And Now That You Don't Have to be Perfect...

Two years ago this January, I took my first class in Duke Integrative Medicine's health coaching program.

Since then, I’ve coached many fellow coaches and individuals, and something I’ve pulled out of those conversations is that one of the keys to sustainable change is your relationship with yourself. If you are constantly putting yourself last, beating yourself up, or pushing yourself to achieve something that truly is not attainable, it makes behavior change and meeting your goals so much harder. Or, you may reach the goal you’re chasing but put yourself in a position that’s incredibly difficult to maintain long-term because it’s too extreme.

So, I want to spend February focusing my content on self love, and how it affects our ability to reach our goals or change behaviors. The first topic I want to talk about is perfectionism and the perfectionist mindset. This is something I struggle with a lot personally, so I’m excited to dig into what I’ve learned (and what I’m still learning) with y’all. Funny enough, this was just supposed to be an Instagram post, but true to my verbose form I had a lot more to say about this than should be in an Instagram caption. So, here we are.

We all know what perfectionism is: striving for flawlessness (or the appearance of it). And it can wreak havoc on your opinion of yourself because you are always reaching for an unattainable standard. It can push you to an all or nothing mindset - “If I don’t do this perfectly, there’s no point in doing it at all” - or make you feel like a failure because you’re never achieving the ideal result in your mind. It can cause anxiety and even prevent you from starting to work on your goal. It can keep you from ever feeling satisfied. And when you’re trying to make a change, these things can be a major impediment.

But, let’s try this on for size: none of my clients do things perfectly - literally none - and they are still seeing progress. 

I know for some this statement can be hard to align with reaching your goals. For many people, myself included, the imperfections can make you feel like you’re losing control and you’ll never get where you want to be. My first piece of advice to you is this: make space for the gray areas, because that is where long-term progress lives. Read that one more time. Why did I say that? Because the “gray areas” are often where balance is. For example, pizza every night is probably not the best way to eat, but that does not mean that pizza is always off limits. Learning balance and what it means in your life is where you will find sustainable change. And perfectionism and balance are often at odds with each other. Perfectionism likes black and white: pizza is not ok and I can’t eat it and still reach my goals. Balance likes gray: I can have a slice of pizza on the weekend and still meet my goals.

Where this gets hard is retraining your brain away from this perfectionist mentality. You are not a failure because you didn’t do something perfectly. I know this is a difficult mindset to get out of - I fight it daily. Here is what I’ve found helpful:

Lower the bar. A perfectionist’s worst nightmare. Did you cringe or think “what?!” when you read that? I have thought the same thing, too. But part of the struggle with perfectionism is we create such huge goals for ourselves that we feel dwarfed by them and what it will take to accomplish them, leaving us overwhelmed from the start. And then once we do start, if every step isn’t perfect we get frustrated. There are two ways I try to fight this. The first is to lean on the SMART framework (especially the “A”, which stands for “attainable), which helps me set up my goals in a manageable way. The second is to break my goals down into tiny steps (by tiny I mean if your goal is to start exercising, start with 10 minutes a day). This makes the things that need to be done to meet your goals feel so much more achievable and helps you better see how they will fit into your existing routine. 

Start adding the phrase “and that’s ok” when you find your inner critic showing up. One of the biggest things we perfectionists fight is ourselves and our instinct to be overly self-critical. I wish I could remember where I read about the idea to start adding the phrase “and that’s ok” to the end of sentences when my inner critic is out of control, but it has really helped my mindset. When I catch myself thinking, “ugh, you skipped your workout today” or “yikes, you overate at dinner”, I add “and that’s ok” to the end of it. This helps me put things in perspective and stops the self criticism almost immediately so I can get back on track without endlessly chastising myself or feeling like I need to overcompensate in some way.

Consider the big picture. When you think about the end result you’re trying to achieve, what will be the most important pieces in getting there? When you catch yourself going down the perfection rabbit hole, pause and ask “what impact will doing this perfectly have on my end goal? Will it materially impact my ability to achieve it?”. Now, this does not mean every time you want to skip your workout or have that post-work cigarette you should say to yourself, “well, this won’t materially impact meeting my goal”, because over time those things will add up. The point I’m trying to make here is, with every goal there will be pieces that are more important than others to achieving the end result, so try to understand what those things are, focus on them, and let the rest go. A.K.A. “don’t sweat the small stuff” or “choose your battles”.

