Archive for Health and Wellness

Increase Your Gratitude for Better Health

I’m teaching Working with Emotional Intelligence again at Southern Oregon University. This term, it’s for the Innovation and Leadership Program, a degree completion program for adults who previously started but did not finish their bachelor’s degree.

Recently, we talked about positive psychology and the role gratitude plays in our emotional and physical health. Research by Robert Emmons reveals that expressing gratitude improves physical, mental and social well-being.

Physical Benefits

  • stronger immune systems
  • less bothered by aches and pains
  • lower blood pressure
  • exercise more and take better care of their health
  • sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking

Mental Benefits

  • higher levels of positive emotions
  • more alert, alive and awake
  • greater joy and pleasure
  • more optimism and happiness

Social Benefits

  • more helpful, generous and compassionate
  • more forgiving
  • more outgoing
  • feel less lonely and isolated

Around Thanksgiving, I always begin to think more about what I am grateful for. I know that sometimes I forget to be grateful when I’m rushing through busy, jam-packed days and nights.

How do we get in touch with gratitude when it seems like there is so much negativity in the world?

We can start with these questions:

  • What am I grateful for today?
  • What good did I do today?
  • How was I helpful today?
  • What went well today?

Asking yourself these questions makes you remember the good. And while at first it may take some thought to come up with the answers, it becomes easier with practice. Because you are focusing on the good, you’ll develop new neural pathways and start noticing the good as it’s happening.

Here’s a little exercise you can incorporate into your life to help you notice the good more readily and increase your feelings of happiness and gratitude. It’s called “What Went Well.” There are many variations, but I especially like Marty Seligman’s version (he’s the founding father of positive psychology). He suggests that at the end of each day you take a few minutes to write down three things that went well. These don’t need to be earth-shattering in importance (e.g., “The hiking boots I ordered online fit perfectly”), or they can be super-important (“My daughter just gave birth to a healthy baby boy.”)

It may seem awkward at first to write about positive events in your life, but stick with it. It will get easier. You’ll begin noticing the positive events as they are happening and have the opportunity to relish them. With daily practice, six months from now, you will be happier, more grateful and maybe even addicted to this exercise!

Are you already doing a variation on “What Went Well?” Please tell us about it in a comment below.

Creed for Optimists: 11 Ways to Build Resilience

Have you ever stumbled across something that resonated so deeply you could have been its author? This happened to me recently when I came across Christian D. Larson’s “Creed for Optimists,” written in 1912. Here it is.

Promise yourself to:

Founder of the New Thought movement, Larson (1874–1954) is credited for being an American New Thought leader and teacher as well as a prolific author of metaphysical and New Thought books. Many of Larson’s books remain in print today, more than 100 years after they were first published, and his writings influenced notable New Thought authors and leaders. His Optimist Creed was adopted by Optimists International, better know as the Optimist Clubs.
  1. Be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.
  2. Talk health, happiness and prosperity to every person you meet.
  3. Make all your friends feel there is something special in them.
  4. Think only of the best, work only for the best and expect only the best.
  5. Be as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.
  6. Forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.
  7. Give everyone a smile.
  8. Spend so much time improving yourself that you have no time left to criticize others.
  9. Be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.
  10. Think well of yourself and proclaim this fact to the world—not in loud words—but in great deeds.
  11. Live in the faith that the whole world is on your side, so long as you are true to the best that is in you.

Makes me happy just to read the Creed. So what about living it?

It’s what I strive for every day. By mindfully following these tenets, I have seen benefits in my work environment, home environment and all personal relationships. Although the learning is continuous and I have a long way to go, I have become better at listening and have developed higher levels of understanding and compassion.

What would change if you were to incorporate the Creed into your everyday life? Give it a try. Let me know how it changes you—and how it changes those you interact with. Cheers!

Discover Your Drive: 5 More Tips for Building Self-Control

This is the last in a series of articles (see part 1 and part 2) investigating the life-changing impact of self-control and how you can hone yours.

