Surrender Without Quitting: Accept What Is

Surrendering with White Flag

I have been contemplating a new wrist tattoo that has a dandelion with the word “surrender” floating away as if set free in a wish. This concept of letting go seems to go against every bit of my type A personality’s desire to “power it out” and “get it done”. However, I would suggest to you that surrendering is the hardest skill to learn of them all. How do we learn how to let go and just be? How can we ignore societies ongoing messages that drive us to achieve, achieve, achieve? I suggest to you that to letting go is the opposite of driving through your life at 110% of capacity…that the truth to living a fulfilling life filled with mindful presence is to actually take a deep breath, exhale it out, and surrender.

There is resistance around the idea of surrendering as it can feel like quitting. Surrendering is not quitting. Surrendering is allowing yourself to live in the moment of your life and to realize that in this very moment this is as good as it gets. If you can learn how to let go and be fully present in your life, you can surrender the anxieties that surround all of the “what ifs” that we all tend to ruminate about in our heads. What if I lose my job? What if my spouse cheats on me? What if I never lose these 20 pounds? What if I get cancer? What if my son doesn’t get into that college he is fighting for? Quitting is rolling over and allowing your life to run you; it has nothing to do with surrender. Surrendering is allowing space to just be, as is.

You can surrender and decide you are never willing to quit. You never “quit” trying to be mindful, eat healthier, improve upon your body, learn to relax, living fully and with passion, etc.. Never give up in fighting for the things you want in your life whatever that means for you. To give up self-care is to give up on yourself. Always do your best…and then surrender to what you currently experience as your life. Know that for this very second, what you see is what you get. There is no purpose in feelings of bitterness for what you may or may not have in this second. Surrender to your reality as is.

Why does this matter?

I am always sharing different themes around our internalized myths about what we believe to be in our control (everything) when in fact what we control is very little (almost nothing). We control our own individual words, actions and behaviors. We have no control over how other’s perceive us, what other’s say to us, or how our bosses act. The more we try to control our external environment, the more frustrated we become and the less present we are in our lives. We become focused on the future, potential catastrophic anxiety inducing worries that may happen, or we hold on to past vulnerabilities and pains. What we don’t tend to do is be present in this very moment breath by breath.

Sometimes when a client comes in for therapy, they work really hard at trying to task through the work of becoming more aware of their own internal processes by getting mad at themselves or frustrated by their thoughts or the way they feel. They despise their own judging minds and thoughts. If this ever happens to you, I suggest you try to imagine letting go instead of criticizing yourself. Your thoughts can spiral out of control and you can choose to non judgmentally notice that they are present, then surrender and not engage in the emotions that will only fuel the fire of your judgements. Give yourself permission to be just who you are and allow that to be good enough. Let go of all of the ways in which you feel you are not doing what you “should” be doing according to some internal judgement of yourself and be free. Be good enough. Surrender. It is so much less effort to let yourself go in this way.

What can you do right this second as you read this to let go? Surrendering sets you free. Be free.

Stacey Neil is a Licensed Psychotherapist and Personal Trainer in private practice in Los Gatos, CA. She can be reached at 408.827.5139.

When Body & Mind Don’t Agree: Four Things My Injury Is Telling Me

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The best laid plans…. There is nothing more frustrating, when training for an event, than to do everything as prescribed and get injured anyway. I have been struggling with a recent injury after 5 months of a perfectly laid out running plan for my latest 1/2 marathon, only to get completely derailed three weeks prior to the event. As this has happened to me several times before including summit attempts up Mt. Whitney (3) that had to be aborted 1 mile from the peak, or other adventure type challenges where I had sob inducing spasms 8 miles in…injury is a part of the process of pushing your body, getting older, and being stubborn. It happens to everyone who tends to push themselves at some point or another.

The stubbornness comes into play from my sheer unadulterated ability to be in denial when something starts to go south in my body. The most distressing part of the entire struggle for me is that I tend to get injured only when I feel at my complete and total best. Like a true ATHLETE (love this word). There have been three different times in my life when I have really felt strong, fit, and able, that are perfect examples of this phenomena. These moments are pinnacle training times in my life where all of the hours, sweat, and focus came together and I felt unstoppable. Ironically, these are the exact three times I have gotten the most injured. The first time I had been working out hard as a gym rat and cross training like a professional and I felt great. So I decided to return to my childhood sport of soccer (for the first time in 15 years) in my early thirties. I joined a local women’s league, bought myself some cleats, and went to my first practice (seriously the FIRST one). Running (as if my life depended on it) to save a ball from rolling back into our practice goal, I stepped into a gopher hole and blew out my ACL, tore my meniscus, and bruised my femur. I was in surgery 2 days later. I was laid up on modified exercise for 6 months. Did get this cool leg stretchy machine I got to hook up too, but I digress…

The second time I was doing our bootcamp program every morning and pushing my cross training and fitness to the test. I took on every workout as if it were a personal challenge against myself. I was on fire. One particular morning I was doing burpee circuits and I threw my heart into atrial fibrillation and ended up in the ER with probes strapped onto my chest. Instead of surgery, this got me a hypothyroid diagnosis and many heart tests (was told my heart is healthy as an athlete!). Had to go on thyroid medication (for the rest of my life). This final time was two weeks ago. As some of you readers know, I am training for another 1/2 marathon after my training partner (and dear friend) asked me to celebrate her Birthday with her by doing her first 1/2. Being a good friend, I created the most thoughtful, slow, gentle training plan to get her and I ready to go injury free…and it worked amazing (right up until it didn’t) and I got injured. But it wasn’t the plan that caused the injury, it was my head deciding that I felt like a real runner for the first time in my life and I was the fastest, strongest runner I had ever been. It was literally to the point that I was thinking I could pull off a full marathon a few months post 1/2 if I kept training. I felt unstoppable. I kept speeding up my pace because it felt SO good to my body (coincidentally, this was NOT on the plan). My new speedy running attitude worked right up to a 10K we did together as a charity race where I ran the fastest 10K I had ever done (by A LOT). Got a PR! I was so fired up….and that’s what did it. I pushed too hard. I messed up my TFL and piriformis. Now I cannot walk without pain. Sigh.

