Sometimes I forget.

I get caught up in “This is the most important project I should be working on!” And I forget. And then things go downhill: my mood changes (I feel rotten, don’t want to be around people, get sad more often), my attitude changes (“everything sticnks”), my drive and motivation change.

And then, one morning, I wake up and say, “Hey! I haven’t exercised all week.” What kind of example is this to clients that I’ve worked with? Whenever I’ve worked with a coaching client, he/she has “homework” between each session: a Body Exercise as well as a Mind Exercise. Ask any effective coach: the best progress for a client happens between sessions. When people are focused on gradual, deliberate change (often in the same time at the same place: more on this below). There is something to be said for consistency in life. What we do each day is what we can see as results in hindsight.

That’s why exercise seems trivial, and at the same time, exercise can decrease depression, anxiety, and stress. Even more interestingly (!), not only can exercise make us healthier, but lack of exercise can make us feel depressed (I searched for the specific result I wanted [that not doing 30 min of exercise per day is linked with increased depression], and cannot find it right now, but will find it for you later and update here; the closest immediate result I found is that lack of exercise is the key between depression and cardiovascular disease).

Just last week, 2,000 adults polled in the UK turned out to not have been exercising enough. This article says that minimum exercise for adults is 30 min per day for five days. Others say 10,000 steps per day is a good metric of exercise. Still other fitness devotees say interval cardio three times a week for 20 minutes each time, and weight lifting three times a week for under an hour.

Whatever your choice of HOW is great as long as the choice is TO DO. I’ve just returned to my choice of TO DO. I cannot believe I dropped the ball on exercise.

Me who says it’s the second most important thing towards happiness here and here.

The last thought as I go back to the large project I’m working on is based on the research by Dr. Wendy Wood at Duke: a habit is something people do at the same time in the same place. Think of brushing your teeth: same time, same exact location. How can you make exercise a habit? For me, it’s running when I wake up, and running generally the same path, but with increasing the number of minutes each week. What’s your trick?

Great summer to you!
(Or winter if you’re in Oz or NZ). :)

Hi folks,

It turns out that when health news rains, it pours. Recently, these studies and news sources have come out:

  • Eating while watching TV makes you fat – “Studying childhood obesity, University of Toronto nutritionist Harvey Anderson found that kids who watched TV while eating lunch took in 228 extra calories than those who ate without the television on,” says today’s Reuters report.
  • Eat less, live 5 years longer – While the studies are not yet conclusive and while more studies have been done in animals than in humans, directions point to this suggestion: “Eat 15 percent less starting at age 25 and you might add 4.5 years to your life, says Eric Ravussin, who studies human health and performance at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana,” reports MSNBC today.
  • Keep a food diary and lose twice as much weight – “It’s not fun to write down what you eat; it just works,” said study co-author Dr. Victor J. Stevens at Kaiser Permanente Center in Portland, Oregon. The study followed almost 1,700 men and women who were either overweight or obese. The average weight was 212 pounds. In 20 weeks, the group who did not keep a food diary lost 9 pounds on average. The group who did keep food diaries? 18 pounds on average! And how should you keep a food diary? It doesn’t matter, says Dr. Stevens – a notebook, PostIts, on your computer – any method works as long as you write things down shortly after your eat. This report from the today’s Washington Post.

What does all this tell us? Eat less, and be aware when you’re eating (not in front of the TV, and write things down if you want to lose more). Good things to know.

Also safe things to know as we head into summer and ripe low-calorie fruit here in North America. Between watermelons, blueberries, peaches, and nectarines, lower calories are certainly possible in the summertime. Choosing fresh vegetables and fruit over processed pizza is quite inviting in July and August.

Bon appetit!

So the answer to yesterday’s question: “Mike did things – you tell me, how did Mike do things?”

Mike did things … as an example to his kids.

I cannot believe how powerful this concept is.
I cannot believe it.

Doing something as an example to yourself and to others.

Now, I know what you might say, “Hey, Senia, how about internal motivation? How about being internally propelled to completing the activity rather than looking for external validation?” I say, “Yes, you’re right.” But I would also say, “How can you make your habit committed, or public, or accountable?”

How can you make your habit into a commitment? In yesterday’s story, Joe had to think about it each time he considered going to the gym: “Should I go? Should I not?” That entire thought-process takes ten minutes, not to mention that that’s ten minutes you’re not actually doing anything at the gym, or that you’re scratching away at your self-discipline, and making it harder for yourself to resist the next temptation.

How about not thinking about it? One way to not think about a habit is to just KNOW that you do it no matter what. And if you do a habit no matter what, you are in a sense making an example of yourself – if only to yourself!

