The High Cost of Clutter and a 15-Minute Fix

Clutter costs you more than you might think.

The unwashed dishes in your sink, that stack of Amazon boxes in the garage, and those piles of paperwork on your crazy desk are constant visual drains that don’t do your body or brain any favors.

In fact, there’s an undertow to clutter, pulling you away from your best thinking, your best performance, and even your best health. The research is convincing.

The 3 Crippling Costs of Clutter

Here are just three of the many unexpected costs of clutter.

    1. Clutter makes you fatter. How? By causing sugar cravings. A number of studies on the subject indicate when you’re in an untidy environment, you’re more likely to reach for sugary, high-carb snacks. It seems weight loss and home organization go hand-in-hand. If you feel more in control of your surroundings, you feel more in control of your food decisions. There are several books on the subject to check out to know more. One such book, Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat?, by Peter Walsh, gives practical advice and offers inspiring stories.
    2. Clutter makes you dumber. It turns out clutter can impair your thinking and decision-making skills. Scientists tell us our pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for focus and executive function, is sensitive to clutter. All those visual distractions cause your brain’s neural circuits to fire up and compete with one another. The result is slower cognitive function and decreased mental efficiency as the brain’s ability to process information is impaired.
    3. Clutter is a bummer. Especially for women, clutter can be mood altering—and not in a good way. You may have experienced an inability to truly relax, both mentally and physically, if your space is a wreck. It’s as if your clutter is continually taunting you by saying, “You can’t relax, you have cleaning to do!” Clutter makes you feel the work is never done. It can cause depression, feelings of guilt, and even shame when you think you should have a better handle on your environment. When you can’t find things you need or are afraid you’ve lost something important, anxiety levels increase.

None of this is good! So, let’s talk alternatives.Egg timer

I know Marie Kondo’s KonMari Method is all the rage right now. But, the idea of dumping all my clothes, all my books, or all my anything in a big pile, and then determining piece-by-piece whether each item “sparks joy,” gives me the heebie-jeebies. Poof! The whole weekend is gone, and I’m exhausted? No, thank you.

Instead, try this habit-building idea to rewire your brain in just 15 minutes a day. Get a win or two under your belt, and those overwhelming weekend clean-up projects can be a thing of the past. Hooray!

The Fix: Commit to 15 Minutes for Just 21 Days

First, commit to 15 minutes a day for 21 days. They don’t even have to be consecutive days, as long as you schedule four or five sessions during a work week. Then, take the weekends off!Woman putting appointment in calendar

Second, identify the one, horrible clutter-spot that icks you the most. The dreaded place… You know the one. Now, imagine that place clean and organized. If you get an immediate sigh of relief, start there! We’re looking for the “Whew!” factor.

Now, calendarize your commitment. Create a daily 15-minute recurring appointment for the next 21 days. Set a phone alarm, and act like these appointments are non-negotiable. Pretend you’ll have to pay a huge fee if you fail to show up (as if you missed a doctor’s appointment). Your mental and emotional health is literally at stake. It’s that important.

Set a Timer, Rinse, and Repeat!

Now, when the first appointment time comes, set a timer. Work for 15 minutes, and then stop. It’s not the end of the world if you go longer, but the point is you don’t have to. Just do the 15 minutes, and consider yourself a rock star for the day. And sorry, you don’t get to skip tomorrow if you did extra time today. To rewire your brain, you need to keep your 21-day commitment.

Do not sabotage yourself with negative self-talk. Give yourself credit, and watch how you begin to naturally avoid clutter in the first place.

Rinse and repeat for 20 more days. Of course, if you finish cleaning and organizing that first clutter-spot before the 21-day cycle ends, start on another spot. Again, keep your 21-day commitment. And then, celebrate! (Happy dances are encouraged.)

Clutter-free kitchen

Up the ante on your motivation and accountability by creating a little decluttering fun. Give your best friend $100, and tell them they get to keep the money if you don’t keep your 21 decluttering appointments.

How’s that for putting your money where your good intentions are?! At the end of the 21-day cycle, use the money on a special reward. Spa treatment with your BFF, anyone?

You are well on your way to conquering clutter. To help secure the habit, pick new clutter-spots, and keep going for a couple more rounds of 21 days. Soon you’ll have built a new, clutter-busting routine into your lifestyle. Keep going!

If the clutter undertow is proving to be too strong for you, it’s probably affecting you on a profound level. You don’t have to live like that! Come coach with me for a few sessions, and get a fresh perspective while you make real progress. Please contact me today for more information.

How to STEER Your Runaway Brain, Part 2

In Part 1 of this two-part blog series, you met my former client, Amy, whose runaway brain just about drove her over a cliff. She came into coaching to learn to stop and reverse her negative self-talk.

Self-talk is your inner dialogue, the thoughts you think to yourself all day long. It’s a lot of chatter, and as I’ve said before, your inner chatter matters. Amy’s inner chatter was going downhill fast.

Amy was like the rest of us, a busy person, and in her case, a busy entrepreneur who enjoyed a lot of success both personally and professionally. But, after a seemingly innocent comment at work by a potential new customer, Amy found herself mentally spinning out of control. That one comment planted vicious seeds of self-doubt in her mind.

Of course, just one comment isn’t usually enough to derail a competent person like Amy, but in this case, her daily life was already burdened to the breaking point, and this last straw threatened to do her in.

Woman staring out window

Amy turned that comment over and over in her thoughts, ruminating on what it meant and whether it was true. Her ruminations turned into circular, looping thoughts of the worst-case scenario. Her self-talk became increasingly negative and her self-confidence took a nosedive.

Her busy, runaway brain kept her up at night and gave her very little peace during the day.

To avoid the uncomfortable stress, Amy did what many of us do when under fire: hide. One of Amy’s favorite hiding places was shopping at the mall or online. When that didn’t work, she headed for comfort food.

Amy’s story prompted me to write this blog series about how she learned to STEER her runaway brain. The STEER Method, you may recall, is one of several coaching tools I created to help my private clients manage their minds, emotions, and habits.

What is a Runaway Brain?

A runaway brain is a brain out of control. We’ve all experienced it at one time or another—a time when our thoughts won’t shut off, especially as we are trying to fall asleep at night. Ugh. That’s the worst.

In reality, a runaway brain is an untrained brain. It is the result of thought patterns that have been wired in unintentionally over time. The hallmark of the runaway brain is that it works against you. Left undirected, a runaway brain can sabotage not only your hopes and dreams but your daily life as well.

“A runaway brain is an untrained brain.”

See if you can relate to any of these types of runaway thoughts, otherwise known as cognitive distortions, which are just a few examples of stinking thinking.

  • Circular thinking: Ceaseless worry or rumination about a particular situation or person. Imagining scary “what if” thoughts and worst-case scenarios is one form of circular thinking. Another is dwelling on regrets in the past, cycling through what went wrong, and obsessing over what might have been, “if only.” Circular thinking never leads to a satisfactory stopping point, leaving you emotionally exhausted as you go around and around in never-ending thought loops.
  • All-or-nothing thinking: Rigid thinking that filters circumstances and people (including yourself) through a black or white lens. For example, you may have been eating healthily for days or even weeks, but when you slip and eat a bite of cake, your brain informs you that you’ve totally blown your diet. Might as well keep on eating now… you’ve ruined it. There’s no middle ground with all-or-nothing thinking. Things are either all good or all bad.
  • Filtering: Magnifying the negative and filtering out any positive aspects of a situation. For example, three people can compliment you on a project or how you look, but if one person says something mildly critical, it sets you off. You can’t stop thinking about that one statement, and you completely discount the positive comments. This was part of Amy’s problem. Despite the hundreds of satisfied customers she had served in her million-dollar business, one tiny comment questioning her abilities sent her into an obsessive thinking pattern. Within weeks, not only was the new account in jeopardy, but Amy’s own mental, emotional, and physical health were at risk as well.
  • Mind-reading: Arbitrarily deciding someone else is thinking negatively about you. An example is when a co-worker passes you in the hall and doesn’t smile. If you interpret that as the person not liking you or thinking ill of you, that’s mind-reading. This automatic thought pattern is devastating to relationships, fostering suspicion toward others and undermining your own self-confidence.
  • “Shoulding:” Putting expectations on yourself or others to do things the way you want them to be done. This usually involves a set of ironclad rules or standards that do not allow for a learning curve, mistakes, or human nature. “I shouldn’t have taken so long.” “She shouldn’t have lost her temper.” “I shouldn’t have eaten that.” “He should be more self-disciplined.” Shoulding almost always leads to guilt, anger, or frustration.
  • Controlling: Trying to control everything that happens to you or to those for whom you feel responsible. A hostess goes over the top for a casual party, overspending and over-doing to make sure everyone has a great time. A mother over-protects her children, attempting to make sure nothing bad happens to them. A boss micromanages her employees to keep all the plates spinning. This runaway brain pattern can unleash your inner control freak, as you try hard to keep the lid on everyone and everything, all the time.
  • People-Pleasing: A faulty thought pattern that allows you to believe you can manipulate people into admiring you or treating you better. Recently I’ve seen this manifest as burnout in one client who can’t say no to anyone at work, and as workaholism in another client who spends way too much time trying to keep her boss happy. People-pleasing sometimes leads to lop-sided relationships as one person does all the giving. It involves a false notion that you are in control of other people’s thoughts, feelings, or actions.

