Last month I held SMASH, my monthly administrative meetup at thinkspace, and invited my cohort of executive assistants, senior assistants, office managers and the like, and we explored a topic that drew in great discussion: wellness at work. Though I support the CEO and Founder of thinkspace, I also work as a holistic health and running coach. I work both one-on-one and with groups sharing how to add joy to your life. The idea that wellness is bound to eating health foods or going for a run is simply wrong, and joy shouldn’t be reserved for after-work hours. I think it’s fundamental to fill your day with more joy and that this type of self-care extends beyond the walls of your home.

To me, being joyful in the workplace means clearing away stress and getting sh*t done. When I’m productive and collaborative I feel best and I can’t manage doing those things when project goals aren’t clear, I’m worried about all the tasks on hand, or I feel unorganized. During my talk at SMASH I set out to explain three bullet points to support yourself in de-stressing and decluttering your mind so that you have the room to be productive, feel full, and allow for positivity to run through your veins while at work. I’m here to share them with you too.

1. Make your to-do list. Studies have shown that people perform better when they have written down what they need to do. Lists dampen anxiety about the chaos of life; they give us structure, a plan that we can stick to; and they are proof of what we have achieved that day, week, or month. Simply writing the tasks down will make you more effective and free the space in your mind from these tasks. Try doing this as the last thing you do before you leave the office for the next day. Whether you’re using tools like Trello, Asana, or a pen and notebook, use a system that you enjoy and that works for you and watch your productivity sky rocket.

2. Breathe. Deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body. As an entrepreneur, or as someone who supports one, this is something we should all be practicing. This is because when you breathe deeply, it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. The brain then sends this message to your body. Deep breathing combats the actions that occur when stressed, things such as increased heart rate, fast breathing, and high blood pressure. When you are in that relaxed state your decision making skills are heightened, you command a stronger presence, and creativity can flow.

Next time you need to relieve stress or clear your mind step away to a huddle room, close the door to your private office and sit on a cushion, or head outside for a few moments and try this:

Breathing Activity

  1. Sit or lie flat in a comfortable position.
  2. Put one hand on your belly just below your ribs, the other on your chest.
  3. Take a big breathe through your nose and let you belly push your hand out. Your chest should not move. Breathe out through pursed lips, like you are whistling. Feel your hand on your belly go in, and use it to push all the air out.
  4. Do this breathing 3 to 10 times. Take your time with each breathe.
  5. Notice how you feel at the end of the exercise.

3. Have Gratitude. The purpose of this exercise is to focus attention on the positive things in your life. Studies suggest that feelings of gratitude may even possess mental and physical health benefits. Take a moment to yourself, either first thing when you get to the office, or when needing to take a break for refocus. Founder of Huffington Post and CEO of Thrive Global, Arianna Huffington shares “Gratitude works its magic by serving as an antidote to negative emotions. It’s like white blood cells for the soul, protecting us from cynicism, entitlement, anger, and resignation.”

Gratitude Activity

  1. Take a moment to let the tasks and atmosphere of the day go. Take three full belly breathes.
  2. Think about what the positive things in your life. Write down two things in your life (work or non-work) that you are grateful for. (Is it a partner, friend, child, teacher, the weather, nature, a book you’re reading?)
  3. Write a third item on the list: something you love about yourself.
  4. Reflect on how this activity makes you feel during and after. Did you smile, feel awkward, or happy?
  5. ** You don’t have to be experiencing a chaotic or stressful day to practice this.

Returning to work after completing these exercises should be reenergizing. Though eating a nutritious lunch (or eating a lunch at all) is definitely part of a healthy routine, de-stressing and decluttering your mind at work will encourage your success as an entrepreneur. Holistic health presents an opportunity to connect a less-stressful state and being able to feel stronger and encouraged throughout the day. This supports an increase in joy and permeates your being. Do you practice other self-care techniques while at work? Share them in comments and help create a discussion about what healthy living looks like.

