Emotional Awareness and Resilience Coach, Author, and Speaker

Lou’s Bio

As an Emotional Awareness coach, Author, and Speaker, Lou’s mission is to help men, women, and children understand and gain ownership over their emotions, so they can live the life they choose.

Through his personal experience of having successfully completed a multitude of endurance athletic events over the past decade, including the Boston Marathon, several Ironman events, and ultramarathons, as well through his study of eastern medicine and philosophy Lou has developed an important set of mental and emotional tools that have the ability to benefit anyone looking to bring their best selves to every situation.

Beyond his own practice, Lou has discovered how to translate his knowledge into tools for patients in his acupuncture practice, the youth he coaches, parents, business owners, and other athletes. Through his talks and workshops, Lou helps youth, parents, business owners, athletes and leaders gain ownership of their choices by knowing how to use their emotions in a way that serves their individual goals, whether for sports or for life.

New Year’s Goals filled with Appreciation instead of Attrition

I am so grateful to be picking my son up from the airport. We are going for a fantastic breakfast at the Parkway Diner right after, followed by some really good conversation while I drive us home. Like many families at this time of year, a hot topic of conversation that usually comes up is setting our goals. We may talk about how we want to improve current projects, what difficulties we may face while in pursuit of our goals, new or old, and some of the ways we plan to meet those challenges. Sometimes when we define just one possibility of success for ourselves and we’re not mindful of our emotions, a quick shot of excitement of a possible outcome can turn into grasping, nervousness, general uneasiness, or even fear at the possibility of not getting what we want.

I don’t pretend to know how all emotions behave in our bodies, but I do know that fear, shame, and anger are very limiting motivators. Like a simple sugar high, they can elevate performance and energy temporarily, but they also have the side effects of burning through our energy like fire through kindling. Other side effects include, but are not limited to: self- judgement, which inhibits your ability to appreciate any step of the process towards your goals; lack of follow-through, where the toxic stress caused by your uncomfortable emotions can result in you discarding a goal altogether. Totally discarding a goal, well, that can have its own wonderful side effects including shame, depression, and resignation.

Chasing after your goals can bring real enjoyment. Granted, good goal setting and achievement will require consistent and vigorous effort, resilience, and the acceptance of the growing pains that come along with any change. Positive, reinforcing emotions, such as excitement, joy, and a sense of pride in the smallest victories are requirements if you want to succeed for the long haul. Here are a couple tips I have found helpful in minimizing fear, maximizing appreciation for all of your ‘wins,’ and reinforcing your successes for yourself in the up-coming year.

Pyramid goal-setting allows for many wins on the way to your ultimate goals.
Reaching your goals and succeeding are amazing confidence builders, but if you really want to improve, it will only come through learning from the virtual library of knowledge your setbacks provide. That’s right. All the times you fail in the attempt are invaluable. The best way to fail successfully is to break up a goal into different parts, celebrate the parts you do well, then learn from the parts where you have difficulty. Here’s an example: you want to run a marathon for the first time this year. The greatest distance you’ve done thus far is a half marathon. You feel your times are good at this distance but don’t know what to expect for yourself running 26.2 miles. You look at some conversion chart on-line, and it tells you what you ‘should’ be able to run. You also know the time you would ‘like’ to run your marathon in. So, here’s your pyramid…

  1. Bottom level – You’ve never finished a marathon, and just getting through that distance would be a pretty amazing feat. You will work on time as you go.
  2. One level up – You believe that 4 hours is more than ample time to finish the distance, because you finish most of your half’s in an hour and 40 minutes.
  3. One more level up (it’s getting tight) – Three and a half hours would be an incredible time, and you would have to have everything dialed in. 
  4. Tip of the pyramid – You run a 3 hours and 15 minutes or better. God would have to have his right hand on your shoulder (or carry you) part of the way, but you have been going to church on the regular, and if EVERYTHING goes perfectly… well… you believe it could be possible.

Focus on your ‘Action’ goals and allow your ‘Performance’ goals to take care of themselves.

