Category Archives: Tips and Tricks

Resolution Roadblocks

It’s almost February, you’re not sure how the time flew by so quickly, and your “I’ll start tomorrow” mentality has led to a list of 2015 resolutions that never came to be. Chances are, you fell prey to one of the following four mistakes we often make when trying to bring about change in our lives. Here, we will help you to identify which pitfall(s) you need to watch out for next time – and provide suggestions for how to get back on track… in time for a fresh start in February!

  1. You overreached.

The Roadblock: So losing 5 pounds a week and getting an extra 2 hours of sleep a night didn’t pan out? No surprise there! Setting high goals is great; setting unrealistic or, worse, unhealthy goals is not. While you might wish for a smaller waistline by morning, losing more than 1-2 pounds per week is considered unhealthy by most experts. And changing up a regular routine often takes time. You need to acclimate to change, and do it in a way that is doable, not drastic.

The Alternate Route: If you’re not sure of what would be a realistic goal, take some time to do research (Google is your friend), ask an expert (a doctor would be best for weight loss or sleep concerns), or write in and ask us – we’ll do our best to help you craft a realistic and healthy plan for personal and professional change. The key is to focus on incremental steps and small changes. For the goals above, you could set a healthier plan to include moderate exercise and smaller, but still healthy, portions, or you could try going to bed 15 minutes earlier for Week 1, another 15 minutes earlier for Week 2, and continue on from there.

Recalibrate: Don’t scrap your plans just because you aimed too high. Take a look at your overall goal and figure out one small behavioral change that you can make to see results. Don’t try to achieve 100% out of the gate; think 5% change and add more from there.

Climbing a mountain takes planning - and it can't be done in one step. Commit to small steps, focus on incremental changes, and soon, you'll be at the top.
Climbing a mountain takes planning – and it can’t be done in one step. Commit to small steps, focus on incremental changes, and soon, you’ll be at the top.
  1. You underplanned.

The Roadblock: Your plan to eat nine servings of vegetables a day was great… but by the third time you tried to convince yourself that the two pieces of lettuce on your burger counted as two servings, you realized you weren’t quite meeting your goal. Often, this type of roadblock is the result of underplanning, another enemy of change. If change was easy, you’d probably already be doing the things you want! In this example, you would need to plan meals in advance to be sure that you are getting enough veggies. Living life as you have been probably won’t put you in contact with more carrots on a daily basis.

The Alternate Route: Change isn’t something you can wish for and forget about. It requires planning and, depending on the goal, will likely require regular check-ins. We suggest setting aside 10 minutes each week (or, if necessary, a few minutes each day) to check in on your progress and plan ahead. The vegetable problem above might have been solved if the goal-setter spent time every Sunday night planning and preparing meals and snacks for the week. An hour spent chopping up and bagging raw veggies, prepping vegetables to use in recipes throughout the week, or cooking and freezing easy-to-reheat meals would help our health-focused friend to reach their vegetable goal.

Recalibrate: Stay positive, and assess your situation: how could some easy advanced planning help you to work toward your goals this week? Do you need to schedule time to prepare something, or rearrange obligations to fit it in? How often do you need to check in on your progress? Will once a week do, or should you take a moment every morning or evening? (Hint: to start, we recommend a daily check-in!) Consistency is the key to lasting change. Get used to a new habit by making it a part of your regular routine and soon, it will be second nature.

Deciding you want to eat more vegetables each day won't magically lead you to encounter carrots on a daily basis. Planning is necessary!
Deciding you want to eat more vegetables each day won’t magically lead you to encounter carrots on a daily basis. Planning is necessary!

 

  1. You did it alone.

The Roadblock: I have a lot of friends who don’t like to share their resolutions. They’ll tell me, “I have them, but I don’t want to announce them. You know, in case I fail.” These are often the people who, a few weeks into January, declare that resolutions are silly and don’t work.

The Alternate Route: Not meeting a goal shouldn’t come as a surprise to people who eschew support. While it’s certainly not impossible to go it alone, people are much more likely to stick with a goal if they have people helping them. Wouldn’t it be easier to meditate every day if your partner did it with you in the morning? And “announcing” a goal – even to just a few key people – has been shown to help people stick to their plan. I like to think of this as a Center Stage effect. If you know people are watching, you are less likely to slack off. I use the Center Stage effect when running. If I stay on a relatively busy road where I am likely to run into people, I am less inclined to stop running or take a break; I power through. Put me on a side street, however, and I’m working stretches into my routine every ¼ mile!

Recalibrate: Pick one goal, make sure you check above to ensure that it is realistic, healthy, and that you have planned properly to ensure success – and then enlist the help of a few friends. The people who care about you also care that you reach your goals and achieve the success you desire. Let them help you!

