How to become an “A” student in the Art of Deep Listening

In RUN-DMC’s catchy 80’s hip-hop tune “You Talk Too Much,” the artists castigate people who never shut up, right down to the line “Your mouth is so big, one bite would kill a Big Mac.” in this world of polarizing presidential candidates and non-stop social media rants, their lyrics continue to resonate as society overall seems a lot more focused on gabbing than listening. However, if you want to develop stronger connections and positive outcomes inside and outside of work, being able to listen intently to others is an essential skill. My husband, a rather foxy British expat, likes to say people have two ears and just one mouth for a reason – you create much more value from listening than constantly running your mouth. I couldn’t agree more. So here are a few tips for becoming an “A’ student in the art of deep listening:

1. Step outside of the “me” zone. It is human nature to filter information from the perspective of one’s self. If Janet Yelllen is going to announce the Fed’s latest stance on interest rates, my first thought is “OMG, how will this information impact our new home mortgage?” (Apparently my inner monolog sounds like a Valley Girl). When you hear about a business merger or leadership change, naturally people wonder how it will impact their job. But in order to really comprehend and connect with another person, take yourself out of the equation. Let’s say a co-worker is talking about a challenge with his or her boss. Rather than hijack the conversation with colorful stories about the three worst leaders you’ve encountered, focus solely on what that individual is trying to communicate. Ask clarifying questions. Hear their highest hopes, worst fears and let them know someone cares. Bottom-line, people often just want to be heard and acknowledged. Paying attention to their comments and offering the desired level of outrage/support/solutions being asked for forges stronger connections for both parties.

2. Tune out other distractions. Here’s a revolutionary idea…close your laptop and push away the smartphone during a discussion to give the person who is speaking your full attention. What was that, an outraged gasp at the notion of not checking for new texts every 17 seconds? As this NPR story posits, while technology is supposed to help people do more than one thing at a time, humans overall aren’t particularly good at multi-tasking. Turning away from your electronics to tune in to the conversation at hand is a smart idea. Giving someone your full attention increases engagement and connection with that individual, while increasing your retention of information.

3. Reinforce their key message points. Check in with the object of your conversation to ensure you fully understand what they are trying to express. While facilitating a recent strategic planning session, I reiterated the essence of each individual’s insights after they spoke, creating connections with other themes and discussion points being shared by the group. This practice allows people to confirm the intent of their messages and clarify points if needed – all while reinforcing how important their contribution is to the session.

4. Recognize what is unsaid. You don’t need psychic powers or a connection at WikiLeaks to understand what people aren’t saying but really mean. During my executive coaching certification program with the Coaches Training Institute, we learned there are three types of listening. Level 1 is all about you, focusing on what your inner voice is saying. In this place, thoughts like ‘I’m tired,” or “when will lunch arrive?” get in the way of fully absorbing the comments of the person before you. Level 2 is focusing intently on what the others are saying. Level 3, known as global listening, is about observing and understanding what remains unsaid. For example, an individual might say everything they are handling as part of the company’s massive ERP project is just dandy while their slumped shoulders, “deer-in headlights’ expression and re-emergence of a stress-related facial tick argues otherwise. Listening on level three means you take in what the person is saying and also factor in their body language, interactions with others in the room and known “life variables,” (you know, stuff like a new baby, change in relationship status, health concerns) to understand the full picture.

Have any advice to share about improving listening skills, or a story about the consequences of poor listening?

Shift your career into “rock star” mode with four lessons from Taylor Swift’s dating life

career advice from Taylor Swift's dating lifeWant to shift your career into “rock star” mode? Consider taking lessons from Taylor Swift’s dating life. On the work front, the 26-year-old has been a star for nearly a decade, helped change the way Apple Music pays artists for streaming and earned $80 million last year with 2014’s top-selling album/tour – all at an age when over 32% of millennials are still living at home with their parents. Impressive accomplishments indeed, regardless of your opinions about Swift (full disclosure, I’m a fan so shake it off, haters). When it comes to her personal life, there is a goldmine of career advice to be gleaned. Four tidbits include:

