Chapter 10 The Bigger Picture: Taking Care Of Yourself – The Concise Coaching Handbook

CHAPTER 10

The Bigger Picture: Taking Care of Yourself

Section Divisions

Stress

Create Your Recipe for Success

Relaxation and Meditation

Guided Relaxation Exercise

Tolerations

Taking care of yourself can take many forms. If you are directly addressing this as one of your three main life areas you chose from the Wheel of Life, congratulations for making it a priority. This is for you.

If you did not choose a life area that leads you into self-care, this is also for you.

Here’s why.

Stress is endemic in our culture. It is defined as “a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize.”

If you feel stressed, it’s because you are asking yourself or being asked (or demanded) to be or to do something that feels difficult or impossible under the circumstances or is something that feels inauthentic to who you are or who you wish to be. If you are experiencing stress, self care needs to be a priority.

Stressful events fall into three categories.

  • Things that would upset or challenge nearly anyone, ­including saints.
  • Things that usually upset you in particular.
  • Things that don’t usually upset you, but the particular ­circumstances surrounding them make you vulnerable to stress. (For example: You don’t usually yell at your children when they accidentally drop something, except when you’re tired, ­hungry, or experiencing a challenging day.)

Let’s start with the “would upset anyone” stressors

The Holmes-Rahe stress inventory has been used for decades to categorize and measure effects and types of stress.

Here are the top ten types of stress, in order of severity that just about everyone would experience as stressful to some degree:

  • Death of a spouse
  • Divorce
  • Marital separation from mate
  • Detention in jail or other institution
  • Death of a close family member
  • Major personal injury or illness
  • Marriage
  • Being fired at work
  • Marital reconciliation with mate
  • Retirement from work

These are life-altering events for the person experiencing them. If you are challenged currently by one or more of these top ten stressors, you may need external supports that go beyond basic self-care. Please reach out to get as much external support as possible. Getting support is a sign of strength.

Some of these events are not automatically good or bad in themselves. Many people would consider marriage, marital reconciliation, and retirement to be generally positive things.

However, even life events we characterize as “good” may be stressful, because they ask us to embrace change. Change means we must move—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually—from where we are (which we know)—to a position we don’t know. Even if we are looking forward to this “move,” inherently we know that even if we gain overall, we will also give something up.

Perception of events often depends on the circumstances surrounding them.

For example:

  • Is the event someone has been forced into or has the person chosen it freely?
  • If a relationship has reconciled, does it include forgiveness and/or a commitment to a new start with both partners?
  • Does the event (like retirement) mean new opportunities to the retiree—or the end of a meaningful life?

Every event—whether characterized as “good” or “bad”—is experienced differently by different people. Have you ever met people who seem cool as a cucumber under circumstances where you’d be screaming? Or people who fall apart over something that seems trivial to you?

Yet stress is present in all the events, whether characterized as “good” or “bad.”

How is stress experienced?

When we are stressed, there is a complex biological process that goes on that developed as a reaction to physical danger.

In the old days if we were surprised by a wild beast, our reptilian brain would urge us either to fight or run away (the “fight or flight response”).

  • Adrenaline (a stress hormone) would help raise our heart rate and blood pressure to increase blood flow to the brain to improve decision-making.
  • Adrenaline would redirect blood from digestion to our arm and leg muscles so we could fight or run away.
  • Cortisol (another hormone) would help raise our blood sugar so we had more energy.

These physical reactions still happen today.

However, today stress is more often a reaction to a psychological ­danger vs. a physical danger. Remember, the definition of stress includes the words, “when a person perceives.”

When a person perceives a danger or a challenge, whether physical or psychological, the body reaction still produces cortisol and adrenaline.

And that’s ok for shorter periods of time.

Eustress Means Good Stress

If you have to meet a deadline, win a race, save a child from a burning building, learn new things quickly, or perform well on a test, some amount or cortisol and adrenalin is good. Being able to remember things, not feel pain, and be very alert to our surroundings are all good things under those circumstances. This is eustress-literally “good stress.”

However…

Too much of these chemicals over a more prolonged period are toxic to the brain, particularly the hippocampus which helps regulate emotions and the ability to form certain kinds of memories. This is chronic stress.

