I have a longstanding love-hate relationship with running. In the early mornings as I’m leaving my neighborhood, my brain screaming for coffee, the local roadrunners pedal their svelte legs and it looks so effortless. The ones who run in small groups especially catch my eye, chatting casually as their toned legs turn over in graceful arcs.

I stare, flooded with a mix of envy, admiration and shallow optimism. Maybe one day running might look that beautiful on me. But the reality is, when I find the courage to pull on my running shoes (because believe me, it takes courage to face this kind of pain), I look and feel nothing like them. My lungs burn and my body becomes obstinate, heavy and aching. And as my body rages it attacks my mind. My mind wills my body to move forward.  My body wills my mind to stop.

The very essence of human motivation is to avoid pain and seek pleasure.  Babies are born with an instinctual reflex to withdraw from noxious stimuli, like pain. When you touch a hot stove, your hand retreats before you have the conscious thought to move it. Pain is an incredibly important signal that alerts us to danger and keeps us alive.

So if running is painful, and pain is a signal to stop, what am I doing this for?

There is something beautiful about bearing witness to internal struggle and learning to tolerate discomfort. To lean into it.
There is something beautiful about bearing witness to internal struggle and learning to tolerate discomfort. To lean into it. To feel your body agonize and protest against the determination of the mind. To prove that you can overcome the part that is begging to stop and complete the task, no matter how difficult the path.

This battleground between pain and willpower is fodder for growth – mind, body and spirit. Learning to tolerate discomfort, pressure, and tension grants us the opportunity to accomplish things we might otherwise believe to be impossible.

Learning to tolerate discomfort, pressure, and tension grants us the opportunity to accomplish things we might otherwise believe to be impossible. 
Emotional pain like grief and anxiety is no different. Just as I am teaching my body to endure discomfort to achieve a goal, our hearts, minds, and spirits are equally important. Studies have found that the areas of the brain that become active when experiencing physical pain are also active during emotional pain like rejection or heartbreak. Pain is pain.

And that is why I run. It might not look pretty. But learning to tolerate discomfort builds resilience, confidence, and stamina. I run to prove myself wrong.

Whatever discomfort you are enduring, lean into it. Study it like a curious child. Challenge the negative thoughts. Persist in the face of adversity. Succeed anyway.

P.S. – I recently ran down one of those beautiful, ethereal runners (figuratively, of course). He laughed at me heartily, explaining if he didn’t feel challenged he wouldn’t still be running. He endures pain just like the rest of us mere mortals, but perhaps he has been leaning into the discomfort so long that it just feels more natural now.

8 Strategies for Improving Concentration and Attention

“Our society is sick. As a whole, we are suffering from the disease of distraction and business. We’re addicted to being overwhelmed and stretched thin. And our ability to concentrate, accomplish, and perform is suffering for it.” – Michelle Coombs, Ph.D.

We live in a society that can easily overwhelm and overstimulate our senses. And while there are many benefits to be gained from technology, the jury is still out on the long-term effects of so much stimuli.

So when a client mentioned they were struggling with memory problems, I wasn’t surprised. Who isn’t struggling to keep up with everything we’re juggling these days? Distractions surround us, To-Do lists grow longer each day, and it seems like we can never catch up.

The reality is, the vast majority have memories that work just fine! And the problem isn’t our capacity or ability to remember things, it’s actually a problem with concentration, attention and focus. In fact, I would argue that our society is sick. As a whole, we are suffering from the disease of distraction and business. We’re addicted to being overwhelmed and stretched thin. And our ability to concentrate, accomplish, and perform is suffering for it.

So without further ado, I’d like to share 8 tips for improving your concentration and attention in a world full of distractions. Try one or two on for size, and make sure you let us know whether you’re seeing improvements by implementing some (or all!) of these strategies.

Exercise – Get active! Most of us are living pretty sedentary lifestyles compared to just 50 years ago. Studies show that moderate exercise a few days per week can provide a bigger boost to memory/concentration than a cup of coffee in the short-term. The boost of energizing neurochemicals following exercise can have a pretty substantial impact on your day. So take walking breaks. Get a quick workout in during your lunch hour. Head to the gym on your way home from work. However you do it, make time and space for taking care of your body. It’s the only one you have!

Hydrate – A recent study found that even mild dehydration (so mild you wouldn’t even feel thirsty) can lead to reduced attention. So drink up! If you get tired of water, try drinking a naturally flavored seltzer water. Or try throwing in some sliced strawberries, cucumbers, or simply squeeze some lemon into your water bottle.

Reduce Distractions – Sounds impossible, right? But do whatever you can to cut out unnecessary distractions (phones, emails, people). If you carve out 2 hours to work on a report, close out your email, put your phone on silent (or better yet, put it in a drawer), and go somewhere quiet. Protect that time. Make it sacred. Another trick – stop checking emails all day long! Set designated times (say, 9:00 am, 1:00 pm, and 4:00 pm) to check emails, and then close out your email so you aren’t distracted by every single email that arrives in your inbox each day. There are some simple, quick reads on increasing productivity and efficiency to glean some simple tips from, like 52 Small Changes for the Mind by Brett Blumenthal, and The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Timothy Ferriss.