Did you recognize yourself in one or more of the above? If so, there’s great news for you. Like Amy, you can un-learn these old thinking habits and learn to STEER your runaway brain.

You Are Not Your Brain

Dr. Jeffery M. Schwartz, a research psychiatrist and seminal thinker in the field of self-directed neuroplasticity, says that the cognitive distortions described above, plus any other negative thinking you do unintentionally, can be traced to deceptive thought messages.

In his classic book on the subject, You Are Not Your Brain, Schwartz defines deceptive thought messages as “any false or inaccurate thought or any unhelpful or distracting impulse, urge, or desire that takes you away from your true goals and intentions in life (i.e., your true self).”

Schwartz draws a big distinction between habitual thoughts that have been ingrained physically on your brain (which I explain in Part 1 of this post) and your true self.

Think About What You Are Thinking About

In coaching, Amy came to see that her true self was very different from her brain and the negative self-talk she was indulging in. She was and is a warm, bright, and capable person, despite the deceptive messages her brain was now automatically feeding her.Question marks on chalkboard

I challenged Amy to start thinking about what she was thinking about. Only when she became aware of the exact sentences floating automatically through her mind could she interrupt and replace them.

This is one of the biggest honors of being human, this ability to step outside of your thoughts, consider them, and change them. Thanks to the genius design of your human brain, your true self is able to think about what you are thinking about and decide whether your thought patterns are working for you or against you.

The Chain Reaction that Changes Everything

When you can’t control your thinking, it’s easy to feel out of control. But if you are able to identify the exact thoughts that need to change and then learn some new thinking skills, the likelihood is high that you can retrain your brain.

There is a simple chain reaction you need to be aware of, which I explained in greater detail in Part 1 of this blog series. The chain reaction is that: For every…

Situation, you have thoughts.

Thoughts create emotions;

Emotions lead to effort;

Effort leads to results; and

Results chart your course in life.

The acronym STEER suggests if you don’t like your results, you can chart a new course by steering your thoughts. How you feel on a moment-by-moment basis depends on the thoughts you are thinking. And how you are feeling has everything to do with what you do next in any given moment.

And let’s face it, whatever efforts you are making consistently (or not making, as the case may be), are going to determine your results. Your results chart your course in life. The question is, are you being intentional about where you are going?

Directed vs. Undirected Thinking

Your thoughts are either directed or undirected. Undirected thoughts are caused by automatic, deceptive brain messages that have been wired in over time. Directed thoughts have to be managed and thought on purpose.Sign points two directions

Purposeful, directed thoughts create powerful, positive emotions. When you are feeling strong, capable, optimistic and confident, nothing can stop you from making the changes you want to make and getting the results you want to get. And this is true even when your situation involves difficult people and the worst of circumstances.

Amy wanted to win a large new account by creating a stellar bid. But when the prospective client questioned her company’s ability to handle a project of such magnitude, Amy hyper-focused on the comment, interpreting it as critical. Left undirected, Amy’s brain ran away with self-doubt that sabotaged her ability to create a winning proposal.

The same thing could happen to any of us. If you don’t direct your thoughts in a way that creates positive emotions, you undermine your ability to act the way you want to act, do the things you want to do, and sustain effort toward your goals and dreams.

Undirected Thoughts Create Unintended Results

Amy’s undirected thoughts were creating the unintentional path she was on, leaving her feeling out of control.

Here’s how Amy learned to apply The STEER Method to identify her negative thoughts and steer her self-talk in a healthier, more productive direction.

S – Situations Stir Up Thoughts

Amy’s situation was her new business opportunity.

When using The STEER Method, always state the situation in a neutral way, devoid of all opinion. Doing so underscores that it’s not other people or circumstances that cause you pain, it’s how you choose to think about them.

T – Thoughts Create Emotions

I asked Amy to identify her most troubling thought (the exact sentence in her head) about the situation, her new business opportunity. Amy identified her most upsetting thought as, “This client is too big for our company, and we might bomb if we get this contract.”

When using STEER, name just one thought at a time (or two tightly related ones). You can always come back and use the method on additional thoughts. Start with the most distressing thought.

E – Emotions Lead to Effort

I asked Amy to close her eyes and think her specific thought, then notice what emotions washed over her. After a few moments of silence, she said, “It makes me feel defeated and anxious. I can actually feel my heart starting to pound.”

OK then. Sheesh! With thoughts and feelings like this, it’s no wonder Amy had been having trouble getting off the dime. These scary emotions were bound to make it difficult to apply much effort toward writing a winning business proposal.

In this step, limit your list to the one or two most crippling emotions caused by the specific thought identified above.

E – Effort Leads to Results

Even though she was falling farther and farther behind, Amy found herself incapable of exerting effort on the proposal. Instead, she distracted herself with comfort food, shopping, and weekend travel. She avoided work and even took some sick days. When she was at work, she focused on projects that were less important but satisfying.

Identify as many action steps as you can think of, representing all the effort you make (or fail to make) when you feel the emotions identified.

R – Results Chart Your Course in Life

What outcomes could Amy expect if she continued the current, undirected course? Amy would either not finish the bid or turn in inferior work. The results might include not winning the new account, hurting morale among her employees, setting a poor example for her sales reps, gaining weight, wasting money on impulse purchases, and losing more self-confidence.

Identify all the possible outcomes, real or imagined, that might result from the actions taken and efforts made.

Directed Thoughts Create Desired Results

When using the STEER Method, what happens next is almost magical in its simplicity. But don’t let that fool you. Simple ideas can be very powerful. (And don’t confuse simple with easy. Rewiring your brain takes sustained effort. But when you’re ready, directing your thoughts can create amazing transformation.)

Amy was ready to interrupt and replace the old, undirected thought pattern and create different, more positive results.

S – Situations Stir Up Thoughts

Amy’s situation is still her business opportunity.

The situation does not change. It is exactly the same. Again, the problem is not in the situation, but in how you think about it.

T – Thoughts Create Emotions

Now Amy needed to identify a new thought—one she could genuinely believe—to replace her old, automatic thought. Amy took time to craft her replacement thought. It needed to represent something that Amy knew in her gut to be true. Her new thought was, “I have always grown my business by taking on big challenges, and I have always figured it out.”

You need to find a thought that is true for you right now, one you can authentically believe in at this moment. Choosing a thought you don’t believe creates cognitive dissonance. You’ll just end up rejecting the new thought and falling back into the comfortable old thought.

E – Emotions Lead to Effort

When she closed her eyes and thought the new thought, the emotions that washed over her were far more positive. “OK, that’s better,” she said. “This thought makes me feel more competent and confident.”

Close your eyes and pay attention to the emotions that the new thought brings up. List the strongest two or three emotions the new thought creates.

E – Effort Leads to Results

What kind of effort—and what action steps—could Amy make if she felt more competent and confident? Amy made a long list: “I can ask the team for help. We can brainstorm how to divide up the work and how to find additional resources if we need them. I can finally write the proposal.” She also thought she would be able to stop her destructive coping mechanisms of over-spending and comfort eating.

List the likely efforts you’ll make now that you are feeling more positive emotions. List as many action steps or behaviors as you can think of. Which activities you will start and which will you stop?

R – Results Chart Your Course in Life

Amy then identified her expected results. She would be inspired by her work and have more creative energy again. She would gain valuable insight and engagement from her team by including them in the process. She would gain experience she could immediately share with her sales staff. She would stop gaining weight and stop overspending. And if it wasn’t too late, they might even get the new business.

List all the possible outcomes when you are consistently directing your thoughts and feeling empowered to apply effort to the situation.

After completing The STEER Method, Amy felt optimistic for the first time in weeks. Of course, just thinking the new thought a few times wasn’t enough.

From Runaway Brain to Trained Brain

It takes perseverance, practice, and intentionality to retrain your brain. Amy practiced her new thought day after day and, in time, replaced the old negative thinking. Despite weeks of prior procrastination, Amy focused her team and herself to meet the deadline for the business proposal.

Photo of team collaboration sessionUnfortunately, there simply wasn’t enough time to produce the quality work she was capable of. Amy’s company did not get the new account. Though disappointed, Amy refused to give in to negative thinking again.

Using The STEER Method, Amy directed her thoughts about losing the business opportunity. Instead of beating herself up, she focused on what she had learned and how she could propel herself and her team forward.

Amy beefed up her own leadership skills and challenged her sales staff. Together, they are actively pursuing new, larger clients. Amy continues to do the hard inner work of STEERing her thoughts and has taught her team to do the same.

Next Steps for Your Own Runaway Brain

I have created a free template you can download to practice The STEER Method yourself. Feel free to make copies and use it until you’ve got it down pat. It won’t be long before you can work it from memory on scrap paper or cocktail napkins when you need to.

If you’d like more help when it comes to clearing out negative thinking, managing your emotions, and creating better results, I’m starting a six-week beta group to help me develop a new online course. As part of the beta group, you’ll get a much-reduced rate and my never-ending gratitude for helping me refine the course content. It will never be this cheap again, and space is limited. To get more information, email me here, and let me know you are interested in the beta group.

Or, if like Amy, you want immediate, individual support, consider private coaching. Contact me to answer any questions. I’ll be happy to help you determine if coaching is a good fit for you.

