We’ve come so far

We’ve come so far

Every Year when I put my Christmas decorations away and close up the boxes and bins, I always wonder what will be different roughly 47 weeks later when I open them up again.  There are those changes we can predict fairly well like a child going off to college or changing jobs or selling a house. A lot of changes are planned. There are also many surprises both joyous and tragic that shape our lives in less than a year.

2016 was a bizarre year for all of us, to say the least. Great Britian voted to leave the European Union. Bob Dylan won a Nobel Prize. The Cubs won the World Series. Fidel Castro died. We lost countless – some relatively young – celebrities too numerous to list here. Hillary Clinton became the first woman nominated as a major party’s presidential candidate. And America elected as the next president, a man that only a year ago, was simply a joke. Possibly because the Russians interfered. We couldn’t have made this up!

Personally, 2016 wasn’t a bad year. I accomplished a lot of what I set out to do. What I wanted and needed to do. The surprises were positive. I secured a full-time job. I better defined who I want to be professionally, what I wanted my business to be.  I not only became certified as  running coach, I trained to become a Professional Co-Active Coach as well. In a year that my daughter celebrated her 16th Birthday,  I finally found myself in a better place as the parent of a teenager (in large part because of my life coach). While I missed a Boston Qualifying time yet again, I still ran my second best marathon time ever in my 7th marathon…2 weeks before my 51st birthday (in part because of my running coach). And maybe most importantly (because I realize it can affect how I see the world), I allowed myself to love again. And be loved. And to be open to a new life.

I fulfilled my promise to myself to publish a blog each week. This is my 52nd post this year! It has been a journey. At times cathartic; at times a chronology of my professional growth (more on this evolution next week). My mother was right when she said “you only get out of life what you put into it.” New Year’s resolutions may not be as good as setting goals for personal and professional growth while allowing for some flexibility – be ready for all those surprises that often throw us off course or at the very least be open to a new, unexpected path! But planning is still essential.

I know 2016 wasn’t a good year for a lot of people. We all go into 2017 with hope. And we all have a responsibility to make it the best year we can for ourselves and those around us. We have the power! If not to change our lives, to change our perspectives, and ultimately the outcomes. And if you need some help with that, hire a coach!

In 2017, when I open those boxes and bins with the holiday decorations, I know I will be closer to being an empty-nester. My teenager is scheduled to get her driver’s license and begin her senior year in high school. I am scheduled to have completed the requirements to becoming a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach. I am already registered for a few races and have booked a few trips. That much I can plan around. Everything else may be a surprise. Please join me in being hopeful, determined, flexible, courageous, empowered, and loved.  Happy New Year!

img_0075Fort Lee, New Jersey. January 2015.

Nollaig shona dhuit!

Nollaig shona dhuit!

Merry Christmas to you! From Ireland. For the first time since my second Christmas…1966…50 years ago…I am spending Christmas in Ireland! This trip was hatched back in July, although it’s probably been in the making all my life. Since finding my biological family over 20 years ago, I had considered the idea as “some year we should…” but other things – and people – kept me in North America and at home in New Jersey most years.

The first year without her father, my daughter and I fled to Cancun for Christmas week with  his mom. There were some redeeming attributes to that trip, for me at least, but my girl said she’d never travel with Grandma again. I honestly should have learned from the 11-day Caribbean Cruise we had taken together for Christmas 10 years earlier. The Mexico trip two years ago, while providing some escape from a holiday table with an empty chair, reminded me too much of the cruise which at times made me sadder. If anything Chris and I were always united against his mother. So a few times when she said something odd, I found myself turning to roll my eyes at someone who was no longer there.

So we were in agreement, no more trips with Grandma. And my daughter said she liked Christmas at home better anyway. Last year we made dinner reservations at The Rock Center Cafe. Essentially home. A quintessential New York City Christmas! Except that it was 70 degrees. And a city packed with people still felt a little empty.

