Brain Work

Obviously I’m into health, fitness, self-improvement, habit creation, etc.  One thing I haven’t mentioned here much is brain health.  It’s really important to use your brain in new ways to keep it healthy.  I think we all know that, but actually doing it is another story.

I ran across this great little article called 10 Proven Ways to Grow Your Brain.  Some solid suggestions are on that list so go skim it.  A few I’m going to incorporate right away are non-dominant hand exercises (brushing my teeth with ole righty is tough!), expanding my vocabulary (just downloaded a couple), and dancing (I went to a Zumba class today!).

Keeping your brain sharp is so important…your physical health matters less in the long run if you don’t have the mental ability to enjoy it.  So go use your BRAIN!

Kill Bad Habits- The Easy Way

I just read a really great article on the subject of killing bad habits. There are tons of articles like this out on the web and I generally just skim through because they are all similar. I guess this one is too, but it is put together really well with good examples and it’s easy to digest. I think YOU should read it. Here it is. Some highlights:

3) Don’t Change You. Change Your World.

“Watching too much television? Merely take out the batteries of the remote control creating a 20 second delay and it dramatically decreases the amount of television people will watch.”

5) Don’t Eliminate Bad Habits. Replace Them.

“We know that a habit cannot be eradicated— it must, instead, be replaced. And we know that habits are most malleable when the Golden Rule of habit change is applied: If we keep the same cue and the same reward, a new routine can be inserted.”

7) Forgive Yourself.

“Expect to revert to your old habits from time to time. Treat any failure as a temporary set-back rather than a reason to give up altogether. In trying to do anything to better your life, it’s okay to stumble. It takes time. You learn.”

And the cheat sheet:

  • One at a time. Beat one bad habit per month and in a year you’ll be awesome.
  • Don’t stop. Just count. Don’t eliminate the bad behavior just yet. First, be consistent in your awfulness.
  • Don’t change you. Change your world. 20 second rule. Make it harder to engage in bad habits.
  • Chill, dude. Stress makes the bad stuff tempting. Relax and you’ll behave better.
  • Don’t eliminate. Replace. You can’t kill bad habits but you can swap them out for new ones.
  • “If” and “Then.” A simple plan for how you’ll beat temptation helps you beat temptation.
  • Forgive yourself. Beating yourself up makes you behave worse. Self-compassion keeps you going.

Creative Recovery Discovery

So as you know, I’m in the midst of changing my mindset. If health/fitness/nutrition/my body is no longer what gives me value and identity, what does? I’m exploring that. And one thing I’m really looking into is my artistic and creative side.

I grew up an artist. I loved drawing and coloring and painting. Art was my favorite subject. I loved creative thinking too. When I played, gave my toys a life story. I made outfits for my troll dolls out of rubber bands and did their hair and took pictures of them as if they were models in a fashion show. Cool, right?? I wish I had pictures to show you.

I got into a creative career field right away with video editing. And I love doing what I do. But through the years, aside from my job, I lost that artistic mindset that was such a part of me. I’ve dabbled in painting in my adulthood, but that’s about it. I haven’t created anything on the regular.

That’s all changing.

I love this idea of “creative recovery” for eating disorders or any type of addiction. You replace your obsession with creating things. I also love the idea that EVERYBODY on earth in creative. You might not be a Picasso or JK Rowling, but you certainly have creative ideas that need to be put out in the world! Elizabeth Gilbert says it well in Big Magic, “The universe buries strange jewels deep inside us, and then stands back to see if we can find them.”

I WANT TO FIND THEM!!!!

So I am officially in a creative recovery-discovery time. I am starting The Artist Way, which I’ve wanted to do for about a decade. That’ll get me writing me more (aside from my journaling habit). And I’m also drawing all of Colectivo Coffee‘s brew designs because I think they’re freaking cool and I enjoy copying good work. Here’s a couple I’ve done so far:Dark Sumatra Compare Black and Tan Compare

They’re obviously not perfect, but that’s not the point. It’s good practice and when I’m drawing, it feels so right. I get so in a flow state that nothing else matters. It’s so satisfying.