How to STEER Your Runaway Brain, Part 1

“I can’t help it, I feel like a fat, lazy cow,” Amy told me as we began our first coaching session. “No matter how determined I am to be more disciplined, I keep blowing it.”

Despite the fact that she runs her own million-dollar business with devoted employees and has successfully raised a child and sent him off to college, Amy had fallen prey to negative self-talk and a “runaway brain.” Now, she felt increasingly powerless to make changes and stick to them.

Amy came into coaching to stop a downward cycle that began when she was asked to bid on an important new contract. Unfortunately, early in the negotiations, her potential new client questioned Amy’s abilities to take on the scope of the project. This planted some vicious seeds of doubt in Amy’s mind.Question mark

Instead of digging in and putting together a killer proposal, something she’d been able to do in the past, Amy focused on the client’s concerns. After all, she’d never handled an account this big before.

What if the client is right? What if my company is too small. What if I get started and can’t deliver? What if I fail? What if I humiliate myself and my team? Who do I think I am bidding on this thing?

These questions, left unchallenged in Amy’s mind, sent her brain into overdrive as it attempted to provide convincing answers. That’s how our brains work. Give them a little bit of negativity to work with and off they go, speeding ahead without permission.

Your Brain Confirms Your Bias

When you ask yourself questions, your brain collects “evidence” from stored memories and current observations to provide answers. If you ask negative questions, like Why am I so stupid?, you get negative answers.Blocks that spell fake and fact

Known as confirmation bias, our brains help us confirm our assumptions—whether positive or negative—by embracing and gathering evidence for those assumptions, while at the same time ignoring (or rejecting) opposing evidence that our beliefs may not be true. Over time, negative thoughts get hard-wired in as limiting beliefs and become self-fulfilling prophecies.

And that’s what was happening to Amy. Whenever she sat down to work on the proposal, her brain began a stealth mission to find evidence for why her negative thoughts were true, dragging up memories of her mistakes and failures while ignoring all the many successes she’d accomplished.

This barrage of inner, mental criticism made her feel edgy and inept.

Negative Coping Skills

Amy found comfort in food, distractions like shopping, and even spending a weekend out of town with friends instead of putting in the hours needed to win the new account. She began gaining weight and taking sick days from work, something she’d never done in the past.

Amy’s runaway brain saw this procrastination as new evidence that she wasn’t capable of handling the new contract. Amy’s thoughts focused on this as “fact,” leaving Amy feeling out of control and a little panicky. She beat herself up about everything now, including her weight, her lack of self-control, and her low energy level.

Feeling like an undisciplined, “fat, lazy cow,” she called me to set up a series of coaching appointments.

Amy expected me to put her on a diet and help her set business goals; instead, we focused on her thoughts, her brain, and her self-talk.

Inner Chatter Matters

Many self-help gurus urge you to “take massive action,” to solve performance problems. Their idea is to jump-start your momentum so you feel motivated to keep going. And while that might help temporarily, it rarely provides long-term success.

You can’t “white knuckle” your way into self-control over the long haul.

Every diet you’ve ever started and failed tells you this. You can’t “white knuckle” your way into self-control over the long haul. Only changing your thought patterns and self-talk will do that.

Why? Because how you talk to yourself matters, and in fact, it matters so much that you can change just about anything you want to change about yourself when you learn to tame your brain and manage your thoughts properly.

Inner Change Creates Outer Change

In his classic best-seller, Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life, Brian Tracy says the most important principle he has discovered is that your outer world is a reflection of your inner world and that you become what you think about most of the time.

If you believe yourself to be self-controlled, organized, and disciplined, those qualities get reflected in your outer world. And the opposite is also true.Woman staring into space

Until she was able to identify and correct negative self-talk, Amy would continue to give free rein to her self-doubt, giving it increasing power to derail her success.

And while this sounds simplistic, it’s based on some rather compelling brain science. Let’s talk about why you should learn to steer your runaway brain.

How Beliefs are Born

Search the internet, and you’ll find estimates of the number of thoughts we think each day to be in the tens of thousands. That’s a lot of inner chatter.

If you listen to anyone speak that many words to you all day long, day in and day out, they are bound to have an influence. And indeed, your own thinking patterns have a profound impact on you, whether you realize it or not.

Beliefs are opinions to which you’ve developed loyalty.

—Rick Carson

Repeated thoughts become beliefs. And as one author puts it, beliefs are opinions to which you’ve developed loyalty. It doesn’t mean they are true; it just means you are devoted, perhaps unconsciously, to believing them to be true. There’s a biological reason for this.

Thoughts are Things

Neurologically speaking, thoughts are physical things. When you think a thought, you express proteins and other neurochemicals that create a neural pathway, which is a physical structure in the brain. Your thought has literally changed the geography of your brain. With each repetition of that same thought, you reinforce and strengthen the neural pathway.

The more you think the thought, the more automatic it becomes.Brain with neural connections

When you choose to take action on the thought, that action-decision also lays down a pathway, and these thoughts and actions become connected. Keep it up, and you create whole systems of neural connections, based around your thoughts, that trigger and reinforce one another.

Without intentional direction, these automatic, runaway thoughts can run your life.

Amy was thinking negative thoughts that revved up her brain and triggered negative coping activities such as escaping to comfort food or the mall. These neural connections were getting stronger and stronger, wiring in habit patterns and making it more difficult to change.

And on top of all that, there’s another important chain reaction to be aware of.

The Chain Reaction That Drives Results

The chain reaction works like this: Thoughts lead to emotions. Emotions lead to actions. And actions, taken consistently, create results.

The first step in the chain, thoughts lead to emotions, is particularly sneaky. To us, it feels as if emotions hit us out of the blue—especially negative emotions. It feels like they happen to us, not that we cause them ourselves.

For example, have you ever accidentally come across a photo of an old boyfriend or girlfriend? Suddenly, the memory of that old flame, someone you haven’t thought about in ages, brings with it deep emotion. The thoughts make you feel sad, regret, guilty, angry, or whatever.Woman thinking deeply

The point is, two seconds before you found the picture, you felt fine. Now that you’re thinking about that old relationship, you’re feeling something else. Again, thoughts lead to emotions.

Once you understand that your emotions are not in control of you, but that your own thoughts control your emotions, you can begin to self-manage unwanted emotions more successfully.

I’m not saying it’s easy. Some emotions are very powerful and hard to manage because the thoughts behind them are so deeply ingrained. But the starting place is with managing your thoughts.

Emotions Lead to Action

Next up in the chain reaction is that emotions lead to actions. How you feel has a lot to do with how you respond and behave.

There’s a reason football players hype themselves up right before a game. They huddle up, jump up and down as a group, shouting “win, win, win” and patting each other on the butt. They know that if they feel like winners, they’ll act like winners on the field.Football team in a huddle

The same idea applies to public speakers and other professionals. One speaker I know asks her husband to give her a “shower of compliments” right before she does her live online presentations. She knows that how she thinks about herself impacts how she’s going to show up to her audience.

When you feel good, you do good. When you feel like crap, it’s easier to take the path of least resistance and do what makes you feel better in the moment.

For Amy, thoughts like, “I don’t really know what I’m doing. I suck at this,” while working on her proposal made her feel inadequate and anxious. (Thoughts lead to emotions.) That anxiety led to escaping the discomfort by shopping, stress eating, and otherwise distracting herself. (Thoughts lead to actions.)

As she continued the chain reaction of thoughts, emotions, and actions, Amy was creating results that she didn’t like. That’s the final step in the chain reaction. Actions taken consistently lead to results.

Amy’s results were that the proposal remained incomplete, her deadline was looming, and both her physical and emotional health were suffering.

The STEER Method

An old adage says, “If you talked to your friends the way you talk to yourself, you wouldn’t have any friends.”Guide to Better Self-Management eBook cover

So, how do you stop negative self-talk and your runaway brain? How do you develop the type of inner chatter that supports you in doing or becoming anything you set your mind to?

I’ve created a scientifically based tool called The STEER Method that helps you identify negative thinking and steer your self-talk in a healthier, more productive direction. The STEER Method is part of a suite of coaching tools I use to help clients clear out negative thinking, manage their emotions, and get better results.

If you don’t like how you are feeling or how you are acting, you have to change something. The STEER Method shows you how. I’ll describe the process in my next blog post.

While you’re waiting, you can learn more about The STEER Method by downloading my Guide to Better Self-Management, a free, four-part eBook.

Get Out of Your Funk and Feel Better Fast. Then Look Deeper.

Years ago, I went to the doctor because I felt like crap, and I wanted to feel better. But I wasn’t sick. I just wasn’t myself, and I wasn’t operating at full potential. Not even close.

That doctor visit (and the one after it) had a profound effect on the way I deal with my own emotional health and that of my clients. When I went in to talk to the doc that day, I thought I might be suffering from depression.

It was more than what one of my clients calls a “funk.” A funk is when you’re not in your normal groove for a few days, and it’s uncomfortable.

A Funk is Uncomfortable, But Not Serious

We’ve all been in funks before—nothing too serious but still something you want to remedy.

You know what I’m talking about. A funk is when you feel a little flat, a little off. It’s when you feel a little moody, or you have no energy. Your “get up and go” has gone.

