Category Archives for "health"

Tiny Habits for Reducing ADHD Overwhelm  

Tiny Habits for Reducing ADHD Overwhelm  

Stephanie Marcusky, CALC

If you are familiar with the Spoon Theory for chronic illness, or the idea of how to best allocate resources in a system, you may understand the idea that some people with ADHD feel that they only have the emotional energy for some activities and that there may be a lot of things that they can’t get to in a given day. 

You might also think of this as “bandwidth” – the emotional energy you have available to handle activities and stress is analogous to the amount of data traffic that can be handled by the network. 

Neurotypical people who subscribe to a GTD (Get Things Done)/Eat The Frog way of life may not understand this.

How Many Health Points? 

So let’s put it another way – When you start a new game that uses Health Points (HP), you generally have a small number of health points, but the activities you’re supposed to do only need a few. You level up pretty quickly, and you get more capacity for health points. There comes a point, though, when doing only small activities makes it take longer to level up, so you might have to slog through slow gameplay before you can level up.

Bigger activities take more HP but you get the rewards of accelerating through the game.

If we’re talking real life, going to college is going to get us farther in life than staying home and doing small chores. But it’s going to take a lot of HP. And if we have anything else that needs HP – physical or mental health problems, family to care for, unsafe living arrangements, unsafe communities, lack of transportation, cost of books and courses, all the way up to systemic economic and social structure problems – it might take longer.

The Six ‘S’s

On an individual level, if you need help getting your life under some semblance of control, some ADHD Life Coaches use the acronym of Three Ss: Structure, Support, and Systems. I like to add Strategies, Strengths, and Skills. To explain:

Structure is along the lines of how you organize your environment to help you.  For example:

  • Do you have a place for your keys by the front door? 
  • Where do you keep medication so you can take it consistently? 
  • How do you track and respond to tasks and appointments (written versus electronic planners)?

Support is alarms, automatic bill pay, Alexa/Siri/Google for creating shopping lists and setting timers, hiring people to help, or finding a friend to body double while you do boring things.

Strategies are how you approach problems. We may unconsciously start getting angry when things aren’t going the way we planned, but if we take the time to step back and re-examine, we may find a way to reframe the issue that helps us let go of some of the anger. Or we take a time-out to work off some steam with exercise or music.

Strengths mean using what we are good at. It may be different than what we’ve been taught is important, but it is our strength, and it’s important to start there and build on that. A fish isn’t going to be good at climbing a tree, but maybe swimming is exactly what helps you succeed.

Skills can be learned to support you where you might be lacking.

Systems are routines to order your life and environment. 

When we want to make a change to our routine behaviors, whether it’s adding exercise, flossing our teeth, or meditating – things that can fall into any of these Six Ss – we need a system to change our behaviors. 

The Fogg Behavior Model

BJ Fogg, a behavior researcher at Stanford, realized that behaviors need 3 elements to occur (https://behaviormodel.org/): Motivation, Ability, and a Prompt. 

If you aren’t motivated to make a change, you probably won’t. If you’re very motivated, but don’t have the ability to make the change, you won’t – throwing a library of motivation books at you isn’t going to help. And if you don’t notice an internal sensation (like needing to use the restroom) or an external “flag” (your medicine is next to the coffee maker so you can take it before you leave for work), you might not realize/remember you should do that behavior.

This leads to figuring out how to help people make those behaviors easier.

Creating a Tiny Habit

Tiny Habits® helps you create new behaviors, and it’s as easy as ABC: Anchor habit, tiny new Behavior, and Celebration.

Your Anchor is your prompt, a tiny new Behavior is small enough that you can do it quickly, and the Celebration sets the habit by flooding your brain with feel-good chemicals. Looking at it another way, (maybe more scientifically) you are strengthening your neural pathway to do that behavior. Three simple ingredients, and the encouragement to play and stay curious.

So why did I start with the long-winded Health Points game-play story, you ask? Because Tiny Habits is the key to getting more done with less HP. When you set a new habit in place after an anchor habit, you can grow it to become automatic, and you can move it from something that takes emotional labor/”HP” to something you don’t have to think through. So either it becomes a lower HP item, or almost a 0 HP item, and you can use that HP for something else.

