Julie Mitchell's CoachNotes

ACHIEVE YOUR VISION . . . ONE STEP AT A TIME.

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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A Monday morning walk and positive self-talk…

It’s Monday morning and I found my walking motivation from this 2009 post. Hooray for self coaching. 🙂

Julie Mitchell's CoachNotes

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“I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit.”

–  Thoreau

This morning was alarming. The clock radio jolted me awake at 5:10, in the middle of a dream. I was out the door at 5:35, stepping into fog and the sticky central North Carolina air. I woke with grim determination to start the week on a positive note, practicing what I preach to my clients. (I’m lousy at coaching myself, because I ignore most of my advice.)

Like Thoreau, I am disturbed when parts of me are missing during a walk, or during other endeavors. However, during summer slug season in the South, I’m doing well just to get my body moving through the neighborhood. If mind and spirit are elsewhere, perhaps they don’t feel like walking! Nevertheless, today — the beginning of a challenging work week…

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The upside of down time: Work less, accomplish more

Crazy-busy and working to death? Take a break before your eternal rest.

Crazy-busy and working to death? Take a break before it’s time for eternal rest.

NOTE: This post was revised on August 21, 2015.

Down time is looking up. What a relief! Mainstream publications, best-selling books, TED talks and social media reflect what should be obvious (but we humans can be so stupid): It’s not healthy to work too hard. It’s dangerous to be sleep deprived. It’s counterproductive to skip vacations or never take a break.

In honor of long-overdue attention to these issues, I revisited what I wrote two years ago on overwork, down time and the sad contest of being overwhelmed. Here it is, for your reading pleasure:

“I’m too busy” is a worn out phrase I wish we could retire. Growing up in a culture that venerates working hard, being a go-getter, and doing whatever it takes, I, too, have engaged in stupid, competitive, winning-by-losing “I’m too busy” conversations.

How often have I been caught up in boasting — disguised as complaining or commiserating — about who’s the most buried in work, stressed, overwhelmed, swamped, slammed, exhausted, wiped out, ad nauseam? Ugh.

How sad to feel inferior — a loser in the non-stop energizer bunny at work game — because I need 7 hours of sleep to function well, when famous biz gurus brag about clocking 4-5 hours. I’m weary of feeling judged or resented, too, for my favorite path to renewal and productivity: a daily walk. I recently heard this unhelpful comment: “Well. Lucky you. Must be nice to have time for a walk. I’m way too busy to even consider it!”

I’m coming out as a person who needs quiet time to accomplish my best work. I’ve learned something about time management and goal setting. “Down time” steps up my creativity, clarity, and connection with clients to achieve their goals.

I can put nose to grindstone when necessary. I’ve had happy periods of extraordinary energy, productivity and flow, being so absorbed in business matters that I lost track of time. I have climbed and conquered mountains of work, but I’ve also suffered altitude sickness, and worse.

Through painful consequences of over-work I’ve learned I require breaks, from a few minutes to clear my head, nurture my heart, and rejuvenate my body and brain… to vacations, retreats and even sabbaticals. (During a sabbatical in 2002 I founded Coachwalks, cared for a friend in need, took courses to enhance my skills and did the most rewarding volunteer work of my life.)

An important note: I’m aware of my privilege in this unfair world of unequal opportunity. I’ve been able to afford sick days, vacations and the occasional sabbatical. “Take a break” advice is pointless and absurd for too many people forced into working their butts off to survive, buy groceries, or pay rent. Policies need to change, wages need to go up, and I could go on, but not here, not now.

I’m simply inviting other fortunate people to take a stand for down time (a rare and courageous stance when it’s more popular to pursue lots of stuff and money).

Years of “way too busy” times taught me I never win through wiping myself out. I need to be thoughtful, open-minded, rested and not overwhelmed if I’m to be a helpful consultant, communicator, teacher, learner, friend and human being.

