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Don’t Just Focus On Exercises, But Principles Too

Your exercise choice will evolve in tandem with your fitness level, but the principles that get you moving are constant!

Contrary to popular fitness PR mythology, health success is produced from finding, and implementing, principles, not through discovering the “perfect” exercise or workout.

Your exercise choice will evolve in tandem with your fitness level (for example, over time you’ll need a weighted vs. body weight squat), but the principles that get you moving are constant!

Principle One: Create “systems” that protect you from your lesser self

Know your triggers so you can protect yourself from yourself!

When one is motivated, energized, happy, not exhausted, not in a social situation, at the grocery store, etc, it’s easy to say, “I won’t drink at the party,” or, for me, “I won’t eat the entire box of fudge bars.” Now, following through? Not so easy.

In the grocery store I can tell myself, “Buy the bars; have one every few days,” but I know from experience that at 11 p.m. I will eat the entire box. So, I built a system where I can have them — in safe spaces. My mom keeps a box so I can visit her to have a chat and a bar. I save myself from my lesser self, but I don’t feel deprived (deprivation is health death — see Principle Two.)

Basically, create a safety net; don’t give yourself the opportunity to “go there.”

Become aware of your habits; you can’t guard against your lesser being if you’re not aware of your triggers. Journal your food intake and have “mindfulness moments” before eating. Ask, “Why am I eating? Am I hungry? Tired? Bored?” Maybe you always eat while watching TV. Possible solution? Knit instead; keep your hands busy.

One way the past replicates itself is through lack of presence; if you don’t become aware of your thought loops and habits, you will just replicate them.

Live by the equation “awareness + preparation = success!” Know your triggers. Have a plan. Then a back-up plan! Plan doesn’t work? Learn from the experience. Tweak the plan.

Principle Two: Feeling deprived is the kiss of health death

Never replace a “positive” with a negative “have to!”

Find a healthier, yet still enjoyable, substitution, or re-frame the situation.

New habits won’t stick until you figure out what the original habit offered and find a healthier way to get a similar effect

If drinking with friends provides a “social high,” don’t simply state “I am staying home.” If your 3 p.m. treat offers you a moment of peace, don’t just say,”No afternoon treats.” Walk and socialize with friends. Have herbal tea during your afternoon “me” moment.

If you can’t find a healthier substitute, re-frame the new option as a positive.

Instead of being frustrated “having to” have a salad, feel grateful that you “get to” make the choice. Replace “I can’t eat cake,” with, “How lucky am I that I get to eat berries?” This re-framing is empowering since it involves ownership, which helps fight feelings akin to adolescent rebellion; no one likes to feel forced or deprived.

Success

 

Principle Three: Realistic expectations are the seeds of happiness and success

Unhealthy habits were not formed overnight. New healthier habits will not form instantaneously.

Stop setting the bar impossibly high! Give yourself time to establish new patterns.

Set the success bar to an appropriate height. Embrace “little wins.” Expect three weekly workouts, not five. Expect less sugar, not no sugar.

Expecting the impossible, such as overnight success or perfection, simply sets one up for failure. Often it produces a mentality that justifies “snowballing,” where when we deviate even slightly off our impossible course (which is inevitable), we let one small unhealthy choice snowball into multiple unhealthy choices. One cookie turns into five, which turns into a bottle of wine and no workouts for a week. Why wouldn’t we? We have framed the slip as a “failure” rather than an opportunity to analyze our goals, program and expectations.

Let small victories domino into larger victories until all of a sudden you have more healthy habits than last month. Trend positive.

Principle Four: Re-frame “failure” as an “opportunity for growth,” BUT don’t mistake “failure” for simply not trying!

Learn from every experience. Every “fall” is an opportunity for self-reflection and growth. If you overeat or skip a workout, aim to understand why. Did you get too hungry, then scarf down everything in sight? Did you skip a workout because of a lack of advanced planning?

Life is your laboratory. Keep what works. Ditch what doesn’t.

The caveat is, failing and growing is not the same thing as being lazy, sloppy or simply not trying. Don’t justify a “fall” with something akin to, “Kathleen said falling is good.”

You have to care, to learn, to be aware.

Principle Five: Stop finding problems for every solution! Find solutions for every problem

Stop focusing on what you can’t control and what you don’t have. Start focusing on what you do have and what you can control!

If you always focus on what you don’t have and what you can’t control, of course you won’t be successful.

Put another way: stop focusing on if the glass is half empty or half full. Learn how to fill your cup. Take ownership. Take control.