I go in phases with my yoga practice. I love a 30-day yoga challenge and sometimes extend it for another 30-60 days. Then I often stop making it a priority because I’d rather go for my morning run or because that extra 30 minutes of sleep is enticing, but it’s not just my flexibility and ability to touch my toes that is effected by this, but my energy and focus at work as well.

Certainly part of my yoga life-goals is about achieving the headstand, or at least mastering crow pose, but part of the reason I get called back to practicing is because of how I feel throughout my day post-session. Don’t let Instagram fool you; yoga has nothing to do with how flexible your body is or what poses you’ve mastered, but about meeting yourself where you are and breathing into your movements. Whether I practice for ten minutes or an hour, the method of breathing in and out in rhythm brings focus to my body as a whole, and I feel more centered during my day and able to center that focus on my tasks, projects, and relationships.

Yoga has a plethora of benefits. Though it unfortunately won’t prevent difficult plights at work, it can certainly help entrepreneurs manage their stress and anxiety. Cash flow problems won’t be resolved by mastering the firefly pose, but what it can help is how to approach these problems with a clear mindset. Most entrepreneurs I know understand the importance of staying physically fit, but not as many commit the same time for their mental health.

Lizzie Brown, highlighted by Forbes, is the co-creator of Yoga Wake Up, an app that teaches busy entrepreneurs how to practice meditation and basic yoga postures. She shares that “yoga is a practice that adapts to whatever challenges are going on in your body and in your life.” The benefits of yoga for you as an entrepreneur are all about managing stress. When your day is inundated with employees asking questions, or you’re working around the clock to secure funding, a mindfulness practice can root you to the ground. This mindfulness and meditation is what yoga is at its core and your consistent practice, whether through an app or in a studio, will aid you in keeping control.

Yoga helps you let go of control, slow down your mind, practice patience, and take a moment away from screens and work to be with yourself. We’ve been fortunate at thinkspace Seattle to practice weekly with Jackie Lea as she leads member yoga each Wednesday. During our session we take extra time to stretch, open up our breathe and work out the kinks from sitting at a computer all day. After each session I’ve left feeling refreshed, re-energized, and ready to tackle my next project, whether for work or at home. You have so many options to practice yoga, via app, instructor, or online (might I recommend Yoga With Adriene?). You can do yourself and your business a favor – try challenging yourself to 30 days of yoga and be shocked at what more you can do.

I was walking with a coworker during our weekly 1:1 (I highly recommend doing this btw), and the subject of imposter syndrome came up. We were recalling times being in new roles and having this unfounded “what if I don’t know what I’m doing” thought looming in the background. I’ve spoken with friends and clients for years about this concept and have come to the conclusion it’s happened to many us do, and often.

Imposter syndrome, also known by imposterism (and a slew of other similar names), is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. According to this article I found in Psychology Today, it’s not an actual disorder, “but the term was coined by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978, when they found that despite having adequate external evidence of accomplishments, people with imposter syndrome remained convinced that they don’t deserve the success they have.”

This great post shares an interpretation of imposter syndrome in that it has multiple faces. In the article it describes how expert Dr. Valerie Young has categorized imposter syndrome into subgroups: the Perfectionist, the Superwoman/man, the Natural Genius, the Soloist, and the Expert and I challenge you to find yourself in the descriptions. Whether you are the CEO, web developer, wedding photographer, or entrepreneur inventor, the potential that you will be afflicted with imposter syndrome is high. Maya Angelou, Howard Schultz, and Sheryl Sandberg have even admitted to struggling with this phenomenon. As your resident health coach I’m happy to share that there are ways to get relief and build up the muscles to overcome it though. Take the time to remember that everyone feels imposterism and to combat it, practice positive self talk to remind yourself of your badass accomplishments and skills. Everyone is good at a lot of things and you are quite likely really good at the work to do. Your accomplishments didn’t happen due to chance, seduction, or some other external factor so don’t let imposter syndrome deceive you.

