Your Fierce 2024 Self

January is a good time to think about what we want to achieve in the coming year.  (I hope your January challenges are going well!)

2019-01-24 16.35.12An even longer-term perspective can also be useful. It’s an interesting exercise to relax with a notebook and take some time to imagine the person you would like to be five years from now. What is your life like? What are you like?

I tried it this morning, and some of my answers surprised me.

I know what I hope to be doing in 2024 — still working on my health coaching practice, since it will only be six years old by then :). I imagine myself as a successful health coach, providing valuable services to help my clients achieve their goals. I’m not sure what all of these services will be (individual coaching, group coaching, personal training, online courses, exercise programs, workshops, retreats, books ??), but I know I’ll keep learning, trying different things and figuring out what people want and need, so I’m confident that I’ll be contributing something valuable in 2024, and surely my practice will be much bigger than it is now, with my seven awesome clients and 18 blog followers (thank you all!!).

That means I will be at a very different level as a businessperson. I may hire others to help me (new experience, yikes!), network in bigger circles, and generally invest more in myself and my business. In fact, I’ve got to take this leap if I want to serve more people and be more effective. Hmm …

Meanwhile, at nearly 63 years old in 2024, I’ll surely have thinner hair and more wrinkles, loose skin

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Five years from now, I’ll think this hand looks pretty young!

and age spots, but ha! I fully accept and love that vision of myself. My physical goals for myself can be summed up by saying that I would love to keep moving in the direction of the incredible Ernestine Shepherd, who was 80 years old in this 3-minute video.

Those two areas were what I expected to cover in my future-self contemplation: (1) professional success and (2) the ongoing transformation of a former computer-desk-potato into someone who can run, jump, throw, lift, bend, climb, dance and balance like a natural human.

But another topic came up during my reflection. When I took the time to vividly picture 2024-me, I realized that I wanted to be not just a successful coach and a fit older person, but also an advocate for change. In my childhood, it was normal for people to smoke in offices and on airplanes (yes, hard to believe, but we changed the culture, well done us!). Now it’s normal to be sedentary, especially as we age, and to eat highly processed foodstuffs that aren’t good for us. Somehow, 2024-me will find ways to help empower people to find fierce joy and radiant health (not deprivation) in natural movement and real foods.

What should I do with these realizations? I can map out the small steps that will get me where I want to be, make a plan and follow it. I can create a vision board and look at it every day to keep me motivated. I can hire my own coach to help propel me forward.

The best advice of all, I think, comes from always-brilliant Brooke Castillo of The Life Coach School: think about who you want to be in the future, and then figure out how you can be more like that person right now. Taking on the thoughts, beliefs, feelings and actions of the self you want to be will help you become that person (maybe even before 2024!).

Brooke talks about the struggles she went through to overcome her habit of drinking too much Chardonnay. She realized that she wanted to be someone who didn’t obsess about alcohol, either positively or negatively. Her future self would be able to go to a party or dinner and just not care about wine at all (like a non-smoker isn’t tempted to smoke). What would it take for her to become a person like that? That was the key question in her successful journey.

In my case, instead of doubting myself as I often still do, 2024-me would think “My coaching practice is successful. I can help others and make a difference.”  2024-me feels self-confident and has the courage to push herself to higher levels. Actions I can take with her in mind include promoting, expanding and investing in my health coaching practice, and thinking of myself (now!) as a creative advocate for change.

Wow — I guess I got a lot out of this exercise. What about you? I challenge you to take some time and vividly picture your best 2024 self.

If your future path isn’t clear like mine seems to be, just imagine one possible version of a self you would like to be in 2024. Or perhaps several versions if you are contemplating more than one path — they could be quite interesting to compare!

Some questions you might ask yourself as you imagine yourself in 2024:

  • What goals have you met by then (personal, professional, health)?
  • What are you doing that is meaningful to you?
  • What are you doing that you enjoy?
  • What new skills have you gained?
  • What current skills have you developed further?
  • What values are guiding your actions?
  • How are you expressing your true self more closely?
  • What role model(s) have you become more like?
  • What challenges have you overcome?
  • What personal strengths have you continued to cultivate?
  • What areas of weakness have become stronger?
  • What people are most important in your life?