  • Action goals are goals you have control over. You have control over how much you practice, the quality of your practice, and your effort. These are your action goals. An example would be if you want to learn the kazoo, you set an action goal of practicing an hour a day, 5 days a week for a month. If you are familiar with S.M.A.R.T. goals, then you will recognize that this goal is specific (an hour a day, 5 days a week), measurable (you can just check off a calendar), achievable (unless you don’t have a kazoo… it shouldn’t be too hard to pick one up), realistic (make sure you have an hour a day), and time bound (you re-access in a month how you are doing).
  • Performance goals you don’t have control over. Unfortunately, you don’t always have say over what happens after you follow through with your action goals. Let’s say your performance goal is that you want your local school band to choose you for their kazoo player. You followed through with your action goal, and you really have the kazoo down (you are amazing on the thing!). But there are seven other kazoo players (if you can believe that) who tried out for band, and after all your practice and hard work, you weren’t chosen. You may not have achieved your ultimate goal of playing in the band this year, but you improved your play dramatically, and built your confidence. You may not have reached your performance goal on this turn, but because of all the reinforcement you gained from the ‘wins’ achieved through action goals, you are much more likely to continue your quest for being the most formidable kazoo’ist’ in your school band.  

And last but not least…

Make sure the goals you go after are yours. How do you know when a goal is not yours? When you think about your goal and it doesn’t particularly excite you, but you know a lot of other people that would really like to see you do it. It may make you feel like you have status, but you’d really be pleasing other people by achieving that status instead of pleasing yourself. Goal-chasing can be difficult and may cause stress and real effort, but if those goals resonate, you ‘lose time’, meaning find yourself fully present while chasing them, and you are always grateful for opportunity to work towards them.

While I find I didn’t fully achieve all that I set out to do in 2018, I am grateful for all that I have learned in the pursuit of every goal I undertook: persistence, perseverance, resilience, and furthering my ‘knowledge’ of the things that I am truly passionate about. I approach the coming year reviewing all I have accomplished. Accessing not just those things I completed for myself, but all the things I began. Even those things I may have never started. I celebrate how big a dent I made in goals that I didn’t fully achieve. And I consider what might have changed in my life that caused some goals I had set on January 1st to no longer be a priority a few months down the road. This is just as important – for it shows me how I have grown and changed as I have achieved different things or grown in different areas. Once I have done this, THEN I am ready to consider my goals for the coming year, using the ‘knowledge’ about what I have done, what is important to me, and where I think I want to put my time, energy and focus for myself in 2019.

I would like to wish everyone a very happy New Year. As we move into another 365 days of circling that big orange ball in our sky, may we all be grateful for the work we’ve already done that was meaningful to us in 2018. Our brave attempts ‘in the arena.’ Celebrate our ‘wins’ through full remembrance and recognition of the hard-won confidence that is now part of us. Our resilience and ability to learn from our setbacks in all our endeavors. The love we’ve shared, the wonderful people in our lives, and the generosity that has been shown to us and that we’ve shown to others as well as ourselves. May we remain friends with ourselves through our most difficult trials in this past year and the next. And never cease striving for our goals with passion and appreciation for the each and every win that we earn.

Breathe and Focus

I have this incredible opportunity next month to give a workshop at my local high school on mental emotional resilience. Its purpose is to help students choose their actions instead of allowing their emotions to choose their actions for them. It’s Tuesday morning and I have more than a few weeks before any of this takes place. I have an hour or so before going into work, so I begin looking over my ‘to do’ list. Besides the workshop development, I also have a parent talk to finalize, and some contacts I need to follow up on with other schools, as well as other tasks to related to additional workshops I’m developing. It feels a bit daunting looking over everything at once, and as I gaze over what I need to do, I realize I haven’t written a blog for this week yet! How could I have missed that?

So, to buy myself some time (basically, because I am feeling overwhelmed by my ‘to do’ list’) I open my email… Always a bad idea without a purpose. I see that I have an email from my assistant athletic director seeing if I would be interested in giving a talk about the role emotions play in sports – basically a talk about the mental game. This is awesome! Isn’t it? It should be. I can’t decide if I’m feeling anxious or excited at the moment.

“What was I doing?” My mind is racing a bit. Already creating an ‘emotions in sports’ talk in my head. I can feel my gaze avoiding my ‘to do’ list (the feelings of anxiousness over that list has gained literal weight in my mind). My hand (which is a bit sweaty) picks up the phone and turns on the recorder. I go right into talking for 15 minutes about mental emotional resilience in sports. I don’t remember deciding to do this now, but subconsciously I feel my brain getting swollen and feeling tight in my skull. I’m certain that if I could just get this ‘sports talk thingy’ off the table I’d feel a lot better. I go to listen back to my recording, and, unsurprisingly, it’s not flawless. To be honest I feel even more over-loaded now because I feel like I’ve wasted 15 minutes on something that is not 100% perfect out the gate!

