From Couch to Confidence

Carolyn is a columnist for Columbia Home Magazine. This is her column from the June 2014 issue.

A personal challenge becomes the key to positivity with one life-altering change.

As a coach, clients come to me to realize their potential. I have an arsenal of strategies to help them. But a few months ago, I started on a journey of my own — one that’s changing my life and work. In the process, I’ve discovered there’s a strategy for unleashing our personal power that’s as effective as anything I’ve ever recommended. And it’s been at our fingertips the whole time: exercise.

In the fall of 2013, I set out to shrink my saddlebags and found a reward far greater than any number on the scale. I had heard about Project LOLA, A Health and Fitness Project for 40-plus-year-old lesbians interested in getting healthier. To be eligible, I couldn’t be at my peak health (check!) and had to commit to a 16-week program: a program for out-of-shape, middle-aged women like me.

The truth is I hadn’t worked out in 12 years and was afraid to get moving. But last year, as the discomfort from the rising number on my scale matched the increasing discomfort from the tightness of my pants, my inactivity became too physically painful to ignore. Although I lay awake at night hoping my fitness fairy would swoop down and magically transform me to my youthful figure, it wasn’t going to happen.

After months of emotional work, I joined Project LOLA. Supported by a small group of inspiring Columbia women and a personal trainer I see once a week, I’m slowly but surely improving. And as I’ve gotten moving again, miraculous things have started to happen. My mood has improved, my energy has increased, and my stress level has dropped. I’m having fun, and I’ve become noticeably happier. I feel better about myself and, in turn, am taking better care of myself. This queen of the frozen dinner has made more meals for herself in the past 12 weeks than in the past 12 years.

Most surprising for me, though, has been the journey of my self-esteem. Each time I lift a heavier weight or run more minutes, I set a new bar for what I can accomplish. As the bar moves higher, I realize the depth of my untapped potential for anything I set my mind to.

When you exercise, your body releases endorphins that trigger a positive feeling in the body, which improves your self-esteem. Exercise also gives you regular opportunities to set and achieve goals. This process builds awareness of your personal capacity, personal pride and a sense of accomplishment, all of which increase your self-esteem.

Don’t get me wrong, the progress hasn’t been easy or linear, but if this 54-year-old couch potato could get started, I know you can. So this month, step into the gym for a workout, out onto the street for a walk or onto the trails for a hike. Each step is a step into the power of increased self-esteem and a more positive view of yourself. I promise you won’t regret the journey and won’t believe the results.

Carolyn’s Tips:

1. Confront your fear.

Ask yourself: What am I really afraid of? What would happen if my greatest fear came true? What would be the worst possible outcome? Answering questions such as these helps to put your fear into perspective by seeing where it isn’t supported by facts.

2. Get off the fence.

If you’re ambivalent about change, evaluate the pros and cons of waiting. As you do, refrain from any shame about the past, and love yourself into a decision that’s best for you and your future.

3. Focus on the positive.

Research shows we see more possibilities in our life when we’re experiencing more positive emotions. So refrain from focusing on the fact that your workout clothes are outdated (mine were circa 1990s) and all the other reasons now isn’t the right time. Focus instead on the amazing opportunity you have to change your view of yourself and the world around you.

4. Reward yourself.

Whatever journey you embark on, it’s important to recognize and reward your progress. Bought new sneakers? Hurray! Walked the dog? Woo hoo! You deserve a treat for large and small successes alike.




The Greatest Gift: Listening Deeply

On a recent flight from Dallas, I met a woman I’ll call Susie. She took the window seat next to me and warmly asked “How are y’all doing tonight?” So began the discussion which lasted the better part of the flight home to St. Louis.

Susie’s nerves were apparent from the start; I wouldn’t have to wait long to find out the cause. She had enlisted in the Army and was headed to Fort Leonard Wood to begin basic training. “I was stuck,” the 19-year old declared before we’d even left the gate. She hadn’t been able to graduate from high school because she didn’t have a car and couldn’t get there. Without a high school degree, the only work Susie was able to get was at the local fast food joint.

All before takeoff, I knew about Susie’s “ego problem,” her need to be the best, her rebellious nature, the friends who weren’t talking to her because she’d joined the Army, her family, and more. She didn’t stop talking or figeting, all while proclaiming her excitement about the aircraft, the flight, and boot camp.
She shared so much so quickly; what did she want me to do with this information?

You might imagine that my coach training was kicking in from the start. As a woman 30 years her senior, part of me–perhaps a maternal part–was eager to share some life experiences with this strong, yet vulnerable nineteen year old. But as I leaned into the moment, it was apparent that Susie was not in a frame of mind to hear anything. I realized that Susie needed something else from me. What was it?

As I listened to the totality of Susie’s communication–the content and tone of her speech, her body language, her energy–it all expressed one need. As she flew away from the only home she’d ever known and on to the next chapter in her life, Susie needed me to listen to her.

Susie was starting a new chapter in her life, one that both excited her and frightened her and she needed to talk about it and be heard. It was my role during that flight to listen deeply to what she was saying and to communicate to her that she was being heard. It was my pleasure to do so.

Rebecca Shafir, author of The Zen of Listening, defines listening as “the willingness to see a situation through the eyes of the speaker.” During that flight, I attempted to appreciate how it might feel to have the courage to sign a 4 year contract for service–to anyone, for anything. I tried to appreciate how it might feel leaving everything and everyone you know in one state and travel to another state to start a new life–and to do that all by yourself at nineteen years of age. I attempted to appreciate how it might feel to be entering the Army at a time of war.

