Self-control

Your "Power Zone"

Since we are beginning our Harness Your Power Challenge today, I thought I would share the first lesson on my blog. I created a fun little infographic to go along with it! 

Finding Your "Power Zone"

Self-regulation is a fancy word for controlling your own emotions, behaviors and physical state. If you experience the world more intensely than others, chances are you have had challenges with regulating your response to the world.

Your "Power Zone" Tools to get in "the zone" - Free Retreat Planner inside

Vacillating between mental, emotional or physical states that are too high or too low can leave you feeling like you are spinning your wheels. It can be difficult to think clearly in the moment to find strategies to bring you back to your grounded center.

The purpose of the Power Zone Toolkit is to help you develop tools that you can have at the ready when you find yourself thrown off course. The tools can either be printed for your own small binder or easily drawn in a bullet journal or other book. Dot grid paper is ideal for drawing your own diagrams (printable pages included in planner tools).

When you are revved up you might feel restless or even anxious or angry. You lack focus and your fight, flight or freeze mechanism may kick in. When you are in survival mode your rational brain shuts down, so having calming tools at the ready will help you to get back in the zone. These may include things that soothe or distract you from your current state of mind.

When you are in the Power Zone you are harnessing your own power. You feel connected and in flow. Tools to observe and connect with your thoughts and feelings help you to stay in the zone.

When you are feeling down, your energy is low. You might be sad or depressed or just drained. It is hard for you to muster the energy to do the things that you know will pick you back up again. That is why it’s helpful to have simple tools at the ready that can energize you. It is also important to know when and who to reach out to for help.

This toolkit is a part of my Ignite Your Power program, which you can read more about here.

To help you take time out to connect with your inner thoughts, I created this free Retreat Planner!  It includes information on: How to prepare for your retreat in the way that’s best for you; Simple, accessible, and straightforward practices to deepen your experience; A template planner;  A guide to using essential oils to enhance and deepen your healing experience; A recommended reading list; and more!

Get in "The Zone"

When I first decided to go into coaching, I said that I wanted to help people with "self-regulation," but very few people got what I meant by that. I figured it was something they teach to kids in schools these days, so it should be pretty basic right? 

Self-regulation is a fancy word for controlling your own emotions, behaviors and physical state. This can be a challenge for those of us who are highly excitable because we experience the world so intensely!

We are starting to see the importance of teaching this to kids, but for adults it's assumed we already know how to do this. But let me tell you, I think this is something most of us struggle with. We may not be exploding or throwing tantrums, but it is likely we may be turning things in on ourselves and making ourselves sick. 

Self-regulation is not about being something you are not, or ignoring the negative to focus only on rainbows and unicorns. According to this post on self-regulation in Psychology Today

"Behaviorally, self-regulation is the ability to act in your long-term best interest, consistent with your deepest values. (Violation of one's deepest values causes guilt, shame, and anxiety, which undermine well being.) Emotionally, self-regulation is the ability to calm yourself down when you're upset and cheer yourself up when you're down."

The problem is that when you get too revved up, or when your energy is depleted, it can be a challenge to find that optimal state in which you can make decisions that are "consistent with your deepest values." 

When under stress, our fight, flight or freeze brain kicks in and can undermine our ability to think clearly and objectively. 

You can build your own Power Zone Toolkit to help you develop tools that you can have at the ready when you find yourself thrown off course. In order to start building your toolkit, you must first consider what each zone looks like for you, and what strategies you already know help to get you back into "The Zone."

In "The Zone" - When you are in the Power Zone, you are harnessing your own immense power! You feel connected to what is happening and in flow. You are in a state of calm alert. What does that look like for you personally? What strategies help you get in or stay in "The Zone"?

Revved Up - When you are revved up, you might feel restless or even anxious or angry. You lack focus and your fight, flight or freeze mechanism may kick in. When you are in survival mode, your rational brain shuts down, so having calming tools at the ready will help you to get back in "the zone." What does that look like for you personally? What strategies help you get back to a calm and alert state?

