Take Your Brain to the Mental Gym

Like any muscle in the body, your brain grows stronger as you use it. That’s the concept of the mental gym which suggests you treat a “brain workout” as seriously as you would a workout at the gym. That means employing the same intensity, discipline and the same process of stepping outside your comfort zone to get results. Two practical ways you can do this is to intentionally put good stuff in and to intentionally practice being quiet.

Click here to download my free mental gym workout planner!

Our brains are bombarded with information these days, constantly. More than ever before. Unfortunately, most of it is noise or it’s negative. You have to make the conscious decision to put in good stuff. On purpose. What kind of good stuff? Well, there’s all kinds of choices out there from good music to podcasts to audiobooks that you can get in while driving, working out or even folding laundry. 

I remember the first time I considered reading a personal development book “for fun.” I remember rolling my eyes thinking, I don’t even read for fun, let alone for “development.” Mom of three and running two part time businesses! No way Jose. So, I decided to listen to those books instead. I did that while driving the 11 hour drive to see my parents and I did it while setting up for workouts. I did it while doing dishes and I did it while folding laundry. As you might have guessed, I got pretty addicted. It was pretty incredible. It required me to think and question things I’d had on autopilot. It was a way better use of my time than many of the other things I’d been doing or listening to. It set me up to be a better mom, wife, coach and simply a better human. It certainly built the brain muscle.

Then there are these things that usually come in rectangular shapes and are stuffed with rectangular pieces of paper that have lines of ink printed across them. Books! I say that in a funny way because as adulting sets in, reading can be one of the first things to go. And yet, reading is by far one of the oldest and best ways to exercise your brain. After doing the mental work to improve myself and my brain, I suddenly found space in my life to read again. Which was great because while listening is good, reading has that awesome textile element. I like feeling the pages. It also forces you to indulge in some you time, and it probably has to be quiet. Which brings me to my next point.

Click here to download my free mental gym workout planner!

Make it a point to be quiet sometimes. Personally, I have to get up really early in the morning or go to the library to get that around here. I do that because getting quiet, specifically praying and meditating are habits both the most successful and the the most happy people have in common. If you consider Grammys to be a measure of success, then you’d consider Carrie Underwood a success.34 If you consider Superbowls to be a measure of success, then you’d consider Tom Brady successful.35 If you consider wealth to be a measure of success, then you’d consider Mark Zuckerberg to be successful.36 If you consider Oprah successful, then you’re human.37 They’ve all spoken about their daily habits of praying and/or meditating. It’s not a coincidence.

Scientists have an entire field called neurotheology that looks into the changes in our brains when we pray and meditate. And they’ve made a lot of cool findings like increased dopamine and serotonin levels (happy hormones!).38 BUT! They’ve also found that these can develop into permanent changes in your brain.39 Guys! That’s a mental workout, and those changes are the muscles you’re proud to show off now! Moreover, we know that prayer elicits the opposite of the stress response called the relaxation response.40 Most of us have way too much of the former and not enough of the latter.

Thinking it’s a good idea is one thing, doing it is another. Personally, I like to begin the day with time at the mental gym. I like to start the day with prayer and silence for as long as possible. That’s why I get up at 4:30 or 5 am sometimes! Beginning your day quiet, with gratitude and intention is a game changer. Likewise, meditation is simply taking the time to calm your mind and become inwardly focussed. That’s huge in today’s crazy, chaotic, rushed and zoned out world. To change the mindset, to truly change the way we think and believe and speak and see ourselves, we have to work for it. You have to work to get your mind right.

Lean into the hard

Let’s flashback to November 2015. I was 8 months pregnant. I knew my husband was leaving for a year in two months. I’d accepted my fate, in my mind, with a sort of honorable stoicism.

Imagine my surprise when I was in church for a sermon called “Surviving vs. Thriving.” The remember the graphic from the series well. It was a tree that had two sides. On one side, the tree was dead. It had no leaves, showed no signs of life. On the other, the tree was thirving. It was growing, vibrant with new leaves.

That tree hit home. You see, I’d given up on the next year already. I figured we’d claw through, the three kids and I, but it wouldn’t be anything special. It would be a dead season. This sermon reminded me that I’m only promised a few years, and precious fewer with my kids at home. At that moment, I made up my mind that we would grow and thrive just like the right side of that tree.

