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  • feedwordpress 10:00:21 on 2018/11/29 Permalink
    Tags: author interview, , , Erica Meloe, health, , physical therapy, Why Do I Hurt?   

    “The Relationship of Our Body to Our Mind Is More than Just a Tagline. It’s a Real Thing.” 

    Interview: Erica Meloe

    Fortunately for me, I've know Erica Meloe for years. From time to time, for no apparent reason, I start to have a lot of pain in my neck—or more rarely, shoulder. Usually this pain goes away on its own, but there have been occasions when the pain was bad and didn't seem to be on the mend.

    In those cases, I turn to the brilliant, super-effective Erica Meloe. She's a physical therapist who has made such a difference for me—and for my husband, father-in-law, and brother-in-law, among others.

    She really understands the body in an extraordinary way.

    She just wrote a terrific book, Why Do I Hurt? Discover the Surprising Connections that Cause Physical Pain--and What to Do About Them.

    I'm particularly interested in this book because I've developed a minor preoccupation with the subject of pain (a frightening subject, but interesting).

    I couldn’t wait to talk to Erica about happiness, habits, and productivity.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Erica: I have been doing a lot of Spinning at Soul Cycle these days and I have never felt more exhilarated! I believe that movement in whatever form, is good for your body, mind and soul. I get an enormous amount of inspiration from exercise. Whether it is the community, the movement or just the feeling of sweating through a good workout, it stirs up my creative juices and I feel more alive. Another habit that I do almost every night is read. I am a huge Jane Austen fan, and try to read something from the Regency period fairly often. It really grounds me.

    Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    Erica: This is a great question! The first thought that comes to mind is, “That it doesn’t just happen to you, you have to create your own happiness." I think that our definition of happiness changes, as we grow older. And one of the biggest lessons for me is that what I think will make me happy, actually doesn’t make me happy.

    We think if "we get or achieve" certain things or goals, that is the ultimate in happiness. And what I have found, is that it is the little things that make me happy and fill me with gratitude. For example, going to see “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” with my niece, learning something new, or going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the “Versailles” exhibit, this is what makes me happy.

    Professionally, helping a patient to problem solve their persistent pain and get them moving better is so rewarding. And even more recently, seeing my book Why Do I Hurt? finally published!

    Making beautiful memories is what happiness is all about for me.

    Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you – or others – most?

    Erica: What continues to intrigue and motivate me to search for more evidence is that the relationship of our body to our mind is more than just a tagline, it is a real thing. The body has amazing healing powers if we only tap into our own internal resources.

    As a physical therapist, I see so many people affected by persistent pain as is evidenced by the rising rates of consumer opioid abuse. When someone has persistent pain, more often than not, the source of that pain lies somewhere other than their symptomatic body part. Our bodies are such great compensators, that long after an injury or painful part has healed, there are some people who still experience pain.

    What surprises many of my patients is the fact that we also need to treat at least one or two other regions of the body in order for them to achieve any long lasting change. That is the epitome of treating the source versus just treating the symptom.

    What I also find extremely fascinating is that when you give someone a diagnosis, in my field for example, like a “herniated disc” or “your hip or knee is bone-on-bone,” this can be seen as a placebo or alternatively as a nocebo, which can be detrimental. The delivery of a diagnosis to a patient is the most important piece in health care delivery.

    I will stick to physical therapy, as it is my scope of practice, but think about this: “You have bone-on-bone in your hip which is seen on your most recent x-ray and you need a hip replacement." Versus, "You have some degenerative changes in your hip which are very common as you grow older. We call them the 'kisses of time.' You can rehab this or at some point in the future, you may choose to have a very common surgical procedure called a hip replacement. Your CHOICE."

    I believe the first one is a nocebo and the second one is a placebo. Being given a choice versus being told what to do has an enormous impact on how we process pain and ultimately in how we manage it. A health care professional’s words matter.

    Gretchen: What advice do you find yourself giving over and over? If you could wave a magic wand so that just about everyone followed certain habits or practices, what would you choose?

    Erica: I constantly find myself telling people that our body makes unconscious choices in how we move. We resort to old movement strategies or habits that our body sees as “normal.” Our bodies take the path of least resistance until we run out of options. We run a certain way (and we have been running that way for years) until we change something, like our environment, our shoes, our running pattern, and then breakdown occurs. It can manifest as fatigue, pain or lack of endurance as examples.

    Our old habit or strategy that has reached it’s “buckle point” as I like to call it, is now something that needs to be re-patterned or re-trained. I always tell my patients that we need to develop a new habit or a new normal. And that changes depending on the amount of load, stress or activity that we put on our bodies.

    Being open minded to developing new movement patterns, practices or habits is what makes us unique. If I could wave a magic wand (and I would use Hermione’s wand!) it would be to develop many habits or practices. The body responds really well to variance in the sense that if we vary our movements, positions and activities and make that a habit, our bodies would thank us!

    Gretchen: Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

    Erica: I thought I would be an Upholder when I took the quiz but my results showed that I am an Obliger! I am working at meeting my inner expectations and learning how to say “no,” more often! I do believe that when you work with patients and are in a healing profession, there is a tendency towards meeting others’ needs ahead of your own.

    Gretchen: Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”) Or a quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful?

    Erica: “Faith and Courage” and more recently, “Bring the Joy.”

