Hiking for Mental Acuity

The summer has just come to an end, and with it our Pacific Northwest hiking season is waning. As the weather gets colder and precipitation begins to fall, we won’t have as many great hiking opportunities. Thankfully though, I can look back on many outdoor adventures I had this year and know that I got the most out of the sunshine while it was here.

View from the backside of Oyster Dome

This is a “Smart” blog. Why is this in the Smart category? Because Smart is about mental fitness. That’s my concept of intelligence and thoughtfulness, knowledge, reason, logic–all the stuff of the mind–being just as important to train and develop as the things of the body.

Ok, so we can’t actually pretend that the mental and physical are at all separate. The mental benefits of hiking actually come from the physiological effects of the activity. Think about it. You’re moving blood, circulating fresh oxygen throughout your body and removing waste products with every step and every breath. That means your brain is getting flushed too. On top of that, you’re breathing that really good, fresh tree-oxygen. You’re circulating lymph (Google it). You’re looking at a lot of different things, some close and some far, which exercises the muscles of your eyes and stimulates the visual processing areas of your brain. Need I say more?

Your body might be hurting from the steep uphills and repetitive impacts of stepping–maybe chafing from the backpack straps–but your mind is in a wonderland. You’re thinking more clearly than you have in a long time.

“Mental Acuity” is a phrase that refers to the brain’s ability to respond to stimuli. It’s another word for sharpness or clarity: the ability to quickly and properly respond to something that demands thought. This ought to be the primary goal of a healthy lifestyle, because–even if your daily life demands nothing physical from you–everyone needs this sharpness.

Going for a hike, getting out in nature, moving your blood, flexing your feet against the varied textures of the terrain, stimulating your nervous system, staying alert to all the little sounds and movements in the woods around you, this is a brain workout as much as it is a body workout.

When you return from your hike, now you’re ready to make that big decision. It’s time to have that important conversation or attack that critical project. Now that your mind is refreshed and alert, you’re thinking more clearly than ever. Take this as another great (even greater) reason to go hiking: for mental acuity.

Finding Your Happy Place

Oh man, what a cliche. Sorry folks, I guess I am just a cliche machine. So what? It’s a perfectly useful cliche, and suitable for what I’m going to talk about today. I have a happy place that I go to when I need to, and this blog is about finding that place for yourself, so the cliche stands.

I’m keeping this location a secret

What do you do when life’s heavy burdens weigh you down? Where do you escape to? I found myself needing such a place, and–luckily–I found one a couple of years ago.

We were camping out with some friends at their favorite campground and one of them said he was going up to the hot springs, did I want to come? Well yeah, a hot springs? Of course I want to check that out. We spent a few hours up there that first night, and the next morning I was back there again with the kids.

After that first time, I started going up there regularly. It might even have been once a week at first, but soon settled into more of a once per month thing. Deep in the woods, with no reception, no sound of traffic or any of the bustle of human civilization–it was a perfect place to decompress and clear my head.

The truth is, we aren’t always clear-headed to begin with, and we’re not always happy. That’s why we need a “happy place”. Deep inside, there’s some awareness of what we ought to feel like: grounded, content, secure. But, the pressures of life’s responsibilities, the things on the news, the everyday grind, can all drag you further and further away from that feeling. This is when you need a place to go to clear your head.

For me, it got really bad earlier this year. There was some… stuff. Basically me trying to be too many things to too many people at the same time, getting way over my head with too many obligations and working my days away without any breaks. (All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.) It got to a breaking point and I just had to disappear out into the woods and spend the day at the hot springs.

My Mom called this a, “mental health day,” and that simple phrase reminded me that every day should include some consideration of our mental health. That’s true, of course, but she’s also right. Sometimes we need a special day to empty out all those nagging thoughts, escape from our stressors, and take a real deep breath.

