Summary

When life gets busy, stress takes over your motivation to be healthy. Might dream about going on retreat to a spa to cleanse, and start fresh.  But, this means you have to wait until ‘things calm down’ for you to be healthy again. Plus, you know old habits will eventually creep back in again!  A mindset retreat is the answer to this conundrum!  A few minutes a day transforms information into motivation. You gradually shift build-in mindset to so your motivation is more stress-proof. Join me on a 16 day Exercise Motivation Mindset Retreat and get ready for a motivation transformation! 

Strengthen your lasting self-motivation for exercising for whole person health

When you were born, your brain and body already had a healthy relationship from working together to create every part of you.   That relationship grew stronger as you learned how to sit up, crawl, walk, run, jump, climb. The harmony that came from learning to move your body allowed you to grow and connect with others.   In short, movement was a way to be well now.  

As you grew, and other experiences with movement were introduced, that relationship changed.    In school, movement was something you had to control so you could sit still.   When you were given chores, moving became something you had to do for someone else.   In gym class, how well your body moved labeled you as athletic or weak.   If you played sports, movement became a way to push through discomfort to improve skills. If you exercised to lose weight, movement became a way to undo the food you ate and try to get your body looking better. 

Every experience you have had with moving your body and messages about what it means to exercise has changed the way your brain thinks about your body.   

This is why no matter how many times you hear exercise is good for you, if your body experienced feelings of pain, discomfort or embarrassment or boredom or ‘failure’ in the past, your brain will not make it a priority. This is especially true if you are doing an exercise purely for the future benefits, like increasing bone strength as you age or being more flexible in a few months.    

The lovely part about the brain /body connection is you can re-record those old messages at any time.   

That starts with giving your brain updated, more accurate information about exercise.  How do you do that?  Through mindfulness.  This skill has been shown in scientific studies to change habits. You know this though. The first step to change is awareness.  

However, rarely do we take the time to simply notice our thoughts and emotions about exercise before we dive into a program.  We have been told quick results will lead to motivation, and it will, but it is guaranteed to be short lived.  This only adds to the memories that entrench you in the struggle with getting and staying motivated.  

We tend to think about motivation as a top-down activity of your brain telling your body what to do.  But neuroscience found it’s a cycle. Motivation continues when your whole person is communicating well.

The first step to lasting exercise motivation is ‘gathering’ information about what is going on in your whole person when you think about and do exercise.   This mindset retreat gives you a chance to clear the clutter of messages about what it means to get a “good workout”, and restore your whole person’s ability to take care of yourself through moving well.  

Are you ready to get and stay motivated with greater ease?  Take a mindset retreat and restore the harmonious relationship between your brain and your body and your heart—restoring the natural cycle of self-motivation for moving in a way that supports your whole-person health.  

Each day I will give you something to think about and then challenge you to experience it by embodying it.  Since your mind is not just the brain in your head, it’s all over your body, this is how mindsets shift. 

The key to a mindset retreat is to not try, simply read and then activate it by embodying it during your day.  Without going anywhere special or doing much different thinking and acting differently during the daily activities changes the way you experience daily activities.  If you go on retreat, the changes you make are often short-lived. With a mindset retreat, you bring the retreat into your daily life, so it has the biggest impact on changing thinking and responding habits.  

Day 1. The First Gift of Mindfulness

Caring for your whole person takes so much attention and time, doesn’t it? At a minimum, there are recommendations for your body like flossing, brushing, cleaning, exercising, healthy eating, resting, and your brain to keep it sharp and focused, and emotional function like journaling, communicating, and spirit like prayer and reading.  It’s amazing we have time for anything else!

Your time and energy are limited resources and your brain knows it.  If it is going to choose to take time to do daily mindful meditation, it needs to know the return will be worth the investment.  Let’s take a look at the benefits of mindfulness from your brains perspective, so it can see how your whole person benefits instantly.  

At any given moment of the day your physiology can be in one of two modes.  When the demands of the moment meet the resource you have right now to meet them you are in recharge mode or the state of being well.  YOu can be in this state whether you are still or moving, chill or busy.  

When our demands outweigh our resources to meet them, your whole person shifts into alarm or stress mode.  There is a real or perceived threat to your survival and thriving.  The opposite is Recharge mode. 

In alarm mode, two key factors affect our efforts to be well.  Each part off your whole person responds

  1. Mental: The emergency part of the brain takes over.  We no longer have access to the rational decision-making part of our brain. We react with variations of fight, flight or freeze.
  2. Emotions:  Your brain signals your body there is a threat causing an instant chain reaction that you feel as emotions 
  3. Physical: The maintenance functions of healing, digesting, and repairing in the body are hindered.  The body goes through a myriad of changes to prepare for the reaction in some way.
  4. Spiritual: the part of you that knows what you value assesses how much that threat is connected to what you value most in life.  The stronger the connection the greater the reaction in your whole person.  

The degree to which your whole person is in each mode is a dynamic and ever-changing process. It is directly related to how we view the current internal or external demands and the resources we have to meet them.

In our fast-paced, multi-tasking, ‘high regard for busy’ society today, we can get so accustomed to being in a physiologic state of stress, that we hardly notice it. Then, in order to relax we distract.  This pseudo relaxing is like putting on noise-canceling headphones when your smoke alarms are going off. They don’t change what is happening, they just make you forget about it for a while.  

