Have you heard? I'm offering Name Your Price Coaching

[singlepic id=435 w=320 h=240 float=center] I have this thing about repeating myself. In this Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr/e-mail/YouTube day and age, there is no shortage of ways to "get the message out there". I'm never quite sure who is reading what, or when. And frankly, most of it feels like I'm repeating myself. Or scattering seeds into the wind, with no idea where they will land.

I've surrendered to these facts: I will do what I can to keep putting my message out there. People will do what they can to receive the message when they are ready.

And I forgive myself for repeating the message over and over again.

I've come to this place because I realize how many times I need to hear the same message in order to "get it". Sometimes, even if I've "gotten it" in the past, I need to hear the same message again, years later, with a totally different perspective under my belt, in order to "get it" yet again. In a totally different way.

And I give up control. I surrender. I acknowledge that there is only energy and precious life force in me to take care of what I can. The rest is not up to me. It feels like such a relief. Such a weight lifted. Such a freedom. I also know that with the number of people suffering, feeling absolutely stretched to their limits trying to solve every single problem, take care of every single person, make every single decision that comes their way, it is a gift to be able to show what letting go feels like.

This is my gift to me. And I am offering to share it with you.

So maybe you've read my Tweets, seen my Facebook posts, and checked out my new offering of "Name Your Price" Coaching.

And maybe you haven't.

Either way, here's my message again: I'm offering my coaching services for two hours every week on a "Name Your Price" basis. That means, you call me with an issue you'd like to be coached on, or even a question about coaching. We chat. Hopefully you get some value. We don't discuss price. I just send you an e-mail afterwards with a link for you to pay the amount you feel right about. "Right" for you is a combination of where you are in your life, and the value you feel you received. That's it. No more questions asked. More details on how it works here>>

For now, there's no limit on the number of times you can utilize this service.

It's first-come, first-served, which means you don't make an appointment with me. You check this page on my website, or my Facebook page (click on "Events" or scroll down in the feed), for the dates and times I'm available. I'll be posting two weeks of availability at a time.

Who knows how much longer I'll continue this little experiment? Even I don't know!

Everything is shifting...even the earth beneath our feet. So let's stay open to all possibilities. And if you've been wondering about coaching, I hope to talk to you soon!

Interested in "Name Your Price" Coaching? Be sure to read the full details on How It Works here.

Confessions of a Closet Musician

[singlepic id=429 w=320 h=240 float=center] I still feel jealous whenever I see a musician performing onstage. I know, I call myself a “life coach” so I should be more evolved than that. But I’m not. I do know, however, that noticing my feeling of jealousy is a juicy nugget of treasure to show me the thoughts that are keeping me imprisoned. So I start to do the work.

Even now, that I am actually living a life of sharing my music in the world, there is an old, fear-driven part of my brain, which hasn’t quite let go of its hold over my essential self, that is yelling in my ear, "You'll never make it in this world as a musician! It's just too hard to make a living! You'll never be respected! You'll have to work too hard! It'll never be worth it!"

Ever notice that the people who say these things are the ones whose lives have actually proven these beliefs to be true? I haven’t found a successful performing artist who has said, “Forget it. It’s too hard. For all the effort I put in, it’s not worth it.” (On the other hand, for some reason, I've met plenty of doctors who've said this to me.) The reality – the truth - is there are many examples of people whose lives prove these beliefs NOT to be true.

What's the difference between these two groups of people? Is it talent? Is it luck? Is it genetics? Is it a mystery?

I now believe that it is as simple (and also as daunting) as this: You become what you believe.

Your life plays out according to the deepest, most closely held beliefs that you hold inside you without question.

When you are stuck, and you find the courage to question the beliefs that got you there, you unlock the keys to your own prison.

This is another way to describe commitment, dedication, and determination. We are all committed to a certain set of beliefs. The bridge between staying stuck and feeling free is in our AWARENESS of what we are CHOOSING to believe.

So here's an example:

56-year-old man, whom I'll call Lou, is an extremely talented jazz trumpet player, knows "everyone" in the business, has made recordings, played in various venues, knows all the standards and can improvise like a charm. In our first conversation, he tells me that, "No matter how hard you work in music, you'll never get paid enough money for it to be worthwhile."

Turns out his "day job" was as an inventor, coming up with ideas for the semiconductor manufacturing industry. How'd that work for him? Lou's answer: "Well, no matter how good my ideas were, I never got paid enough money for it. Someone else always made a fortune off my good ideas. That's just the way life works."

