NOTE: THIS BLOG POST WAS WRITTEN BY MY GOOD FRIEND AND LA-BASED MARRIAGE AND FAMILY THERAPIST ELISABETH ABBOTT. PLEASE ENJOY!
As a psychotherapist specializing in trauma and anxiety, I’m seeing an uptick in depressed, anxious, and panicked feelings in my clients — and to be honest, in myself. Here are a few of my best mind-body practices for surviving this … let’s just say challenging period.
Track your sensations
We’re accustomed to tracking our thoughts and feelings. (Sensitive over-thinkers, put your hands up! I’m raising mine.) But many of us don’t have a lot of practice tracking sensations that occur below the neck. It looks like this: While I’m writing this piece, I’ve got butterflies in my stomach, my shoulders are tensing up, and my feet are comfortable and warm in my furry, squishy slippers. The words we use to track our sensations might not always make sense, and that’s OK! Your chest can feel purple, your knees can feel full — any sensory description is valuable as long as it feels right to you. We don’t necessarily have to interpret the sensations. In my case, I don’t need to figure out whether my stomach butterflies come from excitement or nerves; just noticing them non-judgmentally helped my stomach to settle down. Developing a habit of tracking our sensations gives us insight into the wisdom of our body. It lets us know what’s working (my slippers) and what might need more attention (adding a cushion to my chair released the tension in my shoulders).
What’s one thing that makes you feel safe, calm, or just 4% less terrible? That’s a resource for you. This is going to be different for everyone. It seems like my entire social circle is making sourdough bread and posting it on Instagram right now. That thought fills me with cold dread (though the eating part sounds great). Instead, I’m sitting with my dog on my lap, stroking his soft fur and listening to his breathing. I’m noticing that my deep breaths are synchronizing with his, and there’s a pleasant warmth in my belly. The pleasant sensations are what tell me that my dog is a resource for me. There’s a tenet of solution-focused psychotherapy that says, “When something is working, do more of it.” Looks like more dog cuddles are in my future.
Do you hate when someone tells you to “just breathe” as much as I do? This is a little bit different, and it’s backed by neuroscience. Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. Now breathe so that your lower hand moves in and out, but your upper hand stays put. You don’t need to count, or even to breathe particularly deeply — just make sure you’re breathing into your belly. Do this for a while, and notice how you feel. Here’s why it works: when our nervous systems go into emergency mode, or fight-flight-freeze, we breathe rapidly and into our chests. When we breathe into our bellies, our nervous system signals to our brain that it can shut down the fight-flight-freeze response and move back into resilience. If you’re breathing into your belly, it can’t be an emergency.
Anxiety, worry, and fear exist in the future and in the past. Grounding refers to bringing one’s attention to the present moment by using your five senses. There are a number of ways to ground. Notice how your body is making contact with a surface: how does each part of your body feel when you’re sitting in a chair? Lying down on the floor? Leaning against a wall? For example: When I’m sitting in this chair, I notice that my feet feel heavy on the ground, my back feels solid against the chair, and my hips want to move and shift in order feel more comfortable — there, now that I allow them to shift, they can sink in and allow the chair to support them. When sensing your body doesn’t feel good or safe, you can also ground externally. Look around you, and count all of the blue things in your field of vision. Slowly notice and describe each blue thing to yourself before moving on to the next. You can count any color or any object, as long as you’re noticing what happens in your body as you do.
Use your five senses
Another way to ground is by changing your sensory input. Have you been drinking hot tea? Drink a glass of cold water. Notice how it tastes, and how it feels in your mouth. Smooth some fresh-smelling hand cream on your hands; notice the texture and scent. Adjust the lighting (open your blinds, or close them), and notice what happens for you on the inside. One methodical way to use your senses to ground is a short five-senses meditation, which goes like this: Describe one thing you can see right now. I can see the trees through my window. They’re bright green, tall, and gently waving in the breeze. (It’s important to do this slowly and describe what you’re sensing with lots of adjectives.) Now repeat this process with your other four senses: touch, smell, taste, and hearing. Using each one of your senses and then describing it with lots of adjectives takes us from our brain’s limbic system (our fear-response system) into our prefrontal cortex (where logic and executive functioning lie), and helps to bring our nervous system back into resilience.
