You Are Stronger Then You Think You Are. Don’t let thinking trap you in a negative cycle.

We live in a society where strength is valued.  Our culture values physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual strength.  According to Ran Zilch (2010), strength means having physical power, having great mind and moral power, and having resources.  In the extreme culture we live in we see the strongest, the smartest, and the richest as the most successful and powerful.  As a result those of us that are normal and are not Dana Lynn Bailey,  not Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerburg, or are not Donald Trump believe we are not enough.

If this what we think then this is what we will start to believe.  If you believe you are not strong enough you will feel not strong enough.  This is not because you are weak it is because of automatic negative thoughts.  Every single day you engage in behaviors and make decisions, all of which require thinking.  Because of automatic thinking most decisions and behaviors are performed with ease and minimal effort.  Imagine how your life would be if it took great thought to brush your teeth, drive to work, or have a conversation with a friend.  Automatic thinking keeps us functioning from day to day (Epstude & Roese, 2011).  Negative automatic thoughts develop when we compare our realistic situation to our expectation.  Here is an example of how negative automatic thinking works, “If I am feeling depressed then I must not be emotionally strong enough” (Byrne, 2005).  This thought will develop in the mind with minimal effort and because your evaluation of the situation seems true to you, this thought will stick. Negative thinking can cause isolation and depression.  Because we value strength it can seem shameful to share these thoughts and feelings to someone else.  You may think something like, “if I say how I really feel people will think I am weak”.  People think that negative emotions means they are flawed.  Therefore people tend to keep these thoughts and feelings quiet. Research after research study cites the importance of support to improve health and accomplish goals.  However if we are letting our negative thinking get in the way then we are not allowing ourselves to accept support from others.

Negative thinking can be corrected.  It takes effort but using support from others will help correct harmful negative thoughts.  When in doubt, when unsure, when scared, when sad, and when upset one of the best things to do is reach out for support.  Here are some common negative thinking patterns that cause depression, frustration, and emotional upset and how you can use support to challenge the negative thinking to feel better.

  • “Should”‘ing all over yourself.  Thinking things that include “I should”, “I must”, “I ought” only cause us to feel guilty.  Thinking this way increases shame, frustration, and is a form of self-punishment.  Escape this messy trap by sharing this thinking with a trusted friend or loved one.  Allow yourself to be open to their feedback and listen to what they have to say.  Their perspective will eliminate your guilt and remind you do not “have to” do the thing you think you “must, should, or ought”.  Allow your loved one to tell you it is OK to break the rules from time to time.
  • What we feel must be true.  In other words if you are feeling sad and lonely you believe no one wants to be with you because you are a depressing person.  However research shows that interacting with people daily influences thinking (Lakey & Tanner, 2013).  If you want to counteract your negative thinking  encourage your family members to focus on the positive.  Or spend more time with people that are full of energy and positivity.
  • Focusing on only the negative aspects.  There are situations, circumstances, and trials in life that cloud the daily good things that happen.  Rather then recognize the positive things that can happen daily people become focused on only thinking about the bad and ignore the good.  To overcome this thinking trap try using capitalization.  Capitalization is the process of sharing the daily positive things that occurred with a loved one (Otto, Laurenceau, Siegel, & Blecher, 2014).
    Believe it or not, more positive things happen in a day then negative things (Gable & Haidt, 2005).  One study found that when women with breast cancer shared the positive daily events with a partner they experienced increased positive emotions and improved relationship satisfaction (Otto, Laurenceau, Siegel, & Blecher, 2014).  If you are struggling to see the good start a daily journal where you write all the good and all the bad things that happened in a day and share with a close friend or partner.


Byrne, R.M.J. (2005).  The rational imagination: How people create alternatives to reality.  Cambridge, MA: MIT. Epstude, K & Roese, N. (2011).  When goal pursuit fails.  The functions of counterfactual thought in intention formation.  Social Psychology, 42(1), 19-27.

Gable, S. L., & Haidt, J. (2005). What (and why) is positive psychology? Review of General Psychology, 9, 103–110. 1089-2680.9.2.103 Lakey, B. & Tanner, S. (2013).  Social influences in negative thinking and affect.  Cognitive Therapy and Research, 37(1), 160-172.

