Monday, July 28, 2014

Mini-mindfulness break

Yesterday, Sunday, I worked. I didn't have a day this past week that was 100% free of work, so, as you can imagine, I approached my tasks yesterday already a bit tired.

To begin my work, I caught up on posting and reading self-help, coaching, career, and psychology postings on Twitter, and I added a posting or two myself. I scheduled and rescheduled a few clients, and worked on other assorted tasks. Then in the afternoon, I did some writing for a book I'm working on, which is about resisting bad habits and forming new, healthier ones; as part of that task, I moved rapidly between four previously written chapters to tune them up, and I wrote a few new sections. 

There was lots of bopping around, back and forth, between different tasks and writings, different ideas and goals. It was a typical multitasking free for all.

By mid-afternoon, I felt my shoulders tightening and my eyes glazing over.

So, I stepped away from the computer, went to the bathroom, came back out and put the kettle on for another cup of tea, and then I stepped outside. Once on my back porch, I recited a line from the meditation exercises I do while at the gym: I am, which is my own powerful reminder that it's possible for me not to concern myself with anything at all except for being in his body of mine and existing in the world at this present moment.

I then took a deep breath and paid attention to all the sensations—nose, throat, chest, stomachthat go along with it. I focused on the grass in my yard, the extraordinarily tall sunflowers in my neighbor's yard, the red brick of the house next to ours. I stretched, felt the sun on my skin, moved into the yard, and continued to breath deeply, keeping my mind clear of any thoughts except for what my five senses were perceiving. 

When you pay attention deeply, just breathing can feel so darn good!

When I heard the kettle whistle, I went back inside the house. I made a cup of tea, and then I continued to work for a few more hours.

The total amount of time off I took from my work was close to 1 minute. However, it was so pleasurable, it felt much longer.

*     *     *

We live in a busy world. 

Sometimes I get the feeling that most self-help approaches want us to create mini-worlds for ourselves that aren't as busy. To a certain extent, I can understand that. When possible, I think that's a great approach. Certainly, it can be effective to prune our lives of activities and objects that are not necessary, irritating, or otherwise burdensome.

However, using the example I've just presented in this post, I learned a lot from bopping around Twitter and various blogs, reading and thinking and posting very rapidly. I wouldn't want to cut that out of my life completely.

Instead of drastically reducing what you do, take more mini-breaks. I find this method to work very well when it's not practical to take more prolonged time off, such as a weekend, a "mental health day," or a vacation. 

A handful of times a day, remove yourself from the hectic environment—which is a great emotional reminder that the tasks aren't as vital as they feel right at that moment and that you can put them down briefly—and do a mindfulness exercise. Then, once you feel more clear-headed and refreshed, jump back into the fray.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A different perspective on "failure"

A failure provides you with information that you need in order to succeed. 

This is not a plea for us to abandon all planning. If you research your goal, use networking to learn from others who have succeeded at what you'd like to do, and created a number of contingencies should you encounter difficulties and that planning leads to you succeeding...great! However it doesn't always go smoothly, and it's a good idea to be a good sport about that, and being sure not to make the same big mistake twice.

Perfection is not the goal. Reaching your goal as quickly as possible is the goal. 

Mistakes are just another way of learning.

I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work. —Thomas Edison

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Book review: Superflirt by Tracey Cox

I was doing some dating coaching with a client recently and the topic of flirting came up. After I shared a few tips he told me about the advice that he'd been given in the military about all things sexual and romantic. 

On the one hand I really understand how the information conveyed will totally protect the military and this man from any legal claims of sexual harassment or impropriety. On the other hand if taken extremely literally, as my client was doing, then it basically shuts down almost all flirting, including any form of touching "until you are sure that she wants to touch you." I think he was getting dismissed by what I call the Mr. Roger's Phenomenon.

To help this gentleman I pulled a book off of my shelf called Superflirt, by Tracey Cox. I mentioned that I hadn't read the book thoroughly, but that he should give it a try. When he returned the book at our next coaching meeting, he thanked me profusely, and he said, I'd been doing it all wrong!

