Disconnect from the “shoulds.” Many of us go through life with a non-stop recording of what we “should” be doing, and all of those shoulds can kill our confidence and our motivation. It’s time to stop “shoulding” on yourself! The next time your inner critic pipes up with you what you’re doing wrong or should be doing instead, create some emotional distance between yourself and the thought. So if your critic says, “You’ll never land that client,” simply say, “I’m having the thought that I’ll never land that client.” You can even take it a step further and say, “I’m noticing that I’m having the thought that I’ll never land that client.” This simple language trick allows you to separate yourself and your identity from your thoughts, and in that separation, you create space for choice. You get to decide whether the thought is helpful or not, and whether you want to buy into it. Most importantly, you remind yourself that you are not your thoughts, and just because your mind says something doesn’t make it true.
As a part of my series about the “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness” I had the pleasure of interviewing Lee Chaix McDonough, Founder and CEO of Coach with Clarity®. Lee is a business coach who serves coaches and entrepreneurs seeking to leverage their intuition as they grow profitable businesses and fulfilling lives. She is the force behind Coach with Clarity, a membership site for intuitive, heart-centered coaches, and the host of the Coach with Clarity podcast. She is also the author of the #1 Amazon book, ACT On Your Business: Braving the storms of entrepreneurship and creating success through meaning, mindset, and mindfulness. After over a decade as a clinical social worker and public health professional, Lee entered the coaching field to serve spiritually minded entrepreneurs. Her coaching philosophy fuses the principles of Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, Energy Leadership, and mindfulness in order to help her clients excel at entrepreneurship and transform their lives.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
It’s my pleasure! So my background is in clinical social work and public health, and I spent almost 15 years as a therapist. My husband was in the Air Force and we moved quite a bit, which allowed me to work with many different populations, including active duty military and their families and veterans.
When he got out of the military, we moved to his home state of North Carolina following four years spent abroad in Germany, and he purchased a dental practice (he’s a periodontist). I took some time off to help my family transition, and during that time, I realized that while I wanted to go back to work, I was feeling called to something other than mental health.
Meanwhile, my husband was busy navigating the tricky terrain of business ownership. Although he is a gifted clinician and great with his patients, owning a business was a brand-new experience — and not one that dental school or the Air Force prepared him for. So much of what he was dealing with was around mindset, and I started seeing how my background as a therapist was relevant for his transition.
That’s when I started to wonder… what would it be like to apply all of my therapeutic mindset work in a small business setting? That’s when I discovered coaching. I completed a coach training program, obtained my ICF coaching credential, and I’ve never looked back.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
When I began my journey as a coach, I had no idea I would one day help others become coaches as well. I really thought I would focus on helping the helpers — physicians, dentists, therapists, and other healing professionals. However, as I began to work with more clients, many of them wanted to learn more about how to become coaches themselves — especially my fellow therapists. I started a free Facebook community especially for mental health professionals interested in coaching, and it took off. From there, I ran several group programs, and decided to branch out and serve coaches of all backgrounds through my membership site, Coach with Clarity.
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
I can laugh about this now, but trust me — at the time, it was anything but humorous! I was about six months into my business, and I had created a separate Google account for a different brand name. Ultimately, I decided not to use that brand name, so I went to delete the account. Unfortunately, I inadvertently deleted my primary account — and ALL of my data along with it. Emails, documents, everything in my Google Drive — gone.
Fortunately, I was using a computer-based email program and it still had all of my emails in it. So I pulled my computer off my Wi-Fi, backed up my emails, and went about the painful process of rebuilding my business digital identity.
The reason I can laugh about it now is because in my effort to streamline my business and my processes, I made my life MUCH harder for myself! And that’s something so many of us do, in our businesses and our lives. So when I’m working with a client who is getting in their own way or overcomplicating their business, I point it out. We talk about an easier, more joyful way forward, and I’m not hesitant to use my own mistakes as examples.
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 about that?
There are so many people who have helped me — including people I’ve never met but who have inspired me along the way. But there’s no way I’d be where I am today without my business bestie, Melody Wilding.
Melody is a fellow social worker and coach, though we work with different audiences and from different frameworks. She is my sounding board, my trusted confidante, and the first person I call when I need advice or want to celebrate — and the best part is, I know I’m the same for her. It has been so helpful to have someone in my corner who gets me and cheers me on, but also isn’t afraid to tell me when I’m getting off-track or falling victim to shiny object syndrome.
