Practice self-compassion, essentially treating yourself the way you would a good friend. Self-compassion is both a life vest (helping us bounce back when we’re hit with adversity) and a parachute (helping us take risks). Plus, self-compassion is very stable even during turbulent times. Here’s an example of how to use self-compassion to build resilience. When you fail rather than quitting or beating yourself up, with self-compassion you notice that you are suffering (that’s mindfulness), you realize that failing and making mistakes is a normal part of life (that’s common humanity) so you feel less isolated, then instead of just plowing forward you’re kind to yourself and you take time to give yourself what you need to feel better.
Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Ellen Albertson.
Dr. Ellen is a psychologist, registered dietitian, national board-certified health and wellness coach Reiki master and Mindful Self-compassion teacher. She helps women transform themselves so they have energy, confidence and clarity to make their best chapter their best chapter. An author, inspirational speaker and expert on women’s wellbeing, Dr. Ellen has appeared on Extra, the Food Network and NBC World News and has been quoted in Psychology Today, Eating Well and USA Today.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
I’ve had a very interesting career so far. I’ve always been interested in wellness and had a deep desire to help people, so in 1993 I changed careers (I was a corporate executive) and went back to school to become a Registered Dietitian. Initially I worked as an outpatient dietitian while working on a career as a journalist writing about health and nutrition for magazines like SELF and Good Housekeeping. My media experience expanded when my ex-husband and became celebrity chefs, known as The Cooking Couple. We wrote several books, had a nationally syndicated radio show, and made numerous TV appearances.
The Cooking Couple experience ran its course and I wasn’t sure what to do next. I received a postcard from the National Council on Strength and Fitness and since I’ve always been a jock, I decided to become a personal fitness trainer. I loved helping my clients get fit, but I also wanted to help then make lasting behavior changes, so I signed up for Wellcoaches School of Coaching, which was tremendous and provided me with skills to help people transform their bodies and lives.
I’m a lifetime learner so next I decided to go back to school for my doctorate in psychology. At the time I had two kids, was in a toxic marriage, and had clinical depression. I was fortunate to find Mindful Self-compassion (more on this in the next question). The practices transformed me and how I work with clients.
Today, I’ve created a vibrant career (and life) using all of my skills and experience to help women transform their bodies, minds, hearts, spirits and relationships. I’ve developed a 7-step transformational signature system, which I share in my new book: Rock Your Midlife. My goal is to help as many women as possible Rock Midlife and change the way that our society views middle age. It can absolutely be the best time of your life if you know how to transform.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I was finishing up my doctorate in psychology and needed a dissertation topic. I wanted to find a way to help women (and myself) feel better about their bodies. At the time, I was a personal fitness trainer and had terrible body image even though I was in amazing shape and looked great. I thought that when I had the perfect body, I’d love myself, but no matter how much I worked out, I was never satisfied.
My dissertation chair suggested that I teach women some type of meditation for my topic. Initially I was resistant because I didn’t want to become a meditation teacher, but she was persistent, so I decided to research meditation techniques.
I was fortunate enough to connect with Kristin Neff, who is a pioneer and lead research in the area of self-compassion. Kristin agreed to be on my dissertation committee and help me publish my study if I took the Mindful Self-compassion training. Practicing self-compassion eradicated my negative body image and changed my entire self-concept from self-loathing to self-love and how I work with clients. My research showed that practicing self-compassion lowered body dissatisfaction, body shame, and self-worth based on appearance while improving body appreciation.
Lesson 1: Self-compassion is incredibly powerful.
Lesson 2: We had the equation reversed. Self-loathing never leads to self-love.
Now when I work with clients, we start by learning self-compassion and the body image and diet issues are lovingly resolved FAST!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I have decades of experience and more degrees than I thermometer. I’ve worked with hundreds of midlife women and literally written the book about this period of time. I’m The Midlife Whisperer — a nonjudgmental one-stop shop for all your midlife needs.
Whether they want to transform their bodies, have more confidence or get their joy back, my clients also get results FAST.
