August 2020 - Why is it so hard to adopt good habits?
Tackle those habits!
You know how it goes – you vow to give up smoking, do more exercise, eat more healthily, you do really well for a few days, maybe even a week, then it all goes to pot. I sympathise; I’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt.
So how can it be any different?
A while ago I was listening to the radio and Chris Evans was on his morning show on Virgin, talking about a book by a Stanford psychologist named BJ Fogg. The book was called ‘Tiny Habits – the small changes that change everything’. I decided to buy it and found a whole new way of adopting new habits which works!
It turns out that there are a few ways in which we go wrong when trying to adopt new habits. Read on for a whistlestop tour of what they are and how to overcome them.
Part of the problem we have with acquiring new habits is that we often aim too big – I’m going to go running 5 times a week. Or we are too vague - I’m following a healthy diet from now on.
In addition to that we think that willpower alone is going to get us to adopt these new habits and when we don’t stick to them, we beat ourselves up and feel that we’ve failed (again).
Three things to help
BJ Fogg says that three things drive behaviour – motivation, ability and prompt. Basically, you need to want (not feel you ought) to change, you need to have the ability to do what your habit requires and you need a prompt to do it.
Motivation – really want to do your new habit. Don’t do it just because your friends are or because it’s the latest thing trending.
Ability – are you physically or mentally able to do the habit? And do you have the tools and the time you might need to do the job?
Prompt – How are you going to remember to do this new thing?
My Tiny Habit attempt
So here’s how this works in real life:
A while ago I decided that I wanted to start dry body brushing regularly. An effective lymph system is a really useful thing to have as it’s part of our body’s waste disposal system and I know that one way to help it work more efficiently is dry body brushing. I’ve had my body brush for ages, remembered to use it for a few days, but then despite it being in full view in the bathroom I kept forgetting to use it. What more could I do? I had the motivation (I really wanted to help my lymph system stay in good shape), I had the ability (I had the brush and am capable of using it) and surely having it on display was my prompt? Apparently not.
I’m pleased to tell you that I now use my body brush regularly. So what changed? I changed my prompt to tie it in with something I already do every morning in the bathroom – when I turn on the shower to warm up, I immediately pick up my body brush and wield it. One of the things BJ Fogg recommends is that you link your new habit to something that you already do so it then becomes automatic.
There are a couple of other things which are essential to adopting good habits. One is to aim small (hence the title of the book being ‘Tiny Habits’) and the other thing is to congratulate yourself each time you do that small change.
Remember that vow to run five times a week? It’s a wonderful ambition but could be really hard to achieve, so a better habit might be to run once a week then when that seems to be going well, increase to twice a week and so on. And don’t forget that you have to have the ability to be able to run that often.
Or wanting to overhaul your new diet? Rather than trying to follow a complicated diet sheet, try replacing one not so good food with a better one. Then once you’ve got that under your belt, make another swap.
Making these small changes might take longer to take to where you want to be, but you stand a better chance of actually getting there because they’re more sustainable and you’re more likely to stick with them.
Now we get to the fun part and maybe the most important, but most overlooked.
Each time you’ve completed whatever your new habit is, you celebrate!
I don’t mean that you hit the town or buy cream cakes but do something that gives you a rush of pleasure. It might be a pat on the back, a cheesy grin, a ‘well done you’ (silently or out loud) or maybe a woo hoo! The thing is it means that you create a feel good factor associated with that habit, so you’re more likely to want to do it again. Better than beating yourself up that’s for sure.
Now here’s a thing – BJ Fogg has worked with folk around the world and says there are two cultures who are really bad at feeling good about something they’ve done. One is the Japanese and the other is – you guessed it, the British! Maybe that’s one reason we’re so bad at making changes for the better, so try bucking the trend and congratulating yourself for even the smallest positive change you make.
#tinyhabits #changinghabits #goodhabits #feelingvirtuous
June 2020 - Just 3 breaths
You’ve probably heard or read about Mindfulness and how it can be helpful in many ways, but you may be one of the many people who think that they just don’t get time to do it. Or maybe you think that you’ll never manage to do it because you have such a busy mind. Or maybe you just forget to do it, or you’re not sure what you’re supposed to be mindful about. Or even what Mindfulness is. Fear not because I’m about to solve all of those problems in just a few minutes, so read on........
What is Mindfulness?
Briefly, it’s learning to be aware of what is happening in the moment. An example: you’re rushing around trying to get ready for work, maybe the children are running round the house instead of getting ready for their Joe Wicks session or home schooling, the phone starts ringing – but just for a tiny, tiny moment you are aware of how fresh your mouth feels now you’ve brushed your teeth. Eureka! A mindfulness moment.
Yep, it’s that simple, you don’t have to be cross legged on a special cushion for hours. You’ve achieved Mindfulness. Give yourself a pat on the back (really important, more about this later).
