Slow Down to Up Your Productivity

Do you ever notice that some of your clearest or most creative thinking happens in the moments you least expect it? Perhaps in the shower or right as you’re falling asleep?

In our society, we’re taught to “suck it up” or “power through” to get to these thoughts. If you’re stumped on a problem or have writer’s block, the common solution that’s encouraged is chugging coffee or chaining yourself to your desk until all hours of the night until something changes.

This is completely counterintuitive and science shows it’s actually the most inefficient way to achieve your objectives.

Here’s the scoop:

To begin, it’s important to know that our brains can’t actually multi-task well (a select handful of us do have the capacity, but it’s certainly not the majority).

Many of us think we’re too busy, but research proves that we need breaks to boost productivity. Here’s one of the most interesting aspects of the science behind this:

Our brains have two modes: the “focused mode,” which we use when we’re doing things like learning something new, writing or working) and “diffuse mode,” which is our more relaxed, daydreamy mode when we’re not thinking so hard… Some studies have shown that the mind solves its stickiest problems while daydreaming… Breakthroughs that seem to come out of nowhere are often the product of diffuse mode thinking.

That’s because the relaxation associated with daydream mode “can allow the brain to hook up and return valuable insights,” engineering professor Barbara Oakley explained. “When you’re focusing, you’re actually blocking your access to the diffuse mode. And the diffuse mode, it turns out, is what you often need to be able to solve a very difficult, new problem. (source)

Who knew Buster was actually helping my productivity?! Photo by Pure Style Photography

Who knew Buster was actually helping my productivity?! Photo by Pure Style Photography

So, if you grab a glimpse of puppies on Instagram or sneak a few seconds of that funny video your friends sent in a group text, you’re actually doing your brain a favor! Now that you know the science behind it, here are some ideas for how to break up your day in a realistic way.  

Ideas for action:

Look at your calendar the night before (if your schedule is more predictable, you can book these breaks out farther in advance).

Assess where there’s room for some time away from work or time to do something that feels like a break but is still work. Some ideas:

  • Take a workout class or if time is limited a quick walk (I’ve had clients go to the stairwell and just do a few flights!). 

  • Have lunch outside of the office (even if this means bringing your lunch and simply eating somewhere that’s not your desk).

  • Walk somewhere a bit farther than the office kitchen/cafe to grab coffee/tea/kombucha/a snack (good brain foods).

  • Simply move to a different space such as a conference room or a coffee shop to change the scenery.

  • Set an alarm on your phone, a reminder on your calendar, or have Fitbit nudge you to take breaks and to breathe! Speaking of, deep breathing can be a break in and of itself (and easily accessible to all). There are a handful of techniques here and more on the 4-7-8 breath style for productivity here.  

  • Do a quick 2-minute meditation, or just sit in stillness as an easy option. If you’d rather move, I shared some gentle stretches you can do in your office to counteract computer/phone use.

Time Management Tips:

If you’re rewarding yourself with social media during a break, I recommend setting an alarm. It’s easy for it to be a “time-suck” so I typically set my phone alarm for 10 minutes and I’m always amazed how quickly that goes by!

Some research shows we have more capacity for creative thinking and productivity in the morning before decision fatigue sets in. The more you can automate your mornings (have clothes picked out, breakfast decided upon, lunch packed, train times picked, etc.) the more energy you’ll have later. There’s also an activity called “morning pages” if you want to do some thoughtful self-exploration. This can be especially useful if you’re thinking of making a big change, or are in the midst of change already.

Now that you know more of the science behind it, can you be kinder to yourself for craving these pauses in your work day?

How can you incorporate some of these productivity practices?

If you’re already doing them, what are your favorite ways to take a break when you’re feeling stumped or stuck? I’d love to know!

Flow + All About Aspire

I'm working on something REALLY exciting that I'm planning to launch this fall, and because of that I'll be doing a few blog posts per month instead of a weekly edition.

When I started to put pen to paper on this new idea for Aspire with Aileen, I found I was completely enthralled and in a total state of flow (and I'm not talking about a "yoga flow" in this case!).

If you've never heard of this concept, here are two great articles to get you up to speed:

Do you experience this in your career? In your personal life? How can you make changes, personally or professionally, if not?

Photo from article linked above

Photo from article linked above

Finally, I recently realized I never shared an interview I did with Just Us Gals Boston. If you're new to this page or want to better understand why I focus on helping clients with both personal and professional goals, click here to read the full articleAnd if you already know you're going to be working on a career goal, here are 4 ways to work towards it without sacrificing your physical or mental health

Want to stay informed about this upcoming announcement? Members of my monthly newsletter will be the first to know and you can sign up here

What's In Your Wine Glass?

One of the assumptions I’ve noticed people have when I tell them I’m a health coach is that they assume I never drink. While my habits have certainly changed since my college days (phew!), I still enjoy the sound of the cork popping when opening a wine bottle and the after dinner lingering and conversation that ensues with friends and family.

Many of my clients have constant work events where wine is served, and they’d like to have a glass, but they’re not sure if “it’s okay” (we also talk about how to manage the multitude of not-so-nutritious food choices at those things!).

When it comes to “indulging,” for most things I’m an advocate of moderation, not restriction, as long as people are making their decision mindfully.

health coach boston aileen

When it comes to wine in particular, as you may know, there’s been a lot of research surrounding the benefits of the polyphenols/resveratrol (such as here and here) but there’s still a lot of debate, and the studies that claim it’s “healthy” refer to drinking in moderation.

Back in the day, most of my decision-making around which bottles to buy was based on price and pretty labels. But I found out you do get what you pay for when reading this article (similar information here)  -

It disclosed the names of 30 brands of California wines with arsenic in them.

This got my attention. It made me finally start to think about what’s in my glass, and not just what’s on my plate.

Some things I learned in my research:

  • There are over 76 additives approved for US winemaking (and 38 of them are “GRAS” or generally regarded as safe)
  • Over 20 million pounds of pesticides are used on commercial vineyards in California every year (!!!!)
  • Monsanto’s synthetic herbicide RoundUp (“glyphosate”) is so commonly used in the US that organic wines frequently test positive
  • Farming practices can result in conventional wines having fungicides and phthalate contamination (phthalates are hormone disruptors, like those found in our personal care products).  

I share my findings not as a scare tactic, but because I've rarely seen any of this discussed in the wellness world even though many coaches and clients enjoy their fruit of the vine. While I still have plenty of research to do on this topic, and much to learn about wine in general, I’d rather do what I can to avoid these chemicals when enjoying a glass or two and to help others do the same.

A fellow health coach pointed me to Dry Farm Wines as an option, and here’s what made me give them a whirl. Their wines are all:

  • Organic or Biodynamic, and Dry-Farmed
  • Sugar Free (<1g/L), Mycotoxin/Mold Free, Additive Free, and Low in Sulfites (<75ppm)
  • Lab tested to ensure each wine meets all of these standards (and the others I didn’t list!)

I didn’t like that you can’t pick out your own wines, but this gave me reassurance: “each wine shipment is protected by a 100% satisfaction guarantee, no questions asked. If you ever receive a wine you don't like, let us know and we'll send you a replacement immediately. Still don't like it? We'll refund your entire purchase, and you get to keep all the bottles!”

I placed my first order because of that, along with the positive reviews, a recommendation from someone I knew, and the glimmer of hope that this would help alleviate the newly acquired allergic response my husband would get from red wines (his nose would get very stuffy and he’d have a MAJOR headache even after just one glass – tragic!). I’m glad that I did!

We’ve received 3 different shipments (for the sake of research!) and I can now officially say that their wines are delicious.

My husband is able to drink red wine without the negative reactions he used to have, and I can feel more comfortable with the drinks I’m offering when hosting people at our home. All of the FAQ’s and information can be found on their website if you want to learn more. Shipping is free and if you order through that link, you can add a bottle of wine to your first order for a penny. 

What’s your perspective when it comes to alcohol and your health goals? Do you notice any reactions to red wine in particular?  

If you choose to imbibe and are trying to keep your glass as clean as your plate, I hope this helps you find an option that works for you. If you try Dry Farm Wines, let me know what you think. 

