Self-Advocacy: Five Tips to Claim Greatness

I have been a sucker for riddles since first encountering them in the form of bad jokes (Q: How do you catch a squirrel? A: Climb up a tree and act like a nut.) on the side of a Dixie cup in kindergarten. But my all-time favorite is one that has provoked thought for generations – “If a tree falls in a forest but nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Quantum physics aside, what resonates personally is the message that not expressing your thoughts or opinions can hurt you professionally and personally. And even when you have had a career of phenomenal achievements, a hesitancy to practice self-advocacy can cost you in terms of pay raises and promotions.

Knowing that you are ready to claim your greatness (cue inspirational background music at this point), here are five tips for mastering the art of self-advocacy:

1. Be willing to self-promote. Okay, self-advocacy doesn’t mean taking a megaphone out when the CEO walks by to shout “reduced costs by 43%” or “launched new software system on-time and under-budget” like a used car salesman. However, thoughtfully sharing your ideas and accomplishments in the service of others is effective. Let’s say you have been asked to speak at an industry conference. Internally, send an email and/or report about how this speech will benefit the business, thanking everyone who contributed to the innovative program you’ve been asked to present. Notify your firm’s communications team, offering to write a blog post or newsletter content about key learnings from the conference. Post a LinkedIn update about this activity. Consider presenting a webinar to others in the company about how your topic could be used to ignite ideas or improve performance.

2. Make data your BFF. Looking for a raise or promotion? Research the stats to substantiate the ask. Salary surveys applicable to the role you hold in your geographic market can easily be obtained at sites like www.salary.com. Benchmarking practices that other companies are engaging in can also be effective. For example, you can see the value of starting a data analytics team in your organization and would like to lead it. Talk to three to five comparable organizations about how they handle data analytics, the benefits and drawbacks of specific approaches and then craft the recommendation for managing this area in your organization, including why you are qualified to generate maximum ROI. Just remember that the delivery of your message matters as much as the content behind it.

3.  Aim high. Understanding your skills, strengths and weaknesses, where do you see yourself headed in the organization? Now, what happens if you aim higher? Over twenty years ago, a friend of mine enrolled in community college classes took a temporary accounts payable job in a Fortune 500 company. In this first exposure to a professional work environment, he started dreaming about one day becoming a department director. But over time, as hard work and smarts lead to new, bigger opportunities, he started aiming higher. Today that individual works at the C-level of a billion-dollar company, running its highest performing division.

4.  Build a career/life strategy. Taking the long-view of your career, which includes breaks for maternity leave or sabbaticals, can help in planning a career path that meets your professional and personal needs. In this Wall Street Journal article called “What’s Holding Women Back in the Workplace?” Microsoft Corp. executive Julie Larson-Green noted “There’s no such thing as work-life balance. There’s only life.” The key is being proactive. Accenture’s Getting to Equal 2017 report found that building a proactive career strategy is one of the critical accelerators in closing the gender pay gap for women. Whether you are just entering the workforce or already work in management, you can consciously design your professional experience at any point. Look at others whose career/personal trajectories you admire – peers and people at all levels of the organization, not just those in more senior roles – and ask for time to obtain their insights.

5. Give your inner saboteur a time out. In the professional executive coaching world (yup, we have one – think of a bunch of individuals who get excited about human potential and organizational development, sort of like how Comic-Con enthusiasts view pop culture), that internal voice that sometimes holds you back is called the “inner saboteur.” It might have started many years ago to help keep you safe in some way, but now the saboteur chimes in with thoughts like “what if you fail,” “maybe you’re not good enough” or “don’t rock the boat,” when you strive to make big, positive changes in your life. We’ve all had them at some point. Unfortunately, trying to ignore these thoughts can be ineffective. Instead, listen to what they say, thank them for any benefit gained from their protection in the past, explain why you have decided to behave differently now – and then take the major leap forward. I have seen people do this effectively in a journal entry, as a visualization exercise or as an imagined conversation in their head. Whatever the case, giving the inner saboteur a time out to focus on self-advocacy instead helps you claim your greatness.