My self- imposed pressure grows bigger with the newly created judgement I just picked up. “What’s that talk that I give on judgement?” I wonder to myself. Dammit! I’m wasting time, wheels churning, not on how to do my best work, but how to feel less pressure in my thick gray matter. Nothings getting done (right…more judgement). My gaze stops looking inward, and I see (a bit late) that the car in front of me has stopped. I hit the brakes quick enough to avoid running into it, but I am plenty close to its rear to have a front row seat to all of the bumper stickers it’s sporting. One sticks out from all the others:

“Just breathe.”

Wow. Could it be that simple? I decide to take a deep breath. Then two. As I’m taking my third, I begin to feel my body relax a bit. My mind still resists and continues to and pull my focus back to all the things it believes I need to do all at once. But I gently resist. I keep my gaze on the bumper and my attention on my breath with the help of those two simple words. Just breathe.

The definition of being overwhelmed means to be buried under a huge mass. The mere perception of this can elicit in us very real feelings of anxiety. On a physiological level anxiety can make our heart beat rapidly, impede our concentration and our ability to remember, and cause a tightness in our chest. Basically, when a huge mass of uncomfortable emotions land on top of us, we literally feel like there is a weight upon our chest. By slowing up my breathing, and paying attention to every breath, I was able to open up my chest, take in more air, slow my heart beat a bit, and have oxygen and blood flow to my brain again. This, in turn, allowed for me to remember a basic truth: we can only focus on one thing at a time.

That feeling of be overwhelmed is created when our focus is scattered on too many tasks at once. The quickest way to open up space in our minds is to write down the tasks we need to do, prioritize them accordingly, and then place our focus on one task at a time. Now that sounds like an easy choice that anybody can make and then go off and do it. And maybe some people can. But I promise you it has always taken me a great deal of practice, and still does.

Practicing focus through sitting meditation or just making sure that your mind and thoughts stay in the present moment, are two of the quickest antidotes to reducing feelings of overwhelm. This doesn’t mean that we won’t have uncomfortable feelings as we perform difficult tasks that are important to us. But, by keeping our minds on a singular task, other things are unable to overwhelm us with uncomfortable feelings and hinder our performance in the present.

I pulled over to the side of the road. I still had some time to before my first patient. Instead of using that time to try and bull my way through one project I took another 5 minutes to just sit and breathe in my car. I used the rest of my time to prioritize my list things to do, so the next time I had a chance to get some work done, I wouldn’t bring a huge mass of overwhelming emotions with me. As I went into my office, with my to-do list was more manageable, I felt more confident about my work and found it a great deal easier to keep my mind clear and focused on the present moment and my patient as they walked through the door.

What strategies have you used to help yourself reduce your anxiety and overwhelm, stay mindful in the present, focused on what you can actually accomplish with the time you had available, and therefore ended up being more productive?

By Endurance through Optimism, We Conquer

I’m reading the book Endurance right now.  I do have a fascination with endurance sports – marathons, ultra-running, Iron Man…  But this book is actually about the incredible adventure and trial of an explorer named Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew as they crossed Antarctica.  They were stranded on the unforgiving ice and winds for 20 months in 1915, then somehow drummed up the will to row a 22-foot boat over 800 miles across wild and storm-struck seas.  He had tried this incredible journey twice before and the book I’m reading now is about his third attempt.  His ship was called the Endurance.  And rightly so.

I haven’t finished this book, so I don’t claim to know if they live or die. What I do know and what I am humbled by is the love and respect Shackleton earned from his crew.  From what I can make of it so far, this was due to several admirable virtues of the man.  He always put his crew before himself.  He had an incredible amount of emotional intelligence, a really good sense, energetically, of where his crew was at, who to put together in the tents when they were on the ice, and things like that.  But the one virtue that seemed to stand out for me most was his optimism.  He would never allow his crew to see him down, and the one ‘character flaw,’ as he put it, that he could not tolerate from a crewman was pessimism.  Shackleton felt that it was a weak mind that couldn’t figure out how they were going to view what their future was going to hold and how they were going to meet each situation. “Difficulties are just things to over-come,” He would say.