Chronic stress may lead to anxiety, depression, digestive and sleep issues, heart disease, weight gain, and memory/concentration impairment.

So, how do you deal with stress before it leads to all these bad things?

Regular, Committed Self-Care Is a Crucial Antidote to Stress

Self-care includes any intentional activities you do for yourself to take care of your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health.

Ideally, you should do good things for yourself that take care of your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health every single day.

Self-care is the repetition of tiny habits, which together soothe and ­optimize you—emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Ellen Bard, tinybuddha.com

Repetition is key.

An Atlantic article on stress observed: Sometimes when you’re stressed, it can be hard to see how your experience is affected by how well your baseline needs are taken care of.

Your experience of life will be better and less chronically stressed if you practice regular self-care. Think of self-care as one of your baseline life needs, like water and oxygen.

Self-care addresses your baseline needs by developing ongoing ­supportive practices for yourself so you’re ready and can cope when life surprises, upsets or challenges you.

But let’s start with some very simple things.

Exercise

Make a list of all the things you do that either you know de-stress you or you believe would optimize you if you allowed yourself to do them. Include physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual practices. Aim for 10 if possible.

Look at your list.

Create a chart:

(If there are certain things you do or could do to de-stress, soothe, or optimize yourself that fall into more than one category, repeat them in that category.) Leave a column to see how many self-care activities address each area.

For Example

Emotional

Physical

Mental

Spiritual

Walk

Walk

Walk

3

Dance

Dance

Dance

Dance

4

Drink tea

Drink tea

2

Talk with friends

Talk with friends

Talk with friends

3

Meditate

Meditate

Meditate

Meditate

4

Pray

Pray

Pray

Pray

4

Journal

Journal

Journal

3

Get massage

Get massage

Get massage

3

Cuddle cat

Cuddle cat

Cuddle cat

3

Virtually anything you do to optimize yourself could fall into all categories, depending on how you feel the effects. However, the more categories you feel your optimizer falls into, the more powerful it is for you at every level.

Which of these activities if you did them more would have the biggest impact in de-stressing, soothing, or optimizing your life right now?

Which of these do you want to commit to doing?

When do you want to start? (Write it down and tell a supportive buddy!)

Your Personal Stressors

There’s nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so. (Hamlet)

We all have particular things that stress us out that we wish didn’t. I’m not talking tolerations that immediately threaten our safety that should also be addressed immediately, like abusive relationships or addictions.

I’m talking perceptions that include chronic attitudes or things that annoy us that we want to change inside ourselves but haven’t figured out how. They may not threaten immediate safety, but they tend to undermine our quality of life.

These attitudes or things are particular to you—those things that annoy you that you wish they didn’t, you want to get over, but you ­haven’t been able to.

Here are the questions you can ask yourself.

Is this an external situation that I’m tolerating, that I really don’t want to be tolerating? (For example, an abusive relationship pattern, an addiction)

Is this an internal situation, where I know I have a flawed attitude that I need to fix? (For example, a co-worker’s raucous laugh annoys you inside, although you know the person can’t help it, and is not being mean when they laugh…)

Read the section on Eliminating Tolerations to help address external and internal tolerations.

Guided relaxation is a way to talk directly to the body so it can release stored stress and absorb peace. When stress is released, the body's natural healing abilities restore a sense of well-being.

I suggest you either download my guided relaxation off my website at www.pursueyourpath.com or speak these words into a recorder and play them back for yourself.

Sit in a chair that comfortably supports your back, legs, and arms uncrossed or lie down. Gently allow your eyes to close.

Notice how and where the chair, floor, or sofa supports your body.

Focus on your breathing. Notice how it simply goes in and out, in and out, without any effort on your part.

As you focus on your breathing, notice that your breathing may get deeper and deeper. Imagine that with every breath in that you’re breathing in peace and relaxation and that with every breath out you’re breathing out any tension and anything you want to let go of at a physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual level. Good. Keep going.

Every breath in takes you deeper and deeper into your true, wise self.

Every breath out helps you release any body tension and any worries you’d like to let go of.

Good.

