Preholiday Survival Plan

I love the change in seasons, but with it comes the busy holidays and the desire to gorge myself with artery-clogging treats. I can feel my body drifting into hibernation mode, enjoying the fire pit, roasted marshmallows and lazy evenings at home. It gets harder and harder to make it to spin class. Interaction with friends and family often involves food, which offers gratification – until I step on the scale the next morning. Succumbed to temptation, yet again! But why?

For many reasons, we disregard rational thought for that heavenly slice of cheesecake. Habits, patterns, cravings and pleasure all play major parts in the cycle that takes us away from our wellness goals. It’s challenging to change old habits, and it seems to take forever to develop new routines. We have cravings, are tempted and seek relief to satisfy our bodies and minds. It’s a vicious cycle. But how satisfying is succumbing to immediate gratification? What do we say to ourselves to justify this behavior? These questions play a part in the creation of habits.

You’ve likely heard that almost anything in moderation is okay, but that’s not true for everyone. Understanding what impacts craving, motivation and behavior – and setting goals – will help you break bad habits and make positive changes in your life. The effort requires making incremental changes, while learning why changing the behaviors is hard, and why it’s important to practice self-compassion during the process. Be as kind to yourself as you would a friend who needs support during a challenging situation. In her book on self-compassion, Kristin Neff, Ph.D., author and associate professor of Human Development at the University of Texas in Austin, states that when we try to “beat ourselves into shape,” we become overly emotional, anxious, depressed and impulsive in our behaviors. We react, rather than respond rationally. She states that self-compassion changes our way of dealing with situations and can counteract the stress.

Many experts discuss motivation, change and habits – it’s important to find the message that resonates for you. Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University, offers many YouTube videos on “willpower,” motivation and the neuroscience of change. Deepak Chopra, in his book What Are You Hungry For? discusses how underlying emotions lead to unhealthy eating. This expert in mind-body healing says that understanding why we reach for food helps us deal with the underlying issues directly. Dr. Wayne Scott Andersen, in Discover Your Optimal Health, states that setting primary goals and developing strategies to resist temptation are important. You have a choice to eat that piece of cheesecake, but that decision should be intentional, not impulsive. Keep your eye on your main goal (losing weight, feeling healthy). The question “Why?” will help guide your behavior: Why do you want what you want – be it good for you or bad for you?

Reporter for The New York Times, Charles Duhigg talks in his book, The Power of Habit, about the “habit loop” – consisting of cue, routine and reward. Once you recognize a habit loop, and the reward (pleasure) you seek, you can work backward to identify how it contributes to the unhealthy patterns – you can change the loop. For example, if you crave soda, what pleasure do you derive from it? Is there a substitute for that pleasure? By analyzing the reward (sugar, energy boost, stress reduction) that’s driving the behavior, you can create substitutes that will give you that boost without the undesired consequences. Then, work backward to change your routine to fill that need, which will lead to a different, healthier reward. Duhigg states: “If you identify the cues and rewards, you can change the routine.” It’s actually a very simple concept when broken down and analyzed.

It’s also important to identify what needs changing in your life and the obstacles to that end. How can you support yourself when making the change? For example, if you know that you eat poorly when you are stressed, take a route that avoids your favorite fast-food restaurant after a hard day. Try to identify the stress leading to the craving, and deal with that stress. It doesn’t have to be complicated.

By identifying the underlying trigger (stress) and the familiar behavior (eating fast food for relief), then practicing stress-reduction techniques while supporting yourself (taking a different route to avoid temptation), you will feel a sense of accomplishment. When you succeed even once, you will realize you are stronger than your urges. It’s all about choice in the moment, and identifying your triggers. Then, if you choose to eat that cheesecake knowing it’s not because of negative emotions, you can enjoy it. You regain control by making conscious choices, rather than reacting based on emotion. This power will lead to more positive changes in other areas of your life!

(published in 12/2015 Spirit Seeker Magazine)


Lessons My Older Pets Teach Me

Step Out of Your Box

Has the phrase “you have to step out of your box,” ever sent your cortisol levels skyrocketing into fight or flight mode?  “Expanding your box” sounds more palatable, less intimidating.  Dorie Clark talks about (in her book, Reinventing Yourself) the need to constantly re-evaluate who you are, what you’re doing and how it’s working for you.