Fast forward a month and I had a new baby. My parents had to rush over after my Grandma’s round of chemo ended to be with me since my husband was out of town. Then they left to go help another one of my grandparents whose health was failing.

Fast forward another month and my husband was gone, I had three kiddos (one brand new) and I’d lost one grandparent. I looked around and realized that it was up to me. For the first time, I realized I was truly on my own. I’ve been clinically diagnosed with depression and anxiety so I knew if I gave into despair it wouldn’t end well.

This was the moment. The moment I really decided to put my big girl panties on. I decided the hard work that lay in front of me was mine and mine alone. I was going to have to tackle each hurdle. I could no longer look the other way or hope something would change or that some day I’d feel motivated.

I decided to live on a budget and cut my credit cards up. I decided to finally lose the weight. I decided to try a brand new approach for my threenager so I could be the parent I wanted to be, not the yelling, frustrated mess I was. I decided to get my home in complete order. I decided to reset my relationship boundaries.

So many things. I decided. They were all hard. They were all separate battles I took head on. With each little win, I did develop confidence for the next one. I did figure out I could solve my own problems and I could overcome.

I leaned into the hard. I decided to stop pushing away discomfort or pain. Eventually I realized those things would lead me to great reward and great growth. It’s kind of like a workout. During the workout, it’s a lot of work, a lot of energy expended. But the result is totally worth it, both immediate and long term. It did take a lot of work and a lot of mental change, but the process made me a better person daily and when I got “final” results.

After I went through those battles, I decided to start helping other women do the same. I realized that the same problems I’d had was what they were facing too. I realized that we all needed a healthy dose of Put Your Big Girl Panties On. It didn’t matter the woman, the circumstances, the lifestyle, the income…we’re all fighting the same battles. So, I wrote a book about them.

If you’re interested, please head on over to Amazon to purchase a copy. I’ve walked step by step through these different areas and how to Put Your Big Girl Panties On.

Decision Anxiety

One of the biggest problems we face is the mental battle we have inside that I call decision anxiety. Decision anxiety involves the agonizing amount of time we spend going back and forth before we make a decision as well as the post-decision making time in which we worry if we made the right decision or, worse yet, we double back on that decision.

It’s a form of self-torture we put ourselves and our brains through. And we can’t even blame others for it. It’s self-inflicted! Fortunately, there is a cure for this particular anxiety. First, go with your gut. In one study, scientists found that participants chose correctly 90 percent of the time when they went with their first instinct between two choices. That was based on math and it was fast. And still their instincts were right. Just like on a multiple choice test, when you go back and second guess your decisions in life you will probably erase the right choice and replace it with the wrong one.

It’s important to note that listening to your gut is different than people pleasing. Sometimes we make decisions based on other people’s desires in order to be polite or even help someone else. That is not your gut instinct. So, if we can recognize when we’re making decisions based on other people’s needs rather than our own, that will help us to stop making decisions we regret. Don’t say yes to the thing you’re going to regret later. In this way, you stop decision anxiety before it can even creep in.

Some good news about making a decision is that you have tools afterward. Once you make a decision, resolve to make it the right decision. Put your energy toward making that decision a good one rather than using your energy thinking about what ifs or regret. The way to do that is to focus on the good. What good things came or will come out of this decision? Focus on those.

Make the decision the right one by making it the right one. For example, when I bought a double jogging stroller for $500 it was tempting to have buyer’s remorse. I know my husband did. Instead of focusing on that though, I decided to get so much use out of it that we’d all know it had been a smart purchase. So I did. I used it almost everyday for my two girls and took up running my oldest to preschool. It allowed us time to be outside, and be together. It was the right decision. I made it so!

Another tool to becoming a good decision maker is to give yourself permission to course correct. We’re not living in a land of only rainbows and butterflies, so it’s obvious that sometimes things might not workout. Sometimes, a big ol’ iceberg shows up in your path. That is okay. Now you just course correct. Now that you’ve actually made a decision, you can adapt and be flexible as you carry it out. Allowing for course correction making frees you from paralyzation that comes from not being able to make a decision. It allows for movement forward, for progress, for action. 

