Author: Jesse

Willpower, and why the best ideas come from within

“People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others.”
– Blaise Pascal

This is a foundational truth of coaching – that people respond better when they form an idea in their own head rather than having someone else hand it to them fully formed. That’s not to say the seed can’t be planted by someone else, just that for a person to take full ownership, and full accountability, of it – the fundamental idea must come from within that person.

As a coach, one of my favorite parts of a session is when I point out something to a client, usually something they were hinting at, yet not saying, and the response is a pause of 5-10 seconds – then their eyes open wide and they say “YES!” and proceed to formulate the ideas they need in order to move forward.

The idea is their own, I’m the catalyst.

Short pause for a definition so we can all start on the same page, per Dictionary.com:

Willpower: control of one’s impulses and actions; self-control.

For most of us, there is more willpower available to pursue self-generated ideas. I have nothing scientific to back this up, just first hand experience and observation. Think about your last work project. When your boss came to you and asked for a report detailing next quarter’s budget and projected expenses, you nod in agreement and promptly go back to whatever you were doing. After all, you’ve got until Monday.

Contrast that to when you want to know if your department has the budget to pursue a new product you developed. Now you have no problem pulling up Excel and going to town producing a sterling spreadsheet detailing exactly how you’ll do it. This one’s your baby. The fundamental idea sprouted in your brain, and you want to nurture that idea and see it come to fruition.

Both of these situations produce similar results – a detailed financial report/spreadsheet. However the project request from your boss will likely be put off until the last possible moment, and it will include only the bare necessities as per instruction from the boss. On the other hand, the project you came up with will have all the flash and dash your Excel skills allow – and you’ll get started immediately.

What’s the difference between these scenarios – if the outcome is so close to the same? That is to say, you generate a report that you ultimately present to your boss. So why does it matter where the impetus comes from?

Well, for the sake of this conversation, the difference is everything. Willpower is not an endless resource. Humans have a limited amount of mental resources available to use each day. Since how you choose to use these limited resources is only partly up to you – there are conscious and subconscious draws on this resource – you have to be careful how it’s used so as not to draw down too far.

Subconscious use of willpower comes into play throughout the day, from getting up with or without the alarm, through breakfast choices (often ingrained rather than chosen), NOT confronting that obnoxious person on the bus, etc. These subconscious draws on your store of willpower happen without your being aware of them, so when it comes time to make a conscious effort at something, you’re often unaware of how much willpower is left in the reserve tank.

Mindfulness can be a huge asset in tracking willpower use and making sure you stay within the bounds of what’s available. By being alert and present in each moment you can monitor the tank. You will notice when something took willpower, thus drawing down the reserve. Slowly, over time, you’ll come to be aware of the moment these draws happen, and can better control how much willpower comes into play – saving more for the bigger, conscious decisions you want, and need, to be able to make that day.

Finally, a few words on how to know your reserve of willpower is all dried up – and what to do about it.

When you do something like shoveling snow (or dirt), you’re using your arm, back, and core muscles. By the end of the day, these muscle groups will be tired and sore, sometimes refusing to let you use them any more (ever tried brushing your teeth the morning after a good arm workout?). When you spend all day working on a difficult problem at work, your brain is exhausted and all you want to do is go home and crash on the couch.

Willpower works the same, when you’ve used all you have for that day, you just can’t exercise it anymore, and you’re more likely to make a bad decision about something like whether or not to eat that second piece of cake. This is the primary way you can know when your reserves are depleted, you start making abnormally bad decisions.

When that happens, your best bet is to retire for the day (if possible), or at least let those around you know that you’re operating on empty and to please help keep an eye on your decision making processes until you can get home and recharge. This is where mindfulness comes into play once again. By remaining mindful of your willpower reserves through the day, you can stay on top of how you use what’s remaining in the tank – and by extension ensure you make the best decision in each moment.

