Remind yourself who you want to be before you start your day. When you’re at your very best, what qualities and values do you embody? List them out, add a few sentences to describe what each one means to you, and read them every morning before you do anythingelse (even before checking your phone). If you start your day by reminding yourself who you want to be, you’ll be much more likely to make choices that reflect this best version of yourself.
As a part of my series about “5 Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Philippe Danielides, a former corporate lawyer and communications strategist, and the founder of Inner Current Coaching, a professional coaching firm.
Philippe’s work focuses on helping high-achievers find fulfillment in work and life, and partnering with organizations to develop cultures that promote well-being.
He holds a BA from Middlebury College and a JD from Georgetown University Law Center and has trained as a coach with Dr. Martha Beck and the Sagefire Institute.
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 story about how you first got involved in fitness and wellness?
Ironically, the catalyst for my entry into wellness was a health issue. In 2012, I was working as a corporate lawyer in New York. And I mean working. I was regularly clocking 60–70 hour weeks and expected to keep a watchful eye on my Blackberry (remember those?) when I wasn’t in the office.
At the time, my concept of wellness was confined to, “How do I not gain too much weight?” So I’d try to work out a few times a week and eat relatively healthy. But I rarely got more than five hours’ sleep and basically gave no thought to my emotional, mental or spiritual well-being.
I’d been monitoring a thyroid tumor I first discovered years earlier while studying for the Bar Exam, and my doctor recommended that it was time to move forward with surgery.
As you know, our thyroid regulates many vital functions, including our metabolism, muscle control, and mood. And while the surgery thankfully went well, the shock to my body and the long recovery time forced me to slow down.
But as I did, what caught up with me was the realization that I was deeply unsatisfied at work, but had no idea what I actually wanted. I’d been so busy checking the boxes I thought I needed to check in order to be successful that I’d never really stopped to question why.
So I started to pay attention to those questions more and more. I started reading the kinds of self-help books that I’d scoffed at for years, I went on retreats, I started going to therapy, and I eventually hired my own coach. Three years later, I quit my corporate job and committed myself to help others who found themselves at a similar crossroads.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I was hired to run a well-being seminar for about thirty lawyers at a retreat for a major law firm. Having been a corporate lawyer myself, I went in knowing that well-being is a topic that many lawyers are skeptical of and tune out. Not because they don’t need help (rates of anxiety, depression and substance abuse are high among lawyers), but because many have concluded that it isn’t possible to be successful and take care of yourself at the same time. So why bother?
So I decided to start with something outside of the box to get their attention. I had the group circle up on the beach in front of the conference center and explained that we’d be playing Scout Tag — a game where two people enter the circle, put on blindfolds, and try to tag the other first. The game is designed to encourage people who spend a lot of time in their heads to tune into their other senses, and the strategies they employ also often reveal a lot about their own mindset which I coach them on.
It was edgy. It was different. And it did not go well. There were only a few reluctant volunteers, and most of the lawyers on the edge of the circle looked terrified that I’d ask them to play.
Heading back into the meeting room, I worried my approach had backfired, and that they’d check out for the next two hours. So, feeling like there wasn’t much to lose, I asked, “That was rough, why do you think that game went the way it did?”
After a few moments, a young lawyer in the back of the room hesitantly raised his hand and said, “I was really uncomfortable with the idea of everyone around me having more information that I did, since I’d be the only one blindfolded.”
His response was honest and vulnerable, and the room immediately relaxed. For the next twenty minutes, instead of moving on to the next planned exercise, we had a conversation about the taboos around vulnerability and the challenges lawyers face in asking for help. And what they could do differently.
The conversation was spontaneous, and it came from what felt like a failed experiment. But it was the highlight of the day.
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 went for coffee with an acquaintance who was in the midst of a career transition. I’m normally a curious person, but I’d also just been through two intensive coaching programs where I’d learned to ask questions that zero in on a person’s struggles.
So even though this was a social visit rather than a coaching conversation, I started asking him about the career change and how it was going.
I asked questions, and followed up with more questions, until eventually I asked, “So what’s really stopping you? What are you afraid of?”
Because we’d built a good rapport and I think he felt comfortable, he responded.
Then, immediately, his eyes widened, he literally crossed his arms and hugged himself, and it got quiet…and awkward. It became clear that he’d shared more than he wanted to, and the panic of being so unexpectedly vulnerable was setting in.