If I have the time, I will drive to the trail head, hike a mile in through the woods, and then soak in the springs for a while, hiking out when I’m done. When it’s too cold or rainy for that, or I just don’t have the time, I will drive all the way up the bumpy service roads to get to my quiet spot. It’s nice in the winter (if there’s not too much snow to get up the road) because the springs are hot even when the air is cold. It’s nice in the rain because the springs are hot. Hahahaha. It’s nice any time because the springs are hot.

Every blog that I write in this “Clean” category is some kind of candid confessional, or at least it should be. Clean, to me, is about having a clean conscious and a clean spirit. It’s about coming clean, being honest, about digging deep into matters of purpose and meaning.

So, today is me admitting that I sometimes need a place in nature to let down my burdens and be healed by the Earth, to appreciate the work of my Creator. I encourage you to recognize the same needs in yourself, and honor them when you need to. Find a happy place you can escape to when it’s time.

The Importance of Play

It’s been a long time since I wrote a “Fit” blog for this site. I updated a few other parts of my webpage today, and as I was strolling around the site, I clicked on “Fit” and noticed there was nothing new written with this tag since the launch of my Reach For The Rings documentary in May of 2021 (!)

Well, I think you deserve some new content on here. I definitely have an abundance of things to say, and no problem writing more content for you. Time I got around to it.

Saturday morning is Obstacle Course Day at our house

You see that cute little guy moving so fast that his feet are a blur? He’s torn my gym up and made a real mess of the place. I hope he doesn’t trip!

This is Obstacle Course Day at the Smart, Fit, and Clean gym (otherwise known as my garage). That’s little Nathan and this is his favorite thing to do in the gym: drag everything out and set up a bunch of wacky challenges for himself. There are dip bars and yoga balls to climb over, trampolines to jump on, boxes to climb, and rings to swing from. It’s Heaven for a kid.

Yeah, he might be about to fall into that mess of stuff…

I’m showing you these pictures to make a point. “Health” and “Fitness” is not all about rigorous discipline and strict training regimes. Sometimes it’s more about fun.

When you were a kid, I bet you were in pretty good shape. You probably weren’t obese or diabetic, probably had great blood cholesterol numbers, and likely didn’t suffer from any anxiety or depression. At the same time, I’d bet you didn’t have an “exercise routine”. You probably just played your heart out all day–running, jumping, and climbing–then slept like a log.

The importance of play cannot be underrated. When you’re playing around, you engage your mind and utilize your body. Best of all, you lose track of time. Remember that old saying, “time flies when you’re having fun”? Well, it’s true, isn’t it?

I want to remind you that fitness can be playful. Do you have a favorite sport? Is there something you love to do outside for fun? Do you see something new at the gym that looks like it would be cool to play around on? These are all great motivators that are probably a lot healthier than looking at the mirror and hating what you see.

Have fun. Engage yourself with something that sparks your curiosity. Embrace novelty and experience joy with some new physical activity. This sense of playfulness can put new gas in your tank and keep you active and interested for a bit longer than the tired drudgery of that same old workout.

Youth Mental Health First Aid

What a concept! “Mental Health First Aid”. I have done first aid certifications in the past, but they’ve always been centered around physical safety issues. Now I know that there is an organization providing first aid training for mental health issues and I am highly enthusiastic about it.

Today I completed the Zoom class for my Youth Mental Health First Aid certification. I learned how to properly assess the situation and approach someone whom you think is having a mental health issue, how to listen non-judgmentally, how to give them reassurance and information, then encourage them to practice self-care and to seek out professional help if needed.

I also learned the difference between first aid and professional help in this case. Similar to coming across a hiker with a broken leg while out on a trail, I can offer some immediate help and support, but it is outside my scope of practice to do the surgery or put the cast on. In the mental health scenario, I am able to reassure, to listen, and to help the person get to the professional help they need, but I am not qualified to diagnose, medicate, or give therapy.