Another part of my creative recovery-discovery, is to drown out the noise. I got in the habit of listening to health/fitness/biohacking podcasts ALL THE TIME. And it’s just noise…it’s too many “do this” and “don’t do this” rules going into my brain. It feeds my obsessive thoughts about health. Years back, I listened to music ALL THE TIME. And I loved it…I was easily moved and affected by it. So now I’m listening to music more. Old stuff I use to love and new stuff I’m discovering. I’m also listening to more story type podcasts like This American Life and UnFictional. And I’ve unsubscribed from my old health podcasts.

It’s all a big change. It’s a worthwhile change. I’m curious as to what all I will discovery about myself. I’ll end on another Gilbert quote from Big Magic on the definition of creative living:  “Living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than fear.” 

Things I Love

Now that I’m neutralizing food to get over my orthorexia, there are some I discovered I really love.

Oatmeal. Seriously. What’s better than a hot bowl with some nut butter, bananas, cinnamon and honey any time of day? NOTHING! Well, maybe a sandwich is.

SANDWICHES! What a delight. I had a rueben last night at Wazee Supper Club and I think I temporarily died and visited heaven. And last weekend I had a short rib sandwich from an awesome new company, Sous Chef Denver, and it was life-changingly good. You should definitely order from them.

Flour Tortillas. I got so use to ordering corn tortillas everywhere because they’re gluten-free and therefor less offensive to my previous diet mentality. And sometimes corn tortillas are great. Sometimes they’re not. It’s really hit or miss. But ya know what always taste good? Flour tortillas.

What’s most awesome is that my body is doing just fine with these foods. It’s just burning through them as fuel and going about it’s business. I am not getting fat (and even if I was, who cares? Not the end of the world). I am not feeling sick. I think a big part of that is that I am not eating these foods with guilt or fear, but rather with joy and gratitude. I am thoroughly enjoying them. Your thoughts really matter. Mindy body connection and all that…powerful stuff.

I’m also figuring out what I don’t necessarily like. Being paleo minded for so long, there are foods I convinced myself I liked just because they were allowed. For instance, cider. Cider is just fermented apples, so technically, it’s a healthier alcohol than the evil gluten-filled beer. But after many a cider, come to find out, I’m not actually a huge fan. When given a menu of drinks, cider is not my first choice. Now I know!

Non-food related things I love lately (because food is such a small part of life):

Fitwall. My new gym of choice. Just watch the video and try it if you’re in Denver.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. I JUST started the book this morning and I have already underlined half of what I’ve read. It’s gonna be a good one.

Prana. Ya know how you find a brand that was just made for you? That’s Prana to me. And oh my lucky stars, I got a pair of pants at Goodwill for $2! Just my size and in great condition!

Skillshare. This website has an array of things to learn. And learning is fun.

Kybounder. I can now just bounce all day at my standing desk at work. This mat is SO FUN and the envy of my co-workers. Expensive, yes, but so worth it. Use code BEN10 for 10% off.

Yoga. I think yoga flows are one of the most beautiful expressions of my body. Of my physicality. It feels like art to move in this way. My main yoga practice is still my 15 minute morning sequence, but I have been hitting actual yoga classes more. And I never regret going. Quite the opposite. I could be biased because she’s my friend, but Bailey Smith is my favorite teacher.

My bike. And now that it’s been snowing and I’ve been off it for a few days, I miss it so much! It’s just the quickest way to get anywhere. And gosh, it’s so cute.

Well, that wraps up this edition of Things I Love. Think about what you love today and share it with me, or someone!

Writing Commitment

I enjoy writing. And it’s no secret that I’m decent at it…at this kind of writing at least. Blogs. Being real. Stringing together of thoughts and ideas in a way that delights. Relating to a lot of people. Expression that is real; that is me.

Why can I write like this?  Because:

IMG_3145

Yeah. Those are my journals. At least some of them. I’m certain there are more in my parents attic that they’d love to get rid of. I’ve been an avid journaler since I don’t even know when. It’s honestly one of the things I’ve done that I’m most proud of. There is nothing more interesting and insightful than reading back a year, or a few, or a decade or two. Not only is it a helluva a trip down memory lane, but you can witness how you’ve changed. Or how you haven’t.