Our ability to know what state our physiology is in at any given moment is the gateway to whole-person health.  Nothing changes without awareness.  While distraction can be a resource for handling stress in certain situations, awareness allows you to know when it is leading you toward, or away from whole-person health.  

The first gift of mindfulness is not the ability to stop thoughts, it is about being aware of our thoughts, emotions, and reactions in the body to inform us from which mode we are operating. Putting awareness before action is key to balancing these two primal physiologic states so the alarm system and the well system both work together for having the resources to meet the challenges of daily life.  

Activate it:  As simple as it sounds, just practice noticing. As you go through your day stay curious and with your kind attention, notice the operating mode. How does each mode feel inside? You can add detail about What is happening mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually if you want to go a bit deeper, but waiting down even the simplest observations helps your whole person awareness skills come back online. This information heightens the gifts of mindfulness in activating your whole-person health from the inside out.  

Next, we will explore the second and often overlooked gift of mindfulness.

 

Day 2 – The Second Gift of Mindfulness

Last session, we explored noticing the mode we are in during moments of our day. What did you discover?

You may have noticed that noticing can be a challenge. Especially when there is some form of mental or physical discomfort, it doesn’t take too long to look for a distraction. The second part to mindfulness, kindness, and compassion, provides a valuable resource for staying mindful through it all.

Being kind and compassionate to others comes easier than giving it to ourselves. Yet, to truly practice mindfulness, we also need to practice self-compassion.

Over the past decade a strong body of research has shown that self-compassion is linked with:

  • less anxiety and depression
  • emotional intelligence, wisdom and life satisfaction
  • feelings of social connection
  • happiness and optimism
  • curiosity and creativity
  • enthusiasm and inspiration
  • help in dealing with chronic pain
  • help with coping in difficult times
  • adopting and sustaining healthy habits

That last benefit, as you can imagine, really captured my attention. Research shows practicing self-compassion resulted in more personal initiative to change for the better and boosts confidence in ability to sustain change. Self-compassionate people have less fear of failure, but when they do fail, they’re more likely to try again.  Self-compassion research on specific health behaviors shows it helps with sticking to one’s diet, reducing smoking, and exercising regularly. I have yet to see one article that self-criticism provides all of these benefits.

Being kind to ourselves is no easy task.  Our brains have a negativity bias to keep us safe – looking for what is wrong is the default. Self-compassion is made more challenging in a culture where we see it as selfish and weak. Our culture even promotes self-criticism as a way to motivate.

How is it working for us? Think about a person critical of you. Then think about someone kind to you. Who are you more motivated to help when they need it?

It’s time we let go of the idea that self-criticism is a way to motivate, that self-kindness is selfish, wimpy, weak or a cop-out. Let’s drop the ‘no pain, no gain’ approach and start practicing what is proven. The research on self-kindness and compassion is clearly telling us there is a better way of approaching healthy changes.

How do we turn the tide? We already have the skill of being kind and compassionate to others. The practice, then, is to turn that inward to ourselves. It is common to find this uncomfortable at first, so give yourself time and support.

One proven tool for developing self-compassion is loving-kindness meditation. This is a very simple mindful self-compassion practice.  There are many variations, so I encourage you to adapt this to what brings you a sense of ease with caring for yourself.  Below is a short version to try:

Activate It:  Continue noticing which mode you are in today, especially noticing your self talk. When you notice critical self-talk, notice what happens next. Do you distract? React?  Play around with it, adding the layer of self-kindness and compassion as you notice what is happening in your whole person.  When the alarm mode kicks in, try imagining how you would be with a good friend who is going through the same thing. When possible, place a hand on your heart and simply say to yourself  “I wish you well.” Writing down what you notice is a resource for restoring this skill of kind self-talk when your whole person is challenged in alarm mode.  

 

Day 3 – Demands and Desires

“Every day, the world will drag you by the hand, yelling, “This is important! And this is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And this! And this!” And each day, it’s up to you to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say, “No. This is what’s important.”  ~Iain Thomas

We have explored how the ever-changing balance of demands and resources shifts us between calm and stress. When our resources are sufficient to meet even great demands, we remain calm, focused, and balanced. Yet, life is so very dynamic.  At any moment an additional demand or loss of a resource upsets the balance and alarm mode kicks in.

Now that we are more familiar with how each mode feels inside, and how the resource of self-compassion helps restore balance, let’s take a simple look at the demand side of the equation. Later, when we look at the science of motivation, we will explore this further. This week, let’s keep it simple and just notice.

Demands for our attention and energy can be sorted into three categories:

  1. External demands include the responsibility and pressures from relationships, work, community, culture, etc. Take a moment to brainstorm the outside demands and pressures you are feeling right now at this moment.
  2. Internal demands how we feel about what is happening inside our whole person; thoughts, emotions, physical symptoms and sensations. Without evaluating, take a moment to notice the internal demands of this moment.
  3. Desires are internal pulls from the heart.  Rather than the voice inside saying I should or I must, desires are a tug in the heart or feeling in the gut. I really want to …. travel more, feel happy, have more energy, be free from addiction, feel confident, and play with my children/grandchildren.  Desires can easily get muted or distorted by external and internal demands. 