Remind yourself of the progress you’ve already made. Or if it’s a new goal, think about times in the past when you’ve been successful. Perfectionism can send us into some really negative spaces to the point that we feel like we are never making progress, but that is simply untrue. There is always a small (or big) win, or something to be proud of yourself for. Sometimes, that’s just finally admitting to yourself that you need a change. Sometimes, it's nailing your action plans for the day. And sometimes, it’s realizing that you didn’t perfectly accomplish your goal, but you’re really happy with where you are - and that’s (more than) ok! <- See what I did there :) ?

There is a quote from John Steinbeck’s book East of Eden that I love: “Now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good”. If you take nothing else away from this post, remember this. Perfection is not attainable - it’s just not. If you’re striving for it, I’m sorry but you are fighting a losing battle. Because our perfectionist brains are like Lucy with the football: every time you think you might be getting close to achieving perfection, that b*tch is going to snatch the football away. When you remove the idea that you can’t be healthy and happy without being perfect, you will be surprised how much happier and healthier you become. When you give yourself the grace mentally to just be good - work toward your goals, learn from your setbacks, and keep moving forward even as things shift - you can get out of your own way and make progress. And that’s what we want long-term: progress, not perfection.

As always, sending you lots of happy, healthy vibes!

MB


New Year, New You? No, thanks.

I am not a fan of New Year's resolutions.

This may seem surprising, given my line of work, but hear me out. I'm going to explain to you why and the mindset I prefer instead. 

Before I dive in, I want to preface this by saying that this is not meant as a criticism. If you have a New Year’s resolution (or several), I am not trying to call you out for it. Everyone should approach their health and lifestyle in a way that works best for them. 

That said, here are some reasons why I’m really not a fan.

New Year’s resolutions are often filled with broad, sweeping statements with very far off end-dates. If you’ve worked with me, you can probably guess what I’m going to say about why these sweeping statements are problematic. They are problematic because they don’t tell you anything. Let’s use the example “I want to get in shape”. If this is your goal, how will you start? What do you mean by “get in shape”? What does that look like to you? How will you know when you’ve accomplished it? 

You are making things much harder on yourself chasing a resolution like this because you aren’t leaving yourself with any directions on what to do. Starting this resolution probably feels overwhelming, which makes it difficult to translate your intentions into action. Action needs direction, and sweeping statements don’t give you that.

Resolutions also encourage the idea that we can neglect our health at the end of the year because we’ll get it together on January 1st. How many times have you heard someone say, or said to yourself, “Whatever, I’ll start eating better/exercising/quitting smoking/mediating in the New Year” in November/December? I take issue with this because it puts people in the mindset that: a) they can neglect their health now and deal with it later and b) have to wait until the New Year to get started. 

To the first point, if anything you should really be trying to prioritize your health more not less at the end of the year. It is one of the most stressful times of the year due to the holiday season, which is really not the time to ignore the things your body needs to stay in good condition. Not prioritizing your health can also make holiday stress more exaggerated. 

To the second point, any time is the right time to start working on your health. As a type A person, I totally understand that it just feels good to start working on your health at a beginning: the start of the week, the start of the month, the start of the year. But you don’t have to wait until the perfect time. You can start working on your health in the middle of the day on Thursday if you want. Don’t let the perfect start time delay you from making it a priority.

I also think sometimes the idea of waiting until the New Year can cause us to go a little wild during the holidays, because we’re going to really cut out all of the good (bad) stuff on January 1st, so we feel the need to pack it in while we still can. You're just setting yourself up for failure with that mindset, because after an extended period of time of ignoring your health goals, it's going to be that much harder to make them a priority again.

So, what can you do instead of the traditional New Year’s resolution: set SMART goals and aim for incremental change.

Let’s start with SMART goals. The SMART framework is an approach to goal setting that helps you get more clear on what you’re trying to achieve. SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. 

Specific: The goal is detailed and clear

Measurable: The goal can be tracked to show progress or success

Attainable: The goal is doable given your resources and current life circumstance

Relevant: The goal is meaningful and aligns with what is important to you 

Time-based: The goal has an end-date by which it should be accomplished

To use our earlier example of “I want to get in shape”, we’re going to use the SMART framework to make accomplishing this easier on ourselves.

Specific: I want to start strength training

Measurable: I want to start strength training three times per week

Attainable: ask yourself, “Is strength training three times per week” reasonable to me right now? If not, what would make it more attainable? Once per week? Twice?

Relevant: ask yourself, “Will starting to strength train three times per week help me achieve what I really want to get from this goal?” 

