Julie Mitchell's CoachNotes


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Power failure: More learning in the dark.

Another dark room, reminding me of the only (natural) light this morning during a power failure.

Another dark room, reminding me to appreciate light during power failure.

Today, I imagined, I would hit the ground running. After being out of town and out of touch, I was itching to reconnect.


Motivated with Monday Morning Mojo, I would guzzle my husband’s excellent, dark roast coffee! I would read something inspirational! I would catch up on email! I would blog! I would sort the pesky pile of papers and unopened mail! I would conquer self-doubt and sleepiness!


Instead, we had an inexplicable power failure. Outdoors, it was cloudy, but not stormy or windy. Why today, of all days? I lost a few moments to crankiness, but caught myself: Perhaps this was a good thing. Continue reading

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Snow day and a winter walk

IMG_2938My plans changed today, thanks to a bit of wintry precipitation and below freezing temperatures closing schools, canceling business meetings and evening events. What to do with an unexpectedly quiet January weekday in my home office?

Lately I had been thinking about how open, distraction-free time (i.e., away from digital screens, devices, clutter, responsibilities, and “to do” lists) is increasingly rare for me and everyone I know.

Suddenly, I had extra free time, but additional things commanded my attention (ranging from tax-related documents in need of organizing to an intense desire for a homemade treat, which sent me straight to the kitchen).

I looked out the window at one little inch of snow and recalled my peaceful winter treks through much more of the white stuff when I lived “up north.” I know how walking in any weather calms anxiety, stimulates creativity and gives me the energy, space and time I need to be more sane and effective.

Yet, I felt lazy: Aren’t snow days about staying warm and cozy, inside? Fortunately, I discovered words I wrote 11 years ago, encouraging clients to embrace winter walking:

COACH-WALKING IN WINTER? (YOU CAN DO IT!) Walking in the winter is a magical experience, and I am not one to wimp out because of a little snow! Working and walking with me is an opportunity to move forward, tap into your strengths, listen to your intuition, and focus on here, now, and where you want to be, one step at a time. Walking, in fact, is a perfect metaphor for the coaching process. You start off in a particular direction, toward a desired destination, result or outcome. An experienced partner on the path can facilitate your arrival, through helping you identify opportunities, alternative routes, or obstacles along the way. 

This was all it took to get me moving… I’m all for magical experiences, and figured I might burn off some calories from the chocolate-chip pumpkin bread I baked earlier. I enjoyed making fresh tracks and picking up a stick to mark my “snow day” (photo above).

Are you a winter walker, too? If not, I encourage you to give it a try, with or without a coach!

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Goals on the rocks? Be realistic about time.


Door County, Wisconsin.

It’s mid-March, already! Where has the time gone? I’m sensitive to this issue as I’m helping a client with time management while tracking my own goals and hours I’ve lost, found, re-scheduled, wasted, or invested.

Some goals may be “on the rocks,” but I’ve reached others by committing the necessary time. I’m learning by looking into and beyond my piles of unfinished business. This process reminds me of an awkward, rewarding walk my husband and I took on a stone-filled beach (see photo): Treasures may be found, but it’s not a smooth, easy path.

I’m happy about meeting my fitness objectives. This has been relatively easy, because daily movement evolved from goal to habit two years ago. However, I’ve faltered on other fronts, including publishing a blog post every month (oops). Most noteworthy is my positive attitude shift about what I have not accomplished.

I’m less judgmental. I recognize the impact of circumstances beyond my control. I understand more about being a human being who can’t do everything. I’m less likely to feel defective because I “should” be doing x, y, and z instead of a, b, and c. I’m more likely to be a detective, finding clues in how I spend and experience time.

For instance, I’m not at my best playing the role of driven SUPERSTARPRENEUR — I believe I just made up a word — in a rush to do more and seize every business opportunity. I admire go-getter, focused, high energy types and when I’m inspired I can “turn it on” and burn through projects with the best of them. Yet, deep down, I’m inclined to slow down in a world of “more, faster, bigger, better.” I advocate a strategic, one step at a time approach for better understanding of complex issues. Fortunately, my clients appreciate this perspective.

