10 Mindfulness Tips to Combat Holiday Stress

life-coach-washington-dc-2It’s mid-December, and the holiday season is in full swing! If you’re like me, you’re enjoying the fun, the family, the celebrations, the mad dash to finish things up before the end of the year. It’s exciting! But more often than not, all that energy and excitement can leave you feeling overworked, overwhelmed and overindulged.

Several of you participated in November’s holiday challenge, which I posted on the blog about a month ago. I encouraged each of you to, above all else this holiday season, be the one who listens – to the people around you, to yourself, to the season itself. One reader told me that it was just the tip she needed when gathering with family. Thank you for the positive feedback!

Hanukkah is already here, and with Christmas and New Year’s right around the corner, we’re really moving into the thick of it. It’s timely for a list of mindful antidotes for common stressors that pop up this time of year.

This Holiday, Be Mindful to …

1. Take breaks.

If your schedule like mine is chock-full of work and personal holiday parties, these back-to-back celebrations can start to feel overwhelming. Leave yourself time to be a human being and not just a human doing during the holidays. Give yourself some time to do absolutely nothing – or say “no” when you feel tired or overextended.

2. Hydrate.

In winter, we’re not as mindful about drinking water and dehydration can crop up as a result. When at a party or holiday gathering, consider making sparkling water your beverage of choice and save the wine and champagne for the meal or the toast. Or to prevent yourself from drinking too much, alternate each cocktail with a full glass of water.

3. Smart eating.

At the holidays, we are inundated with mass amounts of food – often the type of food we wouldn’t be caught eating during the rest of the year. There’s no reason to deprive yourself, but smart eating at this time of year can be so important. Instead of thinking about your waistline, think about how eating in moderation leads to better sleep, more productive days and a healthier outlook.

4. Practice self-care.

This isn’t entirely selfish. Taking care of yourself allows you to be able to be more attentive and calmer when you’re with others during the holidays. Don’t neglect yourself in the name of everything that has to be done “for the family” or to close out the books at work. In other words, don’t be a martyr to the holiday season. You’ll likely find that when you take excellent care of yourself, it is possible to be kinder and more giving to others.

5. Observe, stay curious and grateful.

Around the holidays, there’s pressure: what is expected of me at this family gathering? Will the person I care about accept my gift in the spirit in which it was intended? Pressure can also manifest as loneliness, when we long to spend the holidays with someone we can’t be close to for whatever reason.

But what if you were to observe others with curiosity, rather than judgment? They certainly are feeling the same holiday pressures. If we can approach things with a spirit of curiosity and gratitude, we’ll certainly see things we hadn’t noticed before.

6. Family: Be the solution.

Based on not-so-pleasant past experiences, combined with the upcoming impending mix of different personalities, many of us worry about family drama cropping up during the holidays. Of course there are often very real difficulties surrounding the interpersonal dynamics of our family. But this year, instead of getting caught up in fuelling the fire, commit to being the solution or helping to keep the peace.

7. Listen to people.

Let’s keep our November challenge going! During the holidays, you spend time with people you may not see or talk with very often. The family gatherings and office parties offer opportunities to listen to people who need to be heard. Be mindful of the chances to listen without an agenda and be fully present.

8. Donate your time to help those less fortunate.

The holidays are a particularly poignant time to practice the art of compassion, to think of others needs before our own. There are so many opportunities to give during the holidays, including material things, smiles, time, and emotional support. This will certainly give your holidays more meaning.

9. The “true meaning.”

This time of year is full of expectations we put upon ourselves to get it just “right.” We may tell ourselves things have to look, taste, feel, and be a certain way. We may even think things have to be “perfect, which of course, is never possible. It is especially easy to get caught up other people’s expectations or the commercial version of what the holiday season means. But taking the time to mindfully reflect on what matters, whether it be our religion or tradition, or even the healing power of love, helps us to keep our perspective as the year draws to a close.

10. Practice gratitude.

If you have the capacity to read this post, it’s likely that you have more people, experiences and things in your life to be grateful for than you can possibly count. So start counting anyway, and when you get to 30 or so, pause, reflect and soak in the grateful feelings.

Consider the Gift of Life Coaching this Holiday Season

Need an ally in this work? Give the gift of life coaching to yourself or someone you love this holiday season – it might be the best gift of all! Schedule your free initial Life Coaching consultation today. We’ll chart the processes you need to tune into that still, small voice of your values and intuition, approach every season of your life with intention, and revolutionize your relationships with active listening. Let’s explore how you can have what you want and live with more ease, freedom, joy and meaningful connection to those around you. It can be now and it can be simple.

Contact me for a complimentary, no-obligations life coaching consultation. Or use the Appointment Scheduler and pick a time that works for you. I coach 90% of my clients over the phone, and my DC-based Life Coaching clients have the option of meeting with me in person. I look forward to hearing from you.

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25 Ways to Open Yourself to New Possibilities

life-coach-washington-dcI often look at interesting architecture, like the building pictured, and wonder how the architect came up with such new innovative ideas.

How can we free ourselves up from what’s been done in the past and begin to see what’s possible?

My life coaching clients tell me: sometimes it’s difficult to see what’s possible. They feel stuck in an old way of thinking.

The beautiful thing is, through working together we can often break old habits and cycles. Together, using life coaching tools, exercises and navigated conversations, we can modify our thinking, develop action steps and see new results. When we do so, my clients are able to unlock the life they’ve always dreamed of … sometimes, totally new possibilities they’d never before imagined.

Here’s a quick guide to get you thinking: 25 unexpected ways to open yourself to new possibilities. Read this list and start dreaming about what’s possible!


1. Challenge your beliefs about what you can do. What do you tell yourself you can and can’t do? Maybe you are an athlete, leader, or great at relationships.

2. Examine your ideas about how things should work. Shoulda, woulda, coulda! Sometimes my life coaching clients are stuck around how things should be .. rather than building on their strengths to make changes. Focusing on your ability to be effective in the world as it actually is.

3. Look for opportunities. Focus on gratitude. Avoid a victim mentality. Focus instead on your gratitude for the good things you already have, and prepare to receive even more. Read my post on how to start a gratitude journal here.