If it weren’t for Melody, I wouldn’t have started my Facebook group, I wouldn’t have started my group programs, I wouldn’t have started my first podcast, Work Your Inner Wisdom… truly, her friendship and support is why my business has grown exponentially over the last few years, and why I’ve grown as a CEO and person.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
Burnout is invasive and endemic — I haven’t met an entrepreneur yet who hasn’t struggled with it, myself included. All too often, we burnout because we’ve fallen out of alignment with our values, or we’re experiencing a clash of values. Our ambition and drive overtake our values, and before we know it, we’re working 16-hour days and our brain never turns off.
So when I’m facing burnout or when I’m coaching a client on the brink of burnout, we go back to the basics. It all starts with what matters most to you — why you are in business in the first place. What are your core values? What do you want your life to be about?
Once we’re clear on the values, then we have to objectively assess how well we’re living our values. For example, if I place family as a core value, to what extent do my actions reflect that? (Spoiler alert — if I’m working 16-hour days, then my actions aren’t reflecting that.)
Finally, it’s time to create an action plan that brings us back to an aligned place. What steps can I take to better live my values? How can I handle any value clashes — say, family clashing with service/work?
I fully believe that when we are living in alignment with our values, we reduce the risk of burnout dramatically. Living a valued life is simple, but not easy — it takes work.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
A fantastic work culture begins and ends with the leader. A leader who exhibits the 4 Fs — fear, force, frenzy, and fatigue — is not in a position to create an energetic, positive work culture. We all fall victim to one (or more) of those 4 Fs from time to time — it happens. But the key is how we handle ourselves when we notice them coming up, and there’s an antidote for each of the four Fs. We counteract fear with love, force with flow, frenzy with calm, and fatigue with restoration.
As a leader, you lead with love when you come from a place of service. How can you create an environment that services and supports your people? That leads to a state of flow, and of creating space for our people to do their best work. We cultivate a sense of trust and calm in our environment, and when we’re feeling exhausted or teetering on the edge of burnout, we allow ourselves time to restore — physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
This is servant leadership — putting our people (clients and employees) at the center of our work, and modeling the behavior we wish to see.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Mental health is often looked at in binary terms; those who are healthy and those who have mental illness. The truth, however, is that mental wellness is a huge spectrum. Even those who are “mentally healthy” can still improve their mental wellness. From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to improve or optimize our mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each.
1. Connect with your values. People who are mentally healthy know what matters most to them, and are able to prioritize their decisions and their actions based on those values. So first and foremost, you have to know what your values are. These values may change a bit over time, but some of them may remain constant in your life. For example, my four values are service, connection, joy, and presence. I want my life’s work to be of service to others and myself, and I want to promote connection between all people and all things. When I’m operating from a place of service and connection, it leads to joy — a permanent state of contentment and satisfaction. That allows me to be present in the moment and with the people I love, and to own my presence in my business and my life.
2. Connect with your body. There is a strong connection between the mind and the body, so our mental wellness is intrinsically tied to our physical health. Take time to connect with your body through physical activity, mindful eating, and intentional rest.
3. Connect with others. When we’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious, many of us withdraw and cut ourselves off from others. Some alone time is restorative and beneficial for our mental health, but we need to know when enough is enough. Staying connected with the people in our lives that we care about and who care about us is critical to maintaining mental wellness. We’re social beings, and we’re not meant to go through life isolated and alone.
4. Disconnect from social media. Technology in the 21st century is a double-edged sword. We’re living longer (and in many ways, easier) lives in large part due to advancements in technology. But many of us are paying a high price for it — we may be more connected courtesy of social media, but we feel more emotionally isolated than ever before. When I start to feel anxious, overwhelmed, or frazzled, I find that a social media fast helps me regain my sense of self again. Whether it’s cutting down or cutting it completely, limiting your use of social media in favor of real-world connections can help us maintain our mental health.