Below are five more tips gleaned from Kelly McGonigal’s The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It.

1) Avoid Goal-Sabotaging

Working toward a goal requires balancing between our desired outcome and our immediate urge for gratification.

Scientists have found those reminded of their progress toward a goal are more likely to backslide as a way of rewarding themselves.

If we’ve successfully resisted sugary desserts for a week, we begin to experience goal liberation, which tells us we deserve a little treat for being so good.

This can lead to a one-step-forward-two-steps-backward goal-sabotaging pattern. Be alert to this threat, and you’ll get a leg up on your temptation.

2) Don’t Let Your Brain Trick You

Our brains can mistake thinking about a goal for the actual work itself, causing us to pat ourselves on the back prematurely.

When fast food restaurants offer healthier options like salads, people are more likely to order unhealthy alternatives like burgers and fries. Browsing an eco-friendly site causes us to indulge in some not-so-green behavior, thinking we’ve already done our bit to offset our carbon footprint.

Simply considering the better option substitutes for action in the brain, giving us permission to deviate from our higher aspirations.

Penalties introduced to deter bad behavior often backfire for this reason. Daycare centers that imposed a fee for parents who arrived late found instances of lateness increased. Paying the fee assuaged parents’ guilt over being late, removing incentive for being on time.

3) Find Your “I Want” Power

The way to build self-control and overcome goal-sabotaging behavior is to focus not on your progress but rather on your long-term motivation (your “I want” power).

In one study, students asked to remember an instance in which they resisted temptation were 70 percent more likely to give in to their next temptation. An almost equal percentage—69 percent—fended off temptation when asked to recall why they had resisted in that past moment.

4) Befriend Your Future Self

People who have a strong sense of their future selves are more likely to make the best decisions when it comes to long-term goals like retirement savings.

It’s easy to let the demands of now interfere with our aspirations to set money aside, but that becomes more difficult when we’ve taken the time to envision ourselves at retirement age.

Studies show those with high future self-continuity tend to behave more ethically and responsibly as well as becoming a better person in the present.

People with low future self-continuity are more likely to cheat on tests, steal in the workplace, gossip and lie to secure short-term advantages.

McGonigal writes, “It as if feeling disconnected from our future selves gives us permission to ignore the consequences of our actions.”

5) Choose Your Friends Wisely

Poor habits spread like a contagion through social networks. You are more likely to smoke, drink heavily, gamble, engage in crime or succumb to addiction if you hang out with people who practice these behaviors.

While genetics influence obesity, there is also a cultural/social component that involves unhealthy lifestyle choices like eating processed foods and failing to exercise regularly.

Research shows a person’s chances of becoming obese increase by 171 percent when a friend becomes obese, 67 percent when a sister does and 45 percent if it’s a brother.

But there’s a flip side to this phenomenon: surrounding yourself with people who have similar life goals substantially increases your chances of fulfilling those objectives. This is why regularly attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings is crucial to addiction recovery.

Want to eat healthier, take up marathon running, quit smoking or start writing that novel you’ve been dreaming about for years? Find a community that will support you in your goals, and they will help hold you accountable to your dreams.

Want a Coach in Your Corner?

Ready to go from wishing to achieving? Chris Cook can inspire, support and drive you to achieve your goals and live a happier, more fulfilling life. Call 541.601.0114 or email Chris today.

Dig Deep: 5 Tips for Building Self-Control

In our last post, we explored why building self-control is critical to achieving your long-term goals. Now, we equip you with the tools and techniques you need to beef up your willpower muscle courtesy of The Willpower Instinct author Kelly McGonigal.

1) Know Thyself

According to McGonigal, understanding what causes you to lose control is key to strengthening it. By recognizing your vulnerabilities, you are positioned to sidestep the pitfalls that usually trip you up.

Research tells us those who are overly confident in their powers of self-control are the likeliest to succumb to temptation. Pride goeth before a fall, as Proverbs, Shakespeare and Greek mythology remind us.

