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Emotional intelligence: 9 ways to build your self-awareness

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Great relationships, connections and networking are built on the foundation of emotional intelligence. It’s not enough to pretend to control your feelings, but rather to be fully in touch with your emotions and use them resourcefully.

Although you might have heard of emotional intelligence as if it were a single skill, several different skills and practices come together that allow you to stay in touch with your emotions and those around you. 

Typically, there are four key areas to emotional intelligence: self-management, self-awareness, social awareness, and relationship management. The nine skills in self-awareness that I will share with you overlap with all four of these areas. 

It takes an extraordinary self-awareness to use your emotions effectively to create a better life and stronger relationships. 

I want to share nine ways to build self-awareness with you, allowing you to use your emotions effectively without simply swallowing them or ignoring your feelings.  

Some people think only intellect counts: knowing how to solve problems, knowing how to get by, knowing how to identify an advantage and seize it. But the functions of intellect are insufficient without courage, love, friendship, compassion, and empathy., Dean Koontz quote

1. Creating safety is the first step of emotional intelligence

Emotions can run high and may be overwhelming. Physiologically, this impacts rational thought. At that moment, emotions can overcome you, putting you in a reactive state rather than measuring your words and focusing on your thoughts. 

If you want to practice self-awareness, the first step to master is creating safety; much like you would for a toddler having a tantrum. If you’ve read Crucial Conversations, Non-Violent Communication or any other book on negotiation skills, you will be conversant with the need to create safety. First, safety for yourself. Then safety for others that are with you. 

Safety might be physical safety, but it’s often emotional and mental safety. More often than not, it’s safety in your body – turning off the fight/flight/freeze response in your nervous system and bringing yourself into a calm (yet alert) state. 

You want to be in touch with your emotions without being overpowered by them.  

Until you have mastered the ability to create safety, you will find it impossible to stay in touch with your emotions and your rational mind at the same time. 

Emotional intelligence requires that you step into mindfulness.

Intentionally create a space within yourself that is safe and calm. Notice if you need a change in your physical environment to create safety: a library, café or stepping away from the person or situation. 

If we lack emotional intelligence, whenever stress rises the human brain switches to autopilot and has an inherent tendency to do more of the same, only harder. Which, more often than not, is precisely the wrong approach in today's world., Robert K. Cooper quotes

2. Mindfulness and body scans: building self-awareness

How do you know you are in a relaxed and calm state, where you feel safe? 

The short answer: because you know what it feels like to be calm and relaxed! 

One of the ways that you achieve this, is by regularly practising mindfulness or doing a body scan. Mindfulness can be practised in many different ways: 

  • Watching your thoughts without getting caught in them 
  • Noticing your emotions 
  • Focusing on your breath or heartbeat 
  • Sitting in nature and concentrating on the sounds or just watching 
  • Sitting in a plaza or at a café and watching the world pass you by, being present with the world around you

Coming back to yourself

But most of us don’t need help staying in our heads or focusing on the world around us. What we avoid is being present in our bodies and with ourselves.  School teaches us that the only memory that matters is in our head and that our thoughts and mindset can change anything. 

While that is true to some extent, ignoring all the rest of you can result in challenges for emotional intelligence.  

So, practice being present in your body: 

  • notice your breath and the rise and fall of your chest, 
  • feel your heartbeat in your neck or belly, and 
  • pay attention to the state and sensations in your gut: are there any knots in your stomach?  Are your guts churning, or are they perfectly at peace?  

Noticing the sensations in your body is a small step towards greater self-awareness. It can help you monitor tension, stress and emotions.  

A body scan

Get used to running a body scan: starting at your toes, travelling up your legs, through your hips, and up your spine. Notice where you typically hold tension, and any muscles that you find that are tense, tighten them even further, hold for ten seconds, and then totally relax them. Now, notice the difference in how relaxed you are.  

Over time, you will begin to notice what emotional states can be identified in your body and how to return to a calm and relaxed state.  

Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate, C. Jung quotes

3. Emotional intelligence makes meaning of what you are feeling

Part of the power of emotional intelligence is understanding what you feel (putting a name on the emotion) and making meaning of why you feel this way. 

