Category: Self Improvement


I was inspired by one of my patients who reads a chapter from Proverbs each day as her daily devotional.  I thought this sounded like a great idea; after all, Proverbs is one of the original “self-help books” and contains such incredible wisdom such as “How much better to get wisdom than gold, to choose understanding rather than silver” (Prov 16:16) and “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Prov 17:22) However, Proverbs also holds such admonitions such as “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion.” (Prov 11:22) and “All a man’s ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs the heart.” (Prov 21:2) I quickly found myself discouraged, convicted, and wanting to abandon my devotional.

Fortunately, I soon discovered a a book by one of my favorite people from Women of Faith, Patsy Clairmont: Kaleidoscope: Seeing God’s Wit and Wisdom in a Whole New Light.  Described as a “whimsical look at Proverbs”, Mrs. Clairmont approaches Proverbs with chapters devoted to topics and particular verses.  Mrs. Clairmont’s lighthearted, humorous, yet faithful examination of Proverbs is very pleasant, easy-to-read, and encouraging.  This book is intended as a daily devotional, with 33 short chapters, but could be read straight-through as well.  I recommend it to anyone looking to explore Biblical wisdom in a non-intimidating way, with applications for our present-day lives.

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Are you always searching for “something more?”  Do you identify with any of the following drives or characteristics:

  • Extreme Confidence
  • Constant Need for New Challenges
  • Need for Recognition based on Performance, not gender
  • Greatest pleasures come from work place achievements
  • Learn best from Experience

Have you been frustrated by managers or situations that don’t challenge you to grow, provide opportunities for connecting, or sufficient validation?  This may be the book for you.

Always searching for tools, tricks, and tips to share with my girlfriends and patients, I was thrilled when presented with the opportunity to review Marcia Reynolds’Wander Woman. (obligatory disclosure: I received a review copy of the book at no cost with no obligation to provide a positive review) Going beyond the traditional call for finding “balance”, Wander Woman presents as a self-help book for “high-achieving women who are confident, ambitious, driven yet anxious, discontented, and above all, restless.”  This book succeeds in this endeavor and is a fascinating character study as well.

Dr. Reynolds begins by defining what constitutes a “Wander Woman” and explores the conditions that have contributed to the formation of such persons.  She then describes the process of “intentional transformation” and does a beautiful job of elucidating the many archetypes that characterize the various aspects of one’s personality: the Victim, the Saboteur, the Rebel, and so on…  Dr. Reynolds utilizes her masterful coaching expertise to provide specific exercises to aid in the discovery and development of these aspects of personality, provides instruction on correcting distortions of thoughts (“debunking your assumptions”), as well as gives specific directions on how to gain useful insight through the technique of “Appreciative Dialogue.”

Although I initially was interested in this book as it would apply to others, I quickly found myself relating to this Wander Woman phenomenon…with one exception: I no longer feel the need to “wander.”  I was fortunate enough to find and create the conditions I needed for contentment and fulfillment in my personal and professional life by becoming self-employed.  This solution, while appropriate in my situation, is not an option for many.  Fortunately, this book guides women through the process of self-discovery and provides specific resources for developing a “conscious strategy to find your direction and plan for your future.”

I recommend this book to any woman interested in introspection, not just those who set out to become “high-achievers.”  Wander Woman is full of great insights and is a wonderful exercise in personal development and transformation for any woman who wants “to know what they can accomplish in this lifetime without feeling exhausted and lonely in the end.”

(from the publisher)

Dr. Marcia Reynolds is fascinated by the brain, especially the nuances of the female brain. She is a master certified coach with a doctorate in organizational psychology, focusing on the needs and challenges of smart, strong women in the workplace. She travels around the world speaking at conferences and teaching classes in leadership, emotional intelligence and organizational change. Her book Wander Woman: How High Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction was released this summer.

You can read more about the book at wanderwomanbook.com and follow the author on Facebookand Twitter.