What steps have you taken to practice self-advocacy? Have a story to share about asking for and then receiving what you want?

Four Ways to Love Yourself While Loving Your Job

iStock_000016251684_SmallIn developing business communications, I often quote  thought leaders like Albert Einstein, Jack Welch and Sheryl Sandberg. My all-time personal favorite quote  though comes right out of the mouth of Carrie Bradshaw during the final episode of Sex & the City – “The most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself. And if you find someone to love the you that you love, well, that’s just fabulous.”

Those are sage words. I’m lucky enough to have a great husband who really loves me, even when I repeat tired jokes about impending zombie apocalypses and often eat 80% of the premium chocolate bar he bought for us to “share.”  But I have had to recalibrate another area of my life recently   – balancing a job I love with taking care of myself.

I returned to corporate America last October as the Executive Vice President of Communications for the National DCP, which is the $2 billion supply chain management cooperative serving the franchisees of Dunkin’ Donuts. (Yes, they stock our break rooms with goodies but I don’t have any samples to share.) The job has been like a Reese’s peanut butter cup of excitement for me – I have gotten to build our internal, external and corporate communications strategy from scratch while also leveraging my executive coaching skills at work each day.  Incredibly fast paced, the 24/7 environment never stops. I have been on the road for much of the past two months and given my level of responsibility, frequently work on weekends while constantly staying plugged into email and texts.

Exciting stuff, indeed. Until you realize that your healthy eating habits have left the building, normally high energy level has plummeted and the bags under your eyes wouldn’t fit in the airplane luggage bin. As I’ve been working on balancing my love for work with loving myself, here are some tips that are yielding results:

  1. Treat nutrition like a project plan. You’ve mapped out that new project launch in detail and know three quarters of financial forecasts like the back of your hand, but never give a thought to what you are going to eat each day. So diving into leftovers from another department’s catered breakfast or fast food discards tends to constitute most of your lunches. I’ve been planning ahead by bringing healthy lunches and two sets of snacks into work, which helps me pass up the leftover cookie pile. The same is true for work travel. Keeping natural protein bars or nuts in your briefcase or purse curbs your hunger in transit. If i know where our team is headed out for dinner, I will check out menus online in advance to select healthier options.
  2. Get enough sleep. This one can be hard, especially if you have to get up early and go to bed late after a work dinner. I love exercising before work but have realized that sometimes getting seven hours of sleep is going to do me more good than anything else and adjust my schedule. Plus its natural for sleep deprived souls to gravitate towards lots of caffeine and sugar to stay awake during the day so getting enough rest helps you make better choices.
  3. Start and end the day focusing on yourself. My best days are spent journaling, even for 10 minutes, before I go to the gym first thing and then work. At night, I try to stop checking emails an hour or two before bed and drift off reading a good book or listening to a positive recording.
  4. Take breaks and time off. My boss told us to book vacations in advance to ensure we keep our commitment to taking time off. So I listened to his advice and now have fun breaks scheduled for September and December; just writing about this makes me smile. But also try to balance the hard work with more frequent, smaller breaks. I have had to work a number of weekends recently and plan to take an upcoming Friday off to just focus on myself.

How have you handled making time for yourself with a challenging job? What practices keep you healthy and happy on a daily basis?

Want a healthier, happier life? Then sleep on it!

Sweet dreamsWhen it comes to wellness, good nutrition and regular exercise tend to be the rock stars. It’s no wonder with benefits like increased energy, better fitting clothes, bolstered self-esteem and so much more becoming apparent within a relatively short period of time. But did you know that getting enough sleep is just as important if you want a truly healthier, happier life?

Until recently, it felt like sleep was the red-headed stepchild of wellness – a necessary practice but one that often got overlooked in our 24/7 super-charged lives. I often had insomnia from my teenage years throughout my thirties, rarely grabbing more than five or six hours of shut-eye a night during the week. Sadly enough, I thought this as a good thing, giving me extra time to read, be social or work when others were still ensconced in their beds.  That changed when I hit my forties and suddenly my body started craving more sleep. At first I was annoyed.  Until I realized that my mood and concentration levels tended to be better when I caught seven hours of slumber.  Started doing research and found some really compelling reasons for getting enough sleep for optimum wellness:

1) Sleeping more can help you eat less. According to this 2012 Time Magazine story, sleep deprivation can lead to overeating. In fact, a report presented by the American Heart Association’s annual Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism conference found that study participants who were sleep deprived ate more than 500 additional calories daily. It doesn’t take a math whiz to realize that amount of calories can quickly add up into unwelcome extra pounds.