5. Let go of something that doesn’t serve you. Whether it’s eating up your time or your energy, you never know what you might let in when you let something go.

6. Commit to starting something you always say you’ll do. Make this your time to actually do it.

7. Turn your focus from something don’t want or fear to something you do want. Instead of “I don’t want to always be scrambling to get everything done,” think about how it would feel to have an abundance of time or energy. Instead of worrying about being overweight, focus instead on getting healthy. Prioritize and organize your thoughts to make changes. This allows you to shift from complaining and feeling miserable to taking action and getting closer to those good feelings you want.

8. Identify the blocks that keep you from breaking a bad habit. Anytime you improve your habits, you pave the path for personal excellence. My life coaching post about how to raise your personal standards is a great place to start.

9. Forgive. It’s old news, but it’s true: holding a grudge hurts you more than it hurts the person you’re upset with. Removing that block will open you up where previously you’d shut down.


10. Take the long way home … with your eyes open for opportunity. You may find a gym you want to join or an organization where you’d like to volunteer. Even a new French pastry shop you want to check out! (Taking pleasure in the small things in life is allowed and encouraged!)

11. Make an effort to connect with people. Whether it’s in the line at the coffee shop or an extra sincere “thank you” to the person who helps you at the local library, smile and make eye contact, even ask someone how they are. Being even slightly more open can open up your world.

12. Learn a new skill. Start taking piano lessons, karate classes, cooking classes – whatever strikes your fancy. Read about the first time I took a kickboxing class … and what I learned about myself in the process … here.

13. Volunteer. There are so many worthy charities! Soup kitchens, Meals on Wheels, the ASPCA, Martha’s Table … the list in DC where I am based is practically endless. Take a look at places to volunteer in your city. Getting involved takes so little and most people who do it reap far more rewards far beyond their expectations.


14. Offer to help someone else. Provide a meal or do laundry for a young Mom stuck at home with a new baby. Help someone with mobility limitations with their grocery shopping. Go to a big box store’s layaway counter, tell the person at the counter you want to pay off someone’s layaway, and tell them your budget. Sometimes random acts of kindness are the best way to help yourself, and not just for the warm fuzzy feelings it provides. You never know what you’ll learn through the process.

15. Carpool to work. A friend of mine did this 20 years ago as a single guy. Today he considers the man he carpooled with one of his closest friends, their wives and children are also close friends. There’s no guarantee what could happen, but you’ll at least get the chance to get to know coworkers better. It might even improve your career!

16. Compliment a stranger. For years in DC there was a man in Adams Morgan locally known as “The Compliments Man.” Instead of asking for money, he made his living giving compliments to strangers. What a beautiful thing to do.

17. Do something you enjoy … alone. Go to a museum, read a book in the park, go to a movie or eat out by yourself. Enjoy your own fabulous company!

18. Listen more actively. David Augsburger famously said, “being listened to is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.” There are so many ways to be mindfully present in your conversations, and practice active listening when someone else is speaking. Read my previous post on how to revolutionize your conversations with mindful listening. Click here to participate in my mindful listening holiday challenge!


19. Show up a half-hour early for work. You’ll get more done, you may impress your boss, and you might open yourself up to opportunities for growth, particularly if your coworkers aren’t around.

20. Hold a meeting outdoors. You might be shocked at the creative ideas that come out of this one!

21. Hold a meeting standing up. A colleague of mine started this practice with her sales team for their morning meetings that were dragging on and beginning to feel like drudgery. This will most likely make your meeting shorter, meaning you’ll be more efficient and create more time to work on something else.

22. Create an unusual business card. Use it to describe what really matters to you about your work. You might feel silly at first, but those I know who put this into practice were shocked at how well-received it was – and how many new conversations it opened up!

23. Attend a or conference that’s big in your industry, or that you don’t typically attend. Or, attend a conference in your target industry – even if you’re not there yet! Collect at least ten business cards, and follow up with emails the next day.

24. Check Meetup.com to connect with like-minded people. There are so many neat things to do! Start your own group or join one that already exists.



…. that time I tapped into my “Horse Sense.” Click to read about it!

Need an ally in this work? Changing our habits our getting out of a “rut” can be challenging. But I believe that we can change our lives one day at a time. We’re not broken, and we don’t need fixing. We have everything within ourselves to create the life we’ve always dreamed of. With the right tools, powerful questions and the intention to create something great, we can determine where we want to be and get there. We don’t even have to know what “our best life” looks like, just that we want to live it.

Contact me today for a complimentary, no-obligations life coaching consultation to explore the possibilities. Or use the Appointment Scheduler and pick a time that works for you. I coach 90% of my clients over the phone, and my Washington, DC-based Life Coaching clients have the option of meeting with me in person. I look forward to hearing from you.

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The DC Life Coach’s Holiday Challenge: 7 Ways to Listen

dc-life-coach-holiday-challengeLast year around this time, I wrote about setting a positive intention for the holiday season. Everything in life is a choice, even during the holiday season. The bottom line of that message for the holidays was this: a life of “have-to’s” creates more stress, overwhelm and discontent. I challenged my readers to swap out the “have-to’s” on their holiday to-do list with “want-to’s.”

I was thrilled with the results of this challenge. Several readers wrote me saying that instead of moving through the holiday season reacting to the world around them, they were able to set an intention to create the holiday season they wanted. From one reader:

“This post changed my Christmas experience! I didn’t use my sterling silver OR my good Bermuda linens!”

They created more:

  • joy
  • love
  • belonging
  • gratitude
  • creativity

… and less:

  • perfectionism
  • certainty
  • exhaustion
  • self-sufficiency
  • judgement

They felt happier and had a better holiday season as a result!

This Year’s Holiday Life Coaching Challenge: Practice My “7 Ways to Listen”

I’ve written about gratitude in the past, but I’ve discovered that most of us get it utterly wrong. More often than not, human beings are a bit egocentric by nature. We have a tendency to think and talk about ourselves even when we should be thinking and talking about others.

“Being listened to is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.” ― David Augsburger

As we approach Thanksgiving, a time when we focus on gratitude, ask yourself: what are you thankful for – and what are you really craving?