You often think, “I don’t know why I feel this way”. 

When you don’t know why you feel angry, you might feel helpless to change the situation. This can be disempowering. 

We are wired to make meaning in our heads of our emotions, telling ourselves stories that justify the way we feel and then allowing us to choose how to act. 

Of course, emotional intelligence requires that the meaning we make be accurate!  

Ways we can make meaning of our emotions.

Some of the ways you might make meaning of your emotions: 

  1. Use an emotion wheel to identify what emotion you are feeling 
  2. Make the sensation or feeling bigger, and then remember another moment in the past when you felt this way. Allow that memory to resurface. Notice what is the same about this situation. Also, take note of what is different. Is this emotion merely a reflection of the past, or is it something to be dealt with in the present? 
  3. Journal about what you felt when this emotion appeared and the events and thoughts around it. And, as I said, perhaps consider events or situations from the past that were similar in which you felt the same way. What similarities and differences do these stories have? 

It is very important to understand that emotional intelligence is not the opposite of Intelligence, it is not the triumph of heart over head. It is the unique intersection of both, David Caruso quotes

Making meaning of your emotions does not require you to overthink or overanalyse things. It is merely noticing what is going on in life and your emotions and feelings. 

From this perspective, you can then choose how to move forward with these emotions. 

4. Thinking about your feelings: using your rational mind

While it’s not helpful to go overboard in thinking about your feelings, your rational mind plays a role in creating emotional intelligence.

Emotions are not good or bad. 

As I’ve mentioned, your feelings can be motivating and helpful, or they can hinder your progress and create chaos in your relationships. 

I’ve already mentioned the power of jealousy – you might use it as a map to show you what you desire in life. Just because another person has something does not mean that you cannot achieve what you want.  

When you feel jealous, you might take time to analyse what that person is doing differently: why have they succeeded where you haven’t? What lessons can you learn from them? And do you want exactly what they have? Or is your jealousy simply shedding light on the path ahead?  

Allow yourself to explore your emotions with some detachment, noticing what you notice. 

We define emotional intelligence as the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions, John Mayer And Peter Salovey

5. Emotional intelligence in relationships

The biggest challenge you will face is how you relate to others. Those closest to you know your triggers and pressure points best. They probably know exactly where and when to poke you to get the most significant response.  

Another perspective that you can gain on your emotions is your relationships: 

  • How are you relating to yourself at the moment? Are you showing yourself compassion and loving-kindness? 
  • What are these feelings you’re experiencing right now? Do they reflect needs that you have failed to meet? 
  • How might you do a better job in relating to yourself? 

Ways you relate to others.

In the same way, how are your emotions and feelings resulting from how you relate to others? Do you have unmet expectations? Perhaps you made a story in your mind of how the relationship was meant to be, and you are finding that reality does not meet your expectations.  

Notice how you are relating to others: 

  • body language 
  • tone of voice 
  • emotional state 

Could there be a better way of relating to them if you took different actions?  

Also, consider whether you want to invest more or less time in how you relate to this person. How would spending more time with them impact your emotions and feelings? What if you spent less time and took a break from them? 

Emotional intelligence requires that you keep an awareness of your choices – how do you choose to relate to yourself and others? 

Emotional intelligence is your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships, Travis Bradberry

6. Your emotions and what is important to you

One of the reasons for emotional conflict and turmoil is that we fail to give time, money and energy to what we value most. One of our emotional intelligence roles is noticing when we feel angry or conflicted to make better choices.  

Questions that you might ask yourself to get insight: 

  • What situation(s) give rise to these feelings?  
  • What needs or desires have you overlooked or ignored? Which values did you stomp over?  

Your emotional intelligence is aided by a clear idea of your values: what do you say you value, and what do you feel? Do your emotions and feelings match what you think, do and say?  

Values and what you hold important also impact your emotional intelligence in relationships. Do your relationships and the people in your life (family, friends and work) uphold your values? Or are you constantly making concessions that leave you feeling inauthentic? 

Can you have authentic conversations with the people that matter in your life about the things that truly matter? 

When you are in touch with your emotional state and what you value, your conversations will open up new possibilities. Are you willing to listen to what they love and hold essential? 

