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The Curse of the To-Do List

hand with pen writing on paper - The Curse of the To-Do List by Annette SegalThe “to-do” list has become…..ubiquitous! (I love using that word.) Wherever your eyes fall, people are referring to them. Making them, checking items off on them.

There are new programs to bring the “to-do” list into electronic formats, mobile apps – anything to make the modest list into a 21st century technology., complete with colors, beeps and reminders – attachments to your electronic calendars. The bells and whistles are seductive and often very useful – up to a point. So what’s the problem?

Let me be straightforward. I like being organized as much as any modern day person. Everyday, I work with people chained to their “to-do” lists in the hope of “getting things done.”

I happen to be an executive coach/consultant and entrepreneur (not to mention, mother, grandmother, friend, teacher, gardener, neighbor, writer, board member and more) so staying organized it vital. My daily tasks, like yours perhaps, range far and wide between my many projects, my home and garden, family, friends, wellness and personal development. Then there are the externally imposed deadlines I must meet – insurance payments, dog license renewals, and the like. I hate to pay late fees or fines, so staying on top of these is also critical to me. However, I know that there is something more important than simply checking off things that need doing.

I know my life matters…that it works best when I balance my many interests, passions, loved ones and tasks in a way that moves me forward into a vision I hold for contributing to the planet. Hopefully, you do too!

As an executive coach, I help leaders reflect on the “right” things – the things that leverage their intentions and projects – at home and at work . The things that make life yeasty and rich – meaningful. They begin with setting clear intentions, go on to prioritizing their commitments and working from that deep understanding.

This isn’t a new idea. It’s been around for a long time and many famous books and lectures refer to it. (Steven Covey wrote about it as did David Allen and scores of others.) But our culture has somehow lionized the “to-do” list as the vehicle for getting things done. And in the process caused a lot of confusion – which ultimately mean pain. Here’s how.

When activity (the endless items on the “to-do” list) controls your day, you are living into the great curse of modern times. What’s the curse? It’s the confusion between action (doing those things that further your clearly established intentions – priorities) and doing “stuff” that appears to need doing (which are endless) and which aren’t aligned directly to what is most important to you and most urgent in any meaningful way.

In the scramble to find more time, to get more done, to complete the list, people mistake one thing for another. Action includes activity but is the large, clear driver for getting the done the things that matter! Action has power – an inner dynamism. Activity are the smaller steps to achieving that dynamic vision for your life. And if you confuse the two, you often end up wondering why you feel unsatisfied, dispirited, unbalanced.

The antidote to the curse takes a little time at first, and pays off in clarity and purpose driven action. To establish the habit of beginning the day’s plan from the perspective of your intentions, you must first establish them. After a period of reflection on the domains of your life –  ntimacy, money/finance, career, family/friends, health/fitness, personal growth, fun/recreation, contribution, you set your intentions for each.

It may sound like: ACTION: health = eat well and stay fit (Activities = exercise 3 x’s per week, shop and cook organic, sustainable foods) Your planner placing the shopping day and times and items to purchase down and the exercise days and times on calendar.

I use the famous quadrant system each morning: 4 boxes labeled Urgent & Important (what matters most and has to get done today) Urgent & Not Important (externally imposed deadlines – pay taxes, for example that do not further my intentions AND must get handled) Not Urgent and Important (these align with my priorities) and Not Urgent and Not Important (my fanciful activities should a block of time suddenly appear). The last box I may never get to – or I may do on a break from the rest.

There are other systems to categorize your activities according to your priorities. Find one you like. Whichever one work best, it must begin with intention setting and prioritizing to be efficient and to be powerful….otherwise you find yourself lost in the spin of “I’m really busy…but what exactly am I accomplishing???”.

Afflicted with the curse of the “to-do” list, hundreds of thousands of folks keep endlessly repeating the phrase, “I’m so busy,’ without waking from the hallucination of being lost in rounds of activities that don’t reflect their values, deep concerns or intended outcomes.

Don’t let that be you! You are not a victim. Take some time to reflect on what matters most. Male a list. Number the items by priorities (soul-searching and hard but so worth it). Break the actions down into activities (steps)  in sync with a calendar. Include the externally imposed deadlines. Check your calendar against the top 10 priorities. Are they represented most often? If not, adjust! It will initially take some time, however soon, it will be an automatic planning habit that sets you up for balance, success and joy!

Work from that plan – a plan that takes all of your life into account, allows for the inevitable outside demands and leaves you, at the end of each day, clear about what you are up to in this world.