  1. Capitalize on unexpected opportunities. Swift has been in the headlines a lot lately for her new relationship with British actor Tom Hiddleston (star of the television show Night Manager, Loki from the Thor movie franchise and a much rumored successor to Daniel Craig’s James Bond in case you are a pop culture neophyte). Much of the media hype is due to announcing the breakup from previous boyfriend Calvin Harris just a few weeks before she and Hiddleston were spotted canoodling in public. Timing might not be ideal in terms of public perception, but this DNA-blessed duo decided to go for it. The same is true in your career. If you get the opportunity to lead a highly visible project ahead of others in the corporate hierarchy, go for it. When the job of your dreams appears two years ahead of schedule, embrace the opportunity. Be willing to jump in and claim what your heart desires at work.
  2. Share your enthusiasm. At a recent company meeting, I was delighted to learn how strongly committed one of our Vice Presidents is committed to sustainability when he asked thoughtful, informed questions about that topic although it falls outside of his functional area. Last week, a Manager in Finance with a passion for corporate culture took the initiative to research and create a presentation about engaging employees using more open, collaborative workspaces that emphasized natural lighting. Both of these individuals were already recognized for their excellent work. Sharing their thinking about areas outside of their job description makes them stand out even more. Swift doesn’t hesitate to share the highlights of relationships via Instagram and Twitter, understanding that it makes her more authentic and forges a deeper connection with fans.
  3. Use setbacks as creative inspiration. The pop-country crossover star scored a slew of number one hits inspired by relationships that didn’t end so well. Some of your best career insights can arise from work-related challenges and upheavals. According to the National Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 10% of the population was unemployed at the height of the Great Recession in October 2009. In 2015, major companies like American Express, Microsoft and Procter & Gamble had large workforce layoffs. Bottom-line, the chances are good that most of us have already or will face an involuntary job loss at some point. While devastating at the time, the change can force you to take a fresh perspective on what truly floats your boat at work. In addition, think about the great bosses that you want to emulate and other supervisors that inadvertently taught you how not to lead others. How have those experiences impact your behavior and relationships at work today?
  4. Surround yourself with support. From supermodels and actresses to fellow songbirds, Swift has a tight-knit group of BFF’s known as her “squad” that offer support and camaraderie during romantic highs and lows. Creating and nurturing a network of supportive co-workers, allies and mentors is essential to thriving long-term in your career. Have lunch with people from other departments you would like to collaborate with more. Give advice to job seekers in your field. Reach out to connect with others you admire via LinkedIn. Thank the individuals that have helped you along the way and stay in touch.

No doubt Taylor Swift has many music and business milestones ahead, all while we continue to read about her affairs of the heart. What behaviors or events have helped shift your career into “rock star” mode?

See it to achieve it: How to use visualization to succeed at work


Tips for visualizing success at work or play

If you are serious about bowling, you probably don’t want me on your team. Haven’t bowled in two decades and even then, didn’t score much higher than the typical highway speed limit. But in the name of team building, I went to an upscale bowling alley with a great group of co-workers in town for our company’s annual Key Leadership Summit. Started out with a couple of gutter balls, but then I paused and actively imagined myself doing better. By the second game, I hit two spares and broke a three-digit score for the first time in my life. While I’m not going to be recruited by the Professional Bowlers Association anytime soon, this quick shift made me think about the power of visualization.

Bottom-line, visualization is about “seeing it” – playing a circumstance out in your mind’s eye to achieve a desired outcome. Think it sounds too “new age” for the workplace? A growing number of corporate leaders use executive coaches, for whom visualization is a common coaching tool. According to TrackMaven CEO Allen Gannett, 39% of CEOs in an informal survey he conducted used an executive coach in the last 12 months, a proportion that increased dramatically as their companies scaled. Visualization is widely used in competitive environments worldwide. Many professional athletes use sports psychologists to visualize success before games and recently departed boxing icon Muhammad Ali talked frequently about seeing himself win a fight before he stepped into the ring.