If you know your kids are going to be bickering and asking questions and forgetting clothing items as you’re trying to get them out of the door, adding a new habit isn’t going to work right then. But if you add the Tiny Habit of hanging your car keys by the door when you come home, you save yourself a lot of HP later. If you help the kids learn the habit of putting their shoes in the bin by the door instead of letting them take the shoes into the living room where they can be lost under the couch, you’re saving time, frustration and brain power.

Why Habit Stacking Doesn’t Work

You may have heard of “habit stacking” – a 13-step process for creating a repeatable set of habits – a routine – that you can adopt to make things easier. The problem is, the more you stack together, the more likely your proverbial Jenga tower of blocks can fall if you forget something. 

A Better Strategy for Success

Let’s go back to the idea of marshaling the kids out the door to get to school. If you get distracted by a kid looking for a shoe, you might forget that you are supposed to grab your keys, then grab your lunch bag, then grab your purse/laptop bag.

I would suggest that you set 2 or 3 separate habits: when you put your coffee cup/dirty dish by the sink, move the lunch bag by the door. When you grab your shoes, move the work bag to the door. Then when you grab your keys, you will grab your bags. This is an extra check to be sure you have both bags together.

If you’re looking to reduce your stress by adding mindfulness to your day, trying to find specific time to set aside can be hard, especially with kids. But you can build a Tiny Habit to add 30 seconds of mindful breathing every time you go to the bathroom and wash your hands. 

Our modern world is complex, fast-paced, and not wired to help you focus on long-term goals. So, perfect to distract our already-distractible brains even more. The less our overburdened brains need to remember, the lighter their load and the lower our stress and overwhelm. Tiny Habits turns more high-frequency behaviors into automatic habits and increases our ability to tackle more high-energy/HP/bandwidth activities without getting overwhelmed as quickly.

Living in Integrity through Tiny Habits

Name: Chandni Sawlani

One of the biggest sources of pain and anxiety in my life, and perhaps the lives of most of us, is witnessing and knowing all that I can be but not being able to close the gap. For years like most people, I’d go through cycles of being highly motivated. Inspired by experiences that moved me deeply, I’d set powerful new intentions, take massive action, and then have all of these new behaviors fizzle away.

I first came across Tiny Habits in the middle of the pandemic in 2020. I remember going through the 5-day program, and beginning to get a sense of how it worked. My first round wasn’t too successful, but something stuck, something clicked into place, and so I gave it another shot. And BOOM…I got it! The first layer of understanding of this simple and powerful method locked in.

  1. Showing up consistently as my best self

The first piece I started to work on was my morning routine. For years I’d had fleeting phases of success with my morning routine and had experienced how this impacted the version of me I’d show up as through the day.

I started with this Tiny Habit: ‘After I open my bedroom door, I will roll out my yoga mat’ (and celebrate!). And lo and behold, there I was, rolling out my yoga mat, day after day, feeling absolute delight go through me. Soon enough, rolling out my yoga mat turned into a 20-minute yoga practice. In time, this was complemented by a meditation routine and other pieces.

Now, about a year and a half later, I wake up to my dream morning routine without fail, almost every day, even when I am travelling, even after a late night. I wake up, sip some hot herbal tea with a book to read, roll out my yoga mat and stretch, meditate for 20 minutes, send my loved ones morning messages, eat a bowl of fruit, and have a hot shower. It is my default now, and I couldn’t imagine more than a day or two of not living this routine! What’s amazing is that this routine has evolved and gone through many iterations. It’s flexible and I tweak it whenever I feel inspired to. It feels so simple to add and delete pieces, to move things around.

The returns from locking this in are priceless. I start each day feeling deeply centered and in integrity with myself. I’m able to show up to the day with stillness and with a smile. And more consistently, I have productive and successful days!

  1. Responding and no longer reacting

The second most important piece that my Tiny Habits have helped me with is responding to challenging situations, especially ones that are emotionally triggering. 

For the last few years, I have been trying really hard to navigate a certain challenging relationship with integrity. What kept me stuck was my disappointment with who I had been in this relationship. My behavior was out of alignment with the person I know I am. Intentions failed me in moments of being deeply triggered, and I’d find myself reacting with frustration and helplessness. 