Over time and with practice, you can train yourself to meter out willpower. Using it to accomplish the task at hand or to avoid succumbing to temptation. Like muscles, willpower can, and will, become stronger with careful use.

Triggers & Routines – stronger together

If you’re making major changes in how you relate to food, and what you choose to put in your body, many would say you’re “on a diet.” This sounds like a short term intervention, doesn’t it? Like if you’re on it now, you’ll soon be off it again. The idea of being ‘on a diet’ carries with it the cultural assumption that once you attain some goal weight, you’ll go back to “normal” eating patterns.

This is not the mindset you’re looking for.

What if instead you saw these changes as a lifestyle modification? Now the cultural assumption is that of a long-term, sustainable set of behavior changes, right? I mean, you’re changing your whole lifestyle this time. Which of these options sounds more appropriate to the sort of changes you want to make?

Exactly, long term and sustainable sounds like a better idea than another yo-yo diet. So how to go about making these changes stick and last into the foreseeable future?

I want to briefly look at two powerful ways to make behavior changes sticky – triggers and routines. I know, I’ve talked about them before. However they are so good, and so useful that I want to dedicate a few more words to explaining exactly how powerful these two concepts are and how they can help you.

Triggers are simply an activity you tie another activity to in order to help you remember to do it. For example, if you were trying to remember to floss every day, you could tie that activity to the activity of brushing your teeth. That’s a simplistic example, I know, nonetheless it works. When I was trying to get into a daily meditation habit, my trigger was finishing my morning cup of tea. As soon as it’s drained, I move to the cushion. So the trigger is finishing my tea, and the new behavior is meditating.

Routines are something I recently talked about here, what I wanted to do today is point out how to incorporate them with triggers to strengthen your new behavior pattern and ingrain those new habits. In the context of our topic of diet vs lifestyle – let’s use eating a good breakfast as the habit we’re trying to set. Let’s also say that you already have a stable morning routine. You get up, head to the bathroom for that subroutine, then once out of the shower you head to the kitchen for coffee. What if you used setting up the coffee machine as the trigger for also getting out the eggs and cooking up a plate of protein to start the day strong?

Now you’re using a trigger that’s already part of a routine to help incorporate a new habit. See how it’s all intertwined? By incorporating a new habit into an existing routine using a trigger, you have that much better chance of getting the habit to stick.

Wellness – How you show up

In a previous post I talked about a new way to look at wellness that resonated strongly with me. I paraphrased it as:

Wellness is how you show up

Today I want to start looking at ways this mantra can be put to work in our ongoing journey toward well-being. Specifically, I want to take a look at the foundational practice of morning rituals. These are the little things you do every morning, from the moment your feet hit the floor (I’ll take a deep dive into sleep patterns and how they affect the wake up process in another post), through your bathroom grooming habits, morning coffee, up until you arrive at work. In other words, the things you do to literally get the day off on the right foot.

I’ll use my own morning as a jumping off point. I get up between 5:00 – 5:30 most days and my first stop is to brush my teeth (I can’t abide by morning breath any longer than necessary). Then it’s into the shower (often there’s a pit stop in between these to empty my overnight-full bladder), throw on my house flannels and a t-shirt and hit the kitchen to make tea. While the water is coming to a boil, I’ll do a short, wake up series of stretches. Then once the tea is steeping I open my laptop for a morning email check and to catch up on my RSS feed.

Once I have tea, I generally shut the laptop down again and read for a while. Once the tea is drained, I head to my meditation cushion for a sit. These morning sessions are generally on the short side, depending on what I have on the docket for the day, say 15-20 minutes. At this point I either head back to the kitchen for a second round of tea, or I start getting dressed and ready to head out.

Now, contrast that with what my mornings used to look like (let me know if you see anything familiar in here): Up at like 7:30-8, depending on how many times I smacked the snooze button. Haul it to the shower, teeth, potty stop; toss on clothes because I’m already late and out the door without tea, coffee, or breakfast. Once at work, I would take care of caffeinating myself and looking for a stale bagel to hold me until lunch.