Interesting how we project the way OUR OWN lives work as the way LIFE IN GENERAL works, isn't it?

What I hear in this brief story is a limiting belief, "No matter how hard I work, or how good I am, I'll never get paid enough."

The results of this belief? Lou feels resigned in everything he does, believing that it won't matter anyway. He brings an attitude of, "Who cares? I'm better than this!" to what he does. The end result? He DOESN'T get paid what he feels he deserves. In other words, he proves his own limiting belief true.

Here's another example:

25-year-old man, whom I'll call Jason, is an extremely talented guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, percussionist. He walks through the world with the attitude that, "We can do fair business in this world, love the earth, make a living, and provide for our needs." He sings songs that inspire us to live, love, laugh, share, dance, and dream. He doesn't obsess about money. He thanks people for listening. He makes friends easily. He is invited back, again and again. His opportunities grow, seemingly without struggle or effort. He accumulates fans, supporters, and eventually purchasers of his merchandise. He acquires funding, space, and other resources for the projects he truly wants to create.

He doesn't hoard ideas, people, space, money, or time. He gives. He stands in his own space, with trust. He expresses his own truth without apology. He welcomes new connections, new ideas, and stays flexible. He walks the earth with a calm energy, with no need to defend or attack, and no sense of grasping or controlling.

I am intensely jealous of people like Jason. And yet I also recognize that people like Lou are the miserable curmudgeons I really don’t want to spend any time with.

So what does my jealousy mean? It’s a clue to a stuck area in my thinking. My destiny is telling me that everything I see in Jason feels freeing. It’s showing me another possibility – an alternative to the beliefs that have governed my life until now. And the jealousy is the raging battle going on between my fear – the deeply held, almost sacred beliefs I described earlier that I’ll never survive in this world by being free – and my soul’s deep knowledge of what is possible for me.

Think there is a fundamental, innate difference between Jason and Lou that just can't be changed? If you're looking at the level of DNA, be my guest. I'll be freeing myself while you search the genome for answers.

What I choose to believe is that you need look no farther than the content of their beliefs. Lou believes that nothing will pay off, no matter what. So nothing ever does. Jason believes that he is enough, his gifts are abundant enough, his trust is enough, his dreams are enough, to put out there and show up as simply himself, offering and believing there is a fair trade way to provide value in the world with what he does and who he is. And so he leads his life in such a way that these opportunities find him.

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Would you rather live your life like Lou or like Jason?

It's your choice. Don't blame your childhood, your culture, or your current situation. Take responsibility for becoming AWARE of how you CHOOSE to think, and what you CHOOSE to believe. Then start making the choices you truly want.

Realize that you’ll probably have some work to do, some cleaning up of old beliefs that have produced the results you are experiencing right now. Embrace that work as the path to your own freedom.

Don’t trust fear. Trust freedom.

Photo of me by Rusty Sterling, used with permission.

Photo of smiley face guitarist by Mr Wilson, used under a Creative Commons license.

Advice Versus Coaching

Have you ever sought someone's advice, and then realized halfway into the conversation that you really didn't want them to tell you what to do? Or have you ever followed someone's advice, which never quite felt right to you, but they were in a position of authority or had done it themselves before, and you didn't know how to get out of it?

Have you ever wished you had more trust in yourself, and didn't need to rely so much on advice from other people?

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It's been ten years now since I've set foot in a traditional academic institution. Yesterday I stood inside the walls of a venerable one right here in my own backyard.

And it struck me that there is A LOT of "advising" going on at the formative stages of a lot of smart people's lives. A lot of people who are very curious, very bright, very capable, and very imaginative. But who just don't know. So they ask. They seek advice.

And what do they get? Well, what typically surrounds them in these places of academic prestige are a lot of people who got there by playing a certain game. They navigated a particular system, they overcame their own particular obstacles, and they achieved a certain status. Usually if they are in a position of enough authority to merit students' seeking their opinions, they've hung on to this status over a period of years. They've done the work of making all the right people happy in all the right places. They consulted the rule books, they found out what was expected of them, and they met those expectations.

They have seen the world through one particular lens.

This is perfect advising for someone who wants to experience life through that particular lens, and to find out what hoop is to be jumped through next. If you're asking, "How high must I jump?" and "Where is the next hurdle?", these advisors are perfectly prepared to tell you the answer.

But there's a different kind of questioning that occurs for all of us at some point in our lives. Perhaps even at several points in our lives.

