen to people conversing – at coffee shops, book stores, or even on transit.  It’s fun to start noticing which of the above speech acts they use.

You’d be so surprised how unconscious people are of their speech patterns, yet, it reveals so much about them.

The same goes for your own children, what kind of speech acts above do they use?

Asks: Can you get me the purple cup please?”

Just kidding, my toddlers use declarations instead of requests:  “I WANT THE PURPLE CUP.” 

Descriptions:  “Mommy your legs are spiky!” (usually in a public place with many witnesses ;0) )

 

Just as we have streams of consciousness (thinking,) we have streams of speech.  It is cool to watch the stream of speech coming out of someone.

Do they make declarations? “This is a beautiful day and I am going to enjoy it!

Do they live in judgement? “She should have done this, and she should have done that and look at that dress and no, I didn’t like that lunch, it was too spicy, and it was busy there, and ugh, it’s just so hot out today.  Do you think this is too much (waving at their clothing) ”    – by the way, this sentence is longer for a reason.  Judging is a real bad habit for us humans.

You can also start to discern whether someone speaks from a place of expansion, openness and positivity?  Or – unpleasantly –  closed, negative, and fixed.

 

So here is my question for you:

When someone has just given you air time by asking you about your summer, or day,

When someone has said, “I want to listen to you.”

What do you return with? What is your habit of speech?   What is worth putting out there into the world out of all those conversations floating up there in your mind?

It is estimated we think about 40,000 thoughts a day.  Which ones are worth taking out, pushing through the vocal chords, and forming in the mouth, to share with another human being?

Because what you speak, you speak into existence. 

Your future isn’t here yet, but it arrives when you speak about it and make it real.  

So with that airtime – Are you going to speak of other people and gossip? Is other people what you are going to focus your air-time on? Are you going to speak about everything you enjoy and are looking forward to this summer? Are you going to speak into existence “oh nothing is new?”

Words are sacred.  

Can we gain awareness – a pause – a sacred moment –  before our thoughts make their way to our vocal chords?

Perhaps by practicing that pause, we can light up the areas of the brain + the speech pathways – that prefer growth, expansion, optimism and hope.

Perhaps those newly expanded areas will reflect in our speech patterns.

What do we want to speak into existence as we make offers, promises, requests or declarations?

 

So the next time someone asks “how has your summer been?”  “Anything coming up?” – take that pause.

Where do you want your life to go?  Declare it. 

 

 

 

 

 

Essays, Happiness, Learning, Life Hacks, Lifestyle Design, Mental health, Personal Development

Mental Health on Maternity Leave – How to Know if You are Doing Okay

Over the last few years I have been diving deep into mental health, resilience and grit. When I was completing my Masters Degree at the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies here in Calgary, I had the opportunity to do some research into these topics, and that fascination has continued to this day – both inside and outside of work.

I have researched and done professional training (I highly recommend taking the Working Mind course if your employer offers it) and have studied and practiced many of techniques.  One I still use regularly is a box breathing technique taught by, and for, Navy SEALS that regulates the autonomic nervous system.

I believe that any coach worth their salt, should endeavour to put their own tools into practice and really understand what they are talking about on a somatic, emotional and mental level. I believe they should stay on top of research into human psychology and mindset, and I believe they should use their knowledge to translate advanced ontological tools into easy to understand techniques that a client can apply daily to their lives and take forward into their futures.  Coaching isn’t teaching – it is empowering a client to cut through their own fog, uncover deeper self-awareness, reconstruct their mindset, re-pattern habits and reach their potential through intentional practice.  Sometimes I may introduce a client to a model, research, or information that helps them have a shift in mindset, knowledge or awareness such as a technique or research study if that helps them and fits with their goals for coaching.

I have studied mental resilience, mental toughness, grit, persistence, whatever you would like to call it and have read through many resources put out by the United States Marine Corps, the Department of National Defence as well as research journals. In fact, rather than paying someone else to teach you, the best, best way you’ll ever learn in life is by seeking out the information yourself, teaching yourself and practicing it. This is the foundation of a powerful learning technique called Inquiry-Based Learning.  My pet peeve is getting into fancy inacessible langauge, so for our purposes, let’s just call it google-based learning with the assumption the places you are going to for information are a bit more legit.

Paying for courses is simply a way to speed up the packaging and delivery of information and researching stage and it saves you a few hours. I strogly believe in reading books.  First, you can take them at your own pace, second you can write all over them, and third, you immerse yourself inside the author’s mind and get a true feel for the content.  I think of it like steeping my brain in (name author here) tea.   When I am frazzled, I’ll crack open a book by Thich Nhat Hanh and come out thinking like him (because I have been while I read his work.)

Depending on your time and of course, budget, courses are a valid route. When budget allows, I enjoy taking them, and you’ll come out with great information.  But remember, you don’t have to have a big budget and access. To deeply immerse yourself and get that information locked deep in your mind, hunt down for it yourself and start practicing.

I highly recommend any material by Mark Divine through his mental training program, Unbeatable Mind.  Start with the book.  The Kindle edition (you can read on your phone or laptop) is less than coffee.  $2.50 (!)

Note:  Affiliate link to Amazon – by using this link to hop over to Amazon, you are directly supporting my blog, so I thank you in advance if you decide to go there via this button.  
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I wanted to share one of the models that is employed quite extensively across the military and that is the Mental Health Continuum Model.  When I first was introduced to this model I figured, hell, if they use this on battle-hardened soldiers, this is definitely going to be good for Mums.  By the way, I will fully state here that I think Mums are the toughest people around.   Right now. Hands down.  Tough as any soldier.

We need this kind of information and training, but in all honesty, sometimes we are intimidated by this stuff. I remember walking into my first Crossfit Gym in 2010 for example and it was all five finger death punch and tattoos and ripped guys and it was terrifying for me, then I realized once I got to know everyone how wicked, approachable and normal they all were and that “intimidating” was just a story my head had made up. In fact, they have come to me for advice over the years, too!

So the model… bear with me… you may roll your eyes and think “here we go, another check list of things you should do for mental health, uggghhhh I already do those.”  (trust me, I find that frustrating too) but this model is different.

It made me think in a different way about my mental health.

I don’t think about how I am doing on a “good to bad” scale anymore.  I no longer think about mental health in a linear sort of way either. Hell, I don’t even rank it anymore.  I think about mental state movement.

I’ve learnt that ‘mental health’ is complicated as fuck.  You can be great in one area, not so great in another.  You can think you are doing awful, but then you are doing wonderful in another area . This leaves you confused.  You’re left wondering whether you’re just looking at things wrong, and it’s a matter of perspective, or if things are bad and this is some kind of weird response wherein you ignore what’s going wrong. It is so confusing.  Mental health is incredibly complex and a model is woefully inadequate to describe our inner worlds with five bazillion layers and complexities.

The mental health continuum model is about which direction you are moving in and that is an important concept.  A USEFUL concept.

If you asked me, “Carina, what the secret is to happiness, life elevation, fulfillment, whatever you want to call it but that which we are all working towards”   I would tell you that it is about accessing and maintaining this magical type of energy that infuses your whole being.  It’s not actually happiness, happiness is a side product of it.

This is where it gets tough for me because it’s hard describing this correctly in the English language.  The energy we want, is one of engagement and expansion.  It’s a really difficult energy to describe, but when you have it, you know you are in the right place.  You are interested in things, engaged, enthusiastic – yes you are being challenged and there’s some shitty times- but it’s got an upward “feel” to it.  It makes you want to be alive.  It’s when you are working toward a goal.  It’s when you are learning and growing and changing, it’s when you are looking forward to something.  Those are times you are in this energy space.  Even when you experience a setback and you’re picking yourself up and dusting yourself and the tears off, that’s where you want to be.