Emotional intelligence is the ability to sense, understand, and effectively apply the power and acumen of emotions as a source of human energy, information, connection, and influence, Robert K. Cooper

7. Your emotions are not who you are

You’ve probably said it many times: 

  • I am angry
  • I am frustrated; or 
  • any other range of I am (emotion)

But that’s not who you are! It is merely how you are feeling. If you are the sky, your emotions and feelings are the weather passing through. Some days you have sunshine and joy, and others are cloudy with tears. 

Emotional intelligence requires that you sit deep in your gut and connect with who you truly are. Consider where you hold your sense of self. 

I’m pretty sure it’s not in your head! 

It’s somewhere deep within – for some people, closer to the heart and the thorax. For others, it’s closer to the belly button or deeper into the pelvis. And some feel it further back, towards the spine, rather than in the belly.

Only you know where you can sit with yourself. If you’ve never done this exercise before, I invite you to sit and be in your body, exploring and discovering where you feel most “you”.  

And then play! 

Move between sitting in the silence of being and exploring your emotions and sensations in your body. Notice how it feels just to be you versus what emotions and feelings are stirred up. 

An exercise in exploration

If you have an active imagination and can easily re-enact situations, think of a time when you were very angry or frustrated. Remember the people, the place and the sounds. Amplify your feelings and sensations of being angry. Notice what and where you feel this. 

Now, stand up and shake or dance for a moment, and then sit down and find that place again within yourself. And sit for a moment in the calm of being. 

Shake again. 

Now, remember a time that you were happy, laughing and joyful. Once again, add in the details of people, places, sounds and aromas. Amplify your feelings of joy and laughter. Where do you feel this? What are the sensations of fun and laughter? 

Shake it off, and return to that place of self.  

Emotional intelligence is partly the ability to differentiate yourself from your emotions. It takes practice. 

Inner Peace = Wisdom Anger & fear close down your cognitive capacity and limit creativity. On the other hand, happiness and joy enhance problem-solving abilities, creativity, decision-making and memory. It's not about faking it... just find calm, loving your life, grant soosalu

8. Using emotional intelligence to measure risk

One of the skills of an emotionally intelligent person is that they know how to trust their gut. The challenge you face with your gut instinct is that it never speaks in complete sentences and typically doesn’t give an explanation.

It’s just a gut feeling. 

Think about the physiology of the gut and the role it plays in your body: 

  • it is responsible for deciding whether to accept nutrients (digest) or to excrete what doesn’t serve you, deciding what is “self” or “not-self.” 
  • 80% of the immune system is in the gut 

So, does it surprise you, then, that gut feelings are often about boundaries or keeping you safe? 

That’s what your gut does for you! But, it’s not very good at talking or explaining itself coherently. 

There are several ways to build self-awareness so that you can trust your gut: 

  • practice being calm and at peace so that you know what this feels like; 
  • when something “doesn’t feel right”, allow yourself to consider when you have felt this way previously? What situation were you in where this sensation appeared? What was the outcome of this situation? 
  • Journal some questions for your gut and sleep on them. Then answer the questions in the morning “off the top of your head”, without analysing them much. Notice any dreams or images that might come up when you first awaken. 

Trust is something that you build, and it typically has four factors: 

  1. communication,
  2. consistency,  
  3. competence, and  
  4. caring. 

You can practice these with your gut instinct to build greater trust. (Competence is about allowing your gut to do boundaries, rather than letting your head overthink and anxiously catastrophise situations).  

Your intellect may be confused, but your emotions will never lie to you, Donald Calne

9. Using movement to get in touch with your feelings

Finally, recognise that emotions typically ask us for a response: what action will you take? The answer might be a smile or laughter and engagement if you are joyful. When you are sad, it’s okay to cry. 

It’s easy to simplify emotion to E(energy) in Motion

When you feel numb, one way to get in touch with your feelings is to move your body! 

  • Go for a walk or a run; 
  • Dance or jump around; 
  • Stretch gently and slowly; or 
  • Scream and cry at the top of your lungs (it’s also helpful to choose where and how to do this)! 

