Tuesday, February 23, 2010

We've Moved!

The Personal Growth Planet blog is now located at the Personal Growth Planet website. Come on over and continue to be inspired, motivated and informed by checking out new weekly blog posts as well as regularly added articles.

Peace, Blessings and Great Joy to You,

Friday, February 19, 2010

Why Losing Control Isn't Necessarily a Bad Thing

By Amy Phillips-Gary

I've been watching the Winter Olympics a lot this past week. I've been amazed and inspired by the skill, creativity, determination and endurance displayed by all of the athletes-- not just those who were awarded medals.

I found myself holding my breath as skiers raced down a mountainside traveling over 60 mph as they jumped and turned and vied for top speeds.

As these women and men careened down the mountain ski runs, I'd often perceive that they were out of control-- some of them did wipe out. I've only skied a few times in my life (and certainly not on any runs close to those at the Olympics), but to my untrained eyes there were many occasions when it seemed that at any moment the skier was going to crash.

On the whole, being in control when you're on a set of skis moving over 60 mph down an alpine slope is probably a good thing.

In many aspects of life, however, the compulsion to control and be in control can become a huge obstacle and actually keep us stuck-- or even send us backsliding.

I've admitted in previous blog posts that I have a propensity to control. Especially when particular aspects of my life feel overwhelming or out of my reach, I tend to dig in and attempt to control anything and anybody I can.

This has led to pain and disconnection within myself and in my relationships. I am certainly aware of the negative consequences of trying to control.

Mixed messages
At the same time, it seems to me that we are taught that to be in control is beneficial, desirable and revered.

After all, addicts are seen as those people who cannot control their use of a particular substance or activity. A person who yells around and throws things is viewed as unable to control his or her temper.

These are just a couple of examples.

Being “in control” and “controlling” are slightly different actions, but the mixed message is still there.

For some of us, the belief develops that, “I have to maintain control of my life and also not infringe on the lives of others.”

This is certainly a reasonable approach.

But even this notion of being “in control” without breaching that invisible line and crossing into “controlling” can hold a person back.

For example, let's say that I want to improve my financial situation. I set goals about this. I write down lists of how I think I can increase my income. I create in my mind a plan for how I will systematically move from where I currently am to where I want to be.

This all make rational sense and it might be effective.

However, if I attempt to control this aspiration by holding fast to and continually focusing in on my goal, I can become easily frustrated when things don't go according to my plan.

I can pretty quickly find myself feeling helpless and out of control if the results that I want haven't come yet. As a result, I might cling to that plan even tighter or perhaps even abandon it all together.

Release control and take command
Often, it is in those moments of abandon, when we release control, that the movement that we wanted all along occurs.

I have to admit, the idea of relinquishing control of my life strikes a bit of terror in me! But I also see very clearly that my propensity for control keeps me stuck where I am.

The trick here is to go ahead and create your vision for what you want. Let yourself feel excited and energized by it. You might even have some great ideas about what your next step could be.

But don't try to plan it all out.

Once you know what you want, let it go. This doesn't mean that you don't want whatever it is anymore. It means that you're going to allow what you want to manifest.

At those top speeds, Olympic downhill skiers have to release some amount of control and, to some degree, simply ride along. A tight and rigid resistance from the skier will undoubtedly lead to a wipe out and possible injury.

Teacher Richard Bartlett, author of The Physics of Miracles, makes the distinction between command and control. According to Bartlett, while control has a dimension of forcing something or trying to make it happen, command comes from the heart.

To command is to confidently know what you want and then release your attachment so that you can hear the guidance and feel the inspiration that will take you there...or perhaps someplace even better than you'd initially dreamed.

Perhaps releasing control doesn't have to be such a scary thing after all. Instead, I can step up and gently, yet assuredly, and take command of my own life.

Monday, February 15, 2010

What Would “Honest Abe” Do?

By Amy Phillips-Gary

We've all heard the stories about honesty and two of our best-known U.S. Presidents, whom we happen to celebrating on this cold and snowy holiday.

While the tale of young George Washington chopping down a cherry tree and then finding the courage to admit the deed to his father may have been an invention, there are plenty of documented examples of the honesty displayed by both Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

“Resolve to be honest at all events...” Lincoln reportedly advised his audience during a speech early his career.

But can you truly be completely honest all of the time?

After all, aren't there occasions in which honesty isn't necessarily the “best” policy?

For instance, when someone you care about asks you the ill-fated question, “Does this outfit make me look fat?” How do you answer if, indeed, the clothing doesn't seem to fit in a flattering manner?