Instead of wishing for more energy — whining about needing  7-8 hours’ sleep when best-selling, TED-talking leaders, authors and others accomplish amazing feats on much less — or  falling into despair over requiring quiet, introspective breaks to fuel creativity, I’m becoming more realistic, honest and respectful of my unique time and energy limits.

I’m recognizing the truth about what I can (or want) to do in a day, week, month, or year. This feels better than idealistic, I-can-do-it-all fantasies, or comparing myself with “more productive” others who zip and glide through the rocks!

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Willpower and good intentions: Manage energy wisely!

I can't resist chocolate cake when I'm stressed or tired...

I have no willpower and can’t resist chocolate cake when my energy is depleted…

Are you wondering how to lose weight, get organized, exercise more, or quit procrastinating? Does the thought of adding a virtuous behavior to your “to do” list make you want to give up before starting? Welcome to the club.

I recently taught a 3-week course on “New Year Intentions: One Step at a Time.” We told tales of tantalizing temptations and defeated diets. I promised participants they would not hear about their “unlimited human potential,” nor would I introduce transformational methods for managing mayhem.

I favor a practical approach, so we explored what’s most likely to help us develop greater self control, based on a growing body of research by Roy Baumeister and colleagues. There is good news on the perilous path to willpower. People can learn to make and keep more realistic promises to themselves and others. It helps to arrange your life so you have a chance to succeed.

When surprises and outside circumstances hinder progress, there’s not much we can do. However, most of us can manage a small part of our routines or schedules more wisely and set goals more mindfully. It starts with paying attention to how we allocate limited resources: time and energy.

At what time of day or week do you feel your best? When are you energetic, productive, or “in the flow?” When do you feel most drained, exhausted, or shut down? Are you strategic about your time and energy? Are you realistic about what you may accomplish and do you recognize signs of depletion? Have you allowed yourself the time and energy required to answer these questions?

This moment is an example of implementing strategy, based on knowing my limitations. I’m writing this post while standing, early in the day. I get sluggish by late afternoon, especially if I’ve been sitting too long. I knew I’d be more tired and less productive today, because I have a cold. I’ve planned a streamlined schedule so I may rest. (It’s futile to expect peak performance in the grips of a virus, but that doesn’t stop most of us from trying, showing up for a full day’s work, making mistakes, and spreading bugs to colleagues.)

Time and energy management is a lifelong journey. Willpower takes patience, practice and wisdom; there are no shortcuts. It helps to recognize obstacles and plan around them. We need to know our limits, set up our lives so we have a chance of succeeding, and keep at it, one step at a time.

Here’s an interview with willpower expert Roy Baumeister. I like the way it ends, with common sense recommendations about eating well and getting enough sleep. Time for me to have chicken soup and take a nap!


Fail forward: Live and learn.

The Appalachian Trail on the North Carolina/Tennessee state line.

Here’s an encouraging post from the Harvard Business Review blog network: It’s about dreaming big, failing, learning the right lessons and trying again. I urge you to read it!

I could compile a long list of embarrassing missteps in my life, including a recent fall during a neighborhood jog. I landed the largest, most painful bruise of my life and a few scrapes (thankfully, no broken bones).

From this incident, I learned to pay attention, instead of being overly confident in familiar territory, and too distracted to notice uneven ground. Ouch.

Last week, while my bruise was healing, I had an unexpected opportunity to hike for a couple hours on the famous Appalachian Trail. I undertook this challenge with a sense of adventure, a large dose of humility, and anxiety about footwear (I was wearing new, lightweight running shoes).

I remembered my painful neighborhood “fail” (fall) and wondered: If I can go “splat” on a suburban sidewalk, what might happen on this rocky, narrow climb? I was extremely careful with every slippery step on wet and rugged ground.