I came across this course in an email from my son’s school, and I thought it would be useful for me to learn more skills to help him through the stresses of COVID-world. Then, as I was doing my course pre-work, I realized that this could be helpful with my clients in my coaching business. Now that I’ve taken the course, I see the utility in this skillset throughout my life, in my everyday interactions and all my relationships with various people. I strongly encourage EVERYONE to take this course, not just professionals who see a direct application to their job.

On the big, philosophical-discussion side of this (and you know I’m going to take it there), we have a problem with mental health care in the United States. We have a MAJOR problem with mental health care in the United States. We can blame a lot of things for that, and we can point our fingers at who passed the buck, or who dropped the ball. But, ultimately, we have only ourselves to blame. As a society, we are responsible for one another. This means that we are responsible for one another’s health and wellness, including mental health. The first step to getting people the proper care they need is to care about them, respect them, and listen to them. By practicing these skills, we won’t only help folks get the right treatment, we might actually accomplish a lot of prevention as well.

The course is offered in the Skagit Valley area through United General Hospital. You can find all the info on this webpage, if you scroll about halfway down the page to the “Mental Health Promotion Classes” section.

Personal Discipline

This is a common conversation I’ve been having with a lot of people lately. What is discipline? Where does discipline come from? Is discipline something that an outside force imposes upon you, or something that you impose upon yourself? Or, should it just come naturally?

I believe that discipline works best as a pull (your own spirit and internal motivations pull you to do this activity), not as a push (external punishments and rewards push you to follow the rules). But how do you develop your own personal discipline? How does it work mechanistically? Where is the instruction manual?

Fundamentally, every choice you make throughout each and every day is a choice between discipline and regret (to borrow a phrase from Jocko Willink). When you make a choice that benefits you and your mission, that’s discipline. When you make a choice that hurts you and your mission, that’s regret. Therefore, I would say that personal discipline is a process of recognizing your own regrets, then developing proactive habits to avoid repeating any of those regrets in the future.

It works like this: you make RIGHT NOW YOU suffer for a little bit (going to bed earlier instead of watching the show, eating broccoli instead of candy) so that FUTURE YOU won’t have to suffer a lot.

It’s the basic concept of sacrifice. You’re giving up something that looks good in the present moment (a TV show, some candy) in order to gain something even better in the future moment (the mental acuity you have after a full night’s sleep, the better skin and improved digestion from eating healthy green veggies).

To develop your own personal discipline habits, you simply keep a journal (or mental log) of the choices you made that turned out to be regrettable or sub-optimal. Also log the choices you made that led to better outcomes. Then, you practice exerting a little bit of willpower each day to repeat the good choices without repeating the bad choices. That’s the beginning of your personal discipline.

The good news is that this becomes easier with time. A little bit of discipline goes a long way. The benefits compound like interest. Flex your willpower muscles and you’ll come a long way very quickly.

So, the answer to those questions above is that discipline is a personal process of learning to make better choices for your own benefit and for your own reasons. It is something you teach yourself to do, and once you’ve practiced it, it becomes instinctive, natural, and effortless.

Saving the World One Healthy Lifestyle at a Time

This is my mission statement. What does it mean? To understand, I think you’ll need to look at each component one at a time.

Does the world need saving?

On some level of my consciousness, I have been borderline-obsessed with saving the world for my entire life. I’m really not exaggerating when I say, “my entire life”. I was molested at a daycare when I was 3 1/2 years old and I was made to testify in court about it at that age. So, it is sufficient to say that I realized the world was a messed up place from that time on. I was keenly aware of the problems.

I have suffered from the generational trauma of my family. Fleeing 400 years of imperialist colonial oppression and slavery under the Ottoman Turks in Greece, my great-grandfather came to America and was embroiled in the struggles of a third-world WOP immigrant. My grandfather grew up without a father and learned to be a man through his careers in the US Army, US Navy, and US Coast Guard. As a boy, I heard his stories watching his best friends die right next to him and cleaning the bodies of dead Kamikazi pilots off the deck of his ship. Both sides of my family have horror stories of poverty, rootlessness, and sexual exploitation of children. My experience was not unique, but was part of a legacy.