Dance it out
For distance-learning students and working-from-home adults, Zoom fatigue is real. My son’s second-grade teacher has instituted mandatory “brain breaks,” during which the kids get out of their heads and into their bodies. In our house, we use this time to play Just Dance on the Nintendo Switch, a game where we work up a joyful sweat to songs from Lizzo, Bruno Mars, and a host of 80s/90s hits — and he thinks he’s getting away with something because it’s a video game! Connecting with my kid and with my body, plus those euphoria-inducing endorphins, make this the best part of each day. If you don’t have Just Dance … just dance! I highly recommend the 80s dance party Spotify playlist.
Adjust your expectations
I hesitate to say “lower your expectations,” but lower your expectations. We are going through an unprecedented global crisis. The world is having a collective trauma response and processing untold amounts of grief. Even if you haven’t become ill or lost someone you love due to COVID-19, you have likely been affected by job or financial instability, putting off important life milestones, stressors regarding role changes or family conflict, difficulty obtaining food or supplies, missing friends and family, a lack of (or too much!) human touch, or even just missing your routine. All of these things impact our ability to concentrate while working from home, to be a present parent/spouse/coworker, or even to take care of ourselves. These aren’t normal circumstances, so why are you holding yourself to your normal levels of productivity, or even to your normal mood? Help yourself to remember that survival is more than enough right now. That loaf of sourdough, or literally any completed project — is extra credit.
Elisabeth Abbott is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Los Angeles. You can reach her at www.fulfillinglifetherapy.com
If you're like me, you've been bombarded with content lately and it either:
1. Tells you what you should be doing
2. Gives you a COVID-19 update
3. Spells gloom and doom
4. Sells you an online product that will change your life or
5. A combo of all of the above.
I'm not so into that, it's SO VERY tiring. Instead I'll just leave you with a few thoughts I've been having since we started sheltering in place.
I went to Trader Joe's last week to get groceries. I felt a lot of anxiety before going since TJs is already typically crowded and the thought of the chaos that could be there was mind-numbing. But we also needed groceries.
Long story short, Trader Joe's is doing the most amazing job making shopping feel safe and calm. Produce was fully stocked, proteins were fully stocked. There was even toilet paper!
Do you know what was missing?
Ice cream, almost all of the cookies, almost all of the chocolate (including chocolate chips), and potato chips.
Clearly we're eating our feelings. And, hey, ZERO judgement since chocolate and ice cream were on our grocery list, too. Oh, well.
Here's the thing: We are a world going through such a huge range of emotions. I'm not here to shame a single person for how they're reacting to this new world.
I AM here to point something out, though.
If this is a New Normal For Now, regardless of how long, then the new behaviors we adopt in the New Normal For Now will become new habits. And those habits will decide how we feel inside and out. And I can tell you that if grocery stores continue to be out of ice cream and cookies and chocolate and chips, we'll be feeling SUPER shitty inside and out soon enough.
What if we flipped the script about this whole situation? Yeah, let's give ourselves a small window of time to "get through this" and feel our feelings. Can we then remind ourselves that feelings are not permanent? And then, can we see if this situation could serve as an opportunity to create new habits to help us feel GOOD?
We could figure out how to exercise at home; try out some new recipes; tidy up to create more mental space; go to sleep earlier; journal; meditate; take up running with your dog while also socially distancing (see photo above). We can learn to be there for each other, lean on each other, connect more (thanks, Zoom!).
OK, I'm going to sign off before this becomes a "tell you what you should be doing" email. Know that you're not alone. We are all in this together. I am here for you to connect with.
PS. For the love of all of the chocolate in the world, please please please stay home unless you have to run an essential errand or get fresh air away from other humans. And consider watching this if you are tempted to go out.
I just checked in with my friend from high school and Northwestern University who now resides in Italy to see how she and her family were holding up (at the time fo this post, Italy is on lockdown due to Covid-19). She jokingly said, "Send workout tips for people trapped at home," and I thought, "YES! I've got just the thing!"