Otto, A., Laurenceau, J., Siegel, S., & Blecher, A. (2014).  Capitalizing on everyday positive events uniquely predicts daily intimacy and well-being in couples coping with breast cancer.  Journal of Family Psychology.  Advance online publication. Zilch, R. (2010).  Building inner strength. What does it mean to be strong?  Psychology Today.  Post published August 17, 2010 in Confessions of a Techie.

Fail to Plan; Plan to Fail

No matter what your goals in life it is very important to plan.  Developing a plan helps you stay consistent, establish a routine and helps maintain focus.  Planning requires evaluating goals and identifying steps to help keep these goals on track.  

I am not a planner, naturally.  I am what most would call “a rebel without a cause” and I definitely “do what I want, when I want”.  Planning has a way of limiting spontaneity, which is something that is needed or an exciting and thrilling life.  However as I became more focused on my goals, I found I was more willing to plan.  Perhaps it is maturity, but planning helps me be more successful.

Although I value and urge each of you reading to find balance, planning is a necessary evil.  Planning is needed to:

  • keep goals in perspective
  • stay focused on goals
  • limit excuses
  • reduces anxiety
  • develops success

I am currently preparing for a vacation with my family to New York City.  Despite my excitement about this trip I am 5 weeks away from my first bodybuilding competition and there is no room for error or mistakes.  Planning for my trip is essential to my success when I step on stage on July 5.  I had to plan ahead.  Here are the steps I took to plan for my trip.

  • Found an accountability partner.  I have notified my coach of my trip.  There will be lots of eating good and “dirty” food and there will be lots of activity and visiting with loved ones.  I notified my coach of the days I will be working out.  I plan to wake up early to complete my workouts for the day.  My coach is aware of this plan so that he can check-in and ensure that I did what I said I would do.  
  • I did research.  I needed as much information as possible to determine how I would work out, when I would work out, and what food I could bring with me.  I researched my hotel and I called the hotel to request a refridgator.  I also inquired with the hotel about the workout facilities available.  I know arriving in New York I will have a way to keep my food cool and a place to work out.  I also asked what equipment was available in the workout facility so that I knew what workouts would be available to me.  I researched the TSA so that I knew how to prep my food and what food I can carry with me on the plane.
  • I have prepped all my meals for the week.  Meal prep really does not take very long.  1-2 hours max.  I have prepared all my food for all 6 meals for all 7 days.  Solid food is OK to carry on the plane.  Each meal is placed in a small Ziploc bag.  Each Ziploc bag is placed in a tupperware.  I have pre-cooked my chicken, broccoli, sweet potatoes, turkey burgers, and asparagus.  My breakfast makes great waffles, so I have made all my waffles for the week and each day is placed in a Ziploc bag.  Protein powder can be carried on to a plane as long as the Ziploc bag indicates “Protein powder” and flavor on the bag.  I have scooped each days worth of protein into an individual Ziploc bag and then all will be placed in Gallon Ziploc bag.  The same was done for supplements.  I have labeled each bag with the day.  I purchased a Six Pack Fitness bag.  This will carefully hold all my food for the week.  Condiments and liquids cannot be carried onto the plane, however I purchased a couple of things I could not live without, like Stevia for example.  Unopened containers will be placed in the bag that I check.  All I will have to do each day is grab the food labeled for the day, and go.  I have packed a bag large enough to carry my food, but comfortable enough to tote around the city.

All this preparation has eliminated my excuses.  I know I have a gym to get my workouts in.  I know I have enough food for each day.  I do not have to worry about being hungry, stuck in a show, tour, or museum, and that I am hungry.  I will have my food on me.  I have asked my coach about eating out while on vacation.  I know what is on my meal plan and will check the menus of restaurants.  I can still enjoy the food but know what I can and cannot have.  I am not worried about what I will eat.  I am not worried that I will not be able to continue to prep for my competition.  A couple phone calls, a couple internet searches, and a little time will keep me 100% focused on my goal.  And this will allow me to have fun and enjoy the city and my family.  I will not have to feel guilty that I missed a workout or that I ate off plan.  I can relax.  I know that my preparation will help me stay focused and lead me to success for my goal.