There are plenty of times when many of us fib or tell a “white lie” because it seems to be the nicer, kinder thing to do. Of course, you don't want to make your partner feel worse about his or her body size.

Other times, we aren't completely honest because we don't feel comfortable speaking the whole truth (or even a portion of it). We may have become accustomed to not making waves in our relationships.

Perhaps on some level, we believe that the people close to us will dislike us, stop loving us or even leave if we really speak up about what's on our minds.

This doesn't always happen consciously.

Many times, we've been taught to shut down our truth-speaking inner voices. We may have been taught-- overtly or by example-- that to succeed or even survive in life it's better to ignore or even silence what we truly feel and think.

This can happen on more dramatic levels as well as those more subtle.

We've certainly heard about people who “wake up” one day and realize that the relationship, the job, the life that they have been living is absolutely NOT what they wanted after all.

People who experience this in themselves, their partners or other family members might even describe themselves as living a “lie.”

More often than not, this radical realization happens because the person has become practiced at silencing his or her inner truth-- knowingly or not. The recognition of this apparent “lie” may even come as a surprise to the person living it.

Find your truth

In each and every moment, keep the channels of communication open between you and you. You might have to re-learn how to listen to your inner self so that you can better know what's true for you.

When it comes down to it, only you can know what is true for you from your particular vantage point and experience in any situation.

It can be helpful to take the capital “T” out of truth and the capital “H” out of honesty.

You get to determine what resonates or feels most authentic to you in each moment. This can change and it will most definitely vary from person to person.

The key here is to know your own truth and remember that others in your life may have different experiences. Of course, there will be overlap and shared truths and there will also be disagreement and even conflicting truths.

You can avoid a lot of conflict, however, if you remember this subjectivity of truth. Take responsibility for being honest about your own thoughts, beliefs, values and actions.

You can speak your truth in ways that are both genuine and compassionate, authentic and connective.

Act from your truth

Action is the place where speaking unauthentically, even dishonestly, gets us into trouble.

It could be the young child who claims to have no idea how the box of cookies came to be emptied as cookie crumbs sprinkle his cheeks.

It may be the woman who always agrees with her partner, because that's what she's been taught to do, as she goes ahead and does the opposite thing anyway.

When we cut ourselves off from our own truth-- either consciously or unconsciously-- we often end up acting in ways that seem to make no sense to others (and ourselves). This can become confusing and will inevitably erode trust.

Today, find the clarity within yourself to touch in with your own truth more of the time.

Then, be courageous and speak honestly and authentically about how you feel and what you want. Come from a place of knowing that your truth is not necessarily the truth of another person; it is valuable and significant nonetheless.

Do your best to ensure that each step, every action you take, comes from a place of honesty, authenticity and your truth.

Friday, February 12, 2010

3 Ways to Return to Your Diet and Fitness Resolutions Pt. 2

By Amy Phillips-Gary

In the previous blog post, I talked about those “oops” moments-- when you've set diet or fitness goals for yourself only to discover somewhere down the road that you've veered quite far from the course you intended.

Sometimes we are very aware of the splurge we are having or the “vacation” from the gym we are taking. Other times, we simply get so caught up in life we don't realize that we're eating and moving (or not) in ways that we'd supposedly sworn off for good.

It happens.

These two posts are all about encouraging you to get back on the track that you set for yourself. As I suggested previously, re-framing and re-phrasing your diet and fitness resolutions in terms of commitments might help you return to your goals in more sustainable and self-empowering ways.

Here are 3 additional suggestions...

#1) Forgive Yourself
I can't even count the number of times that I've noticed myself eating spoonfuls of cookie dough when I'd promised myself just 1 or 2 cookies. I then usually proceed to feel a number of emotions: shame, embarrassment, frustration, anger, irritation, sadness, helplessness and out of control.

You can probably guess that none of these emotions ever help me to stop eating cookie dough or cookies. I am taken further away from my promise to myself as the self-criticism builds and grows (along with my waistline!).

Instead, I could make a giant move back toward the diet and fitness goals I've set for myself by taking a interrupting this pattern and, instead, forgiving.

Forgiveness is an amazing and powerful practice.

As you forgive yourself, you clear away all of that blame, judgment and even self-pity, if that's mixed in there too. You don't have to beat yourself up anymore. You've probably already experienced that this isn't an effective motivator anyway.

Even if you don't believe it at first, instead of the self-castigation, repeat to yourself, “I love you, I forgive you.”