Going to hell in a hand basket? Depending on who you talk to, we’re already there.

I’ve personally seen a lot of trauma. It wasn’t just the childhood sexual abuse. I was also bullied and bullying, involved in a lot of street violence, beaten up by police, lost my kid brother to war. I watched those two towers come down on 9/11. I lost my shirt in the 2008 financial crisis. I’ve worked for $4.25/hour in the fields and held multiple simultaneous minimum-wage jobs, working 100 hours a week for a pittance. I’ve faced devastating personal health problems.

The problems that I have been watching have never gone away, but have mostly become worse: moral decay, environmental degradation, rampant sexual immorality, violence against children, oppression of racial and ethnic minorities, exploitation of the working class, rural and urban poverty, religious wars, hatred between identity blocks, political polarization.

Each of these in their own way is a health crisis. Individual health crises also abound, whether it is the obesity, diabetes, cancer, addiction, and heart disease in my own family, or the psychological and spiritual disease we’re not talking enough about as a society.

Going to hell in a hand basket? Depending on who you talk to, we’re already there.

How can we save it?

As a young man, this preoccupation with salvation led first to religious inquiry and enthusiasm for new religious movements. I studied diverse scriptures and mythologies and attempted to devise my own religions. Later, I became interested in revolutionary political philosophies. I was briefly a communist, an anarchist, a syndicalist labor organizer, an American constitutionalist, and then a Libertarian. I was involved in the Chicano student movement, animal rights movements, and protests against police brutality.

My observations of the health problems in my own family led me to develop health codes and philosophies around diet and exercise. My brother and I actually came up with a health code that forbid coffee, tea, soda, and even headache medicines. I was straight-edge. I was a vegan. Broad, one-size-fits-all answers gave me something to fight for.

I learned that sometimes the proposed solutions are really just doorways to new problems.

I became enthusiastic about do-it-yourself countercultural movements. I played in punk rock bands and published zines. I also hung out in the hip-hop scene, attempting to breakdance and blossoming as a graffiti writer.

I tried saving the world through vandalism and violence. As a violent anti-racist skinhead, I lived the wet-dream of today’s millennial “antifa” kids: hunting down neo-nazis and beating them up at punk rock shows or in the streets. This idea imploded on itself. When there were no more bad guys to hunt, we caused trouble just for fun or turned on one another.

I tried a lot of ideas for how to ‘fix’ the world’s problems, but many of them were not good ideas. I learned that sometimes the proposed solutions are really just doorways to new problems.

Proactive, positive strategies.

Some ideas were better than others. Art & creative expression. Community organization. Health & fitness practices. These positive and proactive activities helped me feel better, make changes that helped myself and helped others, and inspired others to act.

I became one of the first 100 people in the CrossFit movement and that gave me some hope for changing the culture of eating and physical activity. Cooperation makes us stronger. I got a University education and that gave me some hope for better life skills as well as financial and career opportunities. Education is power.

The idea that hit with the biggest impact was “Livity”: expressing the life-force by living righteously.

I travelled around the world and was exposed to diverse cultures and viewpoints. This shed a lot of light on the problems that are common to all human beings, as well as the potential solutions that various nations and peoples have put forth.

I became involved in the Rastafari movement. Here I found an entire culture of people with an experience like mine: generational trauma, personal trauma, poverty and oppression, victims of physical violence and the “mental slavery” of a society designed to diminish them and crush their souls. Here I also found a culture that had embraced the kinds of solutions I was discovering: art, music, do-it-yourself community-action, healthy eating, physical fitness, family-building.

The idea that hit with the biggest impact was “Livity”: expressing the life-force by living righteously.