Think back through your life, do remember a time when you fell in love with a new hobby or activity and you couldn’t get enough? Even though you were awkward, and learning, and it was up days and down days, and days you wanted to quit, you knew intrinsically that you were moving forward in life and you were really quite excited and engaged?  There was something that lit your soul up, wasn’t there?

That’s that energy that I doing a terrible job at putting words around.

You see, mental health isn’t where you are on a scale.  It’s about whether you are moving forward or backward and which energy you are holding.

Forward energy:  Engagement + expansion  + fulfilment.  Green.  

Backward energy.  Disengagement + contraction + emptiness.  Red.

Mental Health Continuum Model - University of Calgary

Image credit:  The University of Calgary SU Wellness Centre.

The model is presented on a scale, but really try to focus your attention on what it means to move toward green or away from it. Energy.

There are so many ways that we understand what it means to be mentally healthy.  The key is understanding our baseline and whether you are moving forward or backward.

For example, one small facet of mental health is social life.  Some people have a small, close set of friends and are more introverted.  Their baseline looks different from a life of the party extravert with a wide range of acquaintances.  The key is to be aware of your movements within your benchmark… to what extent are you moving toward green or red?

Can you see how this diagram describes that energy I was trying to put words around?

It’s tough because the model above uses the words “healthy” and “ill” which gets clinical and makes us think it is a cut and dried thing.  I learnt over the last few months that raking your health is a terrible idea. For a while I was of the mind that my body was completely broken after babies.  That did NOT work let me tell you.  It made ALL of my symptoms worse and I had a pity party.  I choose to be of the mind that I am going green. I am improving my health, moving forward and upward.  I’m going to the green.  

Green is reaching out, expansion, elevation, growth, upward and forward.

Red is isolation, contraction, deflation, regression, downward and backward.  It just makes you feel, well, kind of ick. 

Another thing I like about the fluidity of this model, is that it normalizes fluctuation.  Our mental state changes ten times a day!   It ebbs and flows over a week, a month, a year.

The amount of mental health information we have access to is amazing these days, and the normalization of mental health has been a gift.  However, we have to be super duper careful in these times to not get into a fixed mindset, label ourselves and get a bit “stuck.”

It’s also hard to manage the information overwhelm because nowadays you can read stories about anxiety or ppd, and you are left thinking wow, so much of this is my story.  Does that mean I have it too?  At what level do I get help? does it go away? Etc.

(I’ve written extensively on post partum depression by the way, so feel free to read those if you are in that place and not sure whether to see a professional.)

It is super important to outline that we dont all live and stay in green, nor should we.  We shouldn’t be all great, all the time.  We need to be ill sometimes, we need to be injured sometimes and that goes for mental health as well as physical health.

Nature goes through seasons.  The bright lush greens of summer give way to contraction, withdrawal and less vibrance in autumn, and dormancy in winter.  EVERYTHING in nature goes through oscillations or wave patterns.  Forward and backward, upward and downward.  We are are part of the natural world.  In. out.  Expand. Contract. Breath in. Breath out.

This model shows you that there is optimal state and reacting state –  and it is okay to be moving between those and constantly correcting.  The key is being aware of that movement.  Which way am I going? 

I myself went through a BIG funk January through to May and I finally really got my groove back in May / June as I started trail running and getting out in nature again (it really is a key to my mental health.)

In May I found myself returning to this model, genuinely worried I was experiencing post-partum depression again and wanted to look at the indicators of moving into the “injured” zone of mental health.  I started looking at which parts of this model indicated I was regressing, and which ones I could correct.

Most of my changes centered around physical activity. I made some corrections to physical activity and physical health (I’m working on a laundry list of injuries and pain sources) and can confidently say I’m moving forward in the green direction.  I don’t “rank” myself along this continuum though, I just ask myself, “am I doing things that move me toward green, and away from red.”

This model empowers you to self-assess how you are doing.  Resist the urge to assign yourself a place on this model, because we all move back and forth.  Remember, we are part of nature and oscillate.  The key is to ask yourself, which direction am I going?  Which energy am I experiencing and in which areas of my life?

Having this model also encourages you to evaluate the tricker parts.  If you are in orange and going toward the red zone it’s a great chance to reach out.

If you do a google search of “wellness model” or “wellness diagram” you can get some ideas of areas of your life to think about when you look at this model.

Personally, I like the 8 dimensions of wellness from the Mental Health Association of Portland below. In my own work with clients, I’ve developed my own.

Think about the key components of wellness in your life.  For me, this model is missing “creativity” it’s a barometer of how I am doing.  I also like to get more specific, so I’d break down emotional into “family” “marriage” and “friendships” – all three of those areas are very important to me – and I like to think about whether I am progressing or regressing in those areas.

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Image Credit: Mental Health Association of Portland

When I went through my springtime slump I withdrew very much from my social life, felt disembodied when I was out with friends, and felt myself being distant with my family.   Feeling that negative, slumping energy on all three domains was a big red flag for me that I needed to course correct.  I started working with a psychologist, ramped up my health efforts and got the hell outside.  All biggies for me.

A fun activity that you could even do is draw a bunch of circles, much like the above and label them with the key components of your life.  Inside each, draw a green arrow point up and a red arrow pointing down to represent forward momentum or backward momentum.  I do this with my students all the time and it’s a very enlightening thing to do.

Even though it’s common sense and fairly obvious to do activities like that, there’s something to be said about putting pen or pencil to paper and really reflecting.

So until next blog,

Keep moving forward.

 

xo

Carina

Creativity, Essays, Happiness, health coaching, Lifestyle, Lifestyle Design, Nutrition, Physical Wellness

Organic Stores are a Better Deal Than Big Box Stores in Some Ways. You Just Have to Think Differently.

I’ve subscribed to Ramit Sethi for a while now and have been following his work.  I like his honesty and punchy emails. Today’s email was “10 extravagances people pay for.”  He had asked his readers to submit their answers to this question with an explanation.

There was one in particular I LOVED that made me stop and go hmmm!  That’s right! It caused a little shift in the way I see things.  I had this realization about 10 minutes ago and decided to share it.  It’s just a more flexible way of approaching our decisions as consumers.

You see, I prefer smaller, local stores with organic produce and lifestyle items, I love Community Natural Foods, Bite Groceria and Sunnyside Natural Market.  I don’t do full grocery shops there, our budget is a reality for us – but I always stop in if I am in the area, and do buy supplements, leafy greens, specialty items and the occasional 50% off lunch from there.  I really enjoy those stores.

Reading Sethi’s email today I had an “ah hah” moment.

So often we just think of our consumer choices in terms of money, money, money.  The number at the bottom of a bill.  Money dominates our thinking and it can cause scarcity thinking.  As soon as you start focusing exclusively on minimizing the money going out, and the cheapest deal possible, it’s sort of a race to the bottom in many ways.

We have to be careful to hit the right balance between living within our means + stretching ‘strategically’ versus racing to the bottom and developing a scarcity mindset.  We have to be careful to keep our brains flexible and come at things from different angles.  We need to remember when we make a decision, it’s not just about the object but it can also be about the experience.

There IS something to be said about looking at where we spend our money with a wider perspective than the numbers game.  Sethi nailed this point on the head.

Which response got me started on all of this thinking?  This one:

In response to the question “what are your extravagances?”