I managed to stay upright on the Appalachian Trail, but my ankles were wobbly. I learned I need more stability and traction on mountainous terrain. Next time, I’ll wear hiking boots!

Every fall (or failure) on my life path underscores the truth in sayings like “fail forward,” “live and learn,” and what my mother always said: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”


Turning over a new leaf: Respectful communication begins within

A new leaf.

Saturday was my birthday. The weather, an unexpected gift, featured clear skies, gentle breezes, highs in the 70s and low humidity (unusual for June in central North Carolina). My daily walk was on familiar neighborhood ground, yet everything looked different through my birthday eyes. I was eager to turn over a new leaf!

I’m hooked on fresh starts: January 1st, “back to school” time, birthdays… any calendar-related excuse to begin again. I can’t resist identifying the next challenge or thinking about what I might change. For me, life is about tangible growth and progress. (Perhaps that’s why I’m hooked on walks, too!)

Beginning times energize and inspire me; they also invite me to assess where I’ve been. If I’m not careful, instead of noting what I’ve accomplished, I focus on the inevitable imperfections, enumerating them in excruciating detail. I fall into a negative pattern, berating myself for projects undone, how I’ve failed, vowing to “get it right” next time. Yuck. Suddenly I’m demoralized instead of energized.

During my birthday walk, I affirmed my intention to communicate with respect. I remembered it begins with how I talk to myself. I acknowledged how I have messed up, but I was gentle, and less judgmental. It wasn’t easy, but I coached myself as I would with a client, inviting myself to consider the goals I have reached… even celebrating them (for instance, completing 53 “girl push-ups” on my 53rd birthday, when I was barely able to do ten push-ups five months ago)!

Three and a half years ago, I wrote about walking into new territory, relocating, and orienting to unfamiliar places.  What about altering the way I think and talk to myself? This is the birthday gift I hope to claim, one imperfect step at a time. Respectful communication begins with honest self-assessment of failures, successes, and everything in between. It’s all part of life’s wild and wonderful walk.

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I intend to practice respectful communication

January blooms in Chapel Hill.

It’s not too late for a new year intention: in 2012 I will do my best to talk mindfully, use “right speech” and practice respectful communication. It may be especially challenging to communicate with courtesy, clarity and compassion this year. I’m already full of righteous indignation about the glut of impolite, inaccurate, hateful speech. (It’s another nasty political campaign season in the United States… need I explain more?)

I don’t expect many examples of respectful communication about — or among — the politicians. Lies, spin, and every form of manipulative communication known to humanity will be on full display. This makes me more determined to be careful, to think before I open my mouth and to engage those with whom I disagree in a spirit of understanding.

Courtesy. Clarity. Compassion. We recognize and appreciate respectful communication when we hear it. Unfortunately, rude remarks seem to be more popular. As I take on the respectful communication challenge I know I will make mistakes. I hope I’ll learn something, too.

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BIG new year goals? Look out!

Cape Lookout Lighthouse

Cape Lookout Lighthouse

It’s another January. For as long as I can remember I’ve made new year resolutions, or set “good intentions” to make progress on work/life plans.

More often than not, my plans have been lofty and idealistic rather than realistic. In recent years I’ve been learning to slow down and take a more practical approach. I’ve seen progress as my intentions have come true.

It’s encouraging to see articles like this from Fortune contributor Anne Fisher, emphasizing the incremental, “slow and steady wins the race” approach to reaching goals.

It makes me think of the beautiful, big old lighthouses my husband and I love to visit. These soaring beacons were built under challenging conditions, one small brick at a time.

Yesterday I hosted a marketing strategy meeting to review VERY BIG PLANS for 2012. I was excited, motivated and envisioning bold new directions for my business!

My smart colleagues reminded me I need to be patient, to move mindfully and gradually, or risk feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, and far from my destination by year’s end. In short, I might consider following my own advice!