“From a physiologic perspective, we know that sleep is a very important time for the release of many physiologic hormones,” says Virend Somers in the article, lead author of the study and a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic.  “It’s a time when the body repairs itself, the brain consolidates memories, and growth hormone is released. All of these important functions are impacted by less sleep time.” And that includes levels of hormones involved in appetite. Regardless of why sleep loss contributes to weight gain, Somers says in the article it’s important for people to start appreciating that the two are intertwined.

2) Sleep makes you more creative. Ever heard that when faced with an issue or question, sometimes it is best to sleep on it? In this intriguing article from BBC, researchers found that sleep helps make people more creative by building remote associations. Making the links between pieces of information that our awake minds see as separate seems to be easiest when we’re catching some shut-eye.  I’m a big believer of this practice. When I’m stuck on my writing or branding work, I will sometimes ask myself to think about the issue or challenge right before dosing off and usually wake up with great insights.

3) Lack of sleep can leave lasting damage. Feeling sluggish and looking tired aren’t the only negative physical side effects of substandard levels of sleep. In this recent article, researchers found that inconsistent sleep patterns can hurt your brain. The problem is the potential loss of neurons that impact alertness and cognitive function. Think you can catch up on sleep deprivation on the weekends and this will all remedy itself? Actually, researchers say not so much. Getting enough sleep most nights is the key to better health and wellness.

I hope this information doesn’t keep you up at night and instead, puts you to sleep (never thought I’d say those words about anything I’ve written). What are your sleep habits like? Is catching enough slumber part of your wellness strategy or a goal you are working towards in the future?

Three Lessons from the “Too Thin” Biggest Loser Winner

Biggest Loser feb 2014While The Biggest Loser inspires many viewers, I don’t watch it because there is so much focus on quick-weight loss and not enough on what it takes, psychologically and emotionally as well as with exercise and nutrition, for long-term wellness. Have to admit that even I was shocked when all of the articles ran yesterday, like this one in Entertainment Weekly, that showed the season’s winner, Rachel Frederickson, losing 155 lbs. to land at 105 lbs., which on her 5-foot 4-inches frame is well below the body mass index of a healthy range.  Her emaciated arms contrasted greatly with the joyous smile on her face and it broke my heart. That’s why I wanted to share three lessons we can learn from Rachel’s experience:

  1. Look for encouragement in other ways. When I slowly but surely took off 50 pounds over 20 years ago, getting compliments from people helped fuel that journey. I hadn’t gotten much positive attention for my appearance before and it was thrilling. After that 15-month process though, others got used to the new healthier, fit version of me and compliments slowed down to a trickle. So if you’ve come to rely on the lovely feeling of being cheered on and then it dissipates, that can be hard. Finding encouragement from other means, including yourself, is essential in maintaining a healthy balance with your weight and overall wellness.
  2. There can be too much of a good thing.  Losing pounds at some point should stop when you reach a healthy weight with strong muscle mass. Rather than continuing with behaviors that focus just on shedding pounds, consider consulting certified nutrition and exercise professionals or a physician to find the right balance for your individual body. Weight loss maintenance actually takes a different set of skills to thrive in the long-term. Many successful weight losers deal with “course corrections” along the way, in the form of gaining back a few pounds to reach a healthier, more maintainable place or having to shed extra weight that might return as habits shift in life.
  3. Get realistic role models. Rachel is a voice-over actress in Los Angeles, where many women in the entertainment industry are encouraged to be as thin as possible. If she has been working in an environment where trying to emulate runway model skinny is seen as success, then the weight she landed probably seems delightful to her.  And I know there’s a whole argument out there that Rachel could be absolutely healthy and is beaming in the media interviews when describing her experience. But given the importance of emphasizing being fit over being skinny to others looking at Biggest Loser winners as their role models, I wonder about the negative impact this could potentially have.