A little planning is all you need for your success.  Planning is necessary for success with any goal, not only fitness or weight loss goals.  Know what you want.  Research how to get it.  Tell a friend/coach/professional about your goal and elicit their expertise and support and ask they hold you accountable.  Read and learn what others have done and follow their path.  

Confessions of a Bikini Competitor

I have neglected this blog for way too long. So first let me apologize. I plan to be more consistent. Now let me explain why I “fell off the bandwagon”.

For the last 5 or 6 years I have been a “fitness nut”. Since I began I would say I have consistently averaged 5-6 days a week in the gym and have had a healthy diet. It started out as a means to save money from eating out. Quickly working out became my sanity and it saved me from the stress and emotional upset of my full time therapy job. About 3 years ago working out became my part-time job when I started teaching group fitness classes. It was during this time that working out became not just a hobby but a passion of mine. Working out and eating well was fun for me. Over the course of time I found I wanted to challenge myself in the sport of bodybuilding.

I was always happy with the way I looked and felt very comfortable and confident with my body but I wanted to see how my body could change with discipline and focus. So in March 2014 I started prepping for my first bikini bodybuilding competition. With my excellent coach and my motivation to be successful I walked on stage July 5th, 2014 and placed 6th. I felt very proud of what I accomplished. The road to the stage was fun. It is exciting to watch your body become lean and vascular. My body really became a fat burning, muscle building machine. I am a competitor at heart and can honestly say I feel accomplished with my performance in my first competition. I believe that others found inspiration in my progress and dedication, and my accomplishment really does show that with hard-work and discipline anything is possible.

However over time I stopped enjoying eating well and working out because these things were now a chore. Most days I dreaded going to the gym but went because “I had too”. When I wasn’t in the gym I was obsessing about working out. I literally laid in bed at night and visioned myself doing the next days workout and cardio. Images of food and meal prepping consumed my every thought. The food I ate no longer tasted enjoyable because it was solely fuel. When I wasn’t eating, I was starving and literally counting down until I could eat again. I was exhausted mentally and emotionally.

As my contest drew closer I hired and worked with a posing coach (one of the best in my opinion). So every Saturday after my workout, rather than spend time with family and friends I drove close to 2 hours (one way) to practice my posing. I spent money I could have been saving for a retirement or starting a new business for me and my husband on supplements. I thought my food bill would decrease as I just ate the same thing daily, but our grocery bill doubled and I was spending over $200 a month on supplements. The food is not only expensive but it is also costly to compete. There is a fee to join the Federation, there is a fee for each contest, tanning costs about $300 dollars, there is the cost of hair and makeup, plus the cost of a hotel stay and travel. Alas, the bikinis the girls in the bikini division wear are gorgeous. They are also very expensive. Yet I choose to once again spend HUNDREDS of dollars on a bikini instead of saving, investing, or bettering my families future.

Sure my waist and my body fat decreased but so did my wallet and my self-esteem. Suddenly it became about being a certain standard and fitting into a mold. I prefer to stand out, be different, and quite enjoy not always fitting in. Yet consuming myself with working out and competing I found I wanted to be like other competitors and fitness professionals. On contest day I saw myself with my tan, my hair and make up done, my beautiful bikini, and did not recognize myself. I was no longer Stephanie, but rather some obsessed meat head.

I spent the weeks following my show thinking about my next show. I was now obsessed with not “getting fat” (whatever that means). So I continued to obsess about going to the gym and counting calories and macros. Still working out and eating well was not fun. As I began to gain normal fat back I felt self-conscious and disgusting. This is about the time I stopped writing and stopped trying to help, motivate, and encourage others. I was so over working out that I stopped teaching at my gym, and this was something I love to do. Was I depressed? Not clinically but I think I was in a dark place. I had become something and someone I did not want to be.