 

Don't keep your goals a secret! Social support will help you to achieve your goals! Open up those files and put your friends on the case!
Don’t keep your goals a secret! Social support will help you to achieve your goals! Open up those files and put your friends on the case!
  1. You lacked confidence.

The Roadblock: If you don’t start, you can’t fail, right? Often, fear of failure can stop us in our tracks. If we lack confidence that we can bring about the change we desire, it can be enough to derail us completely. The good news is that if you’ve set incremental, realistic goals, have planned accordingly, and have a friend (or three) who you can count on to cheer you on, you now just need to tackle what might be the biggest threat to your confidence: YOU!

The Alternate Route: Concerned that you can’t do it? Now is the time to play a little game… with yourself. Look back on other times that you have brought about positive change in your life, big or small. Did you raise your GPA when you weren’t sure you could? Did you lower your cholesterol to avoid taking medication? Did you sign up for a sports league when you were new in town? Have you ever changed a routine, improved a situation, or lessened a stress in your life? Great! Then you are more than capable of bringing about other positive changes, including the seemingly insurmountable ones that pop into your head when you hear the words “resolution.” And don’t forget that focusing on incremental change – taking small steps and celebrating each success – will also give you the confidence boost you need to keep going!

Truth.
Truth.

Recalibrate: By taking the steps outlined in Roadblocks 1, 2, and 3, you can likely eliminate a lot of things that might have been causing you stress. And by focusing on times that you did achieve your goals, you can bolster your confidence further. Now, it’s up to you! You’re the only one who can bring about this change. Consider January as a practice run to work out the kinks. Now focus on getting started in the coming month. Just imagine how great you’ll feel when you’re well on your way come the end of February. Good luck!

hello february

Food for (Positive) Thought: Breakfast out of Bed

I am not a morning person. In fact, I am so not a morning person that, if I had my druthers, I’d sleep through the whole thing and only wake up once the clock hit 12:00PM. The problem with not being a morning person, however, is that the world keeps turning, even if I stay under the covers.

For this reason, I am teaching myself to not only wake up earlier, but to eat breakfast, as well. As we all know by now, breakfast jumpstarts our bodies,helps our metabolism get going for the day, and provides us with energy to make it through the morning.

It took me awhile, but I’ve found a few good A.M. dining options that are easy to make and I thought I’d share them with you. If a bleary-eyed, morning-hater like me can make them with enough time to still hit the snooze button once (okay, thrice), so can you.

  •  Scooped-out Bagel with Light Cream Cheese, Sliced Tomato, and a Chiffonade of Basil
    • Sounds labor-intensive and sorta fancy; is really easy and… sorta fancy. How could you not feel like getting the day going with those lovely little ribbons of fresh basil!? Chiffonade is not just for the evening, my friends.

IMG_6381

  • Frozen Waffle with Peanut Butter
    • I like Van’s organic waffles – and Skippy (non organic) peanut butter. I realize that as a regular Whole Foods shopper I should probably have organic, but I just can’t take stirring that oil around the jar. Especially so early in the day.
    • Fruit on Hand?: Add some sliced banana or some berries
    • Note for those on-the-go: this is a good portable breakfast, too. I take it along while I walk my dog.

vansskippy

  • Oatmeal with dried cranberries and brown sugar
    • If you want to be lazy: make a big batch and reheat it for breakfast the next two mornings. Just stir in a little milk before microwaving.
    • If you want to be indulgent: stir in half and half, not milk.
  •  Protein Smoothie
    • I usually wait to have this until after I workout, but sometimes I split it in half, and have some before and some after. I’m crazy like that. (If you use a Contigo metal coffee cup, your protein shake will stay frozen through your whole workout. Just make the shake before you head to the gym.)
    • If you make one for me: I like ½ a banana, chocolate protein powder, peanut butter, ice, and some milk (as you can see from the picture below).
    • If you make one for you: try out some of these delicious-looking options: http://www.prevention.com/food/healthy-recipes/20-super-healthy-smoothie. Let me know which one you like best!

IMG_6382

So, dear readers: Are you morning people? What do you like to eat for your first meal of the day?