 First, place a hand on your heart and notice your breath as a few inhales and exhales pass through your lungs. Now simply ask what do I really want right now? Notice what you know not in your head, but in your center.  Desires are sensed in the body, more specifically in the large conglomerate of nerve endings located in your heart and your gut.  This can take a bit of practice to feel what you know, not what you think.  Keep your attention on your breath, feeling it ebb and flow without you having to do anything at all.  This noticing, trusting the flow of your breath, rather than trying to take a deep breath practice keeps your attention in your center.  

Demands and desires are a natural part of being human, there is no need to judge them because we need both to survive and thrive.   Beneath every demand is a heartfelt desire  The demands we notice then are simply clues to what is at the heart of what we really want and need in each moment.

You have the ability to stay centered when the demands start pulling you away from this moment.  Mindful self-compassion calms the internal war, strengthens our inner compass, and keeps you centered in what is truly important both when you are in a state of stress and a state of well.  

Activate it:  This week simply notice, without judgment, the demands, and desires. Listen for I should or I must and I really want. As you notice, continue to practice the tool of self-compassion and kindness, possibly placing a hand on your heart, asking what would be the kindest response to this demand or desire?  Jot down what you notice.

 

Day 4 – Mindfulness Makes Room for Motivation

When my closet or desk is in a state of disarray, I feel overwhelmed. It slows me down. I have to go through a lot of stuff to find what I need. Sure, I can still get things done, but I know the clutter impedes my progress.

The external and internal demands we explored are like the clutter when we mentally focus on them too much. They slow down progress and leave us feeling overwhelmed as we work toward our goals for well-being. The clutter covers up what we really want. Gradually, it drains confidence and motivation.

Think about a healthy habit you want to create. Notice what your thoughts flood your head when you think about adopting this habit.   Notice the external demands like cultural expectations, popular attitudes, peer pressures, and connecting demands for your time and energy. Notice the internal demands like past disappointments, physical limitations, doubt, fear, and low confidence.

Just like when cleaning off my desk, we don’t want to throw away everything.  There are valuable lessons among all the clutter of demands. Besides, the various forms of demands will continue to come back. We need a sustainable time and energy-efficient way to de-clutter,  not distract when life’s demands get in the way of motivation for healthy habits.  

After our week of practicing mindful self-compassion, we have a way. We are ready!

Mindfulness loosens the mental grip of these demands

Self-compassion loosens the emotional grip of these demands. 

These skills provide a shortcut to whole-person health habits by lightening the load they carry from the weight of all the shoulds that go along with them.  

This clears the way to the true path for lasting motivation.  

The self-criticism habit might say “wait a minute, I can’t let myself off the hook. I need to stay focused on my goal.  It’s my mental focus that keeps me motivated.  It’s the fear of slipping up and the gym guilt that keeps me accountable. 

This is the clutter that comes from our most common forms of motivation – the external ones.  They work but not long-term. If they did, we would not need a mindset retreat, would we?  All the ways to get motivated would keep us motivated.  

It’s the belief that motivation comes from your brain, and self-criticism is an effective way to get yourself motivated that created the belief its difficult to change habits.  As we will explore, this is exactly what keeps us struggling, no matter how much science-based information we hear about things like exercise and mindfulness.  

If letting go of the top-down mindset about motivation does not come easily, no worries. You don’t have to try to get rid of those mindsets.  Simply notice all the clutter about what you have been told about getting and staying motivated.  The true path to lasting motivation means you don’t have to try.  Instead, trust your physiology.  

Since Cleaning out is not a one-shot deal.  Just like the way my desk becomes cluttered again within days (okay, sometimes within hours!)Of cleaning,. We need a system for recognizing and de-cluttering on a regular basis.

Activate it: Notice the mental self-talk and emotions that come up when you think about motivation for being healthy.  What has worked in the past? How long did it last?  How much did it require distraction from your body, your emotions, your thoughts, and your values?  How much external accountability did you need to stay motivated?  Brainstorm all the external and internal demands you can think of with regard to this goal. Notice how they feel in your body as you recognize them.

Day 5 – Resolve to Be More You

Be You. The world will adjust.  ~unknown

Motivation seems like this elusive quality, doesn’t it? We can be so motivated for something and then it seems to vanish. Where did it go? How do we get it back? How do some people stay so motivated all the time? If we could just get and keep it, being healthy and well would be so much easier.

Next, we will break down the true essence of motivation. There is great news ahead –  motivation is not so elusive. We can get it and keep it – without wasting energy constantly trying to keep ourselves motivated. 

Before we do though, let’s harness that natural motivation in a way that makes it last.

What health goal would you really like to achieve?

Lose weight? Get in shape? Quit smoking? Run a 5k? Eat clean? Meditate regularly? Reduce stress? Get organized? Have more energy?

This step seems simple enough. Yet, when we settle for these surface goals, we miss out.   Getting really clear about the true goal behind the goal is a critical step in tapping into lasting motivation.

Close your eyes and take a few mindful breaths. The image you have achieved this goal.  How do you feel? What are you able to enjoy with greater ease? How are you more you? 

Create an image of how reaching this goal will free you to enjoy the things that mean the most to you in life, to be more you. Really take the time to imagine it. Write it down, draw a picture, do whatever helps you really see it.

Once you have a clear picture, restate your goal with this image. For example: When I lose 25 pounds, I will no longer have to say no to activities with family and friends. I will feel confident and free to have fun with those I love again. 

Now we have a goal that contains the seeds of lasting motivation.

When you get caught up in the cultural pulls telling you what you want, remember this truth – you don’t need to suffer through a diet or exercise plan to be more you.  