I made this video a few years ago (back when there was no pandemic and I had ugly curtains) and it still holds strong today as it did then! There's SO MUCH STUFF around the house that can easily be used to help you get your sweat on. Let's face it: Exercise is KEY to keeping us healthy and we shouldn't let the Coronavirus scare us away from that.
Please watch the video below with a breakdown of what the workout will look like below that. Enjoy!
WHAT YOU'LL NEED:
A suitcase (to travel with! You know, up and down the hallway...)
A heavy book
A gallon of water/milk/detergent/etc
Two wine bottles
A very sturdy chair
Something to balance on your hand (like a slipper)
A reusable grocery bag with something in it (that has some weight to it)
Dog and/or cat*
*Do not use for exercise unless they're super relaxed. See bottom of post for example.
Do the following exercises in order with little to no rest between them. Take 2 minutes after the last exercise before doing the circuit again.
1. Suitcase carry: Do this for about 45 seconds in each hand. If you feel this in your low back despite bracing your core, make the suitcase lighter or use something else.
2. Towel mountain climbers: Perform 10-15 on each side. The leg that slides in should feel pretty weightless so you can stabilize using the extended leg. Your torso should be still enough to balance something on it.
3. Goblet Squat: Perform 10. Keep your knees behind your toes and aim to bring your thighs parallel to the floor.
4. Renegade Row: Perform 10 on each side. This is where the very sturdy chair comes in; keep your shoulder right on top of your wrist here and keep your hips quiet.
5. Step Up: Perform 10-15 on each side. Again: STURDY CHAIR. If that's not an option, perform this instead.
6. Pec Flies: Perform 15. Keep a slight bend in your elbows throughout.
7. Turkish Getup: Perform 1 on each side. Now, if you don't know this move it can seem pretty daunting. Here is an awesome post breaking it down piece by piece. If you'd rather not learn this new exercise, though, do this instead (10 on each side).
8. "Kettlebell" Swing: Do 15 of these. Keep in mind that at the top of the swing, your body is in a vertical plank position which means your glutes, abs, thighs and armpit muscles need to be tight! If this seems too complicated, try 15 of these instead!
So how was that? I'd love to know. Leave me a comment below!
Oh, and that example of only using your pet for exercise if they're super relaxed? See below.
One of my nutrition coaching clients travels a LOT. One thing she's working on is changing up the habits that have caused her to gain weight on these trips in the past.
I think we've all been there: Whether it's Miami with our girlfriends or in Paris with our spouses and kids or Shanghai for work, it can be very difficult to practice abroad the healthy living habits we have at home. Over-indulgence is real, it can happen for many reasons, and it can leave us feeling crappy when we come home.
When my client dug deeper into why the travel over-indulgence happened, it all came down to stress: Stress about having to be "on" for parents and siblings; stress from having to be available for the kids all the time throughout the trip; stress from having very little time to recharge batteries. Even when it's FUN, these stresses can pop up. And so she would dull said stresses with sugary drinks, ice cream and other snacks, and alcohol. But she wasn't having it anymore. (Amen, Sister!)
Does this sound familiar to anyone? I know it does for me!
When I asked how she could see herself replacing those old habits, here is what she told me: She made a self-care kit! She took a beautiful bag that she had and filled it with items that would help her take steps to pause, breathe and do something just for HER that could help her recharge.
How cool is that?
I think it's SO cool that I'm going to list 10 items I would put in MY self care kit that I think you'll like, too!
1. Calming essential oil roll-on. My friend and business coach Pamela gave me a Stress Away roll-on before I had to give a big talk and I swear it calmed my nerves. Maybe it was the power of the scent, maybe it was a placebo effect but either way I felt (and smelled) ready to conquer! Lavender oil is also said to have calming powers and may be easier to find in person.
2. Your favorite tea. Black, green, herbal, whatever: Sometimes a nice warming drink you can put in a mug and wrap your hands around it like a hug can also warm up the heart and soul. Just make sure you don't caffeinate too late in the day...
3. That book you can read again and again. (My favorite is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone; it takes me away to Hogwarts where I would have been a Ravenclaw...)