So I thought I'd give Tracey a shout out and talk about her book.

I thought I'd start with a great quote from the Introduction. To dispel myths about flirting Tracey defines it in a way that makes it approachable and doable. She says, [Superflirts] just let others know they find them interesting. For people just starting off with flirting I think that's a wonderful description of the attitude that's needed. For extreme beginners I usually recommend that they simply make eye contact and smile.

To expand on the definition Tracey then says, [Superflirts are] playful, adventurous, open, friendly, warm, lovable, sizzlingly sexy, and, above all, popular. OK so for beginners she may go over the top somewhat with the last two items in that list, but I love how she starts off. How about just expressing your warmth, openness, and friendliness?

The book is divided into these sections: Body Basics, Sex It Up, Flirting Fundamentals, Talking Tricks, All-Out Flirting, Flirting Fix-Its, and Seduction Strategies. There are lots of pictures to help convey the concepts, and the book is laid out in a very attractive, easy-to-read format. A key philosophy of the book is fake it until you make it (before you dismiss the idea you should understand that this is a critical skill advocated by most 12-Step programs; it's a fancy way of saying that practice makes perfect, even if the practice feels awkward at first).

One of the things I like most about Tracey's writing is that she shows a clear knowledge of fundamental behavioral techniques. I use a wide-variety of cognitive-behavioral techniques in my coaching, which are backed up by research in terms of overall effectiveness when working with emotions. Although she uses aggressive and catchy headers and phrasing, she always emphasizes relaxing, being yourself, being confident, valuing yourself, and so on. Some of the techniques that she shares for evaluating "are we on the same page, are we OK?" are the same techniques I learned as a student counselor for assessing the body language of our clients in terms of rapport. In other words her methods are sound.

I also found the section called The Touch Testwhen and how to initiate touchto be particularly helpful.

The one drawback I find about the book is that it begins with a very dense section about body language. Beginners and shy people may want to start with the third chapter, Flirting Fundamentals, which presents information in clear pictures and smaller chunks of information. You may want to read the body language chapter a few times and incorporate that information over time.

All in all I find this book to be very valuable in assisting clients when it comes to flirting. Also as a side benefit, the book reinforces relaxing and self acceptance, which are key components to peak performance that I advocate in all of my coaching.

Try the dating app Tinder

A number of my clients have felt at a disadvantage when using traditional online dating sites. To sum up their difficulty I'd say that it has to do with the challenge of conveying a large amount of visual and textual information that can then be "used against you" before you've had a fair chance to talk and put it into perspective.

If you think that you're not getting enough "hits" using traditional online dating sites then I highly recommend the Tinder app for your tablet or smartphone. A number of my clients have gotten very good results from it, and it appears to be a superior and more natural way to "lead off" the process.

Tinder's design seems to dovetail nicely with the casual way that people like to interact onlinefor example emphasizing messaging over lengthier emailsand facilitates interactions in a way that's fun. Essentially you view pictures and a very brief description, and you can indicate that you are "interested." If two people are interested in each other then they are allowed to send messages.
This app removes a lot of heaviness to the process and provides for a more natural ice breaker; it also more closely resembles how people actually meet in larger gatherings. (I saw her from across the room! And my heart went "boom"!) If there's still interest after messaging for a while then you can check out each others' lengthier profiles on other dating sites or move right into that initial coffee meeting.

Men flirting with women: balance "you're hot" with "I can take it or leave it"

I really enjoy dating coaching, and one of the more interesting topics of conversation about dating is flirting. 

Let me start by saying that flirting is an adult version of play, and, at it's simplest, it's two adults expressing interest. For Flirting 101 just start with eye contact and a smile. To take it to another level try to express your interest as playfully as possible.

Now advanced flirting is challenging for every gender and across sexual orientation, however it's my opinion that it's particularly challenging for men who date women. If these men err on the side of being too sensitive then they get rejected for not being exciting enough; I call this the Mr. Rogers Phenomenon. If they err on the side of being too aggressive then they get rejected for being a brute bordering on being harassing and abusive; let's call this the Cave Man Phenomenon.