It’s Summer! It’s that time of year when temperatures rise, clothing covers less, and thoughts turn to having the perfect “swimsuit” body and that favorite of four-letter-words: DIET.  While there are a multitude of books available promoting weight loss; most are based on unhealthy fads that do not translate into long-term weight loss.  Most of these tomes tell what magical mixture of foods, or lack thereof, will cause the pounds to melt away.  The only problem is that, once you return to your normal pattern of eating, the pounds find their way back home and bring their friends.  A few years ago, I was faced with a diagnosis of diabetes and the reality of needing to lose 35 pounds on a permanent basis.  I set out to find a way to change not only my eating habits but, most importantly, how I thought about food.  Fortunately, I discovered Dr. Judith Beck’s “The Beck Diet Solution.”

Dr. Beck’s book seems unique in the weight loss genre: it doesn’t suggest any particular diet or exercise program.  It promises to work with ANY healthy diet and exercise plan.  This book uses techniques from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (a mental health technique created by her father, Dr. Aaron Beck, to treat depression) to identify the distorted thoughts that keep one from being motivated, disciplined, and successful.  Dr. Beck’s book goes beyond “eat less and move more” and teaches how to do so when you don’t want to or when it’s not easy.  People who struggle with their weight, says Beck, all have one thing in common: They don’t know how to think like a thin person – their behavior, mindset, lifestyle, and habits all sabotage their best intentions. For example, she writes, people often have thoughts such as “I know I shouldn’t eat this, but I don’t care,” or “It’s okay if I eat [this food] just this one time.” Permanent weight control requires a life long change in thoughts and attitudes while dealing with such sabotaging habits and behaviors.  Three years later, I’ve maintained the weight loss I achieved using her techniques.  So before you sign up for hormone weight-loss shots or some other fad diet de jour, consider checking out “The Beck Diet Solution” and see if there are some “sabotaging thoughts” that are derailing your best intents and efforts.  While you won’t drop “7 pounds in 7 days”, it certainly is more palatable than Dolly Parton soup and grapefruit for every meal.

Mindfulness meditation is a term that is used to describe the cultivation of “non-judgemental, moment-to-moment awareness” of events in our daily life.  Through the purposeful exercise of bringing our awareness to the present moment, we can learn to be “more present” in our day to day lives and less distracted by ruminations of the past or anxieties about the future.  Such a practice can lead to a greater richness and fullness in relationships with spouses & children, help with problems with over-eating, as well as help coping with chronic stress, pain, or illness.  While it is based in Buddhist mediative discipline, Mindfulness Mediation is not a religious meditation; although, being “mindful” and “present” is emphasized by most religious and spiritual traditions.  Mindfulness meditation is not for the purpose of relaxation, although you may feel more relaxed, but rather an exercise in bringing our awareness to the present moment, “the only moment in which we are really alive”.  Most any activity can be done “mindfully” by experiencing the activity with all of our senses.

Mindful breathing is foundational to many mindfulness exercises and is a great place from which to begin a mindful meditation practice.  Mindful breathing does not require a large commitment of time, any special equipment, or location.  Our “breath” intersects both the voluntary and involuntary nervous systems.  Because of this, mindful breathing offers a wonderful opportunity to experience mind-body connectedness.  You may have noticed that when you are very upset or agitated, your breath becomes shallow and rapid.  This shallow breathing further exacerbates feelings of anxiety and creates a negative feedback loop.  Conversely, when we focus our attention on the breath and allow it to “be” without forcing it to be any particular way, our breathing calms down and with it, our mind calms down as well.  Our mind receives the message, “Everything is okay, no need to worry”, which helps us to feel at ease.

Here is a brief, introductory mindful breathing exercise:

Assume a comfortable position, either seated or lying down.  Allow your awareness to center on one area of the breath: such as the flow of air at the nostrils or rise and fall of the abdomen, but away from the mind and “thinking”.  Allow your body to breathe in and out exactly as it wants to.  You may notice the flow of the air in and out, the onset of the breath, the inflection point just before you begin to exhale, and the length of the pause before your next breath begins. Be aware that with every breath you are nourishing every cell in your body. Continue to follow the breath in and out of our body.  When your thinking pulls you away, as it will certainly do, notice the thoughts without judgement and gently bring your focus back to your breath.  Continue your practice for a comfortable period of time; perhaps starting with five to ten minutes.

Guided mindful mediations are a great way to experience Mindfulness Meditation and are readily available from various sources.  I have enjoyed the CD “Mindfulness for Beginners” by Jon Kabat-Zinn (available on iTunes or through Amazon.com).  I also highly recommend “A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook” by Bob Stahl, PhD and Elisha Goldstein, PhD. for more complete instruction in the art of mindfulness meditation.

