How to be like an elephant: Keys to strengthening your memory

I remember watching a drama about a man who had a unique condition where he had a flawless and unfading memory of everything, including the tragic circumstances of his childhood. He was constantly tortured as time never healed any of his painful past. The author, Rita Mae Brown, said, “One of the keys to happiness is a bad memory.” I often find myself grateful that I’m NOT like the man in the drama. I would probably spend more time ruminating about the ‘bad’ than the ‘good’!

But then the Roman philosopher Cicero said that memory is the “treasury and guardian of all things,” — so what if we feel like our memory is fading? Is memory loss an inevitable part of getting older, or are there key steps we can take to maintain mental sharpness?

Dr. Richard Restak is a neurologist and professor at George Washington Hospital University School of Medicine and Health, and he says that a decrease in memory over time does not have to be expected. In his new book, The Complete Guide to Memory: The Science of Strengthening Your Mind, Dr. Restak reviews the stumbling blocks which lead to memory decline and how we can improve our memory over time. We’ve outlined six practices for memory improvement recommended by Dr. Restak for you below:

Pay (more) attention

Dr. Restak specifies that not all issues with memory are actually, well, issues with memory. The larger problem for many people is the ability to pay attention. When we are unable or simply do not pay full attention to someone as they tell us their name, for example, we are unable to store the memory properly.

Dr. Restak recommends using a visualization technique to help us store new information more effectively. When you’re learning a new piece of information, get creative and build a mental image to pair with the new information. He recalls a simple example of meeting a doctor named Dr. King, and to help remember his name, Dr. Restak imagined a king in a white lab coat. When your brain has more ways to remember a piece of information (i.e., a name and a metaphor / visual), it will boost your chances of recalling that info later!

Challenge your memory regularly

Memory serves a huge part of our daily life, and we can actively train our memories by relying on our brains more frequently. Dr. Restak challenges readers to attempt to memorize their grocery or shopping lists prior to running errands. You can again use visualization techniques here, imagining all of the items you need together in a bag, for example. You can also consider memorizing the route to a friend’s house instead of immediately turning to GPS. A 2020 study provided evidence that constant GPS usage correlated with a decrease in spatial memory over time.

Play games!

All sorts of games can benefit memory; who said boosting your brain power can’t be fun? Bridge and chess are classics that can help your ability to remember, but other childhood games work too. One of Dr. Restak’s favorites is 20 Questions, where one person chooses an item, person, or place, and the other person (or people) asks 20 yes-or-no questions in an attempt to figure out what the item is. The game requires the questioner to remember all of the answers in order to successfully determine the object!

I started to play this game called: Dual N-Back – It forces you to match clicks from 1 or 2 steps prior: download it for free on your phone and try it. It’s really HARD but if you can get past 1 step prior – you rock!

You can also find a variety of memory games online for free. Luminosity and ImproveMemory.Org are two platforms where you can train your memory for a few minutes each day! Check them out.

Dive into fiction more often

Interestingly, Dr. Restak notes that reading exclusively nonfiction and neglecting fiction novels can correlate with memory decline. An adventurous book, say Lord of the Rings for example, switches between the perspectives of many different characters. As Tolkein switches back into Frodo’s POV, you’re tasked with remembering what he did a few chapters ago. Novels are enjoyable and a way to keep your brain engaged while remembering the nuances and twists of a story.

Decrease your reliance on technology

Nearly everyone is becoming more reliant on technology for remembering everything from directions to grocery lists to birthdays and more. Dr. Restak notes that when we store the various details of our lives on our phones, we aren’t being asked to truly know and remember it. Technology, though convenient, takes away simple ways we would otherwise train and maintain our memory each day. Challenging yourself to memorize birthdays, grocery lists, and even simple directions is a way to decrease your own dependency on technology and improve your brain’s memory muscle at the same time.

Additionally, Dr. Restak brings up how technology decreases our ability to focus—circling back to point number one about attention. Being present in the current moment is key to properly storing memory. When our brains are attempting to complete a variety of tasks—watching Netflix while writing a memo for work, for example—we decrease our ability to focus and consequently encode new memories. Instead, focus on “monotasking”, or simply doing one task at a time, to help yourself stay more present, and to increase your brain’s ability to store memory.

Tend to your mental health

Dr. Restak notes that one of the most common causes of decreased memory is mental illness, especially depression, because memory is linked to the emotional centers in the brain. Dr. Restak refers to the hippocampus as the “memory entry center” and it’s responsible for registering emotional triggers and manufactures the chemical bases of emotion in the body. The amygdala serves a similar purpose by encouraging emotional production and expression. When you are in a low mood, you are more likely to recall negative past memories rather than neutral or positive ones, creating a skewed memory if the mood persists over time. When persistent negative moods and depression are treated with pharmaceuticals or talk therapy, memory often improves!

Some things are easy to forget—a name you just learned, where you parked, your hotel room number. If you find yourself struggling to remember things like this, it’s often normal. If you find yourself forgetting your own address, how you got somewhere, and other more fundamental information, it may be time to consult your doctor.

Dr. Restak says that, “there is no simple solution for knowing what should be of concern,” but recommends talking with your doctor if you are concerned. Regardless of how you feel about your memory today, choose a few tips from this list to boost it.

Who wants to be like an elephant with giant brains and superb memory?   

I do! 

Learn more about amazing elephants: https://www.scienceabc.com/nature/animals/why-do-elephants-have-such-great-memory.html

Liking Snakes – Overcoming Emotional Addiction

In a previous blog, we shared how self-sabotage happens because of the body and brain’s need for safety. Now, we’ll go into how the body and brain become physically addicted to staying in the same patterns through a process called emotional addiction.

To illustrate, we’re going to explore the example through a story of a big dreamer named Keisha. All of today’s information comes from a book called Evolve Your Brain by Joe Dispenza; check it out if you want more on emotional addiction!

As a kid, Keisha tells everyone she wants to be a huge pop star one day. She belts her heart out around the house, draws pictures of herself performing for thousands of people, and already has that big, bold pop star personality.

Growing up, however, she didn’t have the most supportive parents. When she’d belt out Alicia Keys around the house, they’d tell her to be quiet. They shamed her for being a big, bold personality, and frequently told her she’d need to find a stable job instead of trying to make a career out of music. Whew.

In turn, Keisha learned it was safer for her to hide her talents, shrink her personality, and keep her big dreams to herself.

The emotions she constantly felt because of this treatment were shame, sorrow, and anger. She began to feel those emotions so frequently that her body became accustomed to feeling those emotions most of the time. Overtime, her body became physically addicted to those feelings.