Actions speak louder than words

In my first choice of careers, as a filmmaker, I thought that all the power lay in words and communications media. I thought that if I could get the reigns to the power of messages and media, then I could change the way everyone in the world thought and acted. That’s how I’d make things better.

The truth was quite different. When you work in the media, you work for the media. You work for the people who fund the media. The messages are dictated by the finances, not by the means of production. So, just because I had the skills to make my messages, that didn’t mean it was what I got to do. I did whatever the people who were paying the bills said to do.

When I learned to better align my actions to my words and my intentions, I actually started to become a better person.

So, I got fed up with that and decided to try a different career, as a fitness coach. This is where I experienced the impact that one-on-one education and skill development could have. “Each one teach one” as they say. I learned to put my money where my mouth is, even if it wasn’t actually money, but time. I learned to walk the walk.

In walking the walk, I expanded my ideas about physical fitness to include nutrition and lifestyle, not just exercise. Then, I expanded my ideas further to include mental fitness and spiritual fitness as well as physical fitness. I started to work on my philosophy and psychology and my relationship to my creator.

When I learned to better align my actions to my words and my intentions, I actually started to become a better person.

One healthy lifestyle at a time.

Now I believe that the most ethical way to change the world is one person at a time, from the inside out. The “world” and everything in it–our cultures, nations, and institutions–are just the products of our collective action, itself the product of our individual actions and individual intentions. Change the individual actors and you change the collective effects.

I don’t need to tell you that in 2020, this world needs a lot of changing . The problems that I shouted about and fought against in the 90s are all so much worse now. The media that I wanted to use as a tool for positive change is one of the most powerful evil forces in the world today. But the power to change all this doesn’t actually belong to them and their systems of illusions and brainwashing. The power lies inside each of us.

This world is a horror show, but I–in my inner state–can develop a paradise. If I can start to manifest this beatific vision in myself, my home, my family, and my community, then I can redeem and save this horrifying world. That’s the mission.

I want to save the world one healthy lifestyle at a time. I want to change it one person at a time, from the inside out. That’s what I’m about.

So that’s what my mission statement means. I discovered that it wasn’t ethical, or effective, to bash my head against the world, to scream at it and shout at it, to try to tear it down or burn it down, to beat it up, or to manipulate it from the inside out through media or whatever. I discovered that you can only really change the world, permanently and morally, through changing yourself. Being the change, as Gandhi is purported to have said.

This also recognizes that it isn’t ethical for ME to change YOU. You need to change yourself, for yourself and for your own reasons, and in your own way. I’m just here to be a guide, to help you become a better version of yourself, as I have been learning how to do.

I want to save the world one healthy lifestyle at a time. I want to change it one person at a time, from the inside out. That’s what I’m about.

What is “Health & Fitness Coaching”?

My business cards say, “Health & Fitness Coaching.” But, what exactly does that mean? What do I really do?

The services I provide are Individual Design Coaching programs, One-on-One Training, and At-Home Training. That just tells you what’s on the menu, though, it doesn’t really tell you what I DO. In order to understand that, I’m going to need to break down some concepts for you.

Smart, Fit, and Clean = An Ideal

First of all, the name Smart, Fit, and Clean represents an ideal state. The vision is for you as a human being to be smart (mentally acute, intelligent, rational) as well as being fit (physically healthy, capable, resilient) and clean (spiritually at ease, grounded, fulfilled). This is my triadic fitness concept that encompasses mind, body, and spirit.

The goal is for you to value and develop all of these areas. Specifically, this work is done through the practices of Lifestyle Coaching, Nutrition Coaching, and Exercise Coaching.

Lifestyle Coaching = the BLGs

Lifestyle is the foundation of our health and fitness. Lifestyle Coaching is a process of guidance to help you establish and sustain healthy behaviors that lead to greater mental clarity, improved physiological function, and a heightened sense of well-being.

