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Need Motivation? Try a Why-Do List

Let’s face it, we all struggle with motivation from time to time. Asking questions such as “Why aren’t I more motivated?” or “What is getting in my way of doing this?” result in us rehearsing the reasons we don’t want to do something. Why not create a “Why-Do” list?

  • Start by picking one thing you want to or should be doing but, for whatever reason, are feeling unmotivated.
  • Stubbornly refuse to ask yourself the age-old, rational, yet highly un-motivating questions mentioned above. Asking ourselves the wrong questions, we end up reciting excuses, often leading to inaction or guilt.  
  • Instead, focus on two more positive and motivating questions addressing why you want to do something creating a list to get you to argue in favor of doing the task. 
    • The reasons should be timely, compelling, and personal.
  • Why might I … (go to the gym, quit smoking, change my diet) 
  • Why are these reasons important to me? (The key word being me)

As you will see, the answers help you rehearse the positive reasons for doing something.

Instead of telling yourself, as you might have before this exercise, that you have to start walking because your doctor told you to or because your family wants you to, you may end up with much more personal and motivating reasons such as…

  • I want to walk in the morning because I always feel better when I do. 
  • I want to walk in the morning because my back feels better the rest of the day. 

Your answers help you rehearse positive reasons for doing whatever it is you are struggling with. And the best part about the “Why Do” list? The personally meaningful reasons you come up with help you stay motivated and stick with your goals.

Adapted from Dr. Michael Pantalon Instant Influence technique. “These seemingly irrational questions are part of my very successful, scientifically-proven Instant Influence method (based, in part, on Motivational Interviewing), which has been shown to motivate people from the Emergency Room to the Board Room, from patients with addiction and mental illness in the South Bronx, NY to executives and employees of Fortune 100 companies who are resistant to organizational change, as well as, many other individuals from all walks of life. They may even work for you.  Why might you give it a try?”

Michael V. Pantalon, Ph.D. is an award-winning faculty member and psychologist at Yale School of Medicine.

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The Case for D-EQ

COVID accelerated what was already happening – working remotely. One of the most significant changes and challenges? Zoom meetings. How do we express our emotions and read the emotions of others over zoom? How do video meetings impact our ability to communicate and connect with others?

A term popularized in the 1990s, Emotional Intelligence (EQ), is defined as our ability to discern, comprehend, and manage our own emotions and those of others.

Why is EQ & D-EQ important?

Research has shown that EQ is about twice as important as IQ when it comes to teamwork. A team with a leader with high EQ creates an environment in which information sharing, trust, healthy risk-taking, and learning flourish. Conversely, low levels of EQ create a toxic work environment rife with fear and anxiety, eroding psychological safety.

What does this look like in the digital landscape?

Digital Emotional Intelligence (D-EQ) is the ability to sense emotional responses—our own or other people’s—and use this affective information to guide thinking behavior and decision-making in the digital landscape.

What are some of the challenges to D-EQ?

Mirroring is powerful non-verbal communication essential for building trust and rapport with others. Unfortunately, our ability to mirror others in a video meeting is seriously hampered. It is difficult to pick up on emotional cues, making reading and connecting with others much harder. On top of that, distractions are numerous. You compete with email, Slack, text messages, social media, etc… With mirroring being hindered in the digital environment, we need to work harder to develop communication skills and emotional self-management.

How can we build D-EQ?

The good news is that D-EQ is a skill. D-EQ can take form in the development of both personal rituals and team rituals. Rituals such as communication tools, practicing mindfulness, and adhering to video meeting ground rules are vital in the digital landscape, but what do they look like?