When I started career coaching, and started realizing that people don’t DO everything they want to do, I got very involved with the research behind habits and creating great habits. That literature still motivates me, and almost always motivates my clients when they learn about it. I’ve suggested aspects of self-discipline and habit-creation to my clients to these successes:
* One mini-triathlete was created
* Three people became nearly-addicted to weight-training
* Several people have a morning plank-and-crunches routine
* One person has a back stretching nearly-daily routine
* Two people have a work-healthy-eating routine
* Three people now stand up for their beliefs more at work
* Two people created a morning efficient-working-at-the-office routine
* About twenty people now breathe more and stretch their neck, arms, backs more at work

But you can’t be a coach and describe this research and these results without doing it! The best thing I did in 2007 was my exercise regimen. I am bringing it back now, this year, and it’s a slower bring-back. At the same time, I know it is returning – just like the Return of King Kong! :)

I am the biggest advocate ever of doing certain simple things and doing them well:
* Sleep
* Exercise
* Drinking Water
* Eating Vegetables
* Focusing on a Work Goal
And all those in that order.

These habits work.

There is one lesson that stands out far and away ahead of every other that I have learned as a coach. I’ll show you how my good friend Mike and my good friend Joe live through this lesson.

Mike used to get up every morning at 5:45am to make it to the 6am rebounding (small trampolines) or spinning (stationary bicycling) class. He used to go to bed by 10pm in order to be able to get there then next day. And one day, he told me what a particular day looked like: It was 5:40am and the middle of winter on the east coast of America – i.e., cold, dark, and quiet outside. And his alarm had gone off. He was so tempted, so tempted, he said, to just doe off a little longer. But he felt that he couldn’t. It was just before his 6am class and he had to be there. If for nothing else, to set an example for his two teenage kids about getting out the door and to your goal, he said.

Joe has gotten up early when at jobs that required him to get up early. Joe really believed in the individuality of people and in the self-awareness of knowing when and how you want things done. Joe also believed in people thinking for themselves, and he really believed in the rogue thought, i.e. in the idea that contradicts other ideas.
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Why didn’t I post any blog posts last week?
I don’t know. I just didn’t.

It wasn’t that there was more than usual going on last week. It wasn’t that I was holed in a cave allowing myself little access to the outside world. It wasn’t that I was scooped up by aliens.

I don’t know why I didn’t post. And after bragging about being so into the daily postings that I’ll write at 11:58pm, I’ll take the non-postings as well to evaluate them.

So I thought about it, and you’re not even going to believe me. Why – if nothing was especially out of the ordinary – why did I not post even once?

It’s the same thing I’ve been talking positively about in past posts, and now it’s affected me in the downward direction: self-regulation.

I exercised last week half the number of times that I have set for myself to exercise weekly. Half! That’s pretty bad. I exercised two or three times instead of the five times weekly goal. And there hasn’t been another week since Jan 1 when I’ve exercised this little.

So, that’s why. Self-regulation in one area of life seeps into self-regulation in other areas of life. I wasn’t exercising the usual number of times, and other basic plans and schedules went off kilter as well.

Seems pretty boring as an explanation, right? Well, actually not! Not to me.

  • It’s nice that science says that self-regulation in one area seeps into other areas.
  • It’s nice that I see this in my personal experience – when I am self-disciplined in the area of exercise, other things like the food I eat, how carefully I reply to emails, blogging daily, and other organizational matters fall into place. Other people including Penelope with exercise, Mimi with yoga, and E.N. with working out also see this in their personal experience.
  • Furthermore, it’s nice that I see this in my clients’ experience – when they create self-discipline in one part of their life, two weeks later, they’re ready to create self-discipline in another part of life.
  • And finally, it’s also – strange to say – nice that I see the contrary effect in my personal experience as well – when I drop self-discipline in one part of life, self-discipline in other parts drops too. (There’s no study that I know of that looks at the contrary, but it’s kind of illuminating to see this in action).
  • Similarly, it’s nice to see the contrary effect with clients’ experiencewell, it’s not nice! but it’s intellectually intriguing that this works in both directions – when self-discipline drops in one part of life, other parts have a tendency to follow.

In fact, if I were working with Roy Baumeister on research about self-regulation and self-discipline, I might be interested to learn whether the contrary similarly occurs – that a drop in self-discipline in one area seeps into a drop in self-discipline in other areas.

My theory would be that a drop in self-discipline in YOUR MOST IMPORTANT AREA would contribute to self-discipline dropping across the board. And my two most important areas are:
* Sleep
* Exercise
Then come good food habits, organization, cleanliness, cleaning the inbox, and other things. Once the first two are in place, a lot of other things work out too.

What is your most important area that if it’s in balance, other things more easily fall into balance?

Hi, welcome to Friday Questions! Would love to hear your response in the comments, and that’s where you’ll find mine.

Q: What do you hold onto when you’re sleeping?

Have you ever noticed that when you’re waking up, your face may be scrunched up in a thought? Your jaw might be tight or clenched? Your eyebrows may be knotted together? Have you ever noticed some physical reaction in your face as you’re waking up?