The essence of a healthy lifestyle is represented by the Basic Lifestyle Guidelines:

  • Balance
  • Purpose
  • Hydration
  • Sleep
  • Energy
  • Rhythm
  • Recovery
  • Digestion

So, Lifestyle Coaching is a process of inquiring into these elements of your lifestyle and developing strategies to improve upon each of them.

Nutrition Coaching = Personalized Nutrition

Nutrition is the house that you build on top of your healthy lifestyle foundation. This is literally what you are made of, as your body utilizes the nutrients from your food to grow and repair the tissues in your body. This is also what you run on, as your body uses the nutrients from your food to fuel all your activities.

In Nutrition Coaching, I utilize an approach known as Personalized Nutrition. This process centers you as a person, rather than an idealized ‘diet’ as the beacon of perfection. A personalized nutrition approach takes into account your current state of eating, the physical state of your body and performance, as well as your overall goals.

Personalized Nutrition develops skills and habits relating to:

  • Protein
  • Hydration
  • Meal Timing & Frequency
  • Food Hygiene
  • Food Intolerances
  • Carbohydrates
  • Fats
  • Stressors
  • Supplements
  • Fasting
  • Pre/Post Workout Nutrition
  • Competition Fueling

Exercise Coaching = Workout Programs

This is the fun stuff, but it goes at the top of the house (as the roof) because–while it is critical to keeping the house together and functioning as a shelter–it is the last thing you build, not the first.

As with lifestyle and nutrition prescriptions, I base exercise programs on assessment. Assessment is truth. These simple tests tell us what you are capable of and where you need to go. Considering your goals, history, and the current state of ability shown through assessments, I am able to design a tailored fitness program to get you where you need to go.

My workout programs focus on developing three qualities:

  • Movement Ability
  • Work Capacity
  • Strength

What is “Health & Fitness Coaching?”

Health & Fitness Coaching, as I practice it, means putting the basic lifestyle guidelines together with a personalized nutrition plan and a tailored exercise program. The goal of all of these being to help you be smarter, fitter, and cleaner on the inside as well as the outside.

Lifestyle Coaching + Nutrition Coaching + Exercise Coaching = Smart, Fit, and Clean

Home Gym Time Machine

I’ve been talking about home gyms this week on my Facebook page, so I wanted to do a blog about some of the home gyms I’ve had in the past. Then I came across these pictures of my firstborn son Javan and I playing in our yard in Lam Narai, Thailand in 2013.

In these photos, you can see some of the homemade gym equipment I had at that time.

The items in the bottom photo, from left to right, are:

  1. A ‘slosh pipe’ or ‘slosh tube’: PVC drain pipe half filled with water and capped at the ends. Creates an unbalanced load for carries, squats, presses, and other things you might do with a barbell if you had one.
  2. A heavy (200lb if I remember right) barbell made from a length of pipe stuck into a bucket of concrete on each end.
  3. Several large blocks of concrete with metal and rebar sticking out of them. I found these at a demolition site and brought them home because they were handy for various lifts and carries.
  4. A tractor tire for flipping, jumping on and over.
  5. A dumbbell and barbell, each made from a length of wooden dowel rod stuck into a flower pot full of concrete on each end.
  6. Several clubs made from chunks of concrete and rocks attached to wooden handles (mostly branches). I used these for clubbell training, which is worthy of a google.
  7. A massive ‘Bulgarian sandbag’ made from a tractor tire inner tube filled with rocks and weighing about 150lbs. It’s sitting inside the tires.
  8. A couple more tires for lifting, throwing, creating obstacle courses, jumping up on, through, or over.
  9. Some faux ‘kettlebells’ I made by filling flower pots or paint pots with concrete and inserting handles into them. These were good for KB swings and deadlifts, but not clean & jerks!
  10. BONUS: The kids in the background are playing a game called Sepak Takraw, kind of like volleyball crossed with soccer juggling. The ball is a woven of rattan or plastic and you can only use your feet in this game. We climbed over that fence to play with them almost daily.