Personal rituals include:

  • Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness helps us suspend judgment and cultivate equanimity and compassion. It is easier to show up mindlessly, with preconceived judgments about the person or topic and not really pay attention. It takes work to really hear what a person is saying. Listening is mindless; hearing is mindful. To start, ground yourself before going into a meeting. You don’t need to meditate for an hour before each meeting. It can be as simple as 3 deep breaths. Keep in mind a regular meditation or mindfulness practice has enormous benefits on brain health, and it makes the skill of mindfulness easier to tap into.
  • Ask open-ended, guiding questions: Open-ended questions help you see things from the perspective of others. Guiding responses should be supportive in nature, not shift responses. Shift responses are self-referential statements indicative of conversational narcissism. Support responses are other-directed and open-ended.
  • Use reflections: Reflections build trust and rapport and make the other feel heard. Empathy reflections clarify thoughts and feelings and ensure the other person feels understood. Content reflections and summarizations help clarify and recap conversations. Positive verbal behavior increases the quality of interactions, predicting more engagement, better relationships, and better performance.

Individuals with high levels of emotional intelligence have greater sensitivity and empathy and are able to express themselves. As a result, they are rated more effective leaders by their direct reports and manager and receive higher performance ratings.

Team rituals can include:

  • Virtual connectors: Warm-ups or ice breakers when starting a meeting help bring the virtual group into a shared mental space.
  • Cameras on: Being on video all day is more mentally taxing than in-person meetings. Decide when “cameras on” is necessary and when you can give your brain a break by turning the camera off.
  • Designate a facilitator: A designated facilitator can set the tone for the meeting and keep the meeting on point. The facilitator can also wrap up the meeting by using summarizations and mutually agreed-upon action items.
  • Hand raising: On video, it is difficult to pick up on the cues telling us someone wants to speak. It can feel awkward to unmute yourself and speak up, so many people avoid it altogether. Hand-raising lets the speaker know you have something to say without feeling like you are interrupting the speaker.
  • Polls/surveys: It is harder to “read the room” on video, so polls and surveys can be helpful.
  • Chatbox: The chatbox can be distracting if ground rules aren’t set ahead of time. Designate someone to monitor the chatbox for the speaker.  

Teams with high levels of emotional intelligence have more cohesion, perform better, are more satisfied with team communication, and receive social support from other team members. In addition, there is a high degree of psychological safety.

Your best emotionally intelligent self:

What does your best emotionally intelligent self look like? At the end of the day, we can only change how we show up BUT how we show up has a significant impact on those around us. When you are emotionally dysregulated, how does that affect those around you? When you have a positive interaction, how does it affect those around you? Emotions are contagious. How we show up collectively creates an emotional climate.

For example, people who witness rudeness are more likely to be rude to others. In addition, witnessing subtle rudeness leads to decreased performance and prosocial behaviors, such as helpfulness and resource sharing. As a result, we are less likely to help our fellow co-workers.

Reacting, belittling, cutting someone off, or not even listening is effortless behavior. It takes strength to listen to understand, respond with intention, and reflect with empathy. What ritual can you start with to help build a positive digital emotional climate, to build the skill of D-EQ?

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What Gets Monitored Gets Managed

We live in a world of constant distractions. Cell phones, text messages, social media, TVs in every bar or restaurant. We have become used to constant stimulation and intrusion into our mental space but at what cost?

One repercussion that marketers have taken advantage of is the fact that distracted people are more likely to give in to temptation. For example, distracted shoppers are more sensitive to in-store promotions, and more likely to purchase items that were not on their list. Next time you are at the grocery store take a look at what you see when you first walk into the store and what you see in the check-out lane. There is a pretty good chance both areas are filled with impulse buys. Cookies, soda, chips, candy, magazines, lip balm, etc… You get the picture.

One thing you can do to increase self-awareness is to keep track of all the choices you make on a given day. At the end of the day analyze which ones supported your long-term goals and which ones didn’t. Once you have an awareness of your habits you can begin to change them. What gets monitored gets managed!

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Willpower: Train Your Brain for Better Decisions

Willpower is commonly thought of as something we have or don’t have. Does this sound familiar? 

  • “I have been so bad!”
  • “I have no willpower when it comes to chocolate.”
  • “I just can’t seem to stick with it!”
  • “I have been so good lately; I don’t know what happened!”
  • “I have no willpower. I will never be able to change.”