For example, let’s say you decided to go for a run. Hooray, good for you! Sometimes, that’s a big decision, am I right? But now it’s raining. That’s okay. Course correcting means you just decide to get a little wet or you decide to run on a treadmill. You can even veer around that iceberg in your path and do a short cardio-based workout in your home. 

So, remember to go with your gut. Remember, that’s not a people-pleasing or knee-jerk reaction. Then, be sure to focus on the good and to make it the right decision. Finally, look for ways to course correct when something seems like it’s going to steer you off your decision’s track. If you apply these concepts to your decision making, you’ll go from having decision anxiety to decision confidence. 

You know I’ve got a free tool for you. Download this worksheet and keep it hand for the next time you have a decision to make.

The above is also a shortened excerpt from my book, Put Your Big Girl Panties On. Pick up a copy today!

Saving cash & saving calories

I like to advise clients to save cash & save calories!
Pizza Movie Night is a long-standing tradition in many homes.
The best way to save money & save calories is to make your own pita pizza at home.

You can purchase ingredients that will last many Fridays for the price of one large pizza. And your pita pizza will be fewer calories than a slice of delivery. (Recipe at end of post)

If that’s just not good enough, might I suggest limiting the pizza to 2-3 slices per person in the home and picking it up yourself? If you’re like my son, you can eat an entire pizza to yourself. But, you know, that doesn’t mean you HAVE to. 😉 We pick our pizzas up to save delivery fees + tip, which is at least $6 most of the time.

That’s not a lot but it’s one habit that saves over $300 a year. And just 2 slices instead of 4 can save you 940 calories a week or almost 14 pounds of calories a year!!

Switch the soda out for water and savor each bite.
Happy National Pizza night! #savingcashandsavingcalories

You & Cinderella

Cinderella had a fairy godmother, a prince and helpful mice. You don’t.

How’s that for some life speaking?
That’s the first line of my book. Let’s call it real talk. 

Okay, how about three more sentences?

There is no hero in your story that is going to come along and save you. Well, that’s not entirely true. You are the hero of your story and you are the one that is going to save yourself.

If you read my book, please share! Let me know what resonates! 

Put Your Big Girl Panties On!

At last! I can say that Put Your Big Girl Panties On is published! Hooray!

What’s it all about?

PUT YOUR BIG GIRL PANTIES ON IS A SELF-DO BOOK FOR WOMEN WHO ARE READY TO BE THEIR BEST SELVES BUT HAVEN’T QUITE FIGURED OUT HOW YET. Does it seem like adulting as a woman should’ve come with a training manual? Well, now you’ve got one. In this down-to-earth and funny how-to guide, coach Shana will let you know you’re not alone, help you feel understood and give you some practical tips on how to move forward in the areas of life that are holding you back like:

  • Anxiety
  • Negative self-talk
  • Fitness
  • Nutrition
  • Time management
  • Home organization
  • Personal finance
  • Motherhood
  • Marriage
  • and much more!

Put Your Big Girl Panties on will give you applicable questions, exercises, and advice from someone just like you. It will feel like a conversation at a coffee shop, filled with knowing glances and giggles. It will give you a safe space to feel the things you’re feeling while also coaching you ever closer to a better version of you. You see, one thing is absolutely 100% true. No one else is going to come along and magically save you. You are the hero of your own story. You are the one that is going to make your best life possible. You are going to show up for yourself, you are going to solve your own problems. And you’re going to feel really confident and satisfied when you do. You’re going to save yourself. Let’s go.

Put your big girl panties on

Be the river, not the rock

Be the river, not the rock. It’s one of my favorite sayings. It’s one of my favorite things to coach on. But, what does it mean?

When it comes to any part of our lives (relationships, schedules, changes, etc.), we can choose to be the river or the rock.

The river flows around the hard rock. The river is loosey-goosey. It keeps moving in the same direction, undeterred by immoveable, stubborn obstacles or objects. It finds a way. It breezes by, over, around or underneath. The river yields to the rock.

The rock, on the other hand, is unmoving. It’s stubborn. It’s hard. It’s stuck. It refuses to give. It stays put and watches the river flow right by.