Which of these do you think leads to me showing up as my best self? Which sounds like it would help you be YOUR best self, displaying your well-being to the fullest?

Exactly. A relaxed, practiced morning routine is key to starting every day on the right footing. And all it takes to develop one for yourself is some practice, willpower, and a willingness to try things that may not work for you (sound familiar?). Let’s look at some specific steps you can take this week to get the ball rolling.

1) Get up earlier

I know, I know, call off the posse and put down the pitchforks…this one always riles folks up. There are scientifically proven benefits to getting up earlier. I’m not going to talk about those however. I want to make this as simple and clear as I can. Getting up earlier gives you more time to develop YOUR morning ritual, and helps you start the day mindfully and intentionally. That’s the root of any good, solid morning routine.

And yes, I realize this means you may have to forgo your late night Netflix binges. But then you already knew those weren’t healthy, right?

2) Lay out your routine

What are the 5 most important things you need to do in the morning to feel your best? Make a physical list, along with as much description as you need to accomplish these 5 things – every morning for 2 weeks. Then add 1 new thing that you think may add something beneficial to that routine. Do this routine for 2 weeks, then reassess. If you like the results stick with it. If not, well, delete that item from the list and try something else.

Over time, the idea is to develop this routine into something you can do every morning without having to give it much thought. If something you add during this time doesn’t lead to you being your best self, remove it post haste and try something else. I used to eat a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast every day as soon as I got to work. Then I figured out that I was reacting to grains so that habit had to go.

3) Monitor how you show up

In this case I mean it literally. Watch how your interactions with coworkers changes as you get more and more stable in your morning routine. Watch how you react to morning traffic. Watch what you put out there in morning meetings. You’re using yourself as a test guinea pig, so monitor the results of your testing and adjust the developing routine appropriately.

Morning rituals and routines are one of the foundational elements to developing a healthy outlook on the day to come. From here you can adjust, modify, or add practices that aid in showing up as your best self and removing some that may not be helping – or actively hindering – your efforts.

Next time, we’ll look at some ways to build on this foundation as we dig a little deeper into the idea of wellness, well-being, and how you show up in your daily life.

Self-care Breaks

“You can’t make radical changes in the pattern of your life until you begin to see yourself exactly as you are now.”

Bhante Gunaratana

An often overlooked part of wellness is self-care. And an often overlooked aspect of self-care is learning to know and love yourself as you are NOW. Not the you you foresee coming to fruition after 6 more months of working out, or once you lose just 15 more pounds. NOW. The you that is reading these words.

The you that exists in this present moment.

As Gunaratana says above, you can’t expect to make changes to something you don’t see properly in the present. I would add that you need to be comfortable BEING who you are now, since change takes time and you’re going to be the present you for a bit yet.

Before getting too far down this rabbit hole, I would like to clear up a common misconception – self-care is NOT self-indulgence. It is absolutely NOT selfish of you to take care of yourself. How much good can you do in the larger world if you’re a hot mess? Think about the safety presentation the airlines give – in the case of sudden loss of cabin air pressure, put on your oxygen mask BEFORE assisting those around you with theirs. If you can’t breath, you won’t be much good to those around you, now will you?

It’s the same with self-care in a more general sense – if you’re drowning in your own problems and issues, how much help are you likely to be to your friends, family, coworkers, or clients? And how much of your wellness and well-being is based at least in part in these interactions? I would hazard a guess and say quite a bit. So what if a small, focused, occasional dose of self-care could help you catch your breath – you should do it before assisting those around you – right?

So what is it you can do throughout your day that will assist with seeing yourself how you are, now? Think of it as taking a self-care break. It’s like a smoke break, except it’s good for you. There are two main benefits to these mindful pauses – they remind you to stay present, and they help you see things from another person’s perspective.