4. Mini Band. Movement heals so if you can step away for a few minutes and knock out some exercises, it might just elevate your mood! Mini bands are so easy to travel with because they take up VERY little space and there's a whole lot you can do with one!
5. A Journal. You can use it as a diary, as a sketch pad or even something you can just scribble in. Putting a pen to paper can help you sort out your feelings in ways ruminating in your mind won't. So get yourself something you'd be excited to put your emotions down in and get going.
6. A Checklist. I'm in good company when I'm surrounded by other people who write down a to-do item they have ALREADY done just to cross it off. Sometimes I only get through my workouts just so I can mark every set as done. This checklist from Steel Petal Press (where I get all my cards) is pretty awesome for my fellow crosser-offers.
7. Balls. TruFit trainer Kathryn Lehner introduced me to these TuneUp therapy balls that are softer than Lacrosse balls and harder than tennis balls. So, in other words, they are balls that are perfect for working out the kinks (between your shoulder blades, behind your knees, under your feet... the list goes on).
8. A clone of your furry friend. Being out of town sans the pet you cuddle with all the time can feel really strange and we know how much animals can bring happiness to your life... which is why companies that make stuffed animal clones of your pets even exist (and isn't it rad that they do?)!
There's no shame in adults having stuffed animals, y'all!
9. Silly Putty. If you are someone who uses their hands a lot or who bites their nails/twirls their hair/etc when they're anxious, carrying some silly putty around can be a very handy alternative to those habits AND it can help ground you a little more in that stressful moment. Keep an egg in your kit, place some of that putty in your pocket and live your life!
10. Index cards. Yes, they're old school, but just like there's something different about putting pen to paper, there's something about reading from a physical piece of paper rather than from a device. What are these index cards for, you ask? They are affirmations you will write to yourself. You can remind yourself of all the reasons you're trying to stick to healthy habits; you can remind yourself that whatever stress you may feel will be temporary; you can remind yourself of all the reasons you are so special. Basically, you can pull the cards out at times of weariness to get your groove back.
I hope this started getting your creativity going with how you can make your OWN self care kit! Is there something you would have listed that wasn't mentioned? List it in the comments below!
I know I'm not Oprah but I still want to share my favorite things (related to fitness) for the holidays! Here are some treats that I swear enhance my own exercise routine and keep me excited to stay consistent. If you've got someone in your life (or ARE that someone in your life) who works out, consider these options as holiday or New Year's gifts!
Barefoot training was hugely popular for a few years (and still is in some gyms). Training without shoes on can be hugely beneficial for a variety of reasons but not everyone wants to go full-on nekkid with their feet. This is why I've grown super fond of grippy socks! Thanks to Barre and Pilates, these socks are pretty easy to come by. Try out this brand if you want more "serious" lifting socks. If you're looking for more "everyday" grippy socks, though, you can try out these or these!
I know these are pricy (compared to those free earphones that come with the actual phone) but I have to say: They've been 100% worth it. These AirPods are the most comfortable earphones I've ever had (do your ears get sore from wearing earphones for a long time? Mine do...). When you're doing dynamic movements in your exercise program, it's really best to go wireless if you can. No one wants to get tripped up in cords.
There isn't a whole lot you CAN'T do with a kettlebell: Turkish Getups, swings, goblet squats, chest presses, rows, deadlifts, halos, armbars... The list goes on. The ability to use the bell for mobility, strength and cardio is pretty cool and I can't say regular dumbbells can do all of that with the effect kettlebells have. The "standard" bell weight for women is 16kg (36lbs) and 20kg for men (45lbs). But everyone is different so get something that sounds like it's JUST a little heavier than you can do so you can work up to that weight being your usual go-to.
Fanny packs have become WAY more mainstream so this is truly a good time to get someone you love one of these without a look of confusion. Why? Because they allow you to go on a run/walk/hike/adventure without fear of your keys or wallet falling out of your jacket (which is how I lost my license and credit card once...). Let your loved one get after it out there!