Those of you who do not love working out may be confirming your suspicions right now that this is why exercise is evil and you should just stay on the couch! But this is not at all the case. Do not be fooled…it is still the best thing for both mind & body. I thoroughly enjoy the challenge of seeing what my body can do through exercise. Sometimes, however, my head and my body don’t agree. When this happens I get injured. I have learned a few things from my injury that I would like to share with you:

1) Don’t Take Yourself So Seriously – There is no point in stressing out about missing a race I have signed up for, or even worse, needing to walk. I’m not Lolo Jones, I wasn’t going to win. I can go out there on race day and do my very best…whatever that looks like that day. There will ALWAYS be other races/events/challenges.

2) Keep Perspective – Your healthy body demands to be your number one priority. You realize this the minute something happens where you get sick or hurt; however, maybe being mindful of this when things are going well is equally (if not more so) important.

3) Don’t Always Power It Out – You shouldn’t ignore the small little twinges and warnings that your body is telling you along the way. Injuries can happen out of nowhere (like in an accident such as my gopher hole scenario), but often your body is talking to in little whispers before it starts to yell. This is where my head tends to tells my body to be quiet and keeps running, when maybe I should have slowed down my pace, took a few days off and rested my injury two weeks ago when I first started to feel it. Instead I tried to push through. Just because your head may be able to do this, does not mean your body can pull it off.

4) Get Help – I am ridiculously STUBBORN when it comes to seeking medical help for injuries. Yes, dear spouse, I can admit this. I have no idea the root of my absolute certainty that I do NOT need to go to the doctor, chiropractor or massage therapist to work it out and get help when I am hurt. My cocky, ego ridden, personal trainer self is just sure I can use the tools I already know to get better. If you are like me, save yourself a few extra weeks (or months) of injury and seek expert help. Anti-inflammatory drugs and R.I.C.E (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) do NOT cure everything. Trust me..wish they did, but they do not.

I imagine an injury as a little monster messing with your body. I see it as a little black scrunchy thing with a wicked smile and a pokey spear. It can feel like it is mocking me..right when I feel my best. The truth is, getting hurt is your bodies way of telling you to back off, change what you are doing, or slow down. I don’t tend to pay attention until it is too late and I end up hurt pretty bad. I have been getting frustrated with my body because it won’t do what I want it to do; when the truth is, my head is what needs to change. My body is doing an amazing job keeping me alive and allowing me to do everything I love. My head needs to understand how to be patient, compassionate, and mindful of what my body is telling me along the way. The little monster can really my friend if I learn how to embrace it.

Stacey Neil, LMFT, CPT is a Psychotherapist and Personal Trainer who is in private practice in Los Gatos, CA. She can be reached at 408.827.5139 where she is layed up on ice.

Lost Your Mojo? Here’s 7 Ways To Get It Back

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Burnt out? Tired? Just plain sucking wind? You are not alone…many of us living during these stressful times are feeling the pain. Do you find yourself dreading your thoughts as they start to arise on a Sunday evening at home when they begin to remind you about what you have to deal with the next day? It’s hard to keep up the good fight when our work life balance continues to tip in the direction of working more than is healthy, sleeping less than we need, and struggling to calm down our minds in our often chaotic lives. It happens to all of us at one time or another: we lose our Mojo.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, Mojo is defined as, “a quality that attracts people to you and makes you successful and full of energy.” Maybe you are familiar with Austin Powers having his mojo stolen in the 1999 film, “The Spy Who Shagged Me”. More historically, mojo was defined as a form of “magic” or “spell” that one person puts on another with their charisma and charm. In today’s day losing our mojo seems to be more the norm than the exception. If your mojo has gone into hiding, do you even remember the last time you had it?

So what do you do about this? This is more than losing your ability to be sexually exciting to a potential partner, or having zero desire to put on the sexy lingerie for an evening in with your special person….this is about losing your passion in life, your focus at work, or the joy you feel around your family. You feel flat and somehow this flatness is contagious to those around you as they seem to become less interested in you and even bored by you as a result. We all know how exhausting people around us are when they are down all the time. It sucks the life right out of you.

Ready for a solution? You must try your best to snap out of it. I hate to break it to you, but you are the only one who can do it for you. When you have positive energy and vibrance, others in your life will react with a much more responsive energy to you and your life will hone back into focus. You can become re-energized and fired up as a part of this reaction, but it needs to start with you sucking it up and finding yourself again. If your mojo seems elusive these days, try one of the following 7 tricks to finding it again:

1) Get a New Look – How long have you been wearing the same clothes, with the same hair, and maybe even the same shade of chapstick? Sometimes getting stuck in a rut affects how well you present yourself to others in your environment and you can find yourself with a tired look from two decades before. You don’t need a mid life crisis to upgrade your look. Change is good and can help to knock you out of your comfort zone (which is obviously not very comfortable for you with no mojo). You will be amazed at the response you get from others when they notice the effort, but it is more about the response you get from looking in the mirror and realizing you still got it! You can look your best no matter how much you may wish you had less weight, better fitness, less gray, etc. Put the effort into respecting yourself and get it together.

