Have you ever been in a scenario where you’re doing something new, something a bit against-the-grain for yourself and just as you’re about to step forward in that plan, your mind starts to think up all the reasons why you shouldn’t do it?
I can think of many, many times in the past when I’ve been about to embark upon a new adventure in my life — one that requires a new skill set, hard work and commitment — and all the planning is moving forward, but when it comes time to finalize the deal (either signing on the dotted line, definitively saying YES to someone or putting skin in the game with money), all of a sudden, my good friend, Fear, shows up and wants to pump the breaks. Often times Fear not only wants to pump the breaks, but Fear wants to hijack the car, grab the steering wheel, do a screeching 180 and burn rubber going the opposite direction.
Fear can be a powerful emotion and all too often can hold us back from believing in ourselves and playing full out and realizing our potential. Fear wants to keep us safe, inside our cozy little nest, where no change can happen and we won’t be vulnerable to getting hurt (financially, emotionally, physically).
Where has Fear shown up in your life and stopped you in your tracks?
I recently led a Masterclass for my Transform your Approach to Weight Loss group. In it, we were talking about the cast of characters that we keep in our head. I like to think of my persona as being made up of all these characters: the Boss Lady, the Yoga Mom, the Revolutionary, the Organizer, the Fearmonger and so on. If you heard my latest podcast, you’ll know what I am talking about. They all play a role in shaping my outward actions. Often times, one of them takes the lead role while the others chill out on some folding chairs backstage. To be sure, there are protagonists and antagonists in the cast and they sit like angels and devils on my shoulder, whispering in my ear, trying to influence my actions.
You can actually apply this concept to those situations where you find yourself wanting one thing, but acting or behaving just the opposite. For example, how many of you have had those Netflix moments at the end of a long hard day? It’s late. Well past dinner. You’ve settled in on the couch and you know you’re not hungry, but you just have this need for something. You know you don’t want it, because you’ve been trying to lose weight and you’ve been good all day, but then, when you’re exhausted and those thoughts start to creep in… The angel is saying, “DON’T DO IT! You’ve worked so hard to take off those 10 pounds!” but the devil is winning out, saying, “You know you want it. In fact, you DESERVE it. It’s been such a rough day and you’ve held it together all this time. Don’t you want to just want to exhale, let your hair down, and INHALE all those chips or chocolate? Or better yet, both?!”
We have all have those moments. The cast of characters in your head might have parts that are calm and strong, and some that are like a 3 year-old, that insists on instant gratification, with no regard to consequences. These protagonists and antagonists can show up in so many situations and leave us conflicted and saying “why did I do that?!”
Just like in the beginning of this story, my Fearmonger character can be a strong antagonist in my head, trying to seed all sorts of “what if” thoughts, and stop me from doing what I really want to do. As I’ve been setting up my own private practice in Direct Primary Care, there are times when the Boss Lady CEO and Fearmonger are duking it out, just like those Netflix moments when you’re wrestling with the “chips vs celery sticks” thoughts.
Many of you might even be in the contemplative phase of making a big change and your Fear can show up and stop you. For example, perhaps you have been thinking about cleaning up your lifestyle habits, eating healthier, losing some weight, getting more sleep, or cutting back on the alcohol. Your rational brain knows you want to do it, but in order to make it happen, you have to give up something that you really love. Maybe something that makes you feel safe, or comforts you when you feel stressed. That is when the antagonist in your head (in my case, the Fearmonger) will show up and list out every single reason why this change is a bad idea. In fact, this character can really up the ante by showing up in such a sly, sneaky, subtle way, that you might not even know that he or she is on stage. This can play itself out as self sabotage. It’s like the antagonist is working undercover, in the deep dark underworld of your subconscious brain, controlling the switches and the lights, the sound system and the microphone. Just like that movie Inside Out.
My point is, we can start to turn this situation around by first, being aware of this cast of characters in our head. When we acknowledge the Fearmonger, (or whatever antagonist you have in your life) and call it out, we begin to see it for what it is. Ask this character, “what are you trying to protect me from?” Often times, we’ll begin to see the 3 year-old behind the answer — that character wants us to be safe, loved, free from stress, free from burden, and receive instant gratification without any consequences. Well, that is a wonderful intention. Thank you, Mr. Antagonist for all of those lovely desires. And while that would be really nice to have all those things, I believe that when we step out of our comfort zone and into a new behavior pattern, there can be so much more reward waiting for us in that space.
Ask yourself “What do I really need right now?” Call upon your protagonist characters: The Strong One. The Calm One. The CEO. Let them take center stage and play a lead role in your life, your decisions and your actions. Allow your actions to be in alignment with your values and goals. To be sure, the battles will show up, but when you can put your antagonist in the back row, his or her voice can be just a soft harmonizing whisper in the larger chorus of your supporting cast. Don’t ever let him or her take center stage.