When I read Amy’s story of Pearl Habits in the Tiny Habits book, it moved me to tears. I finally felt there was hope in this situation, and I had a new approach I could try. I started with the Tiny Habit: ‘After I feel emotionally triggered in a conversation, I will stand up and get into a power pose’. 

This Tiny Habit was a game-changer. It allowed me to change my physiology in a moment of stress and create a moment of pause, the space to choose my response. Over time I found myself reacting less and responding more deeply to my authentic self.

This Tiny Habit then rippled to other Tiny Habits designed specifically to navigate the nuances of this challenging relationship. Now, about 10 months from when I first started this experiment, I have managed to close and complete this relationship. There is not as much mutual acceptance as I had hoped for, but I have a sense of inner peace that comes with being in integrity with myself.

  1. Growing and evolving consistently

The third piece that my Tiny Habits have really helped with is the confidence to pursue learning and growth consistently. 

The massive gap between information and action has been a serious cause of anxiety for me. Learning was stressful because the weight of not implementing things was painful and overwhelming. 

Through Tiny Habits and the overall mindset of keeping things tiny, simple, and sustainable, I have grown confident in my ability to integrate new learnings into my life, be it professionally or personally. For instance, now whenever I complete a session of absorbing any new content or information, I have a Tiny Habit recipe: ‘After I finish reading/watching/listening to something, I will ask myself ‘What is the one thing that is most relevant for me to remember/integrate from this right now?’ This has definitely brought ease into my life, and I find myself growing and evolving more rapidly than I ever thought possible!

Tiny Habits has been the single most important framework in my toolkit for living in integrity with who I am. With my current understanding of Tiny Habits, I am confident that I can bring any change that I desire into my life, and that gives me such a sense of freedom and joy! 

I sincerely hope that you find this freedom too 🙂 Here’s a link to sign up for the free 5-day program that got me started on this journey.
Through my business Moonlight Accelerators, I support young game-changers step deeply into integrity with themselves and do their greatest work in the world! Tiny Habits is an important part of our toolkit. You can learn more here.

How I Ate a Cookie Every Day and Lost 20lb.

cookies

The rain started pouring and splish-sploshing on my window. Should I? Shouldn’t I? It isn’t part of my plan today, and I am on a deadline with my commitments. It isn’t part of my diet plan either. When was the last time I had one? I tried to remember. 

I sat inside my car, parked right outside of my house with the engine of my white Audi A1 Ambition running while I was lost in thought.

Fasting beach walk done? Check.  Errands done? Check. Gym workout done? Check. Groceries done? Check. 

Yeah, I deserve it; I’ve worked really hard this week and been consistent with my workouts; I’ll go now and get one. I did a cheeky u-turn and was on my way. 

A burnt salted-caramel slice. All of this mental energy, procrastination, time-wasting over a caramel slice. 

I knew I would feel guilty about it later and yet, over the past few weeks, I had been craving cakes, cookies, and slices far more than usual. How much time was I spending lately thinking about food? Dreaming about it? Arguing with myself over whether to eat this or not? Trying to justify the sweets, burgers, and other non-nourishing food choices, which had tightened my waistband slightly of late? 

It wasn’t the cost of the tightened pants that was of most concern; it was how much time I was spending mentally and emotionally thinking about food and the pain, guilt, suffering, and shame I felt after eating it. That’s what was triggering alarm bells. And how did this even get started? What prompted this behavior?

I don’t usually buy my coffee. My life isn’t designed that way. I drink it black and at home. I have my home set up—my environment designed—so my coffee is specifically ethically sourced—I have a bunch of criteria—and I make it at home. I’m not usually tempted by the siren call of the cakes and slices that way. But then my coffee pot broke, and I wasn’t able to find an immediate replacement. I live in Australia, and with COVID-19, the replacement would be about 6-8 weeks. I also immediately ordered a french press, but since I’m not a huge fan of coffee that way, I started buying my coffee every other day, increasing my exposure to all things delicious that the stores put in front of their counters. Clever them, given food, has always been my contention point. Burgers. Cakes. Fries. Willpower? Forget about it. All the willpower in the world won’t keep me off a cake past 3 pm. Willpower is connected to a limited reserve of mental energy, and once we run out of that energy, we’re more likely to lose self-control. Psychological researchers even have a name for this phenomenon: ego depletion. With my daily coffee run sparking the siren call of cookies and cakes, it was time to deploy a strategy I’d learned years before.