When my 48-year-old client Patricia, an executive with two teens, started working with me she was unhappy, unhealthy, and had no idea how to get her joy back. She wanted to be healthier and feel better about her body and herself. Every evening she looked to alcohol and food to make up for what was missing in her life. In just a few months after working with me she lost 10 pounds, reduced her body fat percentage, and increased her muscle mass without “dieting”. She stopped being a people pleaser and learned to please herself. She got her joy back and loves her life and herself. While she once feared reaching 50, she’s now looking forward to that milestone.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I would like to credit Margaret Moore, Founder of Wellcoaches School of Coaching, with some of my success. She has mentored me for years, and Wellcoaches transformed the way I worked with my patients and enabled me to become a Nationally Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach. Margaret also recommended Fielding Graduate University, which is where I earned my PhD in psychology.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
I would define resilience as the mental capacity to successfully deal with and adapt to unwelcome challenges effectively and maintain wellbeing when faced with these difficulties, misfortunes, and pressures. Basically, positive adaption to stressful or adverse events.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
Both courage and resilience are nouns, associated with being able to move forward when faced with challenges. Courage is an older word and concept that dates back to the 12th century. It comes from the Latin word cor and French cour, which both mean heart. Resilience is a newer term, which originally was associated with the act of springing back or rebounding. Over the last 40 years resilience as a concept has evolved and been a topic of psychological research. It is considered a strength, trait (some people are naturally more resilient than others) and skill that can be developed to helps you cope with stress, loss, and hardship. Courage is more about following a path with heart even if it means doing things that are scary. Courage is a quality that can help you be more resilient because it strengthens your faith in your ability to keep going when faced with difficulties and either accept or resolve them.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Oprah Winfrey. She had so many things going against her, yet she has been remarkably successful and made a huge impact on the world. Her mother was a low-income teenager. She was fired from one of her first TV jobs because a producer thought she was“unfit”for television. She has bounced by reinventing herself and following a path with heart again and again.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
Rock your Midlife is my 5th book and my first book that I am doing everything myself. So many people in my life told me it was impossible for me to write and publish this book on my own. I’m doing it anyway and plan on making it a bestseller. I’ve made soooo many mistakes and bounced back from everyone and gotten wiser and stronger in the process.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
I’d say the period of time when I ended my marriage and got a divorce. It was incredibly difficult to break up and break free from this relationship. It took courage because I was scared and didn’t know how I’d do on my own, but I knew it was time to leave. It’s been four years since I left the relationships and now I am more confident and successful than I could have imagined. I’m also engaged to an amazing man who completely gets and supports me.
How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
I am a curious explorer and love to reinvent myself. Every new chapter has required tremendous resilience to transform, start again, and achieve success. I have numerous careers including: corporate executive, nutritionist, author/journalist, celebrity chef, product spokesperson, personal fitness trainer, transformational coach, psychologist, and spiritual counselor.
Growing up being the youngest of three and being involved in sports during high school contributed to building resiliency. As the youngest I was not as accomplished as my older siblings so I’d try to do what they did, failed and faced rejection frequently, and learned to get up and keep trying. In high school I ran track and field and was one of the few girls on the boy’s cross country team because this was right around the time of Title 9 when girls were supposed to have the same opportunities as boys. I failed a lot and wasn’t very good initially at running. Instead of quitting I worked harder and eventually by the time I was a senior I ran a 5 minute 40 second mile and placed in a state track meet.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
1.Practice self-compassion, essentially treating yourself the way you would a good friend. Self-compassion is both a life vest (helping us bounce back when we’re hit with adversity) and a parachute (helping us take risks). Plus, self-compassion is very stable even during turbulent times. Here’s an example of how to use self-compassion to build resilience. When you fail rather than quitting or beating yourself up, with self-compassion you notice that you are suffering (that’s mindfulness), you realize that failing and making mistakes is a normal part of life (that’s common humanity) so you feel less isolated, then instead of just plowing forward you’re kind to yourself and you take time to give yourself what you need to feel better.
2.Practice mindfulness. Rather than ruminating about your challenges and troubles, you notice what you are experiencing while you experiencing. Essentially you become more of an observer. As a result you harness the brain’s neuroplasticity enabling you to increase resilience by boosting self-awareness and flexibility. For example, you are struggling with debt. You want to build resilience so that you can look at your bills and start to deal with them. Practicing mindfulness helps you to become aware of the feelings, emotions, stories, beliefs, and thoughts associate with your bills. You create a little space to see your thoughts and feelings objectively as mind states so rather than react you can respond, flow and create possibilities for paying them off.
3.Know yourself and be authentic. Show up as your true self. No one can say you’re doing it wrong. Being authentic increases confidence (self-trust) make you more resilient. This has been so important in my own life. For years I wore a mask and showed up in my social media fields inauthentically. I felt like an imposter and my confidence was low. I made the decision to start posting and sharing in a much more real way with more integrity. This has enabled me to help and connect with so many more people and I feel so much more joyful about the work I am doing.
4.Rehab your relationships so that you have more supportive people in your life who can help you bounce back and be more resilient. For example, rather than over giving, be open to receive and ask for help.
5. Increase positivity including the emotions: joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, and love. Research shows that a positivity ratio of 3:1 (3 positive emotions to 1 negative emotion) is associated with more resilience.
Here’s a story, I had a client name Gail who was feeling bad about herself and her life. Recently divorce she was feeling stuck, wasn’t taking good care of herself, and was lacking resilience to bounce back. Her self-talk was very judgmental, and she was experiencing a lot of difficult emotions. I had her do an energy inventory by keeping track of all the things she did on a daily basis and how they made her feel. Over time I coached her to do less of the things that drained her generated difficult emotions and more of the things that energized her and made her feel good. She also started a gratitude journal and using positive affirmations to increase positive emotions. Now she feels great about herself and practices self-care every day. She has a new job that she loves and has also started to date again.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Change the way people view midlife and aging in general. When you put midlife in Google it is conjoined with crisis. It is not a time of crisis, it is a wonderful time of reawakening and opportunity for transformation. It can be the best time of life if you follow the 7 steps in my book. In addition, aging is a blessing, not a curse especially if you take care of your body. Eighty-percent of diseases are due to lifestyle, only twenty-percent is genetic. There is so much we can do to stay healthy and live a long, happy life. We are gifted with an entire second adulthood and can make it our best chapter.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them :-)
I would love to meet Glennon Doyle and thank her for her amazing book Untamed which is having such a powerful impact on midlife women.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!