Time-based: I want to start strength training three times per week by the end of March

Using the SMART framework, we’ve moved from “I want to get in shape” to “I want to start strength training three times per week by the end of March”. That’s a BIG difference, and that second statement feels much more clear and easy to start, doesn’t it? Like I said, action needs direction, and this second statement provides much more direction.

Now, let’s work in the incremental change piece of this. With our SMART goal, we know where we want to go and by when. But the devil is in the details, so let’s think about how we’re going to get there. 

Any time you’re introducing a new habit, behavior, or routine into your life, the key to making it both achievable and sustainable is to approach it incrementally. What I encourage clients to do is to action plan - think through every step you’ll need to take to accomplish your goal (no matter how small). Then consider what obstacles might get in your way and set plans for how you might handle those obstacles. Once you have the action plans listed, think through the order in which you’ll need to complete those steps. Then, map out when you’ll begin and when you’ll complete each step. I like to do this weekly, as it allows me to reassess progress each week and make adjustments to my action steps and timeline, as needed.

How is all of this different than a resolution? This might just be semantics, but to me resolutions are talking about a big idea or change you want to make that spans the whole year. What I’ve laid out as the alternative is to think critically about your goals (health-related or not) and don’t stretch the timeframe over the full year. Make yourself get specific about what you want and be honest about the amount of time it will take to get there. Be clear about what your end result will look like. Once you accomplish your goal, you can start this process all over again for a new one if you want! And you don’t need to wait until the start of the next year to build out a new goal - you can do it any time using this approach. To me, the way we work on our goals should be iterative and evolve as our lives evolve. 

How does all of this sound to you? Feel like you might need a little help in upgrading those resolutions? Well, you’re in luck! Over the holidays, I created the MB Wellness Healthy Habits Guide, which will take you through the process of setting your goals, planning for action, handling set-backs, and more! Subscribe to our newsletter (link at the bottom of the page) and I’ll send you a free copy! I promise I won’t spam you - the newsletter is once a month and will have more coaching, health, and wellness content in a short, digestible format. 

As always, feel free to shoot me a message if you have questions! 

Sending you happy, healthy vibes!

MB 


Reflections on a New Normal

Wow.

In trying to gather my thoughts for this post, the first thing that came to mind was simply "wow". The past few weeks have given me whiplash, and I'm sure they've done the same to you. My emotions are oscillating between acceptance, gratitude, frustration, confusion, and anxiety. There are still happy moments, but it feels like a cloud is hanging over everything. The unpredictability of this moment is scary - especially for us Type A folks who like to plan and anticipate. I was talking to a client the other day who said, "I can't plan for action because I don't even know what's going to happen by 2:00pm today", and I felt the same way. In a broader sense, we never really know what's going to happen on any given day, but right now it seems even less possible to predict as there is a constant stream of new information about COVID-19. This is so hard because we have no control and our routines are completely out of whack.

It's taken me some time to figure out where my role as a health coach fits into all of this. Since the COVID-19 pandemic escalated in the US, I've been asking myself, "How can I use my training to help?". My specialty is health behavior change, and I think that's where I can do the most good: by helping people find ways to stay healthy and find new avenues for success in this constantly shifting landscape.

So, how am I going to translate that into action? Through the end of this pandemic, whenever that may be, I'm opening up my services to a "pay what you can" model - even (especially) if that means nothing at all. I will also accept wine #balance. I'm completely serious about this. Right now, I care more about doing my part and being as helpful as I can. If you're struggling to adjust and you feel like your health is suffering, let's talk. We're all in this together.

Additional Resources

In addition to changing to a "pay what you can" model, I've also created a new section on my site for resources that I think might be helpful to you all during this time. I'll try to update this weekly as I learn more information! If there's something missing, a tip you come across that you love, or anything else you think I should add to this page that would be helpful, let me know!

Sending good vibes to all of you! Stay well!


Health Coaching Frequently Asked Questions and my Super Bowl Recipe Review

Hello Friends, and happy 2020! I hope the first few weeks of the new year have been good to you! It's been a very busy start to the year for me, as I began the certification round of training for health coaching at Duke Integrative Medicine. So, I've been a little quieter here and on social media than I'd hoped, but I'm still here! I had actually planned to get two separate posts up about FAQs and Super Bowl prep BEFORE the Super Bowl, but clearly that didn't happen so I decided I'd combine them into one!

First, as part of final phase of training at Duke, I've been offering complimentary coaching sessions (I still have space to take on a few more folks at no cost, so if you're interested let me know). As a result have gotten a lot of great questions about what exactly is health coaching and what can it do for people. I wanted to go through a few of these questions here in case there are more of you out there with questions you haven't asked.