Even though he volunteered the information, I felt responsible for leading the conversation there, and I apologized several times in person and over email. He wasn’t angry, and we’re still in touch, but it was definitely a teaching moment.
Most importantly, it taught me the importance of honoring boundaries and only putting my coaching hat on when given express permission by a person or group to do so.
Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the fitness and wellness field? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?
Honestly, I think my unique contribution is that I can speak with credibility to individuals and companies who need help, but are deeply skeptical of coaches and other well-being practitioners. As a corporate lawyer, I was desperate to be happy, but I felt totally trapped and miserable. And as much as I wanted and needed help, the thought that stopped me from opening up and asking for help for years was, “Nobody really understands what it’s like.”
I cannot overemphasize how big of a wall this belief is, and how commonplace it is among the achievers I speak with who feel trapped behind it.
Of course, you need to have proper training and experience to professionally support people, but you can’t help anyone if they don’t let you in first. Being able to say that I understand what it’s like, and assure them that there is indeed a path to being happy and successful, creates the trust for that work to begin.
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?
My mentor, Michael Trotta, helped me reconnect with the natural world and ignited my passion for storytelling.
Halfway through my first year as a coach, I felt like I still wasn’t clear on the direction of my work and was being pulled in several different directions. Michael invited me to go on a camping trip to get some much-needed space and perspective.
The night of our trip, we were sitting around the fire under a full moon, and Michael asked if I’d be open to hearing a story. Of course I said yes, and he proceeded to tell me a myth that is thought to be more than 5,000 years old. I won’t get into the details of that story here, but the underlying teaching was about the challenges every human being faces on their journey to becoming who they really are in life.
Sometimes it can feel like you’re the only one in the world who is struggling, but that story reassured me that I wasn’t. Because even though it was first told thousands of years ago on the other side of the world to people whose lives looked very different than my own, the story spoke exactly to how I was feeling. It was unbelievable. It helped me to understand that what I was feeling was deeply human, and affirmed that it was okay.
It’s a story I’ve gone back to many times since, and which I’ve told to others around similar campfires. It also inspired me to incorporate storytelling as critical element in my approach to coaching.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, exercise more, and get better sleep etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the 3 main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?
- We set goals that are way too big. We set ourselves up for failure when we set goals that require too dramatic of a behavioral shift. So, for example, people expect to go from no exercise to morning workouts five days a week. Putting that pressure on yourself can feel overwhelming, but the bigger risk is the message you send yourself when you don’t follow through, which is, “I don’t do what I say I will do.” Especially at the beginning, consistency and keeping your promises to yourself is key, because it’s what builds your confidence to take on bigger goals in the future.
- We set too many goals. When we get into “I want to change my life” mode, we get fired up and try to change everything at once. We start to exercise, but we also go on a strict diet, and we start to meditate, and we commit to reading a book a week, and we want to learn French, etc. It’s overwhelming, and when people are overwhelmed, they’re much less likely to take action. To be clear, I recognize and encourage people’s desires to make positive changes in their lives, but I’d rather you give one new habit 100% of your attention than spread it across five new habits. Focus on one thing, and as that habit becomes second nature, add one another one.
- We mix and match too many different frameworks. Everyone is different, and so the key to consistent and sustainable growth is to cultivate habits and practices that work for you. When we don’t fully commit to one approach, it’s harder to figure out which habits are a good fit, and which ones aren’t. For example, if you want to be more efficient and productive with your time, there are a million different planners and productivity systems to choose from. But if you try one for a few days, and then a different one a few days later, there’s no way to know which one will best help you get the results you want. The same goes for approaches to exercise and nutrition.
Can you please share your “5 Non-Intuitive Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”? (Please share a story or an example for each, and feel free to share ideas for mental, emotional and physical health.)
- Remind yourself who you want to be before you start your day. When you’re at your very best, what qualities and values do you embody? List them out, add a few sentences to describe what each one means to you, and read them every morning before you do anythingelse (even before checking your phone). If you start your day by reminding yourself who you want to be, you’ll be much more likely to make choices that reflect this best version of yourself.