End the curse and step into that bigger, more meaningful life.

Great Leadership: Don’t Tug on the Leaves

Trimming my basil plant today got me thinking about Leadership. (I like to keep some fresh herbs in the 13031640_skitchen to feed my passion for cooking.)

Great leadership takes time…like growing a healthy plant. No amount of tugging on the leaves or urging it to “hurry up” makes the least difference.

So what does?

A few years ago, a friend who led an educational organization was diagnosed with cancer. While undergoing treatment, he hired an interim assistant. It was a critical time for the organization as grant monies were to be distributed to various new projects while ongoing supervision and review of funded projects was happening simultaneously.

Needless to say, there was a lot going on.

My friend, let’s call him Daniel, had a great relationship with his interim assistant, Diana. who he knew from a previous position. But he neglected to help Diana understand the dynamics of the education team.

His sense of urgency, his eagerness to “take care of” the organization in his absence was translated by Diana as get things done NOW! To Daniel’s dismay, Diana fired an administrative assistant… and all hell broke loose.

A storm of distrust blew up. Team members began second guessing every decision Diana made. Disgruntled and confused, Diane led staff meetings that deteriorated into “complaint sessions.” Getting anything done felt like jogging in molasses.

By the time Daniel was well enough to return full time, there was such a big mess to deal with that it took him weeks to recreate the happy, healthy organization he had left.

But there was one BIG difference.

He now realized how important it was to cultivate autonomy among his capable team members.

That required slowing down, sharing what was up, allowing other’s ideas to become part of the  mix of “how to” skills and not pushing so hard to be the one who got “it” done. Daniel learned to tune into the situation, in all its complexity and include everyone involved.

For my basil, I have to tune into the needs of the plant – does it require more or less light, more or less frequent watering, nutrients in the soil, trimming off dead leaves?

When applied to people, in an organization or on a team, a willingness to ask questions like:

1. What’s your take?
2. How would you approach this situation?
3. What changes would you like to see?
4. How can we do better?

…distinguishes the great from the merely good or adequate leader.

Good and adequate leaders simply “urge growth”. They may talk a lot, offering educated opinions or point to past experience, thinking they are encouraging their team. Yet, without really tuning into the person in front of him, his good intentions may actually be turning the situation sour.

On the other hand, great leaders cultivate greatness by tuning into their teams or organization as a regular part of leading.


On any given team there may be the introspective member who needs solitude and quiet to do her best work, alongside someone who feeds on stimulation and encouragement . You may have a direct report who responds to processes as support while his peer sees them as restraints.

One member of an organization may like being the “guide on the side” while another requires the limelight. And while a team outwardly has a vested interest in achieving the same outcomes, how members coordinate their efforts, energies and actual work to get there is a complicated by the human factor. Each person contributes unique strengths (and challenges).

The great leader utilizes the complementary strengths to support her organization or team in reaching its goals.

How, you’re asking?

If you’re a leader, get curious, stay open and refrain from making assumptions – about your people or solutions. Before determining a course of action, ask lots of questions – direct questions from a place of openness and tolerance. Listen to the answers, really listen from a place of “not-knowing”.

That’s a big shift.

Some “listening” looks more like, “Are you agreeing with my point of view?” And if you aren’t, I’m preparing my arguments for a particular position. This kind of listening doesn’t allow for hearing the other person. It gets in the way.

Listening from a place of “not knowing” includes open body language, open attention to the other (without an inner impatience to be heard). It includes humility – a quality worth cultivating.

A great leader wants to cultivate people with different competencies than herself. It strengthens the team, brings forward other perspectives, supports initiative and makes for powerful brainstorming. She learns as much as she can about her team and from their team. Asking for input from team members also builds their confidence (and loyalty) a big incentive in itself.

A leader armed with real data, perspectives and approaches and knowledgeable about any other constraints, can move forward and make sound decisions. One who is legitimately grateful for the input of her team, and also direct about the course of action, builds trust based on mutual respect.

It’s also important to stay away from psychoanalyzing your people. Instead observe closely and combine the observed behavior with answers to your questions to make grounded assessments. Build loyalty by encouraging people to be their best, though that may look different in different people.

And stay far away from the “one size fits all” way of leading – as much as is possible. Within the constraints of your projects, honor the differences in your team members. Take the time necessary to listen well, listen deeply and celebrate successes, even the little ones. Encouragement is part of the great leadership toolkit.

Instill self-confidence. It leads to boldness. Boldness fosters creative solutions. So praise, encourage, and challenge…but keep the challenges achievable and never take effort for granted.