Time with your children or grandchildren? Time in nature? Time to yourself, to just unplug and relax?

I believe that when we dig deeper, what we’re all craving is connection – to nature, to those we love, even to ourselves. This is rooted in living in the present moment, and practicing gratitude. How can we then mindfully create the world we want to live in this holiday season, one full of this type of connection?

The Life Coach Says: “I’m Listening.”

I used this phrase with a client recently, who was going through a rough patch. She quickly told me that it was the most powerful thing she’d heard in a while.

As a Life Coach, it’s my job to listen. But I believe that especially during the holidays, if we learn to listen first, we can truly revolutionize all of our relationships – even our relationship with ourselves. As the old adage goes, that’s why we have two ears … and one mouth. So we can listen twice as much as we speak.

Here are my top 7 mindful listening practices you can start using this holiday season to help transform your conversations:

1. Put your brain in gear before putting your mouth in motion. Instead of thinking through your response when someone else is talking, take your time. Focus on the other person’s words and what they’re actually saying. When it’s your turn to speak, mindfully pause and let the words come to you.

2. Be present. We may think we can predict exactly what someone else will say, especially if we know them well, so our minds wander. To pull yourself out of this habit (no matter how repetitive you think the conversation is!), practice mindfulness by focusing on the words that are being said at the present moment. You will almost certainly begin to hear things you’ve never heard before.

3. Listen without prejudice. Try to catch yourself labeling the other person’s words, or putting them into a category in your mind. Observe the words without putting a judgment on the words.

4. Let go of agenda. Many successful people have been trained to focus on the outcome of every interaction. They may get what they want in business, but often “check out” when speaking to a friend, spouse or loved one. The result: lots of hurt feelings when the other person’s needs, hopes or wishes aren’t heard. To listen mindfully, you’ll need to let go of having an end result. Let yourself simply “be” in the conversation. I predict that not only will you begin to enjoy the conversation more, but you’ll probably get more out of it, too.

5. Prompt yourself to continue to be mindful with your speech. Summarizing the other person’s words (“here’s what I hear you saying,”) and asking for permission to respond (“I’ve formed some views based on what you said. Would you like me to share them?”) are great ways to remind yourself that you are actively, mindfully listening. For more tips on how to mindfully listen to others, read my previous post, “Revolutionize Your Conversations With Mindful Listening.”

6. Listen to nature. Look around you. Notice what the birds and beasts are doing. I’ve noticed my (dog? cat? Do you have an animal?) for one is taking more time to rest. Shorter days and longer nights are nature’s signal to all of us to go easier on ourselves in preparation for the colder days ahead. We all have the ability to tune into our own circadian rhythms and take more time for self-care and rest, even when the world around us is pushing us to go faster and harder this holiday season.

7. Listen to yourself. Just as each day unfolds from dawn to dusk, so does our full life span. As we move through the seasons of our lives, if we really listen we will observe that each phase offers opportunities to grow in character, compassion, understanding, and self-awareness. Taking a private moment to mindfully listen to yourself is just as important as listening to other people when they speak. At first, when you are quiet, you might hear that constant voice inside your head, telling you all the things you should worry about, predicting all the ways you’ll fail, telling you all your perceived strengths and weaknesses. But as you delve deeper, you will discover that this is not you at all. When you’re able to turn down the volume of that false self-talk and tune into the still small voice of awareness or intuition, you’ll begin to operate from a place of more precision and joy. This is the place from which you can begin to tune into who you really are, what you really want, and swap out the “have-to’s” on your holiday to-do list with “want-to’s.”

The Life Coach’s Holiday Challenge to You

headshot-facebookImplement these 7 tips this holiday season – I would love to hear what happens! My prediction: you will become more likable, friendly and better able learn from every conversation you have – and you’ll also enjoy your own company a whole lot more!

Need an ally in this work? Schedule your free initial Life Coaching consultation today. We’ll chart the processes you need to tune into that still, small voice of your values and intuition, approach this holiday season with intention, and revolutionize your relationships with active listening. Let’s explore how you can have what you want and live with more ease, freedom, joy and meaningful connection to those around you.

Contact me for a complimentary, no-obligations life coaching consultation. Or use the Appointment Scheduler and pick a time that works for you. I coach 90% of my clients over the phone, and my DC-based Life Coaching clients have the option of meeting with me in person. I look forward to hearing from you.

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Tapping Into Your “Horse Sense”

“Horse sense is the thing a horse has which keeps it from betting on people.” -W.C. Fields

horse-sense-for-coachesI was mesmerized by the interactions of a horse, unresponsive to training so far, and a professional “horse whisperer.” As the two interacted inside the ring, the trainer moved around the horse watching, walking, talking, petting, directing and even complimenting. After 45 minutes, trainer and horse had become partners. The horse whisperer was able to guide the horse to follow him, do figure eights, turn around, back up and more. What began as a tentative encounter ended as a veritable horse/trainer ballet.


Last week I had the unique opportunity to witness Louis Wood‘s work with an untrained horse out in horse country just outside Washington, DC. I attended this leadership program, the same one chosen by hundreds of Fairfax County First Responders, as continued professional development so I can stay on the cutting edge of leadership training and psychology to serve my Washington, DC life coaching clients better.


Later seated on the horse, Wood was able to move in different directions without using a bit or reins. He used his knees and heels to motivate the horse to move, without whips, tugs, pushes or food rewards. After an hour of this, the owner of the horse was brought in to saddle up and ride. In short order, she was astonished as she too was also able to ride and guide her horse bareback, under Wood’s close supervision.


“Horse Sense” for Professional Life Coaches

Before there was Emotional Intelligence (EI or EQ), there was “horse sense.” The opposite of “book smarts,” “horse sense” is a great term for the practical knowledge and good judgment about ordinary life that so many people exhibit.

The term is completely applicable to the leadership principles and coaching competencies Mr. Wood embodies. His approach to leadership development is incredibly helpful for those who wish to engage the heart, mind and body to create meaningful partnerships with clients and colleagues, using the beautiful metaphor of his work with a 2,000 pound horse.