- Schedule check-ins 3x a day. Life is more like traveling on a sailboat where you have to tack back and forth than a motorboat which you can drive in a straight line. The problem for many of us is that we go on autopilot and so by the time we check our position, we’ve traveled miles off course and need to make a significant and often disruptive correction. The goal isn’t to move in a straight line (because it’s impossible), but to get better at knowing where you are and when to tack. And the way you can do that is by increasing your level of self-awareness. Eventually you’ll just do this on your own, but at first it helps to have a prompt. So, set an alarm on your phone for three times a day (morning, afternoon, and evening), and when it goes off, prompt yourself with three questions: (1) What body sensations am I feeling right now?; (2) What emotions am I feeling right now?; (3) What is my mind doing right now? You don’t have to journal or do anything with it, but simply asking the questions will significantly improve your ability to stay on course.
- Set aside 30 minutes a day to learn something (not from the news!). Human beings are energized and motivated by learning. I know that because when I’m not learning anything new, life starts to feel flat and gray. If a client tells me that they’re feeling bored and uninspired, this is usually the first thing I recommend they do. You can use this time to read a book, but you can also spend it practicing a skill, e.g. a new language, a musical instrument, etc. So if you already have a subject or hobby you’re interested in, start there. And if you don’t, congratulations, you get to explore and find one. And to protect learning time from all of the urgent life tasks that will inevitably intervene, I recommend literally putting this time in your calendar.
- Set your weekly priorities on Sunday (or at the beginning of your work week). The biggest complaint from most clients is that they don’t have enough time for everything on their to-do list. But aside from the the sheer volume of life stuff, the main culprit is usually that we aren’t clear about our priorities. Not only does this make it hard for us to focus because our attention is constantly being pulled in different directions, but prioritizing also requires a lot of brain power. Which burns a lot of calories. So if you’re trying to prioritize as you go, you’re just going to exhaust yourself. So, take an hour earlier in the day on Sunday (or Monday morning as a second alternative), and think through the most important things you’d like to get done that week. Then, map those tasks onto your calendar before anything else goes in — pick the day, block out the time, and stick to the plan.
- Go for a walk through the park or, if you can, the woods. Busy people often roll their eyes at this one, but our connection to nature is much more important to our cognition than your may think, and even small amounts of exposure to the living world can significantly improve our creativity and enhance our mood. If you don’t want to take my word for it, read “The Nature Fix” by journalist Florence Williams which comprehensively lays out all of the science backing this up. You don’t have to become a nature person or leave the city to get the benefits. Just find some green space, and visit once a week or every other week.
As an expert, this might be obvious to you, but I think it would be instructive to articulate this for the public. Aside from weight loss, what are 3 benefits of daily exercise? Can you explain?
- It reinforces the belief that caring for yourself is important. For many of my clients, the idea of taking time for themselves when there’s always more work to do, is challenging. They’ve grown up with the belief that work comes first and that you only get to take care of yourself if you’ve earned it (and only then, in your spare time). But we all know how that goes. So making the choice to exercise every day, aside from physical health, reinforces a vital belief that taking care of yourself can and should be a priority.
- It helps you get clear on what you want. We live in a mind-dominated culture and spend most of the day focused on our thoughts. Nothing wrong with thinking, but it’s easy to run into trouble if that’s all we do. For many of my clients, their biggest challenge is that no matter how hard they think, they can’t seem to figure out what they actually want in work and life.The reason why (stay with me here) is because they’re totally disconnected from their bodies, which act as a reliable and truthful life compass. When people talk about intuition or their “gut”, they’re talking about body wisdom. Exercise is beneficial because it reconnects us with our bodies and opens us up to receiving those important messages.
- It helps you build confidence in your ability to overcome hardship. Clients cite lots of different reasons for why they aren’t where they want to be in life, but the common denominator is a lack of confidence. If you don’t believe you’re capable of responding to the challenges that will arise in the course of achieving big goals, you’re going to quit before you even get started. But the way you do anything is the way you do everything, and exercise is an incredible way to practice commitment and follow through in the face of hardship. Because exercise is hard! You push yourself, your muscles burn, your mind wants to give up, but you keep going. Knowing that you can do this helps build the confidence that will serve you as you go after bigger and bigger dreams.
For someone who is looking to add exercise to their daily routine, which 3 exercises would you recommend that are absolutely critical?
From a mindset perspective, consistency is key, so find exercises that you enjoy. Some people love running, while for others running is hell on earth. I love to exercise, but the worst thing you could ever do to me is put me on a spin bike. No offense to spinning, I’m just not tough enough I guess. So, if you’re looking to make exercise more of a habit, start with what you enjoy. If you don’t know what that is, experiment with different things until you find a routine that clicks.