Check out this short Ted Talk video about imposter syndrome that I really enjoyed and if you have any advice or comments I’d love to see them below.

thinkspace members who have met me know that I am Peter Chee’s assistant and that I’m relatively new to Seattle. What the majority of you won’t know is that my background is in holistic health and wellness along with a master’s degree in education. These concentrations share a common foundation in that your health and work ability/brain capabilities work united. A strong mind will allow you to create, innovate, inspire, and persevere; something that as an entrepreneur you should care about. A strong mind doesn’t come just because of mere force. In addition to practice, there are particular foods to eat that will continue to keep your brain strong and fighting disease that will allow you to keep charging away for many years to come, in business and in pleasure.

Through my health coaching program I learned a great deal from Dr. Neal Barnard, President and Founder of PCRM (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine) and about how foods fuel us and either create health or disease. Deciding what goes on your lunch plate might seem insignificant, and while you might really want the bacon, beer, or birthday cake, I urge you to think about “brain foods” that will power you to be more successful, inventive, and robust.

What are some of these foods? The Cleveland Clinic suggests going green with “nutrients such as folate, lutein and nitrate that are found in foods such as spinach, lettuce and kale.” Dr. Barnard shares the importance of vitamin E found in nuts and seeds, and the anthocyanins that give grapes and berries their color. Each of these are foods that will add up to a big drop in the risk of cognitive problems Barnard states.

Eating well and plant-strong will keep your mind working hard for whatever new and exciting challenge presents itself next, and of course aid in heart health. As an entrepreneur working to build the perfect business, managing stress, long hours and late nights can take a toll and it’s easy to run through a drive through or cook comfort foods that have little nutrition. Though it does take a bit of an effort to start a meal plan or to prep vegetables, I’m here as your resident health coach to let you know that it gets easier with time and a sense of purpose. Head over to this online guide for endless recipes that are plant strong and enjoy the mental fortitude it will bring.

Here are the three reasons why I start my day early. My first reason is backed up by a ton of articles about what super successful people do.

  1. They wake up early. The coolest thing that I learned from the morning exercise routine was I had created a new equilibrium point every single day. I was no longer at the whim of a random feeling on how my day was going to be. Exercise allowed me to always be full of energy, alert, and attack the day with more clarity. If you’re an entrepreneur, I think you’re going to find that to be a better thing to do than work late at night all the time.
  2. Train at the same time as when you run your marathon. A few weeks ago I ran my first marathon and one thing I did differently was wake up early and exercise. In the past, I trained at night for my half marathons and I was always groggy when it came time to run really early in the morning for the Seattle Half Marathon and Seattle Rock and Roll Half Marathon. The results were obviously different when I trained in the AM for the Leavenworth Oktoberfest Marathon where I’ve been waking up at 5:15am every day.
  3. Two people that I greatly admire are Annie Duncan and Katie Walvatne. Both of them have amazing positive personalities, get crazy amounts of important work done, are a complete joy to be around, they have grit and resilience, and they both exercise and wake up super early. Oh and both have run marathons!

I’ve never read an article that talks about how awesome someone is for pushing the snooze button and waking up late. I’ve also never met anyone that was super successful who was always sleeping in and coming into work late. Once you’ve made the shift of waking up early, you’re going to recognize all of the positive ripple impacts it’s going to make on your life and company!

So, I gotta be honest.  Up until writing this post, I actually didn’t know the history behind Labor Day.  Why question a 3-day weekend, right?  For the majority of my teens and twenties, Labor Day was simply the weekend I saw Dave Matthews at the Gorge before heading back to school.
 
But the history behind Labor Day is as interesting as it is empowering.

Labor Day was first celebrated in 1882 (pictured: a lithograph of the parade in New York City on Labor Day).  In 1887 it was established to be celebrated yearly on the first Monday in September to honor the American Labor Movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of their country (source).  A group of the key players within this movement called themselves The Knights of Labor. The Knights believed in the unity of the interests of all producing groups and sought to empower not just laborers but everyone who could be truly classified as a producer (source).

For most of us, work is a commitment that takes up most of our time.  But, though work dominates most of the hours of our week, it is also the one thing that we can routinely do week in, week out.  Think about your work week rhythm.  Now replace your work with something else.  Can you imagine doing something else for 40-60 hours, week in, week out?  Exercising?  Watching television?  Reading books? Playing golf?  I’ve heard people say, “When I retire I’m going to play a lot of golf.”  But 40 hours a week of golf?  Or television?  Try keeping that up for a few weeks.  We aren’t made to do that.