Weight loss is a simple mathematical concept: consume fewer calories than you burn on a daily basis.  This equation can be manipulated on either end: by reducing intake and/or increase expenditures.  None of this is new, special, or revolutionary.  The trick is how to motivate yourself to do this, how to be consistent in your efforts, and how to deal with the inevitable challenges to your plans that occur in day-to-day life.

Dr. Judith Beck, Ph.D has a novel and effective approach to this problem.  By utilizing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy principles, she instructs the reader how to change their thoughts and change their behaviors leading to a healthy approach to food and exercise that is for life.  In her most recent book, The Complete Beck Diet for Life, a follow-up to her How to Think Like a Thin Person, Dr. Beck expands on her tools for dieting success by suggesting options for healthy eating.

Dr. Beck’s CBT approach has been an effective tool, when employed, for dealing with the “sabotaging thoughts” than can occur while dieting: Permissive-thinking, “All-or-None” thinking and others.  When combined with accountability, support, and appropriate (non-food) rewards/motivations, weight loss success can be realized.

  • Plan your meals and record everything that is consumed.  Use a digital food scale to weigh or measure food.  Lose it is a free iPhone app (or is available through their website) to log calories consumed.  Websites such as CalorieKing.com and Nutritiondata.com provide wonderful information on calories of various food including foods from restaurants when available.
  • Exercise is not optional. Although some weight loss can be realized by calorie restriction, our bodies were created to move.  There are multiple health benefits of exercise including reduction of depression and improvement in blood sugars.  Some exercise is better than none…get moving!
  • Your body is not a trashcan. Excess food is wasted whether you put in on your waist or throw it in the trash.  Do not eat unplanned food & count every bite.
  • Give yourself credit.  By recognizing what you have done right or well, you give yourself a basis to improve from.  We act on what we believe and we believe what we tell ourselves.  Believe that you can be successful!
  • Find your motivation.  Write out your reasons for losing weight and review them often.  Set incremental goals and reward yourself along the way with non-food rewards.

These are some of the tips and resources I use.  How about you?  What have you found to be helpful or not? I would love to hear what has worked or not worked for you.  Please feel free to comment and join in the conversation.

Happy New Year! If you’re like most, you embrace the New Year by resolving to improve your life. I am no exception. This year I am focusing on making SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely) instead of making vague resolutions. I have enlisted my trusted iPhone to assist me in my endevors.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” –Aristotle.

By this logic, it is necessary to create and maintain useful habits. The Habit Factor ($3.95) is nice in that it allows you to set both Goals as well as Habits to achieve your goals. It tracks your daily progress and gives some accountability as well as serves to organize your goals/habits based on certain areas: Body, Mind, Spirituality, and Social. Another goal setting app is 43 Things (free) which allows you to set goals and track progress made.

Following the Body, Mind, Spirit model, I have set specific goals for each of the areas. In Body: to lose weight/exercise more. As noted in the New York Times article on 12/31/09 a multitude of apps exist to aid in the pursuit of better physical health. Some that I have used include: Weightbot, Lose It, iPump Lean, and Yoga Stretch.

In the area of improving the Mind, I look to read more in the New Year. This is easily done on the iPhone with Apps for the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and book readers such as the Kindle. I also intend to be more regular with my postings.  I welcome any ideas you may have for topics.

For Spiritual growth, I plan to continue reading the Bible daily using YouVersion’s The Bible which has multiple translations, allows bookmarking of verses and sharing through Twitter and email, and is free. I also will get back to meditating, using guided mediations from iTunes or the Mayo Clinic Meditation app.

I was pleased to see that the Habit Factor included a category of Social growth. This year I aim to improve my relationship with my family in several ways: I will be doing The Love Dare and playing more games with my boys including UNO and LIFE. I continue to enjoy the socialization available through Twitter and Facebook; I’ve made some great connections and look forward to the insights and entertainment. However the biggest resolution that I am making this year may require only one button on my “trusty iPhone”: the power switch. The most meaningful thing that I will work on this year is being present….and that requires the removal of distractions and banishment of partial attention. Wish me luck!