Perhaps you’ve overdone it with sugar over the past few days, and now you’re paying the price physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Or maybe your thoughts are looping around a particular worry. There’s a situation in your life that’s keeping you up at night.

Does any of this sound familiar?

The great news about being in a funk is you can usually take a few steps and feel better almost immediately.

9 Steps Out of a Funk

For a funk, you don’t need a doctor; you need an action plan. Here are the steps I recommend to feel better fast (24 hours or less).


No sugar or flour for at least 24 hours. The goal here is to stabilize your mood by stabilizing your insulin level, especially if you’ve been eating poorly. Focus on consuming clean, nutrient-dense food, including moderate protein and plenty of good, quality fats (e.g., coconut oil, avocados, nuts, etc.). Stay away from processed foods today, and stick with non-starchy veggies and low-sugar fruits such as berries.


Drink half your body weight in ounces of water today. Even mild dehydration can affect your mood, energy level, and ability to think clearly.


Do some form of exercise for at least a few minutes today. Don’t overdo it! Just move. Try turning on your favorite music and dancing to it for a few songs. I’ll bet you’re smiling and sweating pretty quickly.


If possible, go outside and take a brisk walk in the sunshine. Both walking and sunlight are known to increase your levels of serotonin, the feel-good hormone.


Create a gratitude list on paper and read it to yourself. Post it where you’ll see it a few times today. This shifts your perspective from negative to positive, helping you focus on what’s going right in your world.


Breathe deeply (from your belly) at least 10 times, slowly and mindfully, several times today. Deep breathing helps relieve stress and anxiety by inhibiting stress-hormone production and by triggering a relaxation response in the body.


Accomplish something today. Create a list of baby steps, and do them. This releases the hormone dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter in the brain associated with motivation and focus. Lack of dopamine is associated with fatigue, apathy, difficulty focusing or concentrating, sugar cravings, and insomnia.


Get a minimum of seven hours of sleep tonight. Again, regulating your hormones depends on getting adequate sleep. Just one night can make a huge difference in your sense of well-being.


Spend some time in prayer. Prayer has been positively associated with health and well-being, especially if you believe a loving God is listening.

These nine steps should put a big dent in your funk. Once you’re feeling better, you can make additional decisions about your own self-management and self-care.

What If It’s More Than a Funk?

If you do the steps above with no real sense of improvement, or if you can’t even make yourself do the steps, the question becomes are you experiencing something deeper than a funk?

And if it’s something deeper—how deep is it?

There’s an important distinction you must make when you feel crappy and want to feel better: Do you need professional help, or is this something you can self-manage?

Let me make this simple for you.

Signs You Need Help Now

If you are feeling hopeless, desperate, or in crisis; if your condition is impairing your ability to function in daily life; if it’s been going on every day for two weeks or more, then stop reading this, and pick up the phone. It is time to get help. Begin by contacting your doctor or a mental health professional to get back on track.Man holding head in hands

You might also need a counselor or therapist to deal with issues from your past that need to be addressed and resolved before you can genuinely feel better and move forward.

Go ahead and do it. Invest in yourself.

On the other hand, if what you’re feeling is more than a funk but less than a clinically diagnosable disorder, where does that leave you?

How Stress Nearly Did Me In

It may leave you where I was when I finally went to the doctor all those years ago. I didn’t know at the time that what I was facing could have been self-managed. I didn’t know then what I know now about brain science and rewiring my own brain.

You see, at the time, I was incredibly stressed out.

The word stress scratched on paper

I was putting together plans for my coaching practice. The financial risk was high, and going into business for myself with two teenagers at home and college fees looming was scary. But I loved coaching and felt absolutely called and equipped to take on the challenge. You’d think I’d be focused and energized, right? But I wasn’t.

Instead, I couldn’t gain traction. I needed to take consistent, massive action, and, instead, I was easily distracted and confused. I completely stalled out. And I let negative thinking and fear take over. These evil twins just about did me in.

Pretty soon, I was questioning everything. My confidence was shot. Despite my love for coaching, I couldn’t gin up the energy and enthusiasm I needed to properly build my business. What was going on?

My kids also needed my attention, but I was preoccupied with my own anxiety. So I’d fake it, smiling and nodding at them as they talked but inwardly feeling inept and sure I was the world’s worst mother.

I Wired In a Habit of Escape

In those days, I was only beginning to learn about the brain, the mind, and how thoughts produce emotions and can impact all of life. All I knew was that I was losing ground.

Woman eating popcorn watching tv

More days than not, I used television and sugar as my anesthetic. I didn’t want to feel the unpleasant feelings of anxiety and depression; I didn’t want to feel stressed and pressured. So I didn’t. Instead, I numbed out.

I didn’t realize I was wiring in a habit of giving up, slinking to the couch, and using food and mindless television to avoid pain. The more I thought scary thoughts about the stress I was under, the more I felt anxious, and the more I resorted to my escape—the habit pattern I was adopting.

The results: My business and my emotional health were sinking.

Why Couldn’t I Fix This?

It took a lot of courage for me to finally tell my physician I needed help. Revealing this was uncomfortable on a lot of levels.

For one thing, I’m a pretty devoted Christian and active in my faith. Why couldn’t I pray my way out of this? For another, as a new coach, admitting I couldn’t manage my own emotions felt somehow fraudulent, as if I was an imposter.

And finally, I had and still have a core belief that I should be able to maintain my health with proper nutrition and exercise, or with some other natural approach. So why was I failing so miserably?

Defeated and strongly encouraged by a family member to go to the doctor, I finally made an appointment. Once there, I explained my symptoms and that I believed I was depressed.

The Pharmaceutical Approach

At first, my physician was reluctant to give me an antidepressant, which I appreciated. She talked about other things to try first—counseling, for example. She was not half as reluctant to give me drugs as I was about taking them. I let her know that in no uncertain terms.

Funnily enough, as soon as I started talking about NOT wanting drugs, she became insistent that I needed them. Well, that was confusing. But effective. If she was convinced, maybe I should be, too. I took the prescription.

Bottle of prescription pills

And it helped a little, for a while. The SSRI prescription, while helpful to some, only gave me a gentle lift for a short period of time, then seemed to stop working altogether. My doctor’s suggestion was to increase the dose. But that didn’t work either. In fact, it made me feel worse.

Thank God, it was about that time that I discovered the work of Dr. Caroline Leaf, a cognitive neuroscientist with a PhD in Communication Pathology specializing in Neuropsychology. Her approach changed my life and has strongly informed the development of my coaching practice.

The Brain Approach

Dr. Leaf is the one who taught me the undeniable power of my thoughts on my physical and emotional health. And knowing that has made all the difference in my own approach to wellness.

Letting those scary, negative thoughts (Dr. Leaf calls them “toxic thoughts”) about business and my insecurities as an entrepreneur remain unchallenged produced a network of neural pathways in my brain that had become “wired in.” Those negative thoughts became automatic, almost undetectable.

With each scary thought came a dose of cortisol, a powerful stress hormone, giving me a sense of general dread and anxiety. I was literally scaring myself with my thoughts.

Colorful brain

Dr. Leaf teaches that we actually damage our brains when we ruminate on pessimistic, negative thoughts.

Her work highlights the differences between the brain and the mind, promoting the idea that we can change the biology of our brain (our brain health) with our own thoughts and decisions.

Dr. Leaf doesn’t agree with simply labeling anxiety and depression as diseases caused by chemical imbalances and then treating them with medication. She does believe in doing the hard work of rewiring your own brain.

And now that I’ve rewired my own brain, I agree with her.

Rewiring My Brain for Emotional Health

Nowadays, when I’m in a funk, I pay greater attention. Yes, the nine steps described above do help, and I use them. But I’ve learned to look behind the funk and strategically examine my thought life.

Behind a funk, there is always—always—some stinking thinking. And I no longer leave that unchallenged.

Moreover, I’ve learned to play offense when it comes to my thought life. I apply daily, practical methods to intentionally create the thoughts, decisions, emotions, actions, and results that serve me well.

“Behind a funk, there is always—always—some stinking thinking.”

By properly managing my thought life, I am becoming the best version of myself. In this version, I am able to take on the things I believe I was put on this earth to do. Not perfectly, of course, but with steady progress and joy.

Life Without Pharmaceuticals

That antidepressant prescription is a thing of the past for me. It took me months to get off of it safely, under a doctor’s supervision. (Never stop taking a prescription drug without your doctor’s help. It is dangerous.)

Now, I rely on the tools I’ve created in MasterPeace Living. Learning to manage your thoughts is central to proper self-management and crucial to healthy mental and emotional health.

If what you’re dealing with is more than a funk, but less than a diagnosis, go grab my Guide to Better Self-Management, the freebie I give away on my website. It gives you four exceptional tools you can begin to use immediately to feel better in the next seven to 10 days. Enjoy!

Imposter Syndrome: Signs, Symptoms, and 6 Steps Out

“It’s just so good to have a name for what I’ve been experiencing,” Annette told me recently.1

Annette came into coaching to help launch her new consulting business. What she discovered along the way is that she suffers from Imposter Syndrome (IS), a term coined by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in the 1970s.

These researchers found that despite ample external evidence of achievement, some people suffer from pervasive feelings of self-doubt and are unable to internalize their accomplishments. It can leave them feeling less competent or intelligent than other people think they are and paralyzed from moving forward.