How Emotional Addiction Takes Control

Here’s what’s happening at the cellular level to facilitate this emotional addiction:

  1. Emotions are signaled through our bodies by peptides, which are the chemical messengers of emotions.
    They’re small proteins that flow throughout our body and communicate to our cells “Hey! Keisha is feeling sad today.” or “Keisha is so happy!”—whatever the emotion of the moment is.
  2. If we regularly feel a certain combination of emotions, our cells will come to expect the peptides which correlate to those emotions.
    In essence, our cells become addicted to getting a certain amount of specific peptides—the emotions—on a regular basis.
    It’s like if you eat a chocolate cookie every night after dinner, you habitually expect that sweet reward daily. Same deal, just with your peptides (aka emotions) and cells.
  3. If our cells register a decreased level of these peptides, they will signal to our brains through the nervous system, “Hey! We’re low on that emotional combo you always feel! Feed us something!”
    In other words, at the cellular level, our body becomes physiologically addicted to feeling the same emotions in order to maintain a sense of predictability in life. You and your willpower are not to blame for your self-sabotaging patterns; your biology is.

External Self Sabotage

Now back to our story: Keisha grows up and moves out of her unsupportive parents’ house, and has a golden age of feeling empowered, excited and enthused to work towards her dreams.

Soon after, however, she finds herself in an unsupportive relationship and frustrating job which continues to bring up the emotions of shame, sorrow, and anger all over again.

Keisha can’t catch a break! What’s really going on here?

Remember step 3 in emotional addiction? If our cells notice a decreased level of the specific peptides they’re addicted to, then they’ll holler at the brain to send out more of their peptide order.

In return, the brain will seek out experiences and relationships that will trigger a similar emotional response, thereby filling the order from the cells for their peptide cocktail.

So Keisha moves out, and for a while, she no longer has the constant emotional trigger from her parents to feel small and shameful about her dreams. But then her cells say “HEY! Where’s our peptide order?”

And Keisha’s brain, being a dutiful server to the body, starts looking for people, experiences, and anything that can bring up those same feelings of shame, anger, and sorrow.

Hence, Keisha ends up in a stressful work environment and unsupportive partnership which both trigger those same emotions. She’s unhappy, but her brain and her body are LOVING the predictability of this old emotional pattern. 

Internal Self-Sabotage

Let’s take it one step further. Let’s say Keisha has a Bridget Jones’ Diary montage moment and decides to turn her life around: she gets a new, more empowering job and breaks up with her unsupportive partner. There are no more external sources to provide the emotions of shame, sorrow, and anger. 

She has another golden age of not self-sabotaging, just like when she moved out of her parents’ house, but it doesn’t last. Even though Keisha has removed all of the external triggers to feel shame, sorrow, and anger, her brain and body kick in with internal sources of self-sabotage.

She notices that her thoughts start to go down the negative spiral drain. She starts doubting her dreams, and remembers all those awful things her parents would say to her growing up. She feels like a fool for cutting out all those things—who does she think she is?

All of these thoughts—the doubts, the memories, the inner critic—are caused by her physiology. Keisha’s body is noticing that she hasn’t felt shame, sorrow or anger in while (which means her body hasn’t gotten its emotional addiction filled), so it signals to the brain to find a way to provide those emotions.

When there are no external sources of old emotions (relationships, environments, etc), the brain will create internal sources of self-sabotage through negative thinking, replaying old memories, and more.

Keisha has this brief moment of relapse, but it only lasts so long. She stumbles on a concept called mental rehearsal, and it’s how she can soothe her brain and body’s addiction to the emotions of shame, sorrow, and anger. In order to overcome and avoid self-sabotage, the brain and the body need to feel safe and less attuned to old emotions. And the clear path to providing this safety and rewiring emotional addiction is mental rehearsal.

Scott Williams, PhD, of Wright State University, describes mental rehearsal as the “imagined, mental practice of performing a task, as opposed to actually carrying out the task.”

Mental rehearsal has been used by musicians, professional athletes, and public speakers to boost peak performance and achieve their goals. It’s the process of imagining yourself practicing a new skill in your mind. Mental rehearsal has been shown to improve performance in music, healthcare delivery, and sports.

A variety of psychologists and thought leaders in the personal development space share ways you can utilize mental rehearsal to boost your own happiness and quality of life, while also avoiding old, self-sabotaging behaviors. We’ve listed a few below:

Laying New Neural Pathways

In his book, Evolve Your Brain, Joe Dispenza talks about using mental rehearsal to curb the effects of emotional addiction and the self-sabotaging habits it creates. Because emotional addiction feeds off of constantly feeling the same emotions, mental rehearsal provides an opportunity to tap into the new emotions connected to your goals and break up the addiction.

Back to Keisha—as she makes mental rehearsal a practice, so too does she familiarize her body to these new emotions, and creates a sense of “predictability” for what achieving her dreams will feel like. This provides her brain and body a sense of safety, making it easier to walk towards her dreams with less self-sabotage and more confidence and direction.

Liking Snakes

Brett Steenbarger, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at SUNY Upstate Medical University, advocates using mental rehearsal as a way to desensitize yourself to old triggers and overcoming habits.

Steenbarger reviews how psychologists will often use desensitization processes to help clients overcome anxieties. This is a lengthy process of exposing yourself to a cause of anxiety bit by bit to gain control over your response to the anxiety. For example, if you have a fear of snakes, desensitization might include talking about snakes, looking at photos of snakes, being in a room with a caged snake, and potentially even touching a snake, all while utilizing various coping strategies to maintain a sense of calm.

Desensitization often begins with mental rehearsal. An anxious person may begin their desensitization process by visualizing themselves in a room with a snake, which initially will cause some anxiety. In the visualization, however, they enact their coping mechanisms—breathing, reframing negative thoughts, whatever it may be—until they are again in a grounded, calm state.

As Steenberger summarizes, “The anxious person in desensitization treatment doesn’t merely imagine themselves to be calm. They vividly imagine engaging in threatening acts (thereby arousing anxiety) and then they activate effective coping strategies.”

Not all of us have a fear of snakes, but this same method can be exceedingly helpful to overcome anxieties with public speaking, communication, dating, and any other parts of life that you’re ready to respond to with more control and calm.

Practice Makes Perfect

Practicing mental rehearsal really is as simple as it sounds: you mentally rehearse or practice the outcome you want to see in your life; bonus points if you tap into the emotions that arise as you do so.

If you struggle to meditate, I recommend relaxing your body first. A great way to do so is through progressive muscle relaxation, which simply involves scanning your body and relaxing each muscle group as you do so. It’s a technique used to relax folks in hypnosis, and you can follow along at the video linked here.