Quit Multitasking – Ok folks – the jury is in! The real truth is multitasking leads to less efficiency, less productivity, and a lesser quality product. We may like to brag that we can multitask, but the reality is we are not at our best when we do. Work on one objective at a time. Poor in your sustained, focused attention. Knock it out, and then move onto the next thing. Have you seen those compilations of people texting and walking at the same time? We’re just not built to do two things at once…

But Doc, those Distractions…! When you start working on a task, keep a notepad next to you. When a distraction or to-do item pops up, refrain from looking up the answer or tackling that issue right away.  Practice patience and deferring gratification for a little while. Write it down and reassure yourself you’ll get back to it later. Then get back to the singular task at hand. Along the same vein, if you’re the type of person that stays up all night thinking about what you have to do tomorrow, this tip is for you too! Give yourself 20 minutes before bed to purge all your thoughts and tasks on a piece of paper. Don’t worry about making it look pretty. It may finally give your mind the space it needs to catch those very essential zzz’s.

Break Projects into Tasks – Chunking out big projects or objectives into smaller pieces makes life feel a lot more manageable. Create a plan of attack. Or if you’re a more creative thinker, design mind maps or flow charts. Breaking things into steps that are written down helps to keep things moving efficiently, and prevents a crisis (aka distraction) later on.

Take Breaks – Breaks are critical! Most of us can’t maintain sustained attention for more than 30-40 minutes without losing focus. So break up each day with moments of being mindful and unplug. Take a 10 minute walk outside. Close your eyes and meditate. Stare at the wall if you have to. But whatever you do – don’t look at any screens. This is a moment to let your brain rest (think of it as a conscious nap), and then get back at it. You’ll feel refreshed – and your mind (and work) will thank you for it.

Meditate – Yes. Meditate. The more the better. Practice mindfulness and being in the present moment (not worrying about the future or ruminating on the past). Research shows that just 10-20 minutes a day can lead to a number of awesome benefits, including improved attention and concentration. In a world where we’re so focused on doing, the brain is desperate for time to unplug and focus on being. Just like taking breaks – your brain will thank you for it!

 The reality is, you have to think of your mind like any other muscle in your body. The more you train it, the more “lean” it will run. The more willpower and discipline you have, the faster you’ll see an improvement! But just like with exercise, we also need rest and recovery. The key to a healthy brain (and well, life in general) is balance! What percentage of your time do you spend “doing”? And how about “being”? Strive for a healthier balance each day. 
Feel free to share some of your own strategies below!
 

3 Ingredients for Achieving your 2018 Goals (Plus a free Goal-Setting Guide!)

Happy New Year! This time of year, most of us are thinking about all of the goals we have for the New Year. So what will it be? Are you ready for a new you? Or will 2018 be another year of the same old you?

Before we speed ahead to plan for 2018, take a moment to thoughtfully reflect on all that you’ve accomplished in 2017. What are the top 3 blessings or achievements from last year? Did you travel somewhere new? Gain a new family member or friend? Start a new job or hobby?

A lot can happen in a year! Take stock and allow yourself a few moments to thank your mind, body, and spirit for carrying you through another year.

The more difficult 2017 was for you, the more time you should spend cultivating a practice of gratitude for the strength and resilience it took for you to get here to 2018!

The good news is that each January gives us a fresh chance to think with intention about what we can do to improve our physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional health for the year ahead. Having goals that balance all four of these areas are essential to becoming more well-rounded and healthy.  So embrace the energy and optimism that comes with a fresh start, and take some time to think carefully about what you’d like to achieve this year on your journey to a more holistically healthy you!

Take a moment to reflect on what your goals might be for 2018. What matters most to you? Perhaps you want to spend more quality time with family, improve your physical fitness, lose weight, drink more water, enhance your communication and negotiation skills, or meditate more regularly.

Whatever you choose to tackle this year, successfully achieving your goals will require three things: Intention, Commitment, and Resilience.

There’s a difference between setting a goal and setting your intention. Setting goals helps us to identify what we’d like to achieve in a future state so that we can develop a roadmap, mile markers, and a plan to stay on track. But your intention is a state of being – a consciousness you bring to your values, desires, and ideals. They are the heart of what motivates you. You may have an intention to be loving, successful, wealthy, healthy, grateful, or at peace. Want a good example? Let’s say you have a desire to increase your wealth this year. Your intention might be something like “My intention is to cultivate a sense of abundance and financial freedom.” A goal to connect with this intention might be “I will generate $75,000 by December 31, 2018.” Naturally, you can develop a few related action steps towards achieving that goal for this year.

Just make sure that your goals align with your intentions, and then take a few moments at the start of each day to consider your intention, connect it to your goal, and take positive action.

Read Setting Goals Isn’t Enough: Setting Daily Intentions Will Change Your Life by Marla Tabaka for more

Commitment is the second ingredient necessary to achieve your goals this year. Nothing can be accomplished without commitment to execution. There will be obstacles! But these goals mean something big to you, right? Remember that when times get hard and stay focused on what means more to you – that piece of delicious German chocolate cake? Or dropping that last 10 pounds and moving out of the pre-diabetes category?

Read Three Keys to Staying Committed to your Goals by Joseph Wilner

This brings us to the third ingredient, which is perhaps the most important: Resilience! In our society, we are surrounded by distraction, and we are far busier than we’ve ever been. There are going to be moments where life’s obstacles trip us up and we lose sight of our goal. But don’t let a temporary setback become the demise of the goal you’ve been working so hard to achieve! Pick a day to reset, dust yourself off and get back after it! Every time you overcome an obstacle and get back after it, you’ve become stronger and smarter. You’ll know what to do the next time this obstacle comes up again. The personal resilience you’re developing is preparing you for more goals and challenges in your future.

So – are you ready? I’ve included a free Goal-Setting Guide to help you plan your goals for 2018! Make sure you go back to it every month or so to update and refine your goals throughout the year.

You can also bring our Goal-Setting Guide to your next session with us to kick off the New Year and make it your best year yet!

Cheers to a New You!