Feeling Less Intelligent or Competent Than Others Think I Am

People with IS are sure they don’t deserve their success; They feel like frauds, and they live in fear of being found out. This can happen to the brightest and best among us.Photo of doctor

An experienced physician, despite excellent performance reviews, is riddled with anxiety, “knowing” she’s not really qualified. A world-renowned author of 11 bestsellers can’t enjoy her success, convinced she’s just been lucky. A corporate executive works more hours than anyone else, unable to delegate or leave anything to chance, yet is never satisfied that she’s done enough.

These smart, capable people suffer from lousy thought habits that impact even high achievers. Left unchallenged, the syndrome traps its victims in low self-esteem, rendering them incapable of reaching their true potential.

Left Unchallenged, IS Disrupts Your True Potential

For Annette, the constant second-guessing of her abilities led to feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. To escape the discomfort, she resorted to comfort foods and other distractions. She found herself in a downward spiral of unhealthy thought patterns and coping mechanisms that included sugar cravings, binge-watching television, and over-sleeping.

“I think I’m depressed,” she ultimately admitted. “I just can’t get going and stay focused.”

Imposter Syndrome had done a number on Annette, leading her to believe that, despite plenty of evidence that she is creative, intelligent, and a hard worker, no one would take her seriously in her new role as a consultant.

Annette is not alone.

Prevalent Among High Achievers

Group of business execsFirst thought to be more prevalent among women, further research indicates that about 40 percent of all high achievers, regardless of gender, suffer from the syndrome, and 70 percent of all people will be affected at some point in their careers. The syndrome affects people of all ages, races, and occupations, and it impacts men and women in roughly equal numbers. In another example, a 2018 study of medical students found that 60 percent suffered from severe or very severe symptoms.

A study by the University of Salzburg found those experiencing IS were paid less, promoted less frequently, and were less satisfied in their work. IS has also been associated with burnout and turnover.

Common Signs and Symptoms

While Imposter Syndrome is not recognized as a clinical diagnosis, it has been getting greater attention in recent years. That attention is helping those who suffer to find a way out.

In fact, the moment I mentioned to Annette that Imposter Syndrome might be why she was having so much trouble moving forward, she felt immediate relief that she was not alone in experiencing the following common signs and symptoms:

  • Anxiety and/or depression
  • Fear of failure
  • Perfectionism
  • Overworking
  • Procrastination
  • Never feeling good enough
  • Self-doubt
  • Lack of confidence
  • Discounting personal achievements and accomplishments
  • Negative self-talk
  • Feeling defective or inadequate
  • Unable to let go of past failures or mistakes
  • Fear of being exposed as a fraud

While these symptoms can seem to come out of the blue, the syndrome is believed to have its roots in childhood. A triggering event in adulthood may bring on the symptoms.

Causes and Contributing Factors

If you were raised in a home where high standards of achievement were expected, or where praise was withheld unless perfection was reached, you are a candidate.

If you were raised by a perfectionistic parent with their own set of impossibly high standards, even well-intentioned criticism (“That was a good effort, Honey, but I know you’re capable of so much more,”) could lead to feeling never quite good enough.

Some experts think social media contributes to feelings of inadequacy. We measure our reality – warts and all – against the photo-shopped perfection of carefully-crafted images displayed by our friends and colleagues.

A Triggering Event May Bring On Symptoms

The syndrome may lay dormant until a triggering event brings it to the surface, such as entering a new role, like Annette who’s starting a business, or entering college or a graduate program.

Simply feeling ignored or disrespected in a team meeting could trigger feelings of inadequacy and the spiraling, looping thoughts of self-doubt and isolation that are the hallmarks of Imposter Syndrome.

Another trigger might be a human mistake or actual job failure. For a candidate of IS, the impact can be devastating.

Annette is an example. She has impressive industry experience as a financial analyst. Unfortunately, early in her career, she was fired from a job by an unscrupulous employer. And although she was advised that she had a wrongful termination case, she couldn’t see beyond her own failure. She was traumatized with shame.

Now that she’s starting her own consulting business, crippling self-doubt has set in.

Whatever the cause, if you think you’re an imposter and in danger of being found out as a fraud or you’re scared that you’re not as smart as other people are expecting you to be, the problem is in the thinking patterns that have become normalized for you over time.

Your Brain Scans for Negative Evidence

Perhaps without even realizing it, you’ve established well-ingrained habits of toxic thought. Over time and subtly, you’ve discounted everything positive about yourself and your accomplishments and instead have focused on any possible evidence that you are inadequate.Woman with headache

In other words, you’ve trained your brain to scan for negative evidence, and your brain is happy to comply. That’s what our brains do. They help us “prove” our thoughts by scanning for evidence that what you think is true, actually is.

For example, if you have an underlying thought that you are not as smart and capable as everyone thinks you are, your brain will build a body of evidence to support that thought.

So let’s say you were a day late in paying a bill. Your brain will offer that up as evidence that you are an irresponsible human being. A healthier and non-toxic thought would be to simply acknowledge that you had made a mistake and corrected it as soon as possible, which is what successful, responsible people do.

But that’s not what your brain is scanning for. It’s looking for evidence that you are not very smart or capable. So it discounts anything positive.

Later that day, you trip over a rug. Your brain says, “See, you’re an idiot,” as opposed to thinking how successfully agile you are that you caught yourself and didn’t break your neck.

A few hours later, a co-worker rushes past you in the hall and doesn’t say hello. Your brain offers up thoughts that she doesn’t think much of you or that she’s discovered that you’ve done something stupid. A non-toxic thought would guess she was having a bad day or was late to an appointment, but that’s not the mission your brain is on. It’s looking for the negative.

Your brain will continue to gather evidence that you are an incapable, unsuccessful person until you interrupt the thought pattern.

If You Think Toxic Thoughts, You’ll Feel Toxic Emotions

Meanwhile, thoughts lead to emotions. And if you’re thinking you’re a screw-up, what kind of emotions are you going to be feeling?

Bad ones! Thoughts lead to emotions, and emotions lead to actions.

This is the downward spiral Annette was experiencing. Her thoughts, left unchallenged, led to feelings of depression and fear that no one would take her seriously and that her new business would never get off the ground.

That fear led to actions of escape – overeating, wasting time, and numbing the pain however she could. Fearing failure, she rationalized herself into never stepping forward.

The results were that she postponed her business launch and felt more and more inadequate to the task. Thoughts lead to emotions and emotions lead to actions.

So what’s the answer? How do you begin to step out of the thinking patterns that hold you in bondage? You’re going to have to “do battle” with some deeply ingrained beliefs about yourself.

Six Steps Out of Imposter Syndrome

When I coach someone with Imposter Syndrome, we spend time talking about the signs and symptoms they are experiencing and how these are interfering. Often, the costs are high. Then, we take the following important steps.

 1. Get Out of Isolation

Talk about what you are experiencing and learn more about Imposter Syndrome. This can offer almost immediate stress relief from irrational fears. You are not alone.

2. Identify Your Achievements

Write an actual list of your accomplishments, achievements, and “wins” on paper. This begins your work in retraining your brain to find evidence of your competence. Post the list and refer to it daily.

3. Practice Gratitude

It may feel counterintuitive, but if you are suffering from Imposter Syndrome, it means you have already achieved a degree of success, even though you attribute it to luck or feel fraudulent about it. Lean into your accomplishments by acknowledging that they are something to be thankful for.

4. Identify Toxic Thoughts

This may take some time, but it is vitally important as you begin to rewire your thought patterns. You can start by identifying your feelings and simply asking, “What must I be thinking to feel this way?”

5. Interrupt Negative Thinking

I have several tools to help you take advantage of neuroplasticity and your brain’s ability to change. One of them, The STEER Method, is available in my free gift on my website. Get it here.

6. Practice Baby Steps

Celebrate progress rather than demanding perfection from yourself. Again, you are building a body of evidence that proves you are a responsible, capable, intelligent human being. This takes practice.

Does Any of This Sound Familiar?

Don’t let Imposter Syndrome steal another day of your life. Invest in yourself and your own mental and emotional well-being. If you are in emotional crisis, seek a mental health professional immediately. But if you are ready to step out of Imposter Syndrome and into a more productive and peaceful mindset, consider coaching. Take a baby step right now and learn more here.

1Name and identifying details changed for confidentiality.

Productivity and the Magic of Baby Steps

Ever been to one of those time-management seminars where the guru says something like, “Your first step is to get everything out of your brain and onto paper. Start by making a master list.”

So you do a massive brain dump, consulting your calendar and the sticky notes you’ve strategically placed all over your office, your bathroom mirror, and the dashboard of your car.

The result? Oh, you’ve got a master list all right. A gigantic monster of a master list. A really big, scary list of large tasks that all seem important.

Next, you are supposed to prioritize the list and then get started knocking things out. But in reality, what happens? Usually, very little. You know what you need to do, at least in theory, but getting started seems rather daunting.

That’s because it’s easy to get overwhelmed when we are confronted by multiple tasks that all seem important, all at the same time.

When Overwhelm Sets In, Productivity Shuts Down

When a task seems too big or too important, it’s easy for our thoughts to run amuck. What if we can’t get it done? Or if we screw it up? The mind loops in endless, fruitless circles and anxiety creeps in.