2) Let’s Get Physical

Willpower is affected by sleep, diet and blood sugar levels. Studies show those with higher blood sugar levels exhibit lower impulse control. They are emotionally frayed and more susceptible to poor decision making.

It’s a bad idea to go shopping when you’re hungry, tired, stressed or cranky. You’ll spend twice as much while getting less of what you need and more of what you don’t.

If you want to build self-control, you need to get your physical health tip-top with sufficient sleep and a healthy, nutrient-dense diet.

3) Reduce Stress

Stress weakens our willpower, so reducing stress will help fortify your self-control.

The American Psychological Association (APA) has found the following strategies to be most effective in relieving stress: exercising, playing sports, meditating or praying, taking a walk, practicing yoga, listening to music, reading, being with loved ones, spending time in nature, enjoying a massage and pouring yourself into a creative activity or hobby.

4) A Spoonful of Sugar

If you’re dreading a particular task, find a way to associate it with a reward. By tapping into the reward center of the brain, you can get your dopamine neurons firing and transform a mundane project into an adventure.

Don’t want to do those dishes? Start blasting your favorite music and get your groove on while scrubbing plates.

The yard needs weeding? Challenge your partner or a friend to a weeding contest. Whoever fills their bucket first gets to choose the dinner menu—and the loser cooks it.

Get creative and have fun, and you’ll find yourself flying through those chores.

5) Practice Willpower Exercises

Here are a few simple exercises you can use to strengthen your self-control muscle:

  1. I won’t. Pick something small like refraining from saying “um” or “like,” not crossing your legs while sitting or using your non-dominant hand for a specific task like brushing your teeth or setting the table.
  2. I will. Incorporate one task into your daily routine that you don’t currently practice. It might be keeping a one-sentence journal, doing a yoga pose upon waking or reading a poem every night before bed.
  3. Self-monitor. Start tracking yourself so you have a clearer picture of how you spend your money, time or energy. If you are trying to reign in your spending, use a financial application to analyze how much you spend on what. If you want to cut your carb intake, keep a food journal to help you identify your weak spots. If you find your evenings disappearing into thin air, track how much time you spend watching television.

Need Someone to Hold Your Feet to the Fire?

Chris Cook can help you clarify your life goals and build the willpower to achieve it. Call 541.601.0114 or email Chris today.

But Wait, There’s More

We’ll share the next five secrets to bulking up your willpower in our next post.

I Will, I Won’t, I Want: Why Strengthening This Power Will Supercharge Your Success

It affects your career, relationships, health and financial stability. It’s the difference between dreamers and doers, wannabes and winners.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), lack of it is the top reason Americans have trouble achieving their goals. And it is the second secret ingredient Angela Lee Duckworth identifies as critical to success: self-control.

While our last article examined the first component to success—grit—this post focuses on the latter.

The Marshmallow Test

Most of us have seen the 1960s and 1970s footage of Psychologist Walter Mischel’s Stanford Marshmallow series of experiments on delayed gratification. In the above clip, motivational speaker and coach Joachim de Posada reprises this famous experiment in Colombia.

If you’re not familiar with the test, it involves placing a four-year-old in a room by herself with a marshmallow. The child is told if she waits 15 minutes, she will be given a second marshmallow. If she eats it, however, she will receive nothing.

The ensuing struggle each child undergoes is both humorous and revealing. De Posada—author of Don’t Eat the Marshmallow … Yet! The Secret to Sweet Success in Work and Life—jokes about one little girl who was clever enough to eat the inside of the marshmallow so it would appear untouched, “We know she’ll be successful, but we have to watch her. She should not go into banking, for example.”

While two out of three children cave in to temptation and eat the marshmallow, one of out three refrains, exhibiting the self-discipline that will help her achieve success in life.

When Mischel conducted a follow-up study 15 years later, 100 percent of the children who had resisted the marshmallow were demonstrably successful, whereas the majority of those who’d succumbed had lower competencies and were doing poorly in school and life.