When I was going through the most challenging time in my life, my go-to was cookies. I called it my cookie conundrum. I had an excellent nutritionist at the time. He said to me if I’m doing something over and over again—if my body is craving it, or it is causing some pay off mentally, emotionally, or physically—rather than making myself wrong, to instead incorporate it into my lifestyle. In this case, he created a meal plan where my diet plan was clean to meet my desired outcomes and aspirations—at the time, fat reduction and to increase my fitness & strength—but every day, there was an afternoon cookie and coffee ritual, which I got to indulge in. There was no need to feel bad as it was fulfilling a need and was pre-planned for. I didn’t know it at the time, but my nutritionist was practicing behavior design. My nutritionist was unwittingly living, teaching, and embodying Fogg Maxxim #1 & Fogg Maxxim #2.

Fogg Maxim #1: Help people do what they already want to do.

Fogg Maxim #2: Help people feel successful.

I also believe in eating food for nourishment and performance. Foods that will cause sustained uplifting energy, vitality, and aliveness help with my productivity, anti-aging, and long-term objectives, so all this cake and slice eating isn’t actually working. There is an absolute conflict between my values and goals.

Conflicting motivations are opposing drives related to the same behavior and can be a source of psychological suffering. “I want to eliminate non-nourishing, sugar-laden foods from my diet, but gosh, I really want to eat these cookies”. These conflicts can change depending on what’s happening around us, and we may not even understand where the desire to eat these specific foods is coming from. Rather than needing to figure out why or the source of our motivation—emotionally, mentally, or physically—we can design something workable for our life, right now, exactly as it is. We can figure out what’s prompting it.

What’s prompting my cookie-munching anyways? The mid-afternoon energy slump.

My mid-afternoon energy slump usually happens at 2 pm, and it’s a feeling for sure. I feel tired, low energy, mild fatigue, and want to lie down and take a nap—which I never do—followed by the overwhelming feeling of craving something sweet to eat—ala, the desire for cookies and cake. And I’m not alone. 

A lot of us get a mid-afternoon slump.

A carb-heavy lunch can lead to a sugar crash. A rebound in fatigue that was temporarily held at bay by morning caffeine. Being mildly dehydrated can subtly yet negatively affect our energy levels. Also, insomnia and sleep deprivation are commonplace in the world today. If we are not getting enough sleep at night, small factors can have a large effect on our alertness in the afternoon.

Behavior happens in a specific context or environment when we are motivated, we have the ability to do it, and we are prompted. 

B (Behavior) = (happens when) M (Motivation) & A (Ability) & P (Prompt) converge at the same moment.

If we know this is going to happen, we can research and plan ahead to achieve our aspirations & outcomes.

A quick google search brings up a plethora of nourishing choices which fulfill the same need, which we can pop into our pantries as better options when we are prompted.

A few of my favorites, and where to find them:

Justine’s Cookies 

https://www.instagram.com/justinescookies/

I love chocolate, fudge & brownies.

Smart Protein Bars 

https://www.instagram.com/smartdietsolutions/

I love the Vanilla Nougat, Strawberry Cheesecake, and Marshmallow Chocolate Biscuit flavors.

Here’s what they look like in my pantry.

The cookie conundrum? I turned it into a blissful Tiny Habits Recipe you can use in your own life too.

Step 1: Purchase some protein cookies, bars, balls, or slices you believe are healthy. Not sure where to start? Use the links I’ve included above.

Step 2: Figure out a good prompt. The behavior sequence might look like this:

After I feel my energy fade (in the afternoon), I will pour a glass of water and indulge in a protein cookie (bar or ball).

Step 3: Really enjoy the taste. Bliss out in the moment and feel happy and good about adding a healthy habit to your life.