There is always a solution — you just have to be aware enough and care enough to find it!

Can’t get to the gym last minute? Do a 20-minute home interval workout. Missing the gym because of a child’s softball practice? Do squats and lunges on the sidelines. Traveling? Use the band!

Frame every day as your “birthday” — a time to begin again. The day will pass regardless; you may as well do something good (and healthy) with it when you can!

Kathleen Trotter    Personal Trainer             04/10/2018 
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Start A New (good) Habit, Kill An Old (bad) One

Odds are, you are trying to break a bad habit or institute a good one right now. As a species, we are impressively committed to self-improvement, and most of us believe that habits are an effective means to that end.

Habits – actions performed with little conscious thought and often unwittingly triggered by external cues – are powerful influences on behavior and can be our greatest allies for positive change. But because they are so difficult to break, habits are also frequent saboteurs of personal progress.

“Habit is a good servant but a bad master” is how author Gretchen Rubin summed it up in her book “Better Than Before: Mastering the Habit of Our Everyday Lives.” Hers was one of three recent books I read back-to-back on the subject of habit formation; the others were Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit” and Jeremy Dean’s “Making Habits, Breaking Habits.” Together, they helped me understand more deeply the importance of habit control, how to choose a habit to begin or end, and the mechanics of sticking with it.

The first thing to know, each book explained, is that a lot of our daily actions are so rote, they are automatic. “All our life … is but a mass of habits,” philosopher and psychologist William James wrote, though a 2006 study put the amount of habitual daily action at 40%. Still, that’s a lot of mindless behavior.

It’s helpful that we don’t need to think about how or when to drink coffee, brush our teeth or drive to work. If we did, we’d waste so much time rethinking or learning those tasks, we’d get little else done.

The whole trick is to get habits to work for you, not against you. Self-control is a limited resource, Dean explains, so a good habit means not having to exert effort every time you need to do the right thing.

Room to grow

The first thing to identify for yourself is the habit you want to work on, whether it’s starting a new (good) one or ending an old (bad) one. That’s a minor distinction, by the way. Eating healthier is eating less junk. Exercising more is being less sedentary. One is often the inverse of another.

This step requires some honest self-evaluation. What is not working in your life? What personality flaws are holding you back? Where is there room to do better?

We know what many of the most common areas of improvement are, at least when it comes to making resolutions. People want to lose weight, eat better, be more mindful, spend money more wisely, sleep better and improve relationships. By eliminating bad habits and starting new ones, you can succeed in most of these areas.

One helpful checklist frequently used for goal-setting is the acronym SMART, created by economic theorist Peter Drucker. Effective resolutions, research has shown, are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.

Before finishing the first book (Dean’s, which is the most prescriptive and research- and science-based), I decided on two habits to work on myself. The first was to be more present and mindful with my kids. The second was to stop seeking out and consuming free, non-nutritious food at work. One was a good habit to start, the other a bad habit to quit.

Rubin, who approaches the topic personally and looks for specific techniques that work for her, recommends starting a habit at the same time as a big turning point such as pregnancy, marriage, a medical diagnosis, a family death, an anniversary, a long trip or a new year.

Repeal and replace your behavior

The consensus among these books is that the most effective way to adopt a habit is to replace a bad one with a better one. Dean’s metaphor is to think of habits as well-worn rivers of action that flow out of the predictable path of your routine. Often, the most effective way to stop it flowing in harmful directions is not by damming it but by diverting it. For example, many people stop smoking by chewing gum.

The point is that bad habits die hard, and as with riding a bike, your brain never stops learning how to do them.

So it’s easier to think about any habit formation, even new “good” ones, in terms of replacing unwanted behavior. That made sense for my snacking at work. I started buying healthy yet still delicious snacks to keep there: yogurt instead of morning doughnuts, dried papaya instead of chocolate, sweetened rice cakes instead of stale leftover doughnuts. A supply of healthy snack options kept me on a new course of action that largely followed the old eating habit pattern.

To be more mindful with my kids, I needed to avoid the opposite behaviors, such as checking my work phone or planning activities while with them so I could focus on their needs and thoughts.
Duhigg explains that habit “reversal therapy” is a legitimate technique used for things like tics and obsessive-compulsive disorder, as well as predilections such as gambling, smoking and bed-wetting.

It’s important to make a distinction between a bad habit and addiction, however, even if the behaviors seem to overlap. Addiction requires greater intervention than habit hacking.