    Gretchen: Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g. travel, parties, email)

    Erica: As an Obliger, I tend to over-commit and take on too many obligations. Often times, I find myself saying no to certain things because of a deadline or expectation on my part that I have to get something done.

    Gretchen: In your field, is there a common misperception or incorrect assumption that you’d like to correct?

    Erica: Yes, thank you! The biggest misconception is that physical therapy is a uniform profession. That is, the same results will be achieved with any physical therapist. This is simply not true.

    Practices, techniques, and philosophies differ. I have heard many stories where patients have not gotten the results they wanted from a medical provider, but have achieved noticeable benefits when they see a good PT who looks at the body differently from a holistic and integrated perspective.

    So I would encourage all patients to try a new physical therapist if they have not gotten the results they wanted. Their experience may be vastly different with someone else.

    why do I hurt? cover

     
  • gretchenrubin 11:00:21 on 2018/10/02 Permalink
    Tags: , , , health, , , Obligers, , self care,   

    A Question I’m Often Asked: “How Can I Make More Time for Self-Care?” 

    People often ask me, "How do I make more time for myself? How do I put myself first?"

    And when I hear that question, I think: OBLIGER!

    Obligers think that everyone struggles with this question, but in fact, it's a much bigger challenge for Obligers than it is for Upholders, Questioners, or Rebels. Each of these other Tendencies benefits from its own safeguard.

    (Don't know what I'm talking about with those terms—Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, Rebel? Take my quick, free "Four Tendencies" quiz here or read about my personality framework here.)

    Sometimes this Obliger challenge takes the form of "I'm so busy putting other people first, I don't have time for myself."

    Sometimes it looks more like "I give 110% to my patients, I can't possibly find time to exercise" or "With my grueling travel schedule, there's no way I could eat healthier."

    However this issue is framed, it boils down to the Obliger pattern: meeting outer expectations but struggling to meet inner expectations.

    And the solution is always the same: create outer accountability for meeting inner expectations.

    This is the answer. This is crucial. Don't work on motivation, priorities, clarity, will-power, none of that! Work on creating outer accountability.

    Creating Outer Accountability for Self-care

    So, how might an Obliger create outer accountability for "self-care" type activities? Or how might someone around an Obliger help that person to do that?

    Want to read more? Join a book group; read what your children are reading in school so you can have family discussions.

    Want to exercise more? Work out with a trainer; take a class; go for a walk with a friend who will be annoyed if you don't show up; take your dog for a walk and remind yourself that your dog really benefits from the exercise.

    Want to eat more healthfully? Think of how disappointed your future-self will be if you keep eating junk food; think of how much healthier others will be if you don't bring junk food into your home or office.

    Want to give yourself a treat, like a massage or a tennis lesson? Remember, "If I give more to myself, I can give more to others. If I let myself get too drained and exhausted, I won't be able to be a good family member/colleague/employee/boss/friend. I need to put my own oxygen mask first."

    Want to quit smoking? Think of your duty to be a role model for others; think about the fact that by smoking, you're pouring money into the pockets of the tobacco companies who will use that money to get more people addicted to cigarettes; think of how others depend on you to be healthy.

    Want to make time to see friends? Create a regular appointment (have lunch every first Monday of the month) so that people expect you to show up at a certain time; tell your family or friends "I'm making a commitment to spend more time with friends" so that you feel an obligation to follow through—even if only to model the behavior for others that it's important to keep our promises to ourselves.

    Want to work on your novel? Join a writing group where every member holds each other accountable for a certain amount of writing; tell your kids, "You have your work, I have my work. If you don't see me working on my novel, you don't have to do your homework."

    Note that these strategies might not work very well with other Tendencies.

    As an UPHOLDER/Questioner, I resist ideas like, "I need to take care of myself so I can care for others." I care for myself because that's what I want and need—not because of others.

    Likewise, a Rebel might resist the idea of having a regular meet-up with friends. Typically, Rebels don't like to feel constrained by a calendar.

    If you want to go deeper into the Four Tendencies, read the book The Four Tendencies or take my online video course.

    If you need outer accountability—for self-care or for anything—you can also launch or join an accountability group on my free app, the Better app. It's a place for questions, discussions, and observations about the Four Tendencies, and also a place to create an accountability group for whatever aim you're trying to reach.

    I'm astonished by the ingenuity and imagination that Obligers use in creating outer accountability for themselves. Brilliant solutions! It's really not that hard to do, once you realize that outer accountability is what's necessary.

    Have you come up with any great ways to give yourself outer accountability?

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:36 on 2018/07/19 Permalink
    Tags: health, hormones, , Randi Epstein,   

    “It’s Important to Recharge My Inner Battery. To Be On-the-Go, I Need Down Time.” 

    Interview: Randi Hutter Epstein, M.D., M.P.H.

    I've known Randi for a long time; we're both members of a writers' group that has been a joy to me over the years. I remember when she first started talking about the idea for her current book, so I'm thrilled that Aroused: The History of Hormones and How They Control Just About Everything is now hitting the shelves. Metabolism, behavior, sleep, mood swings, the immune system, fighting, fleeing, puberty, sex...so many aspects of our lives are controlled by hormones. It's a fascinating, important subject.

    She also wrote the terrific book Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank.

    When she's not writing books, Randi Epstein is an adjunct professor at Columbia University and a lecturer at Yale University. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times and the Psychology Today blog, among others.