In order to take care of yourself, you have to know what you need, right now. That requires you to take stock at various times through the day – are you hungry? Do you need to go to the bathroom? Is your back getting sore from sitting and staring at that report you’ve been working on for hours? All of these things cause you to momentarily stop what you’re doing and take stock of how you’re doing in that moment. And all of these things fall under the self-care heading – see, I told you it wasn’t self-indulgence. All I want to suggest is that you add a momentary mental check-in to that self assessment.

Since you’ve already stopped working for a moment, let that be your trigger to take a couple of deep breaths and continue the self-care by taking stock of how you’re doing mentally as well as physically. Did that meeting turn your good mood sour? Did an interaction with a coworker get you excited for the upcoming company party?

Good or not so good, these things all affect where you are and how you show up in each moment. Taking stock lets you assess the situation and move forward accordingly. Maybe it’s time for a 5 minute walk around the block to clear your head and stretch your back. Or maybe you need to have a word with your boss about that other coworker and their habit of stealing your lunch from the breakroom fridge.

All of this is aiding you in knowing not only how you’re doing in the moment, but also how you’re showing up for those around you. And that leads us to the next benefit – helping you see interactions and situations from the other person’s perspective.

By making a habit of these quick self-checks, you will begin to be able to do them in the moment. So the next time you find yourself embroiled in an argument with a team mate over the best graph to include in your next presentation you can take a quick check and see if maybe you’re missing something by enabling yourself to expand your view to include the other person’s perspective. Who knows, maybe the pie chart would look better than the bar graph.

All that from one new habit that can be performed multiple times throughout the day, with nobody around you being any the wiser. Stop, take a deep breath, and check in with your mood. If you find yourself getting anxious, see if shifting your perspective can clarify things. If not, now you have the opportunity to ask yourself what would help. And that in turn lets you show up in a better place, both mentally and physically ready for whatever the next moment brings.

Wellness Defined – an update

I recently came across a way of looking at Wellness that resonated strongly with me. I was listening to a new podcast from Dallas Hartwig (coauthor of It Starts With Food) and Pilar Geronismo (health & wellness writer extraordinaire). In the middle of their first episode, as they were outlining the goals for the podcast and where they hoped to take it, they said the following (I’m paraphrasing wildly):

Wellness is about how you show up, about how you allow yourself to be.

I would add: It’s not about how you look, or how much you can lift. Those are aspects of Wellness to be sure, there are just so many other aspects that to focus on those two is to shortchange yourself and to lose track of the goal – whole body well-being.

In my earlier series on defining wellness (parts 1, 2 & 3) I started with a dictionary definition of wellness and built from that. In this update I’d like to take a parallel path toward that most elusive of ideas – what is wellness?

To get started, I offer this summary answer: Wellness is what YOU make it.

That may sound like a cop out to some of you, please remember that there are no concrete metrics for wellness. There is no test your doctor can run, no results page with a list of numbers. I’ve said all along that wellness will be defined differently by different people, or even by the same person at different stages of life.

Starting from there, how can we hope to come to a concrete definition? Let’s reframe that – why do we feel the need to have a concrete definition for such a fluid concept? We might as well be asking, “How can we come to one concrete definition of wellness that will work for everyone?” We can’t. Great, now that we’ve ruled out that possibility, we ought to be able to get somewhere.

Reframed question – How can we define wellness in a way that each person seeing that definition will know how to interpret it, FOR THEMSELVES?

Here we go, now we’ve arrived at where I think the paraphrase above comes into play and why it resonated so strongly with me. Look at wellness as a state of mind. If you look at yourself in the mirror in the morning and your first thought starts with “why can’t you…” or “why aren’t you…” your state of mind that day won’t be brimming with wellness, will it? You’re going into the day feeling shame for some aspect of your appearance, or by chastising yourself for a perceived flaw. That’s going to color everything you do, all day.