I don’t know if this gave you any good ideas for your home gym, but at least it was fun to look back at the pictures and take a trip through the memories. If you need help setting up a home gym–either out of totally home-made stuff like this, second-hand equipment, or brand spanking new goodies–talk with me and I’ll set you on the right path.

Pumpkins Are For Food

I stand against the wasteful carving of pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns at Halloween. Every time I see a yard full of rotting pumpkins, I think about the people in our city streets without food, the working people whose families don’t have enough for all the hungry mouths, and those living in places of famine or food shortage. Pumpkins are for food. So, here is a simple pumpkin recipe I made this week.

Pumpkin Ital Stew

There are a lot of ways to make Ital Stew, but the general idea is that it’s got a variety of vegetables, loaded with herbs and spices, all tied together by coconut milk. I make mine starting with a sauteed flavor-base, though others start with the liquid first. Here’s how I did this on Monday:

  1. Prep. Finely dice one red onion, several cloves of garlic, and a chunk of ginger root. You’ll also need to quarter the pumpkins, remove the seeds, peel the outer rind, and cut into roughly 1″ cubes. I did this with 2 pumpkins and followed the same procedure with 3 patty pan squashes. You can use any vegetables, tubers, fresh herbs, even legumes in here. Prep first.
  2. Base. I started building the flavor-base for this by sauteeing diced onions in olive oil on medium heat. Once they were transparent and soft, I added the ginger and garlic to cook down as well. This is the Kenyan way to start pretty much any dish, so I do this by habit now and it’s a delicious way to start stews, soups, greens, lots of things.
  3. Big Stuff. Whatever veggies you are using, the starchy root vegetables need to go in the pot before everything else. They’ll take longer to cook. I added my pumpkins at this stage, mixing them well with the flavor base.
  4. Liquids. At this point I added 2 cans of coconut milk (the good stuff from Thailand) and probably 1 cup of water. This is going to pick up the flavors of the base I created and boil the vegetables I’m about to add.
  5. More Veggies. I added a bag of heirloom carrots in various colors (not orange), and the patty pan squash. They all get mixed in with the pumpkin, the flavor base, and the liquids.
  6. Spices. All I did with this one is Tumeric and Curry Powder. The curry powder has salt, pepper, and other spices in it, so that did the trick. Mixed it really well with all the other stuff to make sure every surface got coverage.
  7. Cook. By this point, the pot has been sitting on medium heat since the oil went in to sautee the onions. Each stage added more stuff to what was already cooking. So, it’s actually been cooking the entire time, but now I’m going to cover it and let it cook the rest of the way. I think this stew took about a half hour covered on medium heat before everything was a good texture to enjoy. You’ll have to test yours frequently to make sure you don’t over or under-cook.

Give it a shot. Save a pumpkin. Remember this one for the future when you want to try doing something with that cocoyam, dasheen, or taro. This is a great dish to use with new vegetables you haven’t tried before and aren’t sure how to cook.

Coaching is Not Therapy

I needed a picture for this one, so I Googled “coaching is not therapy” and came across a TON of great infographics supporting my topic today. If you’re curious, why not give it a Google yourself and see what you learn.

So, the images I chose to include today are simply a series of 6 slides describing what I do in “Individual Design Coaching”. I’ve written a lot of blogs about this in the past, and you can check them out by clicking here.

The Therapy Problem

I choose to write about this topic today because it’s something I’ve had on the fringes of my awareness for a really long time, but it’s only recently begun to come into focus for me (during the year of COVID-19). I remember going over the distinctions between coaches and therapists in my life coaching course, and the recommendations to refer clients to appropriately qualified professionals. There were definitely clients I fired because they were using my like a therapist (or they needed a therapist more than they needed me, but chose not to go). This is also something that I’ve discussed with other coaches at seminars or in-person.