Once you are in touch with your feelings, they often show you a way forward: a conversation you need to have, a decision you need to make.  

Emotional intelligence will keep you moving forward in your life and relationships.

The essential difference between emotion and reason is that emotion leads to action while reason leads to conclusions, Roger Ebert quote

How to build self-awareness for emotional intelligence

So, here you have nine ways to build more self-awareness that will help you grow your skills of emotional intelligence:  

  1. Create safety within and externally;  
  2. Practice mindfulness and being present in your body;  
  3. Make meaning of your feelings 
  4. Use your rational mind to think about your feelings 
  5. Consider your feelings in how you relate to yourself and others 
  6. Take time to look at your values and what’s important to you 
  7. Find that place of self and identity  within you where you are completely present 
  8. Learn to trust your gut 
  9. Use movement to get in touch with your feelings 

Mastery of your emotional intelligence comes with practice. I don’t have a magic wand to give you! 

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A new perspective for wisdom: change your view of the world

a new perspective, alignment, applying knowledge, coach, compassion, connection, core identity, courage, courageous, courageous action, creative action, creativity, emotion, emotions, feelings, follow your heart, generative wisdom, gut, imagination, inner wisdom, know thyself, knowing is not enough, knowledge requires action, personal identity, perspective, perspectives, power of authenticity, risk, safety and security, self-awareness, self-compassion, think outside the box, thriving is an inside job, use your head, using information and knowledge, values, what is important, wisdom in action

Have the past two years given you a new perspective and way of looking at the world? Perhaps slowing down the world and removing many of life’s pleasures and distractions allowed you to look at your meaning and purpose.

  • How do you view the world and your life?
  • What wisdom have you acquired from looking at the world differently?

Continue reading A new perspective for wisdom: change your view of the world

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Be authentic: consciously author your life with creativity

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Most of us think of creativity as solely referring to artists: painters, musicians, writers, or even architects. They are so creative. I beg to differ. I believe that to be authentic requires that we each live from a place of creativity.

Grant Soosalu and Marvin Oka put it best in their book mBraining: creativity is the quality of consciousness from which you author your life. Continue reading Be authentic: consciously author your life with creativity

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Curiosity and engagement: challenging our perception

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As children, we have an innate curiosity. We look at the world around us with fresh eyes, always looking for the new and exciting. We ask “why” and “what” and “how”, ad nauseum. But somewhere along life’s journey, we dampen this desire to engage with the new.

Our ego, training and habits bind us to a limited perspective. Continue reading Curiosity and engagement: challenging our perception

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How to Create Freedom and Health for a Life you Love

How to Create Freedom and Health for a Life you Love

How quickly this year is flying past, despite the days that seem to last forever and drag by slowly. Perhaps, like me, you’ve had a chance in these last eighteen months to consider deeply what it means to have a life that you love. More importantly, have you noticed the roles that freedom and health play in your life?

This year has reminded me of the importance of my physical health and wellbeing. My physical health impacts my mental health directly. Coeliac Disease goes hand-in-hand with anxiety and depression when inflammation sets in.  It’s more than just the anxiety of not knowing how my body will respond and “play up”.

As long as I manage my inflammation and have a healthy gut flora, my mental health thrives. As my mental health thrives, so does my productivity and ability to build a life I love. Nonetheless, I have regularly ignored how this autoimmune disease affects me and limits my freedom over the past twenty years.

As we spent much of 2020 in lockdown, all the issues related to what I can control and what I cannot control came to the surface for me. There were months of deep introspection and noticing where I have healed and what I have left to heal. I noticed where I trusted the Divine to take care of me and where I sadly lacked trust!

So, I took stock of my life once again.

Mindfulness gives you time. Time gives you choices. Choices, skillfully made, lead to freedom.Henepola Gunaratana, health, a life you love
Mindfulness gives you time.
Time gives you choices.
Choices, skillfully made, lead to freedom. Henepola Gunaratana

Defining values: freedom

One surprising effect of the crisis of 2020, ongoing into 2021, is how it impacted my values and what I consider important.