Once in a meditative state, visualize yourself achieving the future you aspire to. Whether that’s confidently existing in a healthy relationship, practicing the person you want to be to reach your goals, or watching yourself choose a new path in the face of old triggers—the options abound.

If you’re new to meditation, start small: set a time for 3-5 minutes and use that time to mentally rehearse the person you want to be and the changes you want to make. If you’re more versed in taking some quiet time, challenge yourself to do 10-20 minutes. Regardless of the amount of time you take, be sure to focus on the emotions which arise as you visualize, as these will help guide and motivate you into new patterns.

One more option for you: If you really are not the sitting in silence type, you can also do these visualization exercises while walking or zoned out during another task like painting or doodling. Meditation looks different for everyone!

Change is hard, but it gets easier when you understand, acknowledge, and soothe your body and brain’s need for safety and predictability with tools like mental rehearsal. Take a few minutes to try it out today

Are You Addicted to Your Emotions

Have you felt stuck in self-sabotaging patterns? Like you’re constantly trying to break out of old habits, but for some reason, you can’t quite make new choices stick?

If that’s you, I have good news: your biology may be more to blame than your willpower.

When the concepts of habit change and self-sabotage arise, people normally point directly to willpower and discipline; those are the magic keys that you simply need in order to stop smoking, eat more vegetables, or get your 10,000 steps in each day.

Though willpower and discipline are parts of habit change, the fixation on them overlooks a key need for your body and brain: safety.

Your body and brain evolved to seek out relationships and environments which feel familiar to relationships and environments you’ve experienced in the past. These provide a sense of “predictability” – if you’re around people and in places where you can feel like you “know” what will come next, life feels more predictable.

With a perceived sense of predictability, your brain and body get what they’re really after: safety. Because if you can “predict” what comes next, you can more adequately prepare for it, and you find a perceived sense of safety and control.

This makes sense when we think about evolution; with more predictable environments and relationships, it was easier to survive and create the next generation. In today’s world, however, the brain and body’s grasping need for predictability can be more limiting than helpful.

Let’s take an example: Kayla is looking for a healthy, peaceful relationship. She’s eager for something that’s mature, loving and reciprocal. Growing up, however, Kayla always witnessed chaos and drama in her parents’ relationship, and in adulthood, she found herself in similar, toxic partnerships. And then Kayla meets Craig. He’s sweet, respectful, and sends her flowers after their second date. At first, it feels heavenly: Kayla is so excited to finally be in a healthy, respectful relationship. After a few weeks, however, Kayla begins to feel… bored. Almost apathetic towards Craig. It doesn’t quite make sense to her, though, because when she’s actually with Craig, they have great conversations, she’s laughing out loud, and she’s anything but bored. She gets a feeling that she’s sabotaging this relationship, but she can’t understand why or what she can do about it.

When we think about the brain and the body’s skewed sense of safety, here’s what is often happening in situations like this:

Kayla feels safe in relationships that harbor chaos and drama because that’s what’s “predictable” for her. Those relationships feel familiar, which creates a sense of safety for her brain and body (even if emotionally she feels miserable; the misery is “safe” for her brain).

When she enters the new, healthy relationship with Craig, her brain and body go on high alert because it’s not “predictable.” It’s cued as unsafe, and through a convoluted process called emotional addiction, her brain and body work together to sabotage the new relationship with feelings of boredom.

The sudden disinterest in a long-term goal is just one way that the brain and body can sabotage something new. Other common methods include procrastination, replaying old painful memories, avoidance, seeking out people or habits that are familiar to old patterns, and plain old giving up.

This brain-body-fueled self-sabotage can happen in the macros of our life – our relationships, jobs, and friendships – as well as the micros – our daily schedules, the foods we eat, and more. Your brain’s overarching goal is to keep you safe, and it feels it can most successfully do that by creating a predictable life full of the same patterns, regardless of how those patterns make you feel emotionally.

What can Kayla then do to overcome this sudden disinterest in her goal of being in a healthy relationship?

The first step, naturally, is by creating an awareness of her body and brain’s need for safety. She can begin noticing how the pattern of chaotic relationships has arisen throughout her life, and how it’s showing up with Craig now. With this awareness, she can actively choose new patterns and recognize the old, helping her move over the hump of self-sabotage and into a place where healthy relationships feel safe for her body and brain.

The second possibility comes from a book called Evolve Your Brain by Joe Dispenza. In it, Dispenza outlines the body and brain’s need for predictability as we’ve recounted here, and he posits that we can provide our bodies and brains with the safety they need through a process called “mental rehearsal.”

Mental rehearsal has been used by musicians, professional athletes, and public speakers to improve their performance and reach their goals. It’s the simple process of visualizing yourself practicing a new skill in your mind. Research has shown that mental rehearsal can improve performance in a music performance, healthcare delivery, and sports.

Dispenza takes this a step further and outlines how mental rehearsal can help people create a sense of safety for their bodies and brains in new habits, relationships, and environments. When you visualize yourself in healthy relationships, successfully reaching your goals, and taking on new habits, you begin to give your brain a sense of “predictability” for what that experience will feel like, thereby making it “safe” (Evolve Your Brain, Ch 11).

What’s especially important here is tuning into the emotions of those visualizations – when you imagine yourself reaching your goals, how do you feel? When Kayla uses her imagination to visualize herself in a healthy, reciprocal relationship, what emotions does that bring up? Pride, gratitude, joy, contentment are common answers.

As these emotions become more familiar, the new habits, relationships, and environments triggering these emotions become more predictable and safe; as a result, the brain and body have less of a need to self-sabotage the newness.

If your goals for a healthy lifestyle for disease prevention keep going off track, take the time to create awareness of the old habits and the rationale behind them. This analysis will help you ‘safely’ form new habits. And each day, imagine yourself reaching your goals and how that makes you feel. Whether it is weight loss, better nutrition, positive mental outlook or disease management, these mental rehearsals will teach your brain that these habits are ‘predictable’ and ‘safe’.

In my next blog, we’ll dive even deeper into how the body and brain work together to enact self-sabotage.

Is That a Lion Coming My Way? Managing our Stress Responses

Imagine that you’re in the grassy plains a few thousand years back. You’re out alone, gathering plants, when you notice a looming figure in the distance – it’s a hungry lion! As you see it, it sees you. With no weapons on hand, in an instant, your body charges up and you’re sprinting to get back to your village. Your heart pumps faster to send more blood out to your arms and legs, allowing you to run more quickly and with more energy. Your respiration rate increases, bringing more oxygen into your body and powering you up further. You make it back to your village and find sanctuary with loved ones.  

