7 Tips to Making Exercise a Habit

If you’re like most beginner exercisers, you start off doing too much too soon and either get sidelined by an injury or overwhelmed by the amount of time and energy involved. What’s going to make this time different? Here are seven tips that will get—and keep—you in the game long after the strains of Auld Lang Syne have faded. Visualize your active self. Create an activity “vision” that will compel you forward each day. What do you realistically see yourself doing in this image you hold in your mind? Who are you with? How do you feel? If the exerciser you want to be rides a bike and plans regular outdoor family adventures, then a sports conditioning class at your local gym won’t work. Start out with the very activities that make your heart sing and your hips move. Resource others. For the most part, physical activity is a solo journey, right? Wrong! Asking for support is one of the most neglected resources in making behavior changes. We wouldn’t get anywhere in life without the help of others—whether that be landing your next job or your role as a new parent. Be specific in the requests you make, such as asking your spouse to baby sit the kids while you go to zumba class on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Start small to go big. The rule of progression for building an exercise habit is Frequency—Duration—Intensity. When you are first starting out, aim to be active on a regular daily basis (Frequency), even if this is just for 5 or 10 minutes a day. Once you’ve mastered that, start tacking on more total time that you’re at your chosen activity (Duration). Only after you’re able to effortlessly exercise 30 minutes at a time should you start training harder (Intensity). The Biggest Loser(R) would have you believe that you should start with boot camp right out of the gate. Not so! Train like Popeye. Back when I wrote for Prevention magazine, I interviewed a research expert about the merits of aerobic exercise versus strength training for beginners. “If you only have time to do one, which should you choose?” I asked. What do you think he said? What would you say? If you see exercise as a lot of huffing and puffing, you might think aerobics should be the answer. But my expert surprisingly chose strength—for one very specific reason. You notice...
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5 Mental Tricks to Transform Stressful Moments

Stress—at least the kind most often felt at work or home—starts in the mind. That’s why it’s important to combat it by becoming aware of how and when it’s likely to build, learning to shift your perspective, and taking quick and effortless action. Any one of these tips would be well worth practicing for a few weeks, a few months, or even all year long until they become your go-to habit in times of stress. 1. Create your anchor. Perhaps it’s a friend, an affirmation, or a quiet little patch of green outside. Cultivate a habit of going again and again to whatever gives you instant calm and shifts your perspective. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The sky is the daily bread of the eyes.” Look up at the sky and notice how quickly your worries fade into the background when observing the expansive space of this world. 2. Take a neutral stance. Neuroscientists are now starting to demonstrate that negative thinking slows judgment and increases impulsivity, making it more likely for you to react with a smart retort or scavenge for sweets—and further compound your problems. The first step is to become aware of your thoughts—to “listen to your own listening.” Journaling is one tool. Next, move from negative to neutral thinking (or even positive thinking, if you can make that stretch.) i.e. Instead of saying, “I don’t like this assignment, but there’s nothing I can do about it,” say “I’ll feel accomplished when this assignment is done” or even “I could probably make this assignment more engaging if I asked for input from my co-workers.” 3. Express gratitude. Another way to become aware of how you may be generating additional stress through your negative thinking is to notice the words you use. Are you complaining more about your situation, or criticizing even loved ones? Gratitude for your life and appreciation of others are some of the best ways to reverse this trend. In the moment, list 10 things for which you are grateful, or compliment someone. 4. Connect with others. The etymology of the word “anxious” is “choke,” as if you are choking yourself with worry. The best remedy? Focus your attention outward, rather than inward. Relationships boost your emotional satisfaction and sense of security. So take time to talk your stressors over with someone and look for extra opportunities to physically connect. Hugging, in particular, can help...
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How to Compromise Your Way to a Healthy Lifestyle

I’m convinced that nothing matters as much as your health and experience of well-being. So much of the rest of life hinges on it. Yet, with school well underway and the holidays on the horizon, it’s only a matter of time before you’re tempted to blow off your commitments. Don’t! Those who are most successful at achieving and maintaining a healthy lifestyle do so imperfectly and without sacrificing it as a priority. Health isn’t about going full force 24/7, and it’s also not about relinquishing your power. That all-or-nothing thinking won’t get you far. Instead, on your busiest days: compromise with yourself. You already do it with your kids as a way to instill and reward good habits. (i.e. You might say, “You can watch your favorite show after you do your homework.”) So now, apply that same brilliant thinking to yourself. Examples of self-compromises: “I’m too busy to cook. But instead of grabbing chips and a burrito at Chipotle, I’ll stop by the salad bar at Whole Foods.” “I’m too tired to do my full workout, so I’ll do 5 minutes of core work and 10 minutes of yoga instead.” Believe me, these choices will add up to big benefits. Keeping the ability to compromise at the forefront of your mind will serve as an ongoing reminder that you (and your wellness) are worth it. What are healthy self-compromises that YOU have put into play? Comment...
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What to Do When Your Diet Fails