Strengthening Your Self-Control Muscle

“Self-control is a muscle,” Kelly McGonigal writes in The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It.

That’s exciting because it means we have the ability to strengthen it. We may sometimes feel powerless to resist temptation or keep our nose to the grindstone when facing a daunting task, but we just need to learn how to build our willpower.

Whether you want to quit smoking, eat a healthier diet, accomplish a professional goal or reduce the amount of time you spend on social media, you’ll need self-control to get there.

Take the I Will, I Won’t, I Want Power Challenge

McGonigal outlines three forms of willpower and challenges us to put each one into practice in a concrete way:

  • I will. Think of something you’d like to do more of that you’ve been putting off—and do it.
  • I won’t. Tackle a bad habit that’s negatively affecting your health, relationships, work or life in general.
  • I want. What’s a long-term goal you’ve been dreaming about but keep getting distracted from? Time to get started.

Need Help Building Your Willpower?

Chris Cook can help you discover and fulfill your I will, I won’t and I want power challenges. Call 541.601.0114 or email Chris today.

Stay Tuned

Our next two posts will teach you 10 strategies you can deploy to strengthen your self-control.

Stop Working So Much!

Let’s start with a short quiz.

True or false: US businesses owe $224 billion in unused vacation time.1

True or false: Working 11-hour days or longer increases your chances of developing heart disease by 67% over those who work 7- or 8-hour days.2

True or false: Individuals who work more than 55 hours a week have lower productivity levels.3

If you answered true for all three questions, you’re right! In today’s economy, most of us find ourselves overworked as organizations reduce benefits and put the kibosh on raises.

Others, however, work for companies that value employee health and wellness. The December 15, 2015, issue of Fortune Magazine highlights a few standout organizations where work-life balance is serious business.

Denver-based software company FullContact specializes in contact management software. In addition to company stock options, employees enjoy 100% paid health, dental and vision care for the employee and family; free bus and light rail passes; parking stipends (for those who don’t live near bus or rail lines); one month a year to work remotely from any location in the world—with lodging and travel paid by the company; and paid holidays and vacation.

About that vacation. FullContact requires employees to take at least three weeks off every year. “There is a catch. You must be off the grid, no emails, no calling work, absolutely no work.”

Lindon, Utah–based BambooHR has a philosophy: “Do great work. Then go home. Work stays at work.” Their “no workaholics” policy requires that every employee leave the office by 5 pm. And no employee may work more than 40 hours a week. Benefits include three weeks off, 11 paid holidays, health insurance and more.

Many of us will never work for a company that provides free lunch and dinner (Google); on-site gyms and free Taylor Swift concerts (Yahoo); on-site massage services and pet insurance (Scripps Health); concierge services to pick up your groceries or change the oil in your car (SC Johnson and Son); three to six months of partially paid time to do volunteer work (Deloitte); or professional dress clothing advances (Umpqua Bank).

You might, though, work for an organization that offers benefits promoting employee work-life balance. If so, the benefits are probably quite evident to you!

If you are a leader, consider how you might implement new goals for 2016:

  1. Help your employees take advantage of accrued vacation time.
  2. Reduce employee risks of developing heart disease by keeping their workdays to eight hours.
  3. Ensure maximum productivity of employees by reducing demands beyond a 40-hour week.

Your employees will thank you. Their families will thank you. And your company will retain employees who are engaged, productive, creative and healthy. Gee—wouldn’t that help you meet your strategic goals!

References

  1. Oxford Economics analysis based on SEC filings for 114 companies (2015).
  2. University College London study (2011).
  3. Study conducted by Stanford University’s John Pencavel (2014).

Don’t Let Stress Kill Your Dreams—and Other Lessons from a Shipbuilder

Orcas Island

Photo by Chris Cook

This is a story about Robert—and all of us. Robert moved to the West Coast without a dime in his pocket. Over the next 30 years, he became mayor of a major city and owner of a successful shipbuilding business.