To be successful, men who love women need to embrace a dialectic, which means that they have to embody two things at the same time that appear at first to be conflicting opposites. These men need to simultaneously convey that I'm really into you and I can take it or leave it. They need to express You're hot and You're not all that at the same time. They need to communicate that I'd work to get you and I'm not your dog on a leash.

It's tricky. However when done right, it's very hot for both parties involved. 

For a number of excellent demonstrations of this dynamic see the movie Hitch (but forgive the formulaic Hollywood ending).

Also I recently found another excellent example from an old cult TV show that demonstrates this interplay very, very well. It's found in the first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. For those not familiar with the series I'll provide some background information. Buffy is destined to fight and slay vampires, and she eventually falls in love with a good vampire with a soul named Angel. Their operatic love affair is the basis of the first three seasons of the show, and it's effects linger throughout the duration of the series. 

In the first episode they first meet when Angel follows Buffy into an alley, she turns the tables and knocks him to the ground, and he delivers a message meant to help her to fight other vampires. He's the mysterious tall, dark stranger, she doesn't know or trust him, and he wants her to believe that he's an ally against bad vampires without revealing just yet that he also has a crush on her.

At the end of the exchange, Buffy asks, Who are you? Angel replies with a smile, Let's just say...I'm a friend, and he begins to walk past her. She says, Yeah, well, maybe I don't want a friend. He turns back, plants a huge smirk on his face, he says, I didn't say I was yours, and he turns and walks away into the darkness.
Trust me, it's hot.

In a subsequent episode Buffy complains about Angel at length to her adviser, Giles, all the while demonstrating that she's totally intrigued by him. She eventually says, I don't LIKE him! This is true, however that's not the point. It's more about primal attraction.

If any man who loves women want an example of balancing I'm into you and I'm not THAT into you in a flirtatious manner then check out Angel's moves early in this series.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Weight-loss project: working out hard and not losing weight

A friend of mine recently took to social media saying he was working out as many days as I was—three to four days a weekand burning the same number of calories with each workoutapproximately 650—and yet losing no weight. I've lost 15 lbs in five and a half months.

I noticed that most of his friends were saying not to worry about it, that this could all be explained by gaining muscle and losing fat at the same time, with those numbers canceling each other out. Although this is possible I fear that it's not likely. Unless someone is young or starting off with a small amount of muscle, a quick and large muscle gain from a moderate gym workout is highly unlikely. The culprit is most likely food intake.

To lose weight while doing a challenging exercise program, you have to eat the right amount of food, eat the right types of food, and eat it at the right time. Anyone who's watched The Biggest Loser on TV knows that weight loss can be slowed down by eating too little as well as too much or both.

If you're experiencing very poor weight loss numbers despite a challenging exercise program, try these few things to see if you can get better results:

  • Weigh yourself once every two or three weeks. Daily fluctuations can drag your motivation down, and one-week results might be too small to motivate. An effective weight loss effort will show results in two to three weeks. It also emphasizes enjoying the activity as opposed to fixating on the results (weight loss).
  • Be sure to do some core exercises (stomach, sides, and lower back).
  • Eat one low-sugar, reasonable-fat, reasonable-protein bar immediately after exercising. I like Kashi soft granola bars. At all other times you want to limit your non-vegetable carbs; immediately after a workout, though, your body needs some carbs, so don't get stingy then.
  • Drink one low-sugar protein drink a day. This added protein will help you to maintain muscle mass while the body reduces fat.
  • When you are bonking (feeling light headed, fatigued, and irritable), eat a granola bar, a handful of nuts, or some fruit. Eat just enough to make the "bad feelings" go away.
  • When eating meals limit your intake of rice, pasta, potatoes, and bread. Generally cut those portions by one third to one half.
  • Seriously limit snacking on sugary food (candy, cookies, and cake) or crunchy, salty snacks (pretzels, chips).
  • Try to eat until you are not hungry as opposed to eating until you are full. It may take some practice for you to become reacquainted with the difference.
  • If you're a vegetarian or have been on a low-fat diet, be sure to find ways to get enough protein and "good" fat. Be sure to supplement tofu and "rice and beans" with protein-rich snacks or shakes. If you want to build muscle mass, whey shakes are superior to soy. However if you want to stay true to vegan principles, soy will work OK.