“I spend money on the shopping experience itself, because experiences, not stuff, make us happy.  My mom loves to brag about how her grapefruits were so much cheaper than mine – but I bought mine at the fancy market, with the lovely music, while she bagged her own groceries amidst screaming children.” 

I laughed reading this.  It is very true!  I hold nothing against screaming children.  But it totally gets you thinking differently and approaching a weekly chore from a completely different angle.

I digress….

The grocery shop is an experience.  It is more than dollar signs and groceries and just purchasing objects.  It’s an investment of your time and effort.  By racing to the bottom and going as cheap as you can, sometimes you’re not necessarily saving as much as you think.
The cheap store.  Stressful. Crowded. Further away.  Low-quality foods.  So, you’ve just spent an extra $10 return on gas, come home stressed out, spent longer because you bagged your own groceries, bought lower quality items and made an economic decision to support stores who are in the race to the bottom, more stuff for as cheap as possible (which has given rise to the factory farm situation btw!)  You throw stuff into the massive shopping cart indiscriminately and the subtle psychology of the clearance deals and pricing makes and bright yellow signs makes you spend way more than you planned to spend because “it was an amazing deal!”
The organic store.  Much more expensive, yes.  What if it is closer?  Less gas and time? High quality nutritionally dense foods you don’t need to eat in as high volume.  And the experience of a health food store? You come out smothered in nice lotions, essential oils, with a free Alive magazine.  It smells like incense and you come out all chilled out, relaxed and inspired to live healthy. You have a nice conversation with someone perusing the same vitamins shelf. You are more particular about what you choose and put more thought into your shop, because you know it’s expensive af and your cart is teensy.
Interesting, right?
The point of this article IS NOT to argue that one store is better than the other, I use both.  The point of this article is to say that nothing is as black and white, cut-and-dried as we think, and sometimes the race to the bottom, as much as we can get for as cheap as possible, is not the greatest option.  Sometimes it’s good to think about experiences and to cultivate good experiences.
What if we applied that thinking to everything we do in our day?
What if we decided to make a chore an enjoyable experience? What if we took the dishes and dropped a few scents of rosemary oil into the sink afterwards and breathed it in? What if we go to buy cat food from the pet store, take the kids and have fun snuggling bunnies?  What if we cultivate experiences in the ordinary every day things?
Whoever this respondent was, they are on to something.
To keep learning, growing and expanding is to continuously engage in these kinds of thinking exercises.
In addition to doing sudoku, or luminosity, what if we started the practice of thinking outside of the box when we evaluate our consumer decisions?  What if we start coming at it with the perspective of how much are we experiencing in addition to how much are we spending? 
Thoughts to ponder over morning coffee.
Thanks Ramit, for the brain food this morning.

 

 

Essays, Happiness, health coaching, Lifestyle, Lifestyle Design, Nutrition, Physical Wellness, Spirituality

How to Handle Food Saboteurs and People Who Don’t Support Your Lifestyle Change

I’ve been on a pretty major health / lifestyle overhaul the past few years and it has been the most fascinating (and challenging) growth experience.

Last summer, I rejoined Weight Watchers. I’ve had success on it before and it’s a short, beautiful walk from my house.  The ritual of the weekly weigh in, the outstanding food tracking app and the algorithm that balances macros makes it a great fit for me. I am not a details person.  I’ve tried super dialed in macro diets and tracking with my fitness pal but it’s not for me.

It also lets me do my style of eating within it.  I try to eat gluten and dairy free within it, favouring lean meats, fruits, vegetables and nuts / seeds.  The WW algorithm favours these foods, which makes it a great match.

The highest weight I have ever been was last summer.  At 5’10 and pregnant, I topped the scales at 237lb, 70 lb above my normal BMI range.  After delivering, my weight stabilized at 220.  Though I was still on the cusp of overweight / obsese.  I wasn’t alarmed, and I refused to hate my body.  I’m not in that place anymore. It’s a gift of the 30s 😉 but I’ll tell you what, I really felt the discomfort in my joints.  That’s the first time in my life where I went past the overweight category into obese and holy shit, I was really, really sore and tired and inflamed.

I can very clearly remember the distinction between that weight and out of shape weight.  I’m thankful for the experience because I knew I suffered there. It was uncomfortable and in suffering we find our deepest whys and motivations.  When you suffer, you lock in your motivation on a physical, mental and emotional level.  It’s why nobody ever truly transforms until they have their “aha moment” or as Chad Fowler said to Tim Ferriss, the “Harajuku Moment.”

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My weight journey over 3 pregnancies between 2013 and 2018

Between the sickness of pregnancy and the short breaks between each pregnancy, I decided to just take enjoyment in food and I don’t really have any regrets about the journey to that place.  I figure there’s a time in life for gains, a time in life for losses. A time for suffering, a time for vibrancy.  There is just no way you can stay on a perfect linear trajectory.  Nature has seasons and cycles, so do humans.

very.single.rice.krispie treat I ate at good earth cafe, every afternoon was glorious.  No fuckin regrets at all.  Those little rice krispies fed my soul and gave me a small window of relief when I’d been puking all morning.  Every sip of the litres of OJ I went through while I was pregnant with my first? Divine, I tell you!

So, coming into the Fall of 2017 and Mat Leave 3, I knew that it would be about hunkering down and getting the hell out of obese / overweight.

And off to Weight Watchers I went.

I chose to attend the weekly meetings.  For the longest time, I didn’t want to because I find the demographic different and the tools they share a bit basic.  But it’s humbling.

An obstacle to learning that I often carry with me, is that I can research and learn myself, and I already know (and probably on a deeper level) a lot of the science they share, so sometimes I have difficulty granting authority to the leader.  It’s good to identify your obstacles to learning, because once you know them, you can quiet that voice, eat some humble pie and listen.  Everyone has barriers and obstacles to learning. My full time job is helping university students, who are some of the best learners around, overcome a laundry list of them.

At meetings, I remind myself that I am in the same body fat percentage as everyone else and it means I am NOT an expert!  Yes you have knowledge but clearly you are not applying it, so let’s get back to those basics, I tell myself.  I needed to relearn a few things, – mindful eating, portion sizing and eating square meals instead of grazing. I had to retrain my taste buds and sensitize them to sugar by depriving them for a while, and establish the habits and routines of multi vitamin and fish oil supplements, and water intake.

As much as I hate the 5lb awards and clapping and rah rah, I love the part of the meeting where we get into real talk – it’s the trials and tribulations discussion.  It’s like a live version of a talk show and the conversation goes deep.  I love the stories and feedback and advice everyone shares.  It’s inspiring, insightful and the different perspectives serve to break down your learning obstacles.

One of the most common topics that has come up over the last 6 months of meetings has been food saboteurs.

Weight Watchers has an internal instagram account called Connect, and today I got into a discussion about it with a fellow member who is having a hard time with the blatant and active resistance to change that her family is putting up, and their attempts to get her to return to previous habits.  I’ve been so lucky in that I haven’t had any actively disempowering behaviour or doubters, everyone has been so amazing, supportive and empowering in person.  But her story led me down the rabbit hole of thinking about how to approach this from a coaching perspective.

It made me think about some stuff I’ve been reading lately in Tony Robbins’ Book, Awaken the Giant Within, (it’s a classic of his and a big book, but a life changer!!!) It’s probably my #1 life changing book now, The Power of Habit is in a close #2 spot.

(Links to paperbacks below.  Please feel free to use these links to hop over to Amazon if you need to do a shop there.  Literally by shopping on Amazon by going through these links, you are supporting this blog.) 