Now we’re going to imagine breathing into every part of our bodies, starting with our feet.

Imagine that you are breathing light and health into your feet. With every breath in, you’re breathing in peace and relaxation and health into your feet. And with every breath out, you’re breathing out any tension from your feet.

Good.

And now as you breathe, imagine that your breath is breathing in light and health and that’s traveling from your feet into your calves. And with every breath in, you’re breathing in peace and relaxation and health into your calves.

Good.

And now you’re breathing in light and peace and relaxation into your knees, letting go of any tension you want to release and breathing in ever more light and peace and calm into your knees.

Good.

And now your breath is traveling up to your thighs, and you’re breathing light and peace and health into your thighs, relaxing every muscle and breathing out all tension.

Good.

And now your breath is traveling up to your glutes, and you’re breathing light and health and peace into your glutes.

Good.

And now you’re breathing in light and peace and health into all your internal organs, your stomach, spleen, kidneys, and your heart, breathing out and letting go of any tension or discomfort.

Good.

And at the same time this light is traveling through your breath up into your spine and your heart and lungs, traveling up your back and down your arms, relaxing every part of you, relaxing your shoulders, your elbows, your wrists, your hands and fingers.

Good.

And you’re continuing to breathe in peace and relaxation and breathe out anything you’d like to let go of. And now the light and breath is traveling up into your neck and into your brain and face, relaxing your jaw and your eye muscles, and relaxing your thoughts.

So now this peace and relaxation is being breathed in and out of your body, mind, and soul so that every part of you is peaceful, relaxed, and healthy.

The light and health and peace is running through your blood and your cells and right down into your DNA, reprogramming you for health and light and peace and joy.

So now you’re breathing in peace and love and light and joy and breathing out peace and love and light and joy.

And imagine this peace and love and light and joy surrounds you like a protective cocoon, and as it rises up around you, it also surrounds everyone you know and love with its protective power.

And this protective power of peace and love and light and joy reaches into their bodies and minds and souls and extends out to everyone they love.

And as you breathe in this peace and love and light it travels out and extends to the whole world, enveloping the world in a cocoon of peace and love and light and health.

And now rest in this breathing in and out of peace and love and light and health.

Pause here for as long as you like, knowing you can return at any time.

And now, very slowly, in your own time and your own space, slowly bring your consciousness back to your own body, bringing the peace and love and light and health with you.

And now, very slowly, at your own pace, gently wiggle your fingers and toes, and bring your consciousness back into the room.

And when you’re ready, gently open your eyes, ready to embrace the rest of your day.

Create Your Recipe for Success

One way to create future success is to identify and provide for yourself the essential ingredients that helped you create past successes.

This is similar to the Finding Your Values exercise, except this time you’re identifying all the contributing factors or circumstances that helped you feel “in the flow.”

Exercise: Either journal this or do this out loud with a partner. If you do this with a trusted partner/buddy, have them write down everything for you. Reverse roles.

Remember a time when you felt alive and purposeful.

Write down all the pieces that helped you feel successful.

Answer these questions:

  • What made it successful for you?
  • What were you doing that made it successful for you?
  • How were you “being” (what personal attributes or qualities were you using) that made it successful for you?
  • If there were other people around, how were they reacting to you or to what you were doing that helped your success?
  • What else made it successful for you?
  • What is present when you’re feeling and acting your best?

How to Apply This

Think of a situation you’re currently facing or a goal you would like to achieve.

How can you seek, apply, or include some of the ingredients that made you successful in the past?

Which ingredient do you commit to seeking, applying, or including right now or this week on behalf of what you want?

Eliminate What No Longer Serves You

There are things, habits, attitudes and even people we accept or keep in our lives, even though it really doesn’t serve our best interests.

Often we treat these things, habits, attitudes, and people as if “they’re not that bad,” acting as if there are more important things we need to do.

It takes energy to try to not be affected by something that really does bother you.

What often happens is that these things, habits, attitudes, or people distract, delay, or keep us from achieving what we’re capable of achieving.

Coaches call these tolerations.