What are your thoughts? Does she look too skinny or should we all shut up and let her be thin in peace? Have you ever had to consciously regain a few pounds for better health?

 

Photo Image Credit: Trae Patton/NBC

 

Five Tips for Creating a Kick-Ass Vision Board

vision board 2014Ever heard the term “you’ve got to see it to believe it?” For so many people, visualizing a specific pathway, goal or dream is the first step in making it a reality. A really helpful tool in this process is the vision board, which is a visual representation of the elements you’d like to create, focus on and attract into your life. Here are five tips for creating a kick-ass vision board that helps you claim your heart’s desire:

 

1.  Determine your main themes. Is it love, financial prosperity, better health or increased fitness? Think about your main goals and interests for the year or whatever time period you are focused on for the vision board. If possible, come up with an overall theme or focus that will land in the middle of your creation too. Need an example? I’ve posted a photo of my vision board above. Nestled in the center is the phrase “Inspire…Be Inspired” which really sums up my focus for 2014, while the other themes represented in clockwise fashion are healthy eating/fitness/wellness, how writing my book inspires me, love, resourcefulness, success, financial prosperity and fun (represented by the minion from Despicable Me).

 

2.  Select images. Flip through magazines for inspiring photos and headlines that belong on your board. This year, I found most of my images online and printed them out, adding personal photos and phrases that resonated strongly. Like the photo of Sandra Bullock from her role in the movie Gravity that appears in the bottom right hand corner of my board…I chose that image because it shows that no matter what comes up, I can be resourceful (like an astronaut lost in space who saves herself – sorry for the spoiler!) and because the movie was so creative and unexpected that it redefined filmmaking this year. Make it three dimensional if you like…I’ve seen people cut out greeting cards, sentimental trinkets and adhere a light bulb on some cool vision boards. If you have natural artistic ability (which doesn’t exist in my DNA at all), consider drawing, painting or sculpting the visuals that invoke your passions. Heck, go crazy and repurpose that old “glued-on macaroni spray-painted gold technique” used so effectively in the second grade to decorate a candle holder for mom. There are no limits!  

3.  Craft a “canvas.” My vision board is simply a large white poster board with photos and images glued or taped down in different quadrants. Easy-peasy, right? But I know people who create vision boards in the form of a PowerPoint slide show, computer screen saver or another surface that beautifully hosts their vision for the year. Figure out the best home for your vision and pull it all together in that space/surface.

4.  Share with others.  It’s perfectly fine to keep your vision board to yourself. But think of all the positive energy that is churned up when you talk about it and share your enthusiasm with others. During the first weekend in January, I had a dozen super cool ladies over to make our boards together. Sure enough, we did a “show and tell” at the end that was fun and reinforced our goals.

5.  Check it out daily. The most diligently crafted vision board isn’t doing you any favors if it languishes in a dusty corner. Display your creation somewhere in which you’ll easily see it several times a day. My friend Terri hung her vision board in her walk-in closet, ensuring she engages in those positive images every morning and night. Mine is displayed at eye level across my office so I view it several times a day when leaving my desk. You can always take a photo of it for your smart phone or tablet screen saver too for easy reinforcement.

I hope you enjoy creating this art project with a purpose. Have you ever created a vision board before and if so, how did it work for you? If you were to develop one for 2014, what would some of your themes or images be?

 

The Power of Choosing Your Attitude

Mike Thompson kona Ironman world championship finish 2012No matter what obstacles appear, you still have the power to choose your attitude. Just ask Mike Thompson, a four-time cancer survivor in Austin, Texas who now competes in grueling Ironman triathlons and speaks frequently to inspire others. He offers a great perspective for how anything is possible as long as you are alive.

In 1995 at age 10, Mike was diagnosed with myeloid leukemia, an adult form of the disease rarely found in kids. Over the next five and a half years, he dealt with relapses, 75 surgeries, two bone marrow transplants, numerous complications and a 12-hour complete jaw reconstruction.  When an infection from the jaw surgery left him in constant pain, Mike fell under the spell of prescription pain meds for four years until a 2007 stint in detox broke that addiction.