Feeling Down - When you are feeling down, your energy is low. You might be sad or depressed or just drained. It is hard for you to muster the energy to do the things that you know will pick you back up again. You may get in a cycle where you know what to do, but can't follow through. What does that look like for you personally? What strategies help you to regain your energy?

I created the Power Zone Toolkit to provide you with tools to help you: 

  • Ground yourself when you're feeling restless or out of control,
  • Raise yourself up when you're feeling down, and
  • Keep your best tools at hand to pull you out of stressful brain shut-down. 

It's Not About Self-Control

I was first inspired to become a life coach when I had a life changing experience with my relationship with food. After years of trying to "eat better," I finally felt the connection between how I ate and how I felt. I had always thought I had really bad willpower, but I found when I saw clear results I had mad willpower skills!

I wanted to help women, like myself, who were prone to extremes increase their own self-regulation so that they could do the things they needed to do to feel better.

But I didn't see the flaw in my own thinking. Forcing yourself to do things you don't want to do and forbidding yourself to do the things you want to is a sure fire way to burn yourself out!

It's not about having better self-control, it's about getting better at listening to your own needs, both physically and emotionally.

All these years I've been beating myself up about not following through on the things I knew I should be doing, when what is really the best way to gain energy is to do the things that make you feel powerful and joyous!

This message was really brought home to me as I finished writing my talk on Breaking Free From Fatigue, which I'm presenting tonight. If you are not already on my mailing list, you can get the details by signing up for my Self-Care Toolkit! Come join us!

Saying Yes by Saying No

When you say “yes” to others, make sure you are not saying “no” to yourself. ~ Paulo Coelho

I used to pride myself on my ability to get along with challenging people (oh who am I kidding, I sill do a bit but I no longer seek it out). One time I was working on a project where there was conflict between two parties. I did everything I could to make everyone happy. I did a good job of it for a while until in a hasty attempt to resolve an issue, I sent a message that might not have shined the best light on one of the parties. At that point I was criticised for not being fair. This hit me hard because I was trying so hard to please everyone involved.

I knew in theory that you can't please all of the people all of the time, but this was the first time it really hit home. At least with people who's opinions I cared about. I believe this was the beginning of my lesson that the true test for me is not how well I can get along with other people, but how well I can take care of and set boundaries for myself.

If you are emotionally sensitive or excitable, you likely enjoy making other people happy. It might have gotten to the point where you put other people's needs before your own. But you have something unique to share with the world and if you are too busy saying yes to things that aren't in line with your purpose and vision in life, you are saying no to something that is.

The next time someone asks you do do something, here are some questions you might ask yourself before you respond:

Will it make me pull my hair out? If the prospect of what they are asking is so stressful to you that it makes you want to pull your hair out, there is very little justification to do it.I'm certain that you can find something to move you toward your purpose and vision that isn't as stressful and if there isn't, consider reexamining you vision.

Is it in line with my vision and purpose? Now let me be clear, play, rest and self-care are contributing to your purpose and vision. You don't have to spend every waking moment working toward a higher goal. It is helpful though that if you choose to spend your time on rest and play that you are doing it mindfully and not out of default mode.

Is it fun? Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of Nonviolent Communication is fond of saying, "Don't do anything that isn't play." If it is not something you find enjoyable, ask yourself...

Is there something more fun that will move me toward my goal? It might not be fun at first, but if you can see the value in it, you can make it more enjoyable.  Find the fun in it by telling yourself "I'm choosing to ___ because I want ___.."

Do you have the time? If it's in line with your vision and purpose, is fun (or you can make it more fun) and you have the time, then by all means say yes.

If you don't have the time, ask yourself...

Does it have priority over other things on my list? If it does not, then let it go. If it does take priority, either delegate or say no to something else.

