by Teena George
Hi there! Let’s start with a quick round of Two Truths and a Lie.
Here goes –
Which statement do you think is a lie?
If you guessed 2 as the answer, you’re right!
GIF source: https://giphy.com/
You may be thinking that the other two statements are just as unbelievable. I agree with you. However, reading them gives you at least some idea of how seriously I used to take my work.
I cringe now as I write this. However, at the cost of my health, an earlier version of me is guilty of:
And as we say about Tiny Habits: “Tiny changes, big results.” So it is with seemingly small bad behaviors that we have. They compound over time and lead to life-impacting changes. For me, continuous stress coupled with long hours at work and consistently neglecting my health resulted in me getting diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease. (If this is the first time you’ve heard this term and want to know more, I’ve shared a link at the end of the blog.)
They’re right when they say, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” Frequent unannounced dizziness, a symptom of Meniere’s, helped me understand and appreciate that GOOD HEALTH IS THE ONE THING ON WHICH EVERYTHING ELSE DEPENDS.
Come to think of it, if you have good health you can invest your time and effort to build and strengthen your relationships, perform optimally at work, achieve your goals, make your dreams come true, and contribute to the greater good by helping others. Needless to say, your ability to do any of this becomes limited when your health suffers.
I am grateful that I got Meniere’s Disease when I did because it made me pause and re-evaluate my priorities, and it helped me start taking better care of my health. As of today, Meniere’s is an incurable disease and it’s progressive. So, while the symptoms do show up uninvited every once in a while, the three habits outlined below helped me manage Meniere’s and find my way back to good health.
It goes without saying that you don’t need to have Meniere’s or any other ailment to start any of these. They’ll benefit anyone.
1. Gratitude: Being grateful for what I have, focusing on what I can do as opposed to what is out of bounds for me, and counting my blessings have helped me from going on a downward spiral.
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2. Exercise: While the variety of exercises I can do are limited, I have managed to lose 8 kilos and keep it off (something I struggled with for almost seven years.)
Image source: https://awesomeatyourjob.com/
3. Meditation: Meditating has helped me stay calm when I get anxious or overwhelmed. It has helped reduce the instances of Meniere’s attacks and generally changed my earlier perception that meditation is only for those with monk-like focus.
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These three practices are proven ways to build and sustain good health. I go into the details in my Uplift Your Well-being with Tiny Habits course.
Here are Three Tiny Habits® Recipes to get you started with these powerful practices:
Like these Tiny Habits Recipes? Download them here.
Which of the three (gratitude, exercise, meditation) are you already doing daily?
Which of the three do you want to start?
join my Uplift Your Well-being with Tiny Habits course featuring Dr. BJ Fogg and his colleague + my fellow Tiny Habits Certified Coach, Stephanie Weldy.
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You can read more about Meniere’s Disease here.
Contributor: Teena George
Connect with me at:
When 95% is Not Better Than 0%
By Val McKinley
We usually think that more is better. In the world of behavior change, we encourage ourselves and others to do 1% better than the day before. The 1% adds up over time and voila; before we know it, the things that were hard for us or that we had resisted doing, get done. We feel good. Success momentum propels us forward…
Until it doesn’t. I thought I was leading my best life. I was traveling between grandchildren. I had created a portable coaching business and was enjoying the interaction with clients. Over the last two years I had consistently practiced making healthy food choices; also integrating a lot of movement and self-care practices into my daily routine. My husband is a loving partner and I have an amazing social network of family and friends.
So why am I writing this and what does this have to do with Tiny Habits? Last week after a visit with my family in VA, I was scheduled to fly back home to San Diego. That morning, after experiencing yet another two episodes of gastro discomfort which had escalated in frequency and intensity, I was extremely hesitant to get on an airplane. In the midst of not knowing which way to turn, I had an epiphany…’Call Will!’ I had been so preoccupied with my indecision and where to turn, that I had forgotten to ask for help. Help for me was the idea to call Will, my nephew who’s a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic in MN. After he’d listened and synthesized all that I told him, he said that I should not fly, but instead take a taxi to the nearest cardiac hospital which he had determined would give me the best care based on the symptoms I presented.
My intuition and call to my nephew probably saved my life. Within 24 hours of admission, I was in surgery during which a stent was placed in my left anterior descending artery – best known as the Widowmaker. It was 95% blocked! Little did I know that a stroke can be a complication of this procedure.
As soon as I saw my daughter in the recovery room, I knew that something had gone wrong. I had never experienced coming out of anesthesia with the types of symptoms I was experiencing. My vision was totally out of whack. Every move caused vertigo and/or dizziness. I felt so out of control and very frightened. I was soon taken in for a CAT scan, which I later learned was to determine the type of stroke I had experienced.
