I’ve been on a health kick recently. And part of my health kick is eating bread on the weekends only – so no bread on weekdays. I really love fresh bread, so I tend to have a bit of it on the weekends. And I have bread with a thick swab of butter on it.

And then … the funny thing that happens is that the weekend is over, but on Monday I still crave butter.

Why do I crave butter on Mondays, and what can I do about it?

I’m asking more generally, how can you create a new habit for yourself such as:

  • Exercising on Monday when you’ve lounged the weekend away, or – better yet – spent it in a daze in front of the TV.
  • Prioritizing better at work after overloading yourself with to-do’s and promises to people.
  • Skipping the additional candy when you just want to reach for it in the bowl at the office.

You’d better create some new mental pathways!

We spoke here about Ann Graybiel’s research that new habits come about when a new neural pathway is strong enough. And we spoke here about the benefit of daily practice toward achieving anything in life.

That’s what happens on Mondays. Your old neural pathways want to kick in. Especially if you used to eat butter on any old day of the week, and now you’re limiting yourself to the weekends.

So what can you do to counteract that strong urge, that mental temptation?

1) As Ann Graybiel says, do not allow yourself trigger situations. Don’t go into a bar if you’re getting sober. Don’t have M&M’s in the house if you have a no-chocolate resolution. Don’t have butter in your home – always go out to have butter.

2) And her second suggestion, make the new habit stronger than the first habit. Create stronger, more firm new neural pathways. Make the old habits into a piece of thread, and the old habits as reinforced as a thick sailor’s rope.

And the funniest thing – daily practice. Each time you say “no” to something you don’t want and say “yes” to something you want, you are increasing the chances of being able to say “yes” to the good habit again later, you are increasing self-regulation.

Happy daily practicing of your best habits!

What contributes the most to how many calories you burn each day?
a) your basal metabolic rate (click here to calculate yours)
b) the “thermogenic” effect of the food you eat (i.e. celery is negative calories, vegetables take a lot of effort to digest, sugar goes through immediately and doesn’t take much effort)
c) exercise
d) non-exercise movement throughout the day

Ok, which one?
And which is next, etc.?
If you said your BMR (basal metabolic rate) is the highest, you would be right – that is the energy required for core bodily functions and it accounts for about 60% of all energy expenditure. Then, the thermogenic effect of food has a small effect – only about 10% of your energy expenditure is affected. Then movement takes up the remaining 30% of energy expenditure. But which movement – exercise or non-exercise movement?

A study in this issue of the Mayo Clinic’s Endocrinology Update[i] describes that non-exercise movement can have a much larger effect than exercise, and be almost the entire remaining 30%!

“NEAT” Effect on Your Body

Non-exercise movement is referred to as “NEAT” – Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. It turns out that for two adults “of similar size, daily energy expenditure varies by as much as 2,000 calories per day.” 2,000 calories per day difference!!! And since the BMR and effect of food is approximately the same in two adults of the same size, then that entire 2,000 calories difference can be due exclusively to movement!

But, Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic says that most of the world does not exercise and he cautions, “Even for the minority of people who do exercise, for most of them, exercise accounts for an energy expenditure of 100 calories per day. Thus, NEAT explains why an active person can expend 2,000 calories per day more than an inactive person of the same size.”

Lean People Naturally Build More Movement into Their Lives

16 lean volunteers were taken and overfed by 1,000 calories per day. Some of them naturally increased the amount of activity they were doing – they naturally increased their NEAT in response to the calorie increase. Those who most increased their NEAT did not gain fat, even with overfeeding. On the other hand, Dr. Levine wanted to study how obese people move during non-exercise.

Obese People Tend Not to Move as Much
Dr. Levine and his colleagues put microsensors into the tightfitting clothes of obese and lean people. These microsensors measured movement every half-second for ten days. The result? Obese people are seated on average 2.5 hours per day more than lean people!

So, do get up to take breaks at work!
And do park your car further from the entrance to the mall so that you have to walk.
And maybe even start fidgeting.
And definitely get up from your seat to get more drinking water regularly.
And use the stairs whenever you have the chance!

[i] The “NEAT Defect” in Human Obesity: The Role of Nonexercise Activity Thermogenesis. Endocrinology Update. Mayo Clinic. 2(1). 2007

Full article as it appears in the American Heart Association is here.
Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis: The Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon of Societal Weight Gain by James A. Levine; Mark W. Vander Weg; James O. Hill; Robert C. Klesges

What is harder than rock, or softer than water? Yet soft water hollows out hard rock. Persevere.
~ Ovid

If there is one key to creating what you want in your life, it is daily practice. When you repeat again and again, you learn so much about the habit you’re building and about yourself. There are nuances that you do not learn from a how-to guide. Such as how to persevere.