So what is something you have said no to recently that wasn't in line with your vision and purpose?

Building Your Want Power

Last week I wrote about the dangers of willpower, so it was a little ironic when my mom came back from a trip to Powell’s with a book called The Willpower Instinct, by Kelly McGonigal, and I ate it up!

It did indeed reinforce my assertion that willpower is a limited resource and that it is crucial that we understand our motivation. She talks about three powers that affect our self-control, willpower, won’t power and want power. I believe that want power is the most powerful of all because it helps us to move from “I have to” to “I choose to because I want ___.”

McGonigal goes over some key concepts to understand in order to improve your self-control.

Pause and plan instinct - Most people are familiar with the fight or flight instinct that we have when we are in physical danger. McGonigal points out that we also have a “pause and plan” instinct that kicks in when we are faced with internal conflict. Instead of everything speeding up as it does with the fight or flight response, everything slows down.  The problem is when we are under high levels of stress, our fight or flight takes over and we lose our strength to pause and plan. In our excessively over stimulating culture, we are under high degrees of stress. Add to that the intense sensitivity and reactivity of being highly excitable, and it’s no wonder our self-control reserves wear out.

Some things that can increase your willpower instinct include:

  • Slow down your breathing.
  • Take a 5 minute walk outdoors.
  • Be sure to get sufficient sleep.
  • Take time in your day to relax.

Self-control is like a muscle - If you use it too much, it gets tired, but regular exercise can make it stronger. I think part of the problem is though, we take on a self-control task that is so monumental, it’s like trying to lift 200 lb or bike 200 miles when we’ve never lifted or rode more than 20 before, then beating yourself up for not following through. Would you expect yourself to run a marathon without ever running before? Probably not, so why would you expect yourself to exert levels of self control well beyond what you’ve practiced before? Also, if you've exhausted your resources, even small levels of self control can be depleted. Think of the person who resists even a bite of pie all day and then binge eats the whole thing that night.

Some things that help give you more energy to build up your self control:

  • Dig deep to find your big “want” power (it may not be what you think).
  • Fuel your body with good food that supports your energy.
  • Exercise self-control by picking one small thing to keep track of that you don’t usually pay attention to.
  • When trying to make a big change, look for a small way to practice self-control that strengthens your willpower but doesn’t overwhelm it completely.

Self-control does not define self-worth - When we measure our moral worth on our ability to restrain ourselves, we are more likely to then turn around and reward ourselves with the very thing we are trying to resist. We may start to justify choices that aren’t in line with our goals based on one “virtuous” aspect (such as “it’s fat free,” or “it’s on sale.” We may also rationalize that it’s OK to do something today if we behave better tomorrow.

To keep yourself on the right track:

  • Shift your focus from self-worth to your goals, values, mission and vision.
  • Next time you want to indulge as a reward for “good behavior,” check in to see if it’s in line with your goals and values.
  • Try for consistency within your day instead of extreme all or nothing behavior.

What we desire does not guarantee happiness - The dopamine in our brain convinces us that once we receive a reward, we will be happy. This can be used to motivate toward our goal, but can also derail us with more immediate “rewards” or “temptations.” Marketers use this tactic to sell things with the promise or reward. I believe that the more we deny ourselves, the more tempting the promise of reward can be.

To challenge the way dopamine works in your brain:

  • Explore what gets your dopamine neurons firing. Is there a way to use your dopamine to move you toward your goal?
  • Observe when your desire triggers stress and anxiety.
  • Test the promise of reward by mindfully indulging in something your brain tells you will make you happy but never seems to satisfy. Does the reality match your brain’s promise? .

Feeling bad leads to giving in - Remember when I said that stress decreases our pause and plan instinct? It also increases our desires for some reward to relieve it. It may not be something that actually will relieve it, but your brain convinces itself that it will. This makes us more susceptible to temptation when we are under stress. So it makes sense that when your attempts at willpower place you under a lot of stress, you are more likely to give up on it.