When a doctor came in the next morning and asked how I was doing I said, “Not good!” He said, bless his heart, “We’re on this!” I went through a myriad of emotions; sadness, pity, tears, and fear to name a few. Questions such as, “Is this my new normal? How will I do what I love to do? Will I be able to hold my grandbaby?” etc., raced through my mind. Several abilities once taken for granted had suddenly been swept out from under me. Talk about being thrown for a loop – literally and figuratively!
This is where Tiny Habits came to the rescue. I know tiny is transformative. I know that self-confidence is the by-product of doing what I say I will do. When I celebrate the behaviors I have planted in my life, my body releases feel-good chemicals like dopamine and oxytocin. This process wires in the habits that I want to achieve more quickly. Action is the catalyst of long-term change. Because I’ve developed the skills of change over time, I knew I could start taking control of my life.
I was told specialists would not be coming to evaluate me until the next day. However, I knew that for me, waiting was not an option. I had a pity party and cried and was sad. Then, after a few minutes, I told myself to come up with one thing I could do to help myself heal as I was seeing double and was extremely dizzy. The recipes were: After I put a patch on one eye, I will set the timer for ten minutes. I celebrated. After the timer goes off, I will change the patch to the other eye. I celebrated. Repeat…By planting the seed of change that day, I felt empowered. I felt hopeful. I felt that I was doing something to move forward in my healing. Step-by-step, little by little.
Note: For women reading this, or men who have women in their lives, please know: The classic symptoms of a heart attack are different in women!! Even if you have no family history of cholesterol problems, have your cholesterol checked. If you don’t feel like yourself, trust yourself. You have the right to have your health symptoms addressed until a root cause is found. Good luck. Be well!
Update: I was in rehab at the hospital for a week and then went to my daughter’s for a week. I was cleared to fly back home to CA at the end of the second week. Two habits that I continued to do post stroke were a modified hospital version of the Maui habit upon awakening and my bedtime habit of After I get in bed, I will write my gains for the day and write 3 things I hope to accomplish the next day. And then I celebrated!
I am a firm believer that maintaining a routine helped keep negativity at bay as I continued to heal.
A few weeks after arriving home, I started going to Zumba again. It’s my favorite form of movement. I knew that the full hour of spinning and quick movements would be too much, so my modification was, During my ½ hour of Zumba, I will walk the steps and look forward. Then celebrate that I was back! Over the next few weeks, I slowly started increasing my time in class, adding head movements and turns as long as I maintained my orientation.
Two months in, I got to start driving again! Yea! I have been in the company of my granddaughter in the last few weeks, getting to hold her and take care of her as before. Life is good! I feel so blessed to be back to my former self.
Tiny Habits Certified Coach
By Kristen Manieri
“Mindfulness isn’t difficult. We just need to remember to do it,” says renowned writer and meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg. What a paradox! Mindfulness—the act of bringing our attention into the present moment—is easy… if we’re mindful!
It’s true that nearly anyone can cultivate the skill of mindfulness. In fact, most of us learn present-moment awareness without being formally educated in it, without ever being told what mindfulness is and why it matters. We have all experienced what it’s like when our attention returns to the moment we are actually in right now, regardless of how fleeting that particular moment of presence was. This is mindfulness. Easy.
But try to build a mindful life—a life so steeped in present-moment awareness that mindlessness is battled nearly to extinction—not so easy.
The good news is that we are all capable of more mindfulness when we make a commitment to practice more often. A reliable tool for regular practice is habits. Any activity we do with enough consistency to become automated no longer requires our focus or deliberateness. Once we habituate an activity, it becomes seemingly effortless.
Using the power of habits, mindfulness can become effortless, too.
Whether your goal is to become more present or productive, compassionate or creative, it all starts with turning your awareness to the present moment. Mindfulness habits, coupled with the right intention and attention, dig mental grooves that allow you to return to your awareness and the present moment over and over again.
When we merge the science of habits with the art of mindfulness, we discover a formula for a mindful life and a solution to Sharon Salzberg’s challenge. Mindfulness isn’t difficult. And we CAN remember to do it. We just need a little help. The following habits are a great place to get started.
Mindfulness is a homecoming. So much of our day is focused on the exterior of our lives. When we slow down and pause, we’re invited to revisit and re-inhabit our inner world, even for just a few seconds.
The practice of a 30-second check-in is simply pausing to tune in to the feelings, sensations and thoughts in the body and mind. Think of it like a weather report. Close your eyes and check in. Is it stormy, breezy, or sunny? Are you holding any tension or ruminating on any worries?