Dean describes the hallmarks of addiction as not being in control and not being aware of time/energy spent on the behavior. People with addictions are preoccupied with soothing a craving and needing more and more to get the same effect, as well as suffering withdrawal without it.

Unlike bad habits, addictions eat away at important activities such as relationships and work. They tend to be an escape from normal life and are often hidden from others.

The wonderful thing about triggers

We like to think we have free will in every situation, but many of our actions are predictably triggered by external situations. And if those events are part of your daily or weekly routine, our Pavlovian tendencies become ingrained. Pajamas are on: Time to floss and brush. Cup of coffee in hand: Time to dunk a doughnut. Beer finished: Let’s have a cigarette. But triggers can also be feelings, such as stress or boredom.

Being aware of your triggers is the first step in learning how to keep them from sabotaging you and make them work for you instead. Is there a certain time of day or task when you crave a treat? What do you always do when you feel stress (go for a run or go for a drink)? What is your bedtime ritual to let your brain know it’s time to sleep?

You can help create conditions to avoid triggers, but not fully. If the trigger is deeply ingrained, maybe going back years, it will sabotage you when your guard is down. For these situations, you need contingencies. Dean calls them “If … then …” plans. When trigger X happens, I won’t do bad habit Y, as I usually do, but I will replace it with much healthier Z action.

My favorite example of effective trigger planning is Starbucks, a company that puts a higher premium on customer service than on the (habit-fueled) products it sells. Duhigg, who prefers Malcom Gladwell-esque case studies for his book, explains that the chain’s baristas are well trained on what to do when something goes wrong, such as a messed-up order that angers a customer.

Rather than improvise or consider options in those moments, they practice rapid responses – such as apologizing and offering a replacement drink for free – until it’s second nature.

You likewise need to have a plan for when a strong, perhaps rare, trigger threatens your winning habit streak. Ordinarily, I can avoid eating cupcakes at work, but what’s my plan when I’ve skipped lunch, it’s late afternoon, I have some onerous task that would be made more enjoyable with a treat, and the cupcake is filled with peanut butter?

66 is the magic number

According to one study cited by Dean and Rubin, it takes 66 days of doing something to convert it to a habit. However, that number varies depending on the person and activity. For example, it took those participating in the study less than 20 days to habitualize drinking a glass of water every day, 60 days for eating fruit with lunch and more then 84 days to make 50 sit-ups a daily habit. Some habits could take a year to form. But 66 days is a good target.

I avoided work snacking and improved my capacity for parental mindfulness for 66 days straight. Or rather, I diligently monitored these habits over 66 days, because another pillar of successful habit formation is tracking. Even something as subjective as “be more present with my kids” can be numerically self-scored every evening.

And another pro tip of habit-making (or replacing) is accountability. Tell other people. Share on social media (unless social media is the habit you’re changing). Ask your friends and family to support the effort. Getting others involved, or even just aware, makes it harder for you to give it up. And others’ support can be inspiring and helpful.

Treat yo’self: rewards

Unlike tracking and accountability, incentives are a debatable strategy. Duhigg believes that they are central to the exercise, because habits are reward-based. Rubin concludes that external rewards take you away from internalizing the right motivation behind your new habit.

For me, rewards have been pivotal. Five years ago, I took off 25 pounds and have kept it off by establishing an elaborate reward system.

If you do treat yourself for keeping a habit, make sure it’s not self-defeating. You may not want to reward, say, avoiding doughnuts by indulging in a half-gallon of ice cream.

And that’s one to grow on

At the end of 66 days, I stopped tracking my new habits and found that they had largely stuck. When I came home from work, seeing the faces of my daughters was the trigger to remind me to give them my undivided focus. I rarely (instead of automatically) checked my phone for work updates, and I put off my personal agenda items until after bedtime. And I replaced workplace snacking with my private stash of more nutritious snacks: same trigger, but alternate behavior at much fewer calories.

The real test though, is time. More than six months have passed since my 66 days of daily tracking, and I’m still doing a solid job on mindful parenting. I have occasionally slipped on the work snacking, though. I wouldn’t say I’ve failed at it, because I’m building up a new long-term habit muscle for healthy snacking, and I ate a lot less junk food than I would have without trying.

Rubin would call it “stumbling,” and we should accept that it happens in the habit game. Stumbling is not a reason to quit trying.

You may want to read one of the habit books, too. The three overlap and support each other, but my personal preference was for Rubin’s, largely because I feel a kinship with her love of life-hacking, introspection and applied psychology.