Cheers!

boston health coach

This post contains affiliate links. I only promote products I use and love. If you buy through my link I will earn a small percentage at no extra cost to you (thanks for helping a small biz owner out!).

You Are What Your Skin Eats, Too

To be completely honest (as always), what I’m about to share is information I sometimes wish I’d never learned. It’d be much easier to trust that if something is sold that it’s been tested and proven to be safe.

I was shocked and disappointed when I found out that this isn’t the case. As I learned more, I’ve moved from disappointed to angry. I share this not to scare you or judge you if you use any of these products. I also don’t want to sound like the crazy crunchy girl in the corner, but I’m willing to risk that to raise awareness because of my mission: to help exhausted professionals restore their energy, feel like their best selves, and do what they love.

These toxins in our personal care products that we’re exposed to on a daily basis steal our health, and the health of those we love.

I’ll walk you through the most important facts, and then just as importantly, how to make changes in your life without losing your sanity or your entire paycheck!

health coaching boston

The scary facts:

  • The American government doesn’t require health studies or pre-market testing of the chemicals in personal care products (!!). Over the past two decades, the EU has banned more than 1,300 chemicals in the product formulas of personal care products and restricted the levels of over 250 more in such products. The US has only partially banned 30 to date.
  • There are more than 80,000 chemicals on the market today. Many don’t have any safety data. This is particularly true of those used in the skin care and beauty industry.
  • While there still needs to be even more research done, these chemicals can cause a host of health issues from weight gain to cancer (you may have seen this recent Johnson and Johnson lawsuit).
  • New analysis released just this month showed that male sperm count in Western countries has decreased almost 60% in the last 40 years. 60%!! They name these toxins, often endocrine disruptors, as one of the influences. Here is more about what endocrine disrupters do to the body.
  • Studies have found an average of 200 industrial chemicals, pollutants, and pesticides in the umbilical cords of babies. Personal care products are only one source (we’ll get to the others in a future blog post!) but this is heartbreaking given the vulnerability of that population.

Two of the areas I focus on with my clients are stress and energy, and this sums up how both are impacted by these toxins:

“Toxic overload is a condition that I consider to be one of the most frequent, yet least diagnosed, causes of fatigue. We are bombarded with environmental toxins on a daily basis (including pesticides, poor air quality, artificial chemicals, and foods with added hormones) that accumulate to create a toxic burden in our bodies. If that burden is allowed to remain in the body, it can become an ever-growing drain on many of our energy resources.

You may be surprised to find that your energy levels are tied into your gastrointestinal tract and that clearing toxins out of your body can help rejuvenate your entire system. Today, more than 75% of the population suffers from some type of gastrointestinal distress that can usually be traced back to food sensitivities or low enzyme activity inhibiting digestion. The foods you eat and your lifestyle in general can be causing your body a great deal of stress.”  Dr Eva Cwynar, MD

We’ll save the food conversation for a later date, too. For now, I ask you this:

How many products do you put on your body in a given day?

The Environmental Working Group did a survey of 2300 people and on average, respondents use nine products daily. These contain 126 unique ingredients. One man in 100 and 25 percent of women surveyed apply 15 or more products each day.

Do an experiment and write down a list focusing just on your morning and evening routines. You’ll likely be surprised by your number (hand soap, face wash, lotion, body wash, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, makeup… it adds up!).

boston health coaching

What do we need to avoid? How do we know what’s toxic or not?

Since it’s not feasible for me to list all of the chemicals, here’s a cheat sheet of what to steer clear of based on the type of product (here’s another good one too). When in doubt, stay away from “fragrance” since that can be an umbrella for a lot of undisclosed chemicals, and anything that has ingredients ending in “paraben.”

The fastest, easiest way to assess products is by using the incredible EWG database. You can also scan items or look them up with apps including SkinDeep or Think Dirty. You’ve been warned: once you start looking up a few items you may become addicted and start looking up everything in your home!

What do we do now? Live in a bubble?

Learning this information can be overwhelming, to say the least. I remember wanting to throw out every single thing I owned, but knew that researching safe options and spending money to replace them all at once would be overwhelming too.

Fortunately, the days of me being judged when speaking about the dangers of aluminum deodorant are (mostly) gone. There’s a growing awareness of these issues, consumers are pushing back, and the market is responding by providing more non-toxic options. Beware of false advertising, however, as companies use phrases like “all natural” to attract consumers but the phrase means nothing.

The best advice I’ve gleaned from reading COUNTLESS articles in this space has been the following:

1) Start with the basics.

If you did the exercise above, you now have a list of the products you're exposing yourself to most often. Narrow these down: What do you use multiple times per day? What’s “on” your skin the most/longest? Which of your products are most poorly rated? Replace those first.

2) Replace other items as you run out of them.

Save your receipts, too, as many places like Whole Foods (amazing selection of personal care products!) will let you return an item if it doesn’t work for you. I put together a list of some of my favorite items here.

3) If you get really into it, you can make a lot of your own products.

It’s often as simple as combining essential oils (let me know if you would like to order some!) with just a few common household ingredients. Instead of going full speed ahead then losing interest, only spend energy making items you use often. I adore Body Unburdened for her passion for this topic and recipes. Skin Cleanse is also a fantastic resource for learning more about the beauty industry and the importance of non-toxic products and healthy foods for clear skin (she graduated from the same nutrition school as me!). There are tons of DIY recipes in there too. When I switched to non-toxic products years ago, I actually noticed my skin was MUCH clearer when using fewer but cleaner products.

4) Spread the word.

Share this post with your friends and family and help them protect their health. The first step is awareness, then action, and our collective actions can ignite broader change.

 

Sources/More Information:

 

Around Negative People? 6 Strategies to Protect Your Energy

A reader recently asked me to write a post about dealing with negative people. If there are topics you’d like to see, you can always reach out and let me know! 

Regardless of the setting, whether it’s a colleague, friend, or family member, being around people who have a consistent negative disposition is a challenge. There are many types of negative people, and many ways they can behave that are challenging. Some common examples include: glass half empty mindset, passive aggressiveness, constant drama or gossiping, perpetual worrying, complaining, or guilt tripping… and there are plenty of other ways this can manifest.

If you haven't seen any "Debbie Downer" skits from SNL I recommend you take a look!

If you haven't seen any "Debbie Downer" skits from SNL I recommend you take a look!

Some playfully call these individuals “Debbie Downers.”

Others call these individuals “energy vampires” and for good reason. As you may have noticed, it's really hard to be around negative people without it impacting your own energy. If it's someone you care about and you’re invested in wanting them to be happier, it can be even more draining.

So, what do you do?

Give Them a Reality Check

It’s a delicate conversation, but in certain situations you can have a candid conversation about the energy they're projecting. Looking honestly at ourselves can be a hard practice, and some individuals may not have any idea how they’re coming across and would appreciate knowing. If they don’t know this about themselves, they won’t have any motivation to change! Since it’s such a delicate conversation, and not everyone takes constructive feedback well, this approach is most appropriate if it’s a close friend or family member rather than a supervisor or boss (see below for tips on managing a negative work environment).

Give Yourself a Reality Check

Sometimes, the best option is to accept them as they are and do what you need to do to protect your energy. We all have a biological predisposition to think this way, and happiness researchers like Gretchen Rubin believe 50% of happiness is genetically determined and other research shows similar findings. Some people are content with this default way of thinking, or are in a place where they’re not ready or able to make a change.

No matter the circumstance, how do you protect your energy?

Shift your Mindset. As discussed above, letting go of the idea that you can change others is a simple shift of perspective that can create more space in your life. You may realize that letting go of the relationship is actually the right answer, but if that isn’t as feasible, a mental shift can be a realistic place to start.

Create Boundaries. This can be managing the amount of time you spend with this person and/or steering the conversation away from topic areas you know are extra challenging.  

Refill your Tank.  If you know you’re going to be spending time with him/her, can you plan to counteract that energy drain with something restorative afterwards? This doesn’t have to mean getting a massage after each interaction (though that sounds lovely!) but little mindful decisions such as avoiding overscheduling yourself or activities that require a lot of energy can be helpful. Here are some other tips to counter stress that take less than five minutes per day.