Tolerations Can Include

  • Something or someone that uses or steals your time, ­attention, or money but doesn’t give you anything truly ­valuable back in return
  • Bad behavior including physical, emotional, or verbal abuse from another person that shows a lack of respect
  • Your own bad behavior toward another person
  • A habit that used to work for you but doesn’t anymore
  • Something you used to love but you’ve outgrown that you keep around out of undue sentimentality or downright apathy

Tolerations Can Include Things You Want to Do or Have, But You Haven’t Been Able to Get To

  • Establishing a healthy habit like flossing every day
  • Fixing broken items—reattaching a button on your favorite shirt
  • Finding a new job or career when you’re dissatisfied with the current one

How to Eliminate Tolerations

Make a list of everything you’re tolerating that you want to let go of or change. It can include the tiny (reattaching a button to your favorite shirt) to the gigantic (leaving a job, fixing or leaving a job or relationship, creating a new job or relationship).

Tolerations can even include your own beliefs or attitude toward your life, or aspects of your life.

If you’re having trouble coming up with a list, ask yourself these questions:

  • What am I tolerating that keeps me from achieving my goals?
  • Who am I putting up with that keeps me from self-respect or happiness?
  • What weighs me down mentally, emotionally, physically, or spiritually and prevents me from doing what I most want to do or achieving what I most want to achieve?
  • What keeps me from achieving something more easily?
  • What internal attitudes do I need to let go of in order to be the person I want to be?

The next step is to pick off and address the tolerations one by one. Don’t start with the most gigantic ones. Start with the ones you can do today, right now.

Notice if you feel more mental or physical energy after you address your tolerations.

Support Systems

A support system is a personal or professional network of people who provide an individual with practical or emotional support.

If you are trying to survive a difficult situation, or to achieve something that you’ve never done before or to achieve something that you may have done before but find challenging: leave a relationship, find a new job, write a book, create a piece of art, parent a child, care for an elderly relative, or overcome addiction, it can be helpful to find or create a support system.

There are formal support systems, like hiring a coach or counselor or going to Alcoholics Anonymous. There are also informal support systems, like meeting regularly with group of friends you trust.

While you may receive family or friend support when you are challenged, there may be great value in creating new, additional, or specialized support when the stakes are high.

What You Should Look for in a Support Group

If a support group does nothing but vent emotions, and does not help its members take action to better a situation, than it is probably not a very healthy or desirable group.

The best support group is one that suits your needs, where you can both give and receive support. Ideally, you will feel a sense of belonging. You feel heard, supported and not judged negatively. You may be ­challenged (but not condemned), and you are appreciated for your contributions. The group should be able to supply at least some helpful and reliable resources and coping strategies (including self-management approaches) to support your progress.

Above all, a support group should support you in taking action toward your healthy goals.

When Not to Give Up

Even when we’re taking consistent action toward our overall goals, it can sometimes feel like we’re wading through mud to get there. It’s sometimes easy to get discouraged and to want to give up.

How do you know when it’s ok to give up and when it’s not ok to give up?

It’s important not to give up when:

  • You have given your word to someone else that you would do ­something—unless you have told them you can no longer do it. (Don’t wait until the last minute to tell them.)
  • You still have a burning desire to do it, and doing it won’t harm you and/or others.

When to Give Up

We all know that giving up has an awful feel to it.

It suggests failure or lack of commitment or lack of ability or lack of smarts.

It feels like nobody likes to be around someone who can’t measure up.

However, there are times when you should give up on something:

You should give up when:

  • You know you no longer want to do it. No one else is depending on you doing it and you haven’t given your word about it.
  • You know that to continue doing something or to pursue your goal will harm you and/or harm others either irreparably or in the long term.
  • Too much time has passed and too many of your actions have not borne fruit.
  • There is something better that you can do.

If You Don’t Know Whether or Not to Give Up

Ask yourself these questions:

  • On a scale of 1–10, how much do I still want this? (If your number is really low, you may not want this at all.
  • If your number is hovering around the middle, ask yourself what would make your motivation a 10?
  • If your number is relatively high, you probably still want it, and need to keep going—possibly with new or ­different actions.
  • What defines success for me with this goal?
  • Are you more process-oriented? Or product-oriented?

(Process oriented people want to enjoy the journey and ­reaching a specific destination is a bonus.