5. Disconnect from the “shoulds.” Many of us go through life with a non-stop recording of what we “should” be doing, and all of those shoulds can kill our confidence and our motivation. It’s time to stop “shoulding” on yourself! The next time your inner critic pipes up with you what you’re doing wrong or should be doing instead, create some emotional distance between yourself and the thought. So if your critic says, “You’ll never land that client,” simply say, “I’m having the thought that I’ll never land that client.” You can even take it a step further and say, “I’m noticing that I’m having the thought that I’ll never land that client.” This simple language trick allows you to separate yourself and your identity from your thoughts, and in that separation, you create space for choice. You get to decide whether the thought is helpful or not, and whether you want to buy into it. Most importantly, you remind yourself that you are not your thoughts, and just because your mind says something doesn’t make it true.
Much of my expertise focuses on helping people to plan for after retirement. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In addition to the ideas you mentioned earlier, are there things that one should do to optimize mental wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.
It helps to remember that retirement is a transition. With every transition comes change, and with every change (even good ones!) comes stress. Particularly for those of us who define ourselves by the work we do, retirement can be a tough transition! Many of us idealize retirement, and so we’re surprised by the stress and unwanted emotions that come up during this period.
To optimize your mental wellness during retirement, start by reminding yourself that your stress is a typical response to an atypical situation — and transitions are atypical situations! The stress and discomfort will decline as you get used to your “new normal,” and the five steps I shared above will help during this time.
How about teens and pre teens. Are there any specific new ideas you would suggest for teens and pre teens to optimize their mental wellness?
It may be at the opposite end of the age spectrum, but adolescence is a HUGE transition as well! It’s complicated even further by the physical and hormonal changes going on in the body, so the link between physical and mental wellness is particularly important during this time as well. Connecting with and caring for your body will help alleviate some of the emotional pressure many teenagers face.
Adolescence is also a time when identity is important — who are you, who do you want to be, and what do you want to stand for? This is a perfect opportunity to do some values work and clarify what really matters most to you.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
I am a voracious reader, and it’s so hard to choose just one! But the one book I go back to over and over again is Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. I first read it when I was 19 or 20 years old, and it gave me an entirely new way to view creativity and creative work. I reread it every few years, and every time I read it, something new resonates with me and I see it in a way I didn’t before.
The book takes its title from a childhood experience, in which the author’s brother had to write a report on birds. He had been putting it off, and finally, the night before it was due, he was completely overwhelmed and panicked. Sitting at the kitchen table, their father comforted her brother by saying, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”
“Bird by bird” has become my mantra when I’m working on a project that seems insurmountable, and I’m sure I’ll never get it done. I felt that way while writing my first book, ACT On Your Business, and when I started my first podcast, Work Your Inner Wisdom. There just seemed to be so much to do, and I was sure I wouldn’t get it all done. I literally said to myself, “Bird by bird, Lee. You got this. Just take it bird by bird.” That mantra is so comforting and motivating, because sure enough, I get things done, one bird and a time.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. :-)
When I was a young therapist and just learning about mindfulness work and its use in psychotherapy, I was (and remain) profoundly moved by the power of the mind. The mind was my greatest asset and my worst enemy — and it was so easy for me to define my self-concept (and self-worth) based on what my mind dictated.
I completed my traineeship in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) in 2009, and it completely changed how I view the human mind. Now, I understand that while it’s a powerful machine, it’s not a perfect one. We do not have to be limited by the mind; in fact, when we create space for the heart and the spirit to work with the mind, that’s when we can access our limitless potential.
So that would be my movement — creating sustainable joy in ourselves and in the world by valuing and integrating the mind’s logic, the heart’s love, and the spirit’s intuition.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“If you’re going through Hell, keep going.” — Winston Churchill
When my husband left the Air Force and purchased his dental practice, we began an arduous multi-year personal and professional journey. We faced tremendous uncertainty and adversity — more than we ever could have predicted — and at times, the future looked bleak.
This Churchill quote kept me going when I wasn’t sure what our future would hold. It was during this period that I started my own business — and while starting a business during a period of personal and professional turmoil may not look like a great idea on paper, it was the best thing I could have done for myself. It allowed me to focus my energy on creating something meaningful, and gave me an outlet for my creativity when I otherwise felt powerless.
We’re now on the other side of this transition, and while I wouldn’t choose to relive it, I am grateful for the lessons I learned and the business I created as a result.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Come find me on Instagram! My handle is @lcmcdonough, and I’d love to connect with you there!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!
Thank you so much! It’s been a pleasure.