What if when you looked in the mirror, you thought of 3 things you appreciate about your life? Or 3 things you’re looking forward to that day? Now you’re starting off with positive thoughts, no shame in sight, and no dwelling on that perceived flaw (that in all likelihood isn’t a flaw at all). Doesn’t that sound more likely to engender a good state of mind?

And that better state of mind will in turn influence how you show up in the world – and according to this new definition we’re looking at, your wellness. Your interactions with coworkers will be more pleasant, because you aren’t seeing everything through either the filter of body shame, or the “what if” filter. This is what creates the sense that all of your interactions are with people who are judging you, while in reality this is just your negative self-talk being projected onto others.

Eliminating these filters allows you to just Be with the other person, free from assumptions and self-conscious self-talk. To NOT project your insecurities onto them, to simply Be there with the other person, in that moment.

Understanding that wellness is a fluid concept is the first step. The second step is understanding that you can influence this state, moment to moment, in myriad ways. In upcoming posts, I’ll look at some additional ways you can shift how you show up, and in turn affect your overall wellness.

Aspects of well-being, part 10 – The Finale

Self-experimentation. This entire series, in it’s essence, revolves around this one topic. Yet it’s likely to be the shortest entry. Read on…

Self-experimentation is not as scary, or for that matter creepy, as it sounds. It’s simply how you figure out what works for you. I mean, this seems so intuitive doesn’t it? If you want to know if something is going to work, you need to try it. Right?

  • If we’re talking about trying a new way of interacting with your co-workers, or experimenting with a standing desk option, or adding some personalization to your cubicle – you have to try it to see if it’s going to work.
  • If it’s a change related to your eating habits, well that one’s really self-evident. Just try it.
  • Moving more takes practice, and time. You’ll want to try and give this one at least a month before judging its effectiveness for you.
  • Sleep, you see where this is going.

Experiment. Only you can decide if a change is working for you. Just remember to give each change enough time to truly be able to determine if it’s been effective and beneficial.

In each post in this series, I offer a couple of suggestions for behavior/habit changes that may help you navigate your day to day world. At the risk of sounding like a broken record (not to mention dating myself by knowing what that means), if you want to know if one of those suggestions will in fact help you – you have to be willing to try it out.

The best test subject for a lifestyle change you’re considering – is you. Don’t be afraid to fail. That’s not a bad word. You aren’t a failure, the change you tried is, so discard it and try another one. Each failure is in fact an amazing chance to learn something about yourself, to see what doesn’t work for you, and to tailor your next experiment in a way that will work better. For you.

After all, you’re the expert on you.*

 

 

*This actually segues into something I’ll cover soon, the idea of just what an “expert” is and why we give it so much credence.

Aspects of well-being, part 9

Routine.

Kind of broad and all encompassing, huh? I mean, all of the previous 8 parts of this series could be said to reduce down to “change your routine.” And that’s true. What I want to cover here is the broader idea of having a routine and how it can help with behavior and habit changes. I’d also like to dispel the common usage of the word routine to mean “boring,” mundane,” or “underwhelming.” Routines are an important part of our daily lives, and it’s time we realized and embraced that fact.

Think about your average day. How does it start? Chances are it’s something like this: alarm goes off > roll out of bed and hit the bathroom > brush teeth > shower > get dressed > grab coffee/breakfast > hit the road.

Guess what that is? That’s a routine.

Now let’s say that you want to change what you eat for breakfast. You’ve been grabbing an energy bar, recently you found out that they’re mostly sugar and you know that’s not the best way to start the day so you want to shift over to something more satiating. Since breakfast is smack in the middle of your morning routine, there’s an easy way to make this change. It’s called triggering.

A trigger can be nearly anything you do on a regular basis. In this example we’ll use getting dressed. Once you get dressed, your next stop is the kitchen for coffee and breakfast. If you want to change the behavior of breakfast, you associate it with the trigger of getting dressed so that when you hit the kitchen you’re ready for the new behavior of eating some eggs instead of an energy bar.

