Inspiring Reminders to Think, Live and Love Well

Inspiring Reminders to Think and Live Well

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Just 5 minutes on the treadmill!

Oh man, today's trip to the gymn was a tough one!  I was kind of tired this morning, and I'm fighting a cold, so the brain wars sounded a little like this:  "Just pour yourself another coffee, snuggle up in a blanket and check Facebook"  vs  "No, you'll feel so much better if you go and do your workout; it will be energizing".  It was actually another voice, kind of a middle-ground mediator that resolved the conflict this morning:  "Okay, here's the deal, just go and do 5 minutes on the treadmill.  Have a super easy workout, but then you get points for going!"  And voila, it worked!  It didn't seem too daunting to do 5 minutes instead of the whole weights routine, so I got in the car and went.  Wouldn't you know it though, once I was there, and did my 5 minutes, the energy was back, and the weights didn't seem quite so heavy to tackle.  So motivational lesson learned is this:  When the willpower just isn't doing the trick for you, give yourself a break and lower your expectations.  Set yourself a small, easily attainable goal.  The key is to just get moving, take a baby step in the right direction.  Then, you may surprise yourself that it's easier to let the momentum carry you forward, rather than just stopping.  And even if you do stop after just 5 minutes on the treadmill, that's better than nothing, so yes, you do get points for going!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Monday, February 4, 2013

Brain Wars

Mmmm, I really want to eat those chocolate chips!  No, have a handful of almonds, they're way better for you!  Oh, just a bit of chocolate, it's so yummy!  No, don't, you'll feel so much better if you eat the nuts! And, you really want to feel fit and strong, right? Witness the current willpower battle taking place in my head. So, what's really going on up there?  Here's the neuroscience: My midbrain is craving the dopamine rush that chocolate promises RIGHT NOW, while my prefrontal cortex is trying to ensure that I look better in my bikini on a future vacation.  The midbrain is the primitive brain that kept humans alive when we were cavemen.  It directs us to satisfy our impulses, to do what feels pleasurable and instantly gratifying.  As we evolved, our brains modernized too, with the addition of the prefrontal cortex.  It specializes in self-control, and is designed to help us do the harder thing.  "I will" power is controlled by the upper left side of the prefrontal cortex.  It is what will help me push through and do an extra set of squats at the gymn, when my midbrain is suggesting how lovely a hot shower would be.  "I won't" power resides on the right side of the prefrontal cortex.  I'll have to thank it for saying no to the impulse to leave and get a latte instead of finishing my workout.  These two areas control what we do.  Lower, and towards the middle of the prefrontal cortex is the region that remembers what our goals and desires are, the "I want" of willpower.  It tells me that I really want to feel energetic, protect my bones, and live a longer and healthier life. 

So, I'm delighted to say, this time, I'm eating almonds, not the chocolate chips.  Score one for my prefrontal cortex, and pat myself on the back!  Now, I can assure you that my prefrontal cortex often gets defeated by my conniving midbrain, and the chocolate chips reign victorious.  So, if I want to do the harder thing just a little more often, here's what I've learned so far:

1.  Congratulations, praise, positive feedback and celebrating success brings on more successes.  Ya, I know it's not Nobel prize-worthy to make a healthy snacking choice, but our brains are hungry for positive reinforcement and will repeat patterns to get the next fix of feel good.  So, how we talk to ourselves  after making a good choice is key: "Way to go, great job, I'm really happy with how hard I tried, I'm amazing!"   We also know that repeating the positive self-talk powers it up even more.  So, it's perfectly acceptable to go brag about your willpower success to anyone who will listen.  Write it down in a journal.  Remember the good choices you made last week, and let the positive emotions flow again.  Every repetition of the behavior, and even just thoughts and memories associated with the behavior, strengthen the neural pathways in the brain.  Bottom line, it gets easier to do the harder thing. 