This story is an example from a few thousand years ago and although we no longer have to run from lions, it illustrates how our nervous system evolved and the way our brain conceptualizes stress today.

What is the nervous system?

For starters, the nervous system is responsible for sending communications between the body and brain. It’s made up of miles and miles of nerve cells in our brain, spinal cord, and nerves extending throughout our body.

The brain sends signals through the nervous system to keep your heart beating, take a sip from your coffee cup, pet your dog’s head, and release different hormones throughout your body. The nervous system is how I am thinking of words to type and tapping my fingers on the keyboard right now!

With so many miles of nerves and a wide variety of functions, scientists organize the nervous system into many different subsystems. Only two of these are important for our discussion about stress today: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system.

The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system (NS) are a yin and yang of sorts. The sympathetic is responsible for activating the fight or flight response, while the parasympathetic sends cues to our body when it is safe to rest again.

What is the Fight or Flight response?

The sympathetic NS is often called the “fight or flight” system because it flips on the fight or flight response when a stressor arises. Whether you see a lion off in the distance or you receive a stressful text from your boss, your body responds with fight or flight.

In these moments, your brain signals to your body to either fight or flee. Your heart will start beating faster, your breathing rate will increase, and different hormones will start rushing throughout your body. All of this is a coordinated effort to send energy out to your muscles to fight or flee more effectively.

The fight or flight response was necessary to preserve the human race; we all need the help if we’re being chased by hungry predators.

The issue with fight or flight, however, is that it is still triggered in response to modern day stressors: receiving a hefty unexpected bill in the mail, having a difficult conversation with your partner, living in a 3-year pandemic, and more. 

In these situations, physically fighting or fleeing is rarely necessary or appropriate. When you have an intense text conversation with your boss, running away isn’t going to solve the issue, neither is challenging them to a duel.

Our bodies are constantly entering fight or flight mode, but we aren’t using the energy it supplies us. This “traps” many of us in fight or flight – our heart rates are increased, hormonal secretions are abnormal, and more. We are living with chronic stress and the myriad of poor health effects due to constant activation of the fight or flight response.

The situation isn’t hopeless, however. The good news is you can move yourself out of fight or flight without sprinting away from your stressors or entering into a fist fight.

How do I get out of Fight or Flight?

As I mentioned above, the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is responsible for moving you out of the fight or flight response. The PNS is often called the “rest and digest” system because it sends the energy from your muscles back into your daily activities like digestion and normal hormonal secretions.

In our lion example, the fight or flight response was turned off by a few different factors (these factors also turned on the parasympathetic nervous system):

  1. Movement. The fight or flight response evolved to do exactly what it says – fight or flee.

Physical activity – whether that’s walking, yoga, or working out – is a powerful way to replace fighting or fleeing. Because we are not literally fighting or fleeing in modern day, we need to release the energy pent up by the fight or flight response and signal to our body that it is safe to enter into a state of calm.

  1. Positive social connection. In the example, you made it back to the village and celebrated with loved ones.

Connecting with others – through physical affection, laughter, and gatherings – literally soothes the nervous system. It’s a signal to the PNS that you are safe and the fight or flight response is no longer needed.

One specific nerve acts as the on switch for the PNS: the vagus nerve. When you can activate the vagus nerve through physical activity or social connection, you can signal to your body that it is safe to rest and exit fight or flight.

In my next blog, we’re going deeper into the vagus nerve, and the many different ways you can activate it. Check back for more!

PS: If you want to learn more about this topic, check out the first chapter of the book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily and Amelia Nagoski!

The 5-Minute Morning Routine for a Fantastic Day

“How you wake up each day dramatically affects your level of success in every single area of your life.” – Hal Elrod, Author

I listened to an interesting podcast on a 5-minute morning routine that anyone can implement and follow. The routine framework is based on Dr. Rangan Chatterjee’s book: Happy Mind, Happy Life: The New Science of Mental Well-Being.

Do you have a morning routine that is consistent and positive to kick off your day? Even if you do, read on for tips on how to make the most out of your morning coffee (or walk)…

Here are the highlights:

  • If you struggle with being consistent in the mornings, the goal isn’t about the routine but taking time for yourself to start the day GROUNDED. And believe it or not, 5 minutes is all you need to transition into the day.
  • We all know that changing behavior is hard so an easy way to implement a habit that will stick is via habit-stacking. According to Dr. BJ Fogg, author of Tiny Habits, stacking a new behavior on top of old ones will provide the impetus to do them. For example – use the time for brewing your morning cup-a-joe or taking the dog for a walk to do your 5-minute self-care ritual.

Here are the 3 Ms of the morning routine to include:  

M1: Mindfulness – 1-2 minutes:

  • Practice being in the present moment. The past or future are only ideas in your head. Enjoy the power of NOW.
  • Mindful breathing for 1-2 minutes is sufficient. Close your eyes. Notice your breath coming in and going out. Let thoughts and sounds come and go. Come back to the breath. Try some deep breaths – hold it and then exhale out. If you need guidance, try this video to follow along.
  • Even a minute of ‘falling still’ makes a difference in our lives.  Another falling still practice to try is to get sunshine on your face for 1-2 minutes to center the circadian rhythm for the rest of the day. 

M2: Movement – 1-2 minutes:

  • Do some squats while coffee is brewing. Or push ups if you are motivated.
  • The key is to wake up the body and get not only your blood flowing but also your lymphatic system. Unlike blood, our body does not have a pump for the lymphatic system so the primary way to move it is through exercise. Try squats, jumping jacks, push-ups or even dancing.
  • Here’s an exercise you can try. Grab a chair and practice getting up and sitting down without using your hands. Then try getting up with no hand movement and balancing on one foot.
  • Once you’ve mastered that, then try sitting down on the floor and getting up without using your hands to assist. This type of balance is key to longevity. This video shows how:

M3: Mindset – 1-2 minute:

  • For a positive mindset, try practicing gratitude. You can do this with journaling.
  • Or if you are not a fan of writing in journals, you can send a text or a short note and give gratitude to others. How about a nice memory of your time with a loved one and reminding them how much fun that was? Or thanking someone for a job well done – no matter how small.  
  • You can also read scripture, books, or whatever gets you into the positive mindset.

If you are worried that doing squats while walking the dog is going to look weird, remember what Dave Ramsey of The Ramsey Shows says: “If being broke is normal, I want to be weird for the rest of my life”. Weird is how you get to health – most of us are sedentary and overweight.  Our  population is sick and unhealthy – so we need to be weird. Gosh – how many times have I heard that? People think I’m nuts and beyond weird for all the things I’m doing to stay healthy and young. But my goal is to live well so that I can focus on the priorities in my life – family, leadership in business, friends and community.  