Willpower needs sleep, food, rest, and exercise just like the rest of your body. Here are five tips to keep your willpower muscle in tip-top shape

  1. Slow down. Take the time to recognize your willpower challenges. The idea is to learn when you are the most vulnerable and avoid putting yourself in that situation. Eliminate the cue to the behavior you are trying to change. 
  2. Timing is key. If you find that you are struggling to maintain a new habit, take a closer look at what is going on at that moment. Is your goal to work out after a 10-hour workday? To help your kids with their homework, doing dishes, and folding laundry? It is going to be much harder to follow through with a new habit when fatigued. Build the skill: Journal your energy level throughout the day. When are your peaks and valleys? When do you have the most motivation to practice self-care? 
  3. Eat real food. Just like your muscles need fuel to perform, so does your brain. Glucose converts into all those wonderful neurotransmitters that control your thoughts, feelings, and actions. A balanced diet of carbs, protein, and fat with a wide variety of vitamins and minerals will help optimize your brainpower and your willpower! Build the skill: Start a food/mood journal to track how your diet contributes to your willpower, energy level, sleep, and mood.
  4. Take 5: Rest is vital willpower. When we are tired, we are more impulsive, making it harder to follow through with goals. Brain and activity breaks are key!  Build the skill: Take 5-minute brain breaks for every hour or two you are working. Have a willpower challenge? Try a 5-minute activity break to surf the urge. 
  5. 5Practice self-compassion. Life happens. Be kind to yourself when you miss the mark. It happens to everyone. And beating yourself up will further weaken your willpower muscle. 
  6. Complete an energy audit. Complete an energy audit. Use a journal to track your energy level and engagement throughout the day. What patterns did you notice? What time of day do you have the most energy? How can you take advantage of this time to do what you need to set yourself up for success? Build the skill: Develop strategies to form new habits when you are most likely to follow through with your goals. You will be more successful engaging in a new habit when you feel the most energized.


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The “Why-Do” List

Creating a “Why-Do” list is a powerful alternative to the “to-do” list. After all, we often know what we need to do but it doesn’t always result in action. Here are the steps to creating your own “why-do” list:

Step 1: Pick one thing you want to or should be but for whatever the reason, have not. 

Step 2: Refuse to ask yourself age-old, rational, yet highly un-motivating, questions, such as:

  • Why can’t I do this? 
  • What gets in my way of doing this?
  • Why aren’t I more motivated to do this?

Asking the above questions typically leads to rehearsing all excuses we haven’t done something, which can lead to guilt, shame and inaction   

Step 3: Instead, let’s focus on two much more positive and motivating questions that address why you want to do something. Hence, the “Why-Do” list. This will get you to argue in favor of doing it.  

  1. Why might I … (join a gym, quit smoking, change my diet) 
  • Jot down some answers including:
    • The reasons should be timely, compelling and personal.
    • If you can’t come up with anything, then ask yourself what would have to happen to be even a little ready.  Then, focus on why you might want to do that.
  1. Why are these reasons important to me? (The key word being me)
  • The more times you ask yourself this question, the deeper and more personal the reasons get.

As you will see, the answers help you rehearse the positive reasons for doing something.

Instead of telling yourself, as you might have before this exercise, that you have to start walking because your doctor told you to or because your family wants you to you may end up with much more personal and motivating reasons such as…

  • I want to walk in the morning because I always feel better when I do. 
  • I want to walk in the morning because my back feels better the rest of the day. 

Adapted from Dr. Michael Pantalon Instant Influence technique. “These seemingly irrational questions are part of my very successful, scientifically-proven Instant Influence method (based, in part, on Motivational Interviewing), which has been shown to motivate people from the Emergency Room to the Board Room, from patients with addiction and mental illness in the South Bronx, NY to executives and employees of Fortune 100 companies who are resistant to organizational change, as well as, many other individuals from all walks of life. They may even work for you.  Why might you give it a try?”

Michael V. Pantalon, Ph.D. is an award-winning faculty member and psychologist at Yale School of Medicine.

 Elizabeth Schenk, BS, MBA is a Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach, Fitness Expert and Mentor

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Got Change?

How many times have you wanted to make a change, jumped into it, ready to go to find yourself back where you started? You may even find yourself worse off because your confidence to change just went down a couple of notches.