Noticing what’s happening inside grants us an opportunity to tend to it. Are you thirsty, hungry or achy? What needs is the body asking to be filled? With our awareness turned inward we may notice anxiety, stress or frustration building. Maybe you need a break or to step away to get perspective. When we are mindful, we can choose to regulate ourselves, which helps us access the higher functions of the brain where our capacity to make good decisions and wise choices is stored. We become less of a knee-jerk reactor and more of a thoughtful responder.
Try this: Start tiny! Close your eyes for 10 seconds and simply see what’s there. How do you feel? What are your dominant thoughts? What emotions are present? Notice what it feels like to return to yourself.
Here’s a habit recipe you could try:
After I use the restroom, I will close my eyes for 10 seconds and check in with myself.
Mindful Mealtime Pause
Put up your hand if you sit down to eat and just start mindlessly chowing down. If you could see me, you’d see my hand up, too. Meals are perhaps some of our most mindless moments. It’s tough to eat mindfully, but I find it gets easier when I begin my meals with the habit of taking a mindful pause.
When I sit down to eat dinner, I close my eyes and let myself feel my hunger. This pause offers me the chance to feel very grateful for the food in front of me, all those who played a part in getting it to my table, and to appreciate how fortunate I am to have healthy food to eat. I find this pause also slows me down long enough to savor my food, at least the first few mindful bites.
Here’s a habit recipe you could try:
After I sit down to eat, I will close my eyes, pause and feel grateful.
Waiting in Gratitude
I had a terrible habit of checking my phone when I’m stopped at red lights and I really wanted to break it. As I learned from BJ Fogg, it’s much easier to replace a habit than to break one, especially one that we’ve been doing for a long time.
So, I began the habit of placing my phone in my purse instead of in the center console. Having it out of reach lowered the temptation and removed the visual prompt. Then when I arrive at a red light, I take a moment to think of a few things I’m grateful for.
Here are habit recipes you could try:
After I get into the car, I will put my phone out of reach and out of sight.
After I stop at a red light, I will think of three things I’m grateful for.
Three Deep Breaths
Without getting too much into the science, believe me when I say that just taking three deep breaths has a tremendous influence on your nervous system. We breathe short, shallow breaths when we’re stressed. It’s a way of our body getting us into a position for either flight or fight.
The trouble is, we don’t typically face any real threats most of the time. But we think threatening thoughts, which make our body think that we’re in trouble. A good way to reset and to restore our inner peace and calm is to slow and deepen our breathing.
Try this: Once a day, sit somewhere comfortably and close your eyes. Take a breath in through the nose to the count of five or six. Hold the breath for a second or two and then exhale through the mouth with a big sigh. Repeat this again two more times.
What you’ll likely notice is a feeling of ease as your nervous system starts to register the signals that you’re safe and well. You might even say silently to yourself, “all is well.” This quick, little reset can help you power down at the end of the day, shift from work to family time, and can help you regulate your emotions when you’re feeling upset.
Here are a few habit recipes you could try:
After I get into bed at night, I will take three deep breaths.
After I get into the car after work, I will take three deep breaths.
Handwashing is something we all (hopefully) do automatically and mostly mindlessly several times a day. This makes it a great anchor for a mindful moment!
For this habit, you’ll still wash your hands as you normally do. The only difference is that you’ll wash them with your attention singularly focused on the task at hand rather than letting your mind wander or rushing through.
I like to use this moment of presence to practice keeping my attention focused on something that’s pretty mundane. My mind isn’t really interested in focusing on washing my hands because it’s something I’ve already done a million times and I don’t need any special attention in order to do it correctly. Being with my mind as it naturally wanders away with thoughts of my day or what I’m going to do next is an interesting exercise in simply training my mind to stay present. And since I wash my hands about a dozen times a day, I get loads of practice.
Try this: As you turn on the tap and put soap onto your hands, tune into the sensory experience (sight, sound, smell, touch) of this everyday practice of washing your hands. Allow yourself to drop deeply into the experience and really feel all the sensations you’re experiencing. Use this practice as a mini holiday in your day and a chance to come home to yourself, even for just 20 seconds.
Here’s a habit recipe you could try:
After I put soap on my hands, I will bring my full attention and awareness to the act of washing my hands.
Making Habits Stick
If you’re up for it, pick just one of these habits to work on in the next week. Instead of aiming for a slam dunk, set the intention to simply learn about how you build habits. Troubleshoot and pivot rather than throw in the towel if a habit isn’t sticking. And remember, keep it tiny and easy. You can scale up your habit once it’s sticky.
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:
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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:
I love chocolate, fudge & brownies.
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?
I write things & stuff on Medium
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.