2) Exercise – Yes, I realize I squeeze this point into many of my blogs, but I cannot overstate the emotional charge that a good twenty minutes of an increased heart rate can give you. Give your system an endorphin boost by getting moving. It doesn’t matter how you get it done, but get it done. Get outside, walk the dog, get some vitamin D rich sunshine, and breathe fresh air. Just get that stagnate body moving.

3) Have Sex – Spice up your bedroom routine. (Or maybe you need to actually have a bedroom routine?) Take a few minutes longer to get ready for your partner. Put on a candle, take a bubble bath, get yourself in a sexy pair of boxers, SHAVE (wherever is needed), and see how you feel. If you are flying single, don’t fret and do something erotic for yourself alone. This is the electronic age – you don’t need to be partnered up to have an earth shattering orgasm. This is one of the best ways to improve your mood, cure headaches, and feel positive in your body. This doesn’t need to be a huge production, you can pull this off in a relatively short period of time. Just Do IT!

4) Go Dancing – I promise you that you don’t need to look hip with your funky self to move your body to music. You don’t even need to leave your family room. Crank up some music and close your eyes. See if you can feel the energy in your body as you begin to sway and move. Gyrate, get your groove on…have fun. It is incredibly therapeutic to dance out your moods, feelings, and emotions. There is an entire group of my colleagues in our therapeutic community who only do this type of dance and drama therapy. It works!

5) Watch a Comedy – Laughter is truly one of the most energizing things we do as human beings. Want to know something interesting? You can actually get benefits, and feel an increase in your mood, by fake laughing (if you really have gotten jaded in your ability to pick out a comedy that might work). Lighten up, watch something ridiculous and stop taking yourself so seriously. Hey, you can even watch Austin Powers look for his mojo if you want.

6) Get In The Water – There is new scientific research that definitively shows the positive effects of water on human beings. The term that is being used to describe this total mindful relaxation is “The Blue Mind”. You can google that term and check out what is being said as it’s pretty cool stuff. There is also a powerful new book written by Wallace Nichols that was just released about the calming, soothing effects of the ocean, or any body of water, with the same title. I have shared my new love of scuba diving with all of you in my past blogs, and it is this feeling of pure bliss that is now being scientifically proven.

You can check it out here: http://www.wallacejnichols.org/122/bluemind.html

7) Get Enough Sleep – There is no way that you haven’t seen all of the latest news media around the crucial need we humans have for 7-9 hours of sleep each day that very few of us are getting. Our brains are actually more active during restorative sleep than we ever realized. It is slated to be the number one health problem or “crisis” that faces our next generations. This is entirely in your control if you take the time to practice prioritizing this. Learn to love your bed: get good sheets, a comfortable mattress for your body type, chuck the TV out the bedroom window, and get rid of the illuminating clocks. You have your phones so set your alarm there. Have gentle lights, pleasurable reading, and a calming environment. I suggest doing nothing in your bed that is stressful. Do you work in another room. Your bedroom should be your sanctuary. If you don’t have one set up a sleep routine.

Here’s how to set up a sleep routine if you aren’t sure how: http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/what-can-you-do/good-sleep-habits

So as you can see finding your mojo has everything to do with taking better care of yourself, having more fun, and taking yourself less seriously. Don’t sweat the small stuff (realize it’s all small stuff). We have very little in our control in this life and that continues to burn us out; however, I suggest you think about this lack of control instead as a form of freedom. If we have very little in our control, why not just surrender and decide to make the most of our time, every single minute? Which number above are you going to start with first? Maybe you plan a date with your partner with a combination of #1, #4, and #3 + #6 combined…I bet your mojo would be feeling pretty good after an evening like that. 🙂

Stacey Neil is a Licensed Psychotherapist and Personal Trainer who works in Private Practice in Los Gatos, CA. She can be reached at 408.827.5139…unless she is out looking for her mojo. Then you may need to wait for morning. 🙂

Healthy is Too Hard!! Answers On How To Implement Positive Change

smart goal setting concept

If you are someone who is interested in making positive changes in your life, I imagine you are reading this blog among many others. It is my hope that you read with an open mind and take things away that are pertinent to you or speak to you in some manner, but leave behind the advice or suggestion that doesn’t speak as easily to you. In my work as a therapist, personal trainer, and wellness coach, I spend a great deal of my time with my clients working on the issues that they are hoping to work through or heal from; along with a great deal of energy dedicated to how to make positive changes. As I have heard in the voice of many of my frustrated clients: “Healthy Is Too Hard!”

Yes, it is incredibly challenging to make, implement, and maintain positive changes that you attempt in your life. A lazy, sloth-like, fast food eating, indulgent lifestyle are much easier to pull off in our society full of convenience, sensory overload, and consumerism that pushes us to “buy”, “eat”, “compete”, “drink”, and live in a manner that is not in alignment with a wellness based goal of balance, health, and long-term care of our spirits.

Sometimes it is easier to ask yourself, “why bother?”. I find the answer to this question to be grounded in the idea that many people who are not taking good care of their health and wellness are unhappy, unfulfilled, lack work/life balance, and are completely living a life that does not feel in alignment with who they always believed themselves to be (if in fact they are aware of who that is). Sometimes they have anxiety, depression, impulsive shopping problems, work/life balance issues, no real quality time with their children, or no idea about who they are and where their passion lies, or chronic health problems. Maybe they drink themselves to relaxation every evening to relax.