She’s the author of the bestselling “The Happiness Project” and wrote this new book, she explained, after concluding that habits were the best means to actually achieve happiness.

But I’ll give the last word to the wise Ben Franklin, whose advice would make all these books unnecessary. ” ‘Tis easier to prevent bad habits than to break them,” he wrote.

By David G. Allan, CNN       January 5, 2018
 
This essay is part of a column called The Wisdom Project by David Allan, editorial director of CNN Health and Wellness.
The series is on applying to one’s life the wisdom and philosophy found everywhere, from ancient texts to pop culture. 
You can follow David at @davidgallan
 
source: www.cnn.com


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Why ‘2-minute Mornings’ Might Be More Effective Than New Year’s Resolutions

A fool-proof way of sticking to your New Year’s resolution

Author Neil Pasricha takes us through new ways to cultivate happiness and success in 2018.

Neil Pasricha would like to see the end of New Year’s resolutions.

The motivational speaker and bestselling author of “The Book of Awesome” and “The Happiness Equation” says the problem with resolutions is that they tend to be vague and are thus doomed to fail.

“I don’t think resolutions work. I know they don’t work from the research, and I don’t think they’re doing us much good because if you start a resolution and you fail, you just feel worse about yourself,” he told CTV’s Your Morning Wednesday.

The reason that most New Year’s resolutions fail is that they are just goals, not specific plans of action, Pasricha believes. What we need instead are systems that will force us to change our bad behaviours and create new habits.

“Systems beat goals every time,” Pasricha said, and added that if we truly want change, we have to force ourselves to change.

“So if you want to lose 10 pounds, maybe sell your car and walk to work. Now you have no car, so the system is, how will you get to work?” he explained. Any plan that regiments us into new habits will eventually force a shift in behaviour, he said.

One change in habits that Pasricha recently developed for himself is what he calls “two-minute mornings.” Every morning, Pasricha forces himself to take two minutes and “invest” them into reflection and planning out the rest of his day.

“The way I look at it is we are awake for about 1,000 minutes a day. My challenge for myself is to take two minutes to make the other 998 more effective, more productive and more positive,” he explained.

During those two minutes, he forces himself to write out the answers to three prompts: one for looking back; one for being mindful of the right now; and one to look ahead to what’s next. They are:

“I will let go of…”
“I am grateful for…”
“I will focus on…”

The first prompt is a time for some unloading of stress and guilt and a little self-forgiveness– not unlike what Catholics engage in when they step into a confessional.

“We all carry around anxieties and stresses. All of us do. If you think you don’t, you’re lying,” Pasricha said.

By reflecting on what needs to be let go, we can unload some of the stress we needlessly place on ourselves, and perhaps stop comparing ourselves to unfair standards.

The next prompt is designed to move away from guilt, stress and negativity and place the focus on all the things that are good about our lives right now.

Even though we live in a time of great abundance, with longer lifespans than ever, more technology, advanced health care, and less warfare, we’re more stressed and anxious than ever, Pasricha said. By focusing on what we’re grateful for, we can remind ourselves how lucky we are.

“If you focus on the positive, you’ll keep looking for it every day,” Pasricha said.

Finally, he said it’s important to set three small, achievable goals a day. Things such as: calling or emailing a friend; going for an evening walk; being friendly with cashiers and asking them about their day.

The aim is to create bite-sized goals that you then check off as accomplishments at the end of the day

“Take the endless list of things you could do, and narrow it down to three things you will do that day,” Pasricha advised.

Angela Mulholland, Staff writer   @AngeMulholland     December 27, 2017
 


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The Science Behind Why Breaking A Bad Habit Is So Hard

Engaging the goal-directed side of your brain can help you override the part that controls your bad habits.

Habits are your brain’s version of autopilot. They allow you to get ready for work, navigate your way to the office, and find your way home without having to reinvent the wheel every day. They save time and energy . . . except when they involve grabbing a candy bar from the vending machine every afternoon at 3 p.m. In cases like this, bad habits can feel like a battle of wills.

To find out why some habits can be hard to make or break, researchers from the University of California performed experiments with mice and found that the brain’s circuits for habit- and goal-directed action compete for control in the area of the brain that makes decisions.

“Neurochemicals called endocannabinoids allow for habit to take over by acting as a sort of brake on the goal-directed circuit,” writes Christina Gremel, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of California San Diego who headed up the study that was published in the research journal Neuron.