Try these techniques – you will notice how much impact 5 minutes can make to your day.  Remember that you have to come first so you can help others. Don’t jump into social media or into the priorities of others UNTIL you’ve taken time for your 5 minutes to ground yourself.

Here’s the podcast on the 5-minute morning routine.

The Neuroscience Behind Hypnosis Part 2: The 5 Brainwave States

Did you know that your brain is actually a highly complex, well-tuned electrical engine?

It’s true! Your nervous system—which includes the brain, spinal cord, and nerves—communicates through fast-moving electrical signals all throughout your body.

Researchers display the electrical activity happening in the brain as brainwaves, and there are five main brainwave states.

Better understanding these five states can help you go deeper into meditation and hypnosis to gain a sense of inner peace, reprogram old habits and beliefs, and more effectively balance your mental health.

In this blog, I’ve invited a certified hypnotist and colleague (Emma Ehrenzeller, CH) to go deeper into the connection between hypnosis and neuroscience.

Be sure to check out Part 1 to learn the basics of hypnosis! https://community.wholistics.health/are-you-mesmerized-yet-an-introduction-to-hypnosis/

What are the five brainwave states?

There are five brainwave states that we float in and out of each day, and two of them relate heavily to meditation and hypnosis.

Gamma: Gamma is the fastest brainwave state; this means that the brain is more active and creating more electricity!

In the gamma state, the mind is concentrated and likely doing complex problem solving or learning new information. In gamma, you’re highly alert and using a lot of brain power to complete the task at hand.

Beta: The beta brainwave state is the next fastest state, right behind gamma.

When you’re in everyday conversations, doing your taxes, writing a letter, or just getting through the workday, you’re likely in beta. Beta is the state you’re in during everyday consciousness; it’s when you’re alert and focused, but not necessarily hyper-concentrated on a task.

Alpha: With alpha, things begin to slow down. The alpha brainwave state correlates with “relaxed, passive attention” (Abhang, 2016).

In other words, when you’re on autopilot or doing a mundane task, your brain is in alpha. You’re focused and conscious, yes, but you’re also zoned out. When you’re enjoying a walk outside, taking part in a hobby like knitting or pottery, or on a break after a long meeting, you’re likely in alpha.

Theta: Theta is the middle ground between consciousness and unconsciousness. It’s the moment when your alarm goes off and you’re not fully awake, but also no longer sleeping.

Apart from that drowsy state in the morning and evening, we also enter theta when we’re doing repetitive tasks or are immersed in our imagination. Daydreaming and driving for long stretches on the highway often put people into the theta state.

In theta, some people can more easily access their creativity or “flow state,” since their conscious, thinking mind has turned down in volume. Theta can also be accessed through hypnosis and deep meditations, which we’ll dive into in a moment.

Delta: Finally, delta is the slowest brainwave state which we go into when we’re asleep and fully unconscious. We remain in delta when we dream, but our brainwaves slow even further when we are in dreamless sleep.

Hypnosis & Brainwaves

Someone in hypnosis is typically in the alpha or theta brainwave state, depending on how deeply they are relaxed.

Dr. Jan Philamon, who holds her PhD in Psychology, calls the alpha state the “gateway to the subconscious,” while she describes the theta state as the “realm of the subconscious” (Philamon, 2022). 

In other words, when you enter the alpha or theta state, you are able to begin changing the habits and beliefs stored in your subconscious, and break out of old patterns that are keeping you stuck.

People who have gone into the alpha or theta state to alter old patterns through hypnosis have been able to…

And more! And the exciting news is that you don’t have to rely on a hypnotist to access the alpha or brainwave state and tap into your subconscious—you can explore this work on your own time.

How can I access the alpha or theta brainwave state?

Progressive Muscle Relaxation is a common technique hypnotists use to bring their clients into the hypnotic state (alpha or theta brainwaves). PMR is the process of scanning your body and relaxing each muscle, starting from your face going all the way down to your toes.

Research has shown that PMR is an effective technique for boosting mental and physical feelings of relaxation, especially when coupled with guided imagery and breathwork (Toussaint, 2021). These three in combination essentially build a typical hypnosis session. 

Some versions of PMR also encourage you to tense the muscle group before relaxing it to show your brain and body the difference between the tension and relaxation. The YouTube video below guides you through this process:

After the PMR, you can simply relax, or you can practice different self-hypnosis techniques, such as repeating positive affirmations to yourself, or visualizing yourself reaching your goals or taking on a new habit.

When I tried hypnosis over a decade ago for stress management, the hypnotist guided me into PMR by having me visualize slowly going down a flight of stairs to a calm place – I still remember how relaxing and zen it felt!

Want to get started with a hypnotist? 

There are many hypnosis associations nationally and internationally.

To find a reliable hypnotist, ensure they have a form of certification. The National Guild of Hypnotists (NGH) and Hypnotic World both have reputable training programs.

Titles can range between associations, but Certified Hypnotist or Certified Consulting Hypnotist are standard for those who have undergone foundational hypnosis training, and various board certifications are also possible for more experienced hypnotists as well. 

To find hypnotists through the NGH, click here: https://www.ngh.net/request-form/

To find hypnotists through Hypnotic World, click here: https://www.hypnoticworld.com/hypnotherapists/

Sources:

Abhang, P. A., Gawali, B. W. and Mehrotra, S. C. Abhang, P., Gawali, B., & Mehrotra, S. (2016). Technological Basics of EEG Recording and Operation of Apparatus. Introduction To EEG- And Speech-Based Emotion Recognition, 19-50. doi: 10.1016/b978-0-12-804490-2.00002-6

Crawford, H. J., & Barabasz, A. F. (1993). Phobias and intense fears: Facilitating their treatment with hypnosis. In J. W. Rhue, S. J. Lynn, & I. Kirsch (Eds.), Handbook of clinical hypnosis (pp. 311–337). American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/10274-015

Elkins, G., Jensen, M. P., & Patterson, D. R. (2007). Hypnotherapy for the management of chronic pain. The International journal of clinical and experimental hypnosis, 55(3), 275–287. https://doi.org/10.1080/00207140701338621

Fisch, S., Brinkhaus, B. & Teut, M. Hypnosis in patients with perceived stress – a systematic review. BMC Complement Altern Med 17, 323 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12906-017-1806-0