Wellness is about integration between many different components in your life in which you have health including: emotional, spiritual, mental, vocational, physical, family and financial. Often we are good in one area in our lives, but not another. If for example, you are doing a great job working out and eating well each day but you are working 14 hours a day at a desk and having no time to explore your emotional well-being – you are not living a life of wellness. It is the integration of these components that makes up a complete picture.

This discussion gets complicated because the first step in working towards improving upon your life is to take an honest assessment of where you are. I use an integrated wellness assessment I have created with my clients, but you can even write down the 7 areas I mentioned above and check in with each section by asking yourself, “How am I doing?”. You must be brutally up front with yourself if you are going to be able to truly take a current day snapshot. Most of us have one or two real problem areas in our life and struggle with having to face the facts around our behaviors and how they are affecting us.

The next step is to grab one of your problem areas and set yourself up with 2-3 goals using the S.M.A.R.T. format listed in the graphic above. You literally just start somewhere positive. Pick one (maybe the area you tend to feel the most negative consequences in your life from). You can learn more about setting smart goals here:

http://www.wikihow.com/Set-SMART-Goals

Pay special attention to being specific and having goals that are achievable. We often attempt to set goals that are too vague or general and have very little chance of success. If you are not honest with where you are currently in regards to the behavior, you have very little chance of setting up an achievable goal that targets it effectively. For example, if your goal is to start exercising and you are currently at 0 times per week. Your smart goal would look like: I will walk 20 minutes on Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 7-8 beginning 9/15. It must be that specific, and as you can see, it needs to start with an achievable amount of time and days involved. Going from 0 to 2 X per week is a great start. Keep it up for a few weeks and re-evaluate if you want to, but don’t create a goal that has you working out 7X per week straight out of the gate. You will set yourself up to fail.

Speaking of failing, one critical step when setting a new goal, is to always be mindful of also setting up a plan to fail. That is, put down a plan for what happens if you fall off the wagon. It happens to all of us, no matter how motivated we are to get started, so you want to anticipate it ahead of time. It is always incredibly helpful to say your new goal out loud to someone who can hold you accountable, or post it on social media…maybe you want to hire a wellness coach to help you along. Whatever it takes. Wellness is a life long journey that will require tweaks, updates, and constant monitoring to check in with yourself and how you are feeling within your individual life.

I am lucky to have worldwide readership on this blog; however, for those of you who may live in or are close to Silicon Valley, I am offering a special program to help this process along for my clients. I am offering it only for a limited time to help kickstart some of my readers and clients (and their friends) to get started on improving your wellness. Please see my flyer below for more details.

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I will continue to write tips and ideas on how to integrate wellness and find a way towards authentic living in a mindful, balanced and fulfilling manner. This is my greatest passion and I believe strongly that we need to focus on all of the areas of our life to have a true understanding of how we are living. Our lives are so very precious and short. We owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to live it as fully as we are able.

Stacey Neil, LMFT, CPT is a licensed Psychotherapist, Wellness Coach and Certified Personal Trainer who is in private practice in Los Gatos, CA. She is also the Co-Founder of TotalFit Solutions, Integrating Mind & Body. She can be reached at 408.827.5139, or http://www.totalfitsolutions.com

Or you can fill out the form below and I will get back to you!

Shhhh…The Secret To Finally Starting an Exercise Program

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My clients ask me all the time about exercise programs. As a Personal Trainer and Licensed Psychotherapist, I tend to meld both backgrounds into my transformational work with my clients incorporating the importance of moving your body, practicing mindfulness and also looking to implement positive change in dealing with struggles that individuals face with anxiety, depression, loss, or trauma. Exercise is amazing for many aspects of well-being that go far beyond physical health and include re-wiring the brain.

Scientific studies are finally beginning to catch up with my soapbox preaching around the importance of exercising to overcome mental health issues. Now you can pull up your favorite search engine and type in “the benefits of exercise for mental health” (I tried Google) and get over 78 million responses. I believe that every Doctor and Psychiatrist should have a section for “exercise prescription” on the medication pads. I don’t think medication should be prescribed without a discussion on the benefits of exercise to go along with your chemical cocktail of symptom relief. If you are going to take pills to feel better (and often that is absolutely necessary) it is equally important to get that body of yours moving.

So what makes it so hard for all of us to grab our bodies and begin an exercise program when we know it is SO good for us? In my experience with clients it boils down to a feeling of overwhelm. There are so many individuals who are mass marketing programs that guarantee you results in “3 Months”, “30 Days”, “14 Days”, or even (believe it or not) “The 3 Minute Exercise Solution” that it is impossible to know where to start. To add even more confusion to the mix is the conversation around what you “should” be doing as a part of a complete exercise program such as the baseline debate over which is better: cardiovascular exercise “cardio” or strength training. In addition, once you even whittle down past these two main categories, there are literally hundreds of different exercise options available.

As a prospective new exerciser begins to look into how to work out, what exercises to do, or how to plan a program – worries begin to arise. The opposite of positive thinking occurs, and instead the only increase that comes up for someone is a spike in his or her stress levels. I have heard these concerns. Everything from: “I don’t want to bulk up”, “I am too old”, “I am going to get hurt”, “I’m too overweight to do that”, etc. pops into consciousness as attempts to find the best possible excuse to forget getting started on a new program in the first place arise, and going to the pantry to get a snack begins to sound like a much better idea instead.