Questions That Have No Right To Go Away

We come up against questions in our hearts, questions that ultimately ask us to test how much we trust ourselves, and invite us to grow into the next version of ourselves.

"tiny but frightening requests, conceived out of nowhere but in this place beginning to lead everywhere. Requests to stop what you are doing right now, and to stop what you are becoming while you do it."

- from "Sometimes", by David Whyte

In these moments, some part of us actually knows the answer and knows what we must do.

The questions appear at the most inopportune times. We're "busy" doing something else. There's "not enough time". We're "supposed to" be focused on something we believe to be more important.

But the questions don't go away. They pull at us, beckoning us to pay attention to the part of us we'd rather be able to ignore.

It poses a dilemma. Should we go this way or that? Should we keep going as if everything is "normal" or actually stay with the question and listen to what it brings?

This is when we might seek advice from others.

And this is where knowing the difference between "advice" and "coaching" can save your life.

I've received a lot of advice in my lifetime. I can remember these pieces of advice quite vividly.

Some Advice I Once Received

For example, when I had made the decision in my heart that I would not be doing a residency after medical school, I started to do what all the career guides told me to do: informational interviews.

As I told people what I intended to do, I encountered a lot of advice. "Why don't you at least do an internship? Then you'll have more options, because at least you'll have a license."

These conversations never seemed that helpful to me, because I felt like my desires were being dismissed as naive, and that the risks I felt called to undertake were insurmountable (which I found insulting). As I continued to talk to more people, I heard more advice.

From one person: "Why don't you at least finish a residency in SOMEthing? You know, general internal medicine, something like that. Then at least you'll have the credibility of being able to practice something."

From another: "If you liked cardiology in medical school, why don't you at least get trained as a cardiologist? Then you'll have so many more contacts and you'll be able to get so much more done."

And another: "Well, why don't you at least practice for a few years, get some money and respect under your belt before you go off and do your little dream? Then at least you'll have experience."

And yet another: "Why don't you wait until you retire to do 'fun' things like following your heart and doing what you love? Then at least you'll have lived a full life before you go and throw it all away."

What I realized is that each of the people who gave me advice was only speaking from their own experiences and beliefs. None of them had actually done what I was going to do, for the reasons I was doing it. And none were actually helping me to listen to the voice of my heart, which was the one posing these questions.

I ended up listening to a lot of different advice and following no one's, instead creating my own opportunities through willingness and determination. I am forever thankful for my own intuition that guided me to follow something inside me, despite advice to the contrary.


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Fast forward ten years.

I've created many more opportunities by following my own intuition, and tapping that same willingness and determination, to move in the direction most aligned with my heart's greatest desire. Now that I have opened space in my life, space in my mind, space in my body, and space in my heart, to receive guidance, it just keeps flooding in. I don't ask people what to do. I don't tell people what to do.

I have since also lived the life of trying to gain fulfillment from seeing other people follow my advice. I thought I was doing the right thing, but I would always encounter an aspect of someone else that my experience could not comprehend, that my best knowledge could not penetrate. This was before I trained as a coach. I had no tools at the time to help other people access a deeper part of their own wisdom, to help them find the keys to their own locked doors. I was giving advice, where people were in great need of coaching. I just didn't know how to at the time.

Coaching Helps You Follow Your Own Advice...The Kind You've Ignored For Too Long In Favor Of Others'

The kind of reward I received from advice-giving pales in comparison to the nourishment that is provided by coaching. As a coach, I get to be free, gently observing the process of a person finally doing exactly what their hearts have always been telling them to do. I get to share in their moments of joy in discovering that the answers they sought outside for so long, in so many ways, were already inside them, waiting to be decoded.

In short, as a coach I get to watch people finally follow their own advice!

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There is nothing more beautiful in this world than to witness a person free themselves, and become enlivened by the light inside them, dancing to the music within them.

I recognize the feeling of a person's truest longing spoken out loud. I recognize the pain of staying silent and hidden for too many years. I recognize the joy of meeting yourself again, of looking yourself in the mirror with love and kindness.

This is not what comes from taking someone else's advice. This is true learning and growth. This is the drink of water I'd always been thirsty for, but never knew existed.

So the next time you ask someone for advice, listen to them very closely. And then ask yourself, "Does this feel more freeing? Or more constraining?" Any advice that does not bring you more alive in your heart is not advice for you to follow.

Follow your freedom. It is the voice of your divinity speaking to you.

Come, take a drink with me. Be free.

Photo credits: University campus by Jules Silver, Butterfly by Harald Hoyer, both used under a Creative Commons license

News news news

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"One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began"

- Mary Oliver, "The Journey"

Today is that day for me.