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In Robbins’ book he teaches us that everything boils down to our innate human nature –  that we all just want to feel love and belonging, and we want to avoid pain. At the most primordial part of our brain, it is about seeking pleasure and avoiding pain.  Those are the dual forces that influence everything we do, think and say.

I realized that this insight applies to all people in our lives who surprise us by not being as supportive as we thought they’d be, when we are undergoing major upward growth and change.

And so, I present to you, my take on this situation, on the people who are *not* empowering you. Who are trying to pull you back… who are actively, or maybe passively disempowering you.  The doubters, the haters *gasp* the food saboteurs and more.

❤️

At the deepest level they act from a very primordial place in their brains.  Everything stems from love and our need for love. The need for belonging and love is a basic human need.

They fear that with your change, your love for them and relationship with them will change.  Ironically, by clinging to the past and trying to pull you backward to remain with them, with their ‘version’ of you, they are only reinforcing their own fears, beause backward momentum cannot compete with forward momentum once you’re on a path of evolution.

In the meantime, many more are embracing the new, evolved you.  Some of them are even inspired and raise up to your new vibration + way of perceiving and showing up in the world.

But …the parade gets rained on, beause that damn 20% are taking up the 80% of your thoughts, and often they are the closest people.  The ones that are supposed to love you the most, right?  Well, they do. It’s a funny kind of love.

Either passively or actively these types will fight your growth (food sabotage anyone?) to bring you back to their vibration – where they are, and where they see you as being. It is the only way they know how to be, and show up, and treat themselves (and treat you.)  

They mistakenly think it is the only place you’ll continue to love them from, and once you leave, your love leaves too. Remember, the old you, the old lifestyle had different expressions of love. We all have fairly stable love languages – mine is gifting – but in my new lifestyle the gift of a big meal out isn’t in line with my new values, and it often derails my goals – but it’s what gets offered by my family with genuine love. 

I often think about this now, because I a genuinely not a foodie and don’t like eating out, yet for birthdays and special occasions, restaurants always get suggested first.  It’s frustrating, and I try to divert and choose a different, healthy restaurant option more in line with my new lifestyle, but there’s definitely pushback, especially if you don’t want cake! But I can understand that they are just being who they are, it’s me who has changed and I have to gently advocate for my needs and new boundaries and also give insight as to why.  If you explain why, you may still face the pushing, and they’ll try and argue around your logic and then you just have to go to a simple, respectful “no, it’s not for me.”  

There’s also another subtle fear – the nonsupporters (they may not even be aware of these fears) are scared you’ll leave with your new improved life and at the same time, your success is precipitating some uncomfortable reflection on their own lives.  It’s a wonderful process that is happening within them, but they’ll probably be a bit mad and want to shoot the messenger (you and your shiny new life!)

Ultimately, it is up to you to decide to how much time you want to spend with people on their different levels (if they don’t want to be on yours,) and with a new, “level up” in your life, you may need to put some work into protecting this lovely place you are in and preventing a backslide. It’s not all shiny and rainbows and unicorns in a new healthy lifestyle.  You are still learning to let go of your urges, bad habits and self-limiting beliefs. I actually think it’s a reason why it bothers us so much when someone tries to reactivate our old habits.  You can feel that hot fire of anger.  It’s because you are fighting hard and “don’t they know how hard I am working?!”

It’s not your job to raise them up to your level, or stoop down to theirs, either.  You do you and they do them. All you can do is set a great example through your own actions, by you, for you.  You have chosen a different place to be.  Hold to it.  For sure, encourage them and let them climb up if they want to ascend to your level, but know they may not and would rather that you be with them, and love them, by climbing down from that crazy precipice above them.   

We are all different souls having a human journey in the larger, cosmic “level up” process.  Some are just not ready for level 10 in this lifetime, but you are. You know it.

We can defend ourselves with vigilance, but also with how much time we set aside for these people. the beauty of our day is we have hours, in the form of connection, that we can selectively hand out to our loved ones.  If your loved one absolutely cannot join you in your place and you have to join them in theirs, set the boundary, preserve yourself, say no to the cake and leave before the deserts and emotional conversations and familial patterns that trigger old habits.

And finally, don’t forget – direct your attention to the empowerers in your life.  if there’s many, wonderful nurture those relationships and do the same for them.  If there aren’t, open yourself up to new people and experiences who are being bought to you seemingly by coincidence.

There’s others evolving upward and climbing up to that new precipice with you – they are waving enthusiastically and saying hello to you right now from across the way 🙂

There is something magical when we vibe off of others and join in upward expansion and elevation of our lives. Look for, and welcome in the empowerers, especially the new ones that have arrived as part of your journey.

Rise up together, accelerate and choose this new, healthier life with new friends who will share your adventure and celebrate it with you.

And watch the pride, happiness and love flow.

xo.

 

Essays, Happiness, Spirituality

I Practice Stillness and Silence x How To Access Intuition and Creativity.

Stillness.

 

 

 

Silence.

 

 

 

 

.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both of those come from a deeply grounded, gentle, peaceful place.  It’s a soft, quiet energy.  Truthfully, I’m not often in this energy state.  I’m often moving forward, growing, learning, pushing, goal setting, driving.

Even my posture reflects this momentum.  I gesticulate with my hands and constantly lean forward.  My centre of gravity sits above my toes, pushing me outward into the world.  I can be fast thinking, a flurry of ideas, often fast talking.  Snapping up all the world has to offer.  Discombobulated energy.  It’s fast and sparky and colourful and enthusiastic, but it’s also really loud up in here.

It’s why I am drawn to the people in my life who seem to have peace as their natural state.  They don’t know it but I call them my Monks.  I find myself settling into their energy level.  New age types call it “vibration” or “auric fields.”  Millenials call it “vibes.” Whatever language you prefer, right?

Have you ever noticed the posture of someone who walks with that quiet, gentle, grounded energy?  You find yourself coming away from one of those interactions all “zen.”  These people come in pastel and earthy colours.  Even if you are standing talking to them, in your mind’s eye it is like they are relaxing back in a chair.  They pause between words, thoughtfully contemplating everything and producing finished thoughts, which they have allowed to steep and develop before releasing them into the world.

 

When they talk.

 

I take in.

 

What they have to say.

 

And slow.

 

 

Myself.

 

 

Down.

 

How do they do it?

In 2018, I believe this is becoming a lost art, but it is one that we can practice and get back to. Shortly, I ‘m going to talk about what happens when you do this. It’s profound.

A quiet, slow, contemplative and mindful state is one that we can put ourselves into with a bit of work and a bit of practice. It’s not woo woo, it’s proper science.

The first law of thermodynamics states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed; energy can only be transferred or changed from one form to another.  You can’t take away or create energy, but you can shift it.

Why did a “natural state” become a “lost art” that we have to carve out space for and practice?  Why is mindfulness a movement and a technique that is taught instead of an innate way of being?

This is my theory:  Though the internet has come with many gifts and it is a great advance for our civilization, it has its downsides, too.

When did life get so loud and fast and intense?

The internet has altered how we negotiate two planes of existence:  The internal world (inside of us) and the external world (out there) that we go out and face each day.

Before technology, our internal world was ours.  We were left to our own thoughts.  The only encroachments on it came in a written, visual or auditory nature.  Conversation.  Music.  Sound.

In the 1890s these encroachments took the form of a daily ritual of reading a newspaper, or visiting among friends.  Those were parts of the day, but it was interspersed with activities that cultivate presence.  Work moved only at the pace of technology for the time.  There were also more opportunities for nature – which immerses us in silence, stillness and the present moment.