Feeling inspired to try visualization at work? Here are a few tips to get you started:

  1. Focus on a clear goal. Let’s say you have a job in sales. There is a difference between having a generic goal of “landing new business” and a specific, well-defined objective of “securing $12 million worth of new annual, recurring revenue from two major industry players.” Brainstorm the attributes that you do, and conversely do not, desire to gain clarity on your objective. I use sales as an example, but it could be anything – aim to launch a new ERP system on deadline with minimal delivery disruptions, have all employees adopt a different payroll system within a 30 day period, etc.
  2. See yourself achieving this objective. A few practices to consider:
    • Paint a picture. Over 65% of the population are visual learners, so creating a visual reinforcement of yourself achieving the goal can be a great daily reminder. For example, you might search for multiple images online that represent your successful achievement. Going back to that $12 million sales goal, it could be represented by pictures of bags of money, the logos of sales targets, a picture of the resort in Tahiti you plan to visit after getting a major commission check and more pated into a PowerPoint presentation which you review weekly for inspiration. Or focus on one picture that says it all – a photo of an industry award that you’d like to win – and use it as your smart phone or laptop screen saver. Actor Jim Carrey, a big believer in visualization, wrote himself a $10 million check while he was a struggling actor to keep himself focused on the incredible success he rightly believed laid ahead. Whatever you choose, keep that visual in your line of sight or in a place where you check it regularly to reinforce your intention.
    • Word up. Some people, like me, thrive on words. So I often visualize by writing about a circumstance or desired end-state in my journal. Two years ago, I decided to look for a corporate job that let me combine my expertise in communications along with my certification in executive coaching. Some people thought I was bonkers after having my own PR firm for 13 years. But I knew that my passion had shifted to internal/corporate communications and culture, which was best done working within an organization. I started writing about what was desired in terms of job responsibilities, the opportunity to create new initiatives, the people I worked with, compensation and even the daily commute (which you have to consider in a traffic-clogged place like Atlanta).  It felt real, clear and I kept that positive vision alive by honing it frequently in my journal. Sometime in early September 2014, my journal entry visualization focused on receiving two great job offers on my birthday at the end of the month. Sure enough that is exactly what happened, and a great job beats a slice of cake any day in my world.
    • Audio reinforcement. I have also coached individuals who are motivated by audio and find that hearing a song or spoken word activates that feeling of success they seek. Does rocking out to “Eye of the Tiger” from the 1980’s or Justin Timberlake’s upbeat “Can’t Stop this Feeling” make you feel invincible when driving into work? Or does listening to a podcast from Oprah Winfrey , Tony Robbins, Les Brown or Warren Buffett inspired you to reach for maximum success? Listen to whatever floats your boat right before a big presentation or important meeting, thinking about the outcome you most desire. This tactic can get you pumped up and into the best mindset of achievement at the right time.
  3. Acknowledge victories. Visualizing success and then achieving exactly what you desire is an amazing accomplishment. Celebrate those milestone and let your gratitude act as rocket-fuel for future victories.

How have you used visualization at work? What was the outcome?

Want an engaged workforce? Get better at giving thanks!

improve employee engagement by giving thanksBefore traveling to a foreign country, I learn the local phrase for “thank you.” Taking that simple step inevitably leads to great service, whether I’m trying to find the nearest Pilates class, attempt not to look like a dork (too late for that) while sight-seeing or  convince a chef to make the perfect egg white omelet.  The same is certainly true in business. If you are looking to improve employee engagement, expressing thanks goes a long way in creating a motivated workforce.

This became crystal clear to me recently while conducting focus groups with the employees of our $2 billion supply chain management cooperative. Our nearly 1,700 team members are dispersed between  headquarters, seven distribution centers and 32 trucking hubs throughout the U.S. No matter who I talked to, people felt a lot more motivated when their hard work was noticed – and the absence of gratitude lead to a sense of disconnection.