My Recipe—The Tiny Habits Method

After I feel my energy start to fade (in the afternoon)

I will pour a glass of water and enjoy a protein cookie

And celebrate with a Serena Williams fist pump

The best way to learn the Tiny Habits Method is to get started practicing immediately. Don’t wait.

Our decisions define us. Our actions define us. Our habits define us.

So focusing on designing specific actions is where we start.

What action will you choose to take now?

The Contributor

Kristy B

kristybertenshaw.com

I write things & stuff on Medium

Are Your Habits Hurting Your Brain? Part 3

Yesterday we examined how mindless routines can be transformed into mini-workouts for your brain. If you haven’t read that post, check it out! Today we’re going to look at how healthy habits can lose their potency, and how to reinvigorate them.

The Puzzling Truth About Crossword Puzzles

It makes sense that adding cognitive challenge to routine tasks like brushing your teeth can benefit your brain, but if you do a crossword puzzle every day, isn’t that a workout on its own? Maybe. Crossword puzzles are the quintessential example of a cognitive challenge, but if you regularly breeze through yours it might have become like that route you take to work, to well-worn to excite your mind. If brain boosting is your goal, you never want to get too comfortable.

In his seminal work Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi explains how the perfect combination of skill and challenge leads to satisfaction and growth. This same principle applies to many of the activities that are routinely touted as brain-building. Whether you play a musical instrument, study a foreign language, play chess or memorize poetry, you can eventually become so proficient that the activity is no longer stimulating or rewarding. As your skill grows, you must continually seek out new challenges to stay in the zone of growth and engagement.

Add Some Weight

There are two ways to shake up a good habit gone soft. The first is to amp up the challenge. Think about lifting weights. As your muscles grow stronger, you need to lift more if you want your muscles to continue to grow.

  • Find a book or newspaper with more challenging puzzles.
  • Try new scales or songs on your musical instrument.
  • Learn new vocabulary words in a language you already know.
  • Read a book or watch a show that is slightly higher than your fluency level in a language you already know.

Try Cross-Training

Increasing the difficulty works to build muscles you already have, but for overall brain health and robust cognitive reserve, think cross-training. It’s ok to continue playing the piano or doing crossword puzzles if you enjoy these activities, but alternate your favorite brain-builder with something completely new that challenges you in a very different way.

  • Swap a crossword puzzle for sudoku, which relies on logic and numbers instead of words and ideas.
  • If you already play the guitar, learn the flute instead of the cello.
  • If you’re fluent in Spanish, try Russian or Chinese instead of another Romance language.

The brain’s need for novelty is a double-edge sword. On the one hand, it means that the task of keeping your brain healthy is never-ending. You can’t just implement a handful of good habits and be done. Instead, you need an ever-changing approach to brain health that continually introduces new activities and new challenges.

However, the brain’s need for novelty has an upside: studies show that people who seek out novel experiences tend to be happier, healthier and more satisfied with their relationships and their lives. The combination of mindful habits and novel experiences can make your mind both rich and resilient.

If you’re ready to learn more about the habits that support your brain health, click here to join our groundbreaking new course, Habits for Brain Health. This live, interactive course combines the Tiny Habits method with powerful, practical recipes for keeping your brain sharp now and throughout your life.

Are Your Habits Hurting Your Brain? Part 2

If you missed yesterday’s post explaining the neuroscience behind habit formation and the novelty response, click here to get up to speed. If you’re wondering how you can cultivate cognitive reserve in your most routine moments, you’re in the right place.

Mindful Habits or Mindless Routines?

When you first learned to drive, your brain was probably very engaged. This challenging task requires coordination between your eyes, hands, and feet in particular. You have to be aware of everything around you while also monitoring your speed and position on the road. However, over time driving becomes less of a challenge and you are eventually able to navigate all but the trickiest of roadways with only minimal engagement. This is great for your commute, but not so great for your brain.

The brain possesses an infinite capacity for mastering new skills and making them feel effortless. This is great, as it’s exactly what we need to establish healthy habits and effective routines. However, like an energetic child, it needs to be continually challenged or it can become bored and disengaged. The key is to strike the right balance between novelty and structure.