Repeat that sentence and allow yourself to open up more and more to the meaning behind the words.

Forgiveness tends to create internal space that was previously taken up with all of the blame, judgment and self-pity. From that expanded internal space, there's so much more room for choice.

What will your next move be?

#2) Return to the Present Moment
When you forgive, you essentially let go of whatever “oops” just occurred. You are now ready to come back to the present moment.

This is where your power and your capacity to make conscious decisions resides.

Spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle so wisely says: “Through forgiveness, which essentially means recognizing the insubstantiality of the past and allowing the present moment to be as it is, the miracle of transformation happens not only within but also without.”

Each morning before you get out of bed, you might consider setting your diet and fitness goals or intentions for the day. Just for that day.

Be specific and be realistic.

If you have a super busy day at the office, perhaps an hour-long trip to the gym in the evening is unlikely. Set daily goals for yourself that you can relatively easily follow and feel good about.

Remember, the more success you encounter, the easier it can be to continue on this path.

Particularly before you eat anything, take a few seconds to check in with yourself. Will eating this particular food or this amount of food help you keep to your daily goal? Make the choice to eat or not eat whatever it is from a present and conscious place.

#3) Know Your Triggers
Triggers. We all have them.

These are those seemingly insignificant words, events, days of the week, times of day, visual, auditory or sensory cues that somehow transport us back to another time and place-- often one that was unpleasant, undesired and perhaps even traumatic.

Triggers can come up in the middle of a conversation you are having with your partner. They might emerge when you hear a particular song on the radio. They could pop up when you face an apparent block with a project you are working on.

When we are triggered, we can seem to lose control. We might find ourselves saying, doing, eating or not-exercising in ways that we later regret.

Triggers can be food-related. Some of us turn to food when we feel overwhelmed, bored, depressed or dissatisfied. We use foods (usually those foods that are not included on our healthier eating diets) to cope or attempt to escape.

If this happens in your life, it's important that you get to know what specific things trigger you.

Notice if you reach for chips when you feel overly busy or overloaded during your workday, for example. If so, take care of your overwhelmed feelings as soon as you recognize them by taking a short break if possible. Step away from your desk; go get a glass of water and remember to breathe.

The key here is to soothe whatever feelings you are having in ways that will allow you to maintain your daily eating (and fitness) goals.

It doesn't matter how many times you fall off the proverbial diet and fitness wagon. Get back up, love and forgive yourself and return to living more fully and mindfully in this present moment.

Do this all the way to a healthier, happier, more fulfilled you!

Monday, February 8, 2010

“Oops, I did it again...” Tips to Help You Return to Your Diet and Fitness Resolutions

By Amy Phillips-Gary

So maybe you set some diet and fitness resolutions for yourself at the beginning of the year. And maybe in the first few weeks of January you stuck with them and possibly even saw some positive results.

But now it's almost a month and half later, and it's likely that you've encountered some “oops” moments-- or maybe more than just a few.

At our family Superbowl party last night, for example, I realized that I was eating Fritos, cookies and chocolate-covered almonds without giving any of it much thought. I wasn't even hungry, but these treats are party food and tasted great.


I am not on a strict diet right now, but, I have set for myself the intention to eat more mindfully.

That does not include shoveling in Fritos and chocolate!

It can happen as quickly as that. You tune back in to yourself and realize that you have fallen into old eating and non-exercise habits.

What many of us, myself included, do when we realize that we've veered from the healthier course we've set is to scold, judge and blame ourselves.

Sometimes we make excuses like, “It's too cold and snowy to go for a run” as we sit back down on the couch.

Much of the time, we also drag ourselves through the judgmental mud for not following through... as usual. As I've pointed out in past blog posts, self-shaming is absolutely NOT an effective motivator if getting back into alignment with diet and fitness resolutions is desired.

A first question to ask yourself might be, “Am I really willing to make a commitment to lose weight by eating differently and/or exercising more frequently?”

Offer yourself the chance to really consider this question. If you are merely trying to lose weight and get more fit because you think you “should,” this could part of the problem.

It's not that you are weak-willed or undisciplined. Instead, perhaps you haven't created a resolution or set an intention to which you can whole-heartedly commit.

As you probably know, commitments that you maintain usually link up with something that resonates deeply within you. I'm not necessarily suggesting that you abandon your weight loss or fitness aspirations.

What I do recommend is that you find some aspect about eating healthier and moving your body more that lines up with your core beliefs and goals.