You will be happy to know you are not alone! Many of us jump right into action without doing the necessary prep. When it comes to your goals, reflect on each of the following:

  1. When setting goals, listen to the language used. Do you hear yourself say “I will” or “I should”? If you hear “I should” dig a little deeper. Is this something somebody else wants you to do? Your doctor, spouse, children, society…?
  2. Is it interesting, exciting, engaging or does it make you yawn?
  3. Ask yourself “why”. Then ask yourself “why” 4 more times to dig deep to the heart of the matter. *Focus on positive whys. Meaningful, powerful whys are the fuel to persistence.
  4. Create a “why do” list instead of a “to-do” list. When you discover your why you will discover your how!fear of change
  5. Focus on any tiny bit of motivation vs resistance. Avoid fear based motivation. It’s not the best motivator when it comes to change.

Change takes time, patience, and planning. While it can be hard to accept failure, it is just a sign we need to modify our plan. Look for the lesson in failure. After all, we are a work in progress!  

Questions? Comments? Send me an email at


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One Brain Two Minds Part II: Motivation Mindset

As a health coach and fitness expert, I often have clients come to me because they want me to motivate them. But where does motivation come from? I am talking about the kind of motivation that gets us out of bed in the morning to go for a walk before work or motivation that get’s us to the gym after a stressful day.

What we believe when it comes to physical activity influences our ability to sustain an exercise program. Having a narrow view of what constitutes exercise is self-limiting and tends to lead to an all or nothing attitude. A typical example is the belief that exercise counts only if we are at the gym for one hour. What if you don’t enjoy going to the gym?

Given this scenario, your chances of being successful are slim. Worst yet, you might criticize yourself as being weak-willed, and the vicious cycle of failure continues.

Why do you want to begin an exercise program? Weight loss, avoiding disease, aging well? These are valid motivators but they are all rooted in the future. We make decisions based on how we feel in the moment. When wrestling with the idea of going to the gym after a long, stressful day how energizing is “avoiding diabetes ten years down the road” as a motivator?

When we set out to “take charge of our health” we rarely exam our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about the changes we want to make and jump right into action.

To get off the diet and exercise roller coaster examine your beliefs by answering the following questions:

  1. Is physical activity something you enjoy or does it feel like a chore?
  2. Do you take your daily walk because your doctor says you should?
  3. Do you exercise mainly to control your weight?
  4. Do you eat “clean” and feel guilty when you have been “bad”?
  5. Is the thought of going on another diet down right depressing?
  6. Do you hear a lot of “shoulds” when talking about self-care?

If you want a different result, you have to go back to the thoughts and beliefs holding you back and move forward with a new narrative.



One Brain, Two Minds Part 1


12_languages.jpgOne Brain, Two Minds

Our brain uses two different and often conflicting systems to process information, drive our choices, and behaviors.

Mind #1: The logical mind:  “I’ll stick to my diet because it is healthy and will help me lose weight.”  The challenge with the logic based mind it the fact that it is much harder to exercise willpower when fatigued or stressed. You may start the day with good intentions but end the day in a very different place.  It is much easier to keep your long term goals in mind when making decisions when you are well rested.

Mind #2: The impulsive, emotional mind: The emotion-based mind is experiential and often automatic.  It motivates us based on how we feel and is often outside our awareness. Logic is screaming at you to avoid the cookies. Before you know it, half the box is gone!  

This phenomenon goes beyond diet and very much applies to exercise and other health behaviors. When we are in the moment, our choices are often driven by emotion especially when willpower is low. It is much harder to think about long-term goals and our future-self when we are low on energy.

Understanding the science of willpower can help you plan for the times you know you will be energy depleted. For most, it tends to be afternoon and evening.

For example, If you are exhausted after work and you are finding it challenging to stick with your goal of going to the gym how can you make it easier to follow through?  Set yourself up for success by eliminating any barriers, real or perceived. Go right to the gym after work instead of going home first. Keep your workout clothes in your car.  Logically we know we have more energy after exercising. But when you are tired after a long day, you are likely operating from your emotional, impulsive mind.