To decrease stress and support your want power:

  • Use proven stress relief strategies such as exercising, playing sports, meditating, practicing your spirituality, listening to music, reading, spending time with loved ones, getting a massage, going for a walk, doing yoga and/or spending time on a creative hobby.
  • Practice forgiving yourself. Ask yourself, “What are you feeling and needing?’ Remind yourself you are only human and think of what you would say to a friend.
  • Use optimistic pessimism by anticipating how and when you might be tempted and imagine a specific plan for following through on your goal.

If you can’t clearly see the future, it’s difficult to stay on the right path - This is the one that always gets me. Especially when it came to managing my chronic pain. I’d tried so many things that when I didn’t see immediate results, it was hard to stick to anything because I didn’t have the faith that it would help. Once I found something that made a difference though, I could stick to it so much better. There are many positive goals though that don’t have immediate rewards.

To keep on track with your long term wants:

  • Get a really clear picture of what you want from you goal.
  • Wait ten minutes before indulging in a temptation and remind yourself in that time the long term reward of resisting. If you choose to indulge at that point, do it mindfully.
  • Create a future memory by writing a letter to your future self or just imagining yourself in the future.

Willpower is contagious - We are hardwired to connect with the people around us, so it is natural that the self-control demonstrated by our peers will affect our own level of self-control. We are also motivated by the anticipated approval or disapproval of others.

To use the power of social influence for good rather than evil:

  • Spend a few minutes at the beginning of each day thinking about your goals to strengthen your immunity against the negative influence of others.
  • When you need a little extra self-control, bring to mind someone you admire as a role model and ask yourself what they would do.
  • Make your goal public to increase your accountability and gain support.
  • Engage a group in moving toward your goals together.

Suppression may lead to obsession - When you try to suppress thoughts, emotions and/or cravings, it often backfires by making you more likely to think, feel or do the things you are trying to avoid. If someone says, “try not to think about yellow butterflies.” What do you immediately think about, yellow butterflies. This is one reason why in positive discipline, we are encouraged to focus on what we want them to do instead of what they don’t want them to do, because if we say “don’t do this,” what they hear is “do this.”

To avoid suppressing your thoughts or feelings:

  • Allow yourself to feel what you feel, but question the thoughts that may be destructive to your goals.
  • Accept your cravings. Acknowledge how you feel about it, remind yourself of your future goal. If you do choose to act on them, do it mindfully.
  • If a strong urge takes hold, try practicing “surfing the urge.” Stay with the feelings of the urge and ride them like a wave rather than pushing them away.

If I could sum up what I gained from this book, I’d say that focusing on our want power is the key to lasting change.  Willpower is a limited resource that can be built up by practicing in small doses, reducing stress and surrounding ourselves with people who practice good self-control. Be cautious of won’t power because suppression, deprivation and the stress of feeling bad about yourself can backfire and make you more prone to do the very things you want to avoid.

The Problem With Willpower

When got married and moved up to the Northwest, I started to gradually gain weight. I knew it would be harder to lose the older I got, so every now and then I’d go on a low carb diet and lose about 10 lb. Then it would creep back on and then some.

Each time, I’d dive in headfirst with a plan and dedication - that would last maybe two weeks. Then, inevitably I’d eat something that was “off the list” and throw the baby out with the bath water. When I got close to my 9 lb pregnant weight not pregnant though, I managed to stick with it long enough to lose about 30 lb, but again it started creeping back up.

Then a switch went off in me. I tried a Paleo diet for the first time, and felt a real change in my energy. For the first time, eating well wasn’t about losing weight but about feeling good. I gradually started listening to my body more and how it reacts to what I put in it. I sometimes eat things that don’t make it feel so great, but I don’t beat myself up about it anymore.

Now I’ve lost over 40 lb overall, and I haven’t felt the need for willpower to maintain it in over two years.