It is a little bit different in 2018, isnt it? It’s fast and loud.  The external world is always there.  It’s hard to separate IRL (in real life) versus IOB (in our brain) – I catch myself talking under my breath all of the time, and feel the flash of embarassment that my internal thoughts are bubbling out into the external world, that my brain somehow got the signals mixed.

The external world enters thousands of times a day via our rich environment of modern media and technology.  Everyone (and everything) out there is shouting for our attention and we are listening.  We unlock and access our phones a lot. Estimates vary from 80 times a day to 160 times a day. We peruse images on instagram.  Many do not move us… we scroll on by.  Many more do.  I can’t even estimate how many photos I look at it in “a sesh.”

I can’t help but think that 100 years ago, their instagram was the art gallery. In 1900 someone would stand in contemplative silence and stillness in front of a painting, letting it percolate in their inner world and move them.  We have art galleries in 2018 to be sure, but we move through them like an instagram feed and only briefly contemplate and let our own creativity arise – before we whip out our phone, take a photo, google, learn about it, share it and move back to the external world.

But it’s exciting and stimulating isn’t it, the external world?  When I put my phone down, I am buzzing with thoughts and ideas.  When I sat down to write this article, I thought about 3 other topics I wanted to write about.  It took me a good 10 minutes to focus and get into the flow.  Recently I’ve been trying to meditate in stillness and free write, and it’s been difficult letting inspiration bubble to the surface naturally, from the internal spring.

Simply put, the external world has more internal access points. It is shouting and clamouring for the greatest prize of all. Your attention.  And we’re hooked!  Its a thrill! We’re not walking to keep up with a handful of friends and family.  We’re sprinting to keep up with 500+ followers.

When you scroll through your social media do you ever feel the congestion on a psychic level?  It is a world that feels so loud once it passes through our eyes and ears, into our brain.  We have less time to think and reflect, to steep in our own creativity and insight.  We don’t let things spontaneously and naturally occur.

We’re so busy running around collecting outside ideas, thoughts and inspirations and pints for our pinterest boards.

As the outside world flows in with its heady energy, our inner world accelerates too, and we find ourselves managing, designing and controlling our lives at the same frenetic pace.

Money Tunnels

As I write, an image flashed in my mind. A money tunnel.  You’ve probably seen them on game shows.  People are placed inside a box, a fan turns on and you watch them grasp wildly at the money flying around them, delirious with excitment.  It’s quite comedic.

Have you ever watched people and their strategies in money tunnels?

The ones that are successful are the ones that are smooth.  They are in control of their energy and are grounded.  They take a moment to assess and come up with some kind of creative strategy, struck with some internal inspiration.  The ones that come out with barely anything are the ones who snatch wildly at everything, delirious with excitement and crazy energy.

Have you watched both types of people when the fan turns off and the air returns to stillness?

Both competitors want that money.  The wild grabbers continue flailing, stuffing money in their shirts and dropping bills as they do so.  They keep grappling urgently even when the buzzer sounds.

The smooth operators are different. Then know that when the fans turn off, the money will float down into their hands.  It will come to them and they calmly catch even more.

It’s such a good metaphor for us when we begin to talk about what we’re all doing on this crazy planet anyways.    

Take that quiet moment.  

Carve out time to slow down, to settle down.  For 30 seconds, or maybe for half an hour.

In that different place of energy, we are able to leave the external world for a bit and retreat inside ourselves.

True clarity and insight emerges when our inner worlds are unencumbered.  Those lead us to precisely what we have been reaching for and trying to grab at in our external worlds.

In silence, we sweep out the clutter and we are left with simplicity and our true nature.  It is there that we finally have the time and space to realize that everything is unfolding just as it should.  That we can’t control the universe, we can’t rush it.

It is all unfolding on its own time.

Did you ever know of someone who was seeking/grabbing at/working at/ finding a potential partner, who came up fruitless and frustrated?   Did you ever see the same friend give up, retreat backward and let go of their forward charge for a while?  Did they stop trying to force the hand of fate?  Did you ever see them meet the love of their life after they finally let go? We all know someone, don’t we? 

You don’t squat down and ask a flower bulb to burst up out of the earth and flower this week ~ we don’t expect that.  So it’s funny that we actually do that with ourselves, our own lives and the unfolding of what is to come. The external world totally gives us the impression that this is how we roll in life.  To some extent, yes, you carve out your own path, but we must remember that returning quietly to the internal world also has its merit.

If you hold something deep in your heart, it will come to you of its own volition.  You’re already set in motion things to bring it about, so let that urgency go.

Please know that you won’t be aware of the hints that things are coming, you won’t hear the little whispers of intuition, without the occasional space to do so in the quiet recesses of your mind.

The external world doesn’t have time for that shit .It is excited, noisy, forward pushing, demanding and energetic.  It tells you that A leads to B which will get you to C.

You’ll miss the quiet whisper, that the person you met by chance at your local park is important for some reason.  Turns out, they’re going to have a monumental impact on a career that you don’t even know is coming down the pipeline and is going to lead you to from A and B, through C to D, E and F.  You’ll miss the little nudge of “I am drawn to this activity.” Without quiet space to feel that nudge, you won’t even know a new passion is unfolding for you that will beautifully combine A and B, and then create a G, H and I.

Practice the art of silence.  Of slowing down.  Of stepping away from the rat race of the external.  Cultivate internal peace. Sweep out the clutter and just be. Let things come to you, and let things spring up from inside of you.  See what emerges.

 

 

 

Essays, Happiness, Lifestyle, Lifestyle Design, Physical Wellness, The Projects

Fixing my Body After 3 Babies – Pelvic Floor Physio, Mindsets and Empowerment.

On my last blog post, I began to talk about the journey I have taken on my third maternity leave to rebuild my body.  One of the first things that I did was take stock of my body.  I talked about free writing, or journalling, to understand not only your areas of discomfort and pain, but also to gain some insight into your dialogue around that pain.

When you let yourself feel your back pain, or your pelvic prolapse, what internal chatter begins?  What messaging is in there?   This is what a good free writing session, or a coach can help you access.

Taking stock of our bodies and acknowledging our discomfort is an important first step, and it takes courage.  It can be overwhelming and tiring realizing that in addition to a new baby, you have a body that needs nurturing, too.

What were some of my projects on this third mat leave?

  • -70 lbs of weight to lose that I had accumulated in three pregnancies.
  • -Chronic back pain and the question of a possible auto-immune disease and associated symptoms.
  • -Nerve pain in my foot.
  • -Multiple pelvic organ prolapse and abdominal separation.
  • -Huge breasts interfering with physical activity.

I felt overwhelmed by this list.  These were all big projects!

But you know what?  You need to hang out in this place of frustration and suffering for a bit.  Some need to hang out in it for a long time.  Some need to experience more intense symptoms or heightened suffering. By going through the above aches and pains, and really acknowledging them, you are given a gift.  That gift is the determination to find a new “why” and a new way of looking at the above issues, because the old way of looking at them, has not fixed any of them.

Pain produces clarity and determination.  These are two things you need when you have an important goal (and a busy new mama life that can easily distract you.)

Back in my 20s, it used to be easy, accessing a “why.” I could literally pull them out of my back pocket and achieve my goals.  But life in my 20s was much less busy and simpler – in all senses of the word. Physically, emotionally and mentally.  Now I have multiple layers of emotion, I’m more complex and my life has many more layers to it, including 4 humans who demand my time, love and attention.  Self limiting thinking and beliefs have had time to settle in and grow deep roots, even if they are not helpful. That my friends, has been the work of my 30s.  Pulling up all of those deep roots and letting go of the ones that no longer serve.