What is integrative health coaching?

Have you ever made a New Year's Resolution to, for example, meditate each morning for 10 minutes, only to find you stuck to it for two weeks before your schedule got busier and you couldn't keep up with it any more? Or planned to bring your lunch to work each day, but quickly realized this meant a change to your evening routine you hadn't anticipated and so you never even started? Often times we're given a recommendation from a doctor, or make the decision we'd like to change something, but then realize we don't know where to start or we are easily side-tracked by the thousand other things on our plates. Health coaching motivates and supports health behavior change through a partnership between client and coach. A health coach helps you connect your desired change to your optimal health vision, set goals, plan for action (and setbacks), and maintain progress once you've reached your goal - all by focusing on the whole person, not just the one area you want to change.

So, how is this different than working with a personal trainer, dietitian, or other health care provider?

A personal trainer or dietitian will, for the most part, focus on either your physical fitness or nutrition, respectively. They may also give you a specific plan, such as a recommended set of workouts or a certain diet to follow. A health coach is different in two primary ways. The first is that a health coach will not be the one to give you a specific plan to follow: you'll be the one who creates the plan. Health coaching is not prescriptive, but rather completely client-driven. The area of health we focus on, the direction we take, the goals we set, are all completely determined by you, the client. The second is that health coaching follows a "whole person" approach to health. We'll explore all the different aspects of your health from physical fitness and movement, to relationships and communication, to personal and professional development.

If anything, a health coach is a great compliment to a personal trainer, dietitian, or any other health care provider should you find you're having trouble figuring out how to implement the changes that they recommend. A health coach can help you see how and where another provider's recommendations fit into your life, and help you navigate the road blocks and other factors affecting your ability to implement the recommendation. There are health coaches who have multiple certifications, such as personal training, nutrition, etc.; however, in general coaches will keep clients in these areas separate (i.e. not providing health coaching for someone who they are also working with for personal training simultaneously).

What makes health coaching effective?

This is a great question! Health coaching is still not a super well-known field, so I get this question a lot. I think there are a few things that make health coaching effective. The biggest one in my mind is that it's really trying to target behavior change starting from where you are. It's not a prescription with no guidance, or a one-size-fits-all plan. Health coaching is client-driven and tailored to your specific needs and wants for your health. A few other pieces that make health coaching effective for people:

  • Health coaches work with the whole person. They employ other-focused listening to ask powerful questions and help connect you to the motivation for making the changes you desire.
  • Health coaches spend time exploring what is most important to you in your health and allow you to drive the direction we take.
  • Health coaches work with you in partnership to plan for setbacks and create strategies to address those potential setbacks so you can keep moving forward toward your goals.
  • Health coaches help you track progress and hold you accountable for your action steps and goals.
  • Health coaches can provide additional resources for making healthy behavior changes.

What topics does health coaching cover?

This is another pretty common question I get, and the answer is: anything you feel will contribute to reaching your best health. That could be stress management, it could be improving your relationships, it could be better nutrition, it could be smoking cessation. If you believe that it's integral to helping you achieve your optimal health based on your goals and values, then it's a good topic for coaching. The health coaching relationship is truly unique, and this "whole person" approach is part of what makes it so.

...and now, the piece you've really been waiting for: the super bowl recipe review!

The whole spread (minus the pizzas and donut holes, which I made later in the game)!

A little known fact about me is how much I love the Super Bowl. It doesn't matter who's playing, and I'm not going to reveal my team because that may cause me to lose some clients :). I always take the Monday after the Super Bowl off, and I actually got engaged on Super Bowl weekend in 2018 (the day before, not the day-of) which of course made me love the whole weekend even more. I love the commercials, that it brings people together, and the half time show. And of course, I absolutely love the food. I made more food this year than I think I have any year in the past. I eat a mostly plant-based diet (not endorsing this specific way of eating, it's just my preference), so the majority of the recipes I made are plant-based. But, all of my guests were meat-eaters, so I needed to make sure I made things that everyone would enjoy.

I actually didn't make any cauliflower, but I did substitute some veggies in where you'd typically have meat. Here are the recipes I made and my thoughts about them:

Crowd-Pleasing Vegan Caesar Salad from Oh She Glows

This one really is a crowd-pleaser. Everyone I've ever made this for comments on it. The crispy chickpea croutons, the dressing, even the vegan "parmesan" are all a hit. This is my go-to salad for a group of people, or during the week for dinner. I got a bag of kale from Trader Joe's that was already chopped to save myself some time (although they leave the stems in and it makes me crazy so I spent some time picking them out...).