One of my best friends was given a GORGEOUS Art Deco engagement ring. She loved it so much she wore it when I trained her before her wedding. And the band broke. Turns out you're not supposed to work out with your engagement or wedding ring on. Who knew? Well, a lot of companies, actually, because there are a lot of silicone ring options out there now that allow you to be active with your hands while keeping your jewelry intact! Enso is a really well-known brand but I got a fun multi-pack here.
Recovery needs are REAL if you want to exercise long-term and injury-free. Plus, who doesn't love a massage? (Well, some people might not so I have some other recovery ideas below). If you have a particularly active loved on, you could even spring for a 90-minute treatment. My favorite local Evanston massage therapist? Dan Plyter! Dan doesn't have a website but you can book with him my emailing him here. If you'd rather book with a female, Erika Bitto is my go-to. You can also book a massage with her through Dan.
Does your loved one complain about sore muscles? CBD creams are all the rage right now and for good reason (in my opinion). I love my Charlotte's Web cream for some overnight soothing after hard workouts. If you're in the Evanston area, you can visit my favorite CBD store, Botanica. Not super into CBD? Mix a little bit of this essential oil blend with some coconut oil and get similar muscle-warming effects!
Sore and overworked bodies can stand to give themselves a nice, hot bath once in a while and a soothing bath isn't complete without some Epsom salts. Don't confuse these with bath bombs (which my pelvic floor PTs advise against). I love Epsom salt baths so much I order this 20lb bag from Amazon... Sprinkle in a few drops of that oil you might have also bought above to kick the recovery up a notch.
Shower In a Bottle
If I'm being honest, the best time for me to work out is after I see clients but I often have other places to go after with no chance to shower. That's OK now because I've discovered a shower in a bottle! This foam cleanser works surprisingly well and doesn't have a super aggressive smell like icky body sprays have. Gotta love products that don't let you have any excuses not to work out :)
Sometimes you want to give your hair a little post-workout zhuzh (yes, I had to look up how to spell that). I've tried a TON of dry shampoos, this is hands-down my absolute favorite. Spray away, this shampoo doesn't leave any powdery residue!
I hope this helps at least jog your mind with some ideas for how to support your loved one's fitness endeavors! If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask below! Thanks for reading!
September is Better Breakfast Month which I think is great! This is a month of transition for lots of us (end of summer, back to school, all that jazz) and is a perfect time to be more mindful and purposeful with what we are eating.
Every morning is a clean slate for a new day and since breakfast is Meal #1 of the day for most of us, this subject speaks to me!
What Do I Mean When I Call Breakfast "Meal #1"?
Whether you have time to sit down to breakfast in the morning, you grab-and-go or wait until lunch time to have Meal #1, here are some nutrient-dense ideas for all seasons and reasons. Some of these recipes require a little bit of time to prep up front and some don’t. Just FYI :)
Let's get going!
Fiber Bowl: Seasonal Roasted Veggies With Your Choice of Eggs
Greek Yogurt With Fruit
My Take-Everywhere Breakfast: Kashi Go Lean With a Banana
NOTE: I am typically vehemently against cereal but have introduced it into my life this year for time-restraint reasons. Traveling for conferences and meetings over the years has taught me that I prefer eating breakfast in my room while I get ready AND it saves me a bunch of money!
These breakfast options are obviously the tippy tip of the iceberg but they're my go-to favorites. I hope you enjoy them!
Do you have a favorite healthy recipe for Meal #1? Share in the comments below!
There we were: 20 fitness professionals in a warm room on a Sunday morning, about to spend 8 hours together learning about how to be better coaches. It was hot, it was pouring rain and the energy level was a low. Completely pretending I was still in college, I had been out with friends the night before and went to bed at 12:30AM only to be woken up at 5AM by Bama. So it was a little rough. Which is why the way we started the day was so cool and I thought I’d share it with you.
Dr. Lisa Lewis, one of our two presenters that day, took us through a mental preparation exercise before diving into the information. Although this was meant to center ourselves for the next few hours, I thought it could be a brilliant way to get mentally checked in before heading into a workout.
Imagine you are about to exercise. But, not matter whether you love it or don’t, you might just be feeling a little scattered. How do you mentally prepare yourself for the task at hand?