There’s a lot of discord among behavior experts on how long it takes for a new behavior to become a habit, with most zeroing in on somewhere around 30 days. So for one month, you use the trigger of getting dressed (or you can get more specific and use putting on your shoes, for example) to prime you for the new behavior of eating a good breakfast. The idea is that by the end of that month, you’ve dumped the energy bar habit in favor of a hearty breakfast of eggs.

Having this whole thing revolve around the fact that you have a morning routine is what makes this change possible. And the best part is routines are quite flexible. Let’s look at your mid afternoon break at work. Most people start to feel tired around 2-3 PM. Without getting into the specifics of why this happens and what you can do about it (saving that for a post of it’s own), let’s look at a way to change the outcome of this break.

Right now, you likely start to nod off over your keyboard. So you get up and head for the break room and a cup of coffee and/or a “treat” from the vending machine. These combine to give you the boost you think you need to make it through 5:00. Now, what do you think would happen if you used getting up from your desk as the trigger, and instead of the break room, you headed outside to walk around the block and followed that up with a glass of water from the watercooler? How much better would you feel, not only physically, but about yourself in general?

This improvement is possible because you have a routine in place that you can easily modify with triggering. This is a change process that anyone can use, to modify nearly any daily habit. Does it still take willpower? Of course. Is it easier than trying to change a behavior completely off the cuff? Of course. Might it be worth trying? I would say so.

Aspects of well-being, part 8

Sleep.

Seems like a topic without much controversy, right? I mean, we all know how to sleep…or do we?

Many of us in western societies have more dysfunction in this arena than you might first assume. We’ve become immune to seeing the effects of too little (or too low quality) sleep. Things like afternoon stupor (and subsequent hunt for sugar and/or caffeine), a daily fight with the alarm clock, the felt ‘need’ for caffeine before calling yourself ready to take on the day; and even some less obvious things like digestive troubles, increased troubled eating patterns, attention deficit behaviors (in all ages), and worsening symptoms of long term diseases like Type II Diabetes. All of these can be caused, or worsened, by not getting enough high quality sleep.

There’s an important distinction to make right off the bat, redefining what we call sleep as specifically high quality sleep. It may not be enough to lay in bed for 8 hours a night, if you’re not getting into the deeper sleep cycles, you’re likely not going to see the positive effects.

While there isn’t a consensus on all of the above, or below for that matter, what most sleep experts DO agree on is that most Americans could benefit from more sleep. They also agree on a handful of things we can all do to help facilitate this increase in high quality sleep. Controlling your sleep environment, distractions in the bedroom, and pre-bed screen time are 3 things you can try right now if you feel like you’re barely getting through the work day.

1) Sleep environment

This category includes light levels and temperature in the bedroom. You want your sleeping environment to be as dark as you can make it. If this means something as simple as installing a door sweep to block light coming in from the hall, do it. Consider blackout curtains if you live in a region with long days in the summer. If you don’t want to make that much of an investment until you know the effects, try tacking an extra blanket up for a few days first.

Turn your alarm clock away from your face so the light isn’t hitting you all night. Yes, even this small a light source can have an impact. Along the same lines, plug your phone in to charge…in another room. This eliminates several factors from the little blinking light to the temptation to check email one more time before bed.

As for temperature, most people sleep their best with the ambient temperature somewhere around 60. I realize that this may not be feasible for everyone. For example, I live in Seattle where nothing is air conditioned. To further confound things, my room doesn’t have a cross breeze, just one single window. Last night it was 79 in my room. I combated this as best I could using fans, including putting one in front of the window, raised up on a chair so it could pull in more of the cooling night air. In winter this is of course much easier, just set the thermostat a bit lower.