So what’s the problem with willpower?

I’ve read some books on success that talk about the importance of willpower and how we have to practice it and strengthen it like a muscle. While this is true, we have to be careful about overly relying on willpower.

Willpower is a limited resource. As Shawn Achor points out in The Happiness Advantage,willpower is ineffective at sustaining change because the more we use it, the more worn-out it gets. If you have chronic pain or fatigue as well, it is increasingly ineffective because pain depletes your ability to regulate your behavior.

The focus is on deprivation. It is also risky to rely on willpower because it fosters a deprivation mentality. As Achor points out, “we deny and deny ourselves until all of a sudden we can’t take it anymore and the floodgates break.” The more we focus on denying ourselves using willpower, the more we focus on the very thing we are trying to avoid. This is one of the reasons the concept of intuitive eating has been so successful, because it’s about nourishing yourself in a positive way rather than depriving yourself.

If not through willpower than how will things change?

Find your motivation. The first step in making lasting change has been to truly get to your motivation to make the change. For me, losing weight was just not enough to sustain me. The first lasting health habit I implemented was a series of neck stretches that helped my chronic headaches at the time. I did those religiously for 5 years because it was so clearly useful to me. Nowadays the most motivating thing is to be healthy and well for my son. Once you are clear on your motivation, you can change your thinking from, “I have to ____” to “I choose to ____ because I want ____.”

Path of least resistance. Achor talks about increasing the likelihood of engaging in a new habit by putting it on the path of least resistance. He gives an example of how he wanted to learn the guitar, but he never pulled it out of his closet. He bought a cheap guitar stand and put it in his living room and suddenly he started following through with it. The extra 20 seconds it took him to pull it out of his closet kept him from engaging with it on a regular basis. He calls this “activation energy,” which is the energy it takes to begin a task. Just as you can put something you want to engage in on a path of least resistance, you can increase the path or resistance for things you don’t want to engage in such as distractions from work. Examples he gave were cutting all shortcuts and forcing yourself to open multiple folders to get to a distracting app, or taking the batteries out of the remote control.

Practice self-compassion. When you do something that you wish you hadn’t done, remind yourself that you are human after all. Every action we take is meant to meet a need, so try to express empathy with yourself to understand the need you were trying to meet. Also practice compassion for the habit you are trying to change. That habit has served you in some way in the past, whether it was to distract you from pain or protect you in some way. Acknowledge this, give it compassion and then focus on what you will get when it changes.

Reduce choices. In The Paradox of Choice, by Barry Schwartz, he talks about how our cultures focus on options and making the best choice can actually make us less happy in the end. There are some places where it is great to have choices, but when it comes to the basic everyday things in life, having less choices to make frees you up to have energy for the really big decisions.

Embrace “good enough.” Schwartz talks about the advantages of becoming a satisfiser instead of a maximiser. A satisfiser looks at the options until an acceptable option is found instead of searching for the optimal choice. This also involves appreciating what you have or where you are at instead of constantly striving for more.

Adjust your expectations. If you get caught up in thoughts or beliefs that hold you back or make you beat yourself up, stop and ask yourself, “is this thought or belief useful?” If not, try coming up with another thought that would be more helpful to you.

Practice the art of rituals. As Mason Currey points out in Daily Rituals, “A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods.” Working rituals and routines into our day can help us solidify new habits so we barely have to think about them. Just keep in mind, for major changes focusing on one small thing at a time can help it stick.

I used to think I had very little willpower, and then I proved to myself with food that I am capable of significant changes. I realized though that this was not so much because of willpower, but of mindfulness of my choices in the moment. I don’t always make the “good” choice, but I don’t beat myself up about it anymore. This has given me a much more positive relationship with food that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

What is one habit you have been successful in changing and maintaining? How did you achieve it?