What about at work?

You may have less control over creating boundaries in the office, particularly if it’s your boss or direct teammate who’s always negative, or worse, if it’s the culture of the organization at large. If this is the scenario you’re in, the same self-care and stress management tips above apply. Furthermore, you’ll want to assess whether or not that environment is really right for you and what toll it’s taking on both your personal and professional development.

Many of my clients use their dissatisfaction with work to fuel their efforts to make a change. Tough day at work? Use it as more motivation to spend time reaching out to connect with others who will reaffirm that things can look differently elsewhere.

As always, if you want support in making changes in your personal or professional life, reach out for a free 30-minute consult!

How have you managed these kinds of relationships in your life?  What strategies have helped you protect or restore your energy? Is there currently a toxic environment in your personal or professional life that can be better managed using some of these strategies? 

Job Search Resilience

Other than balancing a job search with everything else going on in your life, one of the hardest parts of looking for a new position is keeping your spirits up throughout the duration of the often-tedious process.

Whether it’s deafening silence from employers or making it to the final round of interviews only to not be selected, the experience can certainly take a toll on your confidence.

Those examples are (unfortunately!) a normal part of looking for a job whether you’re highly qualified for what you’re applying to or not. From political hiring decisions, technical interference causing your application to never be seen by a human, or simply an extremely competitive market, there are a handful of challenging layers that have nothing to do with your competency levels (let that sink in!)… yet, the longer you spend applying, the more likely you are to start to doubt yourself.

So, how do you keep your spirits up?

I heard this definition from Jennifer Racioppi while listening to a webinar on emotional resilience

I heard this definition from Jennifer Racioppi while listening to a webinar on emotional resilience

As with many challenges in life, it comes back to resilience. There are countless definitions and studies about this concept, but two of my favorites include: “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness” and meeting life exactly as it is and being able to thrive anyway. Some believe that “more than education, more than experience, more than training, a person’s level of resilience will determine who succeeds and who fails. That’s true in the cancer ward, it’s true in the Olympics, and it’s true in the boardroom.”

Below are a few of the strategies I’ve found help job seekers recover from the challenges and setbacks that come with the territory.

Talk to people.

This will sound like the last thing you want to do when your confidence is tanking or you’re doubting yourself, but trust me on this. Networking not only increases your likelihood of landing a position, it also can do a myriad of things to get you out of the job search rut. For example, people in your field can:

  • Validate that your background is impressive/you do have valuable and relevant skills. You can get this information through asking questions such as “What skills do you think make someone stand out in this field/role?” or “What qualities make someone most successful in this position?”  
  • Help you see your blind spots and where you may be lacking competitiveness. That may sound like bad news, but this insight can show you where to seek out development and growth to proactively increase your ability to compete.
  • Give you ideas about other companies, job titles, or openings to look at that you may not know about.

Any of these outcomes can serve to reinvigorate you and the energy you need to keep plugging away.

boston career coach

Look in your happy-face-folder 

This may sound weird if you don’t have one, so let me explain. Every time I get a thoughtful thank you email or positive feedback after an event, I file them into a folder aptly titled “😊.” If I have a really challenging day or am doubting myself (in the life of an entrepreneur it happens often!), I skim through and am reminded of my skills, value-add, and the positive impact I’ve had on other people’s lives. If you don’t save these types of emails, I recommend that you start!

If you don’t have these emails, you can still seek out this kind of info from other sources. Old performance reviews are a good place to look. Chatting with any colleagues you’ve let in on your search, checking in with your references, and reviewing former letters of recommendation can all raise your spirits too.

Take Care of Yourself

When in doubt, taking extra care of yourself is always a good idea. It may sound counterintuitive to step away from applications, but restoring your energy and mindset will ultimately make you much more productive. That renewed confidence will translate in your application materials. You have permission to take this space. Often a short stint away, or coming back to an application after a restorative activity is all you need to reframe your perspective.

boston career coach

This comes back to stress and the impact it can have on our personal and professional well-being. Clinical psychologist George Bonanno has been studying resilience for over 25 years and he says the following: “All of us possess the same fundamental stress-response system, which has evolved over millions of years and which we share with other animals. The vast majority of people are pretty good at using that system to deal with stress. When it comes to resilience, the question is: Why do some people use the system so much more frequently or effectively than others? One of the central elements of resilience, Bonanno has found, is perception: Do you conceptualize an event as traumatic, or as an opportunity to learn and grow?”

Taking time to take care of yourself and counter job search stressors can make it easier to view whatever challenges have come up in your process as opportunities to grow, and you can use this resilience to handle other life hurtles with more grace and ease.  

  • What are some examples of challenges you’ve faced in your life that you see as teaching moments or times of great personal growth?
  • How can you reframe your perspective of your job search to meet it where it is and yet thrive anyway?
  • Where can you apply these mindset shifts to other areas of your life to restore your energy and get back to feeling like your best self?

 

Answering Negative Interview Questions

Interviewing can be stressful enough, let alone when a prospective employer asks you a question that brings up some negative emotions.

Common interview questions where this may happen include:

  • Why are you leaving your current position?
  • What did you like least about your most recent role/company?
  • Tell me about a time when you disagreed with a colleague/client/customer.
  • Tell me about a time when you failed.
  • What’s a weakness of yours?

Fun list of topics, eh?

career coaching boston

The basic strategy for these questions is this: provide an adequate and truthful answer without sharing too many dramatic details and while keeping a professional, calm tone.

Sounds manageable, but if you’re caught off guard by a negative question or you’re describing a situation that involved particularly high emotions, it can be quite challenging. When I do mock interviews with clients, I point out how even just one word choice can make a difference in how polarizing an example can sound (for example: That made me so furious vs That made me so frustrated. One word, big difference!).

So, what do you do?

Use the PAR approach.

This strategy works when answering any behavioral interview question because it gives you a framework for what information is most critical to include, along with how to organize it. People tend to be most long-winded when answering this style of question, and this method can help to weed out extraneous details. PAR stands for problem, action, result – a similar acronym is STAR which stands for situation, task, action, result. In short, you want to assess what problem or situation you’re going to describe, what action YOU took, and the conclusion (or the goal of your action if you didn’t see the conclusion/get the result you anticipated).

Practice out loud.

This aligns with previous interview prep tips I’ve shared, and it’s because I can’t emphasize it enough. You’ll notice how delicate the word choice is, and it’s better to stumble over it on your own than in front of the employer. Ideally, have a friend or career coach listen to your answer and give you feedback as to how it translated.

Choose your examples carefully.

If you get feedback that your answer is still a little bit touchy, or you’re continuously struggling with getting it to a place where you feel like it's a strong answer, choose a new example if possible. Those are signs that the situation was too complicated to describe easily or that you’re still feeling too strongly about it to share it with an employer in an interview.

a simple (and silly) example to help illustrate these practices

...fun fact, this is a true story from the job I held at Super Kmart at 16 years old!

Question: Can you tell me about a time you dealt with a difficult person (client/customer/colleague)?

Answer: While working as a cashier at Super Kmart, a middle-aged gentleman tried to purchase cigarettes from me. The strict store policy required employees to ask for ID from everyone, even if they appeared to be well over the legal purchasing age. The gentleman forgot his ID so I politely informed him that unfortunately I couldn’t complete the sale. He became extremely agitated and began yelling. I calmly replied that I’d be happy to refer him to my manager if he’d like to continue the discussion, as there was nothing I could do to change the policy. He agreed, I brought in my manager, and they sorted out a solution together so I could move on to serve the next customer.

In reality, I thought this man was completely inappropriate and rude, and that the policy was a bit extreme, but those stronger feelings aren't present in this response.  

Use these tips and you’ll feel more confident when answering negative questions during your next interview!

Want a deeper dive into the strategies behind answering the two most dreaded interview questions (including the infamous weakness question)? Download my guide which includes a bonus: the simple but often forgotten tactic to nailing an interview.

Stress: Why it Matters and What to Do About It

Never-ending inbox have you on edge? 