A final thought: It’s dangerous to admit I don’t live to work (yet I love my work)! Self-employed folks are drilled in laboring harder, faster, better and longer. The argument I hear most often for a relentless focus on business is this: How else can an entrepreneur succeed in an era of rapid change, customer demands, and intense global competition? Well, it helps to redefine success.

I don’t have millions of dollars, but I’m grateful to have extraordinary, rich work/life experiences and to enjoy loving relationships on my “down time.” My best ideas and creative business solutions come up during walks, vacations and times of rest.

Is this true for you, too? I welcome your comments.


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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!


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Gratitude, Goodwill and Grace: Gifts of the Season

Red and green scene. Happy Holidays!

I was grateful to notice this red and green scene on a bright December day.

It’s December 25. If you celebrate Christmas, may yours be merry and bright. Whether or not this holiday is a holy day in your tradition, I hope this season brings you gratitude, goodwill and grace.

As the glorious strains of Handel’s Messiah fill our home I’m reflecting on what I’ve been learning through another year of walking and talking with extraordinary clients and other companions. I’ll keep it simple:

1) Be thankful. Even on the darkest days and most lonely paths, there is something to appreciate. Look for it!

2) Show goodwill toward colleagues and even “competitors” or those you dislike or don’t understand.  It takes courage to be bighearted instead of small-minded. Be one of the brave ones!

3) Grace someone with your presence in a time of need, or through simple acts of behaving honorably and professionally in challenging circumstances. Try being a blessing instead of a burden.

Gratitude. Goodwill. Grace. These three free gifts were offered to me many times in 2013. I’m deeply touched by everyone who thanked me, expressed warm congratulations and good wishes, or listened with patience and kindness in my times of need. May these gifts be yours this holiday season and into the new year.


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Wise leaders say “thanks” in person!

Smart leaders walk the "thank you" talk, crossing the street as appropriate!

Smart leaders walk the “thank you” talk, crossing the street to connect in person!

Once upon a budget crunch in a large organization, hard-working professionals busted their butts for days, weeks, and months to reach bigger goals with fewer resources.

Raises were “out of the question.” Positions were eliminated or left vacant, as work loads and stress levels grew.

Leaders emphasized high performance expectations via vaguely threatening email messages, reminding employees that nothing less than “full commitment to achieving our goals” was acceptable.

The new “normal” included working through evenings, weekends, and even holidays. Workers were exhausted but kept going… and going… There was a recession, and many felt fortunate to have a job.

Throughout this challenging time, most employees did their jobs exceptionally well. They found ways to manage increased work loads, commiserating with co-workers about “misery loves company.”

One day, a major media outlet featured their organization, praising their leader in a front page story on “how to do more with less.” The positive press created quite a buzz in the community.

The next day, as if an afterthought, the leader sent an email to employees: “You may have seen the recent story on our work. Thanks for your important role in our success.”

Some never noticed this email among hundreds of demanding messages to work harder, faster, and better. Others wondered why the leader didn’t express gratitude face-to-face. A few expressed frustration out loud: “If I’m so ‘important,’ why wasn’t I interviewed? What about our dedication and effort?”  The “thank you” email seemed impersonal and inadequate.

Unfortunately, long time employees were not surprised: The senior executive had never stopped by their cubicles while they were at work. He had never engaged them in face-to-face conversation. His office was across the street from buildings bustling with activity, but workers felt as if they were miles away, out of sight, out of mind, unrecognized, unappreciated. Their efforts had been critical to the organization’s success. They wanted to see and hear thanks from their leader, delivered in person.

Wise leaders know it’s important to show up and make genuine connections with employees. In good times, and in bad, face time counts. It takes a few seconds to see another human being (make eye contact), acknowledge her importance, and say “thanks.” Two minutes is enough time to ask a question and show interest in what she does. Simple interactions can make a big difference.

Appreciation for workers begins at the top, with leaders modeling professional, respectful communication. Crossing the street to express gratitude in person is far more effective than a “lame email,” as one employee described it.

This story is based on real events and organizations. An earlier version was published by the author in April, 2013. Identifying details have been altered to protect the guilty.