I found this very interesting because so many people right off the bat think that endurance has to do with being able to hold firm, keep a stiff upper lip, deal with hardships and find ways to just keep going. How long you hold your difficult emotions.  How long you tolerate bad circumstances, whether they are internal or external.  Your ability to ‘hold the line.’

In reality, you have this guy, Shackleton, and every time he came encountered a circumstance that was dire, he chose a line of thinking and feeling and speaking about that circumstance that would best support what he wanted out of the situation.  Shackleton realized the situation, even though it was external (his ship getting trapped in the ice!), did not exist outside of him, but instead existed in the way he thought about it.

I couldn’t help but think about the endurance races I’ve done. How I’ve had people ask me “What do you think about when you are on mile two or three of a race and you know you have another 55 or 60 miles to go?”  “Don’t you just get down on yourself knowing you have so far to still go?”  My method is similar to Shackleton’s approach:  optimism.

I never look at a race in the entirety of the 62 miles. I look at each mile in and of itself.  I look at whether I am catching a pace (how fast I am going) that is better (faster) than the pace I want it to be for each mile.  For example, if I want to be running a 14-minute per mile pace for my race and I run a mile at 12 minutes and 30 seconds, I realize I am a minute and a half ‘to the good,’ meaning ahead of my pace.  This inspires me.  I feel accomplished for that mile.

I then move into the next mile with the reward system in place, meaning I just try to get under my goal pace for that mile. So, by the time I get to mile 30 or 35 and I realize I have all this time ‘banked’ (every minute I was faster than my goal pace has now added up to being an hour or more!) for whatever my goal time is for the race.  I start to relax and feel more confident and capable.  I know that with this banked time I don’t have to worry as much about if things don’t go right later on in the race.  I have a reserve of all these minutes toward helping reach my goal.

So, how I choose to look at the early miles of a race helps me feel like I have enough room to meet whatever might come up in the later miles. I am not left feeling anxious and burning energy on my emotions.  I cover my races looking at things with optimism, finding ways to elicit positive, helpful emotions, one mile at a time, literally using my 5 senses to visualize the result I want to have happen.  By doing so I conserve energy and it also gives me the greatest chance for the best possible outcome.

Now I’m not going to pretend that I know what some great man like Shackleton is doing in his situation, and, as I said, I haven’t finished the book yet. But I can tell you this – when the boat gets stuck, when the men are on the ice, when he is deciding a timeline for covering over 800 miles, every single choice he makes he chooses to look at it in the positive light.  In the light that would best serve him.  He’s not using his energy to hold his negative emotions back.  He’s using his energy to transform a difficult external situation into something that is optimistic, hopeful and manageable inside of himself.

So, what about when things don’t go well. For Shackleton, it really comes down to life or death.  But for my races it can be that my blood sugar gets depleted, I run out of energy and turn in on myself mentally and physically.  The miles not only look longer, they ARE longer (in my mind), and I may start to get desperate for the challenge to be over, and fearful of how far I have left to go, or even if I can finish at all.  These emotions are normal and natural, and they will come up.  It isn’t that you are trying to stop yourself from having difficult emotions.  They will come.  It’s about how you meet your difficult emotions and thoughts.  How you use your energy to best serve yourself so that your difficult situation becomes more manageable and you get the most of what you need out of it.

Have you faced a situation that has challenged you? Maybe it is one that you have chosen, like me – a race, a physical feat of some sort, or a mental challenge like learning a new skill.  Or, maybe it is one that has imposed itself upon you like an accidental injury, unexpected job loss, or a severe weather event that caused some damage to your home or community.  How did you endure your situation?  Please share below how your frame of mind served you.

What people are saying

  • “I was having real difficulty, not just creating a relationship with my son and daughter,
    but being able to
    parent him without getting caught in my anger all the time.
    After being in Lou’s workshop, I definitely feel more in control
    of my emotions and actions at work, with my kids, everywhere.“

    – Educator and mother of two

  • “Lou is able to take things that most of us feel and have difficulty expressing and give words to them. He makes what we’re feeling accessible to us through humor and great story telling.”

    – Social Worker, mother of three

  • “Lou is one of those special peopl who gets kids AND adults.  You see it in his coaching cross-country as well as his books and workshops.  His compassionate treatment of children and adults alike as we learn to help each other grow in emotional awareness and skills is so needed today, so centering and enlivening.  Thank you Lou for all you are and what you do with it!”

    Sally Kendall, MT and Intructor