If we’re not careful, we end up distracted and off track before we ever get started.

This sense of overwhelm is behind a lot of addictive behavior that allows us to feel better at the moment but does nothing to help us gain traction to get important tasks accomplished. This includes stress-eating, binging-watching television, getting lost in computer games, shopping, et cetera. Pick your poison.

What doesn’t happen is productivity. And the longer you procrastinate, the greater the sense of pressure.

Baby Steps Make Tasks Seem More Approachable and Doable

Research indicates that if a large task has too many steps, say more than four or five, our brains won’t retain them. We draw blanks when trying to recall which step comes next in the process. Therefore, progress is interrupted each time we have to stop and figure out the next piece of the puzzle.

With each mental interruption, momentum shuts down. This represents an opportunity to give up, procrastinate, complain that things are taking too long, and head for the couch and the remote (or that pint of ice cream hidden behind the Brussels sprouts in your freezer).

On the other hand, when you take a large task, such as cleaning out the garage, and chunk it down into bite-sized steps, good things happen.

First of all, you get the large task out of your brain, where it has probably grown horns and become the devil, and you commit it to paper. Then you think to yourself, what is the first, tiny baby step I need to take in the process of getting this thing accomplished?

The Magic Begins on Paper

Write that baby step down. That becomes an action item on your to-do list. Instead of that big scary devil project, you now have this little tiny thing to do.

Photo of someone writing in notebook

Then keep listing the tiny things. These are your baby steps, and they are no longer in your brain causing stress. Your short-term memory can handle one thing at a time. It’s the complicated series of steps your brain rejects.

Don’t worry if you don’t know all the baby steps that will be required. They will come to you as you make progress checking things off your list as you do them. You can always add more baby steps as you go. Again, get them out of your head and onto paper.

In fact, it was those unknown steps that probably made the formerly big scary devil-task seem so confusing. You knew at the start that you didn’t really know how to get it done. So you got bogged down in fear or overwhelm.

But no more! You’re in the process of discovering the magic of baby steps.

When Baby Steps Are Too Big, Try Micro-Steps

Baby steps usually only take one step. But then again, if you feel yourself resisting a particular baby step for any reason, it’s probably because it can be broken down into what I call “micro-steps.”

What’s a micro-step? It’s a baby step broken down into even smaller bits. They can seem almost comical, but believe me; you’ll laugh yourself all the way to the end of your to-do list.

Once I had to call a company to discuss a complaint. That seemed like a simple enough baby step. But I couldn’t make myself do it. I kept procrastinating.

So I further broke that baby step into micro-steps. “Call the company” became: turn on the computer, search for the website, find the phone number for customer service, write down the things I want to say to them, find the invoice so I have the account information in front of me, dial the phone, ask for customer service, say the things, ask for a refund, and so on…

Turns out my original baby step had too many steps, and my brain couldn’t cope with all those tasks within a task.

Why Your Brain Loves Baby Steps

We’ve already talked about your short-term memory. If there are more than four or five steps to a task, they tend to fly right out of your brain, causing an interruption of momentum and an opportunity to get distracted and off track. A written list of baby steps keeps you focused and moving forward.

Yay for progress! But that’s not the only brain benefit.

Photo of a woman smiling in satisfaction at work

Another one is that every time you complete a task, your brain does a little happy dance. Well, not literally. But chemically speaking, your brain gets a little hit of happiness in the form of dopamine.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain associated with attention span, the ability to follow through, focus, and motivation. Your brain on dopamine is a brain that anticipates the pleasure associated with finishing a task and helps you move toward it.

Lack of dopamine is associated with fatigue, apathy, difficulty focusing or concentrating, sugar cravings, and insomnia.

Those are not good things when it comes to making any sort of headway on your to-do list. So let’s talk about how to hack your brain for dopamine production.

How to Boost Your Motivation With Dopamine

Actually, there are a lot of ways to boost dopamine production in the brain. Diet, exercise, and sleep help. But for our productivity purposes, you boost dopamine by training your brain to anticipate a reward.

In the case of baby steps, the reward is created by noticing and celebrating the completion of each baby step. I do this on paper because it gives me a big kick to see the check marks adding up and the progress being made.

(I’m a paper girl, but I recognize that some folks prefer to keep everything on their phone or tablet. So there are list-keeping apps you can try. One of them is Trello, but this is not an endorsement. I’ve never used it. Another is Todoist, which my daughter has used and loved for years. I just know you can find ways to track progress and get a digital dopamine hit, if you prefer.)

As you make check marks on your list, your brain gets that little shot of dopamine. Couple this with anticipating and focusing on the positive results you’re creating and soon your brain will be well-trained for motivation and getting things done.

For more information and a great tool for creating baby steps, click above to get my Guide to Better Self-Management: 4 Steps to More Comfortable Self-Control.

How to Practice Self-Love Without Being Selfish

Valentine’s Day is a great time to talk about self-love.

But first, we have to get the myth out of the way. The myth is that self-love is selfish. I read that somewhere recently. The author was associating self-love with narcissism, which is a serious psychological disorder with very little chance of recovery.

It’s a diagnosis characterized by self-absorption and self-centered thinking, allowing for little to no sense of empathy. Narcissists can come across as charming but tend to be rather cold and vain, constantly looking for external validation. That means they need you to endlessly stroke their egos and assure them that the universe does indeed revolve around them.

That’s certainly not what I think self-love is all about.

What is Self-Love Really?

Self-love is your ability to value and appreciate yourself, feel fulfilled, and have a sense of purpose. It allows you to connect deeply with others while maintaining your own dignity. It allows you to serve other people with no strings attached because your sense of worth and satisfaction comes from within.

Photo of a woman jumping with heart balloon

Self-love allows you to take responsibility for yourself, to bounce back when disappointed, and to make healthy changes. Self-love is about being grateful for how you are designed and wired. Gratitude allows you to leverage your strengths without arrogance.

It’s my contention that without self-love, you are left to search for love in all the wrong places. By practicing self-love, you can love others from the abundance of a full heart, not from a needy heart.

Make sense?

7 Steps to Practicing Healthy Self-Love

My Valentine’s gift to you includes seven self-love practices to adopt and three self-love enemies to eradicate. These are life-long practices you can begin today and work on bit by bit. As they become natural parts of your lifestyle, you’ll find self-love brings out the best in you.

1. Honor Your Body

It’s the only one you get. Do a quick inventory of the things you already know you need to do to take good care of yourself. For me, that includes stretching daily to increase flexibility and to prevent injury. It includes daily movement (I strive for 30 minutes a day). It means I choose my meals and treats with intention. I guard my sleep. And so on.

How about you? What are the two or three things you can do to honor your body starting today?

2. Mind Your Self-Talk

It pays to think about what you are thinking about. More than 50,000 thoughts can fly through your mind per day, and a substantial percentage of those tend to be negative.

If you keep repeating certain negative thoughts, they get hardwired in, and you begin not only to believe them, but also to act on them. Positive self-talk is critical to self-love, but it’s different from chanting positive affirmations to yourself.

Successfully managing your inner chatterbox takes focus and intention.

3. Feel Your Feelings

This is a huge undertaking because we humans hate to feel unpleasant feelings.

Instead, we try to numb them by overeating, consuming alcohol or other substances, shopping, getting lost in video games or television binge-watching, et cetera.

What are your personal avoidance tactics? Next time you feel an unpleasant emotion, sit with it a minute. Ask yourself what you really need at this moment. Consider the damage your previous coping mechanisms are causing and find a healthier way to get your needs met.

4. Protect Your Boundaries

Forming deep connections with other people is an important expression of self-love. But doing so requires healthy boundaries in every relationship, especially those in your inner circle.

For any relationship causing you stress, ask: Does this relationship represent mutual give and take, or am I doing all the giving? Is mutual respect demonstrated? Is there mutual kindness? Am I walking on eggshells? Am I able to be authentic with this person? Am I trying to change their behavior or reactions by my behavior? (That’s exhausting and unhealthy.) What would improve this relationship? What part of this change can I control?

5. Live On Purpose

Insist on living with a sense of achievement and purpose. Just because a job pays well doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Are you operating mostly from your strengths and natural abilities? How satisfied and balanced do you feel? Are you investing your time in something important to you? Are you allowing time in your life for your other priorities? Are your core values represented in the way you spend your time and money? Are you making contributions that allow you to feel connected, engaged, and purposeful?

6. Simplify Your Life

Don’t underestimate the energy-giving, life-affirming effects of decluttering and simplifying your physical environment. Getting organized has been associated with better eating and sleeping habits, reduced stress, improved mood, and even lowered risk of heart attack. It also can lead to increased productivity, improved cognitive ability, and creativity. Start with the piles on your desk or dedicate a Saturday morning to cleaning out your closet, and see for yourself.

7. Make Spirituality a Priority

To enjoy the benefits of maturity and harmony as a human being, make some space for spirituality in your life. For some, spirituality is simply a set of morals and ethics. I suggest that spirituality is also the meaning you assign to life and how you identify your role in that purpose.

For many of us, spirituality is founded upon faith in God. Research indicates that active participation in religion is associated with greater happiness. Meditation and prayer appear to lower cortisol, the stress hormone, and increase dopamine, the hormone associated with motivation, well-being, and joy.