“You are in charge of your destiny,” notes Mike. “I still battle with jaw pain, depression and fear, but I’ve chosen to adopt an outlook that I’m better off now than I’ve ever been. Life is worth fighting for and every day should be celebrated.”

Active living with an eye towards helping others became his driving passion. After helping to raise over $6 million for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society with his Team in Training Group, Mike started competing in triathlons. He completed a half Ironman in 2010 and a full Ironman race the following year with a cancer-fighting platform. Then Mike entered this 90 second video into an Ironman contest seeking inspired athletes who have used triathlons to overcome obstacles.

Mike Thompson’s Inspirational Video for 2012 Ironman World Championships

He won, and got to compete in the prestigious 2012 Ironman World Championships in Kona. Today Mike inspires countless numbers of people to choose a positive attitude through his speaking engagements, writing and personal conversations.

Finally, I’d like to give a shout-out to the amazing women at the http://triwivesclub.com/ website, where Mike is a guest blogger. Check out their great info for people like me who love a triathlete and Mike’s posts for additional inspiration.

How has choosing your attitude helped you overcome an obstacle or difficult situation?  What person in your life has inspired you to achieve what once seemed impossible?

Embracing Backslides, Relapses and Bitch Slaps on the Quest for Happiness

Doh!If necessity is the Mother of Invention, then I consider the quest for more happiness to be the Catalyst of Good Intentions. Think about all of the times a desire to feel better or alleviate a source of pain has prompted you to eat cleaner, start exercising more, tackle that mound of credit card debt or begin looking for a job you truly love.  Even with strong momentum and support though, the best intentions can be derailed. That’s why I wanted to share how embracing backslides, relapses and proverbial bitch slaps can ultimately help achieve your goals and claim a happier life.

1)      Understand that change can be hard. Even if you are the “little engine that could” surging forward against the odds, sometimes you may take a step backward before regaining your momentum.  Being aware of that fact can help keep deal with relapses.

“Change isn’t a one-off decision, it’s a commitment to a long-term process, warts and all,” says Psychologist Jenna Mayhew, cofounder and therapist of Write As Rain: Written Word Therapy www.write-as-rain.co.uk, an online therapy service for women that celebrates the benefits of writing. “It takes a lot of attempts and ongoing commitment to maintaining the change. However if you aren’t psychologically prepared for periods of relapse, any ‘mistakes’ can be experienced as failures, leading to decreased motivation and confidence, and in some cases, giving up.”

2)      Be prepared. More than just the lyrics from a popular Lion King song or the motto of the Boy Scouts, trying to be prepared for backslides or bitch slaps can help you minimize their damage.  Mayhew advises that relapses should be embraced by planning ahead for them. Her tips include:

  • Take note of times when you think you may be vulnerable to relapsing. Proactively build in strategies that outline how you will stay consistent and committed during these times.
  • If you do backslide, plan how you will deal with this. For example, after you inhale a dozen chocolate truffles at a dinner party after diligently eating clean for the past week, take a journal and write about it. Indentify what happened, the context, influencing factors and how you can prevent this from happening again.

“Willpower is like a muscle that needs to be strengthened over time,” she adds. “Expect backslides, plan, reflect, keep trying, and you’ll eventually master your change.” 

3)      Learn from the experience. Rather than being a linear path, life is often like a game of Candy Land (which I used to play frequently with my niece when she was five years old). The draw of a card can jump you forward towards Candy Castle or set you back into the midst of Lollipop Woods eating the dust of your opponent.  What matters is how you learn from challenges or backslides. Last year, a five year client of my PR/Branding consulting practice decided to take their communications in-house. At first, I was surprised and a little hurt. But stepping back, I realized that their decision made absolute sense, stopped taking it personally and began thinking more about the kind of business I actually wanted to focus on. That’s when I started honing in on clients that made the world happier, healthier or more livable, which was more strongly aligned with my personal interests. Soon enough, new business replaced the departed company that resonated stronger with my passions and now I carefully screen prospective clients to ensure a better fit.

