For her final column, life coach Tal Fagin offers her greatest hits—a farewell tour of essential practices and simple strategies for better living.
The time has come to say goodbye, Dear Reader. New and exciting projects await and this will be my last blast from The Coaching Corner.
Before I go, I want to say a tremendous thank you. It has been a complete honor and privilege—not to mention a mini-dream-come-true—to write this column for the last two and a half years. Not only did I get to check one major item off my Lifetime To Do List, but doing so exceeded all expectations. I learned a tremendous amount, and I got to engage with countless people in ways I never could have anticipated. So many of you reached out to share your reactions, post your queries or just offer words of encouragement and support. For that, I am incredibly grateful.
For now, I thought I’d leave you with some parting words of advice. Consider it a greatest hits list, if you will—a farewell tour of essential practices and simple strategies for better living.
When it comes to increasing confidence, alleviating worry, boosting your mood, easing stress and doubt, improving your health, happiness or relationships or just generally amping up your sense of well-being, I invite you to try the following:
Start with the Basics. I wish this one were too obvious to mention, but unfortunately, far too many people still neglect their health and general self-care. We get busy, focusing on responsibilities and obligations. We feel burdened and overworked, then want to “reward” ourselves with some form of indulgence. We distract ourselves with social media, soothe ourselves with excess food and drink, then binge-watch TV rather than turning in. A well-lived, happy life requires more. Eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise and sufficient sleep and making time for the people you love and personally meaningful activities are all vital components, too easily neglected, that add up to a greater whole.
Pause and Breathe. Whenever you feel overwhelmed, anxious, tense or set-to-blow, just pause and breathe. Deep, slow breathing is your body’s way of calming your nervous system, reducing stress, increasing alertness and boosting your immune system. It helps you get centered, grounded and back in balance. If you are willing, consider a regular meditation practice. Meditation will help you feel more calm and composed, and generally more capable of responding effectively—rather than reacting or overreacting—to outside stimuli. It helps us make better decisions and is an excellent way to learn to separate ourselves from our thinking, to recognize our thoughts as “just thoughts” and not defining truths.
Speaking of Thoughts. A thought is a sentence in your mind, I am a failure, My child is lazy, My boss is too demanding. We tend to think that it is the circumstances of our lives which dictate our moods and feelings, but in actuality, it is our thinking. In other words, it is our thoughts—our subconscious stories and reflexive judgments—that drive how we feel.
According to scientific studies, our happiness levels depend 50% on our genetics, ONLY 10% on our personal circumstances and a whopping 40% on our intentional daily activities—those thoughts, behaviors and activities which we choose with our own volition. Occasionally we can change our circumstances and activities, but more often than not, we have the most control over our thinking. And the great news? Current research proves that happiness is achieved and sustained through intentional habit changes (including our thinking habits), even more than circumstantial changes.
Get Grateful. One of the most beneficial habits you can adopt is a gratitude practice. Spend a few minutes each day scanning your environment for the positive—anything from sunshine to the perfect parking spot to a smile from a stranger—and make a note of it. Do this first thing in the morning or just before drifting off to sleep or both, and notice how much better you feel. If you work better in teams, consider making this a family activity, or pair up with a buddy and text one another your gratitude list each day. We humans are hard-wired to focus on threatening, negative things. Practicing gratitude reprograms the brain to see the world in a more positive light, and has been shown to make people more optimistic, enthusiastic, productive, energetic and even joyful.
Savoring. Savoring is when you intentionally try to make positive moments or experiences last longer or feel stronger. I think of it as a combination of mindfulness and gratitude. It’s about stopping and noticing, paying attention to positive experiences, and really dwelling on them rather than letting them pass in a flash. It’s an attempt to fully feel and enjoy—and thereby solidify—moments of happiness in an effort to make them last.
Love, Honor and Forgive. We humans thrive on connection. Some of the healthiest, happiest people around are those with tight-knit communities and friendships that buoy and sustain. Whether it’s family, friends or some combination, make time for the people in your life. Don’t get bogged down by petty resentments or disagreements, aim for acceptance and forgiveness, instead. Make the quality of your relationships a priority.
Choose Generosity. Multiple studies show that giving to your community—whether by volunteering or charitable donations—benefits the giver as much as, if not more than, the recipient. Charitable giving is associated with higher levels of both health and happiness. It has also been linked with increased prosperity and a stronger sense of community. By doing good in the world, you are doing good for yourself. By being generous, you are doing yourself the ultimate service. It is the ultimate win win.
Generosity is more than just giving, however. It is also an attitude. It involves giving people the benefit of the doubt and choosing to view them in the best possible light. This has a way of softening our protective armor, and strengthening our sense of connection to one another.
Other Helpful Cure-Alls. If coaching has taught me anything, it is to be intentional about living a life of my own design, and I encourage my clients to do the same. Whether it’s time in nature, hobbies, creative endeavors, cultural experiences or standing on your head, consider doing more of the things YOU love to do. All too often, we go through our days on autopilot. We get passive and succumb to inertia. We mindlessly go through our routines, rarely pausing to ask ourselves how we are feeling, what might not be working for us or what we might do differently to improve things. What does your ideal life look like? Are you living it? If not, why not? What might you add or subtract, within reason, to ratchet up the joy factor for your one and only life.
Speaking of Subtracting: This one is so simple, yet eludes so many of us. Take a look at your life and the way you spend your days, and ask yourself this: What stinks? What bogs you down or otherwise feels oppressive or lousy? Try to be specific, rather than blaming all your woes on something too large or overwhelming to work with. Then, whatever it is, consider eliminating or improving it. Drop the “I shoulds” and “I have tos,” or at least question them. Ditch the “power through/suck it up” approach and get creative. Always remember The Three B’s: Bag It; Barter It; Better It .
Obey Your Body: Our bodies speak to us in infinite ways, yet far too many of us ignore them. Learning to pay attention can be a life saver, both literally and spiritually. Just like pain may be a sign of illness, tension and tightening lets us know when we are doing (or thinking about) something disagreeable. By contrast, when we feel light and open, warm, content, energized or at ease, our bodies are saying, “More of this, please!” All you have to do is learn to listen, and act accordingly. Pay attention to your body, take pain and discomfort seriously, and otherwise strive to do more of what makes you feel good.
Think Small. Try to avoid the “all or nothing” approach to employing these tools and practices. Do what you can. Set realistic goals, be compassionate and gentle with yourself when you slip up, then try again. Be open minded and willing to embrace process over end-results.
Practice Makes Perfect. All of the above are meant to empower you to deal with whatever comes your way. They are incredibly effective tools and strategies, but only if you employ them regularly. This will take effort, intention and lots of practice.
I assure you, it is worth it.
Thank you again for your trust and attention. I wish you all the best of luck, and I sincerely hope you will keep in touch. I am taking a break from this column, but not from coaching, so should you wish to connect in that way, please don’t be shy. And if you just want to reach out and say hello, I welcome that, too.