So now you know that Mindfulness doesn’t have to take long, doesn’t have to be in a special place and doesn’t have to be about some high-minded goal.
It takes too long.
Well, the fresh mouth thing didn’t take long did it? But it would be more beneficial if you could start to take just a little longer as well as taking take control over when it happens, rather than just hoping it comes along. So this is where 3 breaths comes in. Everyone, without exception, has time to take 3 breaths; if we didn’t we wouldn’t be here. Your challenge now is to take 3 breaths, don’t rush them, and as you do that just become aware of what your body is doing. Are your shoulders moving up? Is your stomach moving out? Can you feel the breath moving through your nostrils? Can you feel your lungs inflating? Don’t panic, you don’t have to notice all those things at once, you can just choose to notice one thing each time you breathe.
I’ve got a busy mind.
Guess what? So has everyone else. Whilst I was giving a talk on Reflexology to a group once I was telling them that I give my clients helpful suggestions to try so they can continue to improve their health, and I said that one of those ideas could be to try Mindfulness. One of the group proclaimed (rather proudly) that she had such a busy mind that she couldn’t possibly switch it off. I’m not sure whether she thought that the rest of us were walking around with empty minds just waiting for something to fill them, but I have to say that I’ve never yet come across a person who hasn’t got a lot going on in their mind, but it doesn’t mean to say that they can’t give Mindfulness a try. The key to dealing with the busy mind interrupting you trying to focus on your 3 breaths is to acknowledge that another thought has popped up and then return to your breaths. If it helps, you can even say ‘thank you, I’ll come back to that thought later’ which might make letting go of it for the time being that much easier. And don’t worry, it probably will pop up again after you’ve finished your 3 breaths.
Please try not to get put off if you can’t concentrate on your 3 breaths to start with. Whenever we try something new we don’t usually expect to be able to do it perfectly first time but with a bit of practice we get there. And there’s no time limit on this so you don’t have to have achieved your ‘ideal’ 3 breaths in 3 days for instance. The important thing is to keep trying it.
You forget to do it.
Now this is where you need to get a bit sneaky. Recently I was reading an excellent book called ‘Tiny Habits by B J Fogg PhD who is an American social scientist at Stanford University. One of the ways in which he suggests we can adopt new habits is to link them to something we already do as a matter of routine, such as having a shower, boiling the kettle, cleaning our teeth, going to the toilet, etc. Funnily enough it’s a suggestion that I was already using when persuading my clients to learn to breathe more deeply so it was good to see it being ratified by someone qualified in the field of human behaviour. So next time you boil the kettle or have a shower try taking 3 breaths and notice what is happening in your body. By linking the breaths to something you already do you’re creating a reminder for yourself.
One of the other suggestions which BJ Fogg makes is to congratulate yourself when you’ve successfully done what you set out to do, so when you’ve taken those 3 breaths do a little victory dance, pat yourself on the back, say ‘well done’ or celebrate in any other way which feels right for you. BJ Fogg makes the point that he has come across two cultures in his teaching who find it hard to congratulate themselves on their achievements – one is the Japanese and the other is, you guessed it, the Brits. We have a tendency to modesty as a nation, to understate our achievements, and he makes the point that it is one reason why we find it hard to adopt new habits because we don’t acknowledge our successes enough. So don’t forget to tell yourself what a star you are for completing 3 breaths.
Only 3 breaths
I know, 3 breaths are hardly going to send you into a state of deep relaxation are they? But the point is that it gets you started on the path to helping you reduce the effects of stress on your life. Really, 3 breaths can do that? Well, the reason for the title of BJ Fogg’s book ‘Tiny Habits’ is that he suggests one of the reasons we fail at adopting new, often health improving, habits is that we set the bar too high. We have a tendency to decide that we’re going to lose 2 stone, do 10000 steps every day, take up Mindfulness and meditate for half an hour every day for instance. Instead he suggests that we set ourselves tiny goals, celebrate when we achieve them and then that gives us the incentive to increase our achievements gradually. For example, I decided that I wanted to ‘plank’ as it works so many muscles. Now the world record for planking is currently 8 hours, 15 minutes and 15 seconds but there’s no way I’m ever going to reach one hour let alone 8 hours, so I decided to adopt BJ Fogg’s method and set myself a goal of holding plank for a count of 10. That didn’t mean that I had to stop at 10 if I felt I could do more, just that I would have achieved my goal if I managed 10. I can’t remember how many I counted to on that first attempt but whilst it wasn’t a huge number, it was more than 10 so I celebrated with a ‘whoo hoo’ and felt good about myself. And that’s the important bit, the feeling good about yourself for having reached your goal. But more about that side of things another time. Suffice it to say that if you complete 3 breaths (doesn’t matter if your busy brain interrupted during those breaths) then you need to congratulate yourself. (And the plank is coming on nicely, thank you for asking)
Once you’re routinely practising 3 breaths and celebrating when you do, then you may want to increase the number of breaths so that it increases the calming effect on your nervous system. If you do, remember to think tiny and increase gradually and celebrate each time.