It’s therapeutic to write thoughts. Even if I burned every page I wrote and never read them again, it still was something I put out in the world and that helped me in some small way.

It’s so habitual now too. As I drink my first sips of coffee, I’m sitting with pen in hand. It’s part of my life. It’s something I do solely for me and I can write with no judgement. It’s the place I’m most myself. And it’s important to have a place like that.

Tomorrow I’ll be finishing my current journal. It’s bittersweet because you become attached to these bound pages as you fill them. In this one, I did a lot of gratitude journaling (this format of it), free writing, and workout logging (because I love monitoring essentials). Along with a few doodles.

IMG_3143

IMG_3144

It’s end is also exciting because now a new one starts. I’m giddy with anticipation of what life will bring as I’m filling it with thoughts, ideas, feelings, hopes, dreams, despair, desires, gratitude, complaints, exercises and soon to be memories. Old and new below.

IMG_3142

All this to say, I am committed to blogging more…to sharing my writing. I’d love to say once a week; but I know from my extensive habit development research, you have to give yourself easy wins to build new habits. So twice a month I’ll post a blog (at minimum).  It might be on habit development, body acceptance, self-improvement, or a number of other subjects. Just whatever I feel like I need to contribute.

I hope you’ll enjoy and relate! Or at least be entertained by escaping your own life for a brief read through of mine.

Does Healthy = Holy?

The question of the day…does eating healthy to the point of obsession make you more righteous than the person who eats normally? It’s a common misconception that it does. I am guilty of this mindset…to the point of disgust.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in your health, body, fitness level when you live in the world of being a trainer…which is were I lived for several years. There is an expectation of how you “should” look and what you “should” eat. When I went paleo in 2011 and got crazy lean, I also got crazy in the head. I had to keep this perfect image I had created of myself…someone who is so healthy and fit…and if you follow me, you will be too!  Which is a lot of pressure, admittedly self-induced, and I caved under it. When I started eating more food and eating carbs (gasp!) I felt guilty. But I couldn’t stop because my body needed FOOD! I gained weight. I hated it. I tried over and over to get back to perfect paleo-ness, but my body wanted more than meat, fat and low carb vegetables…so did my mind. The restrictions were just asking me to rebel against them, as is common with “diets”.

I was terrified of foods…many foods. Gluten! GMOs! Anything processed! Non-shade grown non-organic non-single origin coffee! Homogenized milk from cows that weren’t pastured! Ripe bananas because there is too much sugar! Oh god COOKIES! This is called Orthorexia. It’s being obsessed with healthy food and a perfect diet. It will drive you insane.

I am working toward getting over it. I am neutralizing all foods. A pop tart won’t send to me to an early grave. A sandwich won’t cast down harsh judgement of a thousand people on me. Eating oatmeal in the morning instead of all protein and fat will not make me obese. I could possibly get some fro yo and continue living.

Another step in getting over orthorexia is not judging other peoples food choices. YIKES. I can look at anyone’s plate and analyze their protein, fat and carb content along with the quality of each food item. Crazy?  Yeah…super.  And sorry everyone I’ve ever eaten with. I have definitely judged you.

Food is just food. It says nothing about that person’s character or heart. It does not make me better than you or vice versa.

It’s an interesting time in the world of health and wellness. It’s great that people are considering their health more and taking action to improve it.  Kudos! But if you become obsessed with it, you won’t be healthy. Your mind health is just as important as your body health.

Also, skinny doesn’t necessarily equal healthy. Remember that.  And this: you were not put here on this earth to attempt to be skinny. We all have more value than that; more to offer than a decent looking body. So find virtue, find righteousness in something else besides your diet.

That’s were I’m at.

Be Allergic

Our bodies crave homeostasis.  It’s why we sweat, drink, eat, shiver, use the bathroom, etc. Our bodies need this state of balance to function properly. But homeostasis is not needed only physically. We desire, and benefit from balance in all aspects of our lives.