The pros and cons of escaping for Christmas came up in a conversation in July. She admitted that “Christmas at home” didn’t necessarily mean our home, but someone’s home. Christmas was a family holiday. And that’s when she said it, “why can’t we spend Christmas in Ireland.” I couldn’t think of a good reason not to, and a great deal on airfare solidified the plans.

So here we are.

I have had some guilt about not including Grandma in our holidays. Then someone posted this article on FaceBook Surviving the Holidays: 12 Tips for the Grieving. Author Michelle Steinke-Baumgard advises, “be honest with those in your life. Tell them if family time hurts, if you feel lonely in a room full of people who love you. You are allowed those emotions. They are powerful, and they are real.”

So I have accepted the idea that I need to deal with the holidays in a way that is most appropriate for me and my daughter. That’s my biggest responsibility. My former mother-in-law probably feels the same about spending the holidays with me. She declined my dinner invitation Thanksgiving weekend. Change is hard. Especially when it’s about people that are gone. So, so many people that have been part of my Christmases are no longer here. Even the nun that cared for me in Ireland in 1966 has been gone for years now.

It’s better though to live in the present. To feel the bagpipes outside the Church of the Sacred Heart last night when we arrived for Christmas Eve mass. To open presents with my sister’s family. I don’t feel lonely in a room full of people who love me (or a barn full of 43 cows and 5 little calves). This is 2016. We have a big family here in Ireland. And it’s nice to be home.

Shehill Holstein, Couraguneen, County Tipperary, Ireland. Christmas Day, 2016.


Creatures of Habit

Creatures of Habit

There are bad habits and there are good habits. Our lives are filled with them. Our days are made up of them. And to figure out what we’re doing wrong, it’s always worth looking at our habits. New Year’s resolutions are about getting rid of bad habits or developing good ones. So let’s explore how habits work.

In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains, “habits can be ignored, changed, or replaced. But the reason the discovery of the habit loop is so important is that it reveals a basic truth: When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making. It stops working so hard, or diverts focus to other tasks. So unless you deliberately fight a habit—unless you find new routines—the pattern will unfold automatically.”*

Habitual routines are very helpful in getting us through our day, keeping us on schedule, basically without thinking about what we’re doing. Have you ever driven a familiar route almost on autopilot that you don’t even remember doing it? Most of the time we do not have to think about turning off lights and locking doors, or even the route we need to drive to work, because it has become a habit. But what do we do when some of our routine is filled with unhealthy or unproductive habits? Do you hit the snooze so many times that you miss a morning workout? Do you get engrossed in FaceBook in the middle of the work day that you’re not getting your work done? Has candy become your afternoon snack every day? Are you picking up takeout on your way home instead of cooking?

The “Habit Loop” that Duhigg discusses starts with a cue that triggers a craving. He writes, “Most of the time, these cravings emerge so gradually that we’re not really aware they exist, so we’re often blind to their influence. But as we associate cues with certain rewards, a subconscious craving emerges in our brains that starts the habit loop spinning. One researcher at Cornell, for instance, found how powerfully food and scent cravings can affect behavior when he noticed how Cinnabon stores were positioned inside shopping malls. Most food sellers locate their kiosks in food courts, but Cinnabon tries to locate their stores away from other food stalls. Why? Because Cinnabon executives want the smell of cinnamon rolls to waft down hallways and around corners uninterrupted, so that shoppers will start subconsciously craving a roll. By the time a consumer turns a corner and sees the Cinnabon store, that craving is a roaring monster inside his head and he’ll reach, unthinkingly, for his wallet. The habit loop is spinning because a sense of craving has emerged.”*

The craving leads to a routine (eating a cinnamon roll) which results in a reward (satisfying hunger with something very tasty). So when taking aim at a habit for your New Years resolution, keep this in mind. What’s the trigger and what’s the reward? Can the routine in the middle be replaced by something healthier or more positive? How do you go from hitting the “snooze 10 times” to getting up and going to the gym or getting out for a run? Focus on the reward. And understand that is takes a few weeks for a habit to emerge.