You see, I had found balance in my life. Working out and eating well was fun because it did not control my life. I made it fit my lifestyle. I took it to the extreme of restricting calories, food, and WINE! I was working out to an extreme. When all you can talk about, think about, and dream about is working out and eating vegetables and lean protein you can be sure you are off balance. I remember a few meals following my show I literally had anxiety about eating. I ruined a surprise my husband had planned for me because I was so anxious and worried about what the meal would entail. Because I had become so obsessed with working out, eating, gaining fat, and staying lean, I was no longer able to enjoy friends and time with family. I felt embarrassed and insure to be at the gym. The gym was once a place where I felt confident and in control. But after my show it was as if I was a beginner again just walking into a gym for the first time. I was lost. I even kept my coach and had a plan but found I was not able to follow through. I withdrew from family and friends and wanted to spend my free time doing nothing and resting rather than being active and outgoing. I became lazy! I stopped feeling motivated to work on my career. I gained weight and body fat back but my confidence was destroyed. I felt I did not deserve to teach others. I felt I was not good enough to inspire and motivate.

I had to find balance again. I wanted so badly to enjoy working out and eating well and not worry about my body if I did not do things 100%. I am not sure when things started to come back together for me. I can say it did take about 6 months to feel like myself again. I am enjoying working out again. I can eat well but I can also not eat well and not freak out. I can eat out with friends and family and not binge. (A cheat meal used to contain well over 3600 calories). I am teaching again and I love it! And I am finally feeling motivated and passionate about writing again and finding ways to help others live well lives.

So many fitness professionals preach balance. But I caution you and warn you, they are professionals. Their living is spent in the gym working out. It is their job to stay lean and we only see their professional self. We do not see the other parts of their life that involves family, friends, and fun. Your job is not to be a workout professional. (I don’t think this is a bad profession, it is a needed and valuable profession, but not one that everyone should seek). Your job is to live a healthy, fit, and happy lifestyle. Life should never include obsessing about what to eat, when to eat it, and when to get to the gym. I do think life is about making healthy eating and working out a priority. When we make time for what is important we find health, fitness, and happiness.
I saw this quote and thought it perfectly expressed what happens when we compete or take diet and exercise to the extreme.

“You begin to change your food, your friendships, your sleep habits… you change what you talk about, the stuff you buy, and what you think about… and it all happens without effort – like it was meant to happen. You just find yourself consumed. Then, after awhile, you grow perspective. Regular life comes back and you enter the maturity stage, where all the fitness and training stuff still interests you, but just doesn’t engulf your mind”.

Let fitness and health fit into your life rather than trying to fit into a life of fitness. Fitness is something you do, not who you are. I eventually noticed that many competitors are so consumed with competing and looking and staying lean it becomes what defines them. Seeking to obtain a certain physique is an accomplishment and should be a source of pride. However it should not be something that is sought forever. Yes I obtained about 10% body fat, yes I had abs, I was vascular in my legs and arms, but those things did not make me happier or more fulfilled.

When we all die and face Judgement we will not be judged on our weight, body fat, abs, hamstrings, or glutes. We will be judged by what we do and how we positively benefit the lives of others. Fitness can do that. Fitness truly does save lives. Eating well and working out gives us the energy to do good deeds and live meaningful lives. Many fitness professionals help so many people find health and even balance, but so many also comply with the stereotypes and cause insecurities and doubt. Don’t let a picture of legs, butts, or abs on social media be your motivation. That is a false world and the consequences of that world can be worse than what is described above. Let us be fulfilled by spending time with family and friends, traveling, and trying new things. Find what makes you happy, find what makes you fulfilled. That is what determines your worth. Not how you look in a mirror or how you look to others.

Beat The Holiday Stress

The holidays are a special time of the year for a lot of us. For others it is a very difficult time. Every year around this time I notice the number on my caseload increases, not decreases. Family stress and conflict, financial strain, busy schedules,  and social pressures can be more overwhelming during the holidays. Please remember you are not alone. Here are some tips to help get you thru the holiday season.