I know it’s intimidating because I hear it from clients all of the time. That’s why I want to share the number one secret that I have learned to getting started on any exercise program. The best thing you can do to assure that you are going to get started, and more importantly, stick with an exercise program is to find something you enjoy doing. This cannot be overstated and does not need to be more complicated. If you find something you enjoy doing, you will stick with it. If you like to walk in the evenings with your dog, go out for a walk starting for 20 minutes and work your way up to 30. Don’t like dogs? Grab a bike, go for a swim, try a class, take a hike, or find a friend to join you. Hire a Personal Trainer to explore ideas with you if you want. But try something. If you don’t know what you like, give yourself permission to try a lot of different things. There is no perfect science to finding out your likes and dislikes other than having the courage to give it a shot.

I promise you that if you are able to find something you enjoy you can begin to create a new healthier habit. This takes 6-8 weeks to do, so you may find yourself needing to self motivate until the habit gets established, but this will become routine, and your body will start to look forward to whatever activity you begin to practice. Yes, there are ways to change the way your muscle structure looks through exercise, or lose weight, or even improve upon you metabolism; however, this is not necessary to focus on, when learning how to get your body moving. What is important for improved health is as simple as it is stated below in the American Heart Association Recommendations.

AHA Recommendation

For Overall Cardiovascular Health:

-At least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least 5 days per week for a total of 150 minutes.

OR

-At least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least 3 days per week for a total of 75 minutes

(You can visit http://www.heart.org for more information on this)

If you enjoy walking your dog in the evening and want to make this your exercise routine, you can make sure you are going at a moderate-intensity if you can still talk but have increased your breathing rate. Maybe you need to take Fido up the hill for a stroll to accomplish this, but you can make this the only exercise routine you need if your exercise plan is to walk according to the guidelines above.

It can be overwhelming to listen to all the fitness programs available, and at times having access to so much information can lead us to shut down instead of take charge. Fitness professionals are master marketing moguls and typically have killer bodies to boot. From Beach Body, to Jillian Michael’s Fat Shredder, to P90X; the options for exercise promises and benefits are numerous, but rest assured that for you to improve your mental health, relieve depression, and feel happier and healthier, you just need to find something enjoyable to you.

So get out there and ride a bike, join the Y, rescue a pet that needs to be walked, or take a class. Check in with yourself after a few days and see if you can feel the difference in your mood, you self-esteem, and sense of well-being. Becoming mindful of this feeling of accomplishment and improved health will keep you going. Good Luck On Your New Plan!

Stacey Neil is a Certified Personal Trainer and Licensed Psychotherapist in private practice in Los Gatos, Ca. She can be reached at 408.827.5139.

How Running is the Ultimate Battle of Me vs. Me

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I am constantly reminded of the fact that I am my own worst enemy. I constantly question, reflect upon, and challenge my actions, progress and daily choices. We are a result of the choices we make, and I focus on making mine count. I believe that there can be a balance between challenging myself to always do my best while allowing for days when my best is a pathetic effort to roll out of bed. In an ideal world, I would do this without judgement. In my real world I do this as a daily battle of my beliefs, thoughts and actions battling with the thoughts of how things should be in my head. This is a work in progress as many of you probably can relate. For me, running has become the epitome of this battle of Me vs. Me.

I absolutely abhor the act of running; however, I am equally passionate about how I feel when I finish a run. There is no stronger euphoria for me that I have been able to duplicate with any other form of exercise. This is no small statement as I participate in a variety of programs, classes, and latest trends in fitness to challenge myself. As a trainer I need to keep up on what is current in my industry and have found myself just lately in classes such as Barre, CrossFit, and P90X…but nothing beats the pounding last step of my run and the resulting accomplishment I feel.

Running is simple to learn as we figure it out as babies. Lean forward, catch your self falling, repeat. I have dreams of being a gazelle like runner with legs like Lolo Jones and a body that can wear little tiny black shorts that are not concerned in the slightest about being long enough to protect my soft upper thighs from friction based chub rub. However, this is not meant to be, as I feel like a giant, leaden, heavy footed rhinoceros when I run. Don’t get me wrong, a mature rhino weighing 1500 pounds, can run up to 25 mph and frankly holds a kind of grace when moving that much mass…but for me it doesn’t quite feel as impressive. This is not actually meant as a put down on my size, shape, or form – it’s truly just a descriptive statement on how I actually feel as I am running through space. As a side note, in the battle of gazelle vs. rhino, gazelles can run twice as fast, clocking in at a graceful 50 mph. A wonderful example of how I feel in a race..but I digress.

For those of you who run and are able to enjoy the process of running, the clarity of mind you receive, or the meditative thump of your feet as they turn over in perfect rhythm – I envy you. I am nothing like you, as I need to fight my own self minute by minute (even second by second) at times just to keep going. I have found it to become my own ultimate fighting challenge: The Battle of Me vs. Me.

One would imagine that I win either way if I am only battling myself. Clearly there can be only one winner, right? However, I do not always feel like I come out on top. My head screams at me throughout the run telling me a plethora of negative statements: “You will NEVER make it”, “You’re feet are burning”, “Your hip is aching”, “Your sports bra is chafing your underarm”, “You suck”, “This hurts”, “Stop already”, etc. My abdominals like to add into the chant and begin to threaten me with risky temporary feelings that are best described as a form of “loosening of the bowels”. The person who finishes the race with diarrhea running down their legs? That happens…trust me. I decide I need to pee immediately, but cannot stop anywhere. It goes on and on. Mindless chatter to accompany me as I go…my own twisted form of voices in my head.