    Also, make sure that you're getting enough OMEGA-rich fats; if your body isn't getting enough fat in its daily diet, it will go into deprivation mode and want to hold onto the fat on your body "just in case of a crisis later on." Try upping the level of fat just a little bit to see if that triggers your body into burning more body fat. Good sources of fat can be nuts, flax seeds, flax seed oil (as a supplement), fish, fish oil (as a supplement), or avocado. 
Perfection is NOT the goal. For example I ate too much cake and fast food during a road trip from Baltimore back to New England this past weekend. However because I got back on track on Monday, my weight has not been affected. 

I am using a modified version of the Intuitive Eating program, which is designed to help people eat healthy without "dieting." I'll review the Intuitive Eating book in another post.

If you implement a handful of these suggestions in combination with a workout program, you should see at least a pound or two drop off every few weeks.

Beware comparisons and expectations

To manage difficult feelings and enjoy life as much as possible I coach my clients to beware of expectations and comparisons. When people are struggling to deal with a situation it's amazing how often their focus falls into one of these thinking patterns: 

  • What's happening now is not what I expected and hoped would happen. I'm disappointed!
  • What's happening to me now is not as good as what's happening to that person over there. That's unfair. I want what she's having!
When hoping too intensely for a specific result or when comparing yourself unfavorably to others, it can lead to feeling irritated, frustrated, sad, depressed, and angry.

Instead it's helpful to shift into a willing focus, and full engage with and appreciate whatever situation is presented to you.

Let me offer an example of something that happened to me today. 

I've noticed a pattern: when the parent of an adult child calls me as a way to get that person to become a client of mine, it almost never goes well. Most often I have to coach the parent to back off and let the adult child do more of the work, and the child will probably never show up to a meeting; the parent wants it more than the kid. Or if the adult child does show up for a meeting, it's done only once to satisfy the parent before ditching the effort for some trivial reason. 

Generally it's a waste of my time, in that it almost never results in a client. However...I feel the need to keep giving it a try.

So recently I spoke with the mother of a 21 year-old child, and I told her that her son should call me and arrange for his own meeting. The son and I played telephone tag for a day and a half; meanwhile his mother tried to intervene to "fix things," and I ignored her call, forcing the son to deal with it himself. The son eventually emailed me, and we agreed to meet on the following Wednesday at 11 am. So far, so good!

The son then asked if he could meet with me using the Skype video conferencing software. I told him that I don't usually use Skype for the initial free consultation unless travel to my office is difficult. I asked him to clarify why he was requesting Skype, yet I emphasized that the appointment was still on. At this point I'm thinking, I've seen this before...he's going to bail on this appointment without notifying me ("no show")...I know it.

On Tuesday I still hadn't heard from the son, so I sent him a note telling him that I'd be willing to meet with him using Skype, I gave him my Skype username so he could contact me, and I asked him to verify the appointment. 

I never heard back from him.

So Wednesday morning comes along, I finish with my 10 am client, and I start Skype at 11 am and wait for a call from the son. Nothing.

At 11:25, I turn off Skype, and I notice that I'm irritable. That was a waste of my time. It's rude for people to do that. Grrrrrr!

Then I changed my thinking. Wait a minute. I knew that he was likely to No Show on me, I gave him a low-demand time that didn't inconvenience anyone. During this unexpected free time due to the No Show, I wrote in my blog and got some other work done. Where's the bad?

After changing my focus and my thinking I felt instantly relieved; I shifted away from my ideas about the way people should behave and how the situation should have played out, and I focused instead on what I could do in the moment with my extra time. Something that felt bad shifted into feeling pretty darn good!

As a result I got into my work and enjoyed it, instead of wasting time sulking about what had just happened. Engage with what you're doing in the present moment, and let go of what you expected it to be or how it compares to anything else. There is only what you are doing right now...enjoy!