Never-ending inbox have you on edge? 

I recently led a yoga workshop called "From Stressed to Savasana." When preparing the content for the post-yoga flow discussion, I took a step back to examine the importance of managing this common emotion. 

We all know that constantly feeling stressed doesn’t feel good. But other than not enjoying the way it feels, why is it so important to address?

Because the majority of disease is linked to stress. Over 80% of visits to doctors are stress related, yet only 3% of the time is stress management covered (source). 

Stress leads to inflammation in your body, and chronic inflammation leads to disease. When we’re not well (dis-ease) that can make us feel stressed, which then perpetuates the whole cycle (source).

Some stress is good— such as starting a new job that’s a great fit –  and the body’s process for managing real threats (like a potential life-threatening situation) is a critical. Unfortunately, we often perceive everyday stressors the same way in the body (video – start at 3:20 and source).

This perpetual stress response increases the release of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline (source). Imagine you’re being chased by a lion. All of your body’s energy and resources will be spent on preparing you to fight or take flight, leaving minimal energy to be spent on other bodily functions like digesting food. Your body decides that running from the lion takes precedence over digesting that sandwich, and rightfully so!

So, when this same stress response happens daily, you can imagine how much it interferes with your ability to perform normal tasks and feel like your best self.

It inhibits proper digestion and nutrient absorption, clouds thinking, causes anxiety, can bring upon a feeling of being “tired but wired,” increases sugar cravings, weight gain, high blood pressure and more.

So… what do we do?!

Just like the Sympathetic Nervous System is turned “on” – we can turn it “off” by activating the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS is nicknamed the “rest and digest” system for a reason). There are countless ways to do this, and many are free and fast, making them easy to integrate into our busy lives!   

Three of these tips take less than five minutes daily! Use them to start restoring your energy today. Have other simple stress relief activities that are working for you? Let me know in the comments! Your input may be just what someone else needs to hear.

Gratitude

Photo by Pure Style Photography

Photo by Pure Style Photography

We have a biological predisposition to think negatively- it's a protective device our ancestors used to avoid threats. This default mode of thinking doesn't serve us as well these days in either our personal or professional lives. It leads us to think poorly of ourselves, doubt our abilities, and expect the worst of others. This energy can be toxic to ourselves (both physical and mental health) and those around us.

The good news is research shows we can rewire ourselves to default to positive thoughts- we just have to train our brains.

The concept of Pratipaksha Bhavana emphasizes first building awareness of this negativity bias, then counteracting it by cultivating opposing thoughts. The more you do this, the more you disarm the power and force behind negative thinking even when it comes back.

Instead of flipping upside down to shift your perspective- try a gratitude experiment.


Think of 3 things you're grateful for every day this week.

They can be as simple as the fact that the sun is out. Write them down or say them out loud (or both!).

While you can do the exercise any time, starting your day from a place of positivity can really set the tone and influence the lens you view things from for the rest of it.

Perhaps one of the three things you write down and say today is something that you're grateful you DON'T have. Sometimes I'm filled with such relief when I reflect back on things that didn't go as I'd originally hoped. Relationships that didn't pan out or jobs I didn't get were so upsetting at the time, but in hindsight it's SO clear to see how misaligned they were with my true path.

Instead of being disappointed or frustrated you didn't see the lessons sooner, can you look at some of these plot twists in your own life and pull some appreciation from them?

"Never let the things you want make you forget the things you have."

Sometimes the wants creep in and cloud the haves. Try thinking about something you used to want and now have, like good health when you had a cold, or a few minutes to yourself in your busy schedule. The "things" we're grateful for don't have to be external "things" at all.

If you find your day gets away from you and your mind is clouded by the stress or challenges that come your way, pause, breathe, and come back to the three things on your gratitude list.

You have more control over your mindset and mood than you think.

How different would our moods be if we made these tiny tweaks more consistently? How much kinder might we be not only to ourselves but also to those around us? Have you noticed the benefits of this practice in your health or in the way you approach your work?

Below are some images from my seven day gratitude challenge on instagram. Feel free to follow me over there for more regular updates!

Smoothies: Simplified

Have you heard a lot about smoothies, but have yet to try making them yourself? Or maybe you jumped on the smoothie making train but you’re sick of making the same recipe over and over?

This post will go into why smoothies live up to all of the hype, as well as some simple ways to get into (or back into!) making them yourself.

health coaching boston

First things first…

The great debate: Smoothies vs Juice

Here’s a super short article explaining some of the differences, but the short answer is that a smoothie, particularly with lots of veggies in it instead of just fruit, is the better option.

Benefits of Smoothies

  • The biggest benefit, in my opinion, is that it’s one of THE easiest ways to ensure you’re getting more vegetables into your day. The majority of people either don’t eat enough of them, or could benefit from having more, particularly leafy greens. If you (or the people eating with you) don’t love veggies, smoothies mask the flavor in the quickest way. When traveling, its especially helpful since we typically decrease our greens on the go.
  • They’re easy on your digestive system – if you’re rushed in the morning, you eat on the go/at your desk, or you have digestive issues (such as bloating or IBS), your digestion could use a break and smoothies will give them that. Chewing your smoothie vs chugging it will help your body process it better, too!
  • They’re affordable, especially when you make them yourself.
  • They’re quick to make! Especially once you have the hang of it and if you pre-pack, wash, or chop ingredients in advance.

Use a Recipe?

If you’re new to making them, or you’re sick of the ones you make, definitely go to recipes for inspiration. When I first started out I overthought the whole thing.

Don’t make it so complicated that you never get started!

After a while, you’ll end up being able to eyeball measurements and use your intuition as to what will work well together. When in doubt, here are the barebone basics needed:

  • fruits/veggies (organic, especially if in the Dirty Dozen list)
  • organic greens (spinach has the least flavor, kale needs a bit more in the smoothie to hide the taste)
  • some liquid (a nut milk or water, and ice if you like them super cold/thicker)
  • a blender (again, no need to overcomplicate or overspend, I've used a Nutribullet for years and it's worked perfectly)

That’s truly it!

You can start there with no special potions added in. When you’re ready, some simple staples to begin to stock your pantry with are chia seeds or flaxseed (ground for best absorption), but you want to assess what your own body needs to know which items are most strategic/beneficial to add.

Extra Money Saving/Prep Tips

  • Stock up on organic fruits/veggies when they’re on sale (fresh or frozen - frozen produce has equal nutritional value since it's frozen immediately upon ripening) and freeze them
  • Do the same thing for any greens or nut milks (you can put the whole tub of greens in the freezer as is, or blend them up and freeze into ice cubes!)
  • Make your own nut milk (Want a demo or recipes on this? Let me know!)
  • If you have anything going bad in your kitchen, throw it in your smoothie or freeze it for a future one. You can do this with nut milk too- pour it into ice cube trays and freeze. These tips may sound so simple, but you’ll be surprised to see how much you can save and avoid wasting once you’re deliberate about this!

Recipe Inspiration

For ideas on different combinations, along with more creative nutritious additives, here are some of my go-to places to peek at:

What gets in the way of you making smoothies or breakfast? How might you use any of these tips to make more smoothies moving forward? Enjoy!

health coaching boston

PS

Do you eat breakfast or lunch at your desk often? You're likely not chewing your food too well, which can interfere with nutrient absorbtion and lead to digestive issues. Here are TWO upcoming chances to learn more about how to make tiny tweaks to your eating habits but see big changes in the way you feel! 

5 Simple Healthy Travel Tips

It’s almost summer! This upcoming season brings a lot of change in routines and mindsets. We may notice a slower pace at work with colleagues taking vacation or may be traveling more ourselves.

Many of my clients, trying to commit to healthier habits, get stressed when it comes to travel time. One client does a lot of driving on a weekly basis for his role in recruiting, and other than being concerned about sitting so much, he worries about finding nutritious meals on the go.

Whether you’re traveling for work conferences or family vacations, here are some tips to keep those healthy habits at the forefront of your mind!

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The hotel we stayed at had this beautiful water stocked by the pool and in the lobby. Perfect way to keep sneaking in hydration on the run!