More often than we realize, what a loved one, co-worker, or stranger needs most is for us to listen deeply to them. When deep listening takes place, both speaker and listener are often transformed. As Sue Patton Thoele says, “Deep listening is miraculous for both listener and speaker. When someone receives us with open-hearted, non-judging, intensely interested listening, our spirits expand.” Susie: I thank you for expanding my spirit and salute you for serving our country.

January 8, 2010


10 Easy Ways To Be Happier

I recently received an email with a list of the “10 Ways You Can Help Stop Global Warming.” I smiled as I considered how many of these items, thanks to education and encouragement from others, I had fairly easily incorporated into my life over the past year or so. Though I know I have some work to do in several of the areas (e.g. my bike sits in my basement with two flat tires!) I was proud of the fact that, as a result of the small steps I had taken, I was doing my part to help the environment.

This simple list of ten reminded me of another simple list of ten that was revealed in a recent study on happiness. Scientists have long studied the question of what makes us happy in order to try to generate objective answers. In a recent study, researchers Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener, Stanford psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, and ethicist Stephen Post provided some answers. After studying people all over the world to find out how various factors contributed to happiness (e.g. money, attitude, culture, memory, health, altruism, etc.), the team found that, like the list for the environment, it’s the simple actions people can take each day that can have the most significant effect on their level of happiness and personal satisfaction.

Here’s their list of the 10 scientifically proven strategies for being happy. 

  1. Savor everyday moments
  2. Avoid comparisons
  3. Put money low on the list
  4. Have meaningful goals
  5. Take initiative at work
  6. Make friends, treasure family
  7. Smile, even when you don’t feel like it
  8. Say thank you like you mean it
  9. Get out and exercise
  10. Give it away, give it away now!

So during this time of year when everyone is heard saying “Happy Holidays,” “Happy Hanukkah,” and “Happy New Year,” and when focusing on the day’s news is fairly certain to make us feel unhappy, here are two questions for you: Wouldn’t you like to be happier? And don’t you think it’s worth it to today, right now, to start taking small steps to be happier in your personal and/or business life?  

Suggested Action Items

  1. Identify just one of these 10 strategies that you’re not regularly doing. During the next two weeks, make an effort to utilize this proven strategy more regularly. Starting small is perfectly okay! Create a visual reminder of this strategy to help keep you on track. (e.g. marquee on your computer display, something to carry in your pocket as a reminder) Journal at the end of the day about any anecodotes, thoughts, or feelings you experience.
  2. Be as much in the moment as you can as you’re implementing the strategy. Pay attention to what you’re doing, including your breathing. Be as present as possible with those with whom you are interacting. Observe how people are responding and how you feel as a result of your actions. Look people in the eyes when appropriate.
  3. If you do well during the first two weeks, keep utilizing that strategy. Consider adding a second strategy. If you aren’t able to incorporate the strategy into your daily life on a regular basis, seek external support from someone in your life.


Reduce Stress For More Success

According to data from the American Psychological Association’s newly released 2008 Stress in America survey, women are bearing the brunt of the nation’s stress.  Compared with men, women repeatedly report being more stressed about money, the economy, job stability, housing costs, and health problems affecting their families. Mature women (+63) reported the most dramatic increases in stress, in some instances up as much as 18% from the prior year.

Women were more likely than men to report physical symptoms associated with their increased stress. Their symptoms include such problems as:

  • fatigue
  • irritability
  • headaches
  • feeling depressed or sad
  • disrupted sleeping and eating habits

So if you’re suffering from a high stress level, what can you do to better cope with it?

Suggestion Action Items:

  1. Tune In To You: Try to identify exactly what is causing you stress and how you respond to it. Tune in to your thoughts, feelings, and physical responses to the stress.
  2. Tune Out Your Triggers/Tune In Stress-Reducing Experiences: To the fullest extent possible, limit/eliminate your exposure to people, situations, events that you identify to be your stress triggers. Distinguish reacting to a stressor from responding to it. Increase your exposure to those experiences that reduce your stress. So perhaps less time with cable news anchors who seem only to have bad news to share and more time with friends! Research has shown that even 3 minutes a day of stress-reducing activity (even you can find 3 minutes, right?) can make a qualitative difference.
  3. Invest In You: The best investment you can make right now is in you. Take this time to create a plan for your future. Whether you want to address stress management, your career, the work/life balance, health, or another issue in your life, there is no better time than now. By positively focusing on yourself and the healthful changes you seek in your life, you will be on the road to reducing your stress level.

See see strategies for dealing with negative self-talk in related post called Creating Opportunities With Your Attitude.

The Stress in America survey is part of APA’s Mind/Body Health public education campaign. For the full article, poll-finds-women-bear-brunt-of-nation.


What Is Mindfulness and How Is It Related to Coaching?

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, Professor of Medicine Emeritus and founding director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusettsmindfulness “is about being fully awake in our lives. It is about perceiving the exquisite vividness of each moment. We feel more alive. We also gain immediate access to our own powerful inner resources for insight, transformation, and healing.”

For me, active listening is at the heart of good coaching and mindfulness is at the heart of active listening. To actively listen, I must be fully present and in the moment with my client. In coaching, it is just as important for clients to practice mindfulness. When they do this, they are able to, as Kabat-Zinn says, tap into their own inner resources, and begin the process of realizing their potential.








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