Try these four steps (the ones listed below the actual pie chart of my very own brain):
Mental preparation before workout
1. Create intention:
Let me know if you have any questions and if you want to follow Dr. Lewis, you can find her here and here. And if you want to laugh as you learn about exercise, you can find Tony here! (And if you’re not already following me on Instagram, do sohere and here for crying out loud!)
In this episode of "Bama Goes to School", we are going to talk about the business of managing expectations when we're in different environments!
Someone at Urban Pooch asked Pamela the instructor, “What is normal to expect of a dog’s behavior outside of the classroom?” Bama’s school goes by levels so dogs start at Level 1 (where they learn sit, down, their name, for example), Level 2 (stay, come, heel... this is where we are), all the way to Level 5 and dogs graduate level by level once they've passed some tests until the owner is happy with how well-behaved their dog is. The thing is, I can feel TOTALLY happy with Bama's behavior in school or at home but once she's outside, it's like I don't exist and neither does any of what she's learned at school!
WHY can a dog can who can FINALLY “stay” and “heel” really well in school (YAY, BAMA!) not understand what a basic “sit” means at a stop sign (BOO, BAMA!)?
Because of the environment, that’s why.
The classroom and home are comfortable environments where our dogs are at ease and get into a certain routine. But, explained Pamela, dogs might very well behave at least one level — if not two! — below their current school level when they are outside of their familiar spots, at least for a little while. Newer environments or situations can leave dogs feeling stressed or excited so their ability and willingness to hear you say, “SIT!” is just not there.
We humans may be more complicated beings than our doggie counterparts but how often do we ask ourselves what our habits should look like outside of our "normal"? We think we should be on our “best” behavior no matter where we are: Home, work, business trips, vacation... But, like dogs, our behavior might change because we're in a stressful situation; or we're excited about something; or we're in a different country that speaks a language we don't know; or we're in a season that brings with it a totally different schedule (or lack of one) than the rest of the year. Like summer.
For example: We may be skilled at staying away from ice cream at home but when we’re in Rome, we can’t say no to gelato! Or, we pat ourselves on the back when we stick to our gym schedules whenever life is “normal” but we berate ourselves when we don't fit in a workout before 8AM meetings start at the Shanghai office when we might be jet-lagged!
I decided to bring this up this week because summer vacations are upon many of us, work trips aren't slowing down and next week is the 4th of July which could mean BBQ'd everything, beer and wine and all types of jello molds depending where you are...
I am a big believer that each season brings with it opportunities to swap out certain habits for others. So for the next few weeks, we’ll examine what those summer habits and skills might look like because you deserve to put yourself in a winning position when it comes to feeling your best while thoroughly enjoying every moment in the sun.
Ready? Here’s habit one, the way I present it to my CleanSlaters:
Choosing your best option, no matter where you are
There are two big times of the year where we find ourselves in situations where we feel like we have no “healthy” options: the summer (on vacations, at cookouts, etc) and from Thanksgiving through New Year’s. So we plod along, looking like Charlie Brown after Lucy takes the football away and think, “Well, I have no good choices here at this barbecue/holiday party/all-inclusive resort so I might as well just have it all.” We eat a bunch of food, drink a bunch of drinks and can’t even enjoy a second of it because we feel annoyed/guilty/sad. So we consume even more to numb ourselves.
Practicing actively choosing one option over another — even when our options are 5-cheese pizza vs pepperoni pizza — puts the power of choice back in our hands. Once we take ownership of our choices and decisions, the chances of us overindulging go down while the chances of us having fun and living a full life go up!
HOW CAN YOU PERSONALIZE THIS SKILL?
You likely won’t have to do this at every meal but see if there is one part of your day this could help you out. This habit can look like this:
What do I mean by "best choice for me", exactly:
By "best" I might mean: healthiest, best-tasting, least-costly, on one of Anthony Bourdain's best of lists (happy belated birthday, AB), best-looking... the list goes on. The takeaway is that it is an active choice made by you.
But what if I don’t want to pick between one option and another?
Not choosing between two options IS a choice so own it! If you decide you’d like to eat both options, you can always choose to alter the portion size. Just be in the moment and enjoy it.