In our lives this can look like “going with the flow” in social settings. It can look like shrugging off changes and things we can’t control. It can look like being mobile, spontaneous and creative to help individual or team efforts.

Or it can look like being rigid and refusing to give up ground in an argument. It can look like “my way or the highway.” It can look like only sticking to the predetermined course of action. It can look like refusing to try something new, to change or to develop other ideas. It can look like “sticking to your guns” even when the evidence suggests otherwise.

Clearly we want to be the river. Being the river is much easier. It actually takes less effort to be light and go around than it does to stay stuck and entrenched and unmoving. That’s hard work.

In the end, the river eventually cuts through the rock anyway. Slowly but surely. So, stick with the way of the river.

Make your life easier w/ a Capsule Wardrobe

When you go to get dressed, you’ve got a lot of decisions to make. In a life full of decisions, that can be unnecessary roughness (#iknowthingsaboutfootball) that you don’t need in your life.

A capsule wardrobe is one solution to your too-many-decisions.

The idea behind a capsule wardrobe is that your entire wardrobe could potentially fit into one suitcase. Some people take it down to 30ish items. The capsule wardrobe comes from fashion designer Susie Faux who grew up with parents and grandparents who were tailors. She had a desire to help women gain confidence and style using her unique approach. She defined the capsule wardrobe like this:

The basic idea is simple: by building a capsule wardrobe you will buy fewer clothes of a higher quality that you will wear more often. You will look and feel confident and successful because the quality will show and because you know that the overall look works.

I’m here to tell you it works! I have worked her magic and gone from hot mess to confident every time I get dressed. Moreover, I’ve lost the clutter and decision anxiety that comes from our normal way of doing clothes. Personally, I have 30 hangars filled with things I love and the only other clothing I have other than underthings are four pairs of shorts and my workout (work) clothes. I’ve even simplified and capsuled those as well.

Designer Donna Karan and Faux were both inspired by career women and their desire to look polished and put together, but not necessarily in a suit. Fast forward to today, I think every woman wants to feel that way, according to their own unique style. It’s hard, sometimes, to do that when there is such a variety in your closet. Personally, I couldn’t see straight to develop my own style until I paired it way down.

A capsule wardrobe is like Garanimals (the tops and bottoms with animals on their tags at Walmart that all mix and match together) for adults. It’s a smaller wardrobe that is compiled of pieces that are classic items like pants, skirts and tops along with seasonal and trendy pieces that all go together. The items in your capsule wardrobe are all things you love to wear but also things that easily mix and match together to make many different outfits. 

But why would you get rid of so many clothes? Because doing so allows you to reduce clutter and focus on what you really love. These items help you to reduce every day decision anxiety and also ensure you look and feel like a million bucks. You see everything in that photo below? It all goes together and it all makes me feel amazing!

Everyone will do the capsule wardrobe differently. I’ve got this worksheet to help you brainstorm! To use the worksheet, first do the journaling. Then go through what you’ve got and plan your pieces. You might need to pick up a few things. Finally, plan your outfits. Then reduce your wardrobe and your decisions! If you want to get really fancy, take photos of you in your outfits and put them in your closet like I did with the girls.

Tell me what you come up with!

Outside in or inside out ?

It occurred to me on my run this morning that so many of us are trying to cure things from the outside in rather than the inside out.

  • We’re trying to change what we eat. Outside in.
  • We’re trying to change what we spend money on. Outside in.
  • We’re trying to change a loved one’s behaviour. Outside in.
  • We’re trying to watch Netflix so we don’t have to feel the anxiety. Outside in.
  • We’re trying to run off the weekend’s calories (was that just me?). Outside in.

I was thinking about this because I realized earlier this morning that I’ve felt like I was inside a tornado for the last several months. While I’ve been reaching out to the things that usually sustain me, I feel that I’m not totally connected with them. This goes for my faith, my fitness and even my relationships. So, I told God all about it (as if he didn’t know) this morning and I’m ready to feel differently.

So, why is the inside out better? Because when we heal from the inside out, the external things become extraneous. They become byproducts.

  • Practice solitude, thinking about thoughts. Less anxiety, more peace. Inside out.
  • Practice gratitude, feel content, no need for binge spending. Inside out.
  • Do things that bring you joy, less desire to find it in food. Filled with joy, not with sugar. Inside out.
  • Practice self-love & focus on self-improvement. Increased compassion, less trying to control others. Inside out.