Bang Bang broccoli from Rabbit and Wolves

Rabbit and Wolves is one of my favorite blogs for plant-based, comfort food recipes (side note: her blackened tofu with cheese grits is another week-night favorite in our house). This Bang Bang Broccoli was delicious. I didn't bread the broccoli because I was breading brussels sprouts as well and didn't want too many breaded things. Instead, I oven roasted it so the ends got a little charred and then tossed it in the sauce "naked". Also, I would recommend going half chili paste and half sweet chili sauce (like the Trader Joe's brand), unless you like super spicy food. I think with the spice from the wings/brussels (see below), we could have benefitted from these being a little milder.

Garlic Buffalo Brussels sprouts from Rabbit and Wolves

These were another hit! I actually doubled the sauce recipe and tossed the wings in the same garlic buffalo sauce that I made for the brussels. I thought about air frying these, but baking them as the recipe directs worked perfectly. The brussels were a little tricky to batter because the outside leaves fall off some in the heavy batter, but using a fork to dip them in (vs. your fingers) helps. The sauce was VERY spicy (I used Trader Joe's Jalepeno Hot Sauce where it calls for hot sauce in the recipe) so I will use a milder version next time, but the garlicky flavor of the sauce is SO good. I made Minimalist Baker's vegan ranch dressing to go with them.

We air fried the chicken wings, and while I didn't eat any I was told they turned out well. We put in 1lb. at a time, and fried them at 375 degress for about 10 minutes, turned the wings and did another 10 minutes at 375, and then finished them off with 5 minutes at 400 degrees.

Chocolate Ganache Tarts from Thrive Magazine

Thrive Magazine is one of my favorite magazines, and when I saw this chocolate ganache tart recipe, I knew I had to try it. It was super simple to make, but SO good. Instead of making one large tart, I made 15 smaller ones using a muffin tin so they were easier for people to grab and go. One take-away from this: you don't need to bake the crust for 8-10 minutes when you divide it into smaller portions. Seems like a no-brainer, but I didn't think about it and had to re-do them because the first batch was a little charred. If you're going to split these into small tarts like I did, you only need to bake the crust for about 5-6 minutes at 375.

homemade pizzas

So for these, I didn't really follow any recipe. I make pizza probably once a month and always do the same two: one with peppers, onions, and red sauce and one with pesto, shallot, and either tomato or broccoli. I get the Trader Joe's herb pizza crust (they also have plain and whole wheat, but the herbs give it something extra), Trader Joe's pizza sauce, and Trader Joe's vegan kale pesto. For the toppings, I use two bell peppers and half an onion on the one with red sauce, and one whole shallot and three roma tomatoes on the pesto one. I cook all my veggies down a little in advance so they lose some of their water before going on the pizza. I also lightly season them with salt and pepper while I'm cooking them down. Sometimes I put cheese on top, and sometimes I use this vegan parmesan recipe from Oh She Glows. For the Super Bowl, we did half of each pizza with cheese, and half with the vegan parm.

Cinnamon Sugar Donut Holes

I used this donut batter recipe from Tasty to make the batter. I didn't want to deep fry them in oil, however, so instead of making full-size donuts I made donut holes and put them in the air fryer. I put them in at 350 for about 10 minutes, turning half way each time, and then rolled them in the cinnamon sugar as soon as they came out. The flavor was good, but the dough was pretty dense so they turned out more like sweet bread than light and airy like a typical donut. I need to play with this more to get closer to a traditional donut. I don't know that I'll ever be able to replicate the good, old-fashioned deep frying effect with the air fryer, but now I'm on a mission to give it my best shot. More to come on this.

So, that's it!

There you have it, my health coaching FAQ and Super Bowl recipe reviews. As always, let me know if you have questions on either of these! As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, I still have room to take on a few more clients at no cost while I'm finishing up my training at Duke, so if you're interested in free health coaching (and helping me learn), let me know!


Mindfulness (Part 1)

What IS Mindfulness?

When I started doing some research to write this post, I thought it would be interesting to Google the word "mindfulness" to see what might come up. Naturally, the first thing I got was a definition from the Oxford English Dictionary and I think the way it describes both meanings of the term are the perfect way to set the stage for this post:

Mindfulness | mīn(d)f(ǝ)lnǝs | :
1. the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something
2. a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations

Mindfulness is something about which we’re hearing more and more, especially recently. An April article in Psychology Today discusses Gallup's World Emotions Report, which in 2019 showed the U.S. as one of the most stressed countries in the world. At the end of the article, you'll find mindfulness cited as one way to help manage this anxiety. Mindfulness is showing up in the workplace, in schools, and if you needed further convincing that mindfulness really is a hot topic, Oprah.com just published an article on "Mindfulness Techniques for the Holidays" (did you all bookmark that one as quickly as I did?).