Grégoire, C., Faymonville, M. E., Vanhaudenhuyse, A., Jerusalem, G., Willems, S., & Bragard, I. (2021). Randomized controlled trial of a group intervention combining self-hypnosis and self-care: secondary results on self-esteem, emotional distress and regulation, and mindfulness in post-treatment cancer patients. Quality of life research : an international journal of quality of life aspects of treatment, care and rehabilitation, 30(2), 425–436. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11136-020-02655-7

Philamon, J. (2022). Brain Waves and Hypnosis. M1 Psychology. Retrieved 20 April 2022, from https://m1psychology.com/brain-waves-and-hypnosis/

What is the function of the various brainwaves? (1997, December 22). Scientific American. Retrieved 20 April 2022, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-is-the-function-of-t-1997-12-22/

Toussaint, L., Nguyen, Q. A., Roettger, C., Dixon, K., Offenbächer, M., Kohls, N., Hirsch, J., & Sirois, F. (2021). Effectiveness of Progressive Muscle Relaxation, Deep Breathing, and Guided Imagery in Promoting Psychological and Physiological States of Relaxation. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 2021, 5924040. https://doi.org/10.1155/2021/5924040

Are You Mesmerized Yet? An Introduction to Hypnosis

“Hypnosis is the oldest Western form of psychotherapy, but it’s been tarred with the brush of dangling watches and purple capes. In fact, it’s a very powerful means of changing the way we use our minds to control perception and our bodies.” — Dr. David Spiegel, Stanford University

In this blog, I’ve invited a certified hypnotist and colleague (Emma Ehrenzeller, CH) to introduce us to the science and possibilities of hypnotism. 

When you think about hypnosis, cliches like a swinging pendulum or the words, “you are getting very sleepy,” may come to mind.

Despite its mysterious reputation, however, leading researchers at Stanford have begun unraveling the science behind hypnosis, and have shown its clinical efficacy in decreasing stress, managing chronic pain, alleviating anxiety, and more.

What is Hypnosis?

Before we dive into the latest hypnosis research, let’s cover the basics: What is hypnosis?

The National Guild of Hypnotists, the oldest and largest hypnosis association in the United States, defines hypnosis as “an altered state of consciousness where the subconscious mind is in a state of hyper-suggestibility” (Harte, 2015).

There’s a lot of jargon in that definition, so let’s break down what it really means.

First, hypnosis is an altered state of consciousness. In the hypnotic state, you are still conscious; you’re just more relaxed and focused on the hypnotic experience. You are completely aware of what’s going on and in control, contrary to a lot of cockamamie you have seen in the movies!

Second, hypnosis is all about working with your subconscious mind.

Your conscious mind is your thinking brain: the mental chatter; problem solving; the focus on your daily tasks; your ambitions, and how you decide to work towards them. The conscious mind correlates to your frontal lobe and prefrontal cortex, among other parts of the brain (The Human Brain, 2022).

Your subconscious mind is where we store our hardwired patterns, beliefs, and habits. “Subconscious” literally means “below consciousness,” so anything you do naturally, without thinking, is a result of the subconscious. The term “subconscious” is more elusive in neuroscience circles, but it can be thought of as hardwired neural pathways which developed from a young age, or with constant reinforcement (such as the process of building a new habit until it is second nature).

And lastly, the subconscious mind is in a state of “hyper-suggestibility” in hypnosis; this simply means that in the relaxed, peaceful state of hypnosis, the deeper layers of mind are open to new ideas or “suggestions.” Depending on one’s goals, those suggestions may be about managing stress, building confidence, cutting out old habits, and more.

Put simply, hypnosis is a deep, guided meditation with an outcome attached. Many people will leave their first experience in hypnosis comparing it to a very deep meditation, with surprise that they were aware of themselves and conscious the entire time.

Here is an interesting analogy: “A guided meditation is like sending your subconscious an email newsletter while hypnosis is like sending your subconscious a handwritten letter.” 
― Juliet C Obodo, Writer’s Retreat New York City: A Travel Guide For Writers, Bloggers & Students

Isn’t It Mind Control?

Let’s address the elephant in the room: Is hypnosis mind control?

It’s a very understandable question to ask. TV, movies, and other popular media generally show hypnosis as some woo-woo act on stage, or an oddball hypnotist using the tool for his or her own gain.

All of these notions are false, however. Per the official definition of hypnosis, a hypnotized person is stillconscious; in other words, they are still completely in control.

While in hypnosis, your conscious mind is still active. I often have people who say they weren’t sure if they were hypnotized because they still had thoughts pop up. This is normal, and actually comforting for many people: it confirms they are still in control. They are simply being guided by the hypnotist, and they choose what they want to follow.

What’s the brain up to?

A 2019 study from Stanford University outlined the three main brain areas that are specifically activated when someone goes into the hypnotic state. Now let’s get technical:

First, the part of your brain keeping tabs on everything happening in your environment – your dog barking, a car honking, an itch on your toe – is calmed, allowing you to focus more easily on the hypnosis.

Second, the connection between two areas of the brain resulted in a stronger brain-body connection, allowing the brain to more effectively process what is happening in the body.

Lastly, they observed that people in hypnosis enter a sort of “flow state.” As Dr. Spiegel, the senior author on the paper, describes, “When you’re really engaged in something, you don’t think about it – you just do it.”

These findings led researchers to believe that in hypnosis, there is less self-consciousness or doubt about carrying out a certain action or suggestion. It is easy for the person in hypnosis to follow along without devoting as much mental energy to worry about what they’re doing.

What can hypnosis be used for?

In short, just about anything. Clinical studies have found the efficacy of hypnosis for pain management, decreasing anxiety, and reducing stress, but hypnotists have used the tool to cut smoking habits, increase self-esteem, cultivate emotional balance, and much more.

The next post will dive deeper into the science of brainwaves, how those correlate with meditative and hypnotic states, and how you can use brainwaves to reprogram your brain on your own time.

How can I get started?

There are many hypnosis associations nationally and internationally.

To find a reliable hypnotist, ensure they have a form of certification. The National Guild of Hypnotists (NGH) and Hypnotic World both have reputable training programs.

Titles can range between associations, but Certified Hypnotist or Certified Consulting Hypnotist are standard for those who have undergone foundational hypnosis training, and various board certifications are also possible for more experienced hypnotists as well. 

To find hypnotists through the NGH, click here: https://www.ngh.net/request-form/

To find hypnotists through Hypnotic World, click here: https://www.hypnoticworld.com/hypnotherapists/

Sources:

Elkins, G., Jensen, M. P., & Patterson, D. R. (2007). Hypnotherapy for the management of chronic pain. The International journal of clinical and experimental hypnosis, 55(3), 275–287. https://doi.org/10.1080/00207140701338621

Fisch, S., Brinkhaus, B., & Teut, M. (2017). Hypnosis in patients with perceived stress – a systematic review. BMC Complementary And Alternative Medicine, 17(1). doi: 10.1186/s12906-017-1806-0 

Harte, R. (2015). Lesson One—What Is Hypnosis? In Student Manual (pp. 1–2). essay, National Guild of Hypnotists.