Turning Off Auto-Pilot

If you frequently can’t remember whether you took your morning supplements or arrive at work with little recollection of the drive there, your brain may be so bored by the day’s predictability that it has essentially shut off. When your routines have become mindless, you’re missing out on great opportunities to boost your brain throughout the day.

Try spicing things up by adding a small cognitive challenge to each routine task.

  • Brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand. It’s harder than you’d think. It also forges novel connections in several parts of the brain.
  • Shower with your eyes closed. You’ll use senses that are usually neglected and be more focused on the task.
  • Spritz on a new scent. Our olfactory center is closely linked with memory formation.
  • Try a different morning beverage – swap coffee for tea or sample a different blend. Take a minute to really savor the new flavor.
  • Switch seats – at the dinner table, in the lunchroom or in a meeting. You’ll hear different conversations and see things from a different perspective, literally and figuratively.
  • For one day, turn your photos upside down. Again, the change in perspective can spark your brain to work in new ways.
  • Shop in a different grocery store. It might take a few minutes more, but your brain will be more engaged and open to new foods and discoveries.
  • Read a section of the paper you usually skip. You’ll learn something new and spark your creative brain as those new ideas bump up against the old.

Now you know how you can change your everyday routines to better support your brain health, but what about that morning crossword puzzle? Is it possible it’s not as productive as you think? Check back tomorrow to find out more.

If you’re ready to learn more about the habits that support your brain health, click here to join our groundbreaking new course, Habits for Brain Health. This live, interactive course combines the Tiny Habits method with powerful, practical recipes for keeping your brain sharp now and throughout your life.

Are Your Habits Hurting Your Brain? Part 1

If you’re hoping to foster new habits this year that will increase your health and happiness, we’re here to help. Daily exercise, meditation, and even flossing can boost your brain health, but not all habits work in your favor. You probably already know that smoking, sugar and a sedentary lifestyle can wreak havoc on your cardiovascular and cognitive functioning, but what about your drive to work or your morning crossword?

Making Healthy Actions Automatic

Habits and routines give our lives structure and direction. Turning healthy behaviors into habits is important because you want to follow through on those actions even when your motivation is low. That’s one reason the Tiny Habits method is so successful. Often those habits become part of our daily routines, and are so engrained we don’t even have to think about them. In general, that’s a good thing. However, you certainly don’t want to go through life on auto-pilot. Your brain craves novelty and challenge to stay sharp and agile.

Pathways in the Forest

Every new thought or experience sends a tiny spasm of electricity that stimulates dendritic growth and expands your brain volume. Dendrites are like tiny pathways through your brain, and the more of them you have, the greater your cognitive reserve. If a thought or action is repeated, the pathway becomes stronger and it takes less effort to send a signal through. “Neurons that fire together wire together,” as neuroscientists say, and this is exactly how habits are formed: by repeatedly following a trigger with an action, that pathway is solidified in the brain and the action becomes more automatic each time.

Building Cognitive Reserve

Establishing strong pathways that reinforce healthy habits is a good thing. However, you don’t want your brain to become so accustomed to its most well-worn pathways that stagnation sets in. As we age, the plaques and tangles that cause Alzheimer’s disease can choke off even the most established of routes. If one pathway becomes bogged down, it’s good to have plenty of other options. As you continue to learn new things and challenge yourself throughout your life, you increase your cognitive reserve, creating a brain that is both resilient and adaptable.

This Is Your Brain On Novelty

Psychologists call it the “novelty response”, and in some ways it’s the opposite of a habit. Where a habit is so engrained you don’t even have to think about it, a novel experience requires your attention and engagement, but this is precisely why it’s so effective. When you challenge yourself to learn a new word every day, cook a new recipe or take a new class, you activate new neural networks that keep your brain alert and engaged. For the best results, be sure there’s a method to the madness. Build novelty into your day by periodically establishing new habits that challenge your brain in new ways.

Building cognitive reserve doesn’t have to be costly or time-intensive. Come back tomorrow to learn how you can increase your cognitive reserve on your drive to work or even in the shower. Click here to join our groundbreaking new course, Habits for Brain Health. This live, interactive course combines the Tiny Habits method with powerful, practical recipes for keeping your brain sharp now and throughout your life.