Understanding the science of motivation can help you tie positive emotions to your health habits by engaging in activities you enjoy and building awareness around how our health habits add to our daily quality of life. Focusing on how your daily walk improves your mood and energy level vs. thinking of your walk of something you have to do to lose weight.   

Lastly, do you look at your health habits like a chore or a gift?  When your health habits feel like a chore, the likelihood of continuing is slim.  If you find yourself saying “I should” when talking about your health goals they probably feel more like a chore.  When you can find the gift in what you are doing, you are more likely to continue.


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Creating Powerful Resolutions and Goals That Stick!

Creating Powerful Resolutions and Goals That Stick!

Roughly 92% of us fail with our New Year’s resolutions. After a while, many stop making resolutions all together. With an 8% success rate, can you blame them?

Considering 45% of New Year’s resolutions involve getting fit or losing weight it is no wonder our confidence to change our health behaviors has eroded.

Why do so many of us fail when it comes to our resolutions? Most of us make New Year’s resolutions that are too big, too vague or too boring and lack the key elements that make goals compelling. Most resolutions tend to be outcome goals without the action steps to get there. How are you going to reach your destination without a map?

To increase your chances of success when it comes to your New Year resolutions write out what it is you would like to accomplish and make sure it contains one of the following characteristics:

  • Intellectually stimulating
  • Physically challenging
  • Emotionally energizing
  • Purposeful and meaningful

Breakdown your resolution into bite-sized action steps that will move you closer to your goal. For example “I am going to get in shape!” What do you mean by in shape? Do you want to be able to run a marathon or to make it up the stairs to your apartment without getting winded?

Describe what getting in shape looks like for you and create milestones for yourself to measure progress.

“I will eat five servings of fruits and vegetables each day.” While this goal is specific and measurable, does it make you want to rush to the grocery store and buy a bag of celery sticks? Probably not. When goals are boring and lack meaning they are easy to blow off.

To persevere, you have to pursue goals you care about. You have to ask yourself what’s at stake. What do you gain if you achieve the goal or what will you lose if you don’t? If you want to eat healthier to have the energy to keep up with your kids or grandkids, now we are talking!

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Turn Your Vision into Reality – Building a Foundation

pyramid3The Wellcoaches’ behavior change pyramid is a powerful visual depicting the importance of building a strong foundation when making health behavior change.  If you skip any of the blocks you risk creating goals on  shaky ground.

The bottom of the pyramid your wellness vision. What would it look like if you were at your best state of health and wellness? Paint a picture of how you would look and feel. What activities would you be engaged in? What do you want more of in your life? Joy, love, hope, confidence?

What are your values? If your values include achievement, efficiency and integrity, do you make health decisions based on your values? How about your strengths? Are you compassionate, kind or curious? How can you incorporate your strengths into your health goals?

If you are having a hard time pin pointing your personal values and strengths think about what is make you a good employee or a good parent. Make a list of  the attributes that make you successful at work or at home.

What obstacles have you experienced in the past? Moving past obstacles can involve taking a new path, looking at your challenges through the lens of your strengths, shedding self-limiting beliefs and developing a more flexible mind-set.

In order to make change we need to be mindful of our habits. If you begin to feel guilt or shame over your habits or past attempts to reach your goals take a deep breath and sit with your feelings. Are you being fair to yourself? Do you hold yourself to unrealistic standards? We tend to talk to ourselves in a way that we would never talk to a friend. What would you say to a friend in the same situation? Does it match up to what you are telling yourself?

What resources and supports do you have to help you move forward? Do you have a friend or a family member you can share your goals with? Have you thought of hiring a coach or a trainer to hold you accountable and guide you through any bumps in the road?

Whatever your goals, build a strong foundation consisting of your values, motivators, support, challenges and strategies for success. Your foundation will support your vision and goals at the same time serve as a positive place to come back to if you are struggling.

Elizabeth Schenk is a health coach and fitness expert specializing in helping individuals with chronic disease or chronic pain take charge of their health and build a positive vision for the future.