Heidi Jiang, Matthew P. White, Michael D. Greicius, Lynn C. Waelde, David Spiegel, Brain Activity and Functional Connectivity Associated with Hypnosis, Cerebral Cortex, Volume 27, Issue 8, August 2017, Pages 4083–4093 <tel:4083-4093>

The Human Brain: Anatomy and Function. (2022). Retrieved 13 April 2022, from https://www.visiblebody.com/learn/nervous/brain#:~:text=The%20cerebrum%20is%20the%20largest,ourselves%20and%20the%20outside%20world.

The Importance of Self-Care Part 2: Preventing Burnout

If you’re like me and often accommodate stressful situations because of an overload of work, family and social commitments, read on!

Burnout can be sneaky, as it creeps up on people over time. The causes can be different for each individual. Just like some end up burnt out from stress at work, for others, it’s from things like the emotional toll it takes from managing difficult personal relationships.

A few of the symptoms associated with burnout include:

  • Fatigue
  • Excessive stress
  • Sadness and irritability

So in this blog, I’ll share some self-care tips for dealing with burnout or to prevent getting there.

It’s important to note that some of the symptoms associated with burnout are similar to those of serious mental health conditions. So make sure to reach out to your healthcare provider to rule out depression or other disorders if you’re noticing that something feels off.

Healthy Solutions Don’t Have to be Difficult

If you’re experiencing burnout, you might be tempted to turn to ‘comforting’ vices…because when difficulties don’t give us a break, going all out with the chocolate cake, bag of chips or a bottle of wine appear to give us relief from the hassles of daily life. However, we all know that it’s a slippery slope with these unhealthy coping mechanisms leading to more stressful situations (weight gain, poor sleep and digestion, unhealthy liver, depression, etc.) And I’m so done with people telling me all the things I’m NOT doing correctly and why I may not be achieving my goals. So how about starting with one simple habit with intent and focus on cultivating it? Studies have shown that repeating something for 21 days is the average time it takes to make new changes stick. For example, walking for 30 minutes will not only lift your mood but keep you away from the refrigerator. If you’re feeling stressed and need instant comfort, try a brisk walk around the neighborhood – and bring a friend as studies have shown that habits stick better when you’re surrounded by a supportive community. One good habit will lead to another as you build momentum and positivity around the changes in your life. And stay away from the naysayers!

How are Your Boundaries Holding Up?

Preventing burnout, no matter the cause, all starts with establishing healthy boundaries. It’s important to get to know your limits and your needs… and once you’ve figured those things out, you have to learn how to effectively communicate and enforce them with others.

As with most of the work that surrounds personal growth, establishing boundaries and doing the work to enforce them can be uncomfortable. Here’s a simple boundary I established with my dogs – they are always conniving to get me in the kitchen to give them one more treat before bed. So, I put the virtual ‘kitchen is closed’ sign up after 9PM – no ifs, ands or buts!

Here’s a short video that describes setting boundaries in the workplace. They can also apply to the home (like point #2: never saying no – that sounds like my life).

BOUNDARIES IN THE WORKPLACE || EASY HEALTHY BOUNDARIES AT WORK – YouTube

Tap Your Way to a Stress-Free Life

Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), developed by Gary Craig, is sometimes just referred to as “tapping.” It’s a simple, accessible tool that many people report to be incredibly helpful for stress reduction.

EFT utilizes points along the body that are known as Meridian points. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, Meridians are channels through which energy (qi) flow – like a network of energy pathways connecting to every cell, organ and tissue in your body. Meridian points are often used in acupuncture, but with tapping, there are no needles involved… or expensive bills!

You can use this technique from the comfort of your home, and while there are paid training sessions that you can do, there are also many free tutorials and materials that allow people to learn the basics on a budget.

Studies have shown the correlation between EFT exercises and significant reductions in anxiety, depression, and other issues. And while it’s hard to fathom that something as simple as tapping specific points along the body could have a major impact, there’s a reason why it’s gained so much traction and popularity.

This video shows how quick and simple it can be:

How to Tap – with Nick Ortner of The Tapping Solution – YouTube

In the comments section, you’ll see many people discussing how tapping has helped them!

In future blogs, I will cover some other modalities that you may want to consider in your healing/wellness/vitality journey. 

5 maneras de lograr la aptitud mental

Recientemente, tuve el placer de reunirme con Cara Bradley, autora de bestsellers (On The Verge: Wake Up, Show Up and Shine), entrenadora de fortaleza mental y recientemente nombrada como una de las mujeres más poderosas del mundo en el movimiento de mindfulness. Cara emana una sensación de presencia y calma que es evidente cuando estás con ella. La creencia de Cara es que, al igual que la locura por el ejercicio físico que comenzó hace varias décadas, ahora nos dirigimos a la era del ejercicio mental, por lo que desarrolló un protocolo que describe sus estrategias de entrenamiento cruzado para sentirse vivo y vibrante. Aquí, resaltaré los pilares clave del protocolo. Para una lectura completa, puede enviar una solicitud para obtener su propia copia.

Primero, ¿qué significa estar “mentalmente en forma”? Es un enfoque de mente y cuerpo que optimiza su estado físico y emocional para brindarle claridad, agudeza y resiliencia.

Movimiento

El ejercicio y el movimiento diarios son clave para desarrollar la aptitud física y mental. Y a medida que envejecemos, no es solo el ejercicio aeróbico sino también el entrenamiento de resistencia lo que es fundamental para mantener nuestros cuerpos fuertes. Apunta a 30 minutos la mayoría de los días de la semana. ¿Necesitas motivación? ¿Qué tal un compañero de entrenamiento? O use a un amigo para ayudar a seguir el progreso; por ejemplo, le digo a mi amiga que me comprometo a hacer X días a la semana entrenamiento de resistencia/natación/caminar/senderismo y luego la actualizo sobre mi progreso varias veces a la semana. Puedo hacerlo yo mismo, pero es bueno saber que alguien me está vigilando para asegurarse de que me comprometo a hacerlo.

Regulación del Sistema Nervioso

Estamos bombardeados por la negatividad y las noticias de la calamidad que promueven el miedo, la ira, la ansiedad y el estrés. Cara sugiere que, en lugar de sucumbir a estos efectos nocivos, opte por cambiar a un estado más tranquilo a través de la meditación consciente, el yoga, el sueño adecuado, pasar tiempo al aire libre y optimizar la conexión intestino-cerebro.