Clippings: This Week’s Articles of Interest (Week of 11/10)

PIN-terest: I love this article on a Baltimore hairdresser, Janet Stevens… who spends her evenings studying and replicating ancient hairstyles… and disproving long-held assumptions from archaeological scholars on how Greek and Roman women styled their hair. It’s amazing what can happen when people combine their skills and passions. As Ms. Stevens, says, “Whatever you’re most passionate about when you’re five is what you should do for the rest of your life.”  http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887324900204578286272195339456?mg=reno64-wsj&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle%2FSB10001424127887324900204578286272195339456.html

golis

What we (should) talk about when we talk about Buzzfeed: Interesting thoughts on the future of Buzzfeed and the power of FacebookWorld from good friend and brilliant media expert, Andrew Golis. https://medium.com/@agolis/this-is-what-we-should-fight-about-when-we-fight-about-buzzfeed-93cc6538657c

Do something today that could make this list: While we’re on the subject of Buzzfeed and their C circle (see above article), here is a list of photos to brighten your day.  http://www.buzzfeed.com/daves4/see-the-world-differently#11fdyj9

nyt cooking

Dinner and a (cooking guide) movie: I’ve always loved Mark Bittman’s cooking videos, and I’m happy to find that I also enjoy Melissa Clark’s videos, as well. The NYT recipe pages are quickly becoming my go-to how-to guides and Clark’s mini-lessons are simple, short, and amusing. My brother sent this recipe along to me (a not-so-subtle request for his next visit?): http://www.nytimes.com/video/dining/100000003105258/pasta-with-caramelized-lemons.html?WT.mc_id=D-NYT-MKTG-MOD-71835-10-04-HD&WT.mc_ev=click&WT.mc_c= – and I’m planning to use this ice cream how-to this weekend: http://www.nytimes.com/video/dining/100000002967947/ice-cream-basics.html?playlistId=100000001606605

fredrickson book cover

How you doin’?: Visit Barbara Fredrickson’s website to take her Positive Self Test. The quick online test looks at your strongest emotions from the past 24 hours to provide a snapshot of your positive : negative ratio. If you sign up through the site, you can also track your results over time. Fredrickson has found that a 3:1 ratio is needed for one to truly flourish. Not seeing the results you want? Look for assistance (a friend, family member, counselor, or trusted person) and take steps to improve your happiness and well-being! For suggestions, keep reading our page! http://www.positivityratio.com/single.php

Ollie, Dog Genius: Or How to Make Your Dog Smarter

Ollie GM!
Ollie GM!

Recently, we adopted little Ollie from a rescue organization. Ollie is adorable and mischievous. He has limitless energy and is as curious as a little pup can be. Given his propensity to constantly stay next to me, I recently wondered if we should have named him Shadow instead. In truth, I did more than wonder; I asked him. Out loud. It went like this: just after walking into the kitchen and turning around, surprised to find that a previously sleeping Ollie was now sitting next to my left ankle, I mused aloud. “Ollie! What are you doing here, sleepy boy? Should we have named you Shadow!?” He looked at me. We started walking into the living room. My phone rang. He cocked his head to the side, unsure of this new sound. “That’s my phone ringing. It’s okay,” I told him, as I sat down at the coffee table. He laid down next to me and fell asleep.

IMG_6527
Ollie GM, super-listener

This is my new M.O. – constant narration. I find myself narrating all of my actions. In part, I do this because I don’t see Ollie as “just a dog,” in the way that some people view dogs as being as important a part of the room as the coffee table itself. They wouldn’t narrate their afternoon to a table, of course, so they don’t narrate it to their dog. Unfortunately, for both these people and their dogs, they are doing little to help their pups become smarter.

According to research from Stan Coren, “you improve the IQ of your dog, the same way you improve the IQ of your kids. And that is, you talk to them all the time. And you give them as many different experiences as you can. You see, the more the dog has to think about, the more the dog has to do, the brighter the dog becomes.” Coren goes on to explain that while you can’t change the natural level of intelligence of your pup, their “native smarts,” you can change their crystallized intelligence (the sum of what they have learned) by simply teaching them more things. Even more interesting is his disclosure that the more dogs learn, the more they want to – and can – learn.

Ollie has a particular interest in American history... and things that move or make loud sounds...
Ollie has a particular interest in American history… and things that move or make loud sounds…

Essentially, we can prime dogs to learn more easily, teach them more things, and ultimately improve their overall intelligence, simply by exposing them to new situations and talking to them about anything and everything. People often say that they talk to their dogs because the dogs listen – and they don’t talk back. But just because they don’t talk back doesn’t mean that they do not understand.

While I enjoyed reading about the research on improving canine IQ, it did not come as a surprise. The first day that Ollie came to live with us, my Mom told me on the phone that I was to “talk to him, all the time, and never stop.” So began my active narration of every day life. “Good morning, my Ollie!” “Let’s walk to the elevator.” “Mommy is making breakfast for Ollie!” “Please do not eat squirrels.” I talk to Ollie so much that I recently told my fiancé that I would only be half-surprised if one day, he just answered me back. “Well,” I can imagine him saying, “if you’re making lunch for yourself, can you at least toss me a treat?”