Duhigg  explains, “to understand the power of cravings in creating habits, consider how exercise habits emerge. In 2002 researchers at New Mexico State University wanted to understand why people habitually exercise. They studied 266 individuals, most of whom worked out at least three times a week. What they found was that many of them had started running or lifting weights almost on a whim, or because they suddenly had free time or wanted to deal with unexpected stresses in their lives. However, the reason they continued—why it became a habit—was because of a specific reward they started to crave. In one group, 92 percent of people said they habitually exercised because it made them ‘feel good’—they grew to expect and crave the endorphins and other neurochemicals a workout provided. In another group, 67 percent of people said that working out gave them a sense of ‘accomplishment’—they had come to crave a regular sense of triumph from tracking their performances, and that self-reward was enough to make the physical activity into a habit.”*

In the later half of this year, I fell out of my running habit. When I was consulting, I was able to fit my workouts easily into a very flexible schedule, but going back to work full-time in April, left me with only the morning before work. And I had also developed a habit while consulting of going to bed later and sleeping later. It took me months to finally get back to a better – consistent –  routine. And consistency is important. After 3 weeks of consciously forcing myself to bed earlier and out of bed in the morning as soon as the alarm goes off, I am almost able to do it without thinking. Almost.

What habits do you want to ignore, change or replace? What’s your New Year’s Resolution?

*Excerpts from: Duhigg, Charles. “The Power of Habit.” Random House, 2014-01-07. iBooks. This material may be protected by copyright. Check out this book on the iBooks Store: https://itun.es/us/UH6NA.l

img_5420Mattawa, Illinois. December, 2016.

Ladies, we need to stick together!

Ladies, we need to stick together!

Life coaches practice self-management, meaning I don’t let my own opinions, feelings and experiences come into focus when I’m in a coaching session with a client. That’s what I learned makes life coaching very different than athletic coaching. Life coaching is about helping a client explore where they are at that very moment and helping them discover their own path to navigate the journey – a transformation – toward living the best life they can (the focus on the here and now, rather than the past that has led to that place also makes it very different than therapy). As a running coach, I am called on much more for my experience as a runner and my expertise as a knowledgable “expert” on the sport and training techniques. When I consult with non-profits or provide career coaching to non-profit executives, they also have a certain expectation that I will be sharing my experience because they perceive me as more knowledgeable and that’s why they have hired me. Life coaching is different. A life coach evokes transformation in the client by creating the circumstances and conditions for that growth – not by imparting any kind of expertise or wisdom.

Self management aside, I will admit, that while coaching I learn a lot from my clients. And so often my clients work through their issues and come to conclusions that really resonate with me. This week’s lesson was about the importance of female friendships for women. My client, someone who has worked in non-profits serving elderly clients, talked about older women who don’t do well after their husbands die; they are the ones that don’t have strong bonds with other women. Her conclusion as she transitions into her own retirement was “I now know I won’t isolate myself and get depressed.” That was a big ah ha moment for me.

I’ve been feeling a little down lately. It kind of comes with the time of year. As any of us dealing with the absence of loved ones knows, this time of year magnifies the loss. As much as I want to hibernate from Halloween night to New Year’s morning, that’s impossible and my client made me realize that isolation makes it worse. But it’s not just isolation.  Most of us who haven’t reached retirement age yet would agree that we are out and about and keeping pretty involved and busy, right? What we might be missing though is quality time with women friends – those low pressure gatherings with a genuine, like-minded friend or two with whom we can totally be ourselves.  Too often life becomes all about our kids and our jobs, that we neglect not only ourselves, but our relationships with our girlsfriends…who ultimately are going to be there when no one else is.