Why daily? And why action?

  • DAILY! Daily moves you toward putting in hours to develop your expertise and toward repeating an activity to develop discipline and focus. Whatever your regularity is, you build your own daily practice. You can choose if your daily means 5 days a week (work week daily) or seven days a week (whole week daily) or three times a week (M-W-F regularly).
  • ACTION! Action is a form of commitment. A thought can be transitory, passing. An action is you saying to the world, “I am ready and I am doing it.” An action is more powerful than a thought – by definition, Action = Thought + Activity.

But why do it? Why take regular, structured, self-scheduled daily action as opposed to acting whenever you feel like it?

The Deep Math Example. As my very good friend and a former math professor says,

“It takes a while to get into the problem. You need to sit with it at your desk for several hours at a time just to start to focus deeply enough to be able to create any new conclusions.”

It takes time to get deep enough into a subject that you are no longer skirting the surface.

The Ballroom Dancing Teacher Example. Have you found that some people who are excellent at what they do returrn to the basics from time to time? Like a yoga teacher taking a basic refresher course. Or an author going back to the structure of his characters? I know dance teachers who regularly take beginner classes. Why? Ballroom Dance
  • When you are at an advanced level, you get a lot more from beginner lessons. You start to see the nuanced distinctions that you didn’t notice at the beginning – “When I ask my students to ‘rock-step’ here, some are still thinking that they are rocking when the important distinction is that they are there-and-immediately back, on their toe and immediately forward… it’s more about the forward than it is about the rock-step back.” You start to see new ways of describing something, new ways of understanding and then being able to explain a concept.
  • You take the beginner class to come back to the beginner’s mind. To return to that joy that you loved about the activity to begin with, and to hear and see and feel and imagine what it is like to learn the steps for the first time. As Chip Heath and Dan Heath say in Made to Stick, we are sucked into the Curse of Knowledge: We are no longer able to often explain things to a five year old because we know too much detail. Avoid the Curse of Knowledge. Play as a beginner.
The Twyla Tharp Creativity Example. You make space for yourself – in your head and in your heart when you practice something regularly. You make space for yourself to be creative, to focus, to live in the moment. So much of life ends up being planning and rushing that unless you make the Creative Habit as Twyla Tharp says in her book, then you don’t ever create the discipline of creativity, the space for allowing yourself to do. That space is often only possible within the constraints of time allowed for that activity. Twyla Tharp
The Alaska Hiking Example. It is through action that you create a habit, and through habits that you create the life you want to live. According to Ann Graybiel, neural pathways – i.e. the pathways that create a new habit or new behavior pattern – form when you go over them again and again. Again and again. Like a hiking trail in Alaska worn by all the footsteps repeating over the ground again and again, so a new mental pathway forms when you repeat an activity. Best results are daily. Hiking
The Guitar Example. My guitar teacher years ago said, “The most important thing in learning guitar is daily practice. Even if you play 15 or 30 minutes a day, do just that. And if you have the choice to play once for 30 minutes or twice for 15 minutes, play twice for 15 minutes.” According to him and many other musicians, the mind learns when it starts a-new – when it comes to a project a-new. So scheduling that “new” regularly allows a habit to make that deep Alaskan hiking trail pathway. Guitar

And then, once you have taken the daily actions, keep track of them. Put a star on your wall calendar. Post about it on your blog. Write yourself an email accounting for that day. Track your progress. Roy Baumeister of Florida State University says (23-min interview) that one of the keys to creating a new habit is writing down those times when you have acted on that habit.

Is it really possible to achieve anything in life?
Let me ask that another way: what is harder than rock, or softer than water?

Lesson and Take-Away: 1) Take daily action and 2) write down your daily actions!

Images: math, dance, Twyla Tharp, hiking path, guitar.

Senia Maymin Senia Maymin, MBA, MAPP is an Executive Coach, and presents workshops to corporations about Positive Psychology. Senia is the Editor of Positive Psychology News Daily, and posts her latest ideas about positive psychology, business, and coaching at Senia.com. Senia’s bio.

Well, it’s about a month into the new year. How’re you feeling about exercise these days? What steps could you take right now – today – if you wanted to ensure your exercise success?