And to encourage big ideas, great leaders avoid “knowing” everything.

Instead, they stay humble and open to others. By inviting opinions, they foster an atmosphere of creative problem solving and stay approachable.

So back to my basil plant. The connection? This way of leading takes time – like good gardening.

It requires a commitment to building a great workplace. It recognizes the importance of great teams. And while outwardly it may appear too slow, the gains in team confidence, contribution and loyalty go a long way towards high end productivity, viable solutions to problems that inevitably arise and real profits – personal and for the organization.

The Secret to Staying Calm in Chaos

13264233-a-businessman-holding-an-umbrella-in-a-stormI’m a coach, so my clients (executives, entrepreneurs, consultants, coaches, and other high performers)  show up in my practice for all sorts of reasons. If I had to categorize them, I’d say most clients were looking for ways ‘to stay calm in chaos”. That’s what Sam was looking for when he picked up to phone to call me one Tuesday morning.

Sam had accomplished so much already. Yet now, he was facing a new challenge, feeling stressed and overwhelmed and needing to be calm and centered. He needed to make powerful, effective decisions despite the chaos surrounding him.

Sam (let’s call him Sam), a personable and intelligent man in his mid-30’s came to me when he was seeking work. He had left a prestigious position defined by constant conflict – a culture of anger and stress.

Happily married and the father of two little boys, he wanted to put his education and experience to work in a start-up with high potential for success.

Head hunters sought him out. He was getting impressive interviews, and getting call backs from HR, so what was the problem?

Sam wasn’t doing well in face-to-face interviews. Due to anxiety (leftovers from his last position, the confrontational style of some interviewers, money worries and problems with his young son) he came across as tense, slightly unfocused and rushed. His stellar education and previous experience weren’t shining through!

He knew he was reacting to the stress of interviews in a way that didn’t support his goal. He just didn’t know what to do about it, so we began working together.

First we discovered that when Sam experiences stress, his reaction is to want to “run away”. This reaction is hardwired into his brain stem and showed up each and every time he experienced any degree of chaos. We’d have to address this!

He soon came to understand that “flight” showed up in a concave chest (body language that transmits information), a raised voice, a rapid pace when he spoke which translated to “lack of confidence” and it happened each time he was triggered, even though he could now identify it.

Sam began practicing getting centered daily. With a few minutes of breathing practice – yes simple breathing exercises – in no stress and low-stress situations, he could create some space around his “reaction”.

In that space, he chose how to hold his body – upright and relaxed. From that posture, he was able to end his sentences with assurance, speak clearly and succinctly in his natural voice and stay calm, neutral and open to the interviewer.

For fun (and good practice) we role played interviews after centering practice to work on appropriate responses rather than his typical reactions. As he learned to respond, taking time to speak clearly, listen deeply and breathe, he smiled more, uncrossed his arms and leaned forward – always more inviting that his “collapsed” body language of early days.

Sam got so good at staying calm, keeping his body language open, being curious rather than intimidated and speaking with the confidence that showed off his knowledge and experience, that he landed a great VP of finance position in attractive firm (and helped his little boy through a difficult patch too).

Why did this work? Over 3 months, Sam was diligent about his practices. Oh sure, there were a few hiccups (like for most of us, progress wasn’t linear) but he kept improving. So much so that he gave me a glowing testimonial on Yelp.com

And the truly “good news” is that Sam now had the tools to use in any and all stressful situations.

Stress is an inevitable part of life. Good stress, like a promotion or marriage, or stress you categorize as negative around the loss of a job or a missed deadline all create the same reactions in your body.

Learning to recognize how you react, gaining the tools that support some centering – simply starting with your breath, allows you to be much more effective (and pleasant to be around) when that inevitable stress shows up.

You can begin the process by noticing your breath. Then without forcing a change in the inhale, begin extending the exhale – audibly, if you’re alone. Extending your exhale does a lot in relaxing the muscles of your face and upper body. It goes further by opening up the diaphragm. Fortunately, it also allows you to have a little more room in which to respond, rather than react.

Pretty simple but not so easy to remember when you need it most.

That’s why practicing in no-stress or low-stress situations is critical. If you practice for 28 days, you’ll create a new habit – a healthy one – that will pay off time and time again.

And how can you remind yourself to do this for 28 days? Set a calendar reminder on your computer, put a sticky note on your bathroom mirror, and put a sticky note on the dashboard of your car.

Take it from Sam, the rewards are tangible and huge.