“Horse Sense” and Emotional Intelligence

According to psychologist Dr. John D. Mayer, who has published extensively on emotional intelligence, here is what EI is NOT:

  • Agreeableness
  • Optimism
  • Happiness
  • Motivation
  • Calmness

Someone with a high EQ DOES have the ability to:

  • perceive emotions
  • access and generate emotions to assist thinking
  • understand emotions
  • regulate emotions (of both yourself and others)

getting-my-horse-senseHorse whisperer Louis Wood would never have been able to accomplish what he did with the horse if he relied on his personality traits alone. Sure, he was a charming guy. But his “horse sense” had nothing to do with that. It had everything to do with his ability to perceive, understand and regulate both his own and the horse’s emotions. He was able to take charge of and control what happened next with the horse because of his ability to manage the “mood” in the ring.

People who are considered to have high EI can solve a variety of emotion-related problems accurately and quickly. They can correctly perceive emotions in other people’s faces, gestures and words, and what the emotions convey. For example, they know that angry people can be dangerous, that happy people want to relate with others, and that sad people often prefer to be alone. High EI people can manage their own as well as other people’s emotions. They know how to use the “mood” in their own lives to promote specific types of thinking. Solving problems requires less cognitive effort for those high in EI.

This is why the old-school methods of “breaking horses,” according to Mr. Wood, are not only outdated. They’re less effective. In the same way, I find that when many of my life coaching clients come to me, they’ve (unsuccessfully) tried all manners of self-flagellation, guilt, pushing, striving and grasping to get what they want. This is why life coaching with an ally or guide like me can be the one thing that helps my clients break through to a new way of living.

You’re No Horse … I’m No Cowboy

washington-dc-life-coach-catharine-ectonAs a Life Coach, I am friendly and a people person. I develop great relationships with all of my clients, and we have fun with coaching. But first and foremost, I am not my clients’ friend. My primary role is as their advocate. My clients have come to the realization that they don’t need another parent, sibling, friend, or co-worker telling them what they should be doing. They are ready to pursue the life they were born to live, and have always dreamed of – not to please others or fulfill someone else’s dreams, hopes or aspirations for their life.

As your Life Coach, my job is to move with you, ask questions to bring you to “aha” moments, and work through my proven coaching methodology and toolbox to help you along in the process of self-discovery. It has nothing to do with me or my personality traits, and everything to do with helping you live life to its utmost potential. Unlike a friendship that involves give-and-take, a life coaching relationship is unilateral – it’s a one-way street exclusively focused on you and your goals.

Like the horse and his trainer, we establish a relationship of mutual trust and respect. We observe, watch, listen, and feel to learn from each other. (Read more about how Life Coaching differs from therapy or the advice of a good friend.) This type of relationship allows my clients to work through goals, achieve them and have a fulfilling life without so much frustration and overwhelm. I love the metaphor, but we can agree: you’re no horse, and I’m no cowboy. But if you sometimes feel like a racehorse, primed and ready to break through the gates and run the race meant for you (but not able to quite see what’s holding you back) schedule your free initial Life Coaching consultation today. We’ll chart the processes you need to remove fear, jump over roadblocks and squash any anxiety around them. Let’s explore how you can have what you want and live with more ease and freedom … the kind of freedom that comes with living life on your terms.

Contact me for a complimentary, no-obligations life coaching consultation. Or use the Appointment Scheduler and pick a time that works for you. I coach 90% of my clients over the phone, and my DC-based Life Coaching clients have the option of meeting with me in person. I look forward to hearing from you.


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Invite More Playfulness into Your Life

How to Play MoreOften, when my ambitious Washington, DC life coaching clients come to me with their “big goals” and aspirations, I ask them:

“Where are you finding your creativity?”

This is often met with blank stares. My hardworking clients are not used to thinking about creativity, or how to build it in their lives. (Read my previous post where I answered the reader question, “Catharine, how do I cultivate creativity?”.)

Do you know the #1 way I’ve found my clients build creativity?


“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” -George Bernard Shaw

Eureka Moments

How many times have you puzzled over something while staring at the computer, only to gain insight while on a run or in the shower? I know I personally have had many such moments.

  • Sometimes, leaning into the grind is what we need to do to be more productive.
  • Sometimes, inviting more playfulness leads to flashes of insight.

Being playful and playing as an adult is so much fun, but most of us have been trained out of it.  We’ve learned to be more serious, to put work ahead of everything else. But what does this ultimately “cost” us?

  • We have learned to give up play because we think playing is for children and frivolous people who aren’t serious about getting ahead.

Well, guess what: play is for everyone, even adults and “serious people. The more you practice playfulness, the more your creativity will flow.

Play helps my life coaching clients do these key things:

  • Reduce their resistance to new things
  • Feel better / more relaxed
  • Access more creativity
  • Become more resourceful
  • Become more successful
  • Have more fun
  • Become more fun to be around!

How to Let Down Your “Work Hard” Philosophy & Use Play to Your Advantage

Some people are naturally more playful than others. While I have a good sense of humor and find humor in so much of life’s contrasts and challenges, I’m not that good at actually playing … so I actually have to put it on my to-do list, and schedule play time into my calendar.

It’s up to you – you can either fall back on your “yes, buts” of fear, worry and beliefs such as “I have to work hard to get ahead” … or you can trust the experiments I’ve done with myself and others and start to be more playful. Start your own personal experiment about how play helps you attract more abundance into your life.

If you’re trying to access more playfulness in your life, schedule some of these into your overly-busy calendar:

Playtime with kids or grandkids. You can’t really engage with young kids without entering the world of play with them. Let them show you the way and leave your grownup mind behind.

Take a walk or day trip without any plans or route. To make it extra playful, toss a coin to decide on the direction you’ll start out in. Then just go wherever you are drawn. Let your playfulness lead the way.

Art without agenda. Go to Michael’s, buy some supplies and start sketching, watercolor, sculpting or whatever you did when you were younger (I bet you did all of these!) Let go of your need for your art to be any “good.” Just enjoy the process of creating it.

A magnetic poetry kit, crossword puzzles etc. Keep them where you spend a lot of your hours and play with them whenever you get creatively blocked.

A dinner party or other gathering focused on “fun.” Get some kids games, art supplies, and just hang out and have fun. Laugh as much as possible.