Running has become my lesson in self battle. A challenge I fight with 3-4 times per week at the crack of dawn. I do this because I am never prouder of my body or mind when I complete a run. Never. The battle that I overcome in my head throughout my mileage, as I continue to go step by step, leads me to an unmatched sense of accomplishment. It is more than worth the pain, sweat, and fear of failure, because in spite of all the chatter, I can beat it.

What is your internal battle? Do you ever sit with yourself and really check in about what you are not doing in your life because you are afraid? Maybe you don’t try because you think you need to be perfect, you are too old, or you may fail. Push through. We are nothing more than a compilation of our actions and choices in this world. What do your choices say about you?

Decide that you are willing to take a risk. Know that it will be hard, you will fall down, look less than graceful, or be a beginner. A beginner!!! What a terrifying concept -such a dreaded word. Trust me when I share with you that as an ex smoker who couldn’t run a mile at 38, I know what it feels like to begin something later in life. It is NEVER too late. What would you do? What would it take for you to make a commitment to yourself to try it? You will fall down. You will look like a newbie, you will not do very well to start – so what! Do it anyway. You do not need to compete with the Lolo’s or Gazelles out there…you simply need to compete with yourself. You vs. You. Your goal is to try to do a little better than you did the day before, and most importantly, just keep going. Decide you will NOT give up on you.

As I prepare to run my fifth 1/2 marathon I tell you that it is possible and worth it to push yourself beyond your imagination. I cried after finishing my first half marathon from a combination of triumph and pain (my body felt like it got hit by a mack truck), but that medal was heavy against my swelling chest and the weight of it was immense. I may never run a full marathon or ultra; however, in the battle that I need to fight just to push myself through, I come out a winner. Hold yourself accountable and just go forward. Move one step at a time towards your own fears by making them the goals you pursue. Sometimes you need to do this in spite of yourself.

Stacey Neil is a Licensed Psychotherapist and Personal Trainer who founded TotalFit Solutions. Her private practice is in Los Gatos, California and she can be reached at 408.827.5139.

The Fairy Tale of Life: To Die With Unrealized Dreams

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People die every day who haven’t fulfilled their life’s ambitions, found their passion, or discovered a joy filled authentic self. Every Day. I struggle with this in my life quite often as I have lost people I love, whom have died, just as depressed, lost, and alone, as they spent their lives. My Dad was one of these people.

If there was a theme that resonated in my father’s life it was to search. He spent his time forever seeking his ideal partner, most profitable career move, or physical challenge. If there was someone in life who could be forever seeking while being utterly lost it would be my Dad. Not coincidentally, he died as he lived – sad, alone, and never having found what it was he was looking for.

Watching him as a young girl growing up try one thing after another, or one women after another, or one invention after another….was tiring. Just as it feels redundant to read the preceding line, it was often a challenge to be his daughter. I was blessed/cursed with being born with an innate drive to help people. I am passionately compelled to care about others in their well being, personal life satisfaction, and sanity. I have built a business, career, and lifestyle, around this very premise. I live the life I promote to my clients, family, and friends, as everyday I do my best to be my most authentic self. These are some of the reasons that it broke my heart to realize that in spite of all of my love, care, and time that I directed towards my father – he still died as he did. How is this possible? It’s viable because many times there is no happy ending in this life. Sometimes no happily ever after exists.

In our lives we find motivation and hope in the “what ifs”. The possibilities that await us allow us to strive to be calmer, happier, more content. I believe that my job as a therapist is to support others in their dreams for themselves while helping to ground them in their lives as they exist today. My work becomes coaching the balance between finding acceptance of oneself in the moment while also allowing for the possibilities that exist when tuning into our genuine authentic self. This becomes an awareness in my therapy office. But what happens if someone doesn’t find a therapist to work with that can promote this balance? Or someone never seeks individual work on themselves? How life shattering it becomes to realize that this understanding, for whatever reason, does not always work for everyone and many times there is no respite from the pain and suffering that some will cling to until their very last breath.

A life question of mine has become: How do I sit with the knowledge that many times the people I love are people I cannot reach? This life that is so challenging for all of us, that is so out of our control in spite of our best efforts; sometimes this life never improves or gets better and then it’s done. I have been spending time thinking of my father, and other’s in my life growing up who I have loved, who did not choose the healthiest path of which to live out their very limited time on this earth. I feel helpless and ineffective as I cannot help people who are not able to receive it, or don’t want help, or…… It is unbearable to see human beings suffer, especially those we love. We can love them in whatever way the verb resonates with us. If that means daily visits, phone calls, motivational posters, letting them move in, or letting them go. It is possible that sometimes the best way to love someone is to let them go. How can that even be?

Maybe the legacy that my father has left me with is the desire to live my life fully everyday. The realization that life is precious and short came from him. It is a priceless gift to behold. He died at 56 years of age as a marathon running fit man. His cancer fed on his depression and stress levels. It took an already compromised will, that had decided life was unfair many years ago, and gnawed on it until it simply had nothing left to destroy. In the end, his deteriorated body became symbolic of his tormented soul.

I in no way had a fairy tale upbringing, and in fact wouldn’t even play with princesses, dolls, or spend my time reading books that included princes, white horses, or castles. And yet, I somehow internalized the idea that life works out, good things happen to good people, and things are fair. I wanted to believe in this. I still want to believe. The reality seems to be that sometimes good things happen to good people and sometimes bad things too. Life doesn’t always work out, and challenges present themselves to us every single day as we become forced to make wise choices that hopefully include kindness, forgiveness, and acceptance of our perfectly imperfect human selves. Things are not fair. Bad things happen to good folk all of the time.

