Changing Habits

Changing Habits

As a self-proclaimed psychology buff (I started reading psychology textbooks at 10 years old for fun), I often think about habits and the patterns that people unknowing integrate in their lives.  Why are some people prone to unhealthy habits and addictive behaviors, while others are not?  What causes some people to change and others to become stagnant?  What makes something healthy or unhealthy?  Could something that is generally considered healthy be unhealthy?  Most importantly, how can we change unhealthy behaviors to healthy habits?

Take, for instance, morning coffee.  Everyday, I see a long line of people outside a popular coffee establishment on my way to work.  Why waste that precious morning time?  I know not to approach one of my coworkers before 10 AM in the morning because she hasn’t yet had her coffee.  Whether coffee itself is healthy or not is controversial, but difficulty functioning without coffee certainly seems unhealthy, right?  What about something that seems healthy like working out?  Could overworking out be unhealthy?  For argument’s sake, let’s just say that almost anything can be healthy or unhealthy.  However, it is 1) the way we approach it, 2) how much we rely on it, and 3) how much it affects our ability to function everyday with normal tasks that can indicate whether or not a habit is healthy unhealthy.

Once a habit has been identified an unhealthy, how can it be changed?  In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg writes that people develop habits because they have an unmet need (or cue), which triggers the brain to start a routine to attain a reward.  This is known as the habit loop.  After a few times of going through the loop, the brain remembers the loop and automatically puts it into action.

thehabitloop

For example, it’s 3:30 PM at your new job and you are feeling a bit restless, but don’t know anyone there.  Your coworker asks you to take a coffee break.  Although you may not feel like having coffee, you go anyway for the company and office gossip and indulge in a double latte.  You come back satisfied.  It’s now 12:23 AM as you stare at the alarm clock and you cannot sleep.  You finally doze off at 2:18 AM.  The next day, you feel a bit groggy.  At lunchtime, however, you start to drag and feel bored again.  At 3:00 PM, your coworker asks you to take a break and you head out for a coffee break with him.  This is how a habit loop works.  Your need for socialization led you to accept your coworker’s invitation to squelch the boredom (the cue) and satisfy your need to socialize (the reward). Although the need to socialize is not unhealthy in itself, taking a mid-afternoon coffee break is unhealthy if it keeps you up at night and affects your productivity the next day.  Eventually, the cue and reward become so intertwined that you associate your need for socialization with the coffee break.  The habit is formed.

Changing habits is difficult if: 1) you have not identified the true need or 2) there is no perceived reward in a new routine.  If the new routine involves deprivation, the mind and body become acutely aware that the need is not being met and that there is no reward.  For instance, when most people try to quit smoking or eating unhealthy foods, they may not necessarily know what they are really seeking and often feel deprived when the new routine does not satisfy the need.

According to Duhigg, the most effective way to change a habit is not to break it, but to replace the old habit loop with a new habit loop.  This also explains why many people turn to another addiction after getting over one because they’ve simply replaced an old (unhealthy) routine with a new (unhealthy) routine.  This is where first identifying an unhealthy vs. a healthy routine becomes essential.

The steps to changing an unhealthy habit to a healthy one are:

  1. Identify the unhealthy habit and the harm it is causing.
  2. Identify the need that the habit is satisfying.
  3. Find a different routine that would satisfy the need without the harm.
  4. Squeeze out the old routine by replacing it with a new routine.
  5. Repeat the new routine until the healthy habit is formed.

A change does not need to involve a major change.  Start small to build up motivation.  Often, small changes lead to big benefits.  The best part about making that small change is that it can lead to bigger and better changes that seemed impossible to accomplish before.

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All you need to do is show up

show-up

I grew up somewhat shy and sheltered. In my sophomore year of college, I remember telling a friend that I was really nervous about going to a neighbor’s house party. Not only was I not a drinker, but I hadn’t been to a party where other kids my age were drinking. I had no idea how to act or what to say. I thought I would eventually do something “wrong,” and give myself away and everyone would know that I was a big weirdo. The advice I got was one of the best I’ve received: “Most people are so concerned with themselves and their own issues that they aren’t looking at or thinking of you. And these guys will probably be so drunk that they’ll act stupid themselves. But no one cares! Just go, relax and don’t worry.” And that’s exactly what I did. I don’t remember if I had a drink (probably just held a cup of beer in my hand), but I didn’t feel like I needed to drink in order to fit in.

A year later, I was now regularly going to these college parties where alcohol flowed easily. At one party, where I probably had little, if anything, to drink, I was shocked when the next day, one of the guys at the party said to me “Shilpa, I didn’t know you were so cool! You came and hung out!” I thought it was a bit funny—that’s all it takes to be considered cool? Just go and hang out?!  (Granted, he drank a bit more than me, so I am not sure what exactly he remembered). That was another lesson I learned: Sometimes, you just have to show up. That’s all it takes. You don’t have to be or do anything! And if you’re drinking to the point of losing yourself, then are you really showing up?