3 Enemies of Self-Love to Eradicate

These enemies of self-love are not to be trusted. They will make subtle attempts to worm their way into your life, seeking to push you over the edge into self-loathing. Don’t allow it.

Stay alert and when they show up, do battle!

1. Perfectionism

Allow yourself to be imperfect. Welcome to the human race! Perfectionism seems noble but is really bondage to unrealistic expectations. It’s an ego problem and an internal task-master, driving you to never feel good enough.

Perfectionists can be high achievers who are never satisfied, or they can suffer from procrastination, unfinished projects, unmet goals, and analysis paralysis (never getting started, or as one of my friends puts it, always commencing to commence). Perfectionism and low self-esteem go hand in hand.

2. Comparison

Accept yourself as a unique creation of God. The temptation to compare yourself to others is strong in our materialistic and appearance-obsessed culture. “Keeping up with the Joneses” is the American way. But comparison and its evil twin, competition, keep you from enjoying your custom-designed fabulousness.

At the beginning of a new venture, we tend to compare ourselves to some other person’s established success. Then, we focus on areas where we don’t measure up, completely overlooking our own strengths, experiences, and character qualities. Comparison triggers a shame response and disconnects us from other people.

3. Regret

Forgive yourself. Many of us have a certain amount of faith that God can forgive us, but we don’t know how to forgive ourselves when we’ve done something we regret.

The problem is the more we think about what we did wrong, the more we attach negative emotions to the memory. Now, every time we think of it, in comes the shame, embarrassment, self-anger, et cetera.

An interruption is necessary. Take steps to get that memory out of your head. Write it down. Think about what you’d tell someone else who confessed this to you. Show yourself the same grace, compassion, and kindness you would show your best friend.

Self-Love Isn’t Selfish

Is self-love selfish? Not the way I’ve described it. Self-love is what allows you to love others well as you become the best version of yourself.

As a self-management coach, I can help you create a full and rewarding life. I call it creating a life you love. To learn more, click below to receive my eBook, Guide to Better Self-Management: 4 Steps to More Comfortable Self-Control. Happy Valentine’s Day!

And the Beat Goes On: Choose to Move With the Rhythm of Life

I’m starting to recognize a pattern. Every year, it seems, I spin out of the chaotically wonderful Christmas season and fly forward, face first, into February.

January passes in a blur—annually. Does that happen to you?

Although I’m not a big believer in New Year’s resolutions, (see my previous post here), January does provide a month-long do-over of sorts. The previous year is firmly in the past, and January provides a nice, solid starting point for fresh focus.

As a life coach, I’m all about goals and forward progress.

Sure, I can help you take stock of what’s working and what’s not, take steps to create a life you love, and take control with proper self-management strategies, but I’ve also learned a thing or two about balance.

Mostly what I’ve learned is there’s no such thing. As soon as I think I’ve achieved it, something rises up to knock me out of whack.

Stop Striving for Life Balance

Instead, I’m learning to deal more honestly with the busy seasons of life. The result is I’m less likely to chuck my personal goals out the window in an effort to simply survive the stress.

For me, balance is out, and rhythm is in.

Rather than striving for perfect balance (or perfect anything), join me in learning to recognize the swing of the pendulum back and forth, in a rhythm of sorts, from busy to calm. Or, if the idea of calm seems too foreign, then from busy to less busy, less stressful.

There are rhythms to life that, if ignored, make forward progress unnecessarily unpleasant. As Scripture teaches, “To everything, there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

“To everything, there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.” — Ecclesiastes 3:1

For example, some months seem faster than others, like January does for me, and some seasons seem slower. Winter won’t end; summer won’t stay.

You know this. Launching a business or starting a new job seems like a fast-paced tango of never-ending details and pressures. It’s not the right season to take time off and lay on the beach.

As long as you don’t prolong neglect of the other priorities in your life—such as your health and your relationships—there’s nothing wrong with occasional imbalance.

Face it, there are times, for instance, when you’re training for a marathon, traveling to see a new grandchild, or tackling a huge project at work, that require you to give it all you’ve got.

So you keep pace with the crazy-fast beat and don’t hold back. Dance, baby, dance!

There’s no balance, and there’s very little sleep. What’s at stake in this season, in this swing of the pendulum, is more important than trying to keep everything in perfect order.

Even Slow Seasons Can Be Stressful

As long as the pendulum does eventually swing back and you can catch your breath, you’re good.

This is especially important when you are in one of those long, stressful life seasons. Having toddlers or teenagers in the house, for example, are years that can feel endless. Empty nest, on the other hand, can be another slow, incredibly stressful transition period.

And when the devastation of divorce, illness, or some other major loss occurs, it can feel as if time has stopped altogether as you attempt to put one foot in front of the other.

Any Rhythm Can Be Energizing or Exhausting

To properly manage your own well-being in these long seasons of imbalance, you have choices to make about how you’ll experience life’s rhythm.

Will you be energized or exhausted?

Here are five steps to help you enjoy the beat:

  1. RECOGNIZE the season of life you are in. Consider your age, business, and family. How is this season different from the previous one? How do your priorities need to come into alignment with the current situation?
  2. REEVALUATE your calendar and schedule and be ruthless. What can you delegate or eliminate altogether? It’s time to say no to even some of the good things so you can say yes to the best things—your top priorities and core values. If you try, I bet you can free up an extra few hours each week.
  3. Think about when you’ll REST, especially if things are faster-paced now. Five minutes of stretching at your desk, power naps on Sundays, and a once-a-month weekend away from home might make all the difference. Give your brain and your body a necessary change of pace.
  4. Identify the ROUTINES that are helpful to you, as well as those of which you need to let go. Do you really need to work out five nights a week? Maybe an earlier bedtime is in order. Are you eating out too much because you don’t plan your grocery list? What else is not working and needs to change.
  5. Incorporate supportive RITUALS into your life. Whether it’s date night with your honey or a regular night out with friends, rituals help mark time in a way that connects us, fills us, and energizes us. What rituals can you plan for the next birthday or anniversary? Build a legacy of memories.

And finally, watch this blog for more coaching concepts. Let the beat go on. You’ll have the self-management strategies you need. Keep dancing!

Pump Up Your Life With The Wellness Wheel

Have you ever had a flat tire? You are blissfully driving along until, all of a sudden, you hear that horrible ka-flunk, ka-flunk, ka-flunk sound.

Oh no. Please don’t let it be a flat tire. Please, please, please…

Dang it! That’s it. The day is officially screwed up, and until this thing is fixed, you’re going nowhere.

Let’s apply that metaphor to life: If you’re flat in one area, it affects your whole life. Life is no longer smooth, and now you have to take care of an issue.

Maybe your eating habits are out of control. Or you have a relationship that’s on the rocks. Maybe you’re no longer happy in your job. You know there’s a hole in your life, and the fun is leaking out.

Continuing with the metaphor, here’s a trick question: Can you keep driving on a flat tire?

Can You Keep Driving on a Flat Tire?

Most car people will tell you no, you shouldn’t keep going. But actually, you can keep driving, even with a hole in your tire, with two big consequences.

First, you’re in for a rough ride. Things are going to get bumpy. And the further you go, the less comfortable it gets. Second, you are going to do damage, probably permanent damage, to your car.

Graphic of a flat tire

It’s the same in life. If you have a big enough problem in one area, let’s say you are a stress eater and have gained 30 pounds, you are going to become less and less comfortable until you address it.

And if you ignore the problem and don’t deal with it, you can do real damage to yourself physically. Not only that, with continued inaction, you may damage other areas of your life as well.

That’s because you’re not just a physical creature. You are multi-faceted. Get stuck or bogged down in one area, and all other areas can suffer as well.

Take Inventory of Your Life with the Wellness Wheel

Let me introduce you to a concept that may be new to you. It’s called the wellness wheel. And although the idea is not original to me, my take on it can help you fix the flat areas of your life.

The Wellness Wheel

In my version of the wheel, you have seven distinct and important dimensions—or sectors—of life to monitor. These are the areas to manage and “pump up” to achieve optimum strength and well-being.

These seven dimensions are the mental, emotional, relational, physical, vocational, environmental, and spiritual parts of you.

That’s a mouthful, I know. Let me break it down.

  • Mental: How well do your mind and your thinking serve you? Negative self-talk can be subtle and disastrous.
  • Emotional: How are your feelings, coping skills, and ability to bounce back after becoming upset?
  • Relational: Are the important relationships in your life healthy? Do you have a sense of belonging and connectedness (versus isolation and loneliness)?
  • Physical: How are your health, weight, body image, and habits? This sector has everything to do with your ability to engage fully in your life.
  • Vocational: How is your sense of achievement and purpose? How do you use your time, and how satisfied and balanced do you feel? This sector also addresses your financial security.
  • Environmental: Do your personal space and material belongings contribute to a sense of security, serenity, and well-being? Is there clutter or simplicity? Do you feel safe, creative, and relaxed?
  • Spiritual: This aspect includes your sense of meaning, purpose, core values, identity, faith, morals, and relationship to a Higher Power. While sometimes forgotten or ignored, this aspect must be explored and honored if you are to enjoy full maturity and harmony as a human being.