The hotel we stayed at had this beautiful water stocked by the pool and in the lobby. Perfect way to keep sneaking in hydration on the run!

BYO Water

Pack a reusable water bottle. Sounds simple, but doing this one thing alone can make a huge difference. The low humidity in an airplane can lead to dehydration. Dehydration can lead to sugar cravings, and when you’re surrounded by lots of sugary options in your travels, they’ll be that much more tempting. Aim to increase your water intake before you even leave for the airport, so you don’t have to go on the plane!

If you don’t have a water bottle, here are some of my favorites. If you don’t want to lug one around, buy a large bottle after going through security instead of being stuck with the tiny ones on the plane. Bonus- you can nap whenever you want since you won’t be waiting on the beverage cart!

BYO Snacks

Keeping hanger at bay is a simple way to avoid fast food or less nutritious options on-the-go. If possible, eating a real meal before you leave for your travel is a great place to start.

If the timing is off (a 6am flight, for example), the next best thing is bringing snacks! Fun fact: your taste buds can change on a plane, tricking you into wanting different foods than normal too. Hard fruit travels best (I’ve ended up with smashed and browned bananas in my purse before- lesson learned). Some of my favorite snacks I bring:

Previous travel hack photos of mine: chia pudding, fruits, asking for hot water and lemon at the breakfast buffet, and deviled eggs!

Previous travel hack photos of mine: chia pudding, fruits, asking for hot water and lemon at the breakfast buffet, and deviled eggs!

  • lemons (so you can have hot water with lemon in your hotel room! I use the coffee maker to brew just hot water)
  • nut butter pouches (an example)
  • an apple, clementine, or orange would all travel well, along with avocado, carrots, celery, or hardboiled pasture raised eggs
  • chia seeds (make your own chia pudding!) on the plane/train or in your hotel - these also help hydration 
  • seaweed snacks for that salty crunchy craving
  • make trail mix, bars or balls and bring them, or buy some with reliable ingredients in advance like RXBar 
  • Simple Mills crackers (bring the box!) - I typically buy mine cheaper through Thrive Market (save15% on your first order with that link)

BYO Potions

Flying can also disrupt your good gut bacteria, so bringing the probiotics or vitamins you may already be using is key!  On that same note, kombucha is more widely available these days so you can drink your probiotics that way, too.  

Make a Plan

Just as, if not more important, than any of those previous ideas is to be as informed as possible before arriving at your final destination. Doing some quick research in advance on restaurants that have nutritious food options, or even locating something like a Whole Foods nearby, can give you peace of mind and keep you well fueled.  

If the restaurants aren’t in your control, try to take a look at the menus in advance to see what foods will work for you. When you’re hungry, staring at a menu often leads to less strategic options because you want ALL of the things! One of my clients has found just looking at a menu before arriving helps her buffer in time to assess what she’s actually craving, removing her tendency to be overwhelmed by the options.

If you’re staying at a hotel… beware of the buffet.

Here's a deeper look into why we overeat at the buffet, but my biggest advice is to plate everything at once (after doing a lap to see what your options are) vs. getting up/down for multiple courses. You'll have a better perspective of how much you're eating. Also, start out with the most nutritious foods like greens and veggies so you're more likely to crowd out the others.

When in doubt, don't forget to chew! Give yourself time to realize you're full.

You can also research fitness options so you get some movement on your schedule. See what the hotel gym has to offer, or look up local studios (many will have first-time client specials!) for class options. One client of mine said this simple, quick research led to her actually going to a yoga class instead of just packing the clothes for it and leaving them in her suitcase!

At the end of my honeymoon after many celebratory meals and drinks, all I craved was real fruit and veggies (and a coconut for good measure) 

At the end of my honeymoon after many celebratory meals and drinks, all I craved was real fruit and veggies (and a coconut for good measure) 

Find Your Balance

Also know when it’s worth it to soak up the experience and enjoy things! For me, stale pastries at the breakfast buffet aren’t worth it (learned that one the hard way). A martini and a unique locally sourced or fresh and fun appetizer? A different story.

Try to give yourself some time and space to listen to your body and see what you actually want. Decide where you feel like certain foods are worth it, and when you eat that food, enjoy it instead of feeling a pang of guilt with every bite. It's all about balance, after all!

Where are you headed this summer? Safe travels!

 

 

 

Habit Change: How to Drink More Water

water health coaching aileen habit change

In case you missed it, I recently did a “7 Day Drink More Water Challenge” on my Instagram page.

With summer just around the corner, and research showing that over 75% of Americans are in a state of chronic dehydration, it makes sense to dig into this topic!

We all know that drinking water is not just beneficial, but life-and-death critical, for our health. It distributes nutrients to cells, regulates body temperatures, removes toxins and excess sodium from our systems and more. Yet so many of us fail to do it adequately.

When you stop to think about it, it’s truly interesting that people with access to clean drinking water struggle to meet this most basic and simple human need.

Why is this? What interferes with your adequate water intake?

For many, it’s the simple fact that it isn’t a habit, and when things aren’t a part of our normal routine or rituals they can be easily forgotten, regardless of their importance.

If you’ve been reading along on the blog, you’ve noticed I write a lot about mindfulness. This is yet another example of how we can incorporate this practice into our lives to make tiny shifts that have huge impacts.

First, let’s assess your current water drinking habits.

Did you know you're supposed to drink at least half of your body weight in ounces of water per day? So, if you weigh 200lbs that means 100oz of water or 12+ cups. Don’t shoot the messenger, but if you exercise heavily or drink lots of caffeine or alcohol (both diuretics) then you need to drink even more!

Do some math right now and look at how your daily consumption adds up.

For most of you, there’s at least a little room for improvement (myself included!). Below are some ideas for ways to make drinking water a habit.

I try to start every day with hot water and lemon - even when I travel!

I try to start every day with hot water and lemon - even when I travel!

Morning Routine

Imagine if I told you you're not allowed to drink ANY water for 8 hours today. Think about it… that's what happens when you sleep! It’s one reason among many why starting off the day with water (before anything else!) is so critical.

Leave a full mason jar or water bottle on your nightstand and drink it all first thing in the morning. For extra accountability, I like to pretend I'm not allowed to leave my room until I finish. I find it wakes me up and gets me on track right away without doing much work. If you have a long commute, I highly recommend doing this as a way to avoid chugging closer to your departure time and then needing to use the bathroom during your travels.

habit change health coaching aileen aspire

If you’re thinking “But Aileen, coffee is my morning ritual and I’m not giving that up (especially for boring water)!”

…I get it, and you don’t have to! But you can leverage that existing habit to build this new one.

Two of my health coaching clients have a ritual of making coffee first thing in the morning without any thought or effort (can you relate?). Each of them now leaves a water bottle/glass next to the coffee machine with a goal of drinking at least as much water as coffee before it brews, or before drinking it. If this is part of your routine, give this a try!

Office Routine

Often when we think we're hungry or craving certain foods, we're actually just dehydrated. When we're fatigued, or have trouble concentrating, it can be for the same reasons. Instead of drinking water, we reach for the mindless snack or grab another cup of coffee.

At work, when we’re in busy mode, we might go the whole day without really drinking any water (I’ve been there!). When that afternoon slump hits, and those stale donuts in the kitchen seem extra tempting, go to the water cooler instead and fill up. If you hydrated in the morning, your bathroom trips will help you move from your desk more during the day, which will actually help your productivity (fresh perspective!) and counteract so much sitting.

See how a little change can create a ripple effect?

Nag yourself

Until drinking water becomes such a ritual that you don’t even think about it, you need reminders. I’ve had clients set alarms or push reminders on their phones, leave sticky notes on their desks and in their kitchens, set up recurring calendar reminders, and drink from bottles that have the time of day on them for extra accountability.

Which of these might be useful for you?

Outside the glass

Eating foods that have high water content can be a nice life-hack if you don’t drink enough water simply because you think it’s boring. Some of these foods include pineapple, watermelon, lettuce, cucumber, strawberries, zucchini, and celery.