    I couldn't wait to talk to Randi about happiness, habits, and productivity.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple habit or activity that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Randi: For years, I’ve been running in Central Park. What used to be fast-paced is now slow and contemplative. But either way, it’s time to think. I don’t do the “To-Do lists” but allow myself time to just think big picture things. No headphones, rarely with partners, just silence and nature. And one little trick (that I’m embarrassed to admit): Sometimes I’ll sing a few lines from Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” in my head. I don’t know all the words, so I’m singing the same few lines over and over. It’s very empowering. I really should learn a few more phrases.

    Gretchen: What’s something you know now about building healthy habits or happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    Randi: It’s important to recharge my inner battery. In order to be on-the-go, I need down time, which can be a long bath or getting absorbed in a novel.

    Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you – or your readers -- most?

    Randi: I write about hormones, which is a relatively new field with huge advances. Think about this: When my grandmother was born in 1900, the word “hormone” didn’t exist. (We didn’t call hormones “hormones” until 1905.) By the time Grandma was diagnosed with her hormone ailment, doctors could spot her hormone defect and measure hormones down to the billionth of a gram. That’s an amazing leap in our understanding in a relatively short time span. (Grandma had Addison’s disease, same disease that John F. Kennedy had. It’s treatable with cortisone pills.)

    Gretchen: Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?

    Randi: I’m a nibbler. So If I’m stressed (working on a chapter, etc.), I’ll keep crunchy foods around, but those calories and that feeling of being way too full adds up. I’m talking granola, nuts, chocolate, carrots.

    Gretchen: Which habits are most important to you? (for health, for creativity, for productivity, for leisure, etc.)

    Randi: Exercising outside. There’s something about being in nature, looking up at the trees. It’s moving meditation, to get away from the onslaught of news and just remember to, well, smell the roses. Or really in my case, it’s not roses but the enormous big trees in Central Park. I also like cooking. I’m not sure if there’s anything productive about it, but I feel like I’ve accomplished something. Food, particularly dinner parties, make people happy. I love cooking for my family and friends. I’m not a gourmet chef by any means, but I enjoy trying new recipes and tweaking old ones. It makes me happy to bring together friends in a homey atmosphere. I love baking fun desserts for the famil .

    Gretchen: Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

    Randi: My kids think I drink too much. Water, that is. I think it’s important to be hydrated so I make sure I always have a water bottle filled with water in my backpack. I’ve also cut out soda—and now I don’t even like that taste.

    Gretchen: Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

    Randi: I would not have known but I’m an Obliger. Maybe that’s from raising for children and focusing on them. All mothers do that—we put our children’s needs first. [Gretchen: Randi, you and I can talk more about this later!]

    Gretchen: Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    Randi: This isn’t quite “health scare,” but a health glitch: I was diagnosed with “age-related knee degeneration,” a fancy name for saying my knees aren’t what they used to be—probably from years of long-distance running. So my knees are more like rusty hinges—and I want to avoid surgery or further deterioration. That’s forced me “listen” to my body. Exercise is more about quiet time than racing to a finish line.

    Gretchen: Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)

    Randi: Laughter is the best medicine.

    Gretchen: Tell us a bit more about your recent book, Aroused: The History of Hormones and How They Control Just About Everything.

    Randi: I’m so proud of this book, not just because it has fun stories in the history of medicine and current advances, but because I think there is so much confusion about what’s real and what’s hype. I hope that readers will grab my book and feel more informed about making healthy decisions. That they will be able to distinguish hucksters from heroes. And I’d love to get their feedback about anything that surprised them as they dove into it.

    Aroused by Randi Hutter Epstein

     
  • gretchenrubin 10:30:32 on 2018/03/30 Permalink
    Tags: , , health, identity, , southerner,   

    A Question I’m Often Asked: Why Did I List “Southerner” as a Possibly Negative Identity? 

    Since Better Than Before, my book about habit change, hit the shelves, I’ve received several emails from loyal Southerners asking me about my inclusion of the identity of "Southerner" in the following passage discussing identity.

    Better Than Before identifies the 21 strategies we can use to make or break our habits, and in my chapter on the importance of the "Strategy of Identity," I write:

    We can get locked into identities that aren’t good for us: "a workaholic," "a perfectionist," "a Southerner," "the responsible one." As part of the Strategies of the Four Tendencies and Distinctions, I’d worked to identify different personality categories to which I belonged, but these kinds of labels should help me understand myself more deeply, not limit my sense of identity. Someone wrote on my site, "Food and eating used to play a big part in my identity until I realized that my baking and being a ‘baker’ was resulting in being overweight. So I had to let that identity go."

    In this passage, I’m not suggesting that "Southerner" is necessarily a negative identity, but one that might be negative for a particular person – it might also be a positive identity; this just depends on a particular person. For some people, identifying as "the responsible one" might give them a sense of pride and purpose, and for others, identifying as "the responsible one" might feel constraining and burdensome.

    Now, why did I include "Southerner" in this list of examples? Well, because while I was writing this book – and, I must admit, unmercifully quizzing my friends about their habits – a good friend mentioned it.

    As I discuss at length in Better Than Before, I had many discussions with one friend whose identity as "Italian" had been in conflict with her desire to eat and drink more healthfully.