The bottom line is that each of these areas can either support you in living a well-balanced, satisfying life, or they can get you out of whack in a big way. And when one sector is out of whack, the others suffer—which means you suffer.

Go Around the Wheel, and Check for Leaks

Here’s a little pop quiz: What are your top three stressors in life? What are the things that upset you the most or suck the energy out of you?

These can be the people, places, or things you most wish you could change. They can be the habits or circumstances that feel a little—or a lot—out of control.

They can be the biggest losses you’ve endured or any life changes that still upset or grieve you.

Got your top three problems in mind? OK, now go around the wellness wheel, and identify which sectors these problems affect. Are they causing damage in more than one dimension?

If you had to say how happy or satisfied you are with each of the seven sectors, how would you score them? On a scale of one to 10, how do rate each area?

Give yourself some honest answers about how your top stressors are causing damage all around the wheel. How flat is your tire?

Here’s the real question we all need to answer: Are you living a life you love?

Are You Living a Life You Love?

Despite the problem areas, can you authentically rate your sense of mastery and well-being in every area of your life as a nine or 10?

I hope so. I hope you love the life you are living, and I mean your whole life.

But if not, here’s what I know: Even one major stressor can suck the fun and energy out of all of life.

For example, let’s say you are unhappy at work. You’re getting more and more frustrated with your boss and his unreasonable demands.

You notice this is taking a toll at home as well; it’s making you irritable with your family. The stress is causing sugar cravings, and you find yourself in the habit of snacking after dinner and staying up too late watching TV. Now you’re even more tired at work. And you’re gaining weight and feeling pretty crappy about yourself. You find yourself withdrawing socially and generally going downhill.

Your work problem is causing issues all around the wellness wheel, making it harder and harder to stay positive in any area of life.

Make Progress in One Area, and You’ll Feel It In Others

The good news is once you turn things around in one area, the others are positively impacted as well. It’s worth examining your level of peace and mastery and satisfaction in every sector.

Why? Because how you experience your life hangs in the balance. Here’s how it worked out for one of my clients.

Cheryl contacted me to address her stress eating. She had gained weight and couldn’t seem to get it off. So we began with her point of greatest frustration, which was the physical dimension on her wellness wheel.

Photo of a woman eating a cupcake

First, we addressed her sugar cravings. By eliminating those, she enjoyed an immediate sense of better control over what she put in her mouth. The pounds started coming off.

When we looked around the wheel to see what else was going on for her, Cheryl acknowledged a big communication problem with her husband. She began to see that the relational part of her life was hugely contributing to stress eating.

When we addressed the communication problem with some practical steps to take, she and hubby slowly made important changes in their marriage.

That helped Cheryl relax at home and establish a new, healthy evening routine. She began to sleep better. When she was more rested, she found the energy to exercise.

Besides the obvious physical benefits, exercise helped balance her feel-good hormones and stabilize her emotional life. “I can feel those endorphins kicking in,” she reported after a few weeks in the gym. “I was getting so negative before, and now I’m a lot less moody.”

“I can feel those endorphins kicking in.”

Exercise also helped with the brain fog she’d experienced due to chronic stress. She was delighted that her mind cleared, and she was able to make decisions more quickly and without overthinking.

Soon, Cheryl reported greater confidence at work, crediting the mental clarity and emotional stability she was enjoying. She was functioning at a higher level, dealing with management issues more effectively and with less drama.

All of this supported her efforts at weight loss, and in about six weeks, she’d lost more than 15 pounds and reported much more joy and peace in her life.

In the weeks and months that followed, Cheryl found the energy and emotional strength to radically declutter and simplify her home, further reducing the stress in her life. Her physical environment was now serving her better.

Finally, Cheryl acknowledged that although her spiritual life was important to her, she had allowed stress to crowd out her priorities. She addressed this by returning to her church, joining a group of like-minded women who supported her spiritual journey, and spending more time in personal prayer and meditation.

Cheryl had started with her weight issue but hadn’t stopped there. She systematically used the wellness wheel to pump up the flat life she had been living.

How about you? Are you living a life you love? You can, you know.

Just like Cheryl, you can use the wellness wheel to pump up your own life. Learn more about the MasterPeace Living Wellness Wheel, and take a brief personal inventory when you click below to receive my Guide to Better Self-Management: 4 Steps to More Comfortable Self-Confidence.

I’d love to help you create the joyful, purposeful, abundant life you are meant to live.

Self-Management Strategies to Create Your Best Life

If you’re searching for how to live your best life now, or how to become the best version of yourself, you’re in good company. Those phrases are popping up everywhere in Google searches, self-help books, and ads flying across social media.

While I don’t have any idea how these phrases became so trendy so fast, I do have a theory about why they’ve caught on.

We all want to feel better. We all want to do better.

We want more control over the stress we feel and the busy schedules we face, and we want to live a more beautiful life of balance.

As a life coach for many years, I know folks are looking for ways to bring out the best in themselves. That’s why I created a coaching niche around the concept of self-management for my own practice.

I got the idea from the organizational model in business that pushes management responsibility out of the “ivory tower” boardroom and down to the actual employees doing the work. The model encourages personal responsibility for problem-solving, planning, prioritizing, building relationships, productivity, change, and results.

In business, self-management requires tremendous self-awareness and self-discipline. A common benefit of the model is a happier, empowered, engaged, and productive workforce.

We need that in our personal lives, too, not just in our careers. I’d argue that if you can’t achieve personal self-management, you can forget about performing well at work, at least not over the long haul.

So, I put together a coaching model built around the concepts imperative to personal self-management. These six principles form the basis of my coaching practice, MasterPeace Living, Inc.

The principles are self-awareness, self-care, self-direction, self-talk, self-confidence, and self-worth.

We’ll take a look at each of these briefly and see why they all add up to creating the best version of yourself, or, as I like to phrase it, creating a life you love.

Take Stock of What’s Working and What’s Not

The first principle, self-awareness, is about knowing what’s working in your life and what’s not.

If I asked you, “What are your top three stressors in life?” what would you say? Knowing the answer is a great start.

However, most people go immediately into fix-it mode, coming up with a to-do list a mile long to change the problem areas. Have you done this yourself? It’s the idea behind New Year’s Resolutions, most diets, and creating five-year plans. Here’s my problem; here’s what I’m going to do about it; ready, set, go!

And we go for a while. Then something happens; life gets in the way. We end up distracted, and all those good plans get sidelined.

We’re back to where we started, except now we feel a little worse about ourselves.

I suggest a deeper dive into what’s really going on, using an in-depth inventory of your life. See the Wellness Wheel diagram? The seven sectors shown represent a whole-life approach to building your best version of yourself.

The Wellness Wheel

In MasterPeace Living, we look at how problems are causing damage in any one part of life. Of course, that can be obvious. It gets murky when you’re faced with the bleed-over effects one area can cause in another.

Exploring these connections brings clarity about solving problems in a way that sticks.

And the inventory doesn’t stop there. We also look at each sector from the angle of those unspoken, inner standards driving you to do what you do.

Whether you are thriving or simply enduring in each sector depends on knowing and living in integrity with your own personal values. Too many of my clients are very busy living someone else’s best life, catering to others with little regard to personal cost.

Take Steps to Create a Life You Love

The second and third principles of MasterPeace Living, self-care and self-direction, provide the momentum for creating a life you love. Once problem areas are identified and standards are set, we equip you mentally, emotionally, and physically to get stuff done.

Self-care means giving top billing to your own mental, emotional, and physical health. If that sounds selfish to you, consider this: When you are the best version of yourself, you have the most to give to others. If you’re not at your best, what you contribute is also lacking. Healthy self-management means wellness for body, soul, and spirit.

Self-direction means staying focused and motivated. And frankly, staying motivated is tough when you no longer trust yourself to do the things you want to do. If you’ve ever sworn off sugar or chocolate or potato chips forever, and then crashed and burned yet again, you know what I mean.

We find ways to get the traction you need to get moving and set up guardrails to keep you on track. That includes accountability and support but also deals with old habits and ways you’ve sabotaged yourself in the past.

Take Control with Proper Self-Management

Self-talk, the fourth principle in my coaching model, allows you to see the relationship between how you think and how you experience life. With proper self-management techniques, you experience a greater sense of control over automatic, negative thinking. As you begin to rewire your brain in line with your goals, you find the energy, creativity, and optimism you need to live with greater intention.

The fourth principle of MasterPeace Living is self-confidence. Believing in yourself is crucial to healthy self-management, but that’s not easy to maintain in our hyper-critical, image-conscious, and materially based culture. And yet, building self-confidence is a skill you can learn.

Graphic illustrating the 6 principles of self-management

It’s a matter of retraining your brain and managing your mind. Using tools based on research by some of the world’s top neuroscientists, my coaching program helps you gain the skills to face any of life’s circumstances with greater confidence.

Our final principle, self-worth, explores your identity, your divine design, and your purpose in life. Here you discover how to operate from your God-given personality strengths and make the most of your life experiences, both good and bad. We look for patterns from your past that point to your personal mission. And we help you identify the people, places, and things you find worthy of investing your time and attention.

Creating the best version of yourself and living your best life are made possible by proper self-management. Your life was meant to be a masterpiece. Consider joining my coaching program, MasterPeace Living, so you can begin to create a life you love today.