2) Distractions

I already mentioned keeping your cell phone away from your bed. Another distraction that is increasingly common is a TV. Watch TV in the living room. Or better, cut the cable and don’t watch network TV at all (this eliminates many additional distractions that are for another post). Laptops seem to enjoy migrating into bedrooms as well. Don’t let yours convince you that it’s OK to sit up in bed until all hours working on that draft memo, or checking email one last time. They can be tricky, so watch out.

Personally, I recommend even doing your pre-bed reading somewhere else. Save the bed for sleeping (and one other activity that is also best saved for another post).

3) Pre-bed screen time

This one causes a lot of people a lot of grief. Sleep experts have actually come to one of those rare consensuses on this one. Shut off all screens 1-2 hours before bedtime. this includes TV, computer, tablet, and phone. The sole exception is if you have an e-reader that uses e-ink, these don’t give off the blue light that disrupts sleep cycles, so they’re OK. I have a personal affinity for paper books, but that’s me.

If some amount of screen time is unavoidable, for whatever reason, consider investing in a pair of blue-blockers. These are glasses with orange lenses that cut the blue end of the light spectrum, helping your body get ready for sleep naturally and not faking it into thinking it’s still daylight. I know iOS devices (iPhones and iPads) have a new setting called Night Shift that does this for you.

These are 3 relatively simple areas of life that if adjusted appropriately can have a positive impact on your sleep cycles, and by extension the rest of your daily existence. I encourage everyone to try some of the suggestions above, give them at least a week before making adjustments or declaring it ineffective.

In the final two pieces of this series I’m going to look at routines and self-experimenting, both of which overlap with topics like sleep, so stay tuned. And in the meantime, here’s to better sleep!

Aspects of well-being, part 7

Movement

Or you can think of this aspect as ‘exercise’ if you prefer. I find that some words come with more baggage than I want to address in these posts, so I’ll be using ‘movement’ instead – since that’s truly the point – to move your body.

There are three types of movement I want to cover here, and all three are things that anyone of able body can find a way to do. There are, of course, ways to modify things for less-than-fully able bodies which are better left to medical professionals. I’ll outline each below, along with several suggestions of how they can be done to varying degrees of difficulty to show how adaptable they can be.

Move slowly, a bunch

I could have just said, “Walk,” since that’s the most common way to move around when you’re a biped. This can be accomplished by walking the dog, walking to the grocery store, strolling through the park. Swimming is a great activity for this one too, or riding your bike. The point isn’t HOW you move, it’s THAT you move. As much as you can get away with is fantastic, but if you twisted my arm to put a minimum on this I would say 20 minutes a day. That’s one good evening stroll with the dog, or walking around the block on lunch.

Move quickly, a bit

This one can be accomplished in myriad ways too. When you’re out for a walk, sprint one block. Or find a pickup game of ultimate to join. Or ride up that hill you usually bypass. Or just ride full out for 1/2 mile on your ride home from work. What’s important here is that you move all out for a few minutes, a couple of times per week. Everyday isn’t necessary, in fact giving yourself time to recover from all out sprints is recommended.

Lift stuff

Playing with the kids can count here, if they’re still small enough that you can lift them that is. Otherwise, find a rock in the yard, or a sandbag, or even a good size piece of firewood (if you’re lucky enough to have a wood burning fireplace). Then lift it. Then put it down. Then lift it again. Repeat until you’re tired.

Seriously, that’s it. Use good form* of course, but otherwise the point is to use your muscles and to put some weight on your load bearing bones.

There are some caveats I need to add here. First and foremost, I am not a licensed or certified exercise professional (any longer), nor am I a medical professional. Please don’t take these as prescriptive, they are simply recommendations. If you have any concerns about form, or intensity, please consult an appropriate professional. Second, these suggestions are meant to encourage general, overall health and well-being. If you are a competitive athlete, or in training for a specific event (marathon, mountain climb, etc) you will of course want to focus on those. Working with an exercise professional specific to your event is highly recommended.