    Along the same lines, another friend told me that the identity of being "Southern" was tied up, for him, with the idea of sweet tea, fried foods, pie, and the idea that a polite person would never turn down food that was offered. He wanted to change his eating habits, and he realized he had to figure out, "How can I live up to my Southern identity in a way that allows me to eat more healthfully?" Once he was able to see how this aspect of his identity was making it hard to stick to the good habits he wanted to cultivate, he was able to find many ways to be a true Southerner, and honor his Southern traditions, with less sweet tea.

    Most identities have both positive and negative sides. In my observation, the problem arises when we don’t see how an identity is influencing our habits; if we don’t see this factor, we can’t think through it and possibly alter the habits that flow from it. We can embrace an identity, yet shape that identity.

    As with me. My identity as a "real book-lover" made me assume that I had to finish every book I started, even if I found it boring. Which is what I did, for decades. But after studying the Strategy of Identity, I realized that I could alter my definition of what it meant to be a "real book-lover," with the thought, "If I stop reading a book I don’t like, I’ll have more time to read the books I do enjoy. That habit allows me to be a ‘real book-lover’ in a different way." My identity is the same; I just found a different habit to honor it.

    Usually, when we address the Strategy of Identity for ourselves, we don’t wholly let go of an identity – it was unusual for the "baker" let go of that identity totally – usually, we re-shape the expression of the identity, or decide to let one narrow aspect of that identity go, while holding on to the aspects that we want to keep. I can absolutely remain a real book-lover without finishing every book I start.

    Speaking of the Strategy of Identity, I can’t help but mention one of my favorite examples, which I write about in Better Than Before,. In their fascinating book Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath describe how an anti-littering campaign successfully changed the littering habits of Texans, after messages such as "Please Don’t Litter" and "Pitch In" failed. For the campaign, famous Texans such as George Foreman, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Willie Nelson, and various sports figures made TV spots with the message "Don’t mess with Texas." The campaign convinced people that true Texans—proud, loyal, tough Texans—protect Texas. During the campaign’s first five years, visible roadside litter dropped 72 percent.

    Our habits reflect our identities. We all have many identities. And we can shape how we honor those identities, so we can create the lives we want.

    Have you experienced this? Is there an area in your life where an important identity made it hard to follow a habit that you wanted to keep?

     
  • feedwordpress 17:34:49 on 2018/03/13 Permalink
    Tags: , , , health, LifeSpan 1200 DT, treadmill desk, walking,   

    A Question I’m Often Asked: What Kind of Treadmill Desk Does Elizabeth Use? 

    In my book The Happiness Project, I describe how and why I bought my sister Elizabeth a treadmill desk, to use in her office where she works as a writer and producer in Hollywood.

    Along with getting my husband a subscription to Sports Illustrated, this is the most successful gift I’ve ever given.

    I had to ask her permission, of course: you can’t just spring a treadmill desk on someone. They’re enormous.

    But after some thought, she did accept it, and it makes me so happy that she’s used a treadmill desk ever since.

    In fact, as soon as she announced that she was getting a treadmill desk, her writing partner Sarah Fain got one, too! They have two treadmill desks side by side in their office on the Disney lot, and use the treadmill desks while they work. I often hear it softly whirring in the background when I’m talking to Elizabeth on the phone.

    There’s even a segment on their podcast Happier in Hollywood called "From the Treadmill Desks of..." when they talk about what’s most pressing in their work psyches that week.

    Because we often mention the treadmill desk, many people become intrigued by the idea of getting one themselves – with the hope of getting more activity into their work day, without having to make a special time or trip for exercise.

    If you wonder what Elizabeth uses, she has a LifeSpan 1200 DT. It goes up to four miles per hour, no incline.

    I must confess that when I bought that model for her, I didn’t do much research on which one to buy. I’d read a lot about the value of treadmill desks, and when I read Susan Orleans’s article in The New Yorker, "The Walking Alive: Don’t Stop Moving"  about Orleans’s great experience with her treadmill desk, I looked up the model she’d bought, thought it looked good, and bought that one.

    To answer some questions that I’ve received about about treadmill desks: you walk very slowly, so you don’t sweat; the machine is quiet (quieter than a window air-conditioner) so it is possible to talk on the phone while on the machine; it is possible to type, answer emails, etc. while on the machine, though Elizabeth does sit down if she’s doing a lengthy piece of writing.

    I would love to have a treadmill desk myself, but my strange little home office is too small to fit one.

    Do you have a treadmill desk – or are you intrigued by the possibility of having one? Does your office provide them? I’ve noticed that in many offices, there are treadmill desk stations where people can go work, if they choose.

     
  • gretchenrubin 12:00:35 on 2017/12/28 Permalink
    Tags: , Courtney Carver, health, , simplicity   

    “I Will Not Say ‘Yes’ When My Heart Says ‘No.’” 

    Interview: Courtney Carver.

    I love the subject of clutter-clearing. So, of course, I'm intrigued by the work of Courtney Carver -- her site declares: "Are you overwhelmed with clutter and busyness? It's time to create a life with more clarity, ease, and joy." Wonderful.

    Her new book, Soulful Simplicity: How Living with Less Can Lead to So Much More is just hitting the shelves.

    Gretchen: Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?