Five Tools for Prioritization

If you are highly excitable intellectually or imaginatively, it is likely that you have a large number of interests, things you are good at and things that you would like to do. You might be considered a "rainbow person" or multipotentialite instead of a specialist (focusing on one main thing). If this is the case, it can be a challenge to decide what to focus on first. It's a great thing to have options, but not if it paralyzes you from moving forward.

First it is helpful to get clear on your purpose, vision, mission and values as I discussed last week. But what if there are multiple ways to contribute to your purpose and vision?

Importance Urgency Matrix

Importance/Urgency Matrix

One tool I've found mighty useful for prioritization is Stephen Covey’s Importance-Urgency Matrix from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In his chapter on putting First Things First, he emphasizes that we should invest most of our energy on things we consider important in our lives. These include things that contribute to our overall purpose, vision, mission and values.

First we manage things that are important and urgent. These include necessities, crises, critical activities, pressing problems and deadline driven projects. Next we focus on things that are important but not urgent. These include opportunities, important goals, long range planning, preventative maintenance, relationship building, personal growth and self-care. We aim to minimize things that are not important but urgent, which are interruptions such as some mail and calls, some meetings and some reports. Finally we avoid things that are not important or urgent such as trivia, distractions, some mail and calls, time wasters and busy work. Keep in mind that if you are spending a lot of time on distractions and time wasters, you might want to look deeper at your self-care needs.

Tournaments

Tournament Challenge

If you’re still not sure what’s most important to you, Kevin McCarthy uses a tool called the "tournaments" in The On-Purpose Person: Making Your Life Make Sense. This tool helps you get at your core wants and desires.

  1. List all of your wants/desires that you can think of.
  2. Write one on top and the next on the bottom of the page (to help spread out items that are alike).
  3. Write them on the branched tournament chart.
  4. Look at each pair, and decide which of the two you would choose.
  5. Work your way down until you get to the end of the page.
  6. If you have multiple pages, write the end want on each page on a new sheet.
  7. You can do this with all areas of your life combined, or separate them by your different life roles (i.e. Mother, Caretaker, Friend, Community etc.)
Forced Choice Clarification

Forced Choice Clarification

If your wants seem too broad to choose between using the tournament challenge, or you are trying to decide on an immediate option, you might try digging deeper into what you get out of each want.

  1. On the right hand side, list the things you would like to do. (e.g. go dancing with friends, stay at home)
  2. On the left hand, list the needs that that activity would meet. (e.g. Dancing - connection, fun, exercise; Home - rest, peace)
  3. Go through the needs listed in pairs and decide which need is calling to you the most. (e.g. What do I need more at this moment, connection or rest? or Which is calling to me most right now, exercise or peace?)
Decision Matrix

Decision Matrix

If you are trying to decide between different projects that you would like to do that all seem important to you, you can use a decision Matrix to help decide what to focus on first.

  1. List the projects you would like to work on (e.g.Write book, Start Podcast, New Program)
  2. Put them along both the top and right column of table
  3. For each pairing, decide which out of the two you would prefer to do.
  4. Count how many times you selected each choice.
Action Priority Matrix

Action Priority Matrix

And finally, if you are looking for the biggest bang for your buck, I really like this Action Priority Matrix! It looks similar to the Importance/Urgency Matrix, but it focuses instead on Impact and Effort.

First focus on "Quick Wins" - things that are high impact and low effort. These are the things where you will see immediate results. Then focus on "Major Projects," which have a high impact but take a bit more effort. Things that are low impact and low effort are considered "fill ins," while low impact and high effort items are considered "thankless tasks."

Over my spring break, I chose to prioritize cleaning and beautifying my desk area. This was important to me because it is where I get my work done and it is also the focal point of my living room. During Anna Kunnecke's Queen Sweep, she challenged us to beautify one area of the home and this was one that would have the highest impact for relatively little effort. It meets the need for beauty and peace in the room I spend the most time in, which had been lacking for quite a while.