Julie Mitchell's CoachNotes


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March Forward: Walk at work!


Walk at work this Spring. Ideas, productivity, and energy will blossom!

Hooray for Vernal Equinox, new moon, and eclipse day. Spring forward (or, as a drill sergeant might say, “Forward, March)!

It’s an ideal time to make your move at work, improving health, fitness and productivity. Take a walk and discover what innovative thinkers have known for centuries.

Spring walks blossom with possibilities. Going outdoors is a breath of fresh air, a Spring-cleaning for stale, stuffy ideas and sticky work situations. Walking in nature stimulates creative thinking and opens minds that may be closed (bored, distracted, or tired) within confined cubicles or conference rooms.

Workers who walk return to their offices (customers, patients, clients, students, machines, or devices) inspired and energized. I’ve witnessed this countless times. Research underscores multiple benefits of workplace walking.

As winter fades, I invite you to explore a wooded trail or park convenient to work (or trek around the parking lot). Try it on your own, or invite a colleague. See what happens.

Hate walking? Have outdoor allergies? Consider a brief workplace “change of venue” as an alternative way to get moving on a project (an open, inspiring, light-filled space — such as a museum or indoor botanical garden — may do the trick).

Want to learn more about taking your work for a walk? Contact me for a free phone consultation.

Get moving! Evidence for walking on campus (and elsewhere)

Photo from a walk at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Photo from a walk at the University of Michigan.

This article (link above) affirms what I’ve observed in my neck of the woods (at Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill, specifically): Smart, creative scholars leave their desks and walk for inspiration or problem-solving. Professors-on-the-move tend to be more lean, fit and healthy, too! After years of working on campuses, I’ve noticed many professors sit at their desks all day and seem to live in their heads, with little interest in the mind-body connection…

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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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Want New Year wisdom? Get moving to boost your brain.

Want to be healthy, wealthy and wise? Get moving!

Be a wise old bird in the new year: Walking boosts brain power, at all ages.

Here’s inspiring, good news as we step into the new year: Scientists have found more evidence for the wonders of regular exercise, above and beyond weight loss, disease prevention and perfect “six pack” abs.

If you’re over 50 (like me), the reasons to get moving intensify and multiply. A sexy, lean body may be nice, but what about having more energy and maintaining a sharp, active mind as you age?

Whether you’re young or old, exercise improves memory (including test performance), regenerates brain cells and stimulates creative thinking. Want more information? Check out these words of wisdom about how physical activity benefits the brain.

I favor walking, but any movement lowers stress, improves mood and enhances cognitive ability. For centuries deep thinkers have noted how problems are solved by putting one foot in front of the other.

Now, nearly every day I find another article summarizing research by neuroscientists, physicians, biological anthropologists and others. More organizations and business leaders are becoming walking evangelists and I say “HOORAY!”

No matter your age or fitness level, I encourage you to open your mind and do your body some good. Find a way to move more often in the new year, with colleagues or in solitude.

Happy new year and happy walking!


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.”

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Mindfulness revisited: recommended resource

This helpful roadside sign, in Door County, Wisconsin, reminded me to be positive — and mindful — during my walk. (The message changed daily… the sign said “be present” the day before I took this photo.)

It’s Sunday afternoon and I’ve been lurking around interesting web sites, ostensibly in preparation for tomorrow’s clients, but I got distracted (a common occurrence). In my mindless meandering, I found this helpful site on mindfulness. I recommend it for those who wish to learn more about being aware and attentive to the present moment.

I liked finding good news about mindfulness at work; it’s something I’ve been working on in my personal/professional life for years. In revisiting my blog entry on mindfulness, intentional communication and health, I made another positive discovery:  I’m slightly more mindful today than I was when I wrote it.

I’ve made progress in the only way I know how: one step at a time on a life path full of surprises and opportunities to be present, positive, and patient. Now it’s time for my daily walk, one of the best practices for cultivating mindfulness…

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Want a longer life? Stop sitting!

Orkney, Scotland landscape.

I recently returned from a glorious, once-in-a-lifetime trip: a choir tour of Scotland, during which I sat very little, sang a lot, and ate way too much! I loved exploring Scotland’s gorgeous landscapes on foot.

I’ve been less active back home, where dangerously hot weather has limited outdoor activity. I’ve been sitting too much, as I’m prone to do during summer slug season.

Recent widespread publicity on how sitting lowers life expectancy, including this article from US News & World Report, was just what I needed to get off the couch.

Perhaps I’ll set a timer as a reminder to get up every few minutes. I’ll also add this article to my collection of research that affirms the benefits of walking at work.


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.


Ideas take flight: How to get started with walking meetings

Walking meetings are taking off, for good reason: Innovative ideas take flight when people get moving!

Recently, I’ve talked with several leaders about how to encourage walking meetings at work.

There is no one “right way” to take your work for a walk, but to get started in your organization, consider these guidelines:

Motivation. Research affirms walking meeting benefits: People are energized, group interactions shift (positively), problems are solved, calories are burned, and creative ideas are born. Walking is good for mind, body, spirit, and your business!

Location. Choose a quiet, safe, familiar, and distraction-free environment. Make sure your path is “walking friendly” for everyone involved.

Intention. Plan your walking meeting agenda mindfully. Focus on identifying one, specific “next step” in a project by the conclusion of your walk, or try narrowing several possibilities to the “top three.”

Participants. Start small, inviting one colleague to a walking meeting. Experiment with up to six people, walking with partners, or three abreast, to ensure everyone is heard and feels included.

Results. Capture ideas while walking, using a small notepad, smartphone or other portable device. Before the walk, assign responsibility for distributing follow-up/action plans after the meeting.

Comfort. Consider participants’ fitness level, preparation (including appropriate clothing), and potential obstacles, including skepticism or anxiety. Walking meetings bring out the best in some folks, but they are not for everyone. Ideally, they should be proposed as a positive, relaxed option to traditional meetings.


Happy New Year and hooray for daily walks!

Winter Walk at Sunset (Durham, NC)

As 2012 begins I’m celebrating last year’s accomplishment: I walked my talk! My January 2011 new year intentions included the somewhat daunting promise to walk outdoors for an hour a day (365 days in a row for 60 minutes). Other than two “sick” days of yucky stomach issues, I walked throughout 2011. Three days I was forced to step indoors due to weather, so the final tally looks like this: 363 days of walking, 360 in the great (and not-so-great) outdoors. Some treks were breezy and blissful; others boring, painful slogs. I learned a lot about putting one foot in front of the other on the slow, steady path to a positive habit. Now I know what it’s like to KEEP a deep, authentic, heartfelt intention… to will it into being, no matter what. I did not do this alone: I had help from my amazing, supportive husband, friends, walking buddies and terrific clients who helped me get CoachWalks off the ground again, after a long hiatus. I’m feeling lots of gratitude as I walk into the new year!