I read a sheet on this recently from a health club. Here is what they recommend. What would you recommend?

Five Steps to Exercise Success

  1. Make it personal – What works for you: for your lifestyle, time constraints, budget, likes, dislikes?
  2. Make it fit – Schedule time every day or whatever your frequency is. Work blocks of exercise into your schedule.
  3. Set some goals – Set a long-term goal and break it into weekly or monthly targets (amount of weight to lose, amount of weight to benchpress).
  4. Reward your efforts – Celebrate successes! Reward your commitment to improving your health. Try to make the reward not food.
  5. Get back on track – Anything can get you off track (a trip out of town, cold weather, a bit of a cold) – how will you get back on? Can you plan to restart, maybe with lower weights or half the exercise time to readjust.

Ok, and what would I recommend as my steps to success in exercise?

My Steps to Exercise Success

  1. Get to the gym – Decide how many times a week, and go those times hell or highwater.
  2. Play and Have Fun – Vary your routine sometimes or go with a friend or go to a weights or cardio class to play around with it and see what you like. Say hi to other people at the gym, get curious, enjoy it.
  3. Push yourself (e.g. Interval train) – go mild, then increase and go hard, then go mild, then increase and go hard (Body for Life has a good description of this). Interval training has a faster effect on your body, and it keeps you in the moment more about the exercising, doesn’t allow your mind to wander – it must be focused on the exercise.
  4. Reward yourself sporadically but often – Set yourself incremental goals like as one or two pounds per week weight loss or particular increase in weight, and reward yourself by getting on the phone with a good friend or by stopping by a goodwill and getting anything you like.

    What do you think?
    Q: What are your steps to exercise success?

I’m getting married in the mornin’!
Ding dong! The bells are gonna chime.
Pull out the stopper!
Let’s have a whopper!
But get me to the church on time!

~ My Fair Lady, Get Me to the Church on Time

How can you get to sleep on time? On your time. At the time you want to fall asleep? WebMD has 12 tips for better sleep. I completely agree with one of the tips:

Allow yourself one hour to unwind before bed. Brush your teeth one hour before getting into bed and wash your face slowly with warm water. Set the mood for relaxation before bed. This is not a time to be rushing about or planning the following days events. Do this earlier in the evening.

What can you do to relax as completely and as simply as you can before bed?
Can you
* Light a candle,
* Have some camomile tea,
* Brush your hair,
* Meditate,
* Breathe,
* Read some poetry?

What can you do to prep your body that it is about to go to bed? What cues can you give to your body (smell – light-fragrance candle, sight – darken the lights, touch – put on pajamas and night clothes, taste – brush your teeth, hear – put on classical music)? Or other cues? How can you give your body a clue that sleep is about to happen?

That is the single-best thing you can do for your body to get ready for sleep – to put it in the mood for sleep. I suggest getting ready for bed between 10 and 11pm. You need to be in bed by 10 or 11pm for optimal functioning, in my humble unscientific in this case, opinion.

And, yes, this will take longer than your usual routine, and yes, you’ll need to factor that time into your day, but it will pay off in healthy, full sleep.

One more tip: get ready for bed, get everything ready (including all these above cues), and then just get in bed and read. Read books for fun, not necessarily books for work or for homework. Marsha Norman says that if you’re a writer, you should read for four hours every day, and if anyone asks you what you’re doing, tell them that you’re busy and you’re reading. And for those of us who are not writers, reading is so opening, so exhilirating, so freeing, so full – it is the ideal pre-bedtime activity. Reading takes us into different worlds. And by doing so absolutely prepares us for bed.


  • Create a relaxing bedtime ritual. Create cues for sleep.
  • Go to bed 10-11pm.
  • Read in bed until you’re tired enough to fall asleep.

Note: I know these above won’t work for everybody. That’s why they’re my opinoons and my suggestions only.

Why does a day sometimes start the night before? For example, in religions, if tomorrow were a fasting day, then the fast would start at nightfall today. Also, in sports, your coach will often tell you what you eat the night before and how you sleep the night before are very important. Folks often arrive to far away meetings the night before to “be fresh” the next morning. Another example: Christmas EVE. Evenings are the precursor to days.

Recently, a group of researchers led by Nobel-prize winner Daniel Kahnemann has been studying people’s happiness in a very simple-to-grasp way: people were asked to write down at the end of each day which activities they enjoyed and which they didn’t (as you can imagine, “intimate relations” was highest and commuting was lowest on the list). Most interestingly, “Events such as a poor night’s sleep had a large impact on how people felt about what they did the following day,” says this study summary.