 

In addition to how much you're drinking, what you're drinking out of is also important. I’ll do a future post about water quality and filters but focus on the simple stuff for now.

Did you know plastic water bottles (even reusable ones that say BPA free) can leach phthalates into your water? These are hormone disrupters and linked to ADHD, breast cancer, male fertility issues, and more. You may not even notice how often you drink from plastic, but here and there at the gym, conferences/work events, summer BBQ’s and picnics adds up.

One simple solution: buy a reusable water bottle made from glass or stainless steel.

Luckily there are tons of affordable options on the market (see my wellness resources for my faves). You may even get motivated to drink more if you have a fun bottle – nerdy but true! Make a habit of leaving it by your keys or in your work bag, or even have one at work and one at home, so you have it on the ready.

These are some of many ideas to help you up your water intake, one of the simplest ways to address a myriad of health concerns. Simple "healthy habits" like drinking water aren't usually mind blowing new information, and I think it's the same for a lot of nutrition.

It's often not about the fancy new superfoods or trendy workouts, but the basics like drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, breathing, moving, and eating real food. I'm grateful to help people cut through the chaos of the wellness world to get back to the basics to find better health. 

Which of these can you put into practice, or what other ideas do you have to make new hydration habits? How can you make some tiny tweaks in time for summer? Cheers! 

health coaching habit change water aileen

Interviewing Tips

Helping people prepare for interviews is one of my FAVORITE things to do (yes, I realize how nerdy this makes me sound, but I’m okay with that).

interviewing help aspire aileen career coaching

There's so much anxiety and fear that comes along with the excitement of landing this precious time with an employer. One of the reasons why I love it so much is because it's so rewarding to use my holistic perspective and coaching skills to move people through those feelings to a place of confidence.

If you're battling a bout of the pre-interview scaries, read on to get moving!

The first thing to do is remember that there's a reason why you're being interviewed!

Really, that’s step one. It sounds simple, but my clients often get swept up in the overwhelm and overlook this critical information. Employers go through hundreds or thousands of applications before narrowing the pile down to a first round of interviews. They don't have the time or resources to interview you just for fun. Something in your application materials made them interested enough in you to connect.

Use that not only as a confidence building tool, but also as guidance on how to prepare. Go through all of your application materials and know them like the back of your hand. Assess what you think, from their perspective, is most attractive about you and practice speaking to those things.

This may sound obvious, but so many people have information on their resume that’s from a few years ago and when I ask them to tell me about it they fumble with remembering what they actually did.

Take a peek at your resume right now and skim to one of your oldest bullets – is that true for you, too?

Don’t let this happen with an employer. You may think the older information has nothing to do with the prospective job, and you may be right, but sometimes they’re intrigued to learn more for exactly that reason. It can break up the monotony for them when reading resumes of candidates with very similar backgrounds and experiences.

In summary: be able to speak to every single line on your resume.

The more you “overprepare” for an interview, the less anxiety surrounds it and the more you’ll be able to start off the conversation from a place of confidence.

Continue to use the clues you have in front of you to keep plugging away, instead of jumping over and Googling “interview questions.” If you followed my exercise for how to write a cover letter, you’ve already dissected the job description (if you haven’t, download my free guide to help make cover letter writing less painful while simultaneously setting yourself up to be ahead in your interviewing prep work). Based on the themes you’ve noticed in the post, you can anticipate what types of questions you’ll be asked, and then practice them out loud. You can also find sample interview questions on recruiting or career services sites, like these here.

It will likely be uncomfortable practicing out loud, but it’s always worth it.

The way you think you’ll answer something in your head often translates very differently when it comes out of your mouth. Notice what part of the job or skills you feel weakest in and spend extra energy practicing how you’ll approach those instead of just hoping they won’t ask you about them.

Next, scour the company website, Glassdoor, and the news to be as informed as possible about how they’re branding themselves and what information is widely known about them.

Lastly, ask for information if you don’t have it.

I’ve had clients get so excited to be asked to interview that only later do they realize they don’t have very important information. One extreme example is when a client of mine didn’t even have a job description! He’d done an informational interview and they asked him to come in and interview the next day for a position that hadn’t even been posted yet. He accepted the interview and then had no idea how to prepare. When I asked him if he asked them for the details he said no. It’s a completely reasonable thing to ask for, and after some encouragement he realized he had nothing to be afraid of and sure enough they sent it his way when he asked.

Consider: Who will you be meeting with? How many people and at what times (and if it's a full-day interview, what snacks will you bring?)? What are the details of the job? Can you confirm the location, especially if they have multiple locations?

I can go on, but these guidelines should get you off to a very comprehensive start.

One last thing... If you’re nervous, don’t forget to breathe!

Deep belly breaths will help trigger your relaxation response to counter that stress. There’s debate about some other more holistic approaches to your mindset and physiology, but breathing should definitely be on your to-do list.

I'll do future posts on how to answer two of the most dreaded questions – “Tell me about yourself” and “What’s your weakness?” Let me know if you'd like to also read about what to do if you have NO idea how to answer a question, thank you note etiquette, how to navigate the salary expectation conversation, or how to manage your energy when interviewing for hours or are introverted.

If you have questions in the meantime, feel free to reach out or send this along to a friend who is job searching!  Good luck!  

Should You Quit Your Dream Job?

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Dream Job. What’s yours?

I was looking back over old emails when I saw what I wrote to a reference of mine a few years ago. “eeeee this is my dream job!!” …yes, I wrote “eee” and no I don’t recommend you do that in your emails to your references, unless you’re very close to them like I was in this case!

Considering I'd left that job to start career coaching on my own full-time, it got me wondering if I’d labeled any other former jobs the same way. Sure enough, after some digging, I found older emails about other jobs I’d held where I described them in just the same way.

Now, maybe my 20-something-year-old self just had a tendency to overuse the phrase, but it got me thinking about our development and how it shapes our perspective of what our “dream” is…

In my opinion, one of the keys to both our personal and professional success is the ability to continuously reevaluate the things that matter to us.

But it can’t stop there and happen in a vacuum.

We then have to look at how our life is, or isn’t, providing space for us to experience those things.

So often, we don’t take the time to slow down long enough to do this reevaluation (in either a formal or informal way).

When I led a work life balance workshop recently, I invited participants to do a pen-and-paper version of this exercise. Once they completed it, and looked truthfully at their lives, they were shocked to see how little overlap there was between their values and their daily actions.

When we name what these disconnects are, it helps us to understand where possible sources of anxiety and frustration may come from.

For example, let’s say one of your values is spending time with friends and family, but work is so busy that that’s been more of an afterthought. If there’s no indication you’re going to be less busy any time soon, you may understand why you’ve been getting cranky on Sunday nights before the workweek begins.  

So, what changed for me 10 years after initially using this "dream job" phrasing?

My passion for career coaching remained strong, but my interests and skills expanded to include health coaching and yoga. The combination of some changes in my office, coupled with an unanticipated spike in clients, led me to feel pulled in too many directions. I had a check-in with myself (and my husband!) to assess it all and realized that I valued the success of my business, and the ability to tap into these newer skillsets, more than the work environment of higher education I'd previously adored. It took some time to process the notion of leaving this previous dream behind for a newer one, but I haven't looked back since.   

How can we be proactive about making sure we’re living in alignment with our values, before too much time passes and stress builds to scary levels?

Here are some ideas:

  • Prioritize bringing more awareness into your life, in general. Continuous awareness of how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking will make it less likely that you’ll wake up one day wondering how you ended up wherever you are. Meditation (especially apps like Headspace!) can be a great way to increase awareness while decreasing stress.
  • Schedule check-ins with yourself. Just like many employers have performance reviews, you could set up an annual or semi-annual values review.  
  • If you need extra accountability, schedule a check-in with a friend, colleague, or career coach. It doesn’t have to be anything formal but some people need this kind of structure for it to actually happen. It can also be helpful simply to get out of your own head.

These are just a few ideas. In what other ways can you bring more self-reflection into your life?

Make a commitment to put these practices into place now, so that if life moves along and you notice your dream job is no longer fulfilling you in the same way it used to, you’ll be empowered and informed enough to take action.

mindful eating aspire with aileen

P.S.