But we are made to work.  We can handle work in large quantities of time, unlike other activities.  We are made to be creative.  We are made to produce things.  Just like the Knights of Labor believed in the late 1800s, the movement wasn’t just for laborers, but anyone who produced anything.  I have a friend who is a project manager, but her passion is baking cupcakes.  She spends time dreaming of flavor combinations to try.  She carves time out of her schedule to carefully craft and decorate them.  And then she lets me eat them.  She is a “laborer” (project manger by day) and “producer” (cupcake creator by night).  You take away her labor and she is still a producer.  Take away what she produces, and she’s still a laborer.

The point is this: we are made for work.  We are made for Labor Day.

Happy Labor Day everyone!

birdsThe following story might sound like an April Fool’s joke, but I assure you – it’s not.

About a month ago, my husband (who works nights) woke me up around 3am to let me know he had accidentally let a bird into our condo.  He needed me to wake up and help him: 1) find it, and 2) get it out of the condo.  Half-asleep, I stumbled out of bed, ran down the hall, grabbed a large blanket and hid under it in the kitchen.  A major part of me doesn’t want to admit that I started to cry.  And why did I have this reaction?

Well, what you need to know about me is I have a fear of birds.  And not just a small fear of birds, but an insanely irrational fear of birds.  I think they are going to attack me.  I haven’t been afraid of birds my entire life, but there was an “incident” about five years ago (which is another story) that has caused me to fear all birds.

My husband eventually found the small tiny finch (it didn’t have the talons I imagined it did) and released it back outside of our residence.  With no help from me.

In the light of day the next morning, I was able to see how ridiculous my response was.  Crying in the kitchen?  My fear of birds is out of control.

But it got me wondering – what other areas in my life does irrational fear dictate my actions?

–  Irrational fear causes irrational behavior.
–  A large percentage of people avoid situations when they might possibly face their fear.
–  A small percentage of people say they aren’t daily affected by their fear.
–  Out of every two people, one person has a reaction to fear – like sweaty palms, panic attacks, or nausea.

Michael Steven Anthony Graziano, professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Princeton University, says: “Fear is so deep, so irrational, so immediate, that I can neither doubt it or examine it.”  

Besides birds, two other ways fear runs my life:
1) I fear what other people think of me.
2) I fear that doing one wrong thing at work will cause me to lose my job.

A friend of mine says that “Fear always lies…unless it’s a grizzly bear running at you…then run!”
It’s a funny saying, but he has a point.  Fear lies.

The lie: Birds are going to attack me.
The truth: Only one bird has attacked me in 34 years.  And the chances of that happening again are slim.

The lie:  If people really knew me, they wouldn’t like me.
The truth:  It’s okay to be yourself and let people in.

The lie: If I make one mistake in my job, I’ll get fired.
The truth: It will take more than one small mistake to get fired.

What fears are running your life?  And what is the truth behind the fear?
Unmasking the truth helps undermine the lie that fear tells.

 

happy-new-yearFor the next few weeks, you’re going to need an answer to the daunting question “What’s your New Year’s Resolution?”  This year, resolve to answer with something you’ll practice.

Allow me to explain.  In the past, my resolutions have had a common denominator – they’ve all shared a lofty (and usually unattainable) goal.
I’m not going to eat sugar.
I’m going to lose 20 pounds.
I’m going to stop watching TV.

These resolutions had an all or nothing approach, leaving little wiggle room and no plan to achieve them.  #Fail

Furthermore, our resolutions usually stem from unhealthy behavior, so to just resolve not to do them doesn’t deal with the root cause of why we do them.  #DoubleFail

Those two reasons combined is probably why 75% of people quit their New Year’s Resolution after the first week, and 46% of people are off target after six months (source).

So the more I’ve thought about resolutions, the more I’ve decided I’m done with them.  This year, I’m making New Year’s  Resolutions Practices.