If you have been struggling to get healthy, lose weight and feel better, think about joining my program, Transform Your Approach to Weight Loss. I have a whole on-line course chock-full of strategies to help you, along with a community of support. We meet live in Masterclasses twice a month by Zoom, and I promise you, it will rock your world.
Until then, remember: your health is a journey, not a destination. I’m here to help. You can reach out to me at email@example.com
I suspect that I am like many of you these days: weathering a storm of stimulus overload in the wake of COVID-19 preparations. As a practicing family physician, I am being barraged with the need to stay updated on the latest guidelines on testing, treatment and prevention while trying to implement new ways of operating in the office. There are urgent conference calls from our employers, trying to get organized and learn the nuances of telemedicine. I find myself urgently trying to disseminate accurate information to my patients, friends and family. This is on top of the daily operations of refilling prescriptions and tending to my patients’ baseline needs.
As a mother, like many of you, I find myself opening and filing emails from school administrators, detailing plans for their virtual school experience. I battle unhelpful thoughts in my mind, like, “Am I letting them have too much screen time?” Or “Am I paying enough attention to them? Am I doing enough to engage them in stimulating activities while they’re home on furlough?” The time spent on extra Coronavirus planning/thinking/acting is taking up so much of my free time, that I find it stealing from the areas that I covet and value.
I will proudly admit that by the end of 2019, I felt like I had a struck a very good balance of productivity and self care. I had identified the parts of my life that I valued most and dedicated my time to them. I was pouring time into being a great mom, wife, daughter, sister and friend. I was exercising, meditating and doing yoga. I was volunteering and managing my time well. I was going to work and being a compassionate leader and connecting with my patients in a meaningful way. As a health and life coach, I was running my own business, teaching and speaking to groups about mindfulness and I was feeling all-around unstoppable.
And then, COVID-19 hits our world. I feel my attention begin to shift. My pulse starts to quicken. My balance and priorities seem different. Has it knocked me off my game? No, not completely. But I will admit that it feels like I am sitting on a bucking bronco at a rodeo and I am using all my tools in my bucket to stay on. With the information rolling in, it is very easy as a doctor to let my thoughts stray down the darkest of pathways. Fear can set in. The “what if” thoughts begin to creep into my mind. Time management can feel more difficult. Connecting with my spouse can feel harder. My previously sunny, optimistic self feels like a dark cloud of pessimism and despair has threatened to take over. There is a survival mode instinct that wants to kick in and reprioritize all of the balance that I had put into place in 2019.
The good news is that I know where these thoughts come from and how to keep them in check. Fear is not my friend. Chaos and disorganization do not help me. Spinning in my social media accounts only sucks time away from those things that I hold dear. I know that in order to operate at my best and continue to manage stress and anxiety in any environment, I have to stay true to my values as a human being. To let them go at this time of COVID-19 would only make me feel more mixed up, confused and unstable.
As we walk through this life, we all have deeply ingrained personality traits, skills, and modes of operating that are uniquely our own. And although we all have the ability to slip into dysfunctional patterns during times of stress, we also have wonderful strengths that we can display during times of security. For example, when I am functioning well at the top of my game, I am good natured, funny and compassionate. I step forward as a leader. I give lots of hugs. I listen well. I connect and collaborate with friends and peers. I am creative. I express myself through writing and movement. I feed my body with healthy food and self care. I play with my kids. I go on dates with my husband. I feel adventurous and willing to try new things. That is the Jenny I know and love. That is the Jenny that thrives in this world. That is the Jenny that I want to be remembered for.
As easy as it is to slip into deep darkness and fear at times like these, I choose to walk a different path. Through coaching and mindset and connecting with my support system, I choose to operate at the top of my game. I want to look in the mirror and recognize the person that is looking back at me. I acknowledge the fear and choose to move through it, because that is what my higher self would do. I encourage you to do the same.
If you are struggling and want to connect with me, you can email me at: Hello@JennyLaBonteMD.com
Also, if you are a physician and struggling with COVID-19 concerns, please check out all of the FREE coaching resources being offered by the Physician Coaching Alliance here: http://www.physiciancoachingalliance.com/calendar
There are times in our lives when we will all go through periods of extreme stress. It could be on an individual level, like a divorce or death of a loved one. Or it could be on a societal level, such as Corona virus threats, wars, stockmarket crashes or political leadership changes. When these things happen, the worry and fear can become so intense that people often decompensate by stress eating, or numbing out with TV, social media, alcohol, tobacco or marijuana.
Let’s face it: the brain is steering us toward the path of least resistance in order to feel better fast. But in the end, these things only give us a quick lift, and then we often feel worse afterward.
There can also be a tendency in times of stress to go into denial mode. “Maybe if I just ignore it, it will go away”. Many times I’ll hear people tell me that they have stopped listening to the news because it only invokes fear, or that they have tuned out politics because they feel so helpless to make a difference. In an effort to stop the overwhelm, they turn their back and walk away. I’m not going to lie, sometimes we all need a day to mentally check out and turn off the social media feeds, but as high functioning adults, we may also want to stay informed and connected.