I mean, the truth is we can’t control the external things anyway. So, today, let’s make sure that our actions are helping us reach our goals from the inside out. Have a great week!

Alone time

What if real solitude is the answer to all of our anxiety and depression problems?

What if it really was that simple?

You’re never alone. You’ve got a million voices in your pocket or hand right now. Yes, we’re blaming the phone again (boring!). The phone keeps us constantly engaged, whether we realize it or not. And, unfortunately, it doesn’t deliver the satisfaction we desire. No, it doesn’t leave us feeling refreshed, rejuvenated or even rested.

But it’s not just the phones. According to best selling author & professor Cal Newport:

The human brain requires regular periods of “solitude” in which it is alone with its own thoughts and observing the world around it.

When are you alone with your own thoughts? Not often. Most likely, you’re either never alone or alone with other peoples thoughts. Others people’s thoughts come from your kids, your coworkers, your Netflix and your Facebook.

Solitude is time you can recharge. It’s time your brain can rest and process. Most of us don’t have any practice of being alone with our own thoughts…even our sleep has been invaded by technology!

Not surprisingly, anxiety and depression rates are up in every age group. NO WONDER! We’re running around trying to meet all the demands and needs of others. Running on empty or false pleasures. Then we check out with some tv or some candy crush. I told my client yesterday: of course she was anxious. Looking at the circumstances she was under, you’d be abnormal not to be anxious. Her brain, and your brain, isn’t getting rest and it isn’t being heard.

Yes, your brain isn’t being heard. One of the reasons life coaching (what I do) and journaling are increasing in popularity is because it’s giving us time and space to use our own brains again and to get our thoughts out of our heads. It seems like there is no time or space for that anymore. Am I right?

But your brain is like a supercomputer! It can solve your problems. It comes up with really creative ideas. Deep inside your own brain are your complex emotions and desires that are desperate to be recognized. We’re just not giving it the time and space it needs.

And I know many folks share this problem. So what is the solution?

What if it really was that hard?

Several years ago I tried taking a bath without a book or without my phone. I was given the challenge of five minutes. Even though I get lots of time to myself, this was tough! I couldn’t believe how tough it was. My mind was addicted to input!

Incorporating time into your day where you can think and process your own thoughts while simultaneously shutting out other input is so important. I challenge you to give yourself space to process. Time to deal and cope and dream and solve. Free from every other influence.

Now, this is easier said than done for most of you. Your schedule is busy, your phone is always in your hand and your kids are always pulling on you. Do it anyway. Carve out at least five minutes to begin your solitude practice. Interestingly enough, solitude does not mean a hike into the mountains alone. Not necessary! Check out what Cal Newport has to say:

You can find solitude in a busy train car or a coffee shop, or wherever. I am slightly nervous about this re-definition (it seems to me that being truly alone has a ton of value), but I am also attracted to this idea that you don’t necessarily have to be alone to be with your thoughts, you just have to be free from input.

How can you do that? Here are five ways to get started this weekend:

  • A 10 minute walk without your phone or headphones.
  • Take a bath without anything to read or do.
  • Stretch for five minutes first thing in the morning. No lights, no sounds. Just you: quiet, alone & stretching.
  • Fill a page with your thoughts each day. Even if you can’t think of anything, just write “I can’t think of anything. This is dumb.” It’ll get easier. Do it alone, maybe in the car at the beginning of soccer practice or before you head into the office. You can do it alone with your first cup of coffee. This is called a brain dump or though download and it will be a total game changer.
  • Find a place to watch the sunset or sunrise. It doesn’t have to be the beach (that would be bonus points). It can be your backyard or it can be a nearby park. Check the time of the sunset. Then get alone and take in the beauty!

With all of these practices, you will need to schedule it on your calendar and you’ll need to let those who are in your life know it’s what is happening. Set the expectation. And perhaps encourage them to do the same. I’m giving you permission to take time to be alone. Your brain requires it. It’s OKAY. It’s allowed. It’s necessary.

Comment below which practice you’re going to try or what you’re already doing!