    Courtney: Sugar! I’m so much happier without it but I love it. When I’m in a sugar rut, I’m moodier. When I quit sugar for long periods of time, I'm much happier. Like you, Gretchen, I'm an Abstainer when it comes to sugary treats:  it's easier for me to have none than one. When I've intentionally quit sugar for a period of time, I don't crave it or think about it that much after the first day or two. I love that feeling of not having to decide how much is too much because when I am eating sugar, I don't want one cookie, or one bite of dessert. I want it all. Why do I go back? Just thinking about it makes me less happy.

    Gretchen: Which habits are most important to you? (for health, for creativity, for productivity, for leisure, etc.)

    Courtney: My morning routine fuels better health, creativity, and productivity. It includes some combination of writing, meditation, reading, yoga and walking. Whether I practice my morning routine for 5 minutes or 3 hours, it always allows me to move through the day with more purpose and focus.

    Gretchen: Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

    Courtney: I created my morning routine through habit stacking, and it has stuck with me for more than 10 years. I started with 5 minutes of yoga. After a week, I stacked 5 minutes of writing. The next week I added 5 minutes of meditation. From there I raised the time of each activity by a minute each week. Once I had a 30-minute routine, I was able to easily swap in new activities or extend the time spent on certain activities.

    Gretchen: Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

    Courtney: At first I thought I was an Upholder but after taking the quiz, I discovered I’m a Questioner.

    Gretchen: Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    Courtney:  In 2006 after months of debilitating vertigo and fatigue I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. After learning how stress can cause MS exacerbations, I decided to quit stress and simplified my entire life. While the changes I made took many years, my decision to prioritize love and health was immediate. I share more about my lightning bolt moment, and the changes MS inspired in my life in my new book, Soulful Simplicity. From changing my diet to becoming debt-free, clutter-free, changing careers and downsizing from a big house to a small apartment, simplicity was at the heart of every change. Living with less has given me the opportunity to create more health and love in my life.

    Gretchen: Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)

    Courtney: I will not say yes when my heart says no.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple habit or activity that consistently makes you happier?

    Courtney: Writing down anything on my mind first thing in the morning makes me happier. It’s my way of clearing mental clutter before starting the day. I don’t share or read what I write so it’s more about the action than what ends up on the page

    Gretchen: What’s something you know now about building healthy habits or happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    Courtney: Consistency is more important than intensity. The all or nothing, weekend warrior approach to incorporating healthy habits usually results in burnout. Showing up regularly, even if it's only for a few minutes at a time contributes to creating long-lasting habits. I'm a big fan of habit stacking. For instance, when I created my morning routine, I started with 5 minutes of yoga. After a week, I added 5 minutes of meditation and 5 minutes of writing. Then, I added a minute a week to each activity. It took me weeks to build up to a 30 minute routine, but the method worked. The slow build resulted in a meaningful morning routine that I've been practicing for more than 1o years.

     
  • gretchenrubin 21:13:37 on 2017/10/27 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , health, Weight Watchers   

    Why, and When, People Succeed Using Weight Watchers. (Especially Obligers) 

    As someone who studies issues related to human nature, happiness, health, and good habits, I've long been intrigued by Weight Watchers -- when and why it works.

    And one thing has struck me with particular force.

    In my book Better Than Before, I identify the 21 strategies we can use to make or break our habits. The Weight Watchers program harnesses many strategies that can help people eat more healthfully: for instance, the Strategies of Monitoring, Scheduling, First Steps, Clarity, Scheduling, Loophole-Spotting, and Safeguards.

    All these strategies are very powerful.

    But there's one aspect of Weight Watchers that explains why, for some people, it works so well -- and also explains why people might find themselves frustrated, by re-gaining the weight after they leave the program. And that's an aspect related to a person's Tendency, and the Strategy of Accountability.

    As a reminder, my Four Tendencies framework divides people into Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels, based on how we respond to outer expectations (like a work deadline) and inner expectations (like a New Year's resolution). Want to take the free, quick quiz to identify your Tendency? It's here. More than one million people have taken the quiz.

    The Obliger Tendency -- the Tendency that includes the largest number of people -- describes people who readily meet outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations. Obligers would say, "Commitments to other people must be met, but commitments to myself? Meh."

    Therefore, to meet an inner expectation, Obligers must have structures of outer accountability. Like...Weight Watchers. While many people find accountability helpful (note, however, that for some Rebels, accountability may be unhelpful), for Obligers, it's crucial. When Obligers get that crucial outer accountability, they can succeed. But if that outer accountability disappears, the expectation will no longer be met.

    Lesson? Obligers must maintain outer accountability. Indefinitely.

    And this explains a lot about the success of Weight Watchers.

    One Obliger wrote:

    I have no doubt that I am an “Obliger.”And since you have made me aware of this fact, it has changed my life in subtle yet meaningful ways. I battle with my weight, and I’ve joined and unjoined Weight Watchers more times than I care to recount. Oftimes, I wonder why I’m there, when I understand the program and could save myself time and money by just applying the knowledge I already have at home. And then I stop going to meetings: I fail miserably on my own and am beyond disappointed.

    Defining myself as an Obliger has changed my approach and expectations. I signed up, yet again, but this time with a different mindset.  I now go to meetings not as much for the information imparted as the sense of community and accountability.  Because that is what I really need.  And instead of hating to admit that I need a community, I am embracing the idea and running with it.