What’s the difference?  A resolution is an empty statement, but a practice involves an action plan.

Resolution: I will get more sleep at night.
Practice: I will have less screen time one hour before I go to bed and read a book instead of watch TV/check my email/play on my phone.

So what’s your New Year’s Resolution Practice?

I recently watched the documentary, “Forks Over Knives.”
The premise for the documentary:

“What has happened to us?  Despite the most advanced medical technology in the world, we are sicker than ever by nearly every measure.  Two out of every three of us are overweight.  Cases of diabetes are exploding, especially amongst our younger population.  About half of us are taking at least one prescription drug.  Major medical operations have become routine, helping to drive health care costs to astronomical levels.  Heart disease, cancer and stroke are the country’s three leading causes of death, even though billions are spent each year to ‘battle’ these very conditions.  Millions suffer from a host of other degenerative diseases.  Could it be there’s a single solution to all of these problems?  A solution so comprehensive, but so straightforward, that it’s mind-boggling that more of us haven’t taken it seriously?”

Fruits-and-Vegetables“Forks Over Knives” makes the argument that most – if not all – of what makes us “sicker than ever” can be addressed (and in some cases reversed!) by cutting out our menu of animal-based and processed foods.  The researchers (two doctors: Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn) featured in the film call for a plant-based diet.

Now, hold up.  Plant-based?  That sounds super strict right?

What about my juicy grilled steak?  What about having goat cheese on my salad?
A “plant-based diet” would say to replace the steak with grilled eggplant and the goat cheese with some kind of legume.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m totally for plant-based foods.  I just don’t know if I can commit solely to plants just yet…

But despite my inability to instantly implement a plant-based diet…I can’t stop thinking about what was presented in this documentary.

Since watching it, I’ve changed my intake.  It’s caused me to stop and ask questions like:

“Do I really need that much cream in my coffee?”  (yes, yes I do)

“Do I really need to eat some sort of meat for dinner five nights a week?  (no, no I don’t)

“Forks Over Knives”  was powerful for me to watch because of two primary reasons:
1) my family history, and
2) my current context.
My family has a history of diabetes and high blood pressure, so unless I want to be a part of the family-history-sickness-legacy, I need to take my health seriously.  And change the patterns.
My current context is working as a Chaplain in a hospital, where I see the effects of how we treat our bodies on a daily basis.  Not a day goes by that I don’t encounter sickness and death caused by poor health choices.

So…pass the veggies, please.  And keep ’em coming.  If plant-based foods can help reverse the patterns of health our country is facing, then sign me up.  I’ll try my best to keep the cupcakes and hotdogs to a minimum (really, I will!).

I invite you to journey with me in this conversation.  Let me know your immediate feedback, or watch the film – it’s on Netflix – and let me know if you agree/disagree.  See you in the comments section!

no ex
I’m a planner.
I’m a goal-setter.
I love the strategy that goes along with discerning a five-year strategic plan.

But in addition to my goal-setting-strategic-planning posture, I’ve found that I also need to embrace the discipline of having no expectations.

The things that frustrate, anger, and irritate me have one thing in common:  I don’t like it when what I expect to happen doesn’t happen.

I have expectations of how other people should drive…how my husband should load the dishwasher…and how my boss should respond to my job performance.  And more often than not, my expectations prove to be a fanatical fantasy.

Unfulfilled expectations create disappointment.  But no expectations equals no disappointments.

Growing up, I learned to “expect the best” and all will work out.  And even as an overly-optimistic person, that mantra has not panned out all the time.

Setting zero expectations means that we are open for more creativity in the moment, as well as the unexpected surprises that never disappoint.

I recently got married.  The other day, someone asked me what goal I was excited to accomplish during my first year of marriage.  I thought for a moment, before happily realizing that my main goal for my first year of marriage is to practice not having any expectations.  But to take it day by day.  And learn, and grow as a couple.

William Shakespeare wrote that “Expectation is the root of all heartache.”  By minimizing unneeded expectations, I hope to minimize heartache at home, as well as in the workplace.