A related and fun exercise is writing a letter to your future self. Here’s a website that makes it easy to create a message to  be emailed to your future self, one year or five years from now (or at a custom time). I wrote one of each this morning. 2024-me will surely smile when she gets today’s awkward message. Of course, she may turn out to be nothing like the person I’ve imagined here. But just bringing her to mind has helped me clarify what I’m doing now, and why,

So give it a try, if you find this exercise intriguing. Who is your 2024 self? What are you thinking, believing, feeling and doing then? And how can you do more of those things now?

What’s Your January Challenge?

A new year inspires us to new beginnings. Holiday feasting is over, and in the northern hemisphere, the darkest nights are behind us. Even though winter has just begun, the days are lengthening and sunlight is beginning to return.

Now is the perfect time for a fierce (or gentle) January challenge. It doesn’t have to be for the whole month — just a week-long or weekday challenge may be a perfect start.

Completing a challenge brings multiple benefits:

  1. You take control and prove to yourself that you have power over your habits.
  2. In an “N=1 experiment” (an experiment with only one study subject: you), you’ll discover how you, as a unique individual, feel after making the change. Do your joints ache less? Does your skin look better? Are you sleeping more deeply?
  3. You gain courage, confidence and self-efficacy that will help you successfully make the next change.

cropped-muscle-arm.pngHowever, this only works if you actually do it.  If you take on a challenge and don’t complete it, you’re sending yourself unfortunate messages, like “see, I’ve failed again.”

So here’s the key to a January Challenge: choose one that is a bit of a stretch for you, but you know you can accomplish it, in spite of the inevitable special events, travel or family emergencies. (Of course if you commit to 50 push-ups a day for 30 days and you get the flu, you’ve got to take a break, but you can simply extend your challenge by the same number of days at the end.)

There’s a human tendency to imagine we’ll be able to do something easily in the future, but when we actually reach the moment, it seems hard and we postpone it again. Especially if this is a pattern for you (as it is for nearly all of us!), scale back your challenge until it seems almost too easy. Completing it will give you confidence and momentum for more challenging steps!

Here are some very assorted ideas for January Challenges. Which one is right for you?

  • Dry January (no alcohol all month; I did this in October and it wasn’t easy; I’ll tell my story in a future blog post!).
  • If you are feeling super-fierce, or super-fed-up and ready for a big change, try a Whole30. You only eat nature’s healthiest foods for a whole month, and if you slip up, the clock resets for another 30 days. It can be life-changing!
  • No alcohol for a week.
  • Alcohol only on weekends.
  • Limiting alcohol to below the risk threshold if you are currently above it.
  • No added sugars all month. This means no processed foods, recipes or beverages with added sugars — it’s tough because sugar is everywhere, but you will likely feel a positive difference if you can do it! Feel free to contact me for guidance.
  • No added sugars for just a week, or on weekdays.
  • No sweetened beverages all month (I’d also suggest skipping artificial sweeteners to help conquer the sweetness habit and cravings).
  • Tapering off caffeine and then going without it for a period of your choice.
  • Getting 5 servings of vegetables every day (or 1-2 more servings than you currently consume; white potatoes don’t count!).2015-12-20 18.06.56
  • Having 2 servings of fresh fruit every day (easy, and helps drive out other sweet treats).
  • Cutting out a “trigger food” that you have trouble resisting (candy, cookies, chips, soda) for a month, a week, or during weekdays.
  • Getting off your phone and social media 1 hour or more before bedtime.
  • Closing your eating window right after dinner or at a certain time in the evening and having only non-caloric beverages (water, herb tea) until breakfast.
  • Tracking your walking steps and setting a goal for the week, maybe 50,000 steps a week.
  • Taking at least a 10-minute walk every day, even if it’s cold or raining.
  • Doing 5 minutes of exercise every morning, even just marching in place while listening to motivating music.
  • Meditating for one minute on the first day, working your way up each day by 30 seconds, so you’ll get to 15 minutes by the end of the month. Here’s a quick guide  (don’t worry that they recommend 15 minutes as a minimum, you’ll get there!) or feel free to contact me for guidance.
  • Doing one push-up on the first day, working your way up by one each day until you can do 31 on day 31. Here’s a quick tutorial (if you’re a beginner, go to 1:43 in the video where she explains how to start on your knees or with a chair)
  • Before you get up in the morning, or before you fall asleep at night, thinking of 5 things you’re grateful for. A gratitude practice is extremely simple but can have huge effects on your outlook on life.
  • Or ???  Please comment below and share your challenge!