Maybe it was the flyer announcing my talk at Stanford Medical School in a few weeks (finally making it feel real...and making me feel proud of the creative thinking I've been doing on this subject).

Maybe it was seeing the pile of STUFF in my house, moved out of the Cradle of Manifestation, prompting me to revisit what's really taking up the space in my drawers and closets.

Maybe it was the invitation to have dinner this Friday with a couple of doctors who have transitioned out of medicine themselves (making me feel one step closer to finding My People).

Maybe it was finally telling the truth out loud to myself and to a compassionate witness about what I feel in my heart (and experiencing the expansion that came with it).

Maybe it was all of the above.

Whatever it was, I finally know what I need to do, even though I have no idea how it's going to play out or if anyone will even care. But I know enough to trust this particular feeling of knowing. It's not a rational linear mind kind of knowing. It's a whole body energy clearing kind of knowing.

And I can't wait to share the news with you!

So what IS new?

- My monthly meetup in Silicon Valley, "Find Your Own Song" - the first Tuesday of every month at 7pm, at rotating locations. Join the meetup group to get updates>>

- My physician burnout and wellness resources page - I'll be adding to this, but it's a great place to start if you're curious about the problem, the stories of real physicians, and what people are doing about it. Visit the resource page here>>

- All new Name Your Price coaching - I'm most giddy and excited about this brand new experiment, launching next week. I just want to get more coaching love out there. I remember when I had no idea what coaching was, and didn't believe it could do anything for me, until I actually experienced it myself. So I want to pass on that gift to you! For two hours a week, I'll be offering my services on a first-come, first-served basis, and you get to name your own price. Perfect for those of you who are curious about coaching and open to it, but just not ready to make the commitment to one of my other individual coaching options right now. Learn more about it here>>

- The Whole Person Retreat for Women - Saturday April 9th at Stillheart Institute in Woodside, CA. I'm guest facilitating music improvisation and sound healing as part of an enriching day with the wonderful women Eliska Meyers and Johanna Beyer. Find out more details here>>

That's all for now. After some good time and space appreciating the openness, it's nice to witness the arrival of what's next. Hope to see and hear from you soon!

Love Hurts…Is It True? A Few Things I Once Learned About Love...And How I'm Unlearning Them

[singlepic id=373 w=320 h=240 float=center] Have you ever thought about how you learned what love means? What moments in your life explicitly taught you how to love? What examples of love did you observe, and what did you unconsciously learn from them?

For most of my life, I have had a murky understanding of the words "love" and "compassion". They were abstract concepts, which I felt no bodily connection to. They were supposed to be good things that good people expressed and felt all of the time, but I had no clue what they felt like to me.

"I love you" was not something ever uttered in my household. As far as I know, the phrase doesn't exist in the Chinese language, at least as it applies to families.

For most of my life, "love" was a word used by my parents to rationalize their financial anxiety, anger, worry, asking for too much information, and criticizing. "If we didn't love you and care about you, we wouldn't bother to nag you so much," they'd say in defense of themselves.

Well, if love was such a great thing, and that was how love made me feel, then I didn't get why I should center my life around it. At all. It didn't feel good to me. It felt confining. It felt like a minefield, where I never knew if my next step would land me in a sudden explosion of admonishment, shame, and guilt about why the particular thing I just did was the wrong move to make.

I convinced myself that I didn't want my life to hurt. I created an association between love and hurt. So I did everything I could to make sure I was not dependent on love for anything vital in my life. Ha!

"Compassion" was an even more foreign concept. The images that come to mind when I think of "compassion" involve Mother Teresa, Sally Struthers and images of little kids with distended bellies and black flies on their eyelashes, and the Pope. I'm not sure why these people represent compassion, but it's interesting that I've never met any of them personally. (OK, I got within 25 feet of the Pope once, when I was eleven years old, but I was playing violin at the time and was delirious from sitting in St. Peter's Square for four hours in the hot sun of an Italian June.) My point is that "compassion" was an even more abstract term than "love", and I always thought it was reserved for saintly, selfless people who gave their lives to some grand, charitable cause. In other words, it was a luxury I could not afford to indulge in.

I've recently begun to learn that in order to experience the love and compassion I was seeking from everyone else in my life, I had to be willing to explore and discover what love and compassion feel like for me. I had to learn to demonstrate love and compassion toward myself first. This has involved identifying, questioning, and effectively unlearning many of the beliefs I had about love and compassion, which I held onto without knowing, and which were governing my behaviors without my knowing it.