    I joined a livelier, more fun-loving group that I feel a greater commitment to. I laugh a lot and feel empowered to tackle the rest of the week when I leave.  I committed to tracking my progress online daily with other members. The Weight Watchers program hasn’t changed. The way I employ it and make it work for the type of person I am has changed immeasurably. Now, instead of going against my grain, I’m letting the grain be my guide.

    Another Obliger wrote:

    I’ve been trying to shed some weight for years and feel like I’ve tried just about every old (and new) thing. I’d tried Weight Watchers several times, but since learning that I’m an Obliger, I decided to sign up for their coaching option, where you can have personal calls with a coach. I signed up two weeks ago, and it’s been a huge difference from previous attempts. I’m 1000% sure that’s because of the exterior obligation to my coach.

    Of course, Weight Watchers is just one of many kinds of accountability groups that people use. Law school study groups, exercise classes, weekly work status meetings, attendance records, library fines...there are countless ways to create outer accountability.

    I've even created an app, the Better app, where people can discuss issues related to the Four Tendencies, and -- this is key -- can join or launch accountability groups, for accountability to meet whatever aim they want.

    The key thing for Obligers to recognize is that they require these systems of outer accountability, even to meet an inner expectation. It's not that hard to create outer accountability -- once you know that's what you need. And Obligers continue to need that outer accountability. Obligers sometimes tell me that they don't like this aspect of being an Obliger, that they don't like needing outer accountability, or they don't like the fact that they can't "graduate" out of needing it. But in my observation, this is just how it works for Obligers. It's more useful to figure out how to deal with your Tendency, rather than to wish it were different.

    Note that Obligers vary greatly in what kind of accountability works best for them. Some might feel more accountable to a group; some, to an individual coach; some, to knowing that they're going to step on the scale before a meeting. Some Obligers become teachers, leaders, or coaches themselves, because they know that if they're guiding others, they have to set a good example.

    The Four Tendencies framework has other implications for programs like Weight Watchers, for the way other Tendencies would use them.

    For instance, while Obligers need accountability, Questioners and Upholders also often benefit from accountability -- and sometimes, even Rebels benefit. Knowing that someone is watching, monitoring, and noticing what we're doing often reinforces our determination to stick to a good habit. As an Upholder myself, I don't depend on accountability to meet expectations -- but nevertheless when I'm being held accountable, it does make me feel all that much more...accountable.

    However, sometimes accountability can be counter-productive. If accountability isn't working for you, don't use it! There's no right way or wrong way; only the way that works for you.

    For instance, Rebels don't like being told what to do, or being told when and where to show up. For Rebels, it's helpful for a program to emphasize that "This is what you want," "This is what you choose," "This is the kind of person you are," "This will give you more freedom," "This is fun for you, you enjoy it," "These people are helping you to get what you want."

    Examples? "I want to eat more healthfully," "I'm a healthy, active person who respects my body and doesn't load it with lots of processed foods," "I love fresh, delicious, natural foods," "Big food companies can't tell me how eat," "I'm not addicted to sugar," "I choose to be free from cravings," "I enjoy this kind of program," "When I lose weight, I'll feel more comfortable on airplanes and walking around, and that will make me feel freer, and more able to travel."

    As for Questioners, they demand justifications for everything they're expected to do. So to work for Questioners, a program must provide information about why certain things are being encouraged, forbidden, emphasized; why systems are set up the way they're set up; why an authority is worthy of respect, etc. For instance, if someone tells a Questioner, "Take a fifteen-minute walk every morning," this may strike that Questioner as arbitrary. Why fifteen minutes? Why every morning? Why a walk? Questioners need justifications.

    To work for a Questioner, any system -- such as a point system for food -- must be justified. Why does X food have this many points, but Y food has this many points? Questioners would succeed much better when they understand the research, reasoning, and structure of a regimen.

    Questioners also tend to love to monitor and customize. So for them, activities like tracking, keeping food logs, or using a step-counter may be useful, because they enjoy getting that information on themselves. And they also like to customize, so it's useful to tell them, "You might try doing something in this other way, if that works for you." Or, if it's important to do something exactly as suggested, it's important to explain the reason. "Take this medication with food, or else you might get severe nausea."

    Upholders tend to do well in this kind of program. In fact, just about any program, curriculum, device, and so on will work fairly well for Upholders, because meeting outer and inner expectations comes more easily for them.

    The Four Tendencies vary in the number of members. The largest Tendency, for both men and women, is Obliger. It's the one that the greatest number of people belong to, so any program or group should take that fact into account. Next largest is Questioner. Most people are Obligers or Questioners. The smallest Tendency is Rebel, and just slightly larger is Upholder.

    Programs like Weight Watchers can take these differences among the Four Tendencies into account. For example, read here about how Dr. Judson Brewer is tailoring his eating program to take into account the Four Tendencies.

    Have you tried Weight Watchers, or similar programs? I'd be especially interested to hear from Obligers.

    In my book The Four Tendencies, I explore this issue at much greater length, along with related subjects like Obliger-rebellion, why Obliger-rebellion often shows up in health-related matters, why Obligers often pair up with Rebels, why sweethearts don't make good accountability partners, and more. Obligers + accountability is a big subject!

     
  • gretchenrubin 21:01:03 on 2017/10/17 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , health   

    Fighting Halloween Temptation? Tap into the Power of the Four Tendencies. 