Genesis: A Coach is Born

9649795_sEver have a question lead you into a new way of living? A few years into coaching teachers in San Diego, I smashed head first into a cast iron question. Ouch! Is everyone meant to teach – especially children? It interrupted my thoughts, took refuge in my dreams and generally made for a bitter companion. (The answer by the way is “No”.)

At the same time, I heard of a 3 day coach training event for experienced coaches in San Francisco. I read a book by the teacher/ founder of the school and signed up, because he was asking even bigger questions than I was. Little did I know that a movement from horizontal (skills based coaching) to vertical (developmental coaching) was about to unfold. And my life was taking on a new form.

What I discovered led me to a year long course in Chicago – a gateway into the world of adult developmental change that keeps me enlivened and engaged every day – sometimes frustrated and always eager to understand more.

Integral coaching is a developmental journey, a mystery and opening. It took me from master teacher, high school principal, teacher trainer, curriculum developer, editor and educational coach into realms I couldn’t imagine. Along the way I discovered the intelligence of the body, the significance of daily Sitting, the gifts of self-observation and the shifts made possible by rigorous practice. And that was only the beginning.

Here’s a little context…

I came to the USA as a young girl, living in poverty with my mom. Quickly I learned to navigate many worlds…in several languages. No wonder I became fascinated with linguistics and culture
and years later did my graduate work in cultural anthropology.

My poor mom, a Holocaust survivor, also had a severe mental illness. Out of the pain her condition imposed on all of us, my love of psychology – understanding the mind – arose. When things were really tough, books were a refuge – igniting a lifelong love of learning. Being a child of immigrants with a colorful cast of characters traipsing through our apartments, I listened a lot and learned as much from the non-verbal cues as from the 7 languages that were freely bandied about.

And from an early age, I loved reading to and organizing games – leading the younger kids – seeing myself as their champion. I started teaching when I was still a teen myself and kept going into a rich and meaningful career that included accelerated learning, experiential education, neuro-linguistic programming, learning styles and brain-based methods of reaching students. Oh and I co-wrote a funny book/game on the Enneagram. My own reading took me into philosophy, ontology, semantics, literature,, and neuroscience. And I traveled… a lot.

The story is complex (we all are) and changes locales often, yet a theme arises from the mist – I was always involved with development – of the mind, and then the body and spirit.

Finally, combining my own spiritual practice, Kundalini yoga practice and EVERYTHING  (with a capital E), that I knew, I began consulting and coaching under the name The Valiant Group – since courage in conversation and life was essential to me.

I’ve worked with clients at Busch and SpaWars, NASA and Twitter, Clorox and Genentech, Nikon and SD. City Schools. I’ve delivered workshops at universities across the country, taught in Moscow, Singapore, Capetown, S.A., and Greece and continue to be fascinated by the ways we humans encounter and expand our experience to fully live into our potential.

Who’s Running the Show?

Your stomach is tied up in knots. You need to tell a colleague what you really think, but you can’t…fearful of the reaction.

Sweat breaks out on your palms. You need to say ‘No” to an unreasonable request, but a voice within tells you saying no isn’t acceptable.

Who’s running the show? You or your inner critic?

Arianna Huffington, President and Editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post said, “We may not be able to tune our inner critics out entirely, but we don’t have to let them run the show.”

So where did these inner critics come from? . Were inner critics always once outer critics? How did they get so powerful?

The popular thinking is that the outer critics were our primary caretakers. In order to have our safety, nourishment and connection needs met, we took on their priorities (and cut off parts of ourselves). Over time, their voices became our inner critic.

Now, in our day-to-day life we play out the tension between our (hopefully more) evolved, integrated  adult selves and the inner critic that arose in childhood. Yet, certain scenarios bring out the worst in us.

Is  there someone  at work who makes you hold back, too meek to speak?

Who is it you can see yourself wanting to give a quick kick to the groin? (Come on we all have these thoughts from time to time.) You don’t have to berate yourself for the thoughts. Berating yourself is a way of knowing you’re under attack by the inner critic.

You can do something useful about it.

Okay, go somewhere quiet. Now, imagine a recent situation and visualize your inner critic sitting across from you. Take a minute, two at the most and play the scene in your head where you say everything to this inner including, “F–K off”.

You may have to go back and re-do this scene several times. And you’ll have to defend against the next attack and the one after that. Your defense will come more automatically and will be shorter and shorter. How will you know you have tamed the inner critic?