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Today, I choose to share with you what I have learned, and also what I am unlearning. Each of the thoughts below are real beliefs I once had about love, and below them are the turnarounds that I am consciously choosing to practice, notice, and become more and more familiar with.

I could tell you that I am “letting go” of these thoughts, or that I have outgrown them.

But what actually feels more true for me is that I am developing a different relationship with these thoughts. By distancing myself from my thoughts enough to observe them, I have paradoxically become more intimate with them. I am able to look at them without avoiding them or pushing them away or labeling them as “wrong”. I can touch them, feel them, sense them, and know that they are within me, without loving myself less because of it.

I am willing to notice when I am believing one of these thoughts and acting on it and creating stress, and I am empowered to look directly at the source of the stress, without fear or less love of myself.

I am far from being perfect at this. It’s part of my practice to be willing to look at the imperfections long enough to choose something new and act without fear in that new direction. By acknowledging what has been painful for me and what I am growing through, I hope you can acknowledge some part of yourself that needs healing or more loving attention from the simple question, “Is it true?”

Love Lesson #1: The number of items I complete on my "To Do" list indicates my level of productivity, and therefore, my value in the world.

This may not seem to be about love, but it has been such a central belief in my entire life path, that I confront it every day. And every day I ask, “Is it true?” I am starting to get to answers that feel more true for me and set me free to do what’s truly important to me, not to anyone else. But with such a strong cultural message of achievement and productivity as the basis of human existence, this is a daily, moment-to-moment practice. I include it here because I've learned that true self-love is felt and demonstrated independent of how "productive" I am, and that becoming more productive does not help you learn how to love.

Turnaround: I am complete, as I am, in this moment. (notice that “what I do” is not part of the turnaround)

Love Lesson #2. What I am able to afford to buy indicates my level of freedom and status in the world.

This thought originated in my family’s struggle for survival and advancement and was reinforced by the strong consumerism in our culture. Without realizing it, I have created many outcomes in my life based on this belief. What I eventually realized was that ownership and accumulation of things do not equal greater freedom, and the only status that matters is the one you create from your inner world.

Turnaround: What I am able to LET GO of indicates my level of freedom and the status of my self-trust in the world I am creating.

Love Lesson #3. How I look and act in the workplace is more important than how I look and act at home.

This thought originated in so many examples I saw of “putting on a face” to play the game of work each day, and how starkly that outward face contrasted with the true self that emerged in the privacy of the home. It was confusing to me and I never understood the justification for sharing your best self with the outer world, and letting out all your stress and aggressions at home, with the people you claim to love the most.

Turnaround: I am creating a life based on authentic expression and generous sharing of my essential self. (I don’t see a necessary distinction between how I present myself “on the outside” and who I am at my essence)

Love Lesson #4. Love is an obligation and responsibility to another person.

Almost everything in my early life was framed as an obligation and responsibility. It seemed like the only reason to live a life was to be viewed as responsible and duty-bound in every possible way. Joy was not even in the equation of values. I still consider “desires” a luxury and have to practice consciously opening a valve in my mind to allow the flow of messages from my heart to enter into my awareness.

Turnaround: Love flows freely in the space between people. Love liberates.

Love Lesson #5. Loving someone means the right to criticize them in a "loving" way.

This was reinforced in every arena of my life from my family to my teachers to the higher academic training I received. I was trained to thrive on criticism. No matter how good a job I did, I wanted to know how to do better. We call this “drive” and “ambition” and hold it in great admiration in this culture. We aspire to “improve” ourselves in every way. The problem with this is we have no opposing muscle group or internal barometer to tell when “enough is enough”. We forget that by living our lives based on constant striving, we are training ourselves for imbalance and ultimate dissatisfaction, with no end in sight.

Turnaround: Love is truthful, accepting, calm, and peaceful. Love is filled with joy.

Love Lesson #6. Love means the right to hurt someone without having to apologize.

I remember the exact moment in a past relationship when I realized that this was my model of love, and the intense pain it caused me to see it in myself. But that moment of realization was also liberating, because I was able to see clearly where I was in the moment, and to consciously seek out another way to express love.

Turnaround: Love has no fear – neither of pain nor of apologizing.

Love Lesson #7. Love expects a return on its investment.