    Halloween treats! So colorful, so ubiquitous, so fun, so bite-sized...Halloween a major source of temptation for children and adults alike.

    As I know from writing Better Than Before, my book about habit change, eating healthfully is one of the most popular habits that people try to cultivate -- and Halloween is a challenging time to stick to good eating habits.

    In Better Than Before, I suggest many ways we can resist the temptation of mini-candy-bars, bags of candy-corn, beautifully decorated cupcakes and cookies, and so on. In particular, it's useful to harness the strength (and buttress the weakness) of our Tendency.

    As a side note, for my whole life, I had a tremendous sweet tooth. I couldn't resist candy, cookies, ice cream, anything sweet. It was such a relief when I figured out that I'm an "Abstainer," who finds it far easier to avoid sweets altogether instead of trying to eat in moderation. So now I eat no Halloween candy, ever. That's what works for me! If you want to read more about that, I discuss it here.

    To beat Halloween candy, I tapped into my Abstainer side. But another great tool is to think about your Tendency.

    Don't know your Tendency -- whether you're an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel? Take the quiz here (more than a million people have taken the quiz!).

    Once you know your Tendency, consider these strategies -- and of course, a strategy suggested for a different Tendency might work well for you, too. Use anything that works!

    Harness Your Tendency

    Obliger: Obligers respond to outer accountability. That's the key for Obligers. So take steps to give yourself outer accountability for not eating Halloween candy.

    • Announce, "I'm not going to eat any Halloween candy this year" in front of everyone. (This strategy works well for my sister Elizabeth, who is an Obliger.)
    • If you dip into your kids' candy stash while they're at school (something I used to do often, until I quit sugar), ask your children to catalog all their candy, and to keep track of how much they have. My daughters, at least, loved to count and sort their candy, so this would've been a fun task for them. Then your children will know if you've been sneaking mini-Snickers when they're not around.
    • Think about your future self. Now-Gretchen wants to eat that cupcake, but Future-Gretchen will be disappointed that she ate so many sweets. Resist now, because you're accountable to your future-self.
    • Consider your duty to be a role model of healthy eating for your children, your sweetheart, your co-workers.
    • Join an Accountability Group -- you can easily do join a group on my app, the Better app.

    Questioner: Questioners respond to justifications. They tend to love to track and monitor. They benefit from clarity.

    • Keep count of exactly how many Halloween treats you've eaten. One easy way: keep the wrappers in a pile in front of you.
    • Convert Halloween candy into ordinary candy. If you wouldn't go into a store, buy two Kit-Kats, and eat them, why would you eat six mini-Kit-Kats?
    • Reflect on all the reasons you have for wanting to eat more healthfully: your energy, your weight, wanting to avoid stimulating cravings, etc. Skipping the treats makes sense to you.
    • Focus on efficiency. It's not efficient to try to eat healthfully for so many days, and then to go into a long period where you're not eating the way that you know is best for you.

    Rebel: Rebels respond to choice, freedom, and identity. Focus on these aspects by reminding yourself:

    • "I'm not addicted to sugar. I can take it or leave it."
    • "I respect my body, I choose to eat healthy, fresh foods. This processed candy and this fancy packaging can't control me, it can't tempt me to eat it."
    • "My kids think I can't resist indulging. Oh yeah? Watch me!"

    Upholder: Upholders respond to outer and inner expectations. For them, it's helpful to articulate clearly the nature of those expectations.

    • What is the right amount of Halloween treats for you?
    • When and where will you indulge in those Halloween treats?
    • Remind yourself of how great it feels to stick to expectations.

    Habit Strategies

    To be sure, it's tough to fight the lure of Halloween. Other strategies you might consider, in addition to the power of your Tendency:

    • the Strategy of Inconvenience: make it very tough to get to that Halloween candy, say, put it in a bag, tightly close the bag, put the bag in a plastic container with a tight seal, and place the container on a high shelf.
    • the Strategy of Loophole-Spotting: stay alert for loopholes you might invoke, such as the Lack of Control loophole ("With all this candy in the office, who can resist?"); the Planning to Fail loophole ("I bought my three big bags of candy for the neighborhood kids two weeks before Halloween, and put the candy in the bowls for decoration, and now I keep sneaking candy throughout the day"); the Concern for Others loophole ("I'm at your Halloween party, and it will hurt your feelings if I don't eat some of your pumpkin cookies"); the Tomorrow Loophole ("It doesn't matter what I eat today, because starting tomorrow, I'm going to eat so healthfully.")
    • the Strategy of Safeguards: think of possible temptations, so you can make if-then plans to withstand them. "If the office kitchen is full of Halloween treats, I'll stay out of there as much as possible." "If I go to a Halloween party, I'll stand very far from dessert-laden table." "I've gone fifteen days without sugar, I don't want to break the chain."
    • the Strategy of Abstaining: Personally, this is what works for me -- but the Strategy of Abstaining doesn't work for everyone. Figure out if, in this context, you're an Abstainer or a Moderator. I'm a moderator for wine, for instance, but an Abstainer for sweets.

    Do you find Halloween a time of temptation, or can you enjoy it healthfully? If you find it difficult to resist the lure of all those delightful treats, what helps you stick to your healthy habits?

     
  • gretchenrubin 09:00:00 on 2017/10/13 Permalink
    Tags: , , , health   

    Does Obliger-Rebellion Ever Take the Form of Physical Symptoms? 