Your body’s  intelligence will  become more familiar.  You’ll get to know   that place somewhere near your navel that will relax, not be so tied in “KNOTS” from the “NOTS” once you tell this annoying inner critic to back off.

And soon, without leaving the scene completely, your inner critic will learn that YOU are running the show.



4 Steps to Zest

6912056_sSylvie, looked down at her coffee cup and told me, defeatedly, “I feel like I’m asleep. I’ve been asleep for years.” Sylvie, a new client, was exploring her sense of being stuck at her job and what to do about it. But her real pain arose because she felt that her lethargy at work was creating difficulties at home, as well as with her sense of worth.

She continued, ‘My performance reviews are good, and I go along with creating the requisite goals on paper with the head of HR, but they are illusory…because they aren’t really challenges. I know I’ll achieve them before the signature hits the page. Its all a ‘been there, done, that’ sort of feeling.”

Things were going well for Sylvie. She had maintained a mid-level management position in a mid-sized company for years. She was well liked and enjoyed her peers. She knew the ropes and did her work efficiently and well, was decently paid and had the usual perks…so what was wrong? Why seek coaching?

When leaders, managers and supervisors “fall asleep” in their careers, they’ve lost a lot more than passion. Being on automatic pilot may sound like a good idea, but when we explore it more fully, we actually find its awful!

Not only does that state describe an ongoing feeling of zero passion, it also points to a total lack of imagination, learning and growth. Yikes – those are serious losses for any intelligent, resourceful leader.

And to have years or even decades pass in that state of “comfort” impacts you not only at work, but at home, too!

Your aliveness which has dissolved into boredom, complacency and mindless “doing” at work can’t inspire or engage the loved ones with whom you’re sharing – at the dinner table, over coffee, or in bed.

And when you confront yourself in the mirror, you’re not happily smiling but rather almost ignoring the face reflected back to you.

Call it “settling” or a “stalemate” or simply “dancing the same old dance” that repeating pattern is stealing an important chunk of who you really are.

Putting the zest back into your career (and your life as a result) doesn’t require drastic measures. It does take a commitment – to your own development, your own richness…and you can do it in four simple steps.

Step One: Reflect backwards and find scenarios when a project, an initiative was fully engaging. (These can be career related or not.)

Step Two: Jot down who was involved; the challenges, the environment; your strategies for success; the rewards for completing the project.

Step Three: Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Experience the emotions, sensations that arise as you reflect on the engagement. Notice where the aliveness in you showed up (your belly, your chest, your hands or…) Stay with the sensations until you have a physical locale.

Step Four: Write down the answers to: What Was I Learning? What’s something I’d like to learn now? How can I go about that? Who could support me?

Once you’ve got these answers and have nailed down some of the sensations, you have a roadmap and a barometer.

What this means to you is that you can begin to incorporate places in your life where the answers to step two live. If they aren’t available, build them in – either at work or after. That’s the map part.

Then, as you experiment ( its going to be trial and error for a while) use the sensations you surfaced in step three to as the barometer. Are you getting closer to feeling that zest? If so, do more. If not, it times to try something else.

HINT: Sometimes you can mistake zest for fear! You might mislabel your sense of aliveness as fear because its become unfamiliar during “the long sleep”. When you notice the emotion that you are calling fear, check it out thoroughly. What are you really afraid of? Is it manageable? Or are you actually feeling the challenge, the potential learning, the engagement with the unknown and calling it by the wrong name?

Sometimes, this is a journey best taken with a coach. The support and accountability and motivation that a coaching program creates, may be the impetus for moving you out of the “yawns” and into the “aha” sector of you life.

 Yes, there are ways to integrate challenge, learning and growth into your life RIGHT NOW!

By identifying something of value you’d like to achieve, know, explore, you can round up support (colleagues, direct reports, bosses) and collaboratively come up with ways to incorporate it into your work life.

Failing that, you can look for another outlet – a new skill, take a challenging class, become proficient at a new sport, join a group, or get a coach to move you off your spot. The learning and inspiration will cross pollinate your work life and your personal life. Good books entertain; great books tip your world ever so slightly. Don’t be surprised if reading I AM THE MESSENGER shifts your perspective on your own life. The story is so good that it breaks your heart. You’ll have new people to interact with, something fresh to report on, a new level of challenge to reflect upon and a launchpad for a wider perspective.

And you’ll wake up! Blast through that deadening feeling of being asleep at the wheel of your life, which makes you dull and ultimately makes you rigid. The initial blast may be a tiny on the Richter scale, but the rumbles will attract more movement – after shocks that will lead to more passion, more aliveness, more growth.