Pause, breathe, read that again.

No suffering is required for whole-person health.  Really!

Your weight, physical limitations, and energy level may be limiting what you can do, but you don’t need to suffer in the process of freeing yourself from these limits. 

In fact, it’s the suffering, especially when you first set out to reach a health goal that sets up the constant struggle to get and stay motivated.   

Read that again too…. That’s a tough one to let go of, I know. Stay open to the mindset that the start is the most important part. When you start well, you have the greatest chance of staying motivated.  

For now, simply focus on, savor even that sense of freedom you felt in stating your true goal continues each step of the way. If you are suffering through to get there, something critical is missing and motivation fades. This is simply a sign you have slipped back into trying in that top-down approach to motivation. 

Activate It:  This week continue to come back to this image. Spend a few minutes a day visualizing yourself next year having achieved this goal, focusing on how you will feel.  You might even put a visual image where you can see it each day and notice what feelings come up in your body when you see it.  

Day 6 – Clear the top-down myth of Motivation

I’m so motivated!

I hope I can stay motivated.

I lost my motivation.

I just need some motivation again.

Okay!  It’s time we put these myths of motivation to rest once and for all!

It’s time we stop thinking of motivation as some mysterious quality that comes and goes with the wind. It’s also time we stop trying to get and stay motivated and start trusting our physiology. It is hardwired for you to be well now.  When you know how to use it, the motivation struggle simmers.  When you understand your physiology you CAN activate your own motivation.

Fact:  We are already motivated. The first myth is that we don’t have motivation.  We all have the motivation to do something. It might be to work late, veg-out on the couch, or take a walk – whatever we are doing it is because we have the motivation to do it.

Fact:  Motivation = Resources > Barriers. Being motivated to work through lunch instead of taking a walk means the balance of these two factors increased motivation for working more than taking a walk. It’s a simple equation that requires awareness to see all the factors influencing motivation. When we use mindfulness to notice without judgment the factors involved in that choice, we take charge of our motivation. We can then lose the guilt and create a balance of motivation between these competing goals.

Fact:  We tend to focus on the barriers.  The default mode in the brain is searching for problems in order to keep us safe. It is perfectly normal. When we are not paying attention, this drains motivation for our true goal. We have a strong tendency to forget about all the resources available. Remember, your survival and thriving is founded on the physiologic skill of adapting.   (Check out this short video  illustrating neuroplasticity showing how the brain adapts through whole person integration). What we choose to focus on often becomes what the brain learns to focus on more easily. Focus on resources and motivation will not only soar but get easier too!

Fact:  We have way more resources than we realize. Check out the list of powerful resources below. We have many untapped resources at our disposal any time right inside.   The problem is we waste so much energy looking outside for resources we miss these.  Because we don’t use them, and our physiology adapts we lose these skills while searching out there for motivation. 

Fact:  Actions follow thoughts. Because we get to choose our focus, we have control over our motivation. Certain barriers are very real – limited time and energy, pain or physical limitations, or not having the know-how needed to change. When we get so focused on these, we lose confidence in the ability of our resources to outweigh the barriers. When we discover our resources, we have power over the barriers.

Bottom Line:  We take control of our motivation by asking three key questions:

  1. What am I telling myself?
  2. What is my environment encouraging?
  3. What are the culture and people around me encouraging?

Each week this month, we will explore one of these questions as they relate to motivation to be well.

Activate It:  Use your mindfulness skills to notice how these factors play out with your own motivation. Notice what you are doing and how the resources and barriers affect that choice. Notice whether your environment is a resource for your true goals. Notice where your thoughts go when you are not paying attention – to the barriers or the resources? What happens when you redirect thoughts to the resources?

 

Day 7:  Build a Foundation for Motivation

We started tackling many of the common myths about motivation last week. This week let’s use the facts to build a sturdy home for our motivation, one that supports lasting well-being.

A home such as this begins with a well-designed plan and a strong foundation. Our clear vision of well-being is the blueprint that guides the building process. When we consult our vision daily, it keeps us on course.  Successful athletes use visualization to “practice” in their minds running a perfect race and winning. Why not use this skill with our well-being goals by spending a few minutes every morning imagining what it will be like to reach our own definition of optimal well-being – feeling energized, balanced, and happy inside and out, doing things that we enjoy with ease? While helping us to stay on track during the day, visualizing also creates a positive state of mind that promotes health and well-being in the body too.

Next, we need a level surface on which to build. Have you ever been so focused on one part of your life, say, getting ahead in your career or raising children, that other areas such as physical well-being suffered? Focusing all our energy on one area sure gets the job done. However, we often emerge to find that other areas have suffered. Noticing a big jump up on the scale from the holidays triggers a rise in motivation to work on healthy habits and get the weight back down. Motivation soars until … the credit card bill arrives. Suddenly motivation is redirected for financial well-being and motivation for physical well-being fades. The same happens if a family crisis occurs – all motivation goes in that direction. We can feel like a tumbleweed in the desert being tossed around and well-being can seem impossible after a while.

At heart, we want to feel well in all the areas shown in the image on the right. Setting goals with an awareness of how all of these areas are connected, we tap into our natural motivation to achieve balanced well-being.