Now that you’ve chosen your challenge, put all the tools in place to make sure it happens.

  1. Break the habit cycle. A habit involves a cue or trigger and then an automatic response. You take a break at work and have a donut. You hear the alarm and hit the snooze button. You wake up and check your email. Identify those key moments and plug in a better substitute. When you feel like taking a break at work, go on your 10-minute walk. Turn off the alarm and do your gratitude or meditation practice. When I cut out alcohol for 30 days and craved wine before dinner, I turned to grapes and blue cheese as a substitute treat, and I contacted my friend Viviana via WhatsApp for support (thanks Viviana!). Try the 5-Second Rule — when you notice yourself wavering between “I should” and “I don’t feel like it,” count down 5-4-3-2-1 and do the right thing!
  2. Track your progress. As all game designers know, getting little rewards like gold stars is motivating, as silly as it sounds. Track your progress on your calendar, a chart hanging on your mirror, or something else you will see each day. Maybe track along with a friend or even compete with each other.
  3. Find support/accountability. Reaching out every evening to my friend Viviana 2018-12-27 08.54.55was crucial for my 30-day no-alcohol challenge. I knew she was expecting to hear from me, and I could complain to her when I was feeling tempted. (It turns out that our contact every day encouraged her to start exercising again, since she’d fallen out of the habit!) If you’re my client, I am happy to provide accountability every day for whatever challenge you choose!
  4. Find your “why”: who do you want to be? Your challenge points to the healthy, bold, positive self you want to bring out. Find a statement that expresses this and remind yourself of it every day: “I’m an active person who exercises every morning.” “I’m in control over my drinking/snacking/sugar consumption/social media time.” “I eat tons of healthy vegetables.” “I practice mindfulness/gratitude.” OK, these sound a bit dull — I know you can do better! Share yours below if you’re willing!

What if you realize your challenge was a mistake? Maybe you’re feeling worse instead of better, or you realize that you simply can’t keep it up. To avoid the negative consequences of “giving up,” when you stop your original challenge, start a new challenge immediately that you know you can fulfill. It’s OK to choose something super-easy, like meditating for one minute before bedtime or thinking of three things you’re grateful for each morning. Any small step in the right direction that you stick with is a victory.

I’m looking forward to hearing about your January challenge! If you need more support, please consider working with me by phone or in person. Happy New Year!

Feasting and Fasting

Feasting and fasting seem to be a natural human rhythm. Sometimes they are part of a ritual structure (Lent, Ramadan). Feasting and fasting are also simply the logical consequence of an uncertain food supply (berries in season, successful hunt — or not).

Today, there is tempting food all around us, pretty much all the time. When we add

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Raclette feast with my wonderful neighbors!

celebratory holiday feasts, we can quickly tip into excess. Restoring the “fasting” element can put us back into balance.

By fasting I mean any kind of limitation, like “no meat on Fridays,” not necessarily water-only fasting (and definitely not going without both food and water all day, which I highly respect observant Muslims for doing, but which is not medically recommended!).

Typical holiday weight gain is sometimes exaggerated; this study suggests it is likely only one pound on average. But if you’re hoping to go in the other direction, building up some “fasting powers” to counteract your holiday indulgences can make all the difference.