I'll be talking more about self-reflection and mindfulness as it relates to the way we eat our food in a blog post soon. If you're interested in the topic, I'm hosting a free "Mindful Eating" talk in Boston in just 2 weeks too! Details here

 

The Biggest Advantage of Writing a Cover Letter

True or false: you rolled your eyes at the thought of writing a cover letter, or perhaps let out an audible sigh?

Cover letters are one of the biggest sources of frustration my clients have - before they start working with me. I empathize with them and acknowledge that this isn't a fun activity, but after we cover what they're really all about, along with some strategies to figuring out what employers want to read, it's much less painful of a process. 

So, what's the biggest advantage writing a letter will give you?

The space to show your knowledge of and passion for the organization.

Sound obvious?

Maybe, but OVER 80% of my clients don’t address this at all in their letters. The most interesting part is that they often think they do. When applying to mission-driven organizations, it's even more critical.

For example: One client was applying for a competitive role without much full-time experience. The global health organization described itself as "relentlessly committed to improving the health of poor and marginalized people." She highlighted founding a national HIV/AIDS awareness group as well as her four health-focused internships abroad. She also spoke to her commitment to the mission and the passion she'd bring to the role and ended up landing it. If the employer was just using her resume, she wouldn’t have looked as qualified.

One other advantage... 

It's extremely hard for your personality to shine on your resume, but you can begin to show it in your cover letter.

With so many places hiring based not only the skills you have, but also your fit with the office culture, this is a big chance to shed some light on that side of yourself and demonstrate how it aligns.

Thinking you need to start writing cover letters, or revamping your current approach to them? Get my full FREE guide to writing cover letters here. Here's what one client had to say about the guide:

I now use Aileen’s “Cover Writing Guide” every time I write a cover letter, and its the single best resource I’ve found in my job searching process. Honestly, she has unlocked the mystery for me in cover letter writing and more importantly, how to decipher a job description so you can really understand what the potential employer is looking for. Its like magic but way simpler!
— 2017

It includes tips on how to figure out what you can just rely on your resume for, examples of when you don't need to write one, how to get past writer's block, and more. Enjoy!

Cinco de Mayo Recipe Roundup

health coaching recipes healthy food aspire with aileen

Tomorrow is Cinco de Mayo and the beginning of a season of holidays and vacations where we can tend to overdo it. This may come in the form of overeating refined sugar and processed foods, imbibing in a little too much booze that can be filled with lots of additives, or simply overeating in general which happens a lot in social situations.

Later this month,  I'll share more about my tips for how to balance participating in these celebrations without compromising your wellness goals. But for now, I'm sharing a few favorite recipes for your weeked celebrations!

To Drink

Avoid the neon green margarita mixes you see as they're loaded with sugar and artificial dyes. Here are two tasty options for less processed margaritas, should you choose to drink.

Photo from Lexi's Clean Kitchen

Photo from Lexi's Clean Kitchen

Easy, delicious appetizer

Lexi's Clean Kitchen Sweet Potato Sliders

You may have noticed on my Instagram stories that I've been making a version of these every time we have people over (which has been a lot since moving into a new house!) and it's always a hit. 

I keep it pretty basic and just cut and roast the sweet potatoes and make my own guac:

  • Mash 2 ripe avocados 
  • ½ a lime
  • Himalayan sea salt (has 84 minerals your adrenal glands need!)
  • Lots of cumin
  • Some turmeric
  • Some onion and some garlic powder

I don't measure anything and just season to taste and it works every time!

For grazing

...or if you need another vehicle for taking guacamole to the face, we can't get enough of the Siete Grain Free Tortilla Chips. The sea salt and lime flavors are amazing as well, and I find the nacho flavor doesn't need any dip/guac and stands on its own. Be careful, for me, these are a "once you pop you can't stop" situation! 

Fish Tacos

This is a staple in our house, as it takes very little time to prepare and can easily be tweaked to be vegetarian. If that's of interest to you, just pick a few veggies you'd like in the mix and sautee them in their own pan (let me know if you don't know how to sautee and I'll teach you!). Mushrooms and onions are our go-to's.  

The rest is also super simple! We take wild cod  (or another white fish- always wild caught), season it with old bay, and then cook it in our cast iron skillet in coconut oil or ghee. If you're super rushed, you can stop there.

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We use bibb or romaine lettuce as our "wraps," or if we've thought far enough in advance the Siete tortillas are delicious and are the only non-processed wraps that I've tried that actually hold the fillings without flaking and cracking. You can find these, and the chips, at Whole Foods.

We then add any of the following:

  • Kimchi for crunch, spice, and probiotics (find this in the refrigerated section of the grocery store)
  • Avocado or guac
  • Mixed greens/spinach and/or microgreens to add extra nutrients
  • Salsa (make sure it's sugar free) or Cholula for more kick 
  • Plain 2% (fat helps you absorb the other nutrients) greek yogurt instead of sour cream or Kite Hill  plain cheese for a dairy-free option 

Meat-Free

This Slow Cooker Mexican Quinoa could not be any easier - I sometimes use sweet potato instead of squash since there are some picky eaters in this house. 

Dessert

Photo from NomNom Paleo

Photo from NomNom Paleo

MEXICAN CHOCOLATE POTS DE CRÈME (DAIRY-FREE!)

I've been meaning to try this one, but Nom Nom Paleo is one of my favorite spots to find really flavorful recipes, so I'm confident this will be a winner! Let me know if you try it. 

 

I love helping people find ways to take the foods they love and make them healthier. Life is full of celebrations and food is often at the center of these events. Why shouldn't we celebrate with real foods that make us feel good and still taste great? If you're interested in talking more about how to do this, reach out for a free consult.

Hope you enjoyed this recipe roundup!

Sitting in Stillness

Guiding students through a body scan and breathing exercise at Barre Yoga Juice

Guiding students through a body scan and breathing exercise at Barre Yoga Juice

My feelings about yoga started off lukewarm at best. I'd heard so many people raving about it that I basically expected a transformational experience after only a few minutes on the mat. I know now why it's called a practice.

I dabbled with taking a class here and there, but after going to Bikram (a 90 minute class where the room is heated up to 108 degrees) and being sweat on by someone else, I decided it wasn't my thing. 

It wasn't until I was going through one of the most challenging times of my life that I came back to yoga and finally connected with it on a deeper level. Tangent: I'll do a blog post on why this time in my life was so hard and discuss how choosing to get rid of toxic people in your life can be the hardest yet healthiest thing you do for yourself.  

I can't remember what the instructor said exactly, but she spoke about more than just how to move our bodies. About how some of what comes up on the mat relates to life off of the mat. I may or may not have shed a tear or two, and this wave of understanding why people felt so profoundly connected to yoga washed over me.

Recently, a different instructor of mine said:

"The hardest thing you can do is sit in stillness with yourself. It's harder than any yoga pose."

I thought about this, and how our culture and society idolizes being busy, never slowing down, and barely sleeping. We pride ourselves on how full our plates are (literally and figuratively). Even in our "down time" while watching TV or scrolling through social media, we're being actively distracted instead of mindfully reflective about what's going on inside.   

We've become so accustomed to this that the idea of sitting with our thoughts can sound not only foreign but also fear-inducing or not worth our precious time.

In the moments when we want to, and maybe even try to, slow down and sit in that silence, we often don't know what to do. Or it feels too hard.

So, what DO we do then?

There’s a loophole.

You can be a part of a community with others while doing this challenging internal work. A yoga or meditation class is the exact space for that. If you’re nervous to try one, maybe a friend is also interested and would go with you. If you don’t like yoga, apps like Headspace provide a virtual community for you to sit in stillness with others while in the comfort of your own environment. 

You can also ease your way into stillness by doing reflective activities to tap into what’s going on inside. I do this with my career coaching clients by helping them determine their drivers and asking them what they really want to do, if they could do what they want instead of what they think they should do.

With health coaching clients, it’s through giving people tools to help them figure out what foods actually make their bodies and minds feel good, instead of mindlessly eating or just following wellness trends.