Finally, our foundation needs to be deep and strong to withstand outside forces. Practicing mindful self-compassion keeps us grounded when forces pull our motivation away from what we really want. Our thoughts about the jump on the scale might sound something like this is terrible, I was so bad over the holidays, I am so mad at myself for getting to this point, I have to be really good now. In our analogy, criticism is a huge sinkhole under our foundation. Initially, beating ourselves up seems motivating. Over time, though, it drains the motivation right out of us. Staying aware with compassion, we respond instead of react, getting back on track while creating a strong internal support system that is always there when we need it.

Activate It:   Take time this week to build a strong foundation for your motivation.

  • Spend a few minutes each morning visualizing how you will feel and what you will be doing at your optimal state of well-being.
  • Jot down how reaching this goal will impact all other areas of well-being.
  • Listen to how you talk to yourself about this goal. What do you say to yourself to get motivated? Ask yourself, is this how I would encourage someone I care about? If not, try rephrasing with compassion and encouragement.

 

Day 8 – A Framework for Motivation

30-day squat challenge, 21-day fix, 30-day yoga challenge, 5-factor diet, 100 push-up challenge, 5 foods detox diet …

When looking for some structure to rev-up motivation,  we don’t need to look far. These quick fixes certainly work, for a while. How have these programs and challenges worked for you in the past? Were they temporary solutions or did they support long-term motivation?

For sustainability, the answers are not out there. Building on what we already know about ourselves, we can create a more permanent structure to hold our motivation for well-being.

Last week we set up our strong foundation. Now we are ready to build the framework of this sturdy home, encouraging motivation for well-being to move in and stay. The internal and external structures in our lives provide boundaries that form the shape of our vision for well-being.

  • Power of pause – Scheduling moments of mindfulness during the day keeps us from straying too far when life pulls us away from our goals. You might build on already existing structures, connecting a pause to things you do often, like getting into the car or washing your hands. When we pause and notice what is happening inside, we realize there are internal warning signals when we are getting off track. With self-compassion, we bring ourselves back to our foundation and recharge with our inner resources.
  • Schedules and routines – When we leave healthy choices up to chance, life will get in the way. With a plan, the mind can relax. Even if you don’t have a predictable schedule, plan one day at a time. What are the important actions that lead you to well-being? Schedule them in just as you do an important appointment.
  • Physical environment – Notice if your environment is supporting or challenging motivation. Does buying in bulk lead to overeating? Does going to your gym lead to embarrassment and thus procrastination? Just be curious and notice. How does your environment reflect and support your motivation to be well?  Small changes can make a big difference.
  • SMARTER goals – The beauty is in the details! Saying I will try to walk three days this week leaves a lot of wiggle room for motivation to fade. This is one structure that we tend to make too weak. Give yourself the gift of taking the time to build with goals that raise confidence.  Be SMARTER with goal setting.

Just as building designs account for deflections (the movement of a structure as a result of stress), our structures need to have some flexibility to adapt and not crumble when life gets in the way. The “all or nothing” approach to healthy habits lacks flexibility for mistakes and outside pressures. The slightest stress causes motivation to crumble. As you build your own structures, see them as an act of self-care. Self-criticism keeps the structures too rigid. The mindset of self-care and compassion provides the flexibility needed to allow for the natural deflections of life.

Activate It:  What are the important structures that keep you on track for living well? What has worked in the past? What works in other areas of well-being? What could you add to support sustainable motivation? Take what you know and write down a framework for your motivation. Note how each are connected to your vision for your well-being and thus are acts of self-care. You may be amazed at how sturdy your motivation can be.

Day 9: Motivation Insulation

Living in an old house in New England, the insulation can be a bit spotty! When the cold air seeps in, my hard-earned resources slowly slip away.

In our ‘building a home for motivation’ analogy, a strong support network is insulation that helps preserve what we work hard to create. As I am sure you are aware, motivation can also be sapped by the people around us.

  • Surrounded by the super-fit and athletic. It seems like this should be motivating, yet being around super-fit folks often leads to feeling overwhelmed and guilty. Self-criticism ramps up and we are distracted from our true goal. Keep in mind you do not need to be super fit to be healthy. Even if it is your goal eventually, when the gap is too large, motivation can easily slip.
  • Stuck in the mud. Your healthy changes may be seen as a threat to the status quo. The people you used to share unhealthy habits with may try to pull you away from your goal saying things like, oh, just skip your lunchtime walk and order take-out with us! 
  • Media meltdown. Do you ever feel overrun with information about what is good and bad for your health? Conflicting information in the media can drain the motivation to figure out and choose what is healthy.
  • Competition confusion.  When the focus becomes about winning competitions for daily steps, pounds lost, or minutes planked, we can lose our way to the true goal.
  • Super strong external supports. While it is great to have a strong support network, it can be easy to rely heavily on the positive encouragement of others while the internal supports start to weaken. Remember these external supports are only the insulation. What holds this house together is the foundation and the strong internal support you set for yourself.

This last one I find to be especially true in weight loss. When weight loss stops, the positive comments stop. This is when internal supports are especially essential to stay motivated.

