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One Brain, Two Minds Part 1

Our brain uses two different and often conflicting systems to process information and drive our choices and actions. You can almost say we have one brain and two minds.

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The logical mind: One mind operates based on logic. “I’ll stick to my diet because it is healthy and will help me lose weight ”. The logic-based mind requires willpower which is exhausted by dieting among other things. Resisting temptation over and over again takes mental energy which drains willpower. 

The impulsive, emotional mind: Meanwhile, the emotion-based system is experiential and often automatic.  It motivates us based on our feelings and often outside our awareness.  Even when logic is screaming at you to avoid the cookies, you’re enjoying the cookies before you know what happened.

This 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 energy depleted.

Understanding the science of willpower will help us plan around the times we know willpower is low while working on strengthening willpower.  For example, if you are exhausted after work and find it difficult to prepare a healthy meal, prepare as much as you can ahead of time. There will be those days when you really just want to pick something up on the way home. Make a list of healthy options when you have the time and energy. The goal is to make things as easy as possible when you are willpower fatigued.

Understanding the science of motivation will help us tie positive emotions to our health habits by doing things we enjoy and focusing on how our health habits add to our daily quality of life. For example, 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.  When your health habits feel like a chore the likelihood of continuing is slim. When you can find the gift in what you are doing you are more likely to continue.

Stay tuned for Part 2!


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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.  


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Exercise is Medicine – Even for Chronic Pain

Living Well with Chronic Pain

When faced with chronic pain or illness, life can change quite a bit. You may not be able to do some of the things you used to do and that can be very frustrating. Be careful not to dwell in that place for too long. Finding the motivation to exercise when you are in chronic pain can be challenging but it essential to your well-being.LogoColorTextBelow

They key is to focus on what you can do no matter how small it is. Make a list of activities that you can do that will not aggravate your pain. Start with the smallest amount possible even if it is a couple of minutes of activity. The last thing you need is to overdo it and get frustrated.

Be patient with your body and don’t beat yourself up for not being able to do what you once could. That only creates more stress and…

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Living Well with Chronic Pain

acceptance-art-dirty-faith-Favim.com-610774 Are you one of the 100 million Americans affected by chronic pain? Living with chronic pain is not “sexy”. Chronic pain sufferers don’t have foundations to bring world wide attention to our suffering or walks for our cause or celebrity spokespeople.  We don’t get the attention that say MS patients or cancer patients get. And I understand, chronic pain is usually not a life threatening problem and I am certainly not trying to understate the seriousness of these other conditions. Chronic pain it is just something you might have to deal with the rest of your life day in and day out. Something that affects every single aspect of your life from work to your relationships, being a parent being a partner or spouse not to mention the emotional roller coaster, self-doubt, self-blame and self-pity.

We often get stigmatized as drug seekers, hypochondriacs, lazy or weak minded. This often leads…

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For Long Term Success, The Joy of Living Trumps the Fear of Disease

A diagnosis or threat of disease motivates many to start a wellness program, but is often not enough to keep people going.  For example, tobacco users are well aware of the long term consequences of tobacco use such as lung cancer and emphysema but it is not enough to motivate certain individuals to quit. So what does work? Connecting people with their values, strong motivators and purpose has a much more powerful impact.

A former client of mine who was a smoker lost a grandmother to lung cancer yet this was not a motivator for her to quit. Protecting her own health was not a motivator either. As we continued to explore reasons to quit smoking she said having a child of her own would motivate her to quit.

Another former client who was obese with various health risks tried diet after diet with no lasting success. When she connected her health to her faith and helping others in her community it was life changing. She now supports members of her church who want to lose weight by holding a weekly support group. By helping others she has been able to help herself.

The initial shock of a diagnosis of any disease is enough to shake us up into behavior change but what is going to keep you going? This will take a little digging, thinking and soul searching but it is worth it. Finding your purpose to be well is extremely powerful.

To start you can ask yourself what are your motivators? Why do you want to do this? No superficial answers like I want to look good and feel better. Don’t we all? What does it mean to be healthy? What will you be able to do if you are fit and full of energy? How will staying healthy help your family? What will you be able to do if you are in good health? Go on that trip to Thailand you have been thinking about? Plant a garden?  Play with your grand-kids?  Often you will find the fear of the disease is not as motivating as the joy of possibilities!