This year, however, the issue has really loomed larger than ever before. This is understandable. Many more people than usual are lonely and isolated. Folks are processing complex emotions and navigating unforeseen difficulties in their work and relationships. The politics are nuts and that’s got people going nuts. So, at the same time that I’ve seen an increased need for my services as more people are doing home workouts and confronting the unwanted physical effects of sedentary lockdown periods and work from home, I have also seen an increase in the need for psychiatric, psychological, counseling, and therapist services.

The problem is when people confuse one for the other and try to use their health & fitness coach as a therapist. I’ve certainly played into this by being a ready ear for people, and by expanding the scope of my definition of fitness into “mental fitness” and “spiritual fitness”, but I am not saying that I am the guy who will give you everything you need. My definition of fitness includes mental, physical, and spiritual fitness as a CHALLENGE, as a gauntlet thrown down to other fitness enthusiasts and practitioners. This does not mean that I am the exemplar or avatar of this hypothetical super-fit human, nor does it mean that I have all the expertise or tools to turn you into them. I can teach you to squat, but I cannot teach you astrophysics. So, while my expansive concept of fitness encourages people to consider their mental health, it does not qualify me to provide mental health services.

I notice a pattern now that tells me a fitness client is transforming the use of my service into their own form of therapy. First, they stop doing the workouts I assign them (in TrueCoach) and minimize communications in the designated channels (TrueCoach, text, email). Then, they start using our in-person (or Zoom) sessions to talk about lots of things that are not on-topic with the work we are trying to do around health and fitness. Now, they’re using their $200/month to have two long chats a month with someone who is a good listener. Not what I had in mind when I signed them up for coaching. One way or the other, that client relationship will not last much longer.

Coaching Vs. Therapy

Coaching is asking good questions, listening, and helping you come up with your own answers. Having a good base of information and experience to rely on is important. So is taking the time to understand and get to know people. It is about the future, not the past. It is about helping you become a better version of yourself (not about helping you become someone else, or figuring out who yourself is). It is about asking, not telling.

Therapy, on the other hand, is… well, I don’t really know what therapy is, it’s not my job. I have no training in it and only a very vague understanding of what it is. I know it’s not the same as what I do, and if you need it then I’m not your guy.

I know that when people start talking to me about their childhood, about past traumas, about relationship issues, about their deep insecurities and coping mechanisms, well I know that isn’t my scope of practice. I can empathize (maybe that’s sympathize?), but I’m just another broken human with many of those same problems, trying to become better. I don’t have the answers for those developmental, traumatic, relational, emotional issues, and I don’t a lot of great strategies to deal with them that I’m confident sharing with others. I deal with my stuff in my own way and I would not want to tell you that this is the only way or the right way. Go talk to an expert for that.

What’s the Solution?

The solution to this problem begins with education. Know the difference between a coach and a therapist. A coach is push-ups and sleep schedule and what to have for lunch. A therapist is feelings and the past and ways to deal with that stuff.

The next part of the solution is my own messaging and marketing. I need to put it out there (on my blog, on social media, whenever I talk to people about my business), that coaching is not the same as therapy and these are the reasons why.

From there, I need to clarify in my initial communications, conversations, and consultations with people that I am NOT a therapist and I don’t do therapy. As I explain Individual Design Coaching to people, I have to be very firm and clear in distinguishing this from therapy. This must be reiterated throughout the intake and on-ramp process.

Finally, I will need to get into the practice of making referrals. When the conversation or use of my service begins to veer into that “therapy” territory, I will need to be forthright and honest in telling people that I am no the guy for them. I will need to be quick to recommend therapy, counseling, or psychological help, and I will need to have a rolodex of those professionals to refer people to.

Whew! There, I think that’s all I have to say on the topic for now. And I think I’ve come up with some good ways to deal with it, starting with this blog post and culminating in a referral network some day soon. If you know any good counselors or therapists in the Skagit Valley area, please put me in touch as I’d be happy to talk with them.