Get outside. Break the routine of your day with a walk in nature or around the block, and leave your phone, music and pedometer at home. Breathe deeply, you are at play!

Play with your dog. If you don’t own one, borrow one from a friend, volunteer to walk the dogs at an animal shelter, or go hang out at a local dog park. Even just watching dogs play can be fun!

Keep kids toys at your desk. Having them around will automatically lighten things up, but playing with them when you’re bored or in a bad mood will help even more.

Dance. Running, walking or exercising to music is one thing. But really cutting loose and dancing is another. Kids are great at this!

catharine-headshotNeed to add some playfulness and levity to your life? Enlist an ally to help you in this work. Call me, Life Coach Catharine Ecton or schedule your free Life Coaching consultation today. You can have what you want, live with more ease and bring your life into alignment.

Contact me for a complimentary, no-obligations life coaching consultation and we can work on your goals together. Or use the Appointment Scheduler and pick a time that works for you. I coach 90% of my clients over the phone, and my DC-based Life Coaching clients have the option of meeting with me in person. I look forward to hearing from you.

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Goals & How to Make Them

dc-life-coach-goalsMy life coaching clients come to me when they feel stuck, want to change something or want to do something different in their lives. They are looking for support, direction and coaching to help them reach their goals. For big or small goals, working every day towards getting there can be an uphill battle. Unless you see yourself slowly making progress, your dreams and aspirations are merely vague notions floating around in your imagination.
Are you finding some bumps in the road for fulfillment or success in:
  • your career,
  • your relationships with spouses, partners, adult children,
  • health and fitness,
  • or motivation to get started doing something new?

Will Writing Down Your Goals Help?

Perhaps you have heard of the Harvard Business School study of goals in which only 3% of the graduating class had specific written goals for their futures. Twenty years later that 3% was found to be earning an astounding 10 times that of the group that had no clear goals.

I was going to use this study as the basis of a post about the importance of writing down your goals … but it turns out that this “study” is actually an urban myth! Even though this study is widely cited in literature and business circles about how to properly set goals, investigative reporting by Fast Company magazine revealed that no such study had ever been done.

My research shows that once this myth was debunked, Gail Matthews, Ph.D. at Dominican University, undertook a study of her own. It focused on how goal achievement is influenced by writing goals, committing to goal-directed actions and being accountable for those actions.

  • Matthews’s study supported the positive effect of accountability: those who sent weekly progress reports to a friend accomplished significantly more than those who had unwritten goals.
  • She also showed that those who wrote down their goals accomplished significantly more than those who did not write down their goals.

The Life Coach Says, Wait a Minute: There’s a Problem With Goals

Beware, though. When you’re working toward a goal, you are essentially saying, “I’m not good enough yet, but I will be when I reach my goal.”

The problem with this mindset is that you’re teaching yourself to always put happiness and success off until the next milestone is achieved. “Once I reach my goal, then I’ll be happy. Once I achieve my goal, then I’ll be successful.”

The Solution: Practice or Process-Oriented Goal Setting

When we place unnecessary stress on ourselves to lose weight, succeed in business, get that next certification or to write a best-selling novel, we are focusing on outcomes.

I’m going to let you in on a little life-coaching secret.

To keep things simple and to reduce stress, I have my coaching clients focus on the daily process – the things you need to do to accomplish your goals, not the goals themselves – and then stick to a schedule. This helps them minimize anxiety about their big, life-changing goals.

When you focus on the practice instead of the performance, you can enjoy the present moment and improve at the same time. It’s a win-win.

The Evolution of Goals

In spelling out or writing down a goal, we inevitably try to plan out where we will be and when we will make it there. That’s the whole point, right? We try to predict how quickly we can make progress, even though we have no idea what circumstances or situations will arise along the way.

But how can we know when to step up and when to step back? How can we tell when we need to do more and when we need to trust the process more? What’s the difference between shaping the future and trying to control it?

This is especially applicable for parents, or anyone who manages people. If you’re not mindful, you can suck the joy out of your child’s schoolwork, sports or hobby. You can completely squash your team’s creativity.

Even if we commit ourselves 110% to these goals, we can end up overextending ourselves.

We need to remind ourselves to stay open to new possibilities, but chance can be a scary place. It’s the realm where things could go wrong. It’s the place where anything could happen, things are unpredictable, where you don’t feel you have a say or a choice.

Some of my Washington, DC Life Coaching clients are used to being in charge. Others are finding their way through unemployment, retirement, or changes in their lifestyle and relationships. It can be difficult to draw the line between being too heavy-handed and bringing stress into their goals, and simply being proactive and taking responsibility for them.

It can feel terrifying to simply let things happen, particularly when the stakes are high – when you care about something so deeply that it feels like a piece of you. But I promise you: it may sound cliche, but it’s all about the journey. Sticking to a process or practice is guaranteed to get you to somewhere great.

Staying True to Your Values

A lot of people put the ladder against the wrong building. Their goals are not aligned with their life’s purpose, so when they achieve their goals, the cost is their health or their relationships. According to Brendan Burchard, author of “High Performance Habits”, high performers value their own well-being more than any other demographic measured.

“I expected that these folks would be more stressed, their health would be more compromised, they would feel lonely at the top,” Burchard says. “I was wrong.”

Compared to their peers, high performers:

  • Are less stressed
  • Are healthier
  • Are 40% more likely to exercise 3-5x per week
  • Report higher levels of happiness
  • Report having more positive relationships

This has everything to do with the alignment of their goals and their life’s purpose.

If you’re trying to find the middle ground between pushing and allowing, you may find these tips helpful:

  • Accept that things may not go according to plan.
  • Remember that you can’t control what other people do. You can only control who you choose to trust. You can’t guarantee a specific outcome, but you can do your best to enable an effective process.
  • Be shaped by your goal. Obstacles to getting what you want will come up. Learn and let those obstacles shape your desires, intentions, and efforts.
  • Let go of fear around not achieving your goal. If you keep going, good things will happen—both now and tomorrow—even if you can’t predict or control exactly what those good things are.
  • Remember to be mindful of your health, well-being and relationships. The highest performers always are! (Isn’t that liberating?)
  • Use positive self-talk to motivate yourself, and stick to the process.
catharine-headshotYou can work through your goals, achieve them and have a fulfilling life. You can get there with much more ease when you enlist an ally to help you in this work. Call me, Life Coach Catharine Ecton or schedule your free Life Coaching consultation today. We’ll chart the processes you need to remove fear, jump over roadblocks and squash any anxiety around them. You can have what you want, live with more ease and bring your life into alignment.