    A thoughtful reader asked an interesting question on Twitter: "Does Obliger-rebellion ever manifest as physical symptoms with no apparent cause?"

    I believe that it absolutely might do so.

    First -- what is Obliger-rebellion?

    Obliger-rebellion occurs when Obligers meet, meet, meet, meet expectations, and then suddenly -- they snap. They say, "This, I will not do!" and they refuse to meet an expectation. This refusal can be small and symbolic (refusing to answer someone's emails or being deliberately late for work), or it can be huge and fateful (ending a twenty-year friendship, quitting a job, getting a divorce).

    It took me a long time to understand something very important: though it can have destructive effects, Obliger-rebellion is meant to be a constructive phenomenon -- it's the emergency parachute that allows an Obliger to escape from a situation where expectations are too high. 

    When Obligers feel exploited, over-taxed, neglected, ignored, or taken advantage of, Obliger-rebellion eventually kicks in to give them an exit. They refuse to do what's asked of them.

    Often, Obliger-rebellion is aimed at the self. This can look like self-sabotage (refusing to prepare for an interview or to complete schoolwork). Perhaps this happens when an Obliger doesn't feel safe directing the rebellion outward, so instead, turns it inward.

    I've noticed that this kind of self-directed Obliger-rebellion seems particularly common in the area of healthAn Obliger refuses to exercise, even though exercise would help manage his back pain. An Obliger refuses to cut back on sugar, even though her diabetes is out of control.

    The consequences fall directly on the Obliger, so this is a "safe" way to rebel (as compared to Obliger-rebellion at work, say, which might have significant consequences involving other people). And no one can really interfere because health behaviors are within our sole control.

    It makes sense that Obliger-rebellion might also take the form of unexplained physical symptoms. That frustration and resentment must have an outlet; it must somehow work to relieve the pressure on the Obliger. Headaches, backaches, gut pain, lassitude...these might be ways for Obliger-rebellion to help the Obliger, by winning attention, relieving pressure, making others take notice of the work that's shouldered by the Obliger, earning a respite from burdens. And these symptoms involve only the Obligers themselves.

    Many Obligers have told me that they do believe that they've experienced Obliger-rebellion in the form of physical symptoms.

    What do you think? Does this ring true? I've love to hear your insights, examples, and observations. 

     
  • gretchenrubin 16:53:06 on 2017/10/10 Permalink
    Tags: , , health   

    A Visit to the Hospital Remind Me of How Happy I Am to Be Healthy. 

    Ancient philosophers and contemporary scientists agree: gratitude is a key ingredient to a happy life.

    Research shows that people who cultivate gratitude get a boost in happiness and optimism, feel more connected to other people, are better-liked and have more friends, and are more likely to help others. They even sleep better and have fewer headaches.

    Nevertheless, I find it…challenging to cultivate a grateful frame of mind.

    I find it all too easy to fail to appreciate all the things I feel grateful for—from pervasive, basic things like electricity and elevators, to  personal aspects of my life such as the fact that I get to collaborate with my sister on our podcast, to little passing joys, like a funny thing my dog did. I get preoccupied with petty grievances and minor annoyances, and forget just how much happiness I already have.

    One thing I forget to be grateful for? My health. For many of us, health -- like money -- contributes to happiness mostly in the negative; the lack of it brings much more unhappiness than possessing it brings happiness. It’s very easy to take money or health for granted -- until it's gone.

    Yesterday my husband had surgery on his knee. Minor surgery, something many people have done, not risky, a very ordinary procedure, didn't take long. But boy, the experience of setting foot in a hospital made me fervently, passionately, explosively grateful for my health.

    Of course, I was also grateful for the good hospital, the insurance, the doctors and nurses, the relief from pain that my husband got, his uncomplicated recovery. So I was also very grateful for all that, too.

    But most of all, I was reminded that I should never to take good health for granted -- my health, or anyone else's. To be able to take a deep breath, to hear, to see, to walk, to eat, to be free from pain...it's so precious.

    Another positive consequence of gratitude? When we're grateful, we tend to want to make sure that other people share in whatever we're feeling we're feeling grateful for. If I'm feeling grateful for the beauty of Central Park, it makes me think about how much I want other people also to be able to experience the beauty of a park.

    Feeling grateful often spurs us to turn outward, to think about the situations of others. The trip to the hospital reminded me of the importance of health -- for me, and for everyone. It made me think about insurance, medical care, availability (and of course habits, just about everything makes me think about habits) and what steps I can take in my own life, to help others have these building blocks of good health.

    In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous story, "The Adventure of Silver Blaze," (which includes the now well-known phrase "the curious incident of the dog in the night-time") Sherlock Holmes perceived a clue in the fact that a dog didn’t bark. I find it hard to be grateful for the problems that aren't there. Today is a day that I don't make a visit to the hospital -- a happy day.

    I'm also reminded of a hilarious scene from one of my favorite movies, The Princess Bride. I've watched this scene a hundred times, and it makes me laugh every time. "If you haven't got your health, you haven't got anything." It's a cliche, because it's true.

    A good gratitude reminder.

    Do you find it hard to remember to be grateful? Do you have any strategies to help prompt gratitude? People use gratitude journals, screen-saver reminders, photographs, and giving thanks before meals...what else? I write about my own gratitude exercise in The Happiness Project.

     
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