What fasting powers are you ready to develop?  Here are a few to consider:

The power to choose and stick to your choices. What do you most look forward to enjoying? What are you willing to let go? What do you need to limit? If this is a problem area for you (if you often resolve to avoid or limit a particular item but cave anyway), start small and build your powers gradually. For instance, you might have one dessert-free night this week, or avoid one tempting item at a party. Find something that is easy enough that you’ll definitely do it, and take that confidence forward into the next step!

The power to say “no, thank you.”  Especially during the holidays, there is a lot of social pressure to eat and drink things that we don’t think are right for us. If you were highly allergic to the item (peanuts? shellfish?), or if you hated the taste (liver? cilantro?) you would easily and politely refuse it. Stand up for your own health priorities in the same way. If a smiling “no, thank you” isn’t enough, try the recommendation of Susan Peirce Thompson of Bright Line Eating: “I’m feeling really content right now.” Susan also recommends focusing on the people at an event, not the food/drink. Reaching out and learning interesting things about other guests, with a glass of sparkling water in your hand, is also a fasting power!

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Bedtime snack: water and a little Himalayan pink salt (a gift from my friend Amber, thanks Amber!)

The power to close your “eating window.” “Don’t eat within three hours of going to bed” is standard health advice. With 8 hours spent sleeping, that adds up to 12 hours. For instance, you might close your eating window at 8 pm and open it at 8 am, only consuming water, herb tea and similar while your “window” is closed. During that time, your digestive system gets some rest, your insulin levels go down, your body carries out repair processes, and you burn stored fat for fuel (notice that you’re probably not ravenously hungry right when you wake up, even after going without food all night). Once you can comfortably go for 12 hours, you might experiment with keeping your “eating window” closed a bit longer and see if it works for you (see important cautions below).

The power to reduce calories some days. There are many options for doing this in a healthful way that feels good. Some ideas to consider to replace typical meals are homemade soups, bone broth, salad with protein, green juices, green smoothies, or high-quality protein shakes. There’s evidence that this works better than restricting calories day after day (and it certainly seems more in line with our biological heritage). In this very exciting study, medically supervised patients who had only one meal plus fluids three days a week, while eating normally on the other days, were not only able to lose weight but actually reversed their type 2 diabetes, while reporting that they felt good during the process. We don’t have to go that far to see some of the benefits! (Consult your health practitioner before significantly changing your eating plan, and please read the guidelines below.)

The power to take on a longer challenge. How about “Dry January” with no alcohol? A month without added sugar? A no-caffeine challenge? Or even a Whole 30 ? What challenge will make you feel fierce, healthy and in control? This will be my topic for next week, as we all move toward a fresh start for 2019!

And now, lots of important cautionary guidelines 🙂

  1. If you have any underlying health conditions or are taking medications, check with your health practitioner before making significant changes to your eating plan.
  2. No matter what you’re trying, always stay well-hydrated, and monitor how you’re feeling. Healthy living feels good! If something doesn’t feel right, stop.
  3. Whenever you significantly change your eating plan, monitor yourself carefully for any troubling thoughts or symptoms (bingeing, obsession with food, significant anxiety about eating the “wrong” foods). If you experience any of this, you are not on the right path. Stop what you’re doing and consult a specialist. If you have an eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia), ask your health practitioner to supervise any dietary changes you make, and if you’ve had one of these conditions in the past, also consult with your practitioner about your planned changes, and do not try unsupervised water fasts.
  4. Any time you reduce calories, you need to pack more nutrition into the remaining meals. Be sure to get an average of at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day (extras on feasting days if you have fewer on other days) , and definitely more than the recommended minimum of 1/3 gram of protein per pound of your bodyweight (so if you weigh 180 pounds, the absolute minimum is 60 grams); here is a good guide to the protein in servings of typical healthy foods).
  5. Reduce overall weekly calories by only a modest, sustainable percentage (maybe 20% at most).
  6. If you’ve gone a while without eating, ease back in gently, maybe with a soup, salad or green juice rather than a big plate of ribs from Rudy’s Barbecue in Laredo, Texas  — that was me after 16 hours of fasting; I went from feeling lousy because I hadn’t eaten to feeling lousy in a different way :-/ .

With your fasting powers, enjoy your holiday feasts without guilt!