 

Have you ever experienced backslides, relapses or even bitch-slaps from life? How did you handle the situation, and what did you learn from the experience?

Three things the government shutdown can teach us about healthy living

iStock_000020563722Small (1)Remember the game of “chicken,” portrayed in movies ranging from Grease to the Fast & Furious (all seven times), where two dudes pumped up on testosterone drive hot rods at each other at blinding speeds until one blinks first and swerves to avoid the collision? Unfortunately, it felt like politicians on both sides of the fence just did that with the well-being of our country with the government shut down. That 16-day pissing match finally ended yesterday, and in the tradition of making lemonade from lemons, or at least a better-for-you version that foregoes copious amounts of sugar, I’ve identified three things that the shut down can teach us about healthy living:

  1. Strive for long-term changes. One of the saddest things about the “compromise” is that it expires less than three months from now, potentially setting the scenario up to happen again per this analysis from Time Magazine. You know, kind of like when you decide to lose some extra weight, eat a ridiculously low amount of calories for five days, become surly from the intense deprivation and then blow it all on a large pizza out of frustration on day six? (Can you tell I went through that cycle a lot back in the day?) Taking a more measured, deliberate approach to healthy living for the long-term is going to increase your chances of success rather than a short-term fix.
  2. Be willing to make uncomfortable choices. Let’s say that you are not thrilled with your current wellness. If the closest you come to weight training is placing the extra large frozen lasagna dish from Costco into your grocery cart, and your nightly TV watching routine is incomplete without a heaping bowl of buttered popcorn, then you need to make some changes to your habits. And some, in fact many, might not be comfortable at first. But focusing on one shift at a time or keeping your motivation strong (through means like journaling, setting up a vision board or getting support from an expert or friends) can really help. I went cold turkey giving up caffeine in 1992 in light of my six to twelve pack a day diet coke habit at the time…and it sucked for a while. But the headaches passed and drinking water and adding in exercise helped wake me up in the morning better than a soda ever did, and after a week or two of being uncomfortable, I was fine.
  3. Do put yourself first. America politicians certainly focused on their self-preservation, albeit at the expense of the public they serve. But when it comes to your own wellness, taking care of yourself first can enhance the well-being of your entire family.  Think about it. Mom or dad adopts healthier eating habits, starts exercising moderately most days of the week and sheds 40 extra pounds that was causing knee pain and shortness of breath whenever they used to climb one flight of stairs. Chances are good that those closest around you, impressed by your increased energy and better self-esteem, will also be more interested in their wellness. Perhaps your spouse joins a gym or the family tradition of going out for ice cream after dinner is replaced with a vigorous walk around the neighborhood where you actually talk to each other for more than 10 minutes at a time. Caring for your health can have a really positive domino effect with those you love the most.

What other lessons do you think we can learn from the recent government shut-down? Have you or someone you know made healthier living changes recently that impacted others in a positive manner?

 

 

Seeking great stories of people who got “unstuck”

Woman in a Carboard BoxMost of us have been “stuck” at some point in our lives. I’m not talking about being in rush hour gridlock with squabbling kids or wedged in the middle seat of a packed concert venue when you realize a trip to the bathroom is in order, neither of which is particularly fun. What I mean is that point where you feel overwhelmed or practically paralyzed when facing a circumstance contrary to the life you want to lead. You know, like desiring financial freedom but feeling trapped by a mountain of debt; wanting to meet the love of your life but feeling too scared to check out online dating or other options for meeting suitors; wishing you had a healthier body and lifestyle by lacking the momentum to ever hit the gym, and so on.

As you might have guessed from this blog post title, I’m working on a book project to help people get unstuck and create the life of their dreams. Through my networks and social media, I have been interviewing some wonderful individuals whose stories will motivate and inspire you. Now I’m looking to include insight from a few others who fit the descriptions below (and the more dramatic example they have to share, the better):

  • Someone who forgave themselves for past decisions or behaviors, and it helped them get unstuck and move forward into happiness.
  • A person who suffered major financial set-backs like crushing debt or even bankruptcy, overcame that situation and now enjoys strong prosperity.
  • A subject matter expert (psychologist or coach) to discuss what role gratitude plays in getting unstuck.
  • A long-term weight loss/healthy living success story who can discuss why understanding that “self-care” didn’t mean “selfish” helped transform her life.