I am going to advocate that there is a middle ground that we should all aim for. A place inside of us that I will label as the “healthy zone”. A zone that strikes a balance between social advocacy yet not ovewhelm, meaningful action instead paralysis, concern but not crippling fear, preparation without hoarding, and healthy self care instead of indulgence of cravings.
But how do we get to that targeted healthy zone and stay there? The pull to go in the opposite direction can be so strong. When I think about the zone, I like to use the image of a person bowling. In order to get a perfect strike, we need to roll the ball right down the middle of the lane and aim for the king pin. The king pin is the number 1 pin that if hit correctly, it can cause every other pin to fall. If however, we aim the ball too far left or too far right, we end up in the gutter.
I like to think of the pins as all the things in life that we want to be doing well and the king pin is self care. When we are mastering self care, it has the ability to have far reaching effects on the rest of our life and the lives of those around us. When we take the time to exercise, meditate, eat healthy, get proper sleep, and manage our stress, then we are able to show up in all other areas with a clear mind and renewed vigor. It allows us to be compassionate, loving and generous with those around us. Not only that, but when our stress levels are managed, our immune system can be strong and more effectively fight illness.
How do I manage to hit the king pin in life? Well, to be totally honest, I don’t always hit a strike. I am just like every other human. I end up in the gutter sometimes. But the key here is awareness. I continue to remind myself of the bowling image and when I stray off track, I aim again for the king pin.
For me, self care comes in a whole variety of ways. Some are little, like listening to spa music when I work, or taking a hot shower at the end of a long day. Some require more discipline, like meditating for 10 minutes in the morning or exercising consistently. Some of the best ones are free: like taking a moment to stand with your face in the sun and feel the warm glow on your skin, breathing the fresh air into your lungs. For many people, it may be spiritual, like connecting with their Higher Power. And I never discount the power of a good strong mantra or prayer in the back of my mind, to get me through the day.
Here’s my mantra or prayer for you:
May you find strength, wisdom and peace in the healthy zone
May you continue to aim for the king pin in life
May you be renewed and ready to be a powerful force for good in this world.
As we all try to strike a balance in times of strain or stress, I encourage you to double down on your self care. Model it for your children, your friends and your colleagues. Nourish yourself so that you can go out and nourish others. The world needs you right now.
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I have this great little wooden sign on the windowsill of my office that says “Create Your Own Calm”. It can be hard sometimes to feel calm during times of turmoil. Most of us go around juggling a certain number of balls, but then life can throw you a curve ball out of the blue that threatens to bring them all crashing down on your head! Or at least it feels that way. For me, there is a certain amount of bandwidth that is taken up by the day-to-day responsibilities, and when I am forced to allocate my energy to additional situations, it can feel like my attention is all over the place, giving me a feeling of unsettled chaos. Whether that attention is on corona virus, or other major life events, like a move, the loss of a job, an unexpected illness of a friend or family member, it can leave you swirling in a cloud of mental chaos. When we’re not in control, the brain has a tendency to race ahead, playing out all sorts of scenarios and “what ifs”. This can happen to me too, but I’ve found some tricks that really help to reign it in when the storm clouds like to gather in my mind.
Trick #1: Tap Into Your Senses.
One terrific grounding exercise to focus the attention on the here and now, is to engage the five senses. I often do this while taking a walk. It gives me a chance to breathe in the cool fresh air, feel the breeze on my face, and absorb the warm rays of sun on my skin. I use the power of sight to notice the little things around me: the buds on the trees, the blades of grass, and the colors around me. I listen to music to lift my mood, or sometimes, just listen to the sounds of the birds around me. Occasionally, there may even be a scent in the air. Perhaps I catch a hint of a burning wood from a nearby chimney. Focusing attention on the physical environment around us is a powerful mindfulness technique that helps calms the mind and stop the swirling thoughts.
Trick# 2: Let the Thoughts Go
In the meditation world, there is an emphasis on clearing the mind and letting the thoughts just pass on by. They are, after all, just thoughts. It’s a way for our mind to make sense of the world around us. But, remember this: our thoughts can affect our feelings and actions, and we can control our thoughts. We can choose to think different thoughts. We can choose to take a step back and let our thoughts float on by without becoming attached to them.
Here’s an example of an exercise I did today while on my walk: I visualized my thoughts being attached to a little card. I then tied the card to a balloon and let it float away. As each new thought entered my mind, I tied it to a balloon and released it. As each one floated away, so did the heaviness in my mind.
Trick #3: Gratitude
Despite the risk of sounding cliche there is a role for gratitude in the battle against overwhelm. As we master the previous trick of controlling our thoughts, we can choose to think thoughts of “what if” or thoughts of “I’m so grateful that…”
This morning as I pounded the pavement and took time to fill my lungs rhythmically with the clean, fresh air, I reminded myself of how glad I was to have a sunny day. That it was warm enough to walk. That I could get out of my house. That I wasn’t feeling ill. That none of my family was feeling ill. That my legs were strong and able to carry me. That my shoes were comfortable. And so on. The more I thought about what was going well, the less I thought about “what if”.