The statistics are grim. Eight out of 10 dieters regain their lost weight within two years, and two-thirds put on even more weight. Note: The operative word here is “diet.” I have personally and professionally been in the non-diet camp for years, fighting my own war against the diet industry, and asking—sometimes pleading—with women to call a truce with themselves. Yes, carrying excess weight is physically unhealthy and emotionally fretful. Yet when you’re one day, one week, or one month into a diet, hanging on by your fingernails and having fantasies of nachos, French fries, chocolate chip cookies, and ice cream—all in one sitting—you know it too: Diets aren’t the answer. So what is? To start: Changing your beliefs about your body and your life. There’s a reason why you eat the way you do. Just flipping the switch and pretending that you like another way of eating without examining your motives is bound to fail. That examination likely may require a therapist, coach, or support group. Next, you need to learn to eat anew. Intuitive eating experts recommend returning to what I consider a childlike (meaning perfectly natural) way of eating: Eat only (or nearly only) when you are hungry, eat what your body (not your mind!) craves, and eat until you are satisfied (not stuffed.) Research shows children up to a certain age innately know what and how much their bodies need—before they get distracted by life and run off with their friends to play again—so it’s a good bet that getting back in touch with, and responding to, your natural hunger cues will lead to your more natural weight. Mindfulness instructors will add that a key component of becoming a savvy eater is paying attention to your food: engaging all your senses, eating slowly and chewing thoroughly, putting your fork down between bites to savor each mouthful. “Isn’t this just swapping one rule system for another?” you might ask. No, I don’t think so. It’s still important to have structure, but it needs to be flexible, freeing, innately natural structure. Not regimented or forced structure that has you going from an “all” to “nothing” mentality in .5 seconds. It’s the difference between sitting down to a nutritionally balanced meal using the plate model as an example versus counting calories. Finally, it’s important to customize any plan of action. The following coaching questions will help: What’s your...
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End Procrastination in 5 Minutes

Quick! What have you been procrastinating today, perhaps even right now? A work report or phone call? Laundry or tidying the house? A family scrapbook you nearly-but-not-quite finished? What about something bigger, such as finding a more fulfilling career or releasing excess weight? There’s a phrase I’ve learned in coaching: “What you resist, persists.” Boy is that true. Consequences You momentarily finagle your way out of an uncomfortable task or commitment, but what remains? When you don’t uphold a promise to yourself, it feels like a breach to your integrity, so at best you’re left with guilt (not to mention the item is still undone.) Procrastination can also cause shame, further inaction, and even depression, such as that experienced by someone who unexpectedly loses his job and then spends his days watching TV instead of submitting applications. It causes a state of stuck-ness. (If you started something and then stopped it indefinitely, you, my friend, are living in the past—and likely re-living what you haven’t completed with many moments of worry.) It’s not surprising if several areas of your life feel similarly stymied. It’s a form of  self-sabotage, a nagging to your mental energy that you are tolerating. (Toleration is Procrastination’s cousin. Possibly more insidious because often whatever you are tolerating—from a broken printer to a broken relationship—hasn’t yet occurred to you to fix.) Finally, procrastination is feedback from the universe that there is a deeper intention at play. i.e. You get to play the victim when work or house chores pile up—and then the superhero when you finally follow through. Such insidious payoffs can spawn further cycles of procrastination. 5-Minute Fixes Stop the madness! Here’s how: 1. List 10 things you are procrastinating or tolerating, prioritize them, and then list specific actions you will take to complete or resolve them with a deadline for each. Make a weekly plan to act. 2. Ask for feedback from someone as to the impact your behavior has on him/her. (This can be quite eye-opening and convicting.) 3. Ask yourself what belief you are holding onto or what benefit you are getting from continuing to procrastinate. Is it worth the prices you are paying? Action releases newness into your future at the same time it boosts your self-efficacy. So what do tying up loose ends have to do with your health journey? It comes back to being an integrity issue. The more...
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The Power of Asking for Help

I just finished a coaching session which testifies again to the power of resource, and specifically, to resourcing others. My client Megan* had such a busy work week running the retail store she owns that she neglected exercise and ate mindlessly. She was so frustrated with herself that her diaphragm felt constricted and her hands were jittery, as if she had too much caffeine. The metaphor we came up with was that of a frayed live wire, dangerously close to sparking its shock to others. Megan was trying to do it all herself, and therefore had let her naturally extroverted energy turn in on itself. What was needed was not to squelch the energy, but rather to neutralize its frenzy while better utilizing its natural flow.   Megan realized that her store manager Alana* was the perfect person to not only help manage the responsibilities Megan was taking on as all her own, Alana also had a calm and relaxed nature that Megan absorbed whenever she sat for meetings with her. What a perfect resource! She committed to meeting with her right away. Seeking out and accessing resource in the form of others in your life is another one of the most powerful transformation coaching distinctions I can share with you. Whenever you are stuck, blowing off your commitments, or confused by your own actions, stop and consider what resource—what provision—in the universe you could take advantage of. Examples of resource: Talking with a friend to shift your perspective (mental energy) Music or a piece of inspiring art to shift your mood (emotional energy) Exercise or deep breathing to shift your bodily sensations (physical energy) Prayer, meditation, or a gratitude list to shift your focus on what’s important (spiritual energy) You can access any of the above resources virtually anytime you need to. But there’s something special about reaching out to others, especially your own inner circle. It requires your posturing yourself in humility and vulnerability and making a request for support. The thing is: We cannot do anything in life—from landing a job to getting in shape to being a loving parent or spouse—without the help of others. God shows up the most when we’re connecting with others (“where two or three are gathered…” Matt 18:20.) Even weight loss, which is often incorrectly assumed to be a solo task, requires: negotiation with your family as to what you’ll have...
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