Activate It:  Mindfulness helps reveal the holes and discover sources of support:

  • Who is in your true support network? Make a list of the people who understand not only what your goal is but why it is so important to you. These are the people who will bring you back to your foundation instead of just giving you empty praise when you’re feeling discouraged.
  • How do you use virtual support?  Social media can be helpful to provide 24/7 support. With so many forms out there, be choosy! Use only what aligns with your true goal.
  • How is your media diet? The media sound bites about health studies don’t give the full story about the research. Stick with advice from professionals, blended with what you know is right for you.
  • How do you compete? Notice how you handle competitions. Do they take you closer to your goal in the long run?
  • Where are the weak spots in your motivation insulation? Be prepared for any resistance to your healthy changes. Visualize how you will handle situations of temptation from the naysayers in your life.
  • What groups could boost support? Groups can provide support with a sense of camaraderie. Consider both online and in-person sources.
  • How effective are your support groups? Evaluate this regularly. Often groups can become set in their ways and support the problem rather than progress toward the goal.  If you notice the group is stuck, either shake it up or move on.

 

Day 10  Movement + Mindfulness

This month we will incorporate movement into our exploration of mindfulness and motivation. Please put aside your current thoughts about movement and exercise. Let’s mindfully explore all aspects of movement with a clean slate and a sense of curiosity.

Every cell in the body is an outpost of the brain. The mind is in the body as well as in the brain. There is constant two-way communication between these two points, mostly below our conscious awareness.

The brain is constantly doing its job of scanning for how safe, satisfied and connected we are in each moment. It gathers information from different parts of the brain and from the body. When a threat is detected (perceived or real), alarm mode kicks in, and the brain sends signals to protect the body.  The body sends back feedback about how the response is working.

When the threat is internal, our body and brain fall into an unhealthy relationship. The body tries to communicate but the brain does not listen. The brain resents the body for not cooperating with its expectations. The two parts keep “arguing” and the discord limits our access to what can actually help.  Added to that, our culture tells us the body is a problem to be solved.

Science, however, tells us the body is a tremendous resource for well-being. In studying the science of movement, I’ve been constantly amazed at how our bodies are specifically designed to move. Movement naturally activates health and well-being.

Now, you might be thinking but it is painful and difficult to move, my body is not a friendly place right now. The approach to movement in our culture is often not helpful in addressing this challenge. When we push too hard and compare ourselves to others, we are guided by the should’s instead of by what the body is telling us in each moment.

Mindfulness can help increase motivation for movement and can even improve athletic performance. Yet lately it seems even mind/body types of exercise fall prey to the “body as a problem” approach (for example, when yoga classes become competitions or an excuse to push the body way beyond its current abilities in order to achieve a posture). This misuse of mind/body exercise only fuels the fire for the internal war. There is a healthier way.

The core of mindful movement is our relationship with our body.  Receive the full benefit of movement by letting go of the idea that signals from the body are a threat (a reminder that we are aging or can no longer do something). Instead, view signals as helpful guides as to how to move toward our own well-being. When we include mindful self-compassion in exercise, we befriend the body, allowing movement to inform our path to health. The mind and body start supporting one another again and we create a positive feedback loop so both function at their full potential. Now THAT’S well-being.

Activate it:  Let’s brainstorm. Simply let the thoughts flow, without boundaries. Jot down all of your thoughts about your body. Jot down all of the words you associate with exercise. Include all the should’s that are associated with each.  Just see what comes up without judgment. This awareness is the first step. Next week, we will explore how to foster a healthy relationship between mind and body.

 

Day 11: Are you living in the should? 

“I was living in the should and it was exhausting,’’ said a client last week. Her approach had always been about trying to do what she “should” to be healthy and fit. Gradually learning a mindful approach, she is now guided by her well-being vision and how her body responds to choices she is making.

With all the conflicting information floating around, we can get thrown off track by the should’s. I should … exercise more … push harder … be seeing more results …  do more … be like … look like … be able to ____ ….

As a result, we might:

  • distract the mind in order to just “get through a workout”
  • find someone to push us through exercise sessions to make us stay motivated
  • try to “trick the body” by pushing it harder to get results
  • just give up, ignore the body, and avoid exercise altogether

Does this roller coaster of the “all or nothing” approach to exercise sound familiar? Motivation drains with every up and down, as the mind and body work against each other.

Healing the relationship between the mind and body requires a kind attention that builds trust. Instead of the body being like cumbersome baggage that gets in the way, the body becomes a trusted guide on this journey.

What should’s came up on your list from Activate it last week? Try replacing the word should with I really want to for each item. Which ones feel authentic? Which feel fake? When you have clarity about what you really want, healthy choices are all authentic.

Like the mission of a successful business, a well-being vision statement gets to the heart of why you are doing what you are doing for your well-being. Instead of should’s that drain your energy, this vision guides you in designing a movement program that is energizing each step of the way.

What does a mindful approach to exercise look like? When this client was considering signing up for a long road race in May,  she first checked how this goal was in line with her well-being vision. It definitely lined up. Next, we discussed how she will know as training progresses if it becomes a ‘should’ rather than about her vision.  She felt confident that staying mindful in each training session, she would trust her body. Whether she finished the race, reduced her goal, or let it go completely, she will be truly successful because she knows her own definition of success.  She realized “when you listen to your body, it is clear.”

Activate it:

  • Adopt a regular exercise for the brain that actually trains it to more easily care for the body. Direct kindness to your body in loving-kindness meditation  – wishing it well, appreciating it, and paying mindful attention to all the ways it communicates what it needs moment by moment. Admittedly, it will feel a bit strange at first. However, it does actually change the brain and improve the relationship of the mind and body.
  • Strip away the should’s and focus on what you know right now about what you really want. Start by completing these statements:  I really want … to be able to ___, to feel ___, to have more ___. This is a starting point to guide an exercise plan that is sustainable and energizing.