“What if” falls under that big umbrella of Worry. I once heard a phrase that stuck with me that said, “Worrying is like praying for something you don’t want to happen”. So if that is true, let’s focus on what we do want, and be grateful for what we have and are doing right so far.
Trick #4: Peaceful Mantras
I’m a big fan of listening to guided meditations. Especially 10 minute meditations. I love the variety of what I might listen to: from breathing exercises, to guided visualizations, to mantras, sleep meditations, and so on. A mantra, was explained to me as a word or phrase that you repeat in your mind to help you focus.
The other morning, I was listening to a guided Peloton meditation by Aditi Shah. (By the way, some of the best meditations I have ever done are available on the Peloton app). During this particular meditation, Aditi repeated this same phrase over and over and it gave me such peace that I’d like to share it with you:
May you be safe from inner and outer harm.
May you always remember your infinite power to heal.
May you be strong in mind, body and spirit.
May you always remember we belong to one another.
That is my wish for you, my friend. As we all have times of turmoil in our lives, let us remember that peace is found from within. You can create your own calm. You get to choose what you focus your attention on. Go in peace.
If you’re on Facebook, I invite you to like my page and join my group called Intentional Living It’s a place where I will post encouragement and tips to keep you on track.
If you’re interested in working with me one-on-one, click here for a link to a free coaching call and a listing of various packages I offer.
We are now six weeks into the new year and I am seeing a lot of patients in full swing with their weight loss efforts. Many of them are on point with their eating plan, working out regularly and feeling good about the results they are seeing. But a recent conversation with one of them highlighted the challenge for most people….. How do you keep it up? How do you keep the motivation going and make everlasting changes?
I felt compelled to do some research on New Year’s resolutions and find out how many people were able to stick with the new habits they were creating. It turns out that according to a study conducted by the University of Scranton that only 8 percent of people achieve their New Year’s goals! Not only that, but I was surprised to see that resolutions dropped off much sooner than I would have thought. Research from Strava, a social network for athletes, found that most people had already fallen off their bandwagon by the middle of January.
As a doctor and a health coach, I am in a perfect position to cheer people on with their healthy habits, but I also realize that forming new habits involves much more than just setting an intention and making some changes. Our brain and psyche are very happy to press the “Easy Button” and keep us in patterns of comfort and autopilot. The brain is also well adapted to choose the option that feels most pleasurable. So, if hitting the snooze button on a Saturday morning feels more pleasurable than getting dressed and going to the gym, then we will be more likely to stay in bed. Creating new habits that last can be tricky, especially when we are dealing with well-worn patterns of operation, so I’ve come up with a list of 5 steps that will help you with permanent transformation.
- Know your WHY. Identifying your motivating factors is the first step in making lasting change. For example, imagine that you are in a habit of eating ice cream every night and you’ve decided that you would like to lose weight. After some deeper digging, you discover the importance for losing weight is that you want to be the type of parent that can run and play and role model good eating habits for your kids. Now, when the ice cream dish starts to call your name at 8 pm, you’ll be able to load up this vision of playing basketball with your son and the good vibes that come with being the parent you want to be. You’ll need that emotional connection to your why in order to overcome the pleasurable pull of the ice cream! Remember, the brain is always going to want to choose the more pleasurable option.
- Create a Plan. Take some time to reflect on what has helped you achieve your goals in the past and use that to your advantage. Likewise, are there lessons around previous “failures”? Remember: failure is just a form of feedback. I often will talk to my patients who relapse on their smoking cessation efforts. We carefully identify the factors that led them back into smoking and try to set up systems to ensure they don’t fall into the same trap again. By putting some thought into your goals, you can hopefully avoid past pitfalls.
- Take Baby Steps! I find it helpful to chunk down big goals into smaller steps. Think about it this way: by taking small steps, we’re less likely to set off the alarm bells in our primitive brain that try to prevent us from doing “big, dangerous, scary” things. When we look at our biology, the primitive brain wants us to stay safe and ensure survival. So if we decide to suddenly go from couch potato to running 2 miles a day, the alarm bells go off in our subconscious mind and we may be likely to self sabotage. As you are about to embark on some changes, ask yourself “what is the smallest, realistic change that I can make and sustain right now?” Maybe it is to start with parking the car in the farthest parking space at work, or committing to walk for 10 minutes on your lunch break. Once those new habits become ingrained, you can take the next baby step.
- Set Yourself up for Success. Creating small wins helps a person feel successful and will propel him/her toward wanting more. Here are some simple ways to ensure small wins: First, try to clear out any blockades. Figure out what is currently stopping you from already doing your goal. Is your workout space a place that you want to spend time in? Can you lay out your clothes the night before? Make your lunches several days in advance? Go grocery shopping and prepare meals and put them in the freezer? Essentially, what can you put in place so that following through on your intentions is much easier?