Contact me for a complimentary, no-obligations life coaching consultation and we can work on your goals together. Or use the Appointment Scheduler and pick a time that works for you. I coach 90% of my clients over the phone, and my DC-based Life Coaching clients have the option of meeting with me in person. I look forward to hearing from you.

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Back to School: The Other New Year

Back to School_ The Other New Year

Fall can be a refreshing new beginning for my Washington, DC area life coaching clients. Some call it “the other New Year” because it’s a time to re-set and re-focus. I love hearing from my grandchildren around this time. Their sense of excitement, anticipation and even nervousness about the new school year is contagious. Who will be in their class this year? What will their teacher be like? Do they have all their school supplies ready? What will they wear on the first day?

I also vividly remember shipping my kids off to college, and starting at a university campus myself as a young person. That sense of freedom, new people to meet, new things to learn, new books to read and endless possibility was like electricity in the air.

Regardless of our age, we can and should tap into this type of wide-eyed enthusiasm during this time of year. What can you learn this year as the country’s young people return to school? How can you cultivate your interests and give your life more meaning?

Focus on Your Curiosities

If you no longer partake in the activities or hobbies you’ve enjoyed since childhood, why have you stopped? When was the last time you read a really great book, took a class you loved or engaged with a fascinating teacher?

As a Life Coach, I’ve found that the following are the typical reasons adults do something:

  1. Obligation
  2. Because it’s trendy
  3. Because our friends are doing it
  4. Because we have a degree or training in it.

Ignore all that noise. Instead listen for a voice nudging you in a certain direction. Forget what you “should” be doing. It’s okay to do things that are outside the box. They may not even make rational sense, and this might produce some anxiety. It’s okay to try something different simply because it piques your interest. (Read about the time I took up kickboxing – yes kickboxing! – here.) Remember: living an authentic life doesn’t come from people-pleasing, it comes from just being you.

Do the Work Gently: Show Up for Yourself

One of my clients wanted to get back into public speaking, something that really lit her up but she hadn’t had the opportunity to do for several years. Together we worked on showing up at networking events where she could practice her pitch, setting aside time to rehearse, and booking a few low-key speaking engagements to get her started. Setting realistic, measurable goals and holding clients accountable for their progress is my specialty as a Life Coach. When the work also aligns with their values, it happens more effortlessly.

Many of us are not used to seeing self-discipline in a caring way – as a way of showing up for ourselves, our interests and our desires. This makes doing the work possible, without self-flagellation, guilt, doubt or drudgery.

It’s one thing to work from a place of excitement, purpose and joy. It’s a completely different experience to work in an attempt to prove yourself and gain accolades from others. So take care to do the work gently. Do not use discipline as a workhorse to get to where you think you “should” be.

Working a day job while discovering and pursuing a side interest demands a lot of time and focus, but you can honor both needs: one for economic stability and the other for authenticity. Even if we don’t work a day job, are going through a job transition, are retired or otherwise, it is easy to get sucked into the routine of life, never really doing anything that truly lights us up. But balancing career, things we “must” do like chores, and family or social life with our personal interests is critical to leading a full, enriched life with meaning.

Beware of attaching a desired “outcome” to every new thing you try. The best part of trying something new or tapping back into a forgotten interest might not be immediately apparent. Sometimes the “new thing” can be slowing down, taking a walk in the woods behind your house, or playing a game with your family. Just focus on what makes you feel more like you.

The Life Coach Recommends: Recess

Remember having an hour of recess to just run, play, and jump? Carve out a little time each day or each week to give yourself a break, whether that’s doing a paint-by-number, or dancing to your favorite song. It may seem silly at first to “schedule” this time, but it will help you have the discipline to show up for yourself. Don’t have any agenda for this time, but you might be surprised at what bubbles up. Human beings’ greatest creativity and solutions to ongoing problems sometimes are found when we simply disengage and give ourselves time to just be.

How to Light Up Your Life Like a Kid Starting School

First: Drop the Frustration

Feeling burned-out and overwhelm about all of your loaded “goals?” Think about “curiosities” or “interests” instead. You can’t have too many! Consider and play with the many things that interest you, without agenda. You may want to try things people have thanked you for, something you’ve always been good at, something you value or that lights you up. At first this might make you feel nervous, and that’s okay. Be childlike, and don’t feel the pressure to commit to just one thing. This is your life. Enjoy the process.

Next: Set Some “Homework”

Here are some ideas:

  • Miss your favorite sport from high school? Check out your local basketball, volleyball or soccer league. Starting Master’s Swimming at my local YMCA was nothing short of life-changing for me.
  • Love to create art but can’t find the time? Hit your local craft store for inspiration. A friend of mine recently rediscovered watercolor painting after a long time away when she discovered “portable” watercolor brushes at Michael’s. Over the summer she was able to combine three of her passions when she packed her new watercolor set in her beach bag. She was able to spend some quality, relaxed time painting while her kids played.
  • Are you extra sad when your houseplants die? Sign up for a gardening or horticulture class. You might be surprised at how much better your mood is when surrounded by vibrant green plants at home.

at-desk-brightIf you get stuck, enlist an ally to help you in this work. I’m here to help you. Call Catharine Ecton Life Coaching or schedule your free Life Coaching consultation today.

Contact me for a complimentary, no-obligations life coaching consultation and we can work on lighting up your life, giving it more purpose and meaning. Or use the Appointment Scheduler and pick a time that works for you. I coach 90% of my clients over the phone, and my DC-based Life Coaching clients have the option of meeting with me in person. I look forward to hearing from you.

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Improve Self-Confidence by Practicing Humility

washington-dc-life-coach-2In my work as a Washington DC based life coach, I have noticed that humility is a terribly underrated virtue. Here’s something that may not surprise you:

I have never begun work with a life coaching client in DC whose main goal is improving humility.