That should be a given, right? Especially if your momma taught you good manners. But sometimes people get so caught up in our non-stop, 24/7 world that they forget to think about how their actions (or non-actions) impact others. That’s why I am sharing three ways to get better at thanking the individuals you work with:

1) Say it when you think it. How many times have you thought someone delivered outstanding service, but didn’t take the time to tell them? Most of us aren’t former members of the Psychic Friends Network (the pinnacle of cheesy 1990’s infomercials), which means we can’t read your mind. Taking 15 seconds to say “we can always count on you to process our expense reports quickly” or “thanks for your hard work in helping our customer solve a problem with their delivery today” makes an impression. Especially when you serve in a supervisory capacity with that individual or the company overall.

2) Pay attention to the details. You can tell someone that they rock at work. But going into detail about the WHY – your idea for a product reformulation saved the company $400,000, the sales presentation you created over the weekend helped us land a huge account – makes the gratitude expressed more meaningful. This focus is effective in one-on-one conversations and also on a big scale. For example,  InterContinental Hotels Group, a former consulting client of mine, has a terrific employee recognition program called BRAVO that lets team members recognize their peers, direct reports, supervisors and just about anyone in the organization. The more specific information submitted about why someone deserves this honor increases the chance of people receiving national recognition and prizes.

3) Be proactive. Look for the shining examples of excellence around you and let the world know about it. My husband came down with a bronchitis-type sickness recently and given that it was a Saturday, reluctantly headed to the local drug store medical clinic for treatment. But the nurse practioner running the place was outstanding and turned out to be a lot more on the ball than his regular doctor. After telling everyone about his good experience, Justin realized he needed to be more proactive in getting her recognized. So he called the Walgreen’s branch, got the practioner’s name, and wrote a heartfelt thanks to their customer service department that no doubt will impact her annual review and hopefully more. Pause for a moment to do the same at work. Let those rock stars in the warehouse, IT, marketing, human resources or any department know that you noticed in writing and copy their supervisor in the process. Tell communications so these people can get recognized in the employee newsletter and Intranet site. Spread the thanks, and you’ll be amazed at how it boomerangs right around into happier people and a better place to work.

When is the last time you expressed thanks at work? What impact did it have on others?

Express Yourself: Why Bringing More Personality to Work Promotes Greater Employee Engagement

FullSizeRender sheRA pixWhether Madonna sang about it, or the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteed it, the freedom to express yourself resonates deeply with many of us. Like my 77-year-old mom, who laces her texts with pink hearts and kissy emoticons to express love or my buddies Rich and John, whose Halloween party costumes – ranging from ghosts from the Titanic to 1960’s flight attendants – can be legendary. But when it comes to work, many corporate managers balk at bringing their authentic selves to the office. However, here are three reasons why expressing your personality can actually promote greater employee engagement:

  1. Makes you more accessible. If you manage employees, regardless of whether it is three team members or 30,000, that authority can be intimidating to others. So can senior-level titles. Ever notice how people can clam up when the big boss walks into a room, worried about saying the wrong thing? Yet if your team isn’t sharing what is really happening in the business for fear of reprisals or looking bad, that hurts the company’s performance. Expressing your personality at work makes you more approachable. For example, Chief Operating Officer Gene Long is responsible for the national and international distribution activities for our $2 billion supply chain management cooperative. He’s a recognized industry thought leader and most of the company employees ultimately report to him. Instead of taking himself too seriously though, Gene diffuses tension by making funny, self-deprecating comments. His office features toy trucks representing all of the different fleets managed in his career and the day the Minionsmovie opened, he proudly wore a t-shirt with the animated characters to work. All of which makes him more accessible to employees and ultimately, more effective in his role.
  2. Gives employees “permission” to be themselves. Encouraging people to express their personality shows that you value them as individuals, not just for the job they perform on behalf of the company. With the U.S. economy approaching full-employment, people in high-demand jobs have more options than ever before. Especially when it comes to the 86 million millennials who will be in the workforce by 2020. They are driven by authenticity, as an employee as well as a consumer. Recognizing that as a positive attribute at work deepens one’s sense of loyalty and connection to the company.
  3. Creates a more positive, supportive culture. Getting to know the people you work with goes a long way in creating a collaborative environment. We kicked off the first-ever meeting of our Key Leadership Group (Directors, Vice Presidents and Executive Team) in April by asking participants to talk about a leader that has inspired them. Neil Degrasse Tyson, Sheryl Sandberg and Lou Gerstner were mentioned, along with Julia Child, King David from biblical times and one man’s adorable seven-year-old daughter who inspires him to be a better person each day. We learned something personal about each individual that created delight and a sense of connection. Honoring, encouraging and recognizing stories about team members who volunteer in the community, do something innovative at work, have an intriguing hobby and more is part of our internal communication effort because my company understands how it brings us all together.