I hope you’ve found this ‘Quick and Dirty‘ guide to Mindfulness helpful. If you’ve tried 3 breaths I’d love to know how you’re getting on so please e-mail me from the link on my Home page. Good luck!
July 2019 - Live Long and Prosper!
Many of you may recall this Vulcan salutation being used by Mr Spock of Star Trek fame on more than one occasion. ”But what’s it got to do with feet?” I hear you ask.
Probably nothing usually, but it brings me nicely into the introduction of my topic today – foot exercises.
Feet are probably one of the most neglected areas of our body when it comes to movement. “That can’t be right!”, I hear you exclaim. “I do my 10,000 steps a day, I run marathons, I walk into town and back in my lunch hour, I walk the children to school; my feet get loads of exercise.” Or do they? Let’s find out. What do you have on your feet when you’re walking your 10,000 steps, taking the children to school, etc? Possibly sandals (don’t talk to me about flip flops, aargh!), trainers, high heeled shoes? How much movement do you think your feet get when they’re encased in shoes, or gripping tightly to keep flip flops on your feet? Not enough to keep them as mobile as they should be.
Why do our feet need to be mobile? Well, for a start they’re our base but they not only have to support us when we’re standing, but they also have to propel us along, often over uneven surfaces, which means our bones, muscles and other soft tissue have to have the ability to move around to absorb the changes in surfaces such as angle and texture.
Without this ability our feet and ankles become stiff which not only impacts on our balance, but also means that other parts of our body need to compensate, which is when we start getting pain in our knees, hips and lower back.
Now most of us can’t walk around barefoot, so what else can we do to help improve or maintain the range of movement in our feet? Live long and prosper! Just one of the foot exercises which I’m going to suggest you try.
**If you have any musculo-skeletal issues with your feet, please check with your health practitioner before attempting any of these exercises.**
As always, don’t feel that you have to do all of these exercises in one go or that you have to be able to complete even one of them perfectly, it’s better to build up gradually and see the improvements than try and fail to do everything first time.
The good thing about these is that you can even do them sitting down, whilst watching the TV if you like, although if you’re concentrating hard on moving your feet you may lose the thread of the drama which you’re following – sorry!
Live Long and Prosper!
This is all about separating those toes which usually get squashed together in shoes.
Standing or sitting, place your bare feet flat on the floor. One by one move each toe away from the one next to it, so second toe moves away from big toe. Work on one foot at a time. Have you ever walked into a room for a meeting or to watch a film and noticed that everyone has left an empty seat between them and the next person? This is just the same, you’re aiming for your toes to get space between them as though they’re not talking to each other. This is only temporary, they can get back on friendly terms once you’ve finished the exercise.
Mexican Toe Wave.
Again, you can do this standing or sitting. Place your bare feet flat on the floor. Keeping toes 2-5 on the floor, raise just your big toe. Nothing happening? Keep trying, maybe holding down toes 2-5 who are probably wanting to join in the fun.
We’re so used to our toes working together because they’re held that way in our shoes that it can be really tricky for a toe to pick up the message being sent to it by our brain – or even for our brain to know how to send the message to an individual toe. Keep persevering and eventually your big toe will move. Don’t forget to congratulate it!
Now you’ve mastered one toe, try lifting the big toe, then the second toe to join it, leaving toes 3-5 behind. Then once you’ve got the hang of that, lift the third toe and so on until you’re able to lift the toes as individuals. Oh, and don’t forget to replace them one at a time.
You’ll probably find one foot is easier to work than the other – I’ve mastered my right foot, but my left is proving trickier.
A good way to bring mobility into your feet is to roll a ball around underneath them. This is an exercise which I often suggest to my clients as it’s easy to do but very effective.
You can use a tennis ball, a golf ball or one of those spiky massage balls, whichever you prefer. I suggest that you avoid the dog’s ball as it’s bound to be coated in slobber – yuk!
You can stand or sit to do this. Place the ball under the heel of one foot, then keeping as much of the foot on the floor as possible at any one time, roll the ball towards the toes, then back to the heel. Move it to one side, then do the same again so that you’re working the foot in strips.
When you’ve done that place the ball at the heel and work it from side to side across the foot. Move the ball up towards the toes and repeat until you reach the toes. Roll the ball around under your toes without gripping it.
This exercise gives your foot a good massage and gets it really moving around.
Now, it’s probably taken a long time for your feet to become as stiff as they are so you’re not going to see an improvement overnight, but gradually you’ll notice your feet are more mobile and your balance should improve as a result. Make these exercises part of your daily life and see the difference they make.
Live Long and Prosper!