What inspires me in my work and in my life is the potential. The potential of what we all have inside of us. The unlimited possibility. I see this in my clients as they sit across from me. I hold this idea in our space together as it sprouts roots and is nurtured in the therapeutic relationship. There is nothing more beautiful to me than being allowed to witness growth in a unique human being who is brave enough to face themselves in a therapy room. I choose to believe that everyone has the potential to reach their own best life, their own happily ever after, before their story ends. This is my version of a fairy tale worth hanging on to.

Stacey Neil, LMFT is a Psychotherapist and Personal Trainer in Private Practice in Los Gatos, California. She can be reached at (408) 827-5139.

Enough Mental “MUST”erbation!

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That’s it, you are cut off. You will go blind, grow hair on your hands, or go to hell, if you continue to mentally musterbate. It is getting out of control – even ruining your life. Your relationships, friendships, and career are being effected by your inability to stop obsessively musterbating. You need a support group for other musterbates because you are obsessed! “Hi, my name is Stacey, and I am a Musterbator”. “Hi Stacey.”

You are missing out on the life you have because you are ruminating about the life you should be having. The life you could have…would have…should have been having. That life. Not the actual life you have. You know the one that is messy, imperfect, stressful and often dire. No, not that life. The other life that was supposed to be your life if only you had: made better choices/lost weight/got your MBA/married your childhood sweetheart…blah, blah, blah. It is the life that would have been different if you were more disciplined, smarter, less impulsive, more fit, and frankly much less human than you turned out to be.

I call this irrational driving stressor to be perfect while holding yourself to an unobtainable ideal, “Mental Musterbation”. I call it this because you are wasting your life filling your days with all of the things you MUST do. The things you aren’t really wanting to do, but you feel you are called to do because everyone YOU know seems to be better at everything than you are and you MUST do more. I must be super-mom, career woman, awesome housekeeper, dinner party creator, family therapist, sexual dynamo and multi-tasker. I must be a sensitive, manly, masculine, ripped, strong, handy, romantically gifted husband/father/man.

Who can do it all? No one. I know this because I work with people in their deepest most sensitive private areas of their mind and I know this is a common misconception that we all share. The more we fixate on burdening ourselves about all the “musts” in the world, the more we push ourselves further away from the reality of our own best lives: these lives that are wonderful, disappointing, and sloppy all at once. We can learn how to accept “what is” and not put pressure on ourselves to overachieve in all areas of our lives by comparing ourselves to some imaginary “other” who does not even exist.

I encourage you to let go of trying to reach some idyllic version of yourself and start celebrating all of the idiosyncratic traits you already have. I read women’s magazines so I know what women are “supposed to be like”. I know that I am not able to practice the habits that many of the perfect/beautiful/thin/photoshopped magazine women do such as being able to turn down a delicious desert, not over pluck my eyebrows, walk around confidently in a bikini, wear sexy pajamas to bed every night, or shave the upper part of my thighs everyday. These are just a small sampling of things I believe I must do better to be more confident, attractive, or smooth – but I don’t. I used to think I was not very feminine as a result of all my laziness but actually that just makes me me. The truth is, no one pulls it all off perfectly and I shouldn’t worry about anyone else’s version of what I must be doing anyway.

It’s true, I am a musterbator. Thankfully through a lot of personal work and growth, I have been able to teach myself what the focus of my musts should be. These have become my truths. I must learn to surrender to my own limitations. I must love myself unconditionally. I must be my own best friend. I must learn to forgive myself. I must let go of any idea of controlling my life or others in it. Most importantly, I must celebrate my very own life just as it presents in this very moment because in the end it is all I have. What must you do?

Food Logging: A Necessary Evil

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There are few things that strike fear, and cause a client to physically flinch, like the dreaded words, “Do you keep a food log?”. This term doesn’t discriminate and could care less what your age, gender, weight, or goal is – I know of no one who loves to food log. I myself hate food logging. It doesn’t matter if I go to the high quality paper store and treat myself to a brand spanking new journal covered in powerful self affirmations in hopes of motivating myself. Buying myself the special colored pen I see next to the register upon check out doesn’t inspire me. It doesn’t matter if I use a free on-line phone app (Lose It), a computer based weight loss tool, or a white board on the refrigerator. There is truly no way I have learned to improve upon my distaste for and utter dread of food logging.

Don’t get me wrong. If you are my client and have ever mentioned wanting to lose weight, eat healthier, improve upon your energy, or balance your mood – it is a certainty that I have discussed and encouraged (maybe a bit aggressively at times) that you MUST keep a food log of everything single thing you put in your mouth. Every tiny little morsel. The creamer in your coffee? Yep. The cinnamon Altoids that you keep in your car to get rid of the coffee breath? Still yep. How about the almond slivers in your salad? Yep, those too. It’s interesting how the words every single thing you put in your mouth can cause some room for discussion or confusion, but they do. They do because we are generally not fond of feeling like 5 year old little children who have to act like we can’t freely eat what we want to when we want to. We are biased about being watched – it goes against the very freedoms that this country holds dear, right?

So then why do it? I’ll tell you why it is THE necessary evil and is mandatory for any of the above stated goals. I will even go so far as to claim it is the MOST IMPORTANT thing you can do if you have any of the above mentioned goals….why you ask? It’s the dreaded “A” word that makes it matter so much. ACCOUNTABILITY. There, I said it. It’s out in front of you in black and white. We do not like to be held accountable to what we chose to do all of the time in regards to how we want to feed ourselves; because we eat for a variety of reasons each and everyday and often it has nothing to do with hunger but more to do with being lonely, unhappy, happy, celebratory, empty, or bored.

