Laurie Gerber has helped hundreds of clients overcome self-defeating behaviors and tackle the clutter in their emotional lives, daily habits and relationships. Her work as president of the New York–based Handel Group Life Coaching is a natural extension of her lifelong passion for personal development and her desire — and unique ability — to help others.
In addition to working directly with clients and leading a group of coaches, the 37-year-old Gerber blogs for the Handel Group, Huffington Post, Crazy Sexy Wellness, and other healthy-lifestyle Web sites. She’s also just finished filming a new TV special that will hit the airwaves later this year. Gerber lives in Manhattan with her husband and two daughters.
EL | How did you choose life-coaching as a career?
LG | I’ve always been obsessed with personal development and making the world a better place. But about six years ago I realized I was not making the kind of impact I wanted. So I hired Lauren Zander, the cofounder of the Handel Group, to help me figure out what I wanted to do with my life. We did an in-depth process of inquiry for several months, and during that process I discovered her coaching method had the most powerful personal development tools I’d ever used and that that is what I wanted to teach the world.
EL | You’ve described what you do as helping people declutter their lives. What qualifies as “life clutter”?
LG | Clutter is everything that’s distracting you from the important things in your life. It can involve physical chaos and disorganization, but it can also be things like worrying, arguing, gossiping, overscheduling, overeating, debt, being overwhelmed by paperwork, or feeling like a victim and having pity parties for yourself. Clutter accumulates because of negative and self-defeating theories you hold about yourself that you’ve come to believe are true.
EL | So how can we eliminate that stuff?
LG | The first step is to get honest about what you want, what’s important to you, and all the fears that stand in the way. From there, you have to figure out the right action plan for moving forward. That might mean developing a missing skill or support system, or removing some other longstanding barrier to your success. This is a lot of what we help people with at the Handel Group.
Another simple, powerful step involves leveraging your personal integrity by making a specific promise that relates to one of your big life-clutter challenges and then keeping it. If you realize that TV is getting in the way of you writing a book, for example, you could make a promise to severely limit or eliminate TV. If you find that your constantly buzzing cell phone keeps you from having uninterrupted quality time with your kids, promise to turn it off for two designated hours at night, and do that. Keeping small promises like this can be empowering enough to inspire other positive changes.
EL | Are there any life-clutter issues you’ve had to deal with personally?
LG | For many years, one of the biggest issues I had was about my food habits. I told myself that “I’m doing better than most, and that’s good enough.” But in reality, I didn’t like my body, or how I looked or felt, and I was tired all the time.
During that time I considered myself healthy because I avoided meat. But this was a normal day in my food life: bagel and butter for breakfast, candy bar for snack, eggplant Parmesan for lunch, candy bar for snack, pasta and cheese for dinner, pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream for dessert. I justified the ice cream by thinking, “Hey, there’s tie dye on the label so it’s healthy.”
I’m a smart girl, but I was incredibly uneducated about healthy eating. And I had a bratty attitude about taking care of my body. It said: “I can eat whatever I want and you can’t talk to me about it!” I also had the self-defeating theory that exercising is only for shallow people.
When I decided to adjust my eating habits and start exercising, it changed everything in my life. I reached a much healthier weight for my body, and my energy levels went way up.
EL | Was eating healthier a challenge?
LG | At first, yes. When I quit sugar I felt like I lost my best friend! I thought, “If I don’t have my numbing agent, I’m just going to feel my feelings and then I might die.” But I lived. And I tell my clients, “You will live, too.”
EL | What does a typical day of eating and exercise look like for you now?
LG | Vegetables, proteins and fruit. I eat meat now, but grain-based or junky carbs are essentially out of my life, and I keep sugar on a short leash. Sugar is such a sneaky addiction because it’s totally socially acceptable. It does not appear to ruin your life, even though, in many ways, it does. Now I also do short workouts every day, mixing cardio, weight training and yoga.
EL | Why do we tolerate so much clutter in our lives?
LG | Because it distracts us from the important things and possibilities that scare us more. We unconsciously create and hold on to life clutter as a barrier to facing our bigger fears. It becomes a justification for why we can’t take on new challenges and evolutions — because, look, we are already overwhelmed.
One of the things I used to say to myself when I was scared was, “I can’t do x, y or z thing because that wouldn’t give me enough time with my kids!” In fact, that was the justification I used when I was presented with the opportunity to do a TV show. But the truth was that I was just scared. Clearly, there was a way for me to pursue my dream and spend quality time with my children. And successfully modeling that for my kids was probably the best thing I could do for them.
EL | It sounds like honesty plays a big role in decluttering.
LG | Lies and lack of communication are what really clutter up a person’s life. Honesty allows us to learn who we really are, and that knowledge motivates us to change our lives. So know your truth, and tell it. Honesty is at the root of all personal change.
Laine Bergeson is an Experience Life senior editor.