This reseach appeared in the Dec 3 issue of Science Magazine (abstract here). The method of asking to sum up the enjoyments of the day is called the Day Reconstruction Method, and the researchers asked about 900 women in Texas to complete these forms. Because the data was for women only, the researchers do not claim that it’s generalizable to the entire population.

The fascinating book Sleep Thieves talks in detail about the physical harm to the body that happens when deprived of sleep. The author Stanley Coren talks about people being more accident-prone and increasingly exhausted. One of the more interesting parts of the book is when Coren describes the fact that sleeping less one night and trying to “catch up” the next night or few nights does not get your body back into its balance: there is something lost when sleep is lost.

Today we’ve talked about why sleep is so important. And tomorrow, we’ll talk about how to get more full, healthy sleep.

Some fun thoughts on sleep:

  • CNN reports that stock strategist James Montier recommend in ’04 that people focus less on stocks and focus more on things that really make them happy – love, sex, exercise and sleep.
  • “Sleep in the City” study (summary here) that finds that people get the best sleep in cities including Minneapolis , Detroit, Anaheim, San Diego, raleigh, DC, Chicago, Boston, and Austin, and the worst sleep in cities including Detroit, Cleveland, Hashville, Cincinnatti, New Orleans, NY, Las Vegas, Miami, San Francisco.
  • There is a recent study in the UK that looked for what gives people “a sense of well-being”. One of the results is that “a good night’s sleep [is]… linked to contentment” (article here)

Can you recognize yourself in any of these … ?
* “I’ve never been lucky in (choose one: money, career, love).”
* “Sure, I could have done better if only my parents had….”
* “Well, how am I going to have a healthy outlook after what I’ve been through?”

These things are the blame game. These are examples of blaming as a way of remembering past hurts. And they do hurt. And they are hurts.

And your mind grows addicted to that hurt the more you repeat it and retell that hurt. Your mind starts to look for that hurt in new situations as a way of reinforcing it. It starts to rely on it. And as with anything that becomes uniquely yours, your mind actually redeciphers it to be a good thing. It’s part of a small cognitive dissonance that mind thinks, “Well, I’m a good person, I like myself, so this bad thing has got to just be part of me – what can I do?, it’s just part of me, and I’m a good person.” And then, somehow, without you even being aware, the mind massages the message just a little to be simply, “That pain is part of me.”

The two books mentioned in the previous post overlap on this interesting concept of the person’s ego identifying with the person’s pain.

The Power of Now says that if there is a negative feeling, such as anger, guilt, self-pity, or depression, then that feeling is tied to the body as long as the mind continues to dwell on it and to play out scenarios. In this sense, the author Eckhart Tolle says that the body is connected with the pain in a “pain-body.” Furthermore, Eckhart Tolle describes “ego identification with the pain-body” as that sense that there is something of “my story” or “my life” in that cycle and that there is a pleasure that the body retains from identifying with that pain and that history.

In Get Over Yourself, Tonya Pinkins talks about letting go of the ego, dropping the drama, and getting over the victim and saint self-stories. Both the victim story (“Oh, I can’t do anything right because of all these terrible things that happened to me”, “I have a million perfect reasons to be depressed, and you would be too if you’d been through what I’ve been through”) and the saint story (“I am not going to follow my dream because it might hurt some of my close ones,” “I will switch to my dream job once the kids are in college”) are crutches for not acting now. Both stories tie negative feelings, such as guilt or self-pity to the ego, to the core identity of a person.

Breaking that ego and pain-body identification is, in short, “getting over yourself.”

This gym is a reason to climb in the Westchester and Stamford, CT area. If you were ever considering climbing, this gym is why you actually should. The Cliffs at Valhalla.

Cliffs at Valhalla

* It’s NEW!!! So great – everything is clean. The holds that you use to hold onto while you’re climbing are not chalked up – you can still feel their ridges.
* It’s safe. Mike the owner has done a great job of making sure the folks that work there know what they’re doing in climbing, and they won’t do what they don’t know very well. The mats on the floor for regular climbing are great. It’s not too cold or too warm.
* It’s thorough – there are two elliptical machines upstairs and one rowing machine for warming up; there’s a shorter wall upstairs for beginners, there’s bouldering, of course a chin up bar, and there’s regular climbing and a good number of lead routes too. You can borrow the gym’s ropes. Continue reading