Endocannabinoids are chemicals that are naturally produced by humans and animals, and receptors are found throughout the body and brain. This system is involved in a variety of physiological processes, such as appetite, pain sensation, mood, and memory.

Earlier studies found that the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) is the part of the brain that relays goal-directed information. When researchers increased the output of neurons in the OFC in mice using optogenetics–a technique that involves flashes of light–goal-directed actions also increased. And when they decreased activity in the OFC using chemicals, the mice acted on habit.

A good balance of habitual and goal-directed actions helps with everyday functioning and task management. “We need to be able to make routine actions quickly and efficiently, and habits serve this purpose,” writes Gremel. “However, we also encounter changing circumstances, and need the capacity to ‘break habits’ and perform a goal-directed action based on updated information.”

The brain shifts from habit to goal-directed behavior when we need to drive to a different location, for example. The decision to make or break a habit also relies on goal-directed behavior in the beginning. Healthy mice had no problem shifting from one type to the other, but people with conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and addiction may have a physical problem that inhibits goal-directed action, the study suggests. “It does appear some things we think of as more maladaptive like addiction seem to have a bias toward habit system,” Gremel says. “The goal-directed system is still there, and you can still rescue it. Treatment could be pharmaceutical or might involve behavioral therapy. Further research is needed.”

So what does this mean for that afternoon trip to the vending machine? It’s time to engage the goal-directed side of your brain. If you walk by the vending machine every day on your way back from a meeting, for example, alter your path.

“If you change the context or go about things in a different behavioral pattern, it can help you break out of habit,” says Gremel.

BY STEPHANIE VOZZA        06.20.16


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The Power of Rituals

WADE BOGGS, THE Hall of Fame third baseman for the Boston Red Sox, was famous for his pregame rituals. Before each outing, he ate chicken, took batting practice at 5:17 p.m., did wind sprints at 7:17 p.m., and fielded 150 ground balls. He also wrote the Hebrew word for life (“chai”) in the dirt before going up to bat. Did these superstitions do any good?

Some new research suggests they might have, and that anyone — from Olympic athletes to office workers — can benefit from the same kinds of routines. So, how does one go about testing the power of superstition? Obviously, part of the answer includes the 1970s rock band Journey, sodium chloride, and crumpled up pieces of paper. But more on that later.

The research, conducted by Harvard Business School professor Alison Wood Brooks and several collaborators, grew out of research Brooks had been doing on anxiety. Most people feel anxious several times a day, but there are few reliable ways of calming down. Feeling anxiety well before facing a challenge can motivate preparation, but, during a task, it can eat up mental resources.

Meanwhile, Brooks says, “We had been doing some other work about rituals and how they’re fascinating and strange and pervasive, and we thought, ‘You know what, people use rituals to try to relax, and I wonder if they actually work.’ ” Some existing evidence had shown that pre-performance routines can help, such as bouncing a basketball a certain way before taking a free-throw shot. But the findings were inconsistent, and if routines did work, it wasn’t clear whether they merely prepared motor action or had some higher meaning for athletes.

The researchers first explored how people use rituals in their everyday lives. They asked 400 online subjects if they’d used a ritual before the last difficult task they’d felt anxious about, and to describe it or another ritual they’d performed in the past. The researchers left “ritual” undefined for the subject, but in their paper, forthcoming in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, they define it as “a predefined sequence of symbolic actions often characterized by formality and repetition that lacks direct instrumental purpose.” They contrast rituals with habits and routines, which have no symbolism, and superstitions, which are about luck.

About half the respondents said they’d used a ritual before their last difficult task. Of the rituals described, most did not involve luck or religion, but most did involve symbolism — some feature that connected it to the upcoming activity but was not necessary, such as putting cleats on in a particular way before a game.

The researchers then turned to the effectiveness of a made-up ritual. Eighty-five college students were told they’d have to sing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” in front of an experimenter, with a bonus for accuracy as measured by the karaoke machine. Half were asked to first do the following ritual: “Draw a picture of how you are feeling right now. Sprinkle salt on your drawing. Count up to five out loud. Crinkle up your paper. Throw your paper in the trash.” Those who performed the ritual were less anxious than the others, and as a result they sang better. In a companion experiment, being told they would have to sing raised student’s heart rates, but then performing the ritual lowered them.

To explore the effectiveness of rituals in another scenario, 400 online participants were asked to complete eight math problems, described either as “a very difficult IQ test” with time limits and monetary penalties, thus inducing anxiety, or simply as “fun math puzzles” with monetary bonuses. As predicted, triggering anxiety harmed people’s performance — unless they were first asked to perform the paper-crinkling ritual.