While it is unlikely that Ollie will ever burst out in conversation (or in song, but how remarkable that would be!), I take comfort knowing that my all-day play-by-play is helping him to learn and become more intelligent. People are surprised that he knows so much already, and I know it is only getting better. After all, the average dog is as intelligent as a two-year-old child and has a vocabulary of 165 – 250 words, and in my unbiased opinion, Ollie is way beyond average.

Ollie seems to think toddlers are his best puppy friends
Ollie seems to think toddlers are his best puppy friends

If you’re looking to increase the intelligence of your pup, try describing the process of making them dinner. If you put them in the crate before heading out for the night, tell them that they are a very good pup, that you love them, and that you will be back very soon. Talk – a lot – and help expose your little pooch to as much as possible, socially and verbally.

As I always say, there are no dumb dogs, only silent owners. Woof.

Being so smart is exhausting...
Being so smart is exhausting…

Tips for a Positive Start to the Week

Mondays are tough. We often have an earlier start to the day than we did during the two days before, and we often head off to work first thing – and we often aren’t very happy about any of it. Here are a few things to try that might make Mondays more bearable, if not actually enjoyable.

Gratitude Journals

Rather than grumbling about our early rising or activities for the day, try listing your gratitudes (keeping your gratitude journal) first thing. I am constantly recommending that people keep a gratitude journal, and my general advice is to make the list before bed. But the challenge that Monday presents to most people lends itself well to gratitude journals.

Unsure of how to come up with gratitudes first thing in the morning, before – you might say – anything has even happened? Well, how about these: Did you wake up from an alarm that you set? Congratulations! I used to work with children in need who would ask how they were supposed to get to school on time when their family had no alarm clock (plug-in or via phone) to rouse them from sleep. You have one? Fantastic! Happy day! Did you get up, stumble to the bathroom, and turn on hot, clean water for a shower? Get grateful; 780 million people lack access to clean water for drinking or cooking, never mind taking a long hot shower to start the day. (In case your Monday math skills are a bit fuzzy, 780 milion is 2 1/2 times the US population.) But lucky you! You got up and had a shower. Terrific day! Did your kids’ bus come late, leaving you waiting outside, checking your watch, and wondering if you would make it in on time? Maybe. But did you also get another precious few moments to see your children, a rare chance to talk with them for a bit longer in the morning? Yes? Well, look at that! Three gratitudes and we haven’t even addressed the fact that you likely had food to eat, coffee to drink, clean clothes to put on, and and job to go to in the first place. If you’re employed, even if you would prefer to be employed elsewhere, that’s something to be grateful for. We can always change our career path (more on that later), and we can always change our mindset (more on that later, too.) Changing our mindset about things – like how we view extra moments with the ones we love or how we view Monday mornings – can make a world of difference to our happiness.

Went Wells

And if gratitude journals aren’t your thing? Research shows that keeping a list of What Went Well works, too (Seligman, 2011). And yes – this can be done shortly after waking, or on your way to work. Did your alarm go off? Great! Better than that time the power went out and you slept through a meeting. Did you actually get to bed on time last night? Hooray! Nice way to kick off the week. Keeping track of what doesn’t suck, what doesn’t let us down, can be very effective, especially when we spend a lot of our time focusing on what didn’t work out. Start the week off with a bang by focusing on the better stuff.

Fresh Air

As we close out summer and look forward to changing leaves, cozy sweaters, and pumpkin spice mania, we must also accept that evenings come sooner and days grow shorter. Try getting outside every morning, especially while the weather still permits a 10 minute walk sans parka! Take some deep breaths, close your eyes and listen to the sounds around you (even city sounds are more interesting if you close your eyes and pay attention), and enjoy a few moments of fresh air. Several years ago, I was living in a lovely apartment building with the luxury of an attached, indoor parking garage. Each morning, I would get into my car, drive to work, park underneath my building, and take the elevator to my office. Each evening, I would reverse the process. I liked that I could avoid what was at the time a miserable winter chill, but it took almost a week of this routine for me to realize that I had had virtually no fresh air for days, only filtered, heated air in either my apartment, office, or car. I also hadn’t allowed myself the opportunity to interact with people outside of my office or home! Getting outside provides us with a chance to increase our luck, develop our creativity, and better our health (info on all of that coming soon). So go for it: have your morning coffee outside, park further away from the office, get lunch from somewhere a few blocks away rather a place close by, take the kids to the park, or enjoy some quiet time on a solo run tonight. Making this a practice on Monday makes it more likely that we will continue this healthy habit throughout the coming week.

So there you go! A few easy things to try today. Take a moment during lunch to start a gratitude or went well list, and then make sure to get outside. And if you simply can’t get away from whatever is keeping you busy today (do try again tomorrow!), just “set wide the window… [and] drink the day.”

x Jessica

"Set wide the window. Let me drink the day." Edith Wharton