I believed that love was a transaction. I believed that I, as a person, was the investment of my parents’ love. I also believed that I owed a debt to them for providing this love, for withdrawing love from their bank accounts and depositing it into everything that I needed and wanted. As I saw the magnitude of their investment growing, I could not see a possible way to provide a reasonable return. So I kept setting the bar higher. Finally there were no more ladders to climb, and I had to come down to the realization that I am love, and that the returns on my love originate from within me and from my connection to the source of all love – not my parents but the universe.

Turnaround: Love is self-renewing, and expects nothing in return.

Love Lesson #8. Love means constant devotion, never relaxing or taking time for yourself. Love is the ultimate act of self-sacrifice.

I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “It’s because we love you…” or “If we didn’t love you, we wouldn’t…” as the justifications for overworking, overstressing, overdoing, overworrying. There was not one moment in my recollection that the major love figures in my life ever relaxed or took time for themselves. And they took pride in their self-sacrifice, since it demonstrated how responsible and duty-bound they were. It made love look very unappealing to me as a way of life.

Turnaround: Love comes from love. If you are not loving yourself, you cannot truly or fully love another person. Self-sacrifice is not loving.

Love Lesson #9. Love means living up to the expectations of those who love you (and sacrificed to give you your life).

This relates to the “return on investment” belief. I really saw myself as an asset of my family with certain expected returns. Every time I saw myself taking a step outside my “asset class”, behaving in a more high-risk (and high-return) way, I felt the weight of not having managed expectations, and having been at least slightly irresponsible. I had a nagging sense that I was never doing things the “right” way.

Turnaround: Love is free of all expectations about the future and exists fully in every present moment.

Love Lesson #10. Love needs to be earned.

So you might be noticing a theme here. I once believed that I had to earn love, live up to the expectations of those who loved me, pay back the investment of love that others put into me, and sacrifice myself in the name of love.

Turnaround: Love is the joy, freedom, and peace that exists within each of us when we are truly free.

I still don’t see myself using the word “love” a lot. Writing this post was a struggle, actually. I suppose I learned during the writing that I don’t have any obligation to use a word, like “love”, with so many old and convoluted (and false) beliefs attached to it. I prefer the words "peace", "joy", and "freedom", as a three-pronged cluster of words that captures the feelings I experience when I love myself. These carry a more important meaning for me right now - how they make me feel and how they free me to express who I am in every moment.

And it never hurts when I’m loving myself as I am right now.

CHOICE: Your Daily Dose of Sanity #1

[singlepic id=345 w=320 h=240 float=center] Today, my online course, "12 Days of Holiday Sanity" begins.

As the holidays approach, are you feeling more and more peace, joy, and love? Or are you feeling more and more frazzled, with a longer and longer list of things to do?

If you want to experience twelve daily doses of inspiration and clarity to help you find your own source of sanity this holiday season, and learn some tools to bring into the next year, sign up here>>

Below, I'm sharing the first lesson from this course with you as a gift to remember this holiday season, and throughout the year as you encounter the feeling of so many things "to do". If you enroll in the course, you'll also see a video and be able to download the worksheet for today's lesson. Each day for the next 12 days, you'll receive a new lesson. All lessons will appear on a password-protected website, which you'll have access to after the course is finished.


Daily Dose of Sanity #1: CHOICE

I invite you to go to a mirror, and say to yourself, "I always have a choice." Or take out your journal or a piece of paper, and write, "I always have a choice." Feel what it feels like for those words to come through you, either through the vibration of your voice, or through the coordinated actions of your hand writing on paper.

There are two different energies to this affirmation, "I always have a choice."

1. Energy of Empowerment. There is power in taking responsibility for YOUR choices, and only your choices. There is relief in knowing that you ONLY have responsibility for your choices, not the ones made by other people, no matter how much they love you or how much authority they have in your mind. Connect with your own power to choose.

2. Energy of Gentleness and Kindness. There is also a softness in the recognition that no matter what situation you find yourself in, no matter how far you have gone down one path, no matter what choices you have made in the past, you have the opportunity to make another choice. As long as you are alive and breathing, every new breath gives you a fresh opportunity to forgive yourself and choose again. Connect with your own gentleness and kindness toward yourself, and make another choice.

Throughout this course, you will be exploring various aspects of CHOICE. You will be creating opportunities to make new choices, and also observing the unconscious choices you're already making. All of it is designed to help you honor yourself more deeply through the choices you can always make, in each moment.

And now...an activity!

Here's an activity to help you with a common source of overwhelm, not only at the holidays but throughout the year: our "To Do" lists.