For example, instead, of “I want to lose 35 pounds by the summer by following this particular diet and exercise regimen,” you might resolve, “I will eat at least 2 green salads each day and will not choose cookies unless I've had 5 (or more) servings of vegetables first.”

This second resolution is more specific and it also might better line up with your beliefs that a diet rich in vegetables will help keep you healthy, which lines up with your commitment to live a long and physically healthy life.

The commitment is to a healthier, more vibrant and energetic life and not necessarily to a particular number of pounds lost-- although that might be desired (and attained) as well.

This specific change in phrasing might not speak to you.

Find a different way to approach your diet and fitness goals and then re-phrase or re-think them so that they resonate more fully with what's most important to you.

This different approach can help you incorporate new ways of eating and exercising into your life with less internal resistance than you might have encountered in the past. You might even find yourself enjoying following these resolutions along the way.

Continue to play around with your resolutions until you find what works for you.

*Coming up on Friday....Part 2 of Tips to Help You Return to Your Diet and Fitness Resolutions

Friday, February 5, 2010

Are Your Instincts Taking Over?

By Amy Phillips-Gary

In a few days, the culmination of American professional football's year happens. The Indianapolis Colts take on the New Orleans Saints at the Superbowl.

I recently listened to an interesting story on NPR about Colt's quarterback Peyton Manning. The story about Manning lauded his abilities as a quarterback-- especially when he's in what's called “the clutch.”

I'm not even close to a football expert so please forgive my generalizations (and possible mistakes) here....

“The clutch,” from my novice understanding, is when the quarterback has the ball and is under pressure from the opposing team's defensive line. Sometimes “the clutch” also refers to a situation in which little time remains on the clock, the team is behind in scoring and the quarterback needs to lead the way to pull out a win.

In the NPR story, quarterbacks who, like Manning, are known for thriving when in the clutch talk about operating from instinct.

The adrenaline is pumping and these quarterbacks don't recall going through a rational thought process in the moment-- their training, repeated practicing and body memory literally take over.

For Peyton Manning, and other quarterbacks who tend to succeed in the clutch, operating with automatic precision can mean a big win for the team as well as a boost to his (or her) stats and career.

When you or I go through life operating mainly by instinct, however, we can end up repeating and reinforcing habits that don't allow us to succeed or live the lives we desire.

Instinct or Intuition?
There is a difference between instinct and intuition.

Instinct is a survival reaction. The squirrels in my backyard instinctively gather nuts and food scraps from our compost heap when they sense an oncoming storm. When I have to slam on my car's breaks to avoid a collision, my arm instinctively flies out attempting to block my passenger from jolting forward.

Intuition, on the other hand, has been associated with thriving rather than surviving. Your intuition provides guidance and a sense of direction toward self-actualization.

For example, intuition comes into play as I feel drawn to take a different route home instead of my usual one.

In past blog posts, I've offered ways to tune in more clearly to your intuition and to take notice when fight or flight instincts kick in so that you can choose a different path if you'd like to.

When you react instinctively, there is an element of always having known how to react in such an occasion. Just like those clutch quarterbacks, you may not have even thought about it-- you just reacted.

Instincts are by no means bad. But there are times, particularly stressful or tense ones, in which you find yourself reacting instinctively and later regret the behavior or reaction.

You instinctively reach for a cigarette, a beer, a candy bar or the tv remote when you feel overwhelmed. Ingrained habits like these-- that are often linked in with addiction-- can appear to be instinctive over time.

We don't usually think about it too much, if at all, in the seconds before doing.

When you make the decision to change a habit or limiting way of thinking, it's instinct that can seem to stand in the way.

As committed as you might be to quitting smoking, drinking more moderately, stopping binge eating or even ceasing the hateful self-talk, it can feel impossible to do.

This is because all of these habits and ways of thinking, being and believing about yourself are all so practiced that they can appear to be instinctive.

Instinct Doesn't Have to Dominate
A significant first step in shaking loose the hold that instinct may seem to have over you is to recognize it for what it is.

Yes, there are times when an instinctive reaction can literally save your (or another's) life.

But, hopefully, these occasions will not be an everyday occurrence for you!

After you've made the intention to change a habit or belief, be on the lookout for instinctive moments. You can stay present and tuned in to your feelings and actually head off an instinctive reaction.

If you are struggling trying to stop smoking, even after that first draw on the cigarette, you can interrupt the habit and the instinctive reaction that brought it to your lips in the first place. Return to your commitment and make a deliberate decision about what your next move will be.