When Eating Becomes Normal

“Normal” eating really is a challenging issue for most. First of all, I do not like the term “normal” because everyone is so different. With so much variety there is no normal. Being unique and individual opposes the term “normal”.  Yet most want a way to eat. Most are looking for a plan, a way, or a method and often fail to consider their individual needs, desires, and goals. Sticking to a diet denies us from being individual, unique, and special. Eating a meal plan based on what another says or does makes us more like that person, and less like ourselves.

“Normal” earing is a challenge secondly because there is a barrage of healthy eating theories, philosophies,  and practices. For the average person how to eat “healthy” or “normal” is confusing. We wonder if we should eat “clean”, “paleo”, “Atkins”, “weight watchers”, etc.  It is hard to decide which “diet” is best. Each boasts impressive weight loss stories and claims it is evidence based to give the best results. And we all probably know someone telling us to eat a certain way because that is worked best for that person. And everytime we try the “diet” we are left unsatisfied, hungry, and confused.

For most the issue is emotional eating. Anyone can follow a meal plan or a diet, for the most part. These plans become a problem when we feel sad, bored, stresed, overwhelmed,  excited, lonely, angry, or tired. Scientifically we eat to fill psychological needs and no diet can help us plan or manage that. We need to eat according to our individual needs, desires, and wants.

Know it is OK to eat. Eat fun food. Eat healthy food. Eat food with carbs and fat. Eat something that makes you feel good. Eat to feel full. It is important to eat healthy fruits, vegetables, and proteins, but it is also important to eat a treat. Identify how you feel before, during, and after eating certain foods by writing it down, if necessary. This can help you learn which foods satisify, avoid, reward, or derail you. It is normal to eat. If you are curious on what to eat for your body to achieve certain goals, or if you need guidance on how much to eat, consult a professional. Be sure to find someone that is qualified, just because someone is fit or appears healthy does not mean they are qualified to tell you how to eat. Every one is different just like every body is different. Therefore we will all have different nutritional needs. Consult your physician, dietician, and your body to discover what is best for you.

The morale of this story is, eat. Eat well, enjoy food, and fuel your body.

Striving for Ordinary

I believe that every single person on this planet has a great purpose.  I believe that all humans are on Earth to do wonderful things and touch lives.   As humans we have a basic need to connect with others and to develop a healthy self-esteem we need a sense of community and belonging.  According to Abraham Maslow (1954) in order for a person to  reach their full potential and live a fulfilled life, a person must first find love and belonging.  To consider that love and belonging is a more essential human need than self-fulfillment means that as humans our purpose is to connect to others.

Many may struggle with the notion of “serving a purpose” or many may struggle to understand their purpose.  I think this idea seems overwhelming because as a Capitalist society we are programmed to see “purpose” as something large, powerful, and meaningful.  It seems that “purpose” means more money, more success, more fame, and more power.  I know I once believed that.  For years I believed I needed to touch and dramatically change the lives of thousands.  I believed I had to do huge things to serve my purpose.

However we do not need to move mountains, save and impact the lives of thousands, or accomplish fame and fortune to serve a purpose.  We can impact the world simply by being ordinary.  In my early attempts to be “great” and live my purpose I spent a great deal of time and energy thinking globally.  This caused me to neglect the people  immediate world and I lost time doubting myself.  I failed to see how I could impact the lives of my clients, my co-workers, my friends, and my family.  I felt I needed to reach more, do more, and be more to serve my purpose.  Rather than finding fulfillment and joy in my interactions with others, I started to feel burned out and tired.

I do believe that anyone at any time can impact the world and reach to positively change the lives of others.  However when this becomes our focus we fail to see how powerful we are in our everyday lives.  We do not need to be extraordinary to change the world.  Your ordinary self has the power to impact another and change a life.

You impact the lives of people every single day.  How you interact with people has power.  What you say to a person leaves a legacy.  In your small world you have great power.  You can set in motion a positive or a negative experience for others, and ultimately yourself.   Stop doubting your skills.  Stop seeking extraordinary.  You have the potential to do extraordinary things today in your ordinary life.  The extra things you do to better your life or the life of a loved one is what makes your ordinary extraordinary.  As you strive to create love, joy, and positivity in your life and the lives of others around you, you will be able to look back and see your ordinary life has become extraordinary.