This time around, after journalling about the excess weight and exploring my fears, and going down the “what if” tunnel in my free writing, I realized that my fears around being in the slightly obese category were related to being to keep up with my children and enjoying activity with them. I didn’t want to sit out on my children’s lives.  I could feel aching well up in my chest just going down that thinking road.  My back pain and weight activated this type of crappy messaging that made me feel sad, and disempowered and unmotivated. I was looking at each of these projects in a way that was deepening my stress.

I decided that I had to begin to separate my back pain from all of this internal messaging and fear projecting.  It was simply pain, indicating I needed to get imaging, and explore the issue further.  I let go of the fears around being able to help my kids and run my household from the equation, because that was getting me nowhere. They’d still come up but I’d acknowledge them and push them aside.  As soon as they took up less room, it gave my brain some freedom to access more powerful thoughts and beliefs.

I was able to connect with a new, and much more powerful “why” to lose weight:  Because I want the physical energy and ability to keep up with my toddlers and share their active life with them, and participate in the same activities.

When I got rid of the messaging of “I am afraid of this” I made room for “I want this” and coming from a place of desire, is much easier than coming from a place of avoidance.

Over the year I reframed pain and hot spots in my body.  I think of it as little flashing lights indicating areas of growth.  Each one of those projects I listed above has immeasurably improved my life and I’ve been able to stay motivated in each of them.

I began to look at pain not as something to be stomped out, but to be examined with curiosity and empathy and a way to open up new opportunities in my life.

Pelvic floor rehab opened the door to a passion for pilates and appreciation for low impact movement. It really enhanced my trail running, too.  My back pain led to more imaging, which is beginning to shine a light on some other issues I’ve struggled with, and may provide me with some great answers and has given me powerful motivation to manage nutrition.

We all have a laundry list of things to work on.  Rather than list them off and just set goals, we should examine how we think about it, and what it means to us.  When we are able to step back and see our own dialogues, and beliefs at work, we can decide whether they help us, or harm us (and need to be let go and replaced with more useful thoughts.) That is the key to true motivation and lasting change.

I am now 10 months out from creating this list of maternity leave projects, and here’s where I am at.

  • -70 lbs of weight to lose that I had accumulated in three pregnancies.
    • 40lb lost and 30lb to go
  • -Chronic back pain and the question of a possible auto-immune disease and associated symptoms.
    • The world “auto immune” led me to research nutritional and lifestyle approaches which have helped my pain (and weight) immensely.  Rheumatology appointment coming up.  
  • -Nerve pain in my foot.
    • Surgery booked to fix it. Simple as that.  Doesn’t need to be made more complex than it is, right? Even though our minds want to do otherwise. 
  • -Multiple pelvic organ prolapse and abdominal separation.
    • Huge improvement in diastasis recti (abdominal separation) with pilates, physio and hypopressives.  Symptoms of prolapse minimized and pessary installed for high impact activity – my lifestyle didn’t have to change! Learnt so much about pelvic floor health and came away with exercises that allow me to manage symptoms. Feel empowered and confident to manage this myself. 
  • -Huge breasts interfering with physical activity.
    • Had the courage to go ahead and pursue a referral, go to the appointments, advocate for myself and do the surgery.  Sitting here 2 days out of surgery with a new chest, a sense of freedom and way less pain. I am over the moon! 

 

 

Could I have achieved these things on mat leave with my old thinking patterns?  Maybe, but by constantly engaging in stressful, fear-based scenarios I think it would have done more harm than good. There is a major connection between chronic pain and illness, and our psyche.  I dont doubt for a moment that sub-optimal mindsets create sub-optimal conditions in the body.

By examining my old approaches and the dialogue activated by pain, and then shifting that dialogue by asking powerful questions, I was able to develop a new dialogue of curiosity, learning and growth and frame these projects in that way. I am no longer disempowered or “broken” after babies (yup, we’ve heard everyone say that at least once)

I am empowered and improved!

A great example is the prolapse situation.  I was truly freaked out one day on a run when it felt like my insides were going to fall out.  When I thought about my bladder, uterus and rectum all hanging low, all sorts of future projections and catastrophizing happened. All sorts of fearful dialogue and disempowering thoughts were running through my head.  There’s no fix.  This is permanent. You’re done.  You’re wearing a diaper and pads for the next while.  It will get worse, and so on.

With work and practice, I was able to move to a place of “hey, this is going to be such a cool learning experience about the pelvic floor.  I’m going to get a great core out of this *and* be able to advocate pelvic floor health post partum and potentially help others, and damn right I am going to improve my symptoms!”

I signed up for a pelvic floor assessment to take stock of the prolapse, condition of my pelvic floor and ab separation.  I then began taking hypopressive breathing classes, pelvic floor pilates and got a pessary fitted for higher impact activities at the pelvic floor clinic. 6 months later, all of my symptoms are under control.
In those six months I had to go to SO many appointments, pilates twice a week and have the discipline to do home exercises.  I had to book childcare and defend my monday and wednesday mornings when I would way rather have done other (more fun) things.

Had I held onto my old thinking patterns of fear, disempowerment and “what ifs,” I probably would have skipped classes, become demotivated and adopted negative thinking patterns.  I would have been working only from a limited resevoir of sheer willpower, rather than a genuinely motivated place. I wouldn’ t have stuck it out.

I truly knew nothing about my pelvic floor before this entire process, and it led me to being in awe of the human body, and I became so much more capable of managing my own symptoms.  I went from a frightened, disempowered patient waiting for help, to an empowered owner of my own health, working hand in hand with professionals as partners, rather than relying on them.

That in itself is a powerful shift in mindset and ownership of health.  I walked out of my doctor’s office initially with “help me!” written all over my face.

I now walk into my doctor’s office with “I’ve got this” written all over my face.

You are so worth you.  When you are ready, take stock of your body and all of the fun projects that you will be undertaking to nuture it, and return it to a place of vitality.  Be brave and dig deep.  Uncover the deeper fears and thinking patterns/beliefs that don’t serve you, and will disempower you.  Decide that you don’t have to hold on to them, that you can find more empowering beliefs, you can take ownership of your health, and see this as an enjoyable, satisfying journey back to health,

not because you have to, but because you want to. 

 

xo
Carina

 

Creativity, Essays, Happiness, Lifestyle, Lifestyle Design, Nutrition, Physical Wellness

An Explanation of Health Coaching – Repairing my Body After Three Babies (Part 1)

You may be familiar with professional coaching, which has been well established for some time now in the executive and leadership space. Coaching standards are high and we have an international body to regulate the quality, ethics, and professional standard of coaching (as well as coach training programs.)  I myself am a professional coach and I often write this blog from the perspective of a coach (on maternity leave of course!)

There are many facets of coaching – life, executive, leadership, athletics.  Though the context differs, and the names for each coaching tool vary according to the discipline, it is steeped in achieving a global shift in the way we see the world, act within our world, and define/get results.

Health coaching is a relatively new specialty and is rapidly gaining traction in North America. It is growing as an occupational field and is being increasingly employed by primary care centres. I am very excited about this, because it is a profound tool and there’s such a need for it. I’ll get into that later.

A brief review of research reveals that health coaching is receiving increased attention as a tool for patients, particularly in the realm of chronic diseases, behaviour modification and lifestyle change.  I listen to a fair number of podcasts and it comes up a ton in the auto-immune disease and chronic pain space as well.  This is where I really think health coaching is a game changer for people.