What keeps you from sitting in stillness?

Do you make time for it, but fail to follow through? Are there certain parts of your life that feel easier to avoid by keeping yourself busy? Do you just genuinely forget to take time to check in with yourself?

How different might your life look if you took just a few moments each day to simply breathe and acknowledge where you are?

aspire with aileen yoga and wellness

Come sit in stillness with me this Sunday (4/30)! I'll be leading the restorative yoga (aka lots of laying, stretching, and breathing) portion of a wellness workshop. We'll enjoy free Juice Press samples and you can enter a raffle to win a free 60 minute mini-intensive health coaching session with me ($150 value). Details and registration here - only $19 for 90 minutes of class + freebies!

My Wellness Story

Last week I shared my manifesto. Now I want to share a little bit more personal of a story with you to give you a sense of my path to pursuing wellness.

When my older brother was only 27 years old, he heard the words that change a person’s life forever:

YOU HAVE CANCER.

To be specific, it was Stage IV Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and he had a football sized tumor in his chest. After 5 different chemotherapy regimens and a stem-cell transplant, he was in remission and has been ever since.

If you or one of your loved ones has ever had a health crisis, you know that the impact of this type of news is far reaching. He was the healthiest member of our family by far – able to run marathons like they were 5K’s.

If I’m being totally honest, his diagnosis gutted me.

That was in 2008 and I still get choked up when I talk about it sometimes. It’s only in hindsight that I can now see how big of an impact his journey to health had on mine. One of the things that terrified me, among the MANY, was the reality that this could happen to someone who was so thoughtful about his health.

It jolted me into taking a more serious look at my own.

I was in graduate school and my budget, coupled with my single girl status and disinterest in cooking for one, led to eating lots of processed food (a Taco Bell Crunchwrap Supreme was only a couple bucks and transported well to class!). When it came to anything sugary, I’d find myself in the following cycle: seeking out and eating way more than intended, feeling guilty, and then trying to justify my actions to myself or others who witnessed the Cookie Monster course of events. 

I used to be so exhausted that I’d hit the snooze button four times before waking, take a shower, then take a quick nap before being able to start my day. I was used to feeling consistently bloated and foggy, having lots of trouble with my digestion and skin, and getting constant colds that would linger for weeks.

It was easy for me to brush each issue aside in isolation from one another, but after seeing what my brother went through I had a newfound appreciation for all that our bodies do for us and a yearning to treat mine with more care. 

I wanted to collectively look at my lifestyle choices and assess where I could, and should, make changes.

Luckily, a friend of mine was studying to become a health coach, and through working with her I confirmed that both needing a nap 10 minutes after waking up and being sick all of the time weren’t normal... but it didn’t have to be this way.  

After working together for a few months, I was less bloated and barely ever got sick, my skin cleared up, and I felt this new, incredible sense of energy, productivity, and clear-mindedness. From there, I was hooked on learning anything and everything wellness related and sharing what I learned with anyone who would listen.

Seeing how I was able to impact people's lives with my newfound knowledge motivated me to commit to becoming a Certified Integrative Health Coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition™ (IIN).  

While I’ll never know what caused my brother to develop cancer, I know I’m motivated to avoid foods, products, and habits that are linked to the disease. I’m excited to continue to share my passion for holistic wellness with others, whether their lives have been touched by a health crisis or not, and help them discover how to feel healthier themselves.

If any of my story resonated with you, or you have other wellness goals you're aiming to reach and just want that extra accountability, let's connect for a free 30 minute consultation. More information on offerings and my approach here!


lymphoma survivor cancer advocacy boston

If you're wondering about my brother, I'm so happy to share that he is many years into remission now, and even has a beautiful and healthy daughter! This photo was taken in 2009 when he had just been released from the hospital after a stem-cell transplant. He jumped into the finish line of a half marathon I did to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. A few weeks later he found out he was in remission!

Manifesto

In case you're new to my website, my manifesto is one of the best ways I know how to introduce myself. It encapsulates the three areas of my business (career counseling, health coaching, and yoga) and hopefully helps you get a sense of what perspective I bring to my work with my clients. 

manifesto career and health coaching

I believe life is short, but the days are long if you’re not happy with what you’re doing or if you’re uncomfortable in your own skin.

I believe we hold more power over our paths than we typically imagine. Our original circumstances are certainly out of our control, but if we ask the right questions of ourselves, we often find that opportunities to ignite change are plentiful.  

I believe laughter and food are both medicine.

I believe that our breathing can be an amazing instrument of change.

When I wake up in the morning, my very first thought is how grateful I am for my health and how excited I am to be spending my day doing what I love. It breaks my heart knowing some people feel nothing but dread from the moment their alarm goes off until their head hits the pillow again.

I believe we often get in our own way, unintentionally, and that the power of human connection can be a magnificent force in helping us shift our perspective.

I believe in my mantra “To know even one life has breathed easier because you’ve lived- this is to have succeeded” (Ralph Waldo Emerson) and hope to help you breathe easier. 

 
Photo by Pure Style Photography

Photo by Pure Style Photography

 

I couldn't find a way to incorporate my assistant, Buster, into my manifesto so I'm sharing a photo of him with me to make my introduction complete! (It may not look like it in this photo but I swear he loves me too.)

More on Analysis Paralysis

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about what I do. When I describe it, some people seem surprised to see a passion for both career and health coaching while others realize how interrelated the two are.

One commonality I've noticed is that in both areas, I see “analysis paralysis” because of a tendency to rely a lot on other people and sources for making decisions instead of turning inward.

I see this in career coaching when people ask everyone (including Google) to tell them what to do with their lives. They’re left with a million opinions that are all based on the values of the people giving the advice. Every person has a different perspective because of their differing values and that, coupled with using the interwebs to get advice, leads to lots of conflicting information and overwhelm. 

In health coaching, this shows up when my clients try to follow all of the latest diet and fitness trends. The recommendations from one source are typically the opposite from another (For example: Fat is your friend! Fat is the devil!) and can lead to instant confusion and frustration. While there's a lot of good information out there, a lot of it assumes that what worked for one person will work identically for another and ignores the important concept of bio-individuality

This makes sense when you think about how we’re typically taught about wellness –  we often eat the way our families or the government has told us to, based on their traditions or definitions of healthy. With exercise, many people stick with the sports that were required in school or the general guidelines given by medical providers or social media.

So, what do I recommend people do differently?

The answer in both cases is essentially the same:

Stop. Slow Down. Breathe. Turn Inward

In career coaching, I always advocate for people to make decisions based on their internal drivers. Specifically, using their VIPS (values, interests, personality, and skills) to guide them can increase their likelihood of being satisfied with their jobs. Many people come to me when they’re finally ready to do this. They admit that they've had a nagging feeling in their gut all along that something was off, but they just followed the advice or expectations others put upon them.

In health coaching, I help people learn how to quiet the noise and chaos of the wellness world. I share ways to pay attention to not only what they eat, but also the way they eat it, and how they feel afterwards. I also encourage them to find the type of movement they actually enjoy.

When people change things up and eat the foods they feel nourished by, and exercise in the ways that their individual body craves, they're much more likely to continue than when they just go through the motions of following what they've been told they're "supposed” to do.

This may sound so obvious, but can you think back on a time when you behaved differently than this? Maybe it’s still going on in some areas of your life today? 

These are just two examples of how I see people tune out what their intuition has to say about the career move that will make them happiest or the foods that actually make them feel good. By solely looking externally, people get so much more overwhelmed by all of the options available and that’s often what makes them too afraid to make changes or take any action.

I didn't know what graphic to use for this post, so this my best attempt at an "I'm thinking" photo. Image by Pure Style Photography

I didn't know what graphic to use for this post, so this my best attempt at an "I'm thinking" photo. Image by Pure Style Photography

Though career and health coaching are indeed very different, in both areas I help people slow down, cut through all of the information overload, and see that it really can be as simple as turning inward to find the answers. It all comes back to asking the right questions and taking the time to do the work.

 

If you’re interested in learning more about either of these areas of coaching, reach out here for a free 30-minute consultation!