Thanks for spreading the word to your friends and networks! Anyone interested can contact me directly. Meanwhile, have you ever been stuck? If so, how did you overcome that obstacle?

 

Why seeking out new challenges can give you a bigger dose of happiness

On top of a mountain during a two-hour morning hike at the Miraval Resort.

On top of a mountain during a two-hour morning hike at the Miraval Resort.

If you want a bigger dose of happiness, try seeking out new challenges and experiences. Whether it involves taking on an unexpected role (my hilarious friend and notable smart-ass Leslie at The Bearded Iris is loving leading her son’s scout troop) or pushing yourself for a huge physical accomplishment, as my husband did in going from no running and swimming at all to completing several Half Ironman triathlons in less than a year, striving to experience something new can go a long way to creating a more fulfilling life. I saw that first-hand during my vacation to the Miraval Spa in Tucson last week.

Growing up, I organized the middle school sleep-over parties and being a Resident Advisor was one of my favorite college experiences – so pulling together a trip for 15 wonderful women to Miraval was second nature. I arrived thinking much of my time would be spent taking fitness classes and working on my book in-between spa services and wellness sessions. Yeah, right. With limited gym offerings available, I found myself instead taking a two-hour guided hike in the Catalina Desert Mountains three mornings in a row…something wonderful I would never have a chance to experience in my suburban Atlanta lifestyle. And instead of writing furiously, I spent more time thinking about the book and life coach practice I’m creating to focus on personal transformations…and gained a whole lot of valuable insights instead.  Those different experiences – one covering physical challenge and the other emotional wellness – really fed my soul.

Many of my buddies stepped outside of their comfort zone, like Nancy Mullin. Her first big challenge was Swing and a Prayer, which involves climbing a ladder and being lifted 35 feet in the air above the desert floor using a rope and pulley system guided by four strangers you just met moments ago.  When you let go of that rope, it is also about releasing your emotional restraints as well. The Equine Experience proved to be just as remarkable for her, where your own attitude, approach and communication skills are enhanced by working with horses.

The impact on Nancy has been profound. “There is not just one word which can truly describe my experience at Miraval,” she says. “Words like unforgettable, once in a lifetime, going outside your comfort zone, memorable and testing your boundaries don’t seem to do it justice. Miraval is a distinct mixture of emotional and physical challenges designed to give you life altering experiences which are 100% usable in your daily life.”

If you are interested in seeking out new challenges for greater personal fulfillment, here are a few steps to get started:

  1. Acknowledge what thrills you. Let’s say you always wanted to be a ballerina and still love watching dance performances on stage and television. Maybe it’s time to  get in on the fun by taking a dance class yourself. Have a lifelong dream of being a rock star? Start jamming with some friends in your garage or check out rock and roll fantasy camp where you get to interact with professional musicians.
  2. Give yourself permission to feel awkward.  Want to do something big and bold, but are scared of looking like a dork? Just let go of feeling like you’ve always got to be smooth and coordinated (heck, I never am either of those things) and jump in. If public speaking scares the bejesus out of you but it would really help your career, try Toastmasters or volunteer to lead tours at the local museum to practice that skill. Want to try skydiving? Sign up for a dive at a locally accredited facility and jump tandem with an experienced instructor.
  3. Create more opportunities for challenge. How many times have you said, “if I only had more time in the day…” Well, let’s call B.S. on that. We are all busy with work and families and commitments and having to watch NBC’s The Voice live so you can vote 27 times for your favorite competitor. Schedule time for new challenges just as you would for a conference call, your kid’s soccer game or a pedicure. Doing so reinforces how much you love and value yourself.
Nancy Mullin experiencing a Swing and a Prayer at Miraval

Nancy Mullin experiencing a Swing and a Prayer at Miraval

When is the last time you embraced a new challenge? What impact did it make on your happiness and sense of fulfillment?