“The surprising part is how effective rituals are for improving performance,” said Kathleen Vohs, a business professor at the University of Minnesota who has studied rituals but was not involved in this work. “I like that a lot. It’s surprising and fresh.”

rituals

So rituals work, but why? There are four possibilities, according to Juliana Schroeder, a business school professor at the University of California at Berkeley and a collaborator on the paper. The first two focus on actions: Performing structured movement might reduce anxiety by giving people a sense of order, or it might require so much attention that it distracts from the source of anxiety. The next two focus on higher meaning. Rituals could act as placebos if people associate them with better performance, or they could involve specific symbolism, such as throwing your anxieties in the trash.

Relevant to the fourth explanation, other research has demonstrated the power of enacting metaphors to change how we feel. A 2013 paper in Psychological Science reported that when teenagers wrote positive thoughts about their bodies, their attitudes about their bodies improved — unless they threw their notes in the trash, thus trashing their thoughts. A 2010 paper in the same journal reported that when subjects wrote about a regretful experience, placing the page in an envelope increased “psychological closure” and reduced negative feelings about the event.

So Brooks and her collaborators conducted another experiment to tease apart the possible mechanisms of rituals’ effectiveness. To induce anxiety, they told 120 adults they would have to take a timed math test that would indicate intelligence. A third of them were asked to perform the following set of actions, described to them as “a short ritual.” “Please count out loud slowly up to 10 from zero, then count back down to zero. You should say each number out loud and write each number on the piece of paper in front of you as you say it. You may use the entire paper. Sprinkle salt on your paper. Crinkle up your paper. Throw your paper in the trash.” Another third were given the same instructions, but with the actions described as “a few random behaviors” instead of a “ritual.” A final third simply sat for 30 seconds.

Afterward, those who’d performed the “ritual” rated how helpful or harmful it was; the average rating was in the middle of the scale — neither helpful nor harmful. And yet they performed better on the test than subjects who had just sat there. More importantly, subjects who’d performed the same actions described as “random behaviors” did not perform better than passive subjects.

It appears that ritualized actions improve performance because they hold higher meaning — they work only when conceived of as a ritual. This experiment also hints that the rituals may act through a general placebo effect surrounding rituals, rather than through specific symbolism, as this ritual was pretty bare-bones. But at this point the researchers don’t know if subjects are creating their own specific meaning out of the ritual’s elements.

“There’s been a lot of work on trying to reduce anxiety,” Schroeder says, “and it’s been hard to find effective tools than can work short term.” One effective strategy is the use of metaphors, as mentioned earlier. Another is the reframing of anxiety as excitement — which Brooks has also found to improve karaoke performance — but this trick can only translate one high-energy state to another. Research also reveals the power of expressive writing, but you can’t always sit down with a journal right before giving a PowerPoint presentation.

When asked how elaborate a ritual needs to be to improve performance, Brooks said, “It could be one step, like spinning in a circle. They can be really short, and you can do them anywhere, as long as it means something to you.” And, based on subjects’ ratings of the counting ritual’s helpfulness, they’ll work whether you believe they will or not.

Boggs and other athletes frequently appear on lists of “silly” sports superstitions, but this research shows that their actions are not so silly. “Lots of people use rituals naturally,” Brooks says. “The rituals that an outsider might scoff at, maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to judge, because they can actually be helpful.”

Perhaps those who don’t perform rituals are the zany ones.

By Matthew Hutson   AUGUST 18, 2016    
 
Matthew Hutson is a science writer and the author of “The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking.”

 


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5 Evening Habits That Set You Up For A Day of Success

The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand. – Vince Lombardi

Those of us that have played sports, or been involved in any kind of competitive activity, will attest that a number of variables – controllable and uncontrollable – ultimately determine our success. It is our job to execute on the former without being negatively impacted by the latter.

Vince Lombardi is considered by many to be the greatest professional football coach of all time. Perhaps Lombardi’s most celebrated attribute was his ability to motivate and get the best of out his players and staff. He realized that people require drive and motivation to produce their best work and be successful.

Lombardi also realized that, while he was a great coach, much of the will to succeed came from inside of the players themselves. And so it is with each one of us. If success is to be our destination, we must commit to self-discipline. We must commit to “perfecting” the right behaviors and mitigating the wrong ones. This includes recognizing – and working on – all controllable factors…even those that are much less obvious.