Sueño

La falta de sueño conduce no solo al mal humor, sino también a un sistema inmunológico debilitado e incluso a un aumento de peso: te hace sentir más hambriento y promueve la resistencia a la insulina. Así que asegúrese de desarrollar buenos hábitos de sueño y haga del sueño una prioridad.

Entrenamiento mental

La meditación es una práctica de estar presente con tu mente mientras te sientas quieto y respiras. Se llama “práctica” porque necesita seguir haciéndolo de manera constante para lograr la aptitud mental.

Optimización Intestino-Cerebro

¿Has escuchado la famosa cita de Hipócrates: “Toda enfermedad comienza en el intestino”? Bueno, Cara proclama que “la aptitud mental comienza en el intestino”. Estudios recientes han demostrado que nuestro microbioma intestinal está formado por más de 100 billones de células bacterianas y que producen más transmisores del bienestar, como la serotonina y la dopamina, que el propio cerebro.

Entonces, para mejorar nuestro estado de ánimo y claridad mental, debemos combinar enfoques psicológicos con enfoques dietéticos para optimizar nuestro microbioma intestinal. Una dieta saludable de alimentos integrales es un pilar fundamental, pero ¿sabía que la densidad de nutrientes de nuestros productos cultivados en los Estados Unidos ha disminuido en los últimos 50 años? Según el Instituto Rodale, estamos comiendo plantas que carecen de nutrientes gracias a toda la agricultura industrial que agota los suelos en todo el mundo. Por lo tanto, también es importante tomar suplementos para asegurarse de obtener todos los nutrientes vitales críticos para su salud. Estoy feliz de hacer lo que los detractores llaman “orina cara”, ya que no tengo mi propio jardín orgánico rico en tierra ni vivo en una burbuja libre de toxinas.

Y por último pero no menos importante, ¡Ponte en marcha!

No necesita comprometerse con todo lo anterior a la vez, pero agregar gradualmente una de estas prácticas formará su nuevo hábito y una rutina de entrenamiento cruzado establecida para su salud mental.

5 Tips to Starting Off the New Year in a Healthy Fashion

I used to make New Year’s Resolutions every year until I realized that making promises at the beginning of the year which inevitably get broken within 90 days was not a sustainable habit. So, in light of the New Year, I’ll share some things you can do to take control of your health without a calendar to dictate your actions.

Cut the Carbs, Sugar & Bad Fats

One of the first things we can do is control what goes into our mouth. We as a society eat way too many carbs, sugar and bad fats. As you may be aware, chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, cancer and obesity are all tied to our over-reliance on what has become the standard American diet. Have you noticed how having a high-carb/high-sugar meal makes you crave more snacks several hours later? These high-carb foods (breads, cereals, pastas, waffles, pancakes, cookies, cakes, pies) cause blood sugar fluctuations that lead to incessant carb cravings thereafter. So, what to do after weeks of eggnog, wine (of course – alcohol is formed from sugar), grandma’s pumpkin pie and that holiday feast with turkey, stuffing, and mac and cheese?

First, reduce your carb and sugar intake. This does not mean you have to go on a ketogenic diet as moderation is key as you transition from all the holiday festivities.

  • Get most of your carbs from plant-based sources, primarily non-starchy vegetables like greens, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage). You can add some fruit like apples and starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and beets to up your carb intake but the key is to make greens and veggies the mainstay of your daily plate. And no need to count calories – eat until you are satisfied as these veggies are high in fiber and volume and low in calories. Also, eating a naturally fiber-rich diet will help with elimination and keep you ‘regular’.

  • Eliminate bad fats and add good ones.
    • Man-made fats that are hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils like margarine should be avoided like the plague. If nature intended for humans to consume them, they would be naturally available. Also, vegetable oils (corn, soybean, canola, grapeseed, peanut, cottonseed, safflower, sunflower) are HIGHLY processed and READILY oxidized when exposed to light, air or heat. Oxidized or ‘rancid’ oils are NOT healthy for humans so it’s best to avoid them.
    • Healthy fats should be added to the diet – it sounds counter-intuitive for losing weight but healthy fats are necessary building blocks for cell membranes and for keeping hormones in balance. Non-animal sources of fat include avocados, avocado oil, nuts and nut butters, coconut and coconut oil, olives and olive oil. Animal sources include lard, grass-fed butter/ghee, grass-fed/wild-caught/pasture-raised meats and fish. 

Good Health Begins in the Gut

Good health = healthy gut = good intestinal bacteria. The human gut is home to more than 100 trillion micro-organisms and contains 10 times more bacteria than all the human cells in the entire body. Recent studies suggest the role that the gut microbiome plays in regulating the risk of diseases like cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and cancer AND the importance of diet in altering the gut’s microbial composition. So to keep your gut flora healthy:

Manage stress levels as studies have shown that prolonged stress can negatively alter intestinal microbiota composition

Get Moving!

If you don’t have time to exercise, how about starting off with a daily 7-minute workout? This free app called 7M offers exercises for a variety of body parts and they are only 7 minutes long. They have options with weights or without so no need to invest in equipment to get going.

Here are two 7-minute high-intensity interval training workouts to try without downloading the app:

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/well/workouts/

Take Time to Meditate/Reflect

You don’t need a 30-minute meditation or yoga practice to get your mindfulness quotient in. Upon waking, try a 5-minute breathing or meditation exercise. Here are a couple to try:

And before bed, try to reflect on the happenings of the day – what went well and what could be improved. This raises awareness of the positive things achieved in the day along with areas for improvement. Continuous improvement and learning is key to keeping us youthful and vibrant!

Practice Good Sleep Habits

And last but not least, establish a sleep rhythm that works for YOU as we all have different sleep clocks. I have tried to be an early riser (before 6:30am) SO many times but it’s not my optimal sleep clock and ends up making me more tired and run down. Against my better judgment, I woke up REALLY early (5:30am) over Thanksgiving holiday to go walking with my sister – although I got my steps in, I ended up with a head cold which lasted for weeks.

If you are an early morning person, you can do a lot of the important tasks early in the day. But if you’re like me and cannot get going until around 7am after a stiff cup of coffee, you may be more prone to get some productive work done well into the evening.

So, in addition to when you sleep, determine how much sleep you need to feel optimal – some feel fantastic after just six hours but if you’re like me, you will need at least 7-8 hours to survive the next day.

So, how about a New Year’s plan of consistency, moderation and steady improvement to keep you going and going? Happy Holidays!