2.  Brain training 101:  Practice Meditation.  There's a whole truckload of good reasons to meditate, but today's reason is simply that it will strengthen your willpower.  Studies show that after only three hours of meditation practice (no, not all at once!), subjects improved their self-control.  Eleven hours led to actual changes visible on brain scans, showing more neural connections in the brain areas responsible for staying focused, ignoring distractions and controlling impulses .The latest research points to regular meditation as an excellent tool to help people quit smoking, lose weight, and stay clean and sober.  Best part of this good news:  five minutes a day will do it, and being a bad meditator is actually what makes the practice effective. 

Here's how:
a.  Sit still, cross-legged or on a chair.  Try not to fidget or move.  Remember, you're learning to NOT follow every impulse your brain and body throw at you.  So, no scratching your nose. 
b.  Close your eyes and notice your breathing.  Say to yourself, "inhale", then "exhale" as you follow your breath.  When you notice your mind wandering, just gently guide it back to focus on your breath.  It will be hard.  Most people find that when they begin meditation, their minds speed up and become busier than ever.  The goal isn't to empty your mind, but to notice when it wanders, and bring it back to your breath.  It is the practice of coming back to the breath over and over again which builds your prefrontal cortex willpower muscle. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

Willpower Buddies

Best Workout buddy Ever
So, this was today's beautiful mountain view on our walk this morning.  It's one of Calgary's famous big blue sky winter days which makes me adore my city.  Not so much on Tuesday, with the -38 degree windchill!  But we walked anyway.  Toby has boots, and I have long undies - so we brave it every day, no matter how miserable the weather.  And yes, it's often a major willpower push for me.  Another cup of coffee in my warm bed with my ipad would be soooo comfortably appealing, but Toby`s big brown eyes win me over everytime.  That`s the way all willpower battles play out:  two voices shout loudly for our attention.  The healthy, goal-oriented voice of our best self urges us to choose the apple, while the bratty, rebellious voice stamps her foot and demands the cookies.  Winning the willpower war is all about pumping up that motivated voice to top volume.  The pup has me wrapped around his little paws, so the ``get out of bed`` voice now plays pretty loudly in my own head - thanks to his focussed terrier determination.  So, while walking has become a pretty consistent habit for me, my real fitness willpower challenge is going to be getting myself to the gymn to GET STRONG.  I`ve had a pretty good history of dabbling with weights, once-in-awhile, kind of sporadically, you know the story......  They don`t allow four-legged friends, so the kick-in-the-butt will have to come from somewhere else.  Next step is to learn everything I need to know about brain wars.  So far, what I can tell you is this - training my gray matter is going to be the secret weapon in the building the biceps battle. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

How are those New Year's Resolutions Coming Along?

     Are you sticking to your resolutions?  By this point in January, you've had almost a month to give them your best shot, but, if you're like most people, you've either slacked off a little (or alot!) or given up altogether.  Many of us start the new year with enthusiastic plans to lose weight, get fit, quit smoking, spend more time with our families, or finally.....insert life goal here......!  But it's hard, isn't it?  Those best intentions seem to get gobbled up by our busyness or just plain lazyness - come on, admit it! So, here we find ourselves with our hands back in the proverbial cookie jar, blaming our lack of willpower.
     So, since I include myself amongst the fallen, I've decided to do a little willpower experiment on ME, and I invite you to join in the journey.  I'll test out some of the best new ideas out there in the world of willpower research, and share my struggles, and successes along the way.  So, here goes.......

I'm going to start with following the advice of a very smart psychological researcher, Kelly McGonigal.  I just started reading her book, "The Willpower Instinct", and I like what I see so far.  So, Kelly says our first task is to choose our willpower challenge.

1.  "I will"  power challenges are the things we want to do more of, the things that will make our lives more positive.
2.  "I won't power challenges are those habits we want to slow down on or stop, the things that are getting in the way.
3.  "I want" power challenges are the really great long term goals we want to reach.

I'm going to start by focussing on my fitness goals.  Looks like that will be an "I will" power challenge. Ya, I know, not very original, right?  Me and everyone else on the block.  Well, that's why it's a good one - you can all relate!  So, tune in next time, with your challenge chosen.  I was going to say "Good luck!", but it's going to be about the science, not the luck.....