What if none of the items are healthy?
Sometimes there won’t be a single veggie is sight. Sometimes there may not even be a non-fried option in sight. And you know what? That’s OK. You can still make an active decision. For example, let’s take the pizza example above. You’ve got your choice of cheese or pepperoni. You could choose the pepperoni slice because you know it’ll taste better. Own it! You could choose the 5-cheese because it just looks better. Own it! Own the decision and you’ll be more satisfied and will very likely eat less.
Whew. I feel like I just threw a lot out there. I also feel like this "choosing what's best for you" skill isn't talked about a whole lot so: If you have any questions/concerns/feedback/anything, please post a comment below or email me! Let's chat!
Remember when we’d watch The Biggest Loser and be in AWE of the contestants who were able to get through their workouts despite having a broken ankle and eat 1500 calories a day even though they exercised for eight hours in that day and thought, “Wow, Jillian Michaels is SO MEAN but I guess that’s what we all need sometimes.”?
Even in personal training school, we couldn’t stop watching. Forget the fact that we KNEW that show was abusing these poor contestants, there was still this dogma that losing weight and getting fit required going all in, all at once and that it wouldn’t be pretty.
The bad news is, some still believe you have to go all in to see and feel results. The GOOD news is, thankfully, that it’s becoming more en vogue in the fitness industry to learn how to meet our clients where they are and use positive reinforcement rather than shame someone to help them out.
Turns out this actually applied to dog training methods, too! Even the most loving dog training gurus would use fear tactics and place dogs in positions where they couldn’t possibly succeed so they could be scolded into learning how we DID want them to act. Luckily that’s turned around and now the training methods point to teaching your pet how to WANT to act the way you want them to.
As y’all know if you read last week’s newsletter, Bama has been working hard on understanding what “stay” means. Pupdate: Still working on it but improving!
Bama’s trainer Pamela tells us that when teaching a dog to stay you have to deal with “the three Ds”: Distance (how far away you are from the pet), Duration (how long your pet stays in “stay”) and Distraction (all the things we cannot control that might distract your animal). Right now it would be crazy for me to expect Bama to “stay” in a seated position on the sidewalk as I run into Starbucks to grab coffee with the urban world happening around her.
Let’s take this into the human realm. When learning a new skill or habit, be it exercise- or nutrition-related, we need to deal with our own version of the three Ds which I am calling “FIT”: Frequency, Intensity and Time. Let’s use “to exercise” as the habit we are trying to work on. Looking through the FIT variables, here are some ways to choose how you will practice this new habit:
Frequency: How often either throughout the day or throughout the week you will practice this habit or skill.
Intensity: In this exercise example, intensity can mean how hard you want your workout to be that day on a scale of 1-10 and it can also mean how long you want your workout to be.
Time: How long, in days/weeks/months you choose to practice this habit or skill this particular way. I am a planner and the reason I like to play with Time is because it can remind me that whatever I’m working on, I can take it one day at a time for a length of time of my choice. While you can take the habits and skills you learn with you for the rest of your life, playing with the Time variable helps to remind us that there will be moments in our lives when we may decide to tweak how we practice something! For example: Want to lose those last 10 lbs before a big event? You may choose to restrict your diet and eliminate all added sugars and alcohol for two weeks and reassess how you feel after that.
Let’s go back to Bama for a minute: In learning to "stay", we are pretty much always going to deal with Distraction. If I was taking Bama for a walk at prime dog-walking time and I asked her to “stay” sitting down while I run into Starbucks to get coffee, do you think this 10-month-old puppy who’s just started to work on this could do that? Um, no. We’re already playing with Distance (I'd be many yards away from her) and Duration (it’ll take a few minutes to make my Americano) and then, layer Distraction on top of that! People coming up to pet her, birds flying around, children yelling from the playground, loud buses coming by… Am I setting Bama up for success here with her “stay”? NOPE! Would it be silly of me to expect that she’d stay in her seated position exactly as I left her? YES!