Day 12 – Nourishing the Body

Imagine you and some friends are stranded on a deserted island. You found a freshwater source, but food is scarce. Luckily, you have seeds for a plant that grows nourishing luscious fruits in just a few weeks. You take time to choose just the right location to plant these seeds, watching the seedlings carefully for signs of what they need to grow strong. Some of your friends are not quite as patient, planting seeds quickly and giving them lots of water, trying to speed up the growth. Which seeds will grow to produce fruit?

  • Your well-being vision is the seed.
  • Your mindset is the location in which you plant the seed.
  • Your approach is how you care for the seedlings.

The Mindset:  Science tells us that belief actually changes how the body responds. “The placebo effect is a powerful robust demonstration of how our mindset, like the expectation to heal, recruits healing properties in the body.” Not sure you believe this? Check out this TED talk before reading on. The research is so compelling that the placebo effect is now being called the belief effect.

We harness the power of our vision for well-being when we hold it in a mindset of belief.  “I am healthy, strong, and energetic,” for example, creates a nourishing environment where those qualities can grow in the body. This is not just a “pep talk.” The power is in its deep personal meaning. Keeping in mind what you want from movement, and believing in it, is the first step in a mindful approach to exercise.

The Mindful Approach:  Like watching your plant for signs of how it is doing, this approach includes mindfully choosing how to exercise, and checking in to see if it is bringing you closer to your idea of well-being. It provides protection when fitness marketing, cultural pressures, and life in general start to pull you away from what you really want.

The idea that we can speed up the natural process of the body, tricking it into seeing results faster, is like the approach of your impatient island-mates. There is a natural rate the body can change; when we try to push it beyond it, something breaks down – either a part of the body or our motivation.

Then, how much is enough exercise? Treat your body like a seedling, watch for signs. Do you have more energy and stamina from your current activity level? Is what you are doing leaving you feeling exhausted and defeated? The curious and kind attention of mindfulness provides valuable information. The body tells us how much is enough. When you experience a taste of your well-being vision with each exercise session, it is enough.

Maneuvering through the temptations to get results faster is challenging, though. In the mindful approach, self-compassion is there to help us accept that facing our limitations is difficult. Simply acknowledging each challenge with kindness rather than self-criticism calms the stress response and allows you to keep your cool when the pull is strong.

Activate it:  Learning to adopt a mindful approach to exercise takes time and practice. Here are some ways to get started. 

  • Notice your mindset and results with your current approach to exercise.
  • Practice choosing a mindset of belief in your well-being vision, setting your mind to turn on healing properties in your body.
  • When you are faced with your limitations, practice self-compassion to acknowledge it with kindness. Trust the signals from your body as a guide when choosing how you respond to challenges.

 

Day 13: Taking another look at Mindfulness 

There is something special about mindfulness. Perhaps it is the portability of the skills you develop when you practice presence, kindness, and curiosity all at the same time.  Those skills can be taken off the meditation cushion into any activity of your day, restoring calm with greater ease.  

Mindfulness = riding the waves.

 Rather than controlling thoughts, distracting the mind, or telling the body to relax, mindfulness only asks that we let things be in a friendly way. Like a boat on the water, our mind simply follows what is happening inside and around us. This way, when we need to “steer the boat,” rather than resisting and reacting, our choices are informed by what is happening. We are more likely to respond with kindness and ease.

Compassion and kindness = an anchor for presence. Without this gift of mindfulness, life drags us all over the place. We can be tossed around, exhausted by never-ending internal and external demands.  When the waters are rough, and we anchor in compassion to ourselves first and then others, we can ride the waves and stay present.

When our goals for health and well-being are grounded in kindness and based on what we really want, we can stay on course.  The gifts of mindfulness help guide and sustain us along the way.

Activate it: Today simply notice how your skills of presence, kindness and curiosity have found their way into daily life

Day 14: Taking another look at Motivation

In the pivotal part of inspirational movies, the main character has some epiphany, and gets really clear about what is important, what needs to be done, and what does not need to be done. The tremendous energy and focus from this clarity propel them into action toward their goal.

Watching these movies, it can seem like these moments are once-in-a-lifetime events. In reality, we can have these (not so dramatic) moments every day and gain the clarity, creativity, energy, and focus to stay motivated and activate our own well-being.

That energy comes from being internally guided, laser-focused on what is really important, instead of doing things because we “should” or “have to.”  Having a very clearly defined personal vision for our well-being allows us to call up our own motivational movie-like pivotal moments in daily life.

External supports help awaken and guide and are tremendously important resources. They may provide the spark for the flame, but the sustaining energy, focus, and creativity comes from within.

Stephen Covey described this as the circle of influence and circle of concern. When our focus is in the circle of concern – all the things that could go wrong, past failures, or what we can’t do or have in the moment – we are draining our energy. When we are focused in the circle of influence – on what we have control over – we realize how much we really can do to be healthy and well.  This is where pivotal moments happen.

When we shift our attention, we realize there are so many ways to activate well-being moment by moment. For example:

  • Ten minutes of movement stirs up “feel good” chemicals in the brain elevating mood
  • Stretching moves fluids in the body, triggering healthy cell growth
  • Shifting attention from lack to gratitude calms the mind and boosts creativity

It’s a simple shift that changes everything. Mindfulness allows us to recognize when our focus is outside the circle of influence. We can then make a choice to shift attention.  Adding structured moments to drop into mindfulness during the day – while the coffee is brewing while standing in line while washing our hands – provides times to check-in, to get back into the circle of influence by shifting our attention to our well-being vision and creating mini pivotal moments that keep us energized and motivated.