Not exactly a news flash, is it.

No, many of my new clients cite “improving self confidence” as one of their main goals. This sounds about right in our success-obsessed culture.

Today I tried a Google search for “improving self confidence” and found 4 million plus results.


When I Googled “improving humility,” I found a scant 268 articles on the topic. “Practicing humility” was slightly more popular, with a little over 14,000 results. I find it fascinating to note trends in what we focus on when we think about areas in our lives that need improving.

I think when we truly examine ourselves, humility is always going to be a key trait. In her book “Getting Grit: The Evidence-Based Approach to Cultivating Passion, Perseverance, and Purpose”, my friend and fellow USMS L4 swimmer Caroline Adams Miller defines how to create “grit”, or perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Grit is now recognized as one of the key determinants for achievement and life satisfaction. In her book, Caroline writes:

“Authentic grit is marked by humility, which never promotes itself but rather attracts others. Authentic grit is strikingly devoid of narcissism and the need to be recognized for what one does. Quite the contrary — those with authentic grit know what matters, and don’t need anyone’s approval or praises, nor do they seek publicity to boost their confidence or self-esteem.”

As a life coach, I have found that humility and self-confidence go hand in hand. When my life coaching clients approach a task or goal with humility and the desire to learn, they naturally develop the self-confidence required to be successful.

Perhaps the desire for self-confidence actually has more to do with a desire to improve skill. For example,

“I want to be more self-confident in social situations.”

Might actually mean:

“I want to be more skilled in social situations.”

I personally have had many lessons in humility over the years, including a stint with a pottery wheel while living in Japan. I really applied myself, but I never could create the delicate teacups my pottery instructor tirelessly tried to teach me to make. Trying again and again with that clay and the moving wheel certainly was a humbling experience.

My work with one of my life coaching clients inspired this post. Read on to discover how some of the takeaways from her sessions might apply to your situation, too.

Life Coaching Client Peg’s Story: “This Has Been A Lesson in Humility”

Those were the words Peg* said to me partway through our coaching session as she had a personal breakthrough and learned something very important. She realized she was not able to change someone else and mold them into the person she wanted. Peg had been dealing with a difficult divorce for many months. She knew that creating her new life would require her to make many important, difficult choices. Through coaching, together we realized that in order for her to succeed, she would need to give up her need to control the situation.

After that initial observation, Peg dug into her life coaching sessions a little deeper. It soon became clear to both of us that seeking the approval of others was the main thing causing a disconnect from her own values and goals.

  • People-pleasing was blinding her from seeing new opportunities for herself.
  • It was also blocking her from fully embracing her new life and reality.

After defining what she really valued and wanted out of life, Peg had to leave behind her entanglements with others and remind herself of her strength and determination to get to her own deeply held goals and desires.

Letting Go of Old Habits Requires Humility

Letting go of the habit of trying to control others is never easy. Together in our coaching sessions, we examined some past choices and failures. We were able to pinpoint times she had sacrificed what she really wanted because she was trying to please or control others. Peg began to see that she did long for the approval of friends and family, but that worrying about how she came across to them adversely impacted her decisions. She began to face her fears of standing out alone for what she believed in, and began to ground herself more deeply in her own personal values.

With a spirit of humility, Peg was able to let go of seeking the approval of others.

  • Today she has a quiet, unspoken inner strength that doesn’t require praise.
  • She would never be mistaken for a shy or introverted person, but appears cool and confident as she works to achieve her goals, good-naturedly moving forward.
  • She feels secure within herself and understands that she doesn’t need to focus on how others see her.
  • She is more focused on improving her life for herself.

Life Coaching: Improving Humility and Confidence

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “fake it ‘till you make it.” For a short time, this can work. But invariably, negative feedback undermines fake confidence. To top it off, by assuming a level of confidence above your skill level that you have not yet earned, you cut off opportunities to learn. Instead of accepting feedback and adjusting your actions, you just ignore it. Humility fosters growth; false confidence restricts it.

I believe that humility and confidence can be developed in tandem. If you are skilled at something, you can be confident in your level of success, but at the same time humble enough to understand that there is still a great deal of room to learn and grow.

at-desk-brightFor example, as a life coach I’m confident that I can help each one of my clients who truly commits to the process of coaching to achieve his or her goals. But I also realize that my own room for growth is tremendous. Because of this, I continue to invest in my own professional development through classes, trainings, my online presence, technology tools and continuing education. Being aware of my own room for growth, I’m humbly allowing myself to have an even greater impact on this world. Here are three easy steps you too can take to cultivate more humility in your life:

  1. Recognize that you are human and imperfect – but still worthy
  2. Observe your thoughts and emotions without judgement and with compassion
  3. Foster and express gratitude. (A good start is keeping a gratitude journal. Read my post How To Keep a Gratitude Journal.)

To go deeper, contact me for Life Coaching. Our work together will give you the concrete strategies you need to work on humility, build self-confidence and keep you on track in achieving your goals. Many of my clients say I’ve helped them tap into their most deeply-held values. I have helped clients start new careers, businesses and projects based on the things they are most passionate about. Contact me to schedule your complimentary 30-minute session. We can begin to chart a course into a fresh start together.

If you are craving a life full of joy and fulfillment, consider working with me through Life Coaching. With the right tools, navigated conversations and the intention to create something great, you can discover ways to live your best life. Let’s get started now on identifying what you want … and find a way to get you there.

Contact me for a complimentary, no-obligations life coaching consultation to discuss the possibilities. Or use the Appointment Scheduler and pick a time that works for you. I coach 90% of my clients over the phone, and my DC-based Life Coaching clients have the option of meeting with me in person.

*Names have been changed to protect the confidentiality of my life coaching clients

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Life Coaching for Motivation: How I Got My “Zip” Back


As a Life Coach, I’m endlessly fascinated by the topic of motivation. It seems to be at the core of so many of our struggles as human beings. You might be surprised to learn that I too struggle with motivation! I had begun to feel my early morning swims were becoming routine. Sure, I connected with people I enjoyed. It was great exercise. But I had stopped competing about three years ago. I began to ask myself, what was I doing it for?