In a world of overconsumption, excess is the main enemy of homeostasis for us. Too much food, too much alcohol, coffee, too much stimuli (your phone, laptop, tv, work, traffic, etc.). You realize binge watching a show is the norm now right? I mean, who watches only 1 episode of anything anymore?

You know that old saying, “the poison is in the dose”? Too much of anything is bad. Even “good” things can be consumed in excess. You can eat too many vegetables, you can drink too much water, and you certainly can workout too much.

So here’s a thought. What if you lived as though your only allergy was excess?

If someone hates cilantro, they’ll often say they are allergic to it so they don’t get any on their plate at restaurants. Are they actually allergic to it? No. They’ve possibly convinced themselves that they are, though, because of their grand distaste for it.

You could do the same for excess. Choose to be allergic. Shun it. Move towards homeostasis…your happy, balanced place in the world.

The Space

Decisions…every day, all day we make them. We don’t think about our lives as a series of decision after decision after decision, but that’s what it is. Even if something happens that is out of your control, if something is decided for you, you still decide how you’ll respond.

I’ve been obsessing over this idea lately. If we could start being cognizant of these decisions as they’re happening, we can make better ones. We can choose to make good ones.

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.” – Victor Frankl 

This quote blew my mind. That space, that pause is where good decisions come from and where integrity stems. It’s hard to find this space though…we aren’t conditioned to be aware of it.  But just like the calm, blue eye of a hurricane, it’s always there.

“Stepping into that space and choosing our most empowered response more and more consistently is where freedom exists. We can either mindlessly react or mindfully respond to whatever happens to us.”Brian Johnson

React v. Respond…as in a chosen response…a good decision.

Getting into the space takes practice and due diligence. But, “when we are able to notice, PAUSE, and then choose not to pursue an unhealthy desire, our conditioning gradually decreases and loosens its difficult hold upon us. We become able to notice desire but not be distracted by it thus, little by little, we become free of the prison of inexhaustible desires.” -(Source unknown- found in an old journal entry)

All these quotes talk about freedom. There is freedom in control, in having a higher awareness. If you really want to make changes, you have the power to do so. Decide what you’ll do today. Make good decisions. Or make bad ones…but just do so with awareness!

Good Morning (?)

WATCH THE VIDEO (12 seconds); then read….

This video accurately shows 2 different types of people: larks and owls. Baby 1 is a lark, or a morning person. Baby 2 cannot even right now…cannot even any time before noon, really. She’s a night person, or owl.

Knowing yourself will help you establish habits that have a chance of sticking. If you’re baby 2, you’re not gonna have much luck creating the habit of getting up at 5am to meditate. You’re just not. You’re going to be better off establishing the habit of meditating after work or during lunch. Because let’s be honest, you’re lucky to get out of the house with your teeth brushed. If you try to go against your owl nature and establish habits in the morning, you’re just setting yourself up for failure. No bueno, baby 2.

If you’re baby 1, then creating habits in the morning is your jam! Go for it!  But if you try to establish the habit of, let’s say, creative writing at 9pm every night, then you’re not setting yourself up for success. Shame, baby 1!

Morning routines are awesome…the older I get, the more I appreciate that. I actually use to be a baby 2, but now I’m a baby 1. I guess aging brings that change. I’ll tell you my routine, but first, my co-worker, Patti, has a really cool routine that I’d like to share with you.

Upon waking, she lays in bed and listens to music while singing along, followed by getting ready for the day. She then heads down to her swanky apartment lobby, drinks coffee while journaling about how she’s feeling. She does this in the lobby because she gains energy from being around people. She finishes her morning routine with reading something that either stirs her soul, reminds her of her passions/ambitions or simply inspires her. Then she walks 2 blocks to work. Ready to take on the day.

Patti told me the most important part of her routine is giving herself space to be. If she wants to lay in bed and sing for an hour, she will. She listens to her inner needs and caters to them. She let’s herself BE herself, before the demands of work and life set in. In the past, pre-good morning routine, Patti would wake up, check her email, get ready and head to work, while thinking about what she needed to do at work. She gave herself no space at all. But not anymore…not she sets herself up for success everyday.

patti

(Doesn’t she look like a person who’s had just the greatest morning ever??)