For today’s post, I wanted to write about health coaching from the perspective of a patient, to explain in easy-to-understand terms how health coaching has the potential to transform us.  I use a lot of coaching techniques on myself (which obviously is not as effective as hiring a coach) but I think by telling these stories, it can help give you a feel for what coaching is like, and ultimately I want to share with you some tools to make your maternity leave a time of wonderful growth & life elevation.

That’s always been my mission with The Great Maternity Leave blog.  

So this whole coaching thing, let’s get started.  First, there’s a lot out there.  It’s everywhere.  And I wanted to speak a little to what it is not.

It is definitely not what you see being sold on all of the facebook and instagram ads.  Many of them are qualified, fully certified coaches, but the majority of marketing approaches do give a shallow impression of coaching.   I call this au-courant marketing strategy “end-point marketing.”  What do I mean by that?

You probably know the ads: The pretty life coach skipping through the streets of Paris, umbrella in hand, talking about how she had no income a year ago and now she’s bringing in six figures – or the male “life hacker” coach, sitting with his laptop in after a workout, bring in passive income and clients, telling you how you, too can achieve this lifestyle design and reach this end point?  That to me, is end point marketing, which looks suspiciously like setting a lifestyle goal and achieving it.  The problem is, it does work, material displays of success are captured in an ad, but it’s harder to capture internal displays of success.

Unfortunately, the ads you see for coaches do not give anyone an understanding of how it works.  Coaching is a specific set of tools that you gain through working with a someone qualified.  You learn to use them and employ in your life with the coaches’ guidance. With practice and insight you are then able to shift your entire life with your new perspective, mindset and behaviours.

There are many coaching tools, and they are all designed help you to understand why you see things the way you do, how you can shift the way you see the world, and in turn make better choices and get different results in your life.  Coaching is all about gaining a deeper awareness, achieving permanent shifts in your world view, and becoming equipped with the ability continue this process throughout your life.

That leads to elevation of your life.

I also see a change in the goals that clients bring to the table.  A good coach will light a fire of potential in a client and once they throw off self-limiting beliefs and self-imposed restrictions, they realize the scope of their potential.  All of a sudden their old goals seem small and limited, and they reach for the stars with new goals that truly fit the person they see themselves becoming.  Everything elevates.  Let me tell you,  that is fun to see as a coach.

But all of this is pretty much impossible to capture in a 30 second Instagram video, or image on a Facebook boosted post.

I feel like endpoint marketing of coaching services doesn’t work.  Why?  You don’t help people by climbing up a mountain, and then waving at everybody else at the bottom and yelling ” you can be me!”  Personally, speaking, I’d be much more motivated by that coach who is grinding up the mountain alongside me, asking damn good questions that deepen my awareness of what is happening and offering me a fresh perspective that renews my resolve. I’ve never hired a coach off of an ad, but I have hired a coach off of following them for a few years, understanding their insights and deep inner workings of their mind.  The coaching process is so internal, that an external ad simply can’t capture that.

The journey of personal wellness and evolution in health is a deeply personal one that is not about your coach, and you wanting to get where your coach is – it’s about you.

So, now that we’ve established the difficulty of marketing coaching, and the impression that it currently gives in the social media marketplace, let’s take the opportunity to dive in and examine it in real-life.

For this article, I wanted to give a deeper understanding of the dots that health coaching connects, and what it can offer to someone looking to change their health.  I am going to write it in the context of my third maternity leave, which was about healing and regaining vitality and health.  Let me tell you, there were a lot of things in my body that needed fixing up after 3 babies in 4 years.

The Third Maternity Leave

Each of my three maternity leaves, I have assigned a theme or an overall goal. Maternity leave was first and foremost about my family and the beautiful new addition to our home, but I am also a passionate goal setter and advocate of ongoing personal growth and evolution, particularly for mothers.

My first maternity leave was embracing motherhood.

My second, embracing creativity.

My third maternity leave from 2017-2018 has been about repairing my body in the journey back to vitality and physical wellness.

Once I had recovered from childbirth and taken 8 weeks to settle into our new rhythm with 3 children (3, 2 and a newborn)  I began to take stock of my overall wellness.  I believe if you are going to take up growth and challenge in one area, it is good to make sure first that you have stability, and routine in another.

When you read about what a health coach does, there is often mention that a coach helps a client understand and set goals for themselves.  Personally, I think that this is only a sampling of the coaching process.  In my first coaching session with a client, it is about getting to know them, understanding their perspective, the way they see the world, and how they frame their current situation.  Simply through their dialogue, body language and way they answer questions I can gain an understanding of their grander narratives, world view and perspective.  We move into a discussion of goals and ideally, move to very specific goals, that are connected to very powerful and clear “whys.”

This is where coaching really gets going. This is when we start going deeper.

Now, on mat leave I didn’t have a health coach but being one myself, I used my own techniques on me, and instead of having a coach asking me questions, I bought a journal and it became my coach.  If you cannot afford a coach, this is absolutely something that you should do!

Invest in a nice journal and a nice pen, because in these pages you are going to write an entirely new chapter of your life.  

In the absence of a coach, one of the first things I did was a free-writing session.  I listed out how I was feeling, and everything that was bothering me.  It was an hour-long stream of consciousness that was barely legible.  If you haven’t tried free-writng or stream-of-consciousness writing, don’t be intimidated by it! I took 5 years to finally try it and I was surprised that after 10 minutes of forced journalling, the words starting flowing easily and fast onto the paper.  It’s quite cool to do.

I had to take the time (and physical space) to be in a quiet room, enter my own body, listen to it and really connect with the discomfort. I had to describe in detail the pain or symptoms.  It’s an unpleasant process, but I to enact lasting change, and connect with deep motivation, you must take time to connect with the pain and discomfort in your body, and make direct contact with your own suffering.

People often speak about needing to hit rock bottom, or that place where they decide they cannot suffer anymore.  This is very true.  Wanting to change doesn’t happen on a mental level. You can’t decide to change.  You also need to have a “that’s it!” moment in your body on a somatic level. Carve out some time in your day to go inside your own body.

Coming out of third childbirth there were a list of things I wanted to address, and just how much they were bothering me became quickly evident in my free writing journal entry.

-Pelvic organ prolapse & abdominal muscle separation

-Ongoing chronic backpain, severe fatigue, sciatica and digestive troubles (possible auto-immune condition)

-Large breasts causing issues with trail running (my passion!) and back pain.

-Nerve pain in foot

The next part of this process was understanding the mental layering that happens on top of the physical discomfort.

The outside perspective of a coach is very helpful, because they can offer observations of  patterns or themes that they are hearing or picking up in your dialogue.

We need to understand that we attach meaning to our symptoms.  By noticing them, we shed light on the fears, stress and disempowering beliefs that we carry.

What came up for me?

Symptom:  Nerve pain in foot.

Messaging:  Trail running is my passion and what if this doesn’t go away? What if I can’t run?   This is the key to my mental health and I don’t enjoy anything else as much as I enjoy running. I don’t want to find another sport. I’ve been so irresponsible with stretching, it’s probably my fault, I always have issues with my body, it seems like I just get injured when I run.

Symptom:  Chronic back pain and auto immune issues.

Messaging:  What if I can’t be a mom to my kids because I am too exhausted and need to sleep all of the time? Is my back going to get worse?  My pain levels are already really bad every day, I can’t handle more than this.  I don’t want to become disabled. I have housework to do!I Hate this housework! (cue deep feelings of resentment and victimhood)

Ick.  It’s hard just writing those down. I can feel my chest get tight just engaging with those messages and typing them on the screen here. I don’t want to feel that way anymore. I do. not. like. feeling. this. way.