Now, may I ask: Have there been times that YOU have expected yourself to succeed in a situation that might have been too bogged down with Frequency, Intensity and Time? Something like, “I haven’t worked out in a year but I will start going t the gym Monday through Friday (F) for an hour (I) before work from now on (T).” That might work for the outlier but for most of us, it’s putting us in a tough spot where it will be hard to succeed.
When going through the FIT variables, put yourself in Bama’s paws. How can you play around with Frequency, Intensity and Time to set yourself up for success in our "to exercise" example? Here are just a few ideas:
We’ve believed for so long that in order to get fit we need to do tough things. Well, yeah, you need to make a change or change won’t come and that might take a little mental toughness and body soreness. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be wildly successful with every step (and stay) you take along the way.
Crazy Dog Lady Reporting for Duty.
I am officially a crazy dog lady.
I am obsessed with our 10-month-old corgi/Jack Russel rescue. Her name is Bama and she loves chewing on anything she can get her mouth on; chasing after anything that moves on the sidewalk (birds, rabbits, leaves, you name it); sitting perched at the window like a cat as she looks out at the world with wonder. She does not like: Car rides in the city.
She also loves going to school to learn new tricks and how to be a good girl (and, let’s face it, getting treats and praise). I don’t know what I was expecting with doggie school but I can tell you that it wasn’t a deeper insight into coaching people.
That is exactly what going to Urban Pooch as done: Given me more empathy and a deeper understanding of how to set myself and others up for the greatest amount of success when learning new skills and habits.
Yes, as a coach I help people get stronger and help them shift some of their behavior around food but at the core, isn't my biggest responsibility to help my clients tap into their potential to be their most awesome self?
Over the next few weeks, I'll explore some of my biggest Aha! moments and what I've been reminded of while bonding with Bama. And I hope it sparks a little something with you at the same time.
Week 1: Start Where You Are
Can you imagine bringing a not-yet-fully-housebroken puppy to its first day of doggie school and expect them to know how to "stay!" after one lesson? Would you expect a baby who’s just learned to roll over to know how to walk the next day? Would you expect anyone to hold a conversation in Japanese after one class? Would you expect yourself to be able to be really good at pushups a week after starting to learn them?
Logically, we can understand how the above scenarios make no sense and yet when it comes to us, we often do not give ourselves the grace of taking a good, hard look at where we are in our process.
We are high functioning people who learn quickly but when our bodies don't react the way we expect them to in the time that we've given ourselves, we can get frustrated and fold in the towel.
But what if we learned to understand where we REALLY are and meet ourselves there?
We’ve been trying to teach Bama to “stay”. Which she doesn’t understand because she wants to follow us around everywhere! So when learning “stay” at school, I was at a loss because I’d start to take a small step back and she would automatically move toward me.
Pamela (the instructor) saw I was struggling so she came over to give some guidance. “Try asking her to stay and then moving only one leg back?” “Really? But then I'm not even moving away from her.” “Think of it from her perspective: She's a puppy who wants to be at its owner's side and it's suddenly going to know how to stay put as you walk away from her? It’s OK to start really small,” she said, “because then you can build on the skill little by little.”
We practiced with me stepping literally one leg back. She stayed. Once she'd practiced that for a while, we were able to make the game harder: I stepped one leg back and shifted my weight back with it. She stayed! A while later I took an actual two-legged step back… SHE STAYED AGAIN! And as we've been practicing all week, she's learning to "stay" as I walk further and further away!
Bama needed to start with far more elementary steps than some of the other dogs in the class and that was 10000% OK. We were able to meet her where she was and where she needed to start and, thanks to that, she's been able to make great strides!
Why can’t we treat ourselves like that?
It can feel soul crushing to seem like you're not moving forward with your health and fitness goals. If frustration happens when reality and expectations don't match up, could it be that we need to reexamine our reality? What if we took a little bit of time to figure out where we truly are instead of where we think we *should* be?
Y'all: Sometimes spending time on the ground floor is the only way to move forward and up. And SOMETIMES we find out there are floors below that we should visit. These times aren't setbacks; they're just ways we get to lay a strong foundation.
I mean who wants to stay in a house built on a foundation made of straw? I'd rather stay in a house built on a foundation made of carefully poured out concrete :) Wouldn't you?
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