So this is my morning routine: 10 minute yoga sequence, coffee and journal (sometimes read a bit), go for a walk, do a workout, take a cold shower, drink a shake while getting ready, pack lunch, go to work (either bike or walk to light rail).  A podcast and some music is included in there. I get up somewhere between 5 and 6 and get to work around 9, so I take my time doing this routine. It feels great. Any time I have to actually rush in the mornings really throws me for a loop.

So you may not want to lay in bed and sing, or go for walks, workouts or cold showers every day…and that’s fine. But can you give yourself some space? Whether it’s in the morning for you baby 1’s, or later in the day for all my baby 2’s. Also, think about the times of day you’re trying to establish habits. Cater those to your nature and you’ll see more success.

Good morning, ladies, it’s great to see you up!

To Reward or Not to Reward

Spoiler alert: Don’t Reward.

Here’s the deal. You’ve been working on a habit. Let’s say cutting out soda. You’ve been doing so well for 2 whole weeks that you decide you need a reward for your good efforts. So you go buy a soda. Man, I earned this. But then the next day, at the same time, your craving for another soda is so strong and you’re just so tired and stressed…you decide it’s OK to get another soda. Long story short, you’re back in full swing with your soda habit. What went wrong? You undermined your efforts by rewarding yourself with the thing you were trying to avoid. DOH!

“The reward of a thing well done is to have done it.” -Emerson

Rewards, while they seem like a perfectly good thing, are not helping you build your habits. According to Reuben, here’s why:

1- Rewards teach you that aren’t doing a particular activity for it’s own sake, but rather to get that shiny prize at the end of the tunnel. And often times, when the reward is over, the behavior is too. This happens a lot with brides getting skinny for their weddings. Once the wedding is over, the weight come back. They weren’t building good eating habits for the sake of life long health and wellbeing, but rather just to look good for their pictures. The day is over, so is their effort.

Another example is telling your child they can watch TV for an hour only after they’ve read for an hour. This turns TV into the reward and reading into the thing you just have to do to get the reward. They’ll build up a distaste for reading this way. The behavior of habitual reading, in and of itself, is rewarding.

2- Rewards require making a decision. “I’ve earned this soda today.” But as we’ve learned already, habits shouldn’t require decision. They should be automatic. Like brushing your teeth. You don’t reward yourself every time you do that. So if you’re truly wanting to build the habit of not being a soda drinker, it needs to become a part of you in the same way. Remember to build your identity of being someone who doesn’t drink soda.

There are some exceptions, of course. Potty training a child often works best with rewards. My aunt potty trained her daughter by allowing her to go pick a small toy from a special box every time she used the potty. It certainly motivated her to use the potty.  Once my aunt took the reward away, my niece still used the potty because the reward of the habit itself (not walking around in a wet diaper) was enough to keep her doing it.

At the beginning of habit formation you may need rewards to keep building that behavior. If that’s the case, fine, but don’t reward yourself by having the thing you’re trying to avoid.

Example…morning yoga. This is a habit I actually have. I just got up one day and decided 5-10 minutes of yoga each morning would be a good thing. That was almost 2 years ago and it’s so automatic I can’t not do it now. But let’s say at the beginning of forming the habit, I told myself, “ya know, I’ve been doing yoga for 16 days in a row. I deserve a day off.” Well, that would have been a bad call. Because it would have taught me that I can take days off…that I can decide whether or not to do yoga every morning. Instead, if I felt the need for a reward, I could have bought myself some yoga pants. That compliments my new habit, instead of contradicting it. I didn’t need a reward though, because doing yoga makes me feel good, and that’s rewarding.

So instead of drinking a soda as your reward, do something completely different. Go buy a new water bottle that you’ll enjoy drinking (water) out of. Go to Goodwill and buy some new pants because maybe you’ve lost a few pounds. Whatever you do, don’t undermine your efforts towards developing that new behavior! 

Let the reward of a good habit be the habit itself.