Sure you can start small. And perhaps you’ll gain momentum for bigger changes. For sure, you’ll add some zest to your day to day that will serve you well in every area of your life.

So go for it. Today! Now! What are you waiting for?

Sexy or Not: A Case for Practice

hand keyI jokingly call, my close friend, S. a surrogate daughter. She’s pregnant and single, for the moment and about to give birth – perhaps even tomorrow.. I attended her birthing classes where I learned a lot about how delivery and labor are handled these days. My own sons were born a long time ago, when a very different attitude prevailed.

Last weekend, things got very dicey. S. went into hospital with very high blood pressure, severely swollen feet (and face) arousing serious fears about preeclampsia. Without going into all the scary and upsetting details, I want to share one thing that stood out in relief, from the ordeal.

When S’s. QiGong friends showed up, and she, despite her pain, began to practice, the large hospital room filled up – with laughter, with joy, with a steadying calm essence. I breathed it in – taking long, deep inhales and I thought about what was transpiring before my eyes…

We practice – whatever our practices are – and we struggle with questions like “Why can’t I be more consistent?” or “How is it I let myself slip out of my routine?” or more frequently perhaps and certainly more poignantly, “When will the effects of practice show up?”

Sure, practice is challenging. It’s not sexy. Often repetitive, sometimes boring, frequently done begrudgingly as other more delicious delights beckon. Sometimes a smooth, easy rhythm sets in and for days or weeks, practicing is easy, effortless and we think, “Ah, I’ve got it now,” only to be shocked when the inevitable distractions reappear.

Practice builds muscle, but not in the way of strength training as the muscle being built is far more complex than the pecs or abs of the body. While the body is involved in the type of practice I’m pointing to, so is the heart, the psyche and uniquely, the spirit.

So practice, whether meditation, Inquiry, Qigong or other work on The Path, is both rigorous and simple, hard, yet easy, deeply moving and deeply affecting and sometimes superficial feeling.

For beginners, it is especially challenging as it comes with few “benchmarks.’ The very shifts one might point to represent “striving” or “achieving” – both to be avoided on a spiritual path.

So what keeps one on the path? Why continue to practice?

Faith and devotion are the words that come up for me. Faith, that practice in and of itself, regardless of any outcome is “right action” as the Buddhists would say… or in the words of Jewish mystical teacher, Rebbe Nachman of Breslow, “ ‘Hitbodidut” – meditation – inner directed, unstructured, active self-expression before God – is the highest path of all. Take it.”

Tapping into the undifferentiated Oneness is practice whatever the methodology might look or sound like. Of course, that’s a big statement. And the faith, I point to is that the Universe, or God or The Motherhead exist as that Oneness.

Devotion represents returning again and again to the practice – a devotion to self, Self and whatever you name the interconnection of all creation as evidenced in action.

So back to the lovely S. As I watched her awareness and fear of the physical pain recede, as I saw her come shining forward from a larger space than her body and mind – to join her spirit in joy, I saw the evidence for ongoing, continued practice as “the way.”

And as I watched difficulty transform into opportunity, I one again realized that while not sexy in the standard definition, practice is necessary and revitalizing and reconnecting. It brings together all of ourselves – our minds, hearts, bodies and spirits.

Naturally, the practice I’m talking about is lifelong – not the coaching variety that I often assign my clients. Those are short term and serve a very specific function, build upon one another and address particular outcomes.

What I am pointing to here is the sustaining practice of bringing more and more consciousness forward – a living into the Truth of Reality that doesn’t end with a particular outcome achieved.

Interestingly, both types of practice bring up some of the same frustrations with different intensity. (Knowing a practice is to last 4 weeks makes it more doable than a lifelong commitment.) Yet, all practice demands faith and devotion. Faith, in the efficacy of the practice, the intention behind it and the coach offering it, and devotion to the self – its development and growth.

Watching S. practice in the hospital room with our friends, renewed in my own devotion and my own faith. I strengthened my intention to be consistent in my practice and also compassionate with myself when that was challenging.

I invite you, dear reader, into this action as well – a nourishment for all situations, all beings, all time. And remind you that compassion is an act of love so as you take up your practice, either for the first time or again, bring on the compassion around your intention. Truth demands it.

If you’re thinking about your development, The Valiant Group can support you with suggested practices individually tailored, accountability and an objective reflection of your next steps. It begins with a conversation. Call us at 510-722-3292.