My new swim coach

Dr. Delghi: my new swim coach is also a chiropractic doctor

Then recently, L4 changed coaches. Coach Delghi, pictured with me at the pool above, is also a chiropractic doctor. When she started working with us, she spent time asking the right questions:

What are your goals with swimming?
What do you hope to accomplish at practice today?
Why are you here?

Even though these were the exact same questions I had been asking myself, working with Coach Delghi I felt a renewed connection to the sport I love. This is because of 3 Cs that I also practice in my life coaching:

  • Connection
  • Caring
  • Capabilities

Connecting to someone who cares, who has capabilities and with whom I have a connection is helping me stay focused.

Life Coaching: How to Stay Motivated

Scientific American recently posted an article about motivation that backs this up. Researchers looked at students, athletes and employees, and identified three critical elements of long-term motivation:

Autonomy. Feeling in charge, self-directed or pursing an activity for its own sake (the opposite of feeling “forced” to do something) predicts how motivated people are to stick with a particular course of action.

Value. Reflecting on why an activity is meaningful to you specifically, or how it aligns with what you value, can make you feel more invested in it.

Competence. Plain and simple: if you’re good at something, you’re more likely to keep doing it. But what does that mean for those who are trying to master something new?

  • Researchers found that those who credit innate talent for their own personal successes tend to give up more easily when facing a new challenge.
  • Those who talk about getting there through “a lot of hard work” are able to sustain motivation longer.
  • Believing in yourself, and the value of your hard work, is key to keeping you inspired.

Life Coaching: How to Find Your “Zip”

So what are my goals for swimming? I told Coach Delghi I’m working on my “zip”. Here’s how:

  • Practically, I’m not trying to swim faster.
  • I’ve begun counting my strokes and breaths, working on becoming more efficient as I swim down the pool. I asked Coach Delghi how many strokes and breaths she takes. She’s such an efficient swimmer, I realized her count was above and beyond what I wanted to try for. Just working on minimizing my own strokes and breaths one at a time has really helped me focus.

The result: I’m not on auto-pilot anymore when I swim. I’m focused, putting more energy and thought into each lap.

Working towards an unrealistic goal can get frustrating, and can actually sap our motivation. The timing has to be right to take on a new challenge. Being in cruise control was fine for me last year last year. Sometimes switching it up to a new activity or regimen (like when I tried kickboxing) is more helpful.

But now I’m on a roll, and the momentum is carrying me forward. When I get home in the mornings and find my husband just waking up with his morning coffee, I feel ready and excited about my day. I’m already in first gear, ready to shift into second. It puts me in a positive and energetic mood for my day. I even find myself thinking, “maybe I should get back into competitive swimming …”

My “zip” spills over into other areas of my life and day. I find I have more energy, I’m thinking more positively, I have more focus, and more interest in connecting my “lessons learned” in swimming to new areas of my life.

Remember: The kind of “zip” I’m getting from swimming is a feeling. Feelings come from within, not without. I believe that when we work on creating the feelings we want from within ourselves, we inevitably watch the whole world open up like an oyster.

at-desk-brightIf you get stuck, enlist an ally to help you in this work. I’m here to help you. Call Catharine Ecton Life Coaching or schedule your free Life Coaching consultation today. In my blog about Life Coaching vs. Therapy, I discussed the differences and reasons why you might want to hire me as your life coach. You can also learn more about how Life Coaching differs from from friendship here.

Contact me for a complimentary, no-obligations life coaching consultation and we can work on lighting up your life, giving it more purpose and meaning. Or use the Appointment Scheduler and pick a time that works for you. I coach 90% of my clients over the phone, and my DC-based Life Coaching clients have the option of meeting with me in person. I look forward to hearing from you.

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How to Live a Balanced Life

Life Coaching for Life Balance

I was listening to a podcast recently about work/life balance. The conclusion the ladies hosting the podcast came to after much discussion threw me a bit. They said:

“There is no such thing as a work-life balance.”

As a DC life coach, my #1 personal goal is to live a balanced life.

When thinking about finding life balance, my life coaching training prompts me to consider “being” vs. “doing.”

  • Some clients focus on external things like work, relationships and activities, or “doing.” They pay very little attention to what is going on inside their heart and mind.
  • Some spend so much time being reflecting or “being” that they can miss out on the experience of living.
Have you ever tried walking a slack line? This is a low type of tightrope, popular on ropes courses, strung up between two trees. There is usually a second line above, for holding on. Slack lines are pretty wobbly, and you need to use every muscle to stay in balance. Now, imagine losing your balance. You might have to let go of your desired destination and step off the line for a moment. You might fall, but you’ll probably land on your feet. You can dig in and hang on for dear life, but the only way you’ll make it across is to compensate whenever you start to lose your balance.
You might lose your balance often, even constantly. But after a little practice, you generally know exactly what you need to do to regain it.

When examining your life, consider the level of balance you have in the following areas:

  • Mind: Challenging yourself intellectually vs. giving your mind time to rest
  • Heart: Giving vs. receiving love
  • Health: Eating healthfully, drinking water, exercising vs. resting and indulging
  • Work: Pushing yourself to achieve vs. being content and/or celebrating where you are right now
  • Social: Satisfying social desires vs. taking time for yourself
  • Family: Creating family togetherness vs. setting healthy boundaries
  • Fun: Allocating time for things you enjoy vs. making sure you don’t overdo it

Perhaps living that elusive “perfectly balanced” life at all times, in all circumstances is impossible. But getting closer to balance in all of these areas is something we can all strive for. The simple practice of striving for balance can lead to living a more authentic, fulfilled life.

If you get stuck, enlist an ally to help you in this work. My clients overwhelmingly tell me that they’ve discovered fulfillment through life coaching, and a whole new approach to their lives. (Read my many happy client testimonials here.)

Contact me today for a complimentary, no-obligations life coaching consultation and we can work on lighting up your life, giving it more purpose and meaning. Or use the Appointment Scheduler and pick a time that works for you. I coach 90% of my clients over the phone, and my DC-based Life Coaching clients have the option of meeting with me in person. I look forward to hearing from you.


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