Move slowly, a bunch

Move quickly, a bit

Lift stuff

I truly am saying it’s that easy. And before you say it, yes, I realize these 3 suggestions are broad and open ended. That’s intentional. I want to make it clear – what matters here is THAT you move, not HOW you move. As with other topics I feel can go much deeper, this post was intended as an intro – I’m happy to share my research, feel free to use the contact me page to get in touch.

 

 

* My role as wellness coach does not make me an exercise professional, that’s why I’m not going into details on just what ‘good form’ means. Please speak to a certified exercise pro if you have any concerns or questions.

Aspects of well-being, part 6

Really, this post relates to all habits. I want to zero in a bit on those that surround the act of nourishing our bodies, because this is often where I see the most dysfunction.

There are two things that you’ll need before addressing eating habits. These may seem simplistic or trite, but experience has shown me that without these two things, no attempt at changing a habit – particularly one as firmly established as an eating habit – will be successful.

First – you have to want to change the habit.

See, I told you it might sound simplistic, let me explain. Many people come to this topic because someone else told them they should make this or that change. Maybe a doctor told you something like “your knee wouldn’t hurt so much if you lost some weight” (yes, that one is from personal experience). Or your significant other made a disparaging comment about the way you grazed through the last potluck you attended. These type of comments are generally made with good intentions, however they just don’t help, do they?

If anything, I have found these comments lead us down the road the other direction, toward reinforcing the behavior rather than helping change it.

If you come to behavior change from a place like this, where your impetus is an unhelpful suggestion or disparaging comment – you’re not going to have any luck. This will sound strange, but I would suggest you NOT try to make any such changes at this point. The effect of trying and not succeeding can be more destructive than not trying the change in the first place. Wait a bit. Give the comment time to fade into the past.

Then, when YOU are ready, come back to the habit. Let’s take that second example, grazing your way through a potluck. Before the event, get yourself ready by SELF imposing some limits. Take a smaller plate, for example. The psychological effect of seeing a plate piled high makes you feel fuller when you finish that plate – even if it was a smaller, side size plate. If there are no small plates, try putting your cup on your plate to take up some space.

Another idea for this situation is to take a walk down the whole potluck table without a plate. Just scope out the choices so you know what to expect and aren’t taken by surprise when you find your favorite dish all the way at the end and pile an extra serving on top of your already full plate.

By setting the expectation going into the tempting situation, you can set yourself up for success – rather than falling into old habits and feeling bad about it for the rest of the weekend.

Second – Give it time.

This one elicits a lot of strong opinion. I mean, what does “time” mean in this context? A week? A month? 6 months? If you want a new habit to stick, you have to give it time to become part of your routine. Especially if you’re trying to replace an old habit with a new one, the part of your brain that craves routine needs time to replace one piece of that routine with the new one.

Some experts will say it takes 30 days for a new daily habit to stick. Others will tell you it’s 18 days. I’ve also seen 23 days (come on, 23? Where’d they get that one?) I’m not going to wade into this particular quagmire, if you want some resources I’m more than happy to share the reading I’ve done on this topic. My bottom line is a bit simpler and yet a bit more enigmatic – give it time.

It will help to focus on one habit at a time. Going back to our example of servings at that potluck, if you want to work on cutting serving size don’t also try to cut a food group. If you think you want to try an elimination diet (where you cut several food groups simultaneously, then re-add them one at a time to see if you react to something in particular) – this isn’t the time. Pick one. Either do the elimination diet now, and work on serving sizes later, or vice versa. Keeping it to one habit at a time leaves all of your willpower resources available to help you succeed at that one habit change.

This was a simplified and shortened take on what is in truth a much broader and deeper topic. In the future I’ll tackle it one piece at a time, for now if you can keep these two ideas in mind you’ll be well on your way to making the eating habit changes you want to make.