The Oxford definition I posted above explains two meanings of the term. I'm going to focus mostly on the first one for the purposes of this post: "the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something." In my own words, I'd describe mindfulness as actively engaging in what you're doing, or more simply, tuning in. When you're eating, it's thinking about the food on your plate, the way it looks, the way it feels when you chew, what flavors are coming through; when you're going for a walk, noticing your breathing, the way your shoes feel on your feet, what sights and sounds are around you; and so on.

So, What Does Mindfulness Have to do with Health Behavior Change?

Mindfulness - both in the sense of being conscious and also as a meditative practice - has wide-ranging implications for health. There are many constructs that play a role in behavior modification, but there are several attributes that we see more frequently when it comes to health behavior change.

Autopilot

How familiar does this sound to you: it's January 1, and you're writing the date but you write the wrong year. Silly you, that's last year's date! How could you forget it's a new year on New Year's Day? Well, there's this lovely unconscious decision-making-system developed by our brains often referred to as autopilot. To a degree, autopilot is necessary to take care of routine tasks and make sure we don't overload, but unfortunately it often bleeds into other tasks and areas of life where we'd rather it not. Autopilot is designed for quick decisions that don't require much information: doing laundry, cleaning, etc. For more complicated mental activities - logical reasoning, managing relationships, learning new things - autopilot is not ideal. To turn autopilot off, you have to be conscious that it's happening and this is where mindfulness can help. Tuning in to what you're doing, being aware of the process and not just the end result, and taking a moment to ask yourself "why am I doing this?" or "will this help me reach my health goals" can help re-engage your brain and redirect your actions to conscious decisions.

Cognitive Depletion

Another concept closely linked with autopilot is cognitive depletion. Cognitive depletion is the idea that cognitive resources are limited and as those resources are depleted our decision-making is affected. Have you ever noticed how you're more likely to drop you goal of getting to the gym, or eating better, or not having that post-work cigarette when you're tired or you've had a very demanding day? That's cognitive depletion in action and in order to stop it, we have to first be aware of it. Again, enter mindfulness. Making an extra effort to really tune in when we know we're in these more cognitively depleted moments can help stop us from making snap decisions or turning on autopilot, which diverts us from our goals.

Learned Helplessness

Have you ever experienced or known someone who has experienced failure with a goal often enough that they no longer believe that goal is attainable for them? Even when a possible solution is available, they assume that because they've failed several times previously, it isn't even worth trying any more. This is learned helplessness and again, mindfulness is crucial to breaking out of this cycle. Opening your mind to new information, such as a changes to the context in which you're trying to reach the goal, can help you see new pathways forward.

Categorization

Okay, so one of these things is not like the other, right? Yes, after reading the preceding sections, categorization may not initially seem like it belongs here. BUT IT DOES! Here's why: many of our opinions are founded on global (large-scale) categories. For example, take the categorization "I hate exercise". This is a pretty broad statement, and as we flip the mindfulness switch and dig more consciously into the "why" behind this large categorization of all exercise as something you hate, you often uncover a more nuanced reason as to why you might feel so strongly negative on exercise.

Why do you hate exercise?
It makes me uncomfortable.
Why does it make you uncomfortable?
I don't like a bunch of people watching me while I work out.
What if you were in a private environment like your home with no one else around?
Oh....

In this (over simplified) example above, after a few rounds of asking "why" you discover that you don't really hate exercise but rather feeling like you're being watched while you do it. By consciously digging deeper you can find a different solution that you might have previously missed.

It's about the journey

I know, that's cheesy, but when it comes to practicing mindfulness (especially in the context of health behavior change) we need to have what Ellen Langer refers to in her book Mindfulness as "process orientation". From a young age, we are conditioned to be goal-oriented: reach for an outcome, accomplish, reach for a new outcome, accomplish, reach for a new outcome, accomplish, and so on. Unfortunately, this way of thinking pushes aside a very important point: every goal was reached through a process. Social media is a major culprit when it comes to displaying a deluge of successful results, but as we all know, it's rare to see someone post their failures and iterations along the way. When we're stuck in this echo-chamber of others' successes, it can make our measly first steps seem pointless. Adopting a process orientation, however, can help you tune in to the fact that EVERYONE followed a process to get to their end result and their first steps were likely not identical to where they are now. Remember, "start where you are, use what you have, do what you can" (see what I did there?). Additionally, the context you gain about what works for you and what doesn't in paying attention to your process is arguably more important than the fact that you accomplished the goal, because being able to lean on those lessons learned in the future will be essential to maintaining what you achieved, making additional changes, or tackling new challenges.