There are specific techniques, such as NeuroLinguistic Programming (NLP) and Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), that have been developed to help people change beliefs and habits. A trained practitioner can teach them to you.

These techniques actually re-program the brain. There is an element of going back to the past to heal or alter the behavior or belief involved as well.

You don't have to go through life regretting or being held back by reactive and instinctive behaviors and beliefs. Know that change of any kind is possible.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Tips to Overcome the Winter Blues: Alternative Health Remedies for SAD

By Amy Phillips-Gary

What a blessing that the sun is actually shining on this bitterly cold February morning!

But, unfortunately, this is somewhat of an anomaly for winter. In the middle of the cold, stark and dark winter, it's easy to get the blues.

For seemingly no apparent reason, I get more fidgety than usual. It's as if I cannot stand another minute in the environment I find myself. I tend to be crabbier with my family and less tolerant than during other times.

Can this be chocked up to this season of frigid temperatures and little sun?

Experts say that yes, indeed, it can.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which also goes by the name of winter depression, is something that lots of folks experience. Approximately 10 million people, just in the U.S., feel the blues to such an extent that it has been given a medical diagnoses.

Some of the symptoms of SAD include the following: difficulties sleeping, difficulties getting out of bed, lethargy, despair, guilt, frequent irritation, lower sex drive, decreased productivity, weight gain, appetite changes and other indicators.

Of course, there is a difference between the blues and full-blown depression. There is even a difference between SAD and depression which is not relieved with the blooming of daffodils in the Spring.

*Please consult a health care practitioner if your blues, depression or SAD feels out of control or too overwhelming for you to handle by yourself. If you are considering hurting yourself or another person because of your current emotional state, I encourage you to seek help from a trained professional immediately.

Bring on the light

The relative absence of light and the sun during the winter months is believed to be the main culprit in the development of SAD and the winter blues.

We receive healthy doses of Vitamin D from the sunlight which helps our bodies absorb calcium, can lower cholesterol and can even possibly prevent the formation of cancerous tumors. Sunlight also stimulates the pineal gland which releases chemicals such as tryptamines (melatonin) which keeps our bodies regulated.

One natural way that SAD is treated is by increasing a person's exposure to light. Special artificial lights have been developed that simulate some of the beneficial effects of the sun.

Another suggestion, which may seem obvious, is to make the most of the winter sun that we do receive. On a day like today when the glorious sun is out and about, bundle up and get outside.

I know, it's cold out there. And, unfortunately, you won't receive Vitamin D from the winter sun as you will from the sun in other seasons. However, you might find that your mood brightens by soaking up the rays that are available to you.

Feel the feelings

I'm a big proponent of allowing the emotions that come up. Rather than searching for that immediate “cure” for the winter blues, it might be beneficial for you to give yourself permission and room to simply experience your feelings.

If you cry more often or feel more tired during the winter months, that can be okay.

I do not recommend that anyone stay in the blues (especially in depression), however. When you are stuck in the unhappy, dissatisfied and dismal place of SAD, you aren't going to be as effective at doing the things in life that you want to do.

Stay in touch with how you feel. If you tend to become listless and numbed during the winter, be aware of that tendency and make a date with yourself to check in at least once a day.

After giving yourself the time to be irritable, cry or whatever it is that you happen to be feeling, shake things up. Do something different for yourself.

This interruption of your usual pattern can be extremely helpful in leaving behind the blues and moving toward an improved state.

For example, if you notice that you turn to eating when you feel down, rather than attempting to eat your way out of SAD, choose a different activity instead. Visit a friend, look at a photography book with brightly colored flowers or beach scenes, plan your garden for Spring or whatever unusual action appeals to you.

Other alternative and natural remedies for SAD:

  • Take a Vitamin D supplement. Magnesium and Omega-3 oils are also helpful.

  • Try the herb St. John's Wort. This is a natural way to ease anxiety and depression.

  • Consider homeopathy. Mag Phos, Kali Phos and Nat Mur are sometimes a good match to SAD symptoms.*

  • Use the Bach Flower Essence Mustard.

  • Infuse more light, bright colors and green plants into your everyday surroundings.

When you find yourself dragging your way through winter, look around at all of the aspects of your life for which you are grateful. Challenge yourself to find 3 things each day that you genuinely appreciate.

As you appreciate, bask in those moments. Let that inner sense of light fill you and expand right along with it.

*Homeopathic remedies can be tricky. Each remedy addresses a whole host of specific conditions. Research these remedies and try the one that seems to be the best fit for what you are experiencing.