In my twenties, freedom would have been my primary value. And once again, I find it front and centre as the value which I hold most dear.  While wisdom reappears, laughter made an appearance for the first time since my teens! Mastery made an appearance, replacing ideas of commitment and being in the flow. And empowerment made an appearance for the first time: empowering myself as well as empowering others.

For 2020, my values were bold, committed, resilient, inspired, aware, intuitive, and flow.  I struggled most of the year with the flow and detaching from the outcome!  I’m not sure what happened to bold – other than being outspoken in my memes on social media to the extent that I got a few Facebook bans for sarcasm that was “fact-checked”.

But for me, freedom is more than just political freedoms or religious freedom.

Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better.Albert Camus
Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better. Albert Camus

What does freedom mean to you?

personal freedom: freedom of the person in going and coming, equality before the courts, security of private property, freedom of opinion and its expression, and freedom of conscience subject to the rights of others and of the public
From Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary

Freedom is the state of being allowed to do what you want to do
“Freedom is the state of being allowed to do what you want to do.” From Collins online dictionary.

I consider freedom to cover many aspects of my life:

  • There’s an emotional aspect – the healing from baggage that I have perhaps carried for many years;
  • Financial freedom – the power to live a life that I love, having choices open up before me because I have built the financial wherewithal to finance my choices;
  • Religious freedom – to believe and have faith as I choose;
  • Freedom of speech and opinion; and – most importantly
  • The freedom to be yourself.

I hope that you are loved, accepted and valued as you are, for who you are, by the people that you value and love.

When we lose the right to be different, we lose the privilege to be free.Charles Evans Hughes
“When we lose the right to be different, we lose the privilege to be free.” Charles Evans Hughes

The Health to Live a Life I Love

An essential element of my personal freedom is the health to live abundantly. This includes my emotional and mental health and a level of fitness that is high enough to do the activities that I love.

While my personal definition of great health is a body that does not rely on medicines or supplements to keep my organs and systems balanced and well, that is not currently my reality. I don’t have enough energy to do everything I want without supplements, and I don’t get to live pain-free. However, I don’t have to resort to medication for my health journey. That is a major step forward from where I used to be.

I exercise because I want to be strong enough to do activities that I love: paddle boarding, exploring the outdoors, travelling with active sightseeing. While my travel has been restricted these last eighteen months, I am focused on keeping a fitness level that affords me the confidence that I could leave at any time and be fit enough.

The goal, ultimately, is a life that I love.

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How do I identify my ideal life?

If you’ve ever done a “Passion Test”, you will know this phrase well.

“My life is ideal when I am…”

  • What are you doing when you are living your ideal life?
  • Who are you with, ideally?
  • What do you feel when you are thriving?
  • Where are you?

You might write down ten or twelve phrases of “my life is ideal when I am…”

At the beginning of the year, I write down fifty things that I do when my life is ideal. What are the activities that I am actively involved in? Who do I make time to visit and spend time with? It might be as simple as “make time to have coffee with ____”.

The goal throughout the year is to do as many of these 50 items – no matter how big or small – that are aligned with my values and ideal life.  These are fifty small stepping stones to an ideal life.

Designing my ideal life:

I am now exceedingly careful with who participates in the design of my life. Whoever calls the shots has the power. I insist on having the freedom to design my life and seek opinions from others with common interests.

What limits your ability to dream and desire? Of course, it depends on whether these limitations are real. Are these limitations beliefs that we have held in mind for years? How might I challenge these beliefs? Perhaps they are imaginary limitations.  If you’ve handed over the power to others, can you now take it back?

Do you have the freedom to prioritise (in time, money and attention) what is important to you?

When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw. Nelson Mandela
When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw. Nelson Mandela

The freedom of values:

For me, in the design of my ideal life, my values take centre stage. They are not simply empty words and ideas. Rather, they reflect the ideals of what I want to embody in my choices.

Whose values are you living and embodying each day? Perhaps your life and the design of it reflect the values of another generation. They might reflect the values of your inner critic rather than your deep sense of self.

If you feel empty and that your life is meaningless: this is a great place to start examining. Consider the values that your life currently embodies, and then consider whether or not these are your personal values.