Our evening habits play a crucial role to our success, though we may not give them the attention they deserve at times. It is so easy, in this era of overwork and overexposure to stress, to use our evening time counterproductively. We must resist such forces, however tempting they may be.

To that end, we’ve developed a list of five evening habits that will prepare you for a day of success. We encourage you to consider each one, and measure your aptitude on each.

HERE ARE FIVE EVENING HABITS THAT CREATE TOMORROW’S SUCCESS:

1. PRIORITIZE PHYSICAL ACTIVITY

This is a drum that has been beaten before, and will be beaten again: physical activity – of any and every kind – is absolutely critical to our well-being. This also includes our relative success. When we prioritize physical activity, we’re fine-tuning our minds and bodies for the work ahead of us.

Though not a “typical” time for working out, getting your sweat on at night can be beneficial. After all, what better time for a physical and mental tune-up than after a long day’s work? We could probably use some stress relief too, and exercise is arguably the best stress reliever out there.

time

2. GIVE LOVED ONES YOUR TIME
Of course, it is important to devote some of your valuable off-time to friends and family. Success isn’t truly success unless its achieved with your loved ones. One of the perceivable shortcomings of some of those who’ve achieved great success (e.g. Einstein) is that they did so while sacrificing their relationships. Maybe it wasn’t the intent of Mr. Einstein, but many of his relationships were an abysmal failure; though, the man himself remains one of the most celebrated.

Most of us are not Albert Einstein. We’re probably not going to devise anything similar to the Theory of Relativity; or attempt to provide an equation for the space/time continuum. But, whatever our definition of success is, we’re going to find it difficult to get there without prioritizing our loved ones. Even if we should achieve it, as Einstein did, that success may be more bittersweet.

3. IDENTIFY TOMORROW’S THREE BIGGEST TASKS

This one is incredibly important. Many of us (this writer, included) are not particularly adept in short-listing our work…we kind of just “go with the flow” at times. The process of trying to achieve success is made more difficult when we don’t prioritize, and this includes in our work.

So, to make things simpler, jot down the tomorrow’s three most demanding tasks and commit to them early. In doing so, it’ll become more difficult to get sidetracked; either with less-important tasks or useless distractions. More energy will be expended in completing these tasks, while both our collective attention and energy will become much more focused.

4. COMMIT TO LIFELONG LEARNING

Success is more of a mental exercise than anything else. Our cognitive abilities directly impact the likelihood of success on any scale. Thus, it is important to keep our brain active. One of the best ways in ensuring that we remain cognitively-active is to learn something new, each and every day.

The world is saturated with enough interesting information to keep us occupied throughout multiple lifetimes. A terrific way to obtain this new information, while continually-developing our smarts, is to commit to reading for a designated period of time every evening. Give 15 minutes a go at first, and then commit to more if so willing and able.

5. REFLECT ON THE DAY AND GIVE GRATITUDE

Before a well-deserved sleep, make it a goal to reflect on the day. What were some of the successes? What could you have done better? What will you do the same of tomorrow? What will you do differently? Be honest with yourself.

The eclipsing day undoubtedly brought its trials; and sometimes it’s important to reflect on those, as mentioned above.

Just as important, however, is to recognize – and give gratitude towards – the many blessings that unfolded throughout the day. What are you grateful for? Remember that gratitude and carry it forward. As John F. Kennedy said: “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciate is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

 

Power of Positivity     OCTOBER 1, 2016 

 


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The Domino Effect: How to Create a Chain Reaction of Good Habits

Human behaviors are often tied to one another.

For example, consider the case of a woman named Jennifer Lee Dukes. For two and a half decades during her adult life, starting when she left for college and extending into her 40s, Dukes never made her bed except for when her mother or guests dropped by the house.

At some point, she decided to give it another try and managed to make her bed four days in a row—a seemingly trivial feat. However, on the morning of that fourth day, when she finished making the bed, she also picked up a sock and folded a few clothes lying around the bedroom. Next, she found herself in the kitchen, pulling the dirty dishes out of the sink and loading them into the dishwasher, then reorganizing the Tupperware in a cupboard and placing an ornamental pig on the counter as a centerpiece.

She later explained, “My act of bed-making had set off a chain of small household tasks… I felt like a grown-up—a happy, legit grown-up with a made bed, a clean sink, one decluttered cupboard, and a pig on the counter. I felt like a woman who had miraculously pulled herself up from the energy-sucking Bermuda Triangle of Household Chaos.”