Why is there so much resistance? We do not want to have to be held accountable and thus conscious of every single thing we put in our mouth because we are afraid of what we will learn. Most of us do not really want to know how much, or how bad, our food choices are everyday; however, I suggest to you that this is critical to begin to understand how to make smarter food choices whatever your goals. If you want to improve your mood as you are suffering from a bout of depression it is incredibly important how well you balance your protein/carb combinations and how often you eat. If you are hoping to lose weight, you must first understand a true picture of what you are actually ingesting on a daily basis that is maintaing or increasing your current weight. Food logging is the background information that can point your trainer, wellness coach, or intuitive self, right to the underlying culprit of what is really going on with you when you can’t reach your goals. It is invaluable information and creates a road map to break you out of your habits and into a healthier lifestyle.

Here’s a challenge. If you have never food logged, or it’s been awhile, start today. Write down everything you put in your mouth for 3 days. Don’t lie. You would think I wouldn’t have to mention such a simple agreement with you, but for those of you who have food logged before, you might have a small smile on your face right now because you know who you are and just what I’m talking about. I bet if you begin to log today, you will notice something really cool. Just the act of food logging often will cause you to pause for a split second before you mindlessly put something in your mouth and ask yourself if it’s worth it because you’re going to have to write it down afterwards. Sometimes, this alone will help you to make smarter choices all on your own.

Once you have your log you can begin to use the data to see if there are opportunities for improvement. You can always talk to a Wellness Coach, Personal Trainer, or medical professional who can help you modify your food for the specific goals you may have, but the crucial first step is to begin the process on your own. I food log everyday…well okay, most days…and sometimes I completely quit doing it. I’ll admit it, I get resistant, I fight it and I decide I don’t need to do it anymore because I already know what I am doing… Um no. Every time I fall off the food logging path, I veer over towards mindless eating. I do this slowly, over time. For the first week, I notice no changes in my eating and weight. Then it never fails that a after a few more weeks I am again grabbing handfuls of yummy (unhealthy) snacks out of my pantry without even considering them. It’s a slow digression, but it happens over and over and get’s me back on the wagon.

I would love to hear your comments on your own challenges of food logging.

Log On!

In Order to Authentically Live; You May First Need to Imagine Your Death

Typically at some point in the beginning of your work with a therapist you will get some form of the question, “What brings you in to therapy?”, or maybe “What would you like to work on together?”. It doesn’t matter if I am working with a client who comes in for therapy, personal training, or wellness coaching (which combines them both), the question needs to come up in order to provide good ethical service on behalf of my paying client. In theory, a client should know what it is they are having trouble with, or what is causing them distress; however, I have found this is not always the case. Some clients come to see me because they aren’t feeling well, living authentically, or without knowing what’s wrong at all. They just know something is off. That life promised more than what they felt was being delivered to them and they couldn’t begin to figure out what to do about it or how to fix it. These are some of my favorite clients to work with because I get the double pleasure of helping them to articulate and discover what it is they are looking for and THEN support them to figure out what they need to change in order to attract the possibility of a different path for themselves.

In my work I have found that sometimes the best way to figure out how to live is to imagine your death. I draw out a tombstone on a piece of binder paper and send my clients home with a homework assignment to write out their headstone. I ask them to imagine that they are at their funeral and their family and friends are surrounding their grave. “How would you want to be remembered?”, I ask. “What are the characteristics that matter to you most: kind father, loving partner, foundation president responsible for funding the cure for cancer?”. I ask them to imagine the possibilities are limitless. This is an exercise that you can do at home on your own. The answers point you in the direction of what matters most to you and uncovers for you your core values and goals in life. It helps to start you off on a direction towards authenticity if you feel stuck and it can take as little as 10-15 minutes.

I have done this exercise with gang impacted teenage boys aged 15-19 who were in an anger management class I taught at a local High School in East San Jose. They came in with their creased tombstone hand outs from the previous week folded up and pulled out of their back pockets. I hadn’t really been sure what to expect as these were not typical homework “doers” and I hadn’t tried this exercise with this population before. Imagine how incredible it was when all 10 of them came in and one by one read out loud how they wanted to be remembered when they died. These young men are surrounded by death at every turn in their gang families and were no stranger to dying young. Most of them wrote that they “had lived a long life” which quickly became evident as a common goal they shared. They talked about raising children outside of the gang culture, providing a home for their families and working an honest job. Many of them for the first time were given the opportunity to experience hope as they imagined a life with different goals and values then they were currently promoting. It was one of the most powerful sessions I have ever had the honor of facilitating. It was inspiring.

Once you are able to see the final curtain for yourself, you can ask yourself the next fundamental question: “What does my life look like today?”. If what you are living today and what you want to be remembered for in your life are not in alignment, you have an answer to the question of what to work on in your life. You can begin to change the choices you are making each and everyday by asking yourself when faced with a choice, “Is this in alignment with my vision of who I want to be remembered as, or not?”. If the answer is NO, you know it is time to make a different choice.

When I first went to graduate school, I was given this task as an assignment. Part of what I learned about myself that day is that I am afraid to die. Another thing that I learned was that I am passionate about helping others change their life because with the realization that death is scary is the knowledge that life is delicate and short. This blog is a part of my larger plan to do everything I can to help anyone who is interested, seeking, or curious to become empowered to start living the life they want now. Right Now.

I welcome your comments or suggestions. I would also love to hear about how this exercise goes for you if you give it a try.

Yours in Health,
Stacey Neil