Connect or Your Health Will Suffer

“Copious scientific data proves that loneliness is a greater risk to your health than smoking or lack of exercise, and finding your tribe is better than any vitamin, diet, or exercise regimen.”

– Lissa Rankin, M.D.

You’re smart. You’re savvy.You’re conscious. You keep up.

You don’t smoke. You know all about “trans-fats” and bad cholesterol. You read up on the latest health advice, get regular check-ups and are aware of your need for sleep.

You try hard to exercise and eat well, avoid all the “bad” stuff and drink in moderation. Perhaps you’ve cut out (or back) sugar and caffeine. You know that taking care of yourself is an important responsibility.

Do you also know that loneliness has a more powerful effect on your health than all of the above?

What’s the BEST health advice for you?

Lissa Rankin is an MD who recently wrote the runaway NYT bestselling book Mind Over Medicine. In it she MOM-final-cover1digs deep into peer-reviewed medical research from the most reputable establishments on the planet in an effort to discover what really causes and/or prevents disease.

Connection is important – more important than what you eat or how much you exercise. Yet, it rarely is spoken about in the media. You don’t see ads for “make friends” like you see for “drink milk”. Maybe you should!

In your brain, you have a connection making hormone, oxytocin, which builds your social self. When you’re connected to another person, it floods your brainwaves, makes your stress level decrease and you feel good.

Oxytocin has come through thousands of years of evolution, telling us that despite our best efforts to see ourselves as separate, special individuals, we are social creatures – bound to one another and yet unique. And when those bonds are weak – you suffer.

Who do you spend time with? Who is in your tribe? Is it time to expand your tribe? How often do you really talk frankly to a friend, lover, partner? How much do you reveal of what’s on your mind, especially when it’s troubling?

If you are really committed to your own well-being, check your calendar. When was the last time you spent an evening with friends, had dinner with someone close, took a walk and talked sincerely about what’s happening in your life? If those events are infrequent, sporadic or non-existent for long periods of time, you are hurting yourself. It’s time to change things up.

Ask yourself: Who do I spend time with? Who is in my tribe? Is it time to expand my tribe? How often do I to really talk frankly to a friend, lover, partner? How much do I reveal of what’s on my mind, in my heart, especially when its troubling?

If your answers are: infrequently, now is the time to change that. Here are some ways to do it

  1. Deepen relationships you already have by changing the conversation. Sports and work chat are fine, but it’s time to go deeper.
  2. Look around at your life and see what potential friends are lurking in the background. Move at least one person a week forward with a phone call, lunch date, conversation over the water cooler that’s more than gossip or task related. Then see who you resonate with and take it deeper.
  3. Put spending time with an important someone on the calendar as a regular “date”. Don’t expect chance to make it happen. You must make it happen – and regularly.

Well-being is more than what you eat, how much exercise and rest you get. It includes how much stress you experience. And it’s about how well and how often you connect with others.


Do you make time for connection? Do you feel like it’s enough or do you need more? Please share your comments here, thanks.

Mindfulness is Not Enough

mindfulness-istock-prvSorry,  my friends, but mindfulness is not enough.

Why you ask? There’s so much evidence for the benefits – hardcore scientific evidence.

True, I say and I’m a proponent – don’t get me wrong.

I’m not saying mindfulness practices aren’t important – of course they are – essential even. I’m saying that alone, they aren’t enough. Here’s why.

Long before you were able to take up a mindfulness practice, you developed a personality.

And that personality, in the first let’s say 7 years of your life, was deeply impressed by what your caretakers, felt, thought, modeled, liked and disliked.

Did they approve of risk taking? Did they frown on assertiveness preferring “good manners”?

Did they reward savings and question spending? How did they handle clinginess or expressions of anger or desire or sibling rivalry?

Because as a very young person, you needed ( not just wanted, but needed) to feel safe and loved,  and you were so vulnerable, you developed traits and behaviors that were approved of. You  shunted other parts of yourself into “the shadow”. It was intelligent. It made you feel secure.

These disowned parts could be either “good” or “bad” – didn’t matter. Some got splintered off because having them triggered survival issues – fear of abandonment, fear of losing nourishment, support, safety, approval.

For example, if your parents got upset when you showed generosity and said something like, “You’ll be taken advantage of. You have to watch out for other people. Be very careful.” The quality of generosity in yourself may have gone underground only to live on in your shadow.

Maybe your parents  really approved of self-sufficiency and so you tried to be strong, responsible, take the initiative. You may have sent the part of you that needed support,  undercover.  And when it surfaces in your adult life now, like your generosity, you start feeling really uncomfortable, unsafe- as though your survival depends on staying strong though you know all people need support at one time or another.