I remember all to well the shock and fear I felt after my breast cancer diagnosis. The smarted thing I did almost immediately was reach out to some of the women in my running club that I knew had been there. They not only shared their experiences and offered hope, but they knew what would help me the most.  They got me out for a long run – a support group on the move! They understood me on so many levels and I will be forever grateful for having them in my life. As important as the men in our lives are and all the wonderful things they give us, there is no substitute for the support of a female friend. And together women have accomplished some amazing things (think: Pink Ribbon Campaign or Mothers Against Drunk Driving). Ladies, we need to stick together!

Retirement communities and nursing homes are filled with women! And the happier ones, my client tells me, have cultivated and nurtured relationships with other females. So what can you do today to nurture a female friendship? What will that bring to your life?  What about that is important to you? Think about it – especially now during the holiday season and the long winter ahead.

img_5413Vernon Hills, Illinois. December 2016


My FaceBook, My Friends!

My FaceBook, My Friends!

I have this on and off love-hate relationship with social media. I think a lot of people do. I haven’t quite harnessed it’s power professionally, and personally I often find it to be a major distraction and at times – especially over the last few weeks – a source of frustration that can fuel my anger or anxiety. I’m on FaceBook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Tumbler and SnapChat (haven’t quite mastered SnapChat, but my daughter insisted I join – I was just happy she wanted to include me in something!). What I’m really talking about here is FaceBook.

This is what I posted on my wall a couple days after the election:

I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, long before the election or even the campaigning. I have over 800 friends on here. How did that happen? Are there really 800 people in my life that I can honesty call “friend?” Of course not.

I use the term “virtual cocktail party” to describe how I position FaceBook in my life. I want it to be fun, and stimulating, and positively provocative…and add “life” to my life. I don’t want it to be stressful, or something that I have to shut down to regain my composure. And MY page is MY cocktail party, so I get to make the guest list. No, not all guests have to share my political views, what fun would that be? But I do want to surround myself with people that I feel have similar values and morals.

To be able to “listen” to my friends, the party also can’t have 800 guests. There are times when I have missed out on big news from people I really truly care about because someone I haven’t seen since the 80s was monopolizing my news feed. And my god, all those birthdays! I can’t take the pressure!

So, I’m going to start gradually editing my friends’ list. Please don’t take it personally if you don’t make the cut…I share groups with some of you and it will be much more appropriate for us to connect there; some of you I’ve seen in toand we don’t even say hello; some of you I haven’t seen since high school; some of you I honestly don’t know where you came from (friends of friends perhaps?); a couple of you I currently work with (and it was always my policy before this job not to “friend” current co-workers).

There are other social media vehicles through which we can still keep in touch. Please make sure I am following you on Instagram and Twitter. Linked In is a much better place for business connections to network with me. If you want to keep up with me, I’m also on Instagram and Twitter. And of course you can keep up on my blog The Cause Coach (on FaceBook, Twitter & Instagram). A lot of what I post on FaceBook is cross-posted on other social media. And finally, please feel free to message me here. If you are totally offended by this, please go ahead and make the decision to un-friend *me* – I won’t be offended. As I stress to my coaching clients, we always have choices…

Yes, we have choices. And just like you wouldn’t invite some people into your home, you don’t need to accept every friend request. If people are a source of negative emotions for you un-freind them! It’s okay. If they don’t like it, that’s their issue. If you’d rather not make waves, then just unfollow them, make them an “acquaintance” – FaceBook has built in a way to help us make choices. We have to make choices that create the life we want for ourselves.

The worst thing that FaceBook has done perhaps is change the definition of friend. We need real friends! People that we meet for coffee, have over for dinner, or who are a phone call away when we need support. That’s not to say those people don’t exist on FaceBook, but I’m sure there are a lot of lonely people out there that have 1000 friends.  Let’s all think about being a real friend. Send a message to 5 friends and make plans. Schedule an hour of your time to be with them…really with them. See their smile widen as they know you are really listening; hear their laughter at a joke you tell; feel the warmth of their embrace. Go ahead and find the true meaning of friendship.

img_2786Welcome. December 2015.