- Set Up Accountability. It’s a scientific fact! Research done by the American Society of Training and Development found that people are 65 percent more likely to reach their goal after committing to another person. If you don’t have a workout buddy, don’t despair! There are lots of ways to set up accountability, including apps to track your progress, joining on-line groups of people with similar goals, writing in a journal, and working with a health coach.
If you’re needing help reaching your goals this year, I’m here to help! Whether it’s weight loss goals, work-related goals, setting boundaries, or creating balance, my extensive training in health and life coaching can help you be in that 8 percent of people that succeed!
If you are local to central Massachusetts, I’ll be giving a free talk at the Greendale YMCA in Worcester on Tuesday, February 25, 2020 at 5:30 pm to go over this exact topic! Not only that, but you will receive a voucher to attend a yoga class immediately following. You do not have to be a member of the YMCA to attend.
Also, if you’re on Facebook, I invite you to like my page and join my group called Intentional Living It’s a place where I will post encouragement and tips to keep you on track.
If you’re interested in working with me one-on-one, click here for a link to a free coaching call and a listing of various packages I offer.
As the year 2020 edges toward us with new hopes, desires and goals, some of you may have noticed that I am switching my tag line “Live your Best Life” (which is a bit of an overused slogan) to “Live your Best Lifestyle and Style your Best Life”. In an effort to align my coaching business and my physician practice, the word “lifestyle” has a real resonance for me; over the past year or two, I’ve been able to explore it’s power both personally and professionally.
In my personal life, I think I’ve always been attuned to healthy habits; but what I have discovered along the way is that we all have certain autopilot habits that we never seem to examine until things start to break down. For me that habit was sleep. Or lack thereof.
You see, many years ago, I had gotten myself into a really dysfunctional rhythm of working late into the night and surviving on about 5.5- 6 hours of sleep per night. I know a lot of people who function on this amount of sleep (or less!) and it all seems fine until it’s not. The brain starts to feel a bit foggy and efficiency starts to go downhill. Emotions are more fragile. Moods are more labile. Resiliency tanks. The immune system is more susceptible. Stress feels more intense. The body’s metabolism starts to slow down. Carb cravings intensify. These things creep on so slowly, one might not even notice it.
“How did I get here, and what’s gotta give?”, I asked myself. I couldn’t see any way to lessen my workload. I had talked myself into this fallacy that there was no other way to operate.
Fortunately, right around this time, I was starting my health coaching career and I was learning the art of habit change. In order to help others, I first had to take a good hard look at my own lifestyle habits and fix the ones that were not working for me.
Here’s the beautiful thing that happened: as I was able to make small changes to the most basic, foundational lifestyle habits (like getting more quality sleep) I felt so much better, that it propelled me to make more changes. I began to meditate for stress reduction. I then started practicing yoga every morning. I began to drink more water and cut back on sugar. I stopped eating ice cream every night (which is no small feat in the LaBonte household)! That led to a habit of getting more cardio exercise consistently. My stress reduction campaign at the office improved by adding aromatherapy and relaxing music in the background. We even added a meditation room for all of the staff to use. I made it a point to do self-care consistently, whether it was a massage or journaling, or connecting with friends, playing music, or going on a date night.
All of these small changes amounted to big benefits in how I felt. But here’s the thing: each of these changes were very deliberate and intentional. I had to first tackle one small habit. Take it off auto pilot. Examine it. Figure out what the story or lie was that kept the habit in a loop. Then I had to decide what I needed to give up to make space for a new habit to form. (It’s kind of like re-doing your living room. If you want to make a really big impact, you gotta get rid of the old furniture before you bring in the new).
So how does all this habit change relate to Lifestyle Medicine, and what exactly is that? According to the College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM), it’s practice involves “addressing the root causes of disease with evidence-based therapies in lifestyle behaviors such as diet, exercise, sleep and stress”. In August of 2018, I was able to go to a nutrition conference in D.C. with my two colleagues and it was put on by the ACLM. It was filled with doctors that believed what I believed: that food and exercise and stress reduction and sleep are medicine. That we can prevent and cure diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, sleep apnea and hyperlipidemia through lifestyle modification, not by constantly prescribing pills!
Over the years, I had often thought of myself as the “non-medicine doctor”, as it would often pain me to give someone a pill to fix something that I knew could be cured with a change of habits. And now, I had found my tribe! Not only that, but as I continued to research, I found Harvard Medical School has a center for Integrative Medicine (the practice of utilizing both traditional and alternative medicine for the benefit of the patient), and Mass General Hospital has the Benson-Henry Institute which works to integrate mind-body medicine into mainstream healthcare. But the cherry on the top is the gem in my own back yard: Jon Kabat-Zin, the world renowned father of mindfulness, started the Center for Mindfulness at UMass Medical School – my alma mater.