The problem is your mind can’t make sense of the discomfort, anxiety, fear because they don’t live in the mind. They live in your body.

It makes sense to your mind that of course, everyone has needs, why not you?  Yet your body still connects to the young person’s sense of insecurity when you step away from the approval and love of your Mommy (or whoever cared for you).

And as you grow up, your culture adds to your shadow material. It too approves of some traits and behaviors and represses others. More suffering in twisting to “fit in” and ‘succeed” by the culture’s definition.

And because this shadow operates unconsciously, mindfulness isn’t enough. Mindfulness alone won’t surface your shadow material. You have to set out on the hero’s journey to uncovered and reclaim those parts of you that you lost along the way. The hero’s journey, after facing great obstacles is always a coming home to yourself…the true you, the whole you..

I call it a hero’s journey because as Robert Johnson said, “The process of civilization involves suppressing into our shadow side those traits and patterns that are not culturally acceptable. This sorting process is quite arbitrary. Individualism, for instance, is a great virtue in some societies and the greatest sin in others. But this sorting process is two-edged — some of the pure gold of our personalities is relegated to the shadow because it can find no place in the great leveling process that is culture. Curiously, people resist the noble aspects of their shadow more strenuously than they hide the dark sides.

It takes  a concerted effort, true courage  to live into your wholeness, fulfillment and authenticity and you can’t do it alone.

Come join with like-minded others in Transforming Your Shadow – a 3 week virtual event where thought leaders and masters provide wisdom, tools and support for this journey home to yourself.

At no charge, you can join in the conversation at www.transformingyourshadow.com

Week One: Money, Calling and Your Shadow

Wow! The first week of my Transforming Your Shadow telesummit just ended and what a week it was!  Now is the time to reflect!  What does it mean to live into a dream? Certainly not what I thought and yet so much more!  More complex – rich, yeasty, meaty and more.  Challenging – a stretch, an ache and a joy.

Transforming Your Shadow is a cheeky undertaking. Rather than offering quick fix solutions to all your problems or promises of  wealth, love and happiness in 3 easy steps, it invites us all into a deeper understanding, a greater awareness – a process that entails confronting our pain, our suffering. Only the courageous sign up for such an undertaking and I’m learning to accept, only the courageous offer it. There I’ve said it out loud. I am bringing out of the shadows an aspect of myself I’ve seldom acknowledged – my courage.

So what was it like, you ask, to pull off a feat with so many moving parts?

Front and center were extraordinary moments AND gripping fears. The fears showed up around money – which we learned from Mayuri Onerheim, author of Money, Spirituality and Consciousness, arise from old family structures unconsciously taken on which never hit awareness. (And the social shadows surrounding money.) I got to work with those as I waited for people to purchase what I felt was a fount of wisdom and guidance for a very affordable investment.

Extraordinary moments wove through some of the interviews when a guest shared an insight in blazingly clear language that rushed listeners into an an ”aha”. Or when they provided an action step that had the audience saying, “Yes, I’m doing that, today.” Sometimes, the sigh of recognition wafted loudly, as a shadow element was described.

Other extraordinary moments occurred when I noticed, I was doing something challenging and new – running a control panel, interviewing people I greatly admired – choreographing  the needs of the technology, the audience, the speaker and myself simultaneously for the first  time ever, and enjoying myself. Who would have thunk it? I could even bring poetry into it – a joy!

As Gregg Levoy shared insights about the suffering in ignoring your calling and how to tune into the body’s whispering, and Rita Hovakimian told listeners the 4 Money Mirror types each held in emotion, beliefs and behaviors, emails and texts flooded in thanking me for providing this opportunity.

Yet there is more to come. We’ll be tuning into the suffering around of meaningful work, intimacy, leadership and  parenting and bringing more consciousness to each in the coming week – and more after that.

I’m breathing deeply in appreciation and feel the enlivening energy flow as I contemplate what’s ahead. Yep, and I know that there are more lessons ahead, for me, my incredibly supportive team, the speakers and  you, he audience.

Come join in the conversation – profound, fascinating, human.

Join us at: www.transformingyourshadow.com.  You’ll have immediate access to the remaining live calls and…for an exceptionally small investment…have the replays of all of them in your personal transformation library. In addition, free gifts from the amazing speakers are yours too – gifts like preview chapters of books, mantras for love making,  coaching sessions, money archetype assessments and, more.

I look forward to sharing.