Jennifer Lee Dukes was experiencing the Domino Effect.

The Domino Effect

The Domino Effect states that when you make a change to one behavior it will activate a chain reaction and cause a shift in related behaviors as well.

For example, a 2012 study from researchers at Northwestern University found that when people decreased their amount of sedentary leisure time each day, they also reduced their daily fat intake. The participants were never specifically told to eat less fat, but their nutrition habits improved as a natural side effect because they spent less time on the couch watching television and mindlessly eating. One habit led to another, one domino knocked down the next.

You may notice similar patterns in your own life. As a personal example, if I stick with my habit of going to the gym, then I naturally find myself more focused at work and sleeping more soundly at night even though I never made a plan to specifically improve either behavior.

The Domino Effect holds for negative habits as well. You may find that the habit of checking your phone leads to the habit of clicking social media notifications which leads to the habit of browsing social media mindlessly which leads to another 20 minutes of procrastination.

In the words of Stanford professor BJ Fogg, “You can never change just one behavior. Our behaviors are interconnected, so when you change one behavior, other behaviors also shift.”

small-steps-can-lead-to-big-changes

 

Inside the Domino Effect

As best I can tell, the Domino Effect occurs for two reasons.

First, many of the habits and routines that make up our daily lives are related to one another. There is an astounding interconnectedness between the systems of life and human behavior is no exception. The inherent relatedness of things is a core reason why choices in one area of life can lead to surprising results in other areas, regardless of the plans you make.

Second, the Domino Effect capitalizes on one of the core principles of human behavior: commitment and consistency. This phenomenon is explained in the classic book on human behavior, Influence by Robert Cialdini. The core idea is that if people commit to an idea or goal, even in a very small way, they are more likely to honor that commitment because they now see that idea or goal as being aligned with their self-image.

Returning to the story from the beginning of this article, once Jennifer Lee Dukes began making her bed each day she was making a small commitment to the idea of, “I am the type of person who maintains a clean and organized home.” After a few days, she began to commit to this new self-image in other areas of her home.

This is an interesting byproduct of the Domino Effect. It not only creates a cascade of new behaviors, but often a shift in personal beliefs as well. As each tiny domino falls, you start believing new things about yourself and building identity-based habits.

overwelmed

 

The Rules of the Domino Effect

The Domino Effect is not merely a phenomenon that happens to you, but something you can create. It is within your power to spark a chain reaction of good habits by building new behaviors that naturally lead to the next successful action.

There are three keys to making this work in real life. Here are the three rules of the Domino Effect:

  1. Start with the thing you are most motivated to do. Start with a small behavior and do it consistently. This will not only feel satisfying, but also open your eyes to the type of person you can become. It does not matter which domino falls first, as long as one falls.
  2. Maintain momentum and immediately move to the next task you are motivated to finish. Let the momentum of finishing one task carry you directly into the next behavior. With each repetition, you will become more committed to your new self-image.
  3. When in doubt, break things down into smaller chunks. As you try new habits, focus on keeping them small and manageable. The Domino Effect is about progress, not results. Simply maintain the momentum. Let the process repeat as one domino automatically knocks down the next.

When one habit fails to lead to the next behavior, it is often because the behavior does not adhere to these three rules. There are many different paths to getting dominoes to fall. Focus on the behavior you are excited about and let it cascade throughout your life.

FOOTNOTES

  • “Want to Change the World? Start by Making Your Bed” by Jennifer Lee Dukes
  • The phrase, the Domino Effect, comes from the common game people play by setting up a long line of dominoes, gently tapping the first one, and watching as a delightful chain reason proceeds to knock down each domino in the chain. I thought up this particular use of the phrase, but I’ve seen others say similar things like “snowball effect” or “chain reaction.”
  • Multiple Behavior Change in Diet and Activity: A Randomized Controlled Trial Using Mobile Technology by Bonnie Spring, Kristin Schneider, H.G. McFadden, Jocelyn Vaughn, Andrea T. Kozak, Malaina Smith, Arlen C. Moller, Leonard H. Epstein, Andrew DeMott, Donald Hedeker, Juned Siddique, and Donald M. Lloyd-Jones. Archives of Intern Medicine (2012).
  • Quote from “BJ’s note” posted on September 21, 2015. It is worth noting that BJ has some fantastic ideas on behavior change on his site, many of which have influenced my thoughts including his idea that “behaviors travel in packs,” which is similar to the core argument of Domino Effect.