Download the worksheet (upper right corner of this page) and follow along. You should probably set aside 15 to 30 minutes for this exercise, again choosing a quiet space where you won't be interrupted.

  • Choose a timeframe for your "Have To Do" list (today, this week, this holiday season, or whenever). It doesn't matter what timeframe you choose! Anything will work.
  • First, write down all the activities you think you have to do. Just let all your ideas come out, without editing or thinking too much about them.
  • Now, take a few deep breaths and return to each item on the list, starting with the ones you feel most reluctant about, or are maybe even dreading.
  • Ask yourself, "Is it true?" Do you really "have to" do this? Write down the "Yes" or "No" answer that comes to mind first.
  • Then ask, "Why?" What are you believing that makes you think you "have to" do this? I've provided an example in the worksheet to help you see what I mean by this. Write down all the thoughts that come to mind, without editing.
  • Next, take a breath, close your eyes and imagine yourself in vivid detail, actually doing the task as you described it. Picture the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures associated with the task. How does it feel in your body? Write this down.
  • When you have completed these steps for each of the activities on your list, move on the final column of the worksheet: CHOICE.
  • Martha Beck has a clever way to remember the choices you can make on a typical "To Do" list: the 3 B's.
    • Bag It - Eliminate the task from your list. You may find, after completing this exercise, that your "Have To Do" list is actually much shorter than you originally thought. What a relief! You don't have to do everything you think! Give yourself the tremendous gift of choosing NOT to do some things.
    • Better It - For those items that you really have to do, you can make choices that will improve your experience of the task. HOW to better it is up to you. A good place to start is to think of a treat you can give yourself as a reward for completing the task, or to do the activity with a person who brings you positive energy, or even to change the location to someplace that makes you feel peaceful and joyful. You'd be surprised at how even a small, seemingly simple positive change can completely transform your experience of a mundane task. I've given you an example in the worksheet, but here's where your creativity can really serve you!
    • Barter It - Sometimes a task needs to get done, but you don't necessarily have to be the one who does it. Consider hiring someone to do it. Or trading with a friend who enjoys the task more than you do, and could use your help in another area where your strengths and joys are utilized.

Take a look at your list of choices! Acknowledge yourself for creating each and every one of these new choices.

Not only have you created a new way to experience your list of "have to do" activities, you have exercised an important muscle that you can continue to practice and use to create joy and peace throughout the new year: CHOICE.

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Photo credit: Thom Watson, used under a Creative Commons License

AHA's "Simple 7"...Not So Simple After All

[singlepic id=285 w=320 h=240 float=center] The other night I read on the back of a friend's T-shirt the following list of guidelines from the American Heart Association (AHA)'s latest heart-healthy lifestyle campaign, called "Life's Simple 7":

  • get active
  • control cholesterol
  • eat better
  • manage blood pressure
  • lose weight
  • reduce blood sugar
  • stop smoking

From my medical training, I recognized each of these 7 items as addressing the major risk factors for coronary artery disease and therefore heart attacks and strokes.

However, from my journey of learning about the connection between mind and body, and especially the ways in which our mind dictates the feelings, behaviors, and results we see in our lives, I noticed that these "Simple 7" are not so simple at all.

Four of the seven guidelines involve behavioral changes. Three of the seven can be addressed with pharmaceutical drugs but are also dependent on these behavioral changes in order to have maximum impact. These areas of behavior change - exercise, diet, weight loss, and smoking cessation - are typically the most challenging and frustrating for both patients and doctors in a preventive setting.


Because it's easy to read just two words - like "lose weight" - and to know what they mean. However, it's much more challenging to look at your own underlying thought patterns and the payoffs you are getting for behaving the way you are right now. If you weren't getting any payoff for keeping at your current weight, your mind wouldn't allow you to be at this weight. However, it takes some willingness and openness to really ask yourself what those payoffs might be. The answer may just cause you to want to change. Or it may send you running as far away from that answer as possible.

How many primary care physicians see their patients once a year, and give them this same list of seven "simple" recommendations, only to see them come back the next year with the same results or worse?

Before you start to beat yourself up over your inability to measure up to the AHA's "Simple 7" lifestyle improvements, let's look at each of them from a life coach's perspective.

"Get active"

What does this mean? On the AHA website, three suggestions are provided for "moving more". Parking farther away from the office door, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and doing active fun activities with your children (including an endorsement for Nintendo's Wii).

OK. I can see the logic in each of these small steps. However, it takes energy to want to move. It takes space to even consider putting these small changes into a person's life. It takes a certain amount of inner freedom to even experience fun from doing activities with your children.