Finally expressing yourself at work is great, as long as you keep it professional. Let’s say that you have a passion for magic tricks. Perhaps you express this subtly in your workspace décor, perform an act during the employee talent show or delight kids with a demo during “Bring Your Child to Work Day.” But you probably don’t want to start pulling pennies out of co-workers’ ears during a meeting on company layoffs or walk into a new business presentation with conservative potential clients wearing a top hat and cape.

BTW, I take my own advice here. During the 1980’s I gained the nickname She-Ra, Princess of Power, after the popular kid’s cartoon. My boss called me that one day at work last year and everyone had a good laugh. So I promptly hung a framed poster of the cartoon icon in my office to give anyone that walks by a chance to connect with an inviting conversation starter.

How do you bring your personality to work? What kind of impact has it had on others and your own career?

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?

Eureka! Great ideas for locking in your “aha” moments and keen insights

easy-buttonEver had a brilliant idea or insight, only to get so lost in the swell of daily life – an impending work deadline, hungry kids, trying on 14 versions of little black dresses to find one that actually looks good for your high school reunion – that it slowly trickles out of your memory before you can do anything about it? It’s a pretty common occurrence in today’s 24/7 world. Who knows if Thomas Edison would have invented the light bulb if he was distracted by Twitter and I’m sure Marie Curie’s research on radioactivity would have suffered if she spent her weekends binging on the last season of “Orange is the New Black.” With a bit of foresight though, you can easily lock in those “aha” moments with these practices:

  1. Write it down. This means keeping a notepad and pen handy beside your bed, work desk, in your car and other places, or typing notes into your smart phone, to capture this lightening when it strikes. Jot enough notes that you can reconstruct that flash of brilliance when more time permits. For example, you might have a sudden insight on the best way to exercise despite an illness or recurring injury. Use keywords or an outline that will quickly remind you of the details that need to be filled in.
  2. Create a visual reminder. Many of my coaching clients are motivated by visual stimulation and memory. Recently one woman had some eureka moments about her career and love life that were centered around claiming what she wanted and taking chances. She came up with the visual reminder of a bottle of hot sauce, downloaded an image of her favorite brand online and then pasted it in several places, including as her computer screen saver, to serve as a reminder throughout the day. Your talisman can be a piece of jewelry, a photo or whatever floats your boat. A few years ago a friend gave me an “easy” button from an office supply store (you see an image of it pictured above) to help me remember success doesn’t have to be hard. It lives on my desk and I press it, enjoying the little voice that says “that was easy,” whenever that concept needs to be reinforced.
  3. Add embodiment. The truth is that emotions show up in so many places in our physical selves. When I keep thoughts bottled inside and don’t speak my mind, it usually ends up triggering a constricted throat or labored breathing that disappear once the emotions have been expressed or acknowledged. Let’s say that you realized that speaking authentically from your heart is going to improve your relationship with your spouse but then resentment over trash not taken to the curb or dirty dishes left in the sink starts to slither in. In this case, you might want to put your hand over your heart, sort of like delivering your own pledge of allegiance to love, as a reminder about what you truly feel.

What great ideas, realizations or insights have you had lately? How do you lock those moments in to help you achieve what your heart desires?