The Freedom to Create:

Creating a life you love is more than ideation and design. It’s creating and then keeping to routines that support you. You take an idea, and you put it into action, allocating time and resources.

  • Do you have the freedom to create a life you love?
  • What limitations and obstacles are you facing?

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Health and Energy to Take Action:

For me, these past twenty years, taking action has been tied closely to my health. While I might use mindset to push through part of the obstacles, I’ve found that building a stronger, healthier body is easier and more effective than focusing on using my energy to push through.

How does your mental health impact your freedom?

I’m in an industry where we talk openly about mental health and our challenges with anxiety or depression. I’m blessed with an awareness of what “okay” feels like and can notice when I’m not doing well.  More importantly, I have a support network that helps me get back to fully balanced and in action.

Because when my health is great, I’m motivated and focused.

If you don’t have that support network: how can you build it? Having a life you love depends on this!

The joy of travel

With Coeliac Disease, one of my biggest constraints is where and what I eat. While that could limit my love of travelling, I refuse to allow that to be so! Airbnb has been one of my saving graces because it allows me to have a kitchen and make my own food. I typically pack one or two small pots (yes, I travel with my own pots) and then buy disposable cutlery and a ton of tinfoil when I arrive. The tin foil allows me to cover surfaces in the kitchen that might have gluten (like chopping boards).

Unfortunately, Coeliac Disease also constrains what I drink. It’s more than just avoiding beers and whiskey. Most powdered coffee and frappe mixes are either flavoured (malt) or contaminated with gluten. However, most leaf teas (unflavored) are safe choices.  So, I often order a tea with a meal rather than risk hot cocoa (because I don’t know which powder mix they use) or a cold drink.

On a plane, I assume that the only food I’ll be offered is a fruit salad and peanuts (which don’t sit well with my stomach and I avoid). So, I always pack my own snacks for planes and travel.

I’m not going to let dietary restrictions impact the joy of travel!

Eating out, however, is another story! I’ll join friends for celebrations but often find myself ordering vanilla ice cream. While it would seem that a fruit salad or a salad of any kind would be a safe choice: unless they have a dedicated gluten-free surface and knives, I won’t risk it. I prefer to go hungry for one meal than ruin my holiday for the next ten to fifteen days.

Steps and pacing yourself

You have to start wherever it is that you are at right now. There’s no point in waiting longer – till things get better – to get started. It’s unrealistic to think that everything is always fine – there are challenges and obstacles.

If you’ve never done it before, get clear on your personal values, and then define for yourself what freedom means and the health you need to have the life you love.

Your personal definition of freedom will differ from mine. Perhaps it is merely political and religious freedom. Maybe it is something more.

What is your personal definition of wellbeing? Does it include health and fitness?

No matter what your definitions, identify small steps that you can take this week, this month and over the next six months that allow you to build a life you love.  You might consider creating a plan for the next two years or even up to five years.

Review, revisit and revise your plans.

Plans are implemented over time: things change, and life doesn’t always go as expected.

I typically review my plans and progress in November and May of every year. Sometimes I find myself back at the drawing board, rebuilding the plans I had for my goals. Other times, I merely tweak and chunk down, delving deeper into the next steps forward.

It’s all about how I face the obstacles and challenges along the way.

Despite the challenges I’ve faced with health and well-being over these past twenty years, I still insist on being fit and healthy. This doesn’t mean that I give up on a goal or dream. Nonetheless, I regularly check what works and adjust my course.

You’re never starting from scratch when you revisit and revise your plans – you now have more experience and adjust for the current reality.

It’s tempting to throw away the goal and give up. But most times, the problem is not the dream or goal itself. Usually, it’s the plan we’re following or our half-assed efforts at implementation.

As much as I would like to say that I wing it and do everything going with the flow, I don’t. I use discipline and routines to keep the flow happening. They are my best friends in both planning and execution.

What do you value most in freedom, health and a life you love?

As you look back over the lessons you’ve learned in the last eighteen months, consider how your definitions of health and freedom have changed.

More importantly, what do you value most in creating a life you love?

What are you doing to create this?

introductory call, Beth Gray, coach, coaching packages, phone call, Zoom, Skype, online, purpose, expectations, value, fit