5 More Ways to Improve Your Brain Health in Under 30 Seconds

If 5 Ways to Improve Your Brain Health in Under 30 Seconds inspired you to care more for your brain in the coming year, click here to receive information about our upcoming course, Habits for Brain Health. If you’re ready to plant some new seeds today, try one or more of the habits below.

  1. Sip a cup of green tea. The antioxidants in a cup of green tea may contribute to lower blood pressure, better working memory, stronger bones and a healthier immune system. Drink it hot as you read the morning news or iced at the end of your workout for the moderate boost in energy and long-term neuroprotection the caffeine will provide. Brew your own and go easy on the sweetener for a brain- and budget-friendly beverage.
  2. Stub out your cigarette. If the threat of lung, throat and oral cancer isn’t enough to dissuade you from smoking, maybe its effects on your brain health will. Smoking thins the lining of the cortex, a part of the brain that is essential for memory and language function. The sooner you quit, the less damage you’ll do and the longer your brain will have to recover.
  3. Text a friend. “Remember that time when…?” Research shows that the more connected you are, the more likely you are to maintain high cognitive functioning throughout your life. Reminiscing with friends activates the memory center and relieves stress, providing a one-two punch against cognitive decline.
  4. Grab a brain game. It’s no surprise that exercising your brain is good for your brain, but if you’re not a fan of crossword puzzles, don’t worry! Research shows that any mental challenge will do. Keep a book of sudoku in your pocket or a brain training app on your phone and sneak in a mini-workout next time you’re sitting on the train, standing in line or waiting for a friend.
  5. Put your phone on airplane mode. Too little sleep puts your brain in a fog and contributes to the buildup of beta-amyloid in the brain, increasing the risk of developing dementia. Set yourself up for a restful night’s sleep by putting your phone on airplane mode. Your alarm will still work, but you won’t be disrupted by the buzz of an incoming late-night email or text. Try this trick when you’re with your friends and family, too. Being present with the ones you’re with strengthens your social connections, keeping your relationships and your brain strong, healthy and happy.

These habits may seem simple, but don’t be deceived. Every one of these actions can have lasting long-term effects when they become a part of your everyday life. But you don’t have to wait until your senior years to reap the benefits. The habits that support long-term brain health will also help you to feel healthier and happier while you’re still young. For information on our upcoming brain health course, click here.

Top 5 Ways to Improve Your Brain Health in Under 30 Seconds

Like a thriving coral reef, a healthy brain is the product of millions of tiny units and connections. Every minute of the day you’re making choices that either strengthen that network or tear it down. Exercise, sleep and a nutritious diet have a big impact on brain health, but many brain-boosting behaviors take less than a minute a day.

  1. Breathe. Chronic stress puts your brain at risk. While we can’t get rid of every source of stress in our lives, we can learn to manage it. Meditative breathing increases blood flow to the brain and increases cortical thickness in the hippocampus, the center of learning and memory. Try taking three deep, mindful breaths every time you hit a stoplight or every time you hang up your phone.
  2. Pop your pills. Resveratrol, turmeric, and vitamin D may all play a role in preserving memory function, but the king of brain supplements is DHA. Fish oil supplements contain a rich supply of this omega-3 fatty acid that is essential for normal brain function. Try pairing this habit with your brushing/flossing routine or your morning cup of coffee.
  3. Strike a pose. Yoga incorporates the health benefits of mindful breathing with body-altering stretches and balance challenges. Both flexibility and balance decline with age, putting the body at risk for injury that can prohibit other kinds of brain-boosting exercise. Balance exercises also work the cerebellum, which is central for overall brain health.
  4. Pet your pooch. A rich social network slows memory decline and increases quality of life, and even your pet can contribute. Just a minute or two of snuggling with your pet lowers cortisol and boost seratonin, protecting your brain’s connectivity. Pets can alleviate symptoms of depression and calm patients who are already suffering from the effects of dementia. Take your pet outside for a walk and you’ll also elevate your heart rate and interact with others, both important keys to boosting brain health.
  5. Put on your helmet. Brain trauma, whether a single traumatic event that causes loss of consciousness or repeated, less severe incidents are increasingly linked to neurodegenerative disease later in life. Will Smith’s new movie Conscious brings awareness to this issue, and the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health currently has two studies underway to examine the long-term effects of brain trauma on professional football players and professional fighters. Whether you’re snowboarding, riding your bike to the store, or meeting friends for a pick-up game of football, take an extra ten seconds to strap on a helmet and protect your vulnerable gray matter.