Activate it:

  • Choose moments of the day to drop into mindfulness
  • Notice where your focus is – circle of influence or concern?
  • Recall your well-being vision.
  • Ask “how can I bring that vision into this moment?”
  • Let the energy from the vision and the shift to your circle of influence internally guide you to activate your own well-being in that moment.

 

Day 15: Finding the right support for your motivation 

Just for fun, let’s say that you won a million dollars. Whoo whoo! Your head might start spinning with all the things you want to do with this extra cash. People around you might start giving all kinds of advice. You might just go wild and start spending it on all kinds of things. You quickly notice, however, this money is dwindling way too easily.  So, you hire a financial adviser to listen to your ideas of what you want to do with it. In the end, you get more enjoyment and mileage out of that cash with the right planning, guidance, and advice.

It can be like this when we are motivated to reach a goal. That energy is so great – “I am done with feeling tired and worrying about my health. I’m going to get in shape and lose weight for good this time.”

Like the million dollars, the energy can dwindle easily when life starts getting in the way or results are not quick enough.  With guidance, advice and support, the energy from your motivation is harnessed and channeled so it lasts much, much longer.

How do I know? I have seen this with clients and patients. Personally, I’ve experienced this through working with a business coach myself.

The energy of starting a business was great. I loved all the excitement from ideas and potential opportunities. After many “learning experiences” draining my energy, I realized I needed help with channeling my passion if I was going to get anywhere.

Enter Melissa Corcoran.  She listened to my ideas, which helped me clarify what I really wanted.  She insisted I do a mission statement and business plan. Now, I had many incomplete business plans under my belt; Melissa made sure I completed this one! This tedious process has paid off many times over by giving me a really clear and concise understanding of my true goals, strengths, and potential challenges.  She reminds me of my mission when my energy takes me all over the place.

I know without a doubt that this external support has propelled my passion forward.  It has kept me on track at times I would have been derailed and wanted to give up. Instead of being drained by challenges, I am energized by them. This process has been much more fun and enriching than ever before. My energy and motivation have not only been sustained but grown.

Like winning a million dollars, discovering your true goals for well-being is wonderfully energizing. The key to using that energy is harnessing and channeling it – spending it well. The guidance and support of someone with knowledge and skills is a sound way to invest that energy so motivation grows and grows.

Activate It:

Harness the energy from your motivation to improve your well-being by seeking support from a knowledgeable and skilled professional. Listen to your intuition and find someone who listens to you and helps you reach your goals in a positive and supportive way.

 

Day 16: Taking another look at exercise and movement

Trivia time!

#1 In 2013, what percent of adults in the US were getting the recommended cardiovascular and muscular activity?

Answer: 20.2%

#2 In 2014, what percent of adults reported no leisure-time physical activity?

Answer:  23.7%*

This is not a guilt trip; it is to say that if you struggle with consistently getting “enough exercise,” you are in the majority. The good news is about 60% are doing something for physical activity – maybe not enough or consistently enough to get the full benefits – but doing something.

The above statistics have not changed much the past years. Our strategy of listing all the reasons to exercise and the bad things that could happen if you don’t is just not working. (Believe me, I tried it for many years.) What gets lost between knowing and doing? Why are most people missing out?

Daniel Pink, motivation expert, shares some insights in his TED talk. If we want to motivate for simple tasks, incentives or threats work. However, adopting and sustaining a regular exercise program is no simple task! It is complex, requiring creativity and problem-solving. What works is building intrinsic motivation – the desire to do something because we like it, we feel we can get better at it (mastery), and that it is a part of something bigger.

Let’s learn from the experts and get back in the driver’s seat of our own natural motivation to move!

All movement is good, as long as the body can withstand the challenge.  Adapted from Jules Mitchell

All movement is good…

The body was amazingly made to move. What is “good” depends on what we want from it. We often equate good with burning a lot of calories or getting the heart rate up and making us sweat, or leaving us sore afterward. When movement is reduced to this, we miss out – big time!

When good is defined by the media and popular culture, motivation tanks. When good is defined by what you really want from exercise and supported by movement science, motivation and success soar.

Getting clear about your true goal is essential here, which leads us to the second part of that quote.

As long as the body can withstand the challenge…

The body is so smart. It is constantly changing and adjusting to what it needs. Given a challenge, it will do all it can to adapt to make it easier. No challenge? It will adapt to that. Too much challenge at once? Something breaks down.

How do we know what is enough challenge?

It starts with mindfulness. Staying aware and open to the feedback from the body. (Remember our plant analogy?) Staying aware of what we really want. Continually asking with curiosity and kindness – what I getting from what I am doing?

Activate it:

Take back the driver’s seat of your  natural motivation to exercise: 

  • Get really clear about what you truly want from your investment
  • Create a movement plan based on your physiology
  • Stay aware with kindness of what your body is telling you each step of the way 
  • Measure true success: The way exercising well makes you feel better and how those results are connected to your purpose and passions in life.  

 

Click here to download my Free Be Well Now app and continue this journey with embodied skills for blending movement, mindfulness, and motivation for whole-person health and lasting habits