As I come full circle, I realize that my health, my personal life, my coaching and my physician practice are all aligned on the principles of self care. Yes, it’s as basic as 2+2=4. When you get back to these major lifestyle elements: sensible clean eating, exercise, limiting alcohol, drinking more water, getting 7-8 hours of sleep, managing stress, and fostering a sense of community with others, you feel better. You not only feel better, you prevent disease. But it goes even beyond that. When we recognize the importance of the mind-body connection, we can incorporate things such as the relaxation response, breathing techniques, meditation, mindfulness, Tai-Chi, yoga and more into our daily practice to enhance our resiliency and feel even better.
So as I bring to you my new tagline “Live your Best Lifestyle and Style your Best Life”, I blend my personal and professional values all together with a common core belief: Life isn’t about what happens to you, it’s about what you make happen. When you “style” your best life, it’s really about crafting it, choosing it, and creating it. On purpose. None of these lifestyle choices happen by accident. You have to mindfully and intentionally make them happen, But who better to have in your corner than me?
If you’re thinking about making that first small change and you need help with accountability, focus, or getting out of your own way, schedule a call with me. I’d love to talk with you and see how I can help.
For more info on Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine at Mass General Hopsital, check out: https://www.bensonhenryinstitute.org/mission-history/
For Harvard Medical School’s center for Integrative Medicine, check out: https://oshercenter.org/
For the UMass Center for Mindfulness, check out: https://www.umassmed.edu/cfm/
There we were, all 25 of us, standing in my friend’s driveway, shivering in the cold November air, waiting for the firetrucks to arrive as acrid smoke billowed out of her basement furnace. The crowd–consisting of kids, adults and two dogs–amicably talked and joked while eating cheese cubes and crackers out of the hatchback of someone’s car. Meanwhile, the hostess was expertly navigating the art of throwing a massive Friendsgiving event while evacuating all her guests during a moment of unexpected surprise. And to top it all of, her husband had raced off earlier to be with a loved one who had a medical emergency, leaving her to handle this “minor snafu” alone. This wasn’t what she bargained for.
I watched in admiration as she marched up the driveway in her apron and down coat to meet the firefighters and take charge of the situation. She never lost her cool or showed any sign of despair. She problem-solved and shut down the furnace, called the repair man, and aired out the house. After the firefighters cleared us to go back in, she never missed a beat in heating all the food and continuing the festivities as we sat around the kitchen table with parkas on and the heat off (awaiting repair) and the doors flung wide open for maximum ventilation.
The party continued until late in the evening. The repair man eventually showed up and the heat was restored. The jackets were shed and the post-dinner games ensued. Her husband returned and fun was had by all. In fact, the Friendsgiving dinner that seemed so doomed turned out to be the most unforgettable and festive one in history. In the heat of the moment, my friend might have crumbled, but instead, she let go of perfection and embraced the moment that was. Bravo, mama. I bow down to you.
This whole scenario was so incredibly fitting because I had just taught a mindfulness class earlier that day with the theme “perfectly imperfect”. This small group of women, who I have become so incredibly fond of, sat around a table sharing stories of our life events that didn’t quite turn out as expected. We all agreed that those disastrous moments were the ones that were the most memorable. We exchanged stories of birds pooping on a wedding dress, of being proposed to in a parking lot, of cooking Thanksgiving dinner in a microwave and toaster oven, and of professional photos being enlivened by screaming, crying, hysterical babies.
I shared with them a quote from my favorite mindfulness book, Present Over Perfect, by Shauna Niequist:
It’s about learning to show up and let ourselves be seen just as we are, massively imperfect and weak and wild and flawed in a thousand ways, but still worth loving. It’s about realizing that what makes our lives meaningful is not what we accomplish, but how deeply and honestly we connect with the people in our lives, how wholly we give ourselves to the making of a better world, through kindness and courage.
Let’s face it, life is messy. It throws you curve balls when you’re least expecting it. It gives you chapters and moments in your journey that you never thought you’d experience. But I still subscribe to that old adage: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. We can choose to be a victim in our lives, or we can ask ourselves, “what is this moment trying to teach me? What is the lesson here?” and if all else fails and you feel like crying ….. throw your hands up in the air and ask, “What’s funny about this?”
I have endless stories about how life turned out WAY different than I expected. I love looking back on those memorable times of trial, tribulation, and challenge and see how I handled it and modeled lessons for my kids. I hope that in most cases it was similar to the way my friend handled her furnace failure: with shrug, a smile and a resignation that life is not perfect. And if you muddle through the mess, you see the beauty of it on the other side.
As an example, I submit to you the above series of photos that we chose to place on our 2005 Christmas card, highlighting the difficulty of taking a “perfect” family photo with 18 month old triplets. It was our most beloved and well-received card ever. What could we say? Life was hard raising three toddlers at once. This is us. Beautiful and disorganized, frazzled and sleep deprived. But I wouldn’t change it for a second.