Over time, these small acts can make a big impact on your brain health. If you’re interested in learning more, sign up here and you’ll receive a special invitation to our upcoming course, Habits for Brain Health.

If Only Your Brain Could Get A Sunburn

If only your brain could get a sunburn.

Most of us have neglected the sage 90s advice to “Wear Sunscreen” at least once in our lives. However, a single searing, skin-peeling sunburn is often all it takes to inspire a lifelong commitment to protecting our vulnerable flesh. The lesson may be painful, but it is immediate and effective.

When it comes to our health, most of the negative consequences of the choices we make are not so immediate. If you choose to eat a cheeseburger, you’ll probably feel full and happy afterward. You will not feel the excess fat clogging your arteries and clinging to your midsection or the sodium boosting your blood pressure. A single cheeseburger won’t destroy your health, but if the majority of your meals come wrapped in paper, you’ll feel the effects eventually. Unfortunately, by that time the damage is done and can be difficult to reverse. If the results of an unhealthy habit were as swift and painful as a sunburn, making healthy choices would be much easier.

We now know that our brains change throughout our lives. While the most drastic development occurs in childhood, our brains retain the capacity for growth and change for as long as we live. Our habits can support our brain health or stymie it, but, unlike a sunburn, the consequences may take years and even decades to manifest.

At Tiny Habits Academy, one of our biggest priorities is helping people to build healthy habits for a lifetime of physical and mental wellbeing. If you have a brain and are getting older (and we’re pretty sure that covers all of our readers here) then you are making choices every day that may determine whether you become one of the 5.3 million people who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease each year.

Doctors and scientists are still working to understand Alzheimer’s disease, which afflicts one in nine people over the age of 65, and over half of seniors over 85. However, they have been able to pinpoint a number of contributing factors, including:

  • Genetics and Family History
  • Head Trauma
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Alcoholism
  • Physical Inactivity
  • Cognitive Inactivity
  • Depression

Some of these risk factors are beyond our control, but many are not. A healthy brain at 65 (or 85) is the product of a lifetime of heathy choices. Over the next few weeks and months we’ll feature blog posts and special webinars to help you build the kinds of habits that act as heavy-duty SPF for your brain, protecting it from damage now and in the years to come.

We are launching a new Habits for Brain Health course.  What to be the first to know when that happens?  Click here —> http://bit.ly/Brain-Health-Habits

When Tiny Habits are “Starter Steps”

by BJ Fogg, PhD

I’ve been focusing a lot on the power of  “starter steps.”

“What’s that?” you ask. 

Well, a starter step is the first step in a longer sequence of behaviors. For example, opening your sketchbook is a starter step in drawing a picture. Putting on your gym clothes is a starter step for working out. Setting an apple on the kitchen counter is a starter step for eating it.

When you think of the bigger behavior, the ultimately behavior you want — drawing a picture or working out — you might find yourself resisting. It’s odd, but I’ve heard from lots of people about this resistance. Even though they sorta wanted to do the behavior (workout), something inside them resisted it at the moment of truth. Their brain finds excuses. Starter steps don’t seem to invoke this kind of resistance. You just put on your gym clothes. No big deal. 

Some people report that they trick themselves with starter steps (I’ve done this too): For example, people tell themselves, “okay, I’ll put on my gym clothes, but I’m not really going to workout.”

And guess what happens? 

Surprisingly often people go all the way. And that’s the magic –> With starter steps you overcome your initial resistance, and once you’re started on the path, you just keep going.

I’m a fan of designing for starter steps. Some of my own Tiny Habits are starter steps. 

But there’s one more thing you should know: I don’t feel bad if my starter step doesn’t cascade all the way to the bigger behavior. Just celebrate the fact that you’re making the starter step a habit. I know this may sound strange, but it’s part of the secret to creating habits quickly and easily: Be happy with your tiny successes. Never feel guilty about not doing more.