Three Reasons Why It’s Good to Sometimes Let Yourself Feel Bad

Group of business executives with sad emotionsWe’ve all heard about the dangers of peer pressure during one’s formative years when it comes to drinking, drugs or in the case of my high school years, to wear one’s hair as sky-high as possible. But years later, societal pressure for adults to always be upbeat and “turn that frown upside down” isn’t doing us a whole lot of good either. Because at some point you need to let yourself feel anger, sadness, disappointment or a whole host of other not-so-positive emotions to come out authentically happier on the other side of the issue. Here are three bonafide reasons why it’s good to sometimes let yourself feel bad:

  • Acknowledgement is an important part of the healing process.  Ever have a bad breakup and immediately try to convince all of your friends and yourself that everything is fine and you’ve already started to forget his name after spending the past 14 months together…only to find yourself wanting to cry hysterically a week later while delivering a PowerPoint about budget forecasts at work?  Whatever the challenging situation might arise, it is best to let yourself fully acknowledge the pain and sadness that is present for however long it takes – a few hours, weeks or months – in order to move on in a healthy manner. The key is to be loving and gentle with yourself while doing so, seeking the support of others, journaling and doing things to nurture your well-being in the process.
  • Bottling things up can make you act out. When you don’t give negative emotions their due, you might find yourself taking it out in non-productive ways. For example, a multi-year client recently faced a number of business challenges and had to completely eliminate their Public Relations work with my firm. We have lots of mutual respect for each other and parted on the best of terms. I tried telling myself and others around me that it was perfectly fine, and that’s just how it goes in business sometimes. But a few days later I found myself trying to inhale anything chocolate within a several mile radius. Glossing over the sadness I felt about losing a good client prompted me to turn to emotional eating instead. Only when I honestly expressed the sense of loss to myself through journaling was I able to start moving past it and those misguided sugar cravings disappeared.
  • Allows you to learn and grow. Tired of “learning experiences” that don’t feel so great in the process?  Well buck it up because they are just as important to your well-being as eating green veggies and getting enough sleep at night. Understanding what happened to cause your sadness, anger or loss can help you better deal with those situations in the future while becoming a more centered, better version of yourself in the process.

Have you seen the benefits of letting yourself sometimes feel negative emotions? How has feeling bad ever contributed to your greater good?

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?

How to make the best of a fast food situation

iStock_000007141433SmallIn an ideal world, we would gravitate towards unprocessed, healthy foods in the same way that Kanye West adores Kim Kardashian…fully and completely, no matter what haters or Saturday Night Live parodies say. But even when eating clean comes to you as easily as breathing, sometimes you don’t have access to healthy choices. Like that time you were stuck in an airport, without an emergency protein bar stashed away at the bottom of your purse, or when you bolted late out of work to catch a concert with your sweetie and dinner was going to be limited to whatever the concessions booth served. Here are a couple of tips to make the best out of a fast food situation:

  • Look for the best of the bunch. the Centers for Disease Control estimates that fast food accounts for more than 15% of daily calories for people in their twenties and thirties. That’s why FITNESS Magazine put together this list of two relatively healthier options on the menus of each of the top 10 fast food chains in case you need to indulge in an occasional grab-and-go meal.  For example, they highlight the Premium Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken and low-fat balsamic vinaigrette plus Fruit ‘n Yogurt Parfait; for a total of 375 calories, 9.5g fat (4g saturated) at McDonald’s.
  •  Forego the extras. Chipotle is my favorite fast food restaurant, primarily because they buy anti-biotic free chicken and beef, prepare items fresh and try to use organic and/or local items when possible. But even there, the calories and sodium content add up. So I forego a lot of the “extras” to keep things healthier – opting for a burrito bowl without the flour tortilla, asking for only one scoop of brown rice with my chicken, veggies and black beans, and saying no to the cheese and sour cream in favor of a scoop of guacamole. Whenever I have an early morning flight back home, breakfast is usually oatmeal from Starbucks, without adding any sugar. Think about how you can choose filling proteins, veggies, fruits or salads from fast food menu options without falling into the deep-fried foods trap.
  • Think small. In our supersize culture, portion sizes have gotten out of whack and a typical fast food meal way exceeds an average person’s recommended daily calorie allowance. Consider options from the kid’s meal or whatever the smallest portion sizes may be. Don’t hesitate to ask for water instead of the soda that comes with your meal or ask anything that can be custom plated to come in half the normal portion size.

How do you handle fast food situations when nothing else is available? What are some of your go-to-foods at quick service restaurants?