Okay, Let's Bring This Home

I packed a lot into a few short paragraphs, but here's the overall point: our brains are efficient. They have to be in order to process the myriad of information we're given every day. Unfortunately, that efficiency results in mental attributes like autopilot, cognitive depletion, learned helplessness, and categorization that can work against our health goals. Mindfulness is the key to bringing awareness to mental processes that, while still beneficial in many other circumstances, are a road block when trying to change behaviors.

I'd challenge everyone reading this to give mindfulness - in the sense of being more conscious - a try this week. Pick one area of your health in which to be more actively engaged for one day (just start with one, and if you want to do more after that, excellent). Throughout the course of that one day, try really tuning in to your actions, thoughts, and feelings about the behaviors you're exhibiting around the area of health you chose. If it works for you, try jotting down a few insights you pick up throughout the day. At the end of the day, read through or reflect on what you noticed and consider how that might influence your behavior for the next day. I'd be interested to know what you learn!

To wrap this up, there is A LOT to unpack with mindfulness and all that it means for health behavior change. This post barely scratches the surface, and there are many other components of mindfulness that I want to dig into, like the importance of context. So, while I wasn't originally intending to do a second post on mindfulness with this kind of focus, I've decided to build into my content calendar a follow-up post in early December. If you found this post interesting or helpful, then keep an eye out for part two. In the meantime, if you have questions or if you'd like to start working on strategies to bring mindfulness into your health behavior change goals, send me an email. I'm more than happy to help!


Allow Me to Re-Introduce Myself

When You Start a Business and then Go Dark...

Hello again! It's been a little over two months since I finished and published this site, and I imagine a few people are thinking "where did she go?". Well, I launched this website right before one of the busiest times in my life to-date. The first weekend in September we moved, the third weekend in September one of my best friends got married, the fourth weekend in September WE got married, the first week of October we were mini-mooning in Florida, and then we finally settled down around the second week of October. All I can say is WHAT. A. WHIRLWIND.

I thought after we got the move out of the way I'd be able to maintain a weekly post on this site and give you all regular content. SPOILER ALERT: I thought wrong. Even after we were officially moved, there was still unpacking, final wedding details, continuing to work my 9 - 5 job, and general life maintenance to manage. I knew something had to give, and so I told myself to let content for MB Wellness go until after everything settled down. That was tough because having just launched the site, I wanted to keep the momentum going; however, I knew I wasn't going to be at my best and really wanted to wait to start pouring time into this business until I would be.

I imagine everyone reading this can sympathize with what I've been feeling the last few months. At a certain point in adulthood, you realize that being busy, and sometimes overloaded, is not the exception but the rule. Too often I feel like my life resembles running down a hill: you can feel yourself picking up speed and it feels amazing so you continue to let speed build until suddenly, you feel like you're about to lose control and have to dial yourself back. Like many of us, I am exceptionally good at taking on too many things at once only to find myself stressed and overwhelmed. I have to really tune in and intentionally manage my various activities to ensure I pace myself. As I've learned through the years how to better regulate myself, there are a few sayings I lean on to keep myself in check.

Words i [try to] live by

If you know me well, and as new folks will come to learn, I love a good saying. My whole family does and I think it comes in part from my grandma. She had them displayed around her house - from the Golden Rule to "make new friends but keep the old" - and used them constantly in conversation (I can't tell you how many times I heard "be ye kind" when my sisters and I were fighting). While there are many of her sayings that stick with me, there's one in particular that I come back to almost daily:

Start out like you can hold out.

Every time I begin something new, I ask myself "Am I beginning this at a pace I can sustain for a long period of time?". If you're starting a new job, beginning a new relationship, picking up a side project, whatever it may be, have a quick check-in with yourself. If you begin at an unsustainable pace, you could be setting yourself up for high stress or becoming overwhelmed. That said, there will always be phases of life where this is just unavoidable, but in general I use this saying to do a pulse check to make sure I don't over-commit. When I launched this website, I quickly realized that weekly content just wasn't realistic at that point in my life so I scaled back until the timing was better.