Product oriented people must reach a destination so they have a sense of completion.

Most people are not completely one or the other.)

For instance, I decided to leave the L.A. acting scene when I was very clear that if someone had offered me Julia Roberts-style acting roles and fame, that I would not accept it-unless my experience of everyday life became better first.

In other words, my process became more important than the product (or destination I was striving to reach.)

If you don’t know what true success would look like with your goal, ask yourself these questions.

  • On a scale of 1–10, how much do I know about what will define success for me in doing this?
  • On a scale of 1–10, how much do I know about what is ­necessary to be successful (as I define it) doing this?
  • On a scale of 1–10, how much do I still want to do the steps I know are necessary to achieve this?

Please also know it’s okay sometimes to step away temporarily from goals or dreams to give yourself and your dreams time to breathe. This can happen when either something more important or challenging occurs (like a serious illness for you or a loved one). It can also happen when the goals are still important but you’re just too stressed or tired to keep going without some support (like a mentor or coach).

Above all, know that while your definition of success matters, also know that success comes in many forms.

Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted. And experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer.

—Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.

—Rita Mae Brown, Alma Mater

Experience often feels like a booby prize when you strive for something specific and you don’t achieve it.

However, if you learned new skills that you can use elsewhere (and it’s hard not to have learned something along the way), than you have experienced some success.

If you learned something new about yourself that you didn’t know before, you have experienced some success.

If you have met new people who have become friends, mentors, or colleagues you respect and want to stay in touch with, you have experienced some success.

Experiencing these successes when you wanted to experience another, different, and specific kind of success can feel cold and unsatisfying.

Especially if it feels like your chances of achieving what you really wanted have died.

There are no easy answers here.

If a dream or goal has truly died (and is not just a temporary setback or test of your persistence), then you need to acknowledge the loss.

Grieve it. Use the tools I shared earlier. Write down your grief. Share it with friends, a counselor, a coach. Speak it into a recording. Don’t let it fester. Especially don’t let bitterness define your life.

Develop or use an existing spiritual practice like prayer, meditation, or reading inspirational books. (I include a short list at the end.) Reconnect with any non-goal related things that sustain or comfort you.

When you are sufficiently “done” with your grief—when you are bored or tired or feeling low, decide how you can use your experience to create something new that you want. Notice where you feel curious to take another step, whether it seems rational or not.

Then trust yourself, and take that step.

Epilogue: Coaching Yourself


The best way to help mankind is through the perfection of yourself.

—­Krishna’s dictum

The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.

—Jung

These quotes can be mystifying and intimidating.

Perfection seems like an impossible standard no one should put on her/himself. How can it help mankind for me to focus on perfecting myself? Wouldn’t perfecting myself be narcissistic or selfish? How can it be a privilege to become who I truly am? Who else could I be?

Perfecting oneself is becoming truly oneself at a deep level. It means embodying and expressing your unique combination of values in your unique way to your own satisfaction. It means discovering and accepting your talents and your personal values, acknowledging they are important for you and others, and most importantly, ACTING on them.

Mary Oliver asks in her poem The Summer Day:

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

It matters what you choose to do with your life. If all of us sat down, acknowledged our gifts and values and acted on them, the world would change overnight—for the better.

You help other people and the planet when you “perfect” yourself in this way.

It is a “privilege” to become who you truly are because privilege means “special right” or advantage. You have a special right to be here on this planet at this time. It is not an accident.

Your gifts are needed. They must be expressed in action to be effective.

(For those of you who are more introverted, please know that action can include prayer, meditation, and other “quieter” actions.)

It doesn’t matter how you express your gifts, but it is important to express them. They are needed by your friends, your family and by the wider world. All of us send out ripples with our thoughts, words, and actions. What sort of ripples do you want to make?

Hopefully this book will start or help you continue down your path, your special, unique, and needed path.

In the end, all that matters is that you pursue the path (or paths) that are meaningful to you and express the contributions only you can make.

I hope all my books will make your expression of your gifts and values a little easier. Please know I want you to succeed. Everyone deserves to discover, embrace, and pursue their paths.

Especially You, dear Reader.