In closing, I leave you with one final quote from Shauna’s aforementioned book:
Sink deeply into the world as it stands…This world, just as it is. This is the good stuff. This is the best stuff there is. Perfect has nothing on truly, completely, wide-opened, open-souled present.
So as we head into the future moments of our lives, I ask you: how can you embrace the perfect imperfections in your life? Can you find the beauty in the present moment, no matter how messy, scary or ugly as it may seem? Look for connection and meaning instead, as that is where value and love resides.
* If you’ve enjoyed reading my blog and want to hear more about the various mindful coaching groups I have ongoing, then join my Facebook group, Intentional Living https://www.facebook.com/groups/458760348205548/?ref=bookmarks
and like my business page: Live Your Best Life https://www.facebook.com/JennyLaBonteMD/
Feeling overwhelmed by the demands of life is a very common experience for busy moms these days.
I get it. I’ve been there. In fact, if I look back 10 years ago when my triplets were just little ones, I think I think I could have written the Bible of Multitasking!
I know how it can feel to be totally entrenched in a stressful or high performing job, trying to do your best to raise well-adjusted children, maintain a good relationship with your spouse or significant other, pay attention to your health, and find time to connect with other women.
It often can feel like there are not enough hours in the day to do it all? Am I Right?
Sometimes it can all just feel like too much. A lot of busy moms feel anxious, unsettled and frenzied. I can’t tell you how many women I’ve worked with who say they just want to experience a feeling of inner peace….
Let me tell you a little secret:
Inner Peace is there for the taking. You don’t have to quit your job, win the lottery, move to Tahiti, or take a class with the Dali Lama.
Inner peace is always there, waiting for you. I liken it to being on an airplane on a cloudy day. When you’re on the ground, all you can see is gray. Maybe even a little rain. But the sunshine and blue sky is always there, above the clouds, just waiting for you to break through. Once the airplane lifts off and you bust through that ceiling of clouds, you are reminded of what a beautiful day it is.
The key to accessing that inner peace is to practice finding that space of calm, clear, blue sky that we all have inside of us.
This isn’t a skill that happens overnight. It comes with practice, mindfulness and INTENTION. But once you learn it and practice it, you can’t unlearn it. It’s in your toolbox for life. And you know what? Life starts to become more…..Peaceful.
I have seen mindfulness make a HUGE difference in all areas of my life: parenting, spouse relationships, family relationships, and interactions with patients and colleagues. Where I used to feel stress and conflict, I now feel more ease and grace, less REACTIVITY. That’s huge. That is a GAME CHANGER. People around me notice the difference. They can’t put a finger on it, but they’re like: “Waiter! I’ll have what she’s having, thank you”.
So what exactly is mindfulness? Think of it as NOTICING your behaviors in any given situation and being able to pullback (becoming less reactive) and going to a calmer internal place. It’s INTENTIONALLY taking yourself off autopilot and changing the way you respond to situations.
If you’re experiencing “Busy Mom Overwhelm” I’d like to give you 5 tips to begin your journey of self care and mindfulness.
- Get to bed on time. How many of you find yourselves intending to get more sleep, but when it gets down to it, you’re watching TV way too late at night, or scrolling through your social media and before you know it, hours of precious potential sleep time have slipped through your fingers? In order for you to build resilience, and be your best, your brain needs sleep. 5-6 hours is not enough! Set up the conditions so you are consistently getting seven hours a night or more.
- Take a few minutes to meditate. Nowadays, there are so many free resources to guide you on how to meditate. All it takes is 5 or 10 minutes a day to begin reaping the benefits. If you’ve never done it before, check out the Calm app or Headspace app on your phone.
- Turn off the radio during your commute in the car and just practice breathing. Breathe in to the count of 5, hold for the count of 5, breathe out to the count of 7. Continue breathing and relaxing while driving.
- Do something nice for yourself. What makes you feel good? A hot bath? Some good smelling body lotion? Curling up on the couch and reading a book? Petting your cat? It doesn’t have to be a fancy or expensive endeavor. It might be as simple as cutting some flowers and putting them in a vase where you’ll see them.
- Use your senses to enhance relaxation. Everyone has a primary sense that they connect with. Some people are visual people. Some tune in through their sense of smell or feel. Whatever yours is, use it to your advantage. If you are an auditory person, then put on some music that helps you relax. If you like aromatherapy, then check out some essential oils and diffuse them in the air and set the mood. If you like the sense of touch, then try tapping (EFT, or Emotional Freedom Technique) to help you get in the mindset.
Getting out of overwhelm starts with a series of little steps that set you up to find that place of inner calm. Remember: sunshine and clear, blue skies are always there, you just have to bust through the clouds to see them.