The constantly changing world demands resilience in order to keep things flowing. Balance is the prerequisite since all dimensions of life (emotional, physical, spiritual, financial, intellectual, educational, social, and occupational) are interconnected.  Weakness and lack of homeostasis in any dimension creates stress, resulting in the seesaw effect as we strive for equilibrium.  It’s important to identify when the seesaw begins to tip and make corrections before experiencing consequences such as excessive tiredness, irritability, excessive eating, reduced productivity, illness, job dissatisfaction, etc.

Reinventing yourself begins by reviewing your strengths and areas of potential growth.  You can then develop a plan to enhance strengths and shore up your potential growths-expand your box- and open up more exciting opportunities.  Although uncomfortable at first, by taking small steps to build confidence and having a mentor for support, you can override your fear. By becoming aware of obstacles and developing a plan to remove them (or make them less obtrusive), they soon became past hurdles that you’ve successfully conquered.  Growth doesn’t occur by staying in your comfort zone.  Strength is derived from overcoming challenges.  What a self-esteem boost!

It’s sometimes difficult to recognize change, which may lead to relapse into old, familiar patterns of behaviors. As you gain confidence in new abilities (it takes time and repetition to develop and reinforce new habits), this becomes easier.  Act confident and others will begin to reinforce your positive changes. Eventually, new patterns will be formed.  Align yourself with supports who will acknowledge your strengths. They will validate your new path and the momentum will lead to other areas of growth.  How exciting!

Who you are today doesn’t need to be who you are tomorrow!


Favorite Quotes

Dante Alighieri: “In the middle of the journey of our life, I found myself within a dark woods where the straight way was lost.”

Dr. Wayne Anderson: “Optimal health is a journey taken one step, one habit and one day at a time.”

Buddhist Sutra: “Unceasing change turns the wheel of life and so reality is shown in all its many forms. Dwell peacefully as change itself liberates all suffering sentient beings and brings them great joy. Dwell peacefully with al of these patterns of change, and to have faith that the unceasing turning of the wheel is spinning us all toward greater wisdom and joy.

Jimmy Carter: “The awareness that health is dependent upon habits that we control makes us the first generation in history that to a large extent determined by its own destiny.”

Deepak Chopra: “We limit ourselves by defining ourselves and giving labels that limits ourselves.”

Stephen Covey: “Motivation is a fire from within. If someone else tries to light the fire under you, chances are it will burn very briefly.”

Dalai Lama: “The tendency to avoid problems and the emotional suffering inherent in them is the primary basis of all human mental illness.”

Einstein: “No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it.”

Victor Frankl: “The last of the human freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”

Robert Fuller: “Good habits once established, are just as hard to break as bad habits.”

Jesus: “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

Jung: “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light but by making the darkness conscious. The latter procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore not popular.”

Jung: “What is not brought to consciousness, comes to us as fate.”

Kurdish saying: “The root of all health is in the brain. The trunk of it is in the emotion. The branches and leaves are the body. The flower of health blooms when all parts work together.”

Stephen Levine: “The beginning of the path of healing is the end of life unlived.”

Mizuta Mosalinda (17th century Japanese poet): “Barns burnt down, now I can see the moon.”

Dolly Parton: “Find out who you are and then do it on purpose.”

Rumi: “Let yourself be silently drawn, by the stronger pull of what you really love.”

Rumi: “Learn the alchemy true human beings know. The moment you accept what troubles you’ve been given, the door will open.”

Jim Ryun: “Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.”

Thoreau: “Be resolutely and faithfully what you are, not who you think you should be.”

Chinese Sage Seng Ts’An: “Don’t keep searching for the truth; just let go of your opinions, loosen grip of judgments-give truth chance to reveal itself.”

Mark Twain: “The trouble with the worlds is not that people know too little, but that they know so many things that ain’t so.”

Unknown: “Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then, he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. He lives as if he is never going to die and then dies having never really lived.”

Lee Ann Womack: “When you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.”