"Start out like you can hold out" is also very applicable in health coaching. One emphasis of my approach is making bite-sized changes on the path to your goal. Achieving a sustainable shift in behavior is hard, especially when the behavior is habitual. Trying to go "cold turkey" or all-in at once without examining other lifestyle factors, such as the impact of relationships, scheduling challenges, and physical environment is likely not going to get you the result you want. Begin the process of making a change with something that you know you can sustain and build over time.

On the flip side to "Start out like you can hold out", where you may be in a position of beginning at an unsustainable pace, is another saying that provides guidance for when you're feeling the opposite. Have you ever wanted to start something but didn't know where to begin? Or perhaps beginning felt incredibly overwhelming because the steps from start to finish seemed like too large of an undertaking? Well, you guessed it, I've got a saying for you:

Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.
Arthur Ashe

Beginning something new can be incredibly overwhelming, especially when you're already busy, to the point that often people don't even start. In thinking about this saying in a health coaching context, the most important part is "you". If you read it emphasizing that - "Start where YOU are, use what YOU have, do what YOU can" - I think it makes the most impact. To me, this phrase isn't just about getting started, but also about doing it in a way that works for you. Starting a new fitness routine and the gym isn't your thing? That's okay - find some clear space on your floor and do body weight exercises. Not up for an hour-long workout? Totally fine, start with 20 minutes or 10 minutes, whatever is within reach for you at this juncture and work your way up. You don't have to do what everyone else does, you don't have to try to force something new into your life. If you introduce a change slowly, in a way that actually works for you, it is much more likely to stick.

Speaking of starting...

It's fitting that much of this post talks about beginning, because that's also where I am with MB Wellness - the beginning. While I put the nuts and bolts in place a while ago, I am now finally at a point in my life where I'm well-positioned to dive in and dig in to building this business and building a healthy community for anyone who crosses paths with it. So, what can you expect from me moving forward? Keep an eye on the blog every Monday for new content to kick-start your week, and watch our social media for additional posts. As always, feel free to reach out to me directly with questions - you can contact me via the Contact page on this site.

Until next week,

Meredith


What Does Health Mean to Me?

I really chose a tough one to tackle for my first post, but I think this an important place to start since I'm asking you to let me guide you through your own health changes. When I began thinking about starting this business, one of the first questions I felt I had to ask myself was, what does health mean to me?

As I mentioned in my bio, I grew up in an active household and because of this I spent much of my life believing that health was how often you worked out and whether the image in the mirror reflected that. Not actually very healthy, right? There are so many factors that contribute to our health: genes, our diet, exercise and movement frequency, career, relationships, stress levels, physical environment, the list goes on. Most of these factors are within our control to some degree, but that does not mean they are all easy to change.

Have you ever bailed on the gym because a work happy hour came up last minute? Have you deviated from your nutrition goals in favor of a night out with friends? Have you skipped your morning meditation due to a work call? I imagine anyone who reads this can answer yes to one of these questions (happy hour, am I right?) or to a similar one. We set goals and make plans and then life happens and those plans go out the window. That doesn't mean we are terrible people and we will never reach our health goals.

To me, health is balance. It's eating whole, nourishing foods most of the time, but still having a slice of birthday cake. It's going to the gym most days after work, but making time for that happy hour to celebrate your co-worker's birthday. It's meditating most mornings, but not beating yourself up if you have to skip it one day. Health is not rigidity. If we don't learn to be flexible and live with some of the grey areas, we won't be able to reach our goals because we'll be stuck in a world that's too black and white: you either do it right all of the time or it's a failure.

Health also means learning to prioritize. If you haven't met your gym goal for the week but you really don't want to miss happy hour, can you wake up early and squeeze in a workout before work? If you had an indulgent day yesterday, can you prioritize healthier foods the next day? If you have an early meeting, can you get ten minutes of meditation in at lunch? Learning to fit your goals into your schedule takes practice and forethought. It takes Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C.

Finally, to me health is NOT perfection. I spent years in a terrible cycle of beating myself up because I didn't look the way I thought I should (and I will share this experience with you all at some point). You do not have to look a certain way to be healthy. Strive to feel your best, to avoid sickness and disease, and to enjoy your life. Reach for the things that will better and improve you, but build in some kindness for those times that you fail because you will fail. Yes, I said it and I'll say it again. You will fail. And guess what? That's ok. It's rare to get it right the first time (or the second or third) when we're chasing a new goal. Approach every failure as an opportunity to practice self-compassion and introspection. You only truly fail if you refuse to learn.

So, there you have it. What does health mean to me? Balance, prioritization, and imperfection. I'd be interested to learn, what does health mean to you?