In my experience, many people begin an exercise regimen but stop because they get too sore afterwards. What ideas would you recommend to someone who plays sports or does heavy exercise to shorten the recovery time, and to prevent short term or long term injury?
Speaking from a coach’s perspective and personal experience, many injuries result from either ignoring or trying to push yourself through the pain because we’ve been taught that successful people grind it out no matter what. I’m all for commitment and perseverance, but if you feel exhausted, take a break. If you’re feeling pain beyond normal soreness after a workout, rest and get it checked out. It doesn’t matter whether or not you agree with your body’s need for rest, because biology always wins in the end.
There are so many different diets today. Can you share what kind of diet you follow? Which diet do you recommend to most of your clients?
I’m vegetarian for ethical and environmental reasons, but I don’t recommend diets to my clients because that’s not my area of expertise. As with my coaching work, I begin with the premise that everyone is different, and so what works for one person — whether we’re talking about career, diet, how you schedule your day, etc. — may not work for another person. Honor your individuality and try stuff. When you find something that works for you, stick with it.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
“The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield was a game changer for me, and it’s one of two books I most often send to people. (The other is “Dark Horse” by Todd Rose.)
The biggest gift I received from The War of Art is that it normalized and de-personalized the challenges inherent to any creative pursuit. Pressfield calls it “resistance” and speaks about it as a force as pervasive and indiscriminate as gravity.
I think we have a tendency to look at people who are leaders in their field and project the belief that it must be easy for them to do what they do. It’s easy for Michael Phelps to swim, it’s easy for Yo-Yo Ma to play the cello, it must’ve been easy for Shakespeare to write, etc. Well, aside from the fact that just isn’t true, taking resistance personally is profoundly disempowering and prevents us from pursuing what we want most in life.
The book and I crossed paths when I was staying at a friend’s house in upstate New York and setting up my coaching company. It wasn’t easy to figure out what exactly I wanted to focus on, how to communicate my work, what kind of a program to offer, etc. I was taking the difficulty personally and questioning the whole idea of even starting this venture. After reading the book, I accepted that creating anything is difficult, and that difficulty isn’t a problem. It’s just how things are, and the sooner I can accept that and get on with the work, the better off and happier I’ll be.
You are a person of enormous 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. 🙂
I’d add two subjects to the core curriculum of every school from K-12 and to corporate professional development programs: (1) emotional literacy and (2) nature connection.
Emotional Literacy — Almost all of the problems I faced in corporate life, and which I now hear from clients, are ultimately human relationship problems. Employees often don’t feel valued, leaders often don’t listen, teams avoid conflict because they don’t have a process, people don’t ask for what they need, etc. Of course there will always be challenges when people get together, but I think we’d all be significantly better off if we begin equipping people with the knowledge and tools to better navigate those relationships.
Nature Connection — The human body and mind evolved over millions of years to live in close connection with the natural world. But beginning with the industrial revolution, that changed, and today most of us in the West live and work in cities or suburbs. For sure, there are many benefits that have come from our technology, and while I’m not suggesting a return to nature, nature is vital to human cognition and health, and even small amounts of exposure to the living world can significantly improve our creativity and enhance our mood. I also believe that reconnecting with nature is vital to galvanizing our response to the climate crisis. We need to remember that we’re a part of the natural world, not above it, and the best way to remember that is to get in it.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“Nature is never in a hurry, and yet everything is accomplished.” ~ Lao Tzu
Growing up in New York City, I feel like I was conditioned to always be in hurry. Everything here seems to move quickly, and if you were to ask New Yorkers if anyone feels like they’re behind (whatever that means), my guess is you’d see seven million hands raised. Even outside of New York City, it seems like life is speeding up and our technology is only encouraging this further. But as life speeds up, we feel more anxious and overwhelmed.
Unfortunately, the truth is that it’s hard to be happy and healthy if you constantly feel overwhelmed and in a hurry.
This quote, which I keep on my desk, helps me remember that even though I have set ambitious goals for myself, there’s no reason to rush. I just need to show up every day and do the work, and the rest will take care of itself.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I’d love to have a meal with Eckart Tolle. I’ve read “The Power of Now” at least twenty times, and I still go back to it whenever I find that I’m stressed out and resisting whatever is happening in my life. His words and lectures always bring me back to a place of peace.
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Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!