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/
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.
“In order to kick ass, you must first lift up your foot” – By Jen Sincero.
It’s the holiday season and as the New Year draws near, I wouldn’t be surprised if you have been thinking about what type of resolutions you are going to set for 2019. Perhaps some of you are feeling like you have overindulged during the holidays, and are looking forward to turning over a new leaf in January. Maybe some of you are stuck in the whirlwind of Christmas and feeling like you can’t even think more than a day ahead. Perhaps the idea of setting a New Year’s resolution feels overwhelming right now. So let’s take a moment and create some spaciousness in our minds when it comes to setting goals.
Let’s take a moment and remember to breathe. We don’t have to slay the dragon all in one month. Remember, that this is a life-long journey of health that we’re on and we can sometimes burn out or fall off the wagon if we don’t set realistic or sustainable goals.
How about if we think about baby steps: taking one step forward and then creating a new baseline there. Then taking another baby step forward and creating another new baseline. Each new baseline feels like a sustain-ably new you. That’s how we slowly but surely upgrade our health. One baby step at a time. Before long, we look back at how far we’ve come and see that we HAVE been “kicking ass”. But we can’t start at the end result. We have to start at the beginning. A baby doesn’t usually say to himself, “Gee, today I’m crawling. Tomorrow I’d like to be running”. He starts by standing, then cruising the furniture, then taking steps while holding on to his parents finger and then finally, taking steps on his own.
So when you set your lofty goals, (those “kick ass goals”!), remember to just start by lifting your foot off the floor and focusing on that first baby step.
I invite you to ask yourself, “What is that first step that I need to take to start my new journey of health?”
Ahhhh, letting go. That is not something that comes easy to those of us type A personalities. Yet this is the year that I am embracing the art of “letting go” in order to achieve a higher state of relaxation and happiness.
As part of my proof, I submit to you the photo of the naked wreath on our front door. In years past, I have put a lot of time and energy into hanging small wreaths on every window of the house during the holiday season. It looks really pretty, but here’s the thing: it’s kind of a pain in the butt to hang them all. You have to clean off the window where the suction cup goes and you have to hang each wreath so it is at the same height and alignment with all the other wreaths (or else all the people out there with OCD will drive by my house and be very upset!). And you need to wait for a slightly warm day to hang them and then when you get a really windy night, half of them blow off….. You see where I’m going with this. There was clearly a little voice in my head saying “do we really have to hang up those stupid fake wreaths this year?” So about half way through December when I had dragged my feet for so long, I finally made the decision to ditch the window wreaths and just get a simple wreath for the front door. Not only was this a simple, unadorned balsam wreath from my local grocery store, but I actually hung it up that way and left it that way for a whole week without a bow or anything on it! When I would look at the wreath, part of me would cringe and say, “It really needs a bow or something, anything!” The other part of me would beam with pride, feeling like this was a test for my new self – embracing the imperfect. Just letting it be and allowing the discomfort of having a naked wreath on my door build and build so I could examine why it should make me so uncomfortable. Would it upset the mailman?
Here’s what I’ve come to realize: we live in a world that is priming us to achieve the “perfect exterior”. Just open up Pinterest or thumb through an issue of Martha Stewart or Magnolia magazine. Or look at the holiday cards we send each other. We are pushed to not only live up to unrealistic ideals, but then fill our days with unrealistic tasks, like wrapping our gifts just so, and adding a cute little bobble on top to make it look pretty.
Sending out holiday cards is a perfect example. Have you ever noticed all the photo cards that come in the mail this time of year? Every card has a family photo with each member smiling in their matching outfits. Even the family dog is looking at the camera and smiling. Then there are the overachievers: standing at the top of Mount Everest and journaling how each child is achieving greatness and on track to go to Harvard and become President of the United States someday.
I’m going to tell you, the best photo card we ever sent was when our triplets were 18 months old and we couldn’t get them to sit still for a second! We tried dressing them up and sitting on the fireplace hearth with them in our laps, but each time we got in position, they would wriggle away laughing like it was a big game. So we took a series of blooper pictures and put that on our Christmas card that year. People loved it. You see, as much as we have a fascination with being or looking “perfect”, we are also drawn to people who let their imperfections all hang out. It brings us a sense of relief when we can relate to them and say “oh! You mean your son likes to ruin every family photo too? Why can’t I get my kid to stop making rabbit ears over his brother’s head when we take a photo?” Somehow secretly I have this sick curiosity to know the real deal behind people’s family photo. Was Mom shouting at the kids to behave and tuck in their shirts? Was Dad rolling his eyes the whole time and wondering when this photo shoot would come to an end so he could go watch the football game? How many of you would pay money to see Chip and Joanna Gaines in a “not so perfect parenting moment”?
Stress and increased obligations go hand in hand with the holiday season. I found I needed to constantly readjust my expectations in order to maintain a certain level of sanity and happiness. I kept reminding myself that B+ work was good enough; that being a mom who is present and relaxed is the best gift I can give my kids as opposed to a picture-perfect magazine-worthy home with a mother who is screaming and yelling because she can’t really live up to the image of perfection in her head.
I invite you to give yourself the gift of imperfection this holiday season. Look for ways to let go of that which no longer serves you. Lean in to those things that make you uncomfortable, because they are likely the areas that are ripe for growing and learning opportunities. With this, I wish you a healthy and happy holiday and New Year.