If you’d like to learn more about mindfulness, consider signing up for my upcoming class: Mindfulness for Busy Moms. http://JennyLaBonteMD.com/mindfulness
So we’ve had a very wet and rainy spring here in New England this year. In fact it was unusually wet and rainy in the fall too. Its gotten to the point where I just assume its going to be rainy unless otherwise notified. Like Billy Joel’s song about being in a “New York State of Mind”, I am now in a “Seattle State of Mind”…. That may sound funny, but on a deeper level, there is a mindset shift that is occurring here. Think about it: people in Seattle don’t stop living just because there is rain every day. They just put on their slickers and rain boots and grab their umbrellas and go about their day. People in Alaska don’t stop living because it is cold and snowy. They get on with it and do what they do despite the weather.
This became relevant to me this year because one of the ways I decompress is by walking my dog. We love to go for long, 45 minute walks, all on the back country roads near my house. Not only does it give me exercise, but it helps me clear my mind and process things that come up throughout the week. It’s my time, and I crave it. My dog craves it too and she will walk whether it’s raining, snowing, freezing, humid; you name it, she’ll brave the weather to get her walk in. I guess I’m lucky that way because she will let me have no excuses when it comes to the weather (unless the conditions are dangerous, of course). I have learned to not let the weather be a factor in this “me time”. I step away from all that potential drama that my brain would like to make about the weather and I just dress appropriately. I don’t let the obstacles become my excuses.
It’s funny, because last week I was talking to a woman who said that she wanted to start walking for exercise but she was waiting for the weather to get nicer. And in my head, I was thinking, “Honey, here in New England, where it can snow in May and then be 70 degrees the very next day, you might be waiting a very long time to start your walking routine”. When I asked her, “Why not just put on a raincoat and grab an umbrella and walk in the rain?” she looked at me like I had three heads! My hope in asking was to shake up her fixed mindset that she had to wait for the weather to be perfect to start her commitment to exercise. Right? How many times do we all go around with these preconceived notions in our heads that we never challenge? That we never even recognize as being ridiculous?
So I ask you: What are the preconceived notions in your head that are stopping you from setting out on a path to greatness? What thoughts are blocking you and becoming your excuse to not play full out? It doesn’t have to be just around exercise. It can be in any area of health, self care, relationships, work, parenting, and beyond. Can you identify and observe those limiting beliefs in action? What becomes possible when you start to toss those excuses and beliefs in trash and move beyond them into your full potential?
I invite you to let the rain fall in your life. Move into a “Seattle State of Mind” and put on your raincoat and your galoshes and step into the rain. Splash in the puddles a little, just to spite the rain! Realize that the excuses you make up in your mind start to shrink and not become so big when you stop giving them so much power over you. That’s when the sun starts to truly shine.
I have always enjoyed hearing the word Namaste at the end of a yoga class, especially when the teacher translates the meaning out loud. May the light inside of me honor and celebrate the light inside of you.
What a beautiful phrase. It reminds me of the song: This Little Light of Mine.
This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine,
This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.
This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.
We all have gifts and talents that we were born with. And when we identify and cultivate those gifts and then shine them out for the world to see, great and amazing things start to happen.
Have you identified what your gifts are? What is it that you are really good at that others might find difficult? What is it that gets you all “geeked out” and can’t wait to spend more time doing? If you were strolling through the bookstore, what topics are you drawn to? What is it that gives you energy and makes you feel alive?
This year, I have spent a lot of time cultivating and tending to my gift of communication and connection. I realized that my power and passion are ignited when I am connecting with another human being, person-to-person. Sometimes that communication comes in the form of a face-to-face interaction. Sometimes it comes in the form of a phone conversation or a text. Whichever it is, I find that when I am spending time listening and reflecting on another person’s story, journey or struggle, I really feel this intense connection to them. I often marvel at who they are and how far they’ve come. As a family physician and a health and life coach, I have the privilege of working with people over long periods of time. I see them in times of great despair and have the privilege of seeing them come full circle into times of abundance. What a gift that is to be present and bear witness to their joys and sorrows.
Communication, connection, cheerleading people on. That is my gift. Holding a sacred space for people to share their inner most fears, their worries and doubts, their vulnerabilities, their raw and naked selves. When I step fully into that space, it feels easy for me and I draw energy from it.
There is a wonderful Japanese diagram called Ikigai that helps to illuminate a person’s life purpose. In this diagram, there are four intersecting circles. Within each circle, there are words such as: gifts, passions, values, possibilities, where I excel, what I love, how I see the world and where I can make a difference. The concept is that in the center of all these intersecting circles, there lies your life purpose. Aka: the sweet spot. This is where your gifts and talents meet your passion. When we are tapping into that sweet spot, that is when the magic begins to happen. That is where we are meant to be. It becomes effortless and success becomes inevitable.
As you contemplate your sweet spot, I invite you to think about: are you identifying your gifts and talents that you were born with? Are you living a life that is in alignment with your talents and your passions? Are you shining your light and sharing your gifts with the world? And finally, how can I serve you to help you uncover your own gifts and talents?
May the light inside of me honor, celebrate and respect the light inside of you. Namaste.