Why not look at the thoughts you have about yourself as you're driving to work? Or the thoughts going through your mind as you press the elevator button to go to your cubicle or office? Or the thoughts you hold onto after you get home and you're supposed to be "having fun" with your family?

I've learned that what we say to ourselves about what we do is a much more powerful motivator than what we actually do.

Our unexamined mind clutter is what prevents us from acting in the ways that we "know" we want to. No matter how many times we hear it, or how many suggestions we read, our actions won't change until we change our thoughts. It's the rare primary care doctor who has the training, capacity, and desire to delve into these issues with patients and find out what the patient really needs in order to change. Telling someone they will die early - and asking them if they want to see their children grow into adulthood - is a common strategy, but I'm skeptical that motivation by fear will work in the long term for developing the kinds of life-affirming habits we're talking about.

"Eat better"

What does this mean? "Better" is a term that translates differently in each person's mind when it comes to food. Learning what to eat, when to eat, how to select and prepare food, and creating the rituals around eating are all included in this idea of "eating better". With the typical grocery store offerings, it takes some education, innovation, and motivation to choose "better" foods and actually get satisfied from eating them.

Identifying what drives our food choices and eating habits is another journey into the thoughts behind our feelings and actions. Maybe we're choosing foods because we believe they represent love. Often it's an old memory of love. Maybe we're afraid to let go of those choices because we believe we'd be letting go of our ability to be loved. Maybe we watched a parent eat healthy, choose all the "right" foods, and die at an early age anyway, so we believe a story that "it doesn't matter what I eat, I'll die young anyway." Each of these is a thought that can be acknowledged and questioned, leading to a pattern of eating that comes from a deeper place of awareness.

"Lose weight"

This I suppose goes hand in hand with the two items above. But as Oprah's very public, decades-long journey has shown us, it is not so simple to simply "lose weight". On AHA's website, a great story of holistic life improvement, which resulted in weight loss, is highlighted on this page: "[Jennifer E.] changed her career, left unhealthy relationships, devoted herself to morning meditation, and began volunteering with a local women’s health initiative. Self-care became non-negotiable." Clearly, Jennifer's journey to health and wholeness involved more than losing weight.

I believe weight loss is a result of, not a means to, feeling better about yourself. There are many life coaches whose practices focus on weight loss as an entry point to total lifestyle enhancement.

"Stop smoking"

Again, two simple words, but a lifetime of effort, mostly failed efforts for people who do not address the underlying thoughts behind their smoking addiction. There is no question that the single most beneficial act that will improve a smoker's lifespan is to quit smoking. That knowledge doesn't stop the millions of smokers from continuing their habit.

Chemical dependency is one excuse; social stigma is another. The bottom line is we humans are powerfully driven by the content of our thoughts. And most of us have not been taught to observe our thoughts, or shown that we can train ourselves to believe different thoughts at any time during our lives, through practice.

Not So Simple...

I love that the AHA is acknowledging the whole person in their campaign to educate Americans about heart health. That our hearts are not "simply" the organ in the center of our chest that pumps blood throughout our system, that our vasculature is not "simply" a plumbing system transporting blood to our body parts. The AHA is attempting to get Americans to think about all aspects of our lives as contributors to healthy hearts.

What I see, as a life coach, is that ALL of our behaviors are driven by feelings we have in our bodies, which originate in our thoughts about the circumstances in our lives (never the circumstances themselves). A healthy heart is a symptom of living a balanced life, physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. And a clear mind is a healthy starting point.

The "Simple 7" list is a good start for focusing on the most tangible areas of behaviors that impact our overall risk of heart disease. And with our health care system's current toolkit of interventions, drugs, surgery, office visits, and hospital stays, none of these factors will be significantly impacted in most patients.

Already there are physicians waking up to the fact that behavior and lifestyle changes are inadequately addressed in our medical system. If we want to have healthier bodies, we need to start by waking up to our own thoughts. It may be simple, but it's not easy. If you're struggling in one of these areas and don't know what to do, take a breath. Ask yourself, "What hurts?" and "Why?". And follow your thoughts to a treasure of information about what's motivating you. The medical system has trained patients to believe we are passive and largely ignorant about what's happening in our bodies. I believe we need to coach patients back to a greater connection with their own bodily wisdom - the wisdom we are all born with.

To live and feel healthier, you don't need a diagnosis. You need space to discover what's true for you, and the reassurance of knowing that you have the ability to create the healthy lifestyle you desire. It's that simple.