At only 48 years of age, Robert was told the stress of his work had taken a toll on his health—and he had 1 year to live. Robert gave up politics and sold his shipbuilding business for what would be $60 million today. He moved to Orcas Island with his family and retired. More about Robert later …

The Trouble with Stress

Many workplaces have unconsciously developed a culture of stress. The most common cause of stress in the workplace is extensive overtime—too much work. This results from cuts in staffing, a fear of being laid off and pressure to meet ever-rising job expectations without a corresponding increase in compensation, recognition or job satisfaction.

If you are a business owner or manage a team of employees, do you know the negative impacts of a stressed-out employee or work team? According to the US Bureau of Labor, stress costs US business more than $400 billion annually. This manifests in a high rate of employee turnover, overuse of sick time, lower productivity, less creativity and poor customer service. So you’d better be on the lookout for stressed-out employees.

Rick Hughes, a lead advisor for the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy lists these 10 warning signs.

Stressed-out employees:

  1. Take more time off work than usual—sick leave or vacation.
  2. Have increased use of substances such as alcohol, tobacco and drugs (prescription and illegal).
  3. Exhibit greater irritability, poor concentration and reduced productivity.
  4. Have deteriorating personal or work relationships, including bullying behaviors.
  5. Are more emotional, moody or over-reactive to what others say.
  6. Start to behave differently—in a way that’s out of the norm.
  7. Have a change in eating and sleep patterns.
  8. Exhibit physical reactions such as sweating, palpitations and increased blood pressure.
  9. Feel negative, depressed and anxious most of the time.
  10. Feel trapped or frustrated … and believe there’s no solution.

Cascade Campground SignIf you see any of these warning signs, it’s time to take action. That means shifting from a culture of stress to a culture of engagement and productivity. Talk to the employee and get to the root cause. Then make changes to counteract the stressors. It may seem like an expensive proposition, but it’s not nearly as expensive as doing nothing.

What if you are an employee and you think you might be experiencing a level of stress beyond that which is healthy?

Here are five ways you can combat stress:

  1. Get moving! Start with a basic exercise program—even if it’s just a short walk during a morning break. You’ll feel better and have a clearer head.
  2. Kiss your kids. Kiss your partner. (No, not your business partner—your life partner!) Creating a sense of connectedness releases endorphins—the counter-agent to stress.
  3. Get to know your fellow workers. Creating a sense of belonging in the workplace makes for a happier, more supportive environment.
  4. Have a cup of tea. Scientists at University College London noted that people who drank black tea four times a day for six weeks had lower levels of cortisol after a stressful task than those who drank a caffeinated fruit beverage.
  5. Reflect on what you value. By getting in touch with what’s really important to you, you are better able to make decisions that resonate—in other words, make yourself feel good instead of bad. You’ll find the “small stuff” doesn’t stress you out as much.

Lesson from Robert

KayakingBack to Robert, the man given just a year to live because of the toll stress had taken on his body. He is a real person. His name was Robert Moran. In 1875, at age 18, the penniless Robert moved from New York to Seattle. Over the next three decades, he created a successful shipbuilding business, became mayor of Seattle, rebuilt it after the Great Seattle Fire and also rebuilt his shipbuilding business. (That would cause a bit of stress, huh?)

After being given a year to live, he and his family moved to Orcas Island off the coast of Washington. He lived there another 38 years! Grateful for a new lease on life, he donated 2,700 acres of land to the state of Washington for preservation—one of the country’s first state parks. He wanted others to enjoy the health benefits of spending time in nature. Today we know the land as Moran State Park, the largest public forestland in the San Juan Islands and home to old-growth forest.

Do you have important things you still want to accomplish in this life? Don’t let stress kill your dreams. Capiche can help you implement the changes necessary to do away with stress—both in your life and your company culture. Let me know what is stressing you out, and let’s fix it. Just call 541.601.0114 or email chris@capiche.us to get started.