By taking the time to engage with the internal chatter that is activated by our pain and symptoms, we can begin to separate the two out and regain control.

Pain is simply a message from our body that something is off and needs to be fixed. That is all it is.  It is a message running through our nervous system.  

However as humans, (oh, the joy of being human!) we have a multitude of ways of interpreting that pain message – in effective ways, but also in terribly ineffective ways. We have all sorts of internal chatter and stories and excuses that we add to that sore back or grouchy joint.

We humans take those simple pain messages and then filter them through layers and layers of life experiences, social and cultural conditioning, past experiences, cognitive biases, personality and our own internal dialogues. Most of them are irrelevant, or outdated or not even true!  Yet they completely influence and shape us.

Our pain comes out the other end looking much more complicated than “my Psoas muscle is tight and sore.”  There’s a deeper story about a victim mindset you have, or perhaps, a grand narrative that you are separate from your body and it is something to beat into submission (when it should be your ally.) .

This is one of the first things a coach can (and will) do.  They will carve the space, and time, in a session, for you to undertake a deeper examination of what is going on underneath those pain cues and symptoms.  When you book a session with a coach, the act of carving that tie out and paying for the session is a statement that this is sacred, and worth it.  That you are worth it.

What is your internal messaging?  What influences it?  Under the careful guidance of a coach, you will also have the opportunity to explore your fears, why you want to change, and if you feel up to it, you can go down the “what if?” road to truly develop deep and lasting motivation because that road leads into our deepest fears.

In our deepest fears live our deepest “whys.”

A coach has to be skilled in ensuring that a client is grounded (often through a meditation or guided visualization exercise) and that a safe space is created through conversation.  The client embarks on their own journey, but the coach acts as a guide, walking gently behind, asking effective and powerful questions, perhaps offering observations, and gently supporting as the client walks into their pain.

Equally important is the process of guiding a client out of the dark places, and then unraveling the disempowering beliefs.  Together, as partners, coach and client discredit them and build new, empowering ones in their stead.  This is another stage of the coaching process I’ll definitely go into in a later post.

This process is so, so important in the realm of our health, and I think this is why health coaches have huge potential as an ally and resource in primary care networks.

Many, many people go to a doctor with the best intentions to fix their health problems and address their symptoms.  In primary care, medicine can be administered and brief conversation ensues regarding the issue and potential resources to help the patient.  However, all too often with a diagnosis, or with a health problem, there is the big question of what happens after the appointment.  And, what is happening inside the patient after that appointment?  

I catch myself wondering about this all the time.  There is an awful lot that happens between a first appointment with the doctor, and the follow up.  At that first appointment for example, you get a diagnosis, possibly medication, possibly requisitions for further testing, and a list of things to do to improve your health.

BUT…

What happens in that space between that appointment and the follow up? So much.  So much that explains why so many people don’t just go home and do what they are supposed to.  Why they are not motivated.  Why they have access to all of the information they need, but don’t act on it.

There is a big gap between the part of our lives the health professionals can touch, and the part of our lives that we ourselves can touch, and that bridge is coaching.

Too many people go down the “what if?” thinking with their health problems after that first appointment and get stuck there. They don’t climb out of the scary future scenarios and they don’t have the tools to make it a powerful motivator.

I saw so many people like this at the chronic pain clinic when I went through some of the worst times with my back. I felt myself going down that tunnel too.  I was in the vacuum of time outside of appointments. I sat with my symptoms and internal dialogue that really was not making things better. Disempowering beliefs began to take hold. That things won’t get better.  That this affects everything.  That it’s my fault.  That they don’t believe me.  These are all common disempowering beliefs of a chronic pain patient.  Did you know one of the most meaningful things a chronic pain patient experiences at a chronic pain clinic is the simple statement “we believe you.” 

Patients begin to see what is going wrong, don’t have the tools to loosen the hold of their deeply held beliefs connected to, (and probably accelerating) what is going wrong. They can’t identify where these beliefs originally came from, why they are not grounded in evidence, or how they can replace them.  Add into that physical pain, and the emotion of fear and it is a difficult place to climb out of.

Could you see how I was going down this tunnel in my own journal entries?

Did you notice that I kept writing “What if?”  I was stressing myself out based on “what if” scenarios, not even (real) scenarios.  And I was expanding those scenarios to “what if it affects my whole life.”  All of a sudden back pain became a question of not being able to be a  parent.  Wtf!

This right here is an “ah hah” moment or an insight.  In coaching, we call these “distinctions” – but I do like the Oprah sounding “ah hah” moment.

The moment of insight is so, so important.

As I read through my symptoms and the disempowering thoughts that they activated, I realized that I tended to focus on a few things:  That the problem was permanent, pervasive, global (in the words of Tony Robbins) – by global I mean I had a tendency of expanding the issue to broader areas of my life.

BAM.  That friends, is a coaching insight, a distinction, an “ah hah” moment.  My perception has shifted and I have a new way of seeing the issue at hand that instantly discredited my old thinking patterns.

When I am working with a client as a coach and this happens,  they often go quiet, break eye contact, retreat inside themselves and more often than not, lean back in their chair and look upward.  Behind these physical cues is some fascinating neuroscience.

On a functional MRI scan, when a coaching client has an insight or “ah hah” moment, their brain lights up like a christmas tree.  Did you know that?   As a coach we are trained to recognize that moment and help deepen that moment of insight – but with practice anyone can.  It shows up in someone’s body.  Their posture shifts, they sit back, and look away, breaking eye contact in order to go ‘inside’ and engage with that insight.

What’s happening?  When a person has a moment of insight, the brain produces a burst of alpha waves and the part that undertakes abstract, creative thinking kicks into high gear. Connections are made where there were no connections before, and the client will permanently see something in a different way.

Simultaneously, there is a reduction in the amount of visual information passed from visual processing areas to these higher creative areas of the brain, that perform more abstract thinking and problem solving.  it is exactly why, when asked a difficult question, we all have to take a moment and look away or break eye contact. Or when a character in a movie has a profound moment of realization, they look away with a far-away look.  their brain is changing.

If you’d like to read more about the science behind this process, check out this journal article from the Association of Psychological Science. 

What was my ah-hah moment from the process of examining my pain, thoughts and beliefs with a coaching perspective?

I now know that when I experience pain, it is a simple message that something needs to be adjusted.  What it is not is a harbringer of doom.  It is not going to ruin my life, or motherhood.  All I have to do in that moment is just deal with the symptom. I do not engage with the old disempowering dialogue that is frankly, lacking evidence and totally unhelpful because it activates more stress, making the pain worse. Don’t get my wrong, it still happens, but now I can sit back and observe it coming, like a runaway car, but I don’t get into that car.

When I had that insight, I could feel something different firing in my brain.  A new neural connection.

Each time I feel pain now, instead of engaging with my old dialogues and immediately worsening the symptoms and my own stress, I can step back and see my thoughts occuring – but not engage with them, because I know they are unhelpful, untrue, irrelevant and no longer serve my goals.

I’m not caught in a cycle of fear around my future, my ability to pick up my kids or a host of other thoughts, that will completely take over and make me forget about picking up the resistance band.

I am more motivated to go and do a corrective exercise if my back is sore, because that’s all it is. I can gently honour my old dialogues, see them for what they are – old and outdated and inaccurate – and continue onward with different insight, behaviour and actions (which include picking up that resistance band and doing the exercise.)