Where does this come from – if you have noticed it? What thoughts are bombarding around inside your head like dry rice inside a musical egg shaker? What’s making you tense up your face?

Because that’s what’s happening if you find yourself waking up with your face tensed up – something’s making you think tension-building thoughts.

And then it’s up to you whether those are useful or not useful thoughts. It’s up to you whether those thoughts are productive and more you forward. Sometimes you are in a serious situation in your life in which you may need to focus on situations even during your sleeptime. But often, you’re not in those serious situations.

I’m probably thinking along this wavelength because I just wrote about thoughtless awareness, and am thinking about things that make me aware.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Want to relax more?

To create calmness in your life more generally, start with creating spots of calmness. Find a small oasis of calmness this week. I am actually not at all great at this – at relaxing more, at regular quiet time. I went to a meditation session yesterday, and it was quite wonderful and got me thinking (well, thinking later, actually not-thinking during the session). The opening part was a description of the process. One phrase the organizer said that I really liked – and that is fairly familiar to many meditators – is “thoughtless awareness.”

That you’re aiming to get to thoughtless awareness. That you’re aiming to be extremely, extremely aware of the present moment. And at the same time extremely non-thinking in the moment.

Why might it be useful to try a group meditation session, or just to try sitting in a spirit of calmness? Just like Penelope writes this week about losing ten pounds in two weeks and creating those good habits, to create a habit of calmness, we must practice calmness. I especially like Penelope’s words:

If you become more conscious in one part of your life, you will be able to affect positive, conscious change in many parts of your life with relative ease.

In fact, this is one of the largest internalized teachings that I have from the last two years of positive psychology – what is experiential is absorbed, what is mental is interesting. Do you want life lessons to be absorbed or to be interesting?

In other words, the more you practice something, the more you bring it into your life. How? Two ways:

1) The more you practice something, the more those individual practice sessions accumulate, and expertise is a matter of regular daily actions and accumulations.

2) The more you practice in practice sessions, the more you will call on that practice as an automatic habit when you are in the actual situation! The actual situation may be stress-inducing, but the more you have practiced in a safe, training environment, the more you will be able to call on those skills when the stakes are higher.

For example, people role-play how they will act in media interviews, and that’s the right thing to do! I practice with my clients all the time q-and-a to interview questions, and how best to answer certain questions, and that’s the right thing to do! Why? Because in that interview situation, you are going to fall back on something. You are going to reach for something familiar, and why not have that something be a response that you yourself have trained yourself to have? Why not fall back on the well-practiced and comfortable answering that comes from you anyway, just in a pre-interview low-stress thoughtful setting?

At different meditation I once tried, the instructor encouraged us every time we have a thought to say outloud, “thinking.” And to aim for these times of “thinking” to be fewer as we meditate. The reason this worked so well is that it combined thought and physical by having you actually form the word “thinking” and say it softly outloud. It combined experiential. And the more times you do this, the more aware you can become of what triggers the “thinking,” and how to set it aside for the moment.

What other thoughts do you have on how to get to thoughtless awareness? And on whether this state is helpful to practice or not?

“Burp,” says the wagon.

In summary, sometimes a burp is just a burp. Sometimes what a thing is is just that – what a thing is. Sometimes we don’t need to go deeper.

I recently wrote an article on Positive Psychology News Daily: “How You Tell the Story of Your Life.”

Here’s another example of a story you can tell yourself that then puts your body or your mind into automatic action:

A friend of mine who is a computer scientist and very interested in using the scientific method to prove things wanted to lose weight. But he didn’t want to change his eating habits or start exercising, so all he did is start measuring his weight on the bathroom scale every morning and writing it down. Within thirty days, just from the daily observations and recording, he had dropped ten pounds.

What is the story that the mind tells the body? Isn’t this just like the hotel workers in the PPND article who were told their daily activity is plenty of exercise, and who then went on to lose weight?

UPDATE: An online friend told me that the above wasn’t 100% clear. Did he think that he would lose weight? Did he expect it?

Yes, he thought that just by paying attention to the weight that it would decrease, and it did. The story he told himself is that he doesn’t want to consciously change any habits, but that he wants to weigh less. So, in fact, he was making subtle automatic changes that were comfortable to him. And his reasoning is that he never felt the changes, and he believes that the changes in his habits (enough to make his lose ten pounds in a month) occured because he was focused on this idea, and told himself subconsciously the story that he was going to lose weight. Without knowing how he would do it.

Hello, welcome to Question Fridays… My answer is in the comments section – I invite you to put your answer in the comments section as well!

It’s just about full-fledged summer!
Q: What’s the easiest new health habit that you could take on?

What’s a habit that it wouldn’t take you that much effort to start? That it might just take some focus and concentration but not necessarily a lot of work? What’s a habit that would be an easy addition, would be health-promoting, and you’d be happy to have for this summer?