Those two incidents positively influenced the way I interact with alcohol. However, there were times in my life when I felt pressured to drink (for example, in the workplace happy-hour setting) or when I felt uncomfortable saying I didn’t want to drink because I didn’t want others to think I was a boring, goody-two-shoes. As I became more mindful of what I wanted and what made me truly happy, those fears wore off.  If someone has a problem with me not drinking (or not drinking as much), it is their problem. I am just as comfortable drinking water at a bar as I am drinking wine with dinner. I feel in control of, and comfortable with, how much I drink, when and where. I am okay with saying I don’t like the taste of beer. I am okay with saying I like champagne, but I know more than one glass will give me a headache (I am a lightweight and proud of it). I am okay with saying that I don’t want to go out for a drink, but would prefer tea or coffee or a bite to eat instead. For the most part, people are receptive and have even told me that they find my stance refreshing.

Note: I am not saying don’t ever drink. I am saying that it may be helpful to be more mindful of why you’re drinking and whether you are really enjoying yourself and doing it responsibly.

Sometimes, people pressure others to drink because they think they should do it (it may be a pattern for them, a way to make conversation, or perhaps because they feel awkward themselves), but for the most part, no one cares whether you are drinking. Because most people care more about themselves than about you. What matters most is how it makes you feel and what you want to do.  You don’t have to do or be anything for anyone else. You don’t have to be the most witty, interesting, charming or funny person at the party. That is a lot of pressure to put on yourself. It’s okay to fit out. It’s okay to feel any good, bad, weird or awkward emotions that arise in social settings. Everyone feels a little bit awkward sometimes.  All you need to be is your authentic self and show up.

All About That Pit

deo

 

I am always looking for fun and interesting ways to live a healthier and cleaner lifestyle. I am not just talking about food and drinks, but also personal care, cleaning and beauty products. I love trying and making new things, and this DIY deodorant is one of my favorites!

You may have heard about the dangers of aluminum in deodorants (or heard that it is all hype). From everything I’ve seen and read, I don’t have enough information to conclude with any level of certainty whether it is dangerous or safe or somewhere in between. Certainly, there are a myriad of other questionable ingredients (i.e., parabens, phthalates and triclosan) used in commercial deodorants that have come under scrutiny lately.

I do believe that human beings are meant to sweat. Sweating releases toxins and blocking toxins from being released in any way (chemically or manually) is probably not healthy. Thus, antiperspirants cause me to raise an eyebrow. Odor is caused not by the sweat itself, but by the accumulation of bacteria metabolizing sweat emitted from sweat glands. Different types of foods, illness, or even long periods of stress will result in different types of odors.

I also believe that it is better to be safe than sorry, and so I looked around for alternatives. I’ve tried natural deodorants, spray deodorants, and crystal deodorants. If you’re curious, take a look at: http://wellandgood.com/2015/01/27/7-effective-natural-deodorants/

Eventually, I came upon a recipe for a natural deodorant and tweaked it to my liking. It works better than any natural or unnatural deodorant that I’ve ever tried. My friends ask me for samples and they love it too. The best part is that it is very gentle and makes my skin unbelievably soft and smooth. You can even use it on your feet if needed.

This recipe uses coconut oil, which is antimicrobial, antifungal, and antibacterial and helps prevent the buildup of bacteria and, thus, naturally reduce odor. Baking soda, cornstarch and arrowroot powder help absorb moisture without blocking toxins, and the tea-tree oil helps disinfect and also smells great. A 2 oz batch will last me a couple months. It does require reapplication before and after working out, but it does the trick.

Try it and let me know what you think!

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 tbsp organic extra virgin coconut oil
  • 1.5 tbsp raw organic shea butter
  • 1 tbsp organic arrowroot powder
  • 1 tbsp organic cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp baking soda
  • 3-5 drops tea tree oil
  • 3-5 drops lavender essential oil

Directions:

  1. Melt coconut oil and shea butter together in a double boiler (you can use a small glass bowl in a larger saucepan filled with water on low heat).
  2. Mix the rest of the ingredients in until it forms a smooth paste and pour into a glass jar.
  3. Allow the mixture to cool or harden in the fridge if a more solid texture is desired.
  4. To use, apply a small amount underarms as needed.

Organic, Local and GMOs! Oh, my!

We live in a world of options and much confusion.  From big life-changing decisions (should I buy that house?) to smaller, everyday decisions (what shoes should I wear today?).

When it comes to eating, we may think about what to eat, when to eat, and whether we want to eat healthy or indulge.  However, there is a vast array of conflicting information in mass and social media about the food we eat.  Should everyone eat organic?  What are GMOs?  What’s the deal with the local food movement?

Use this infographic as a guide to clean and healthy eating.

cleaneatingguide

Note: This is a simple and general guide on clean and healthy eating.  Individual needs and concerns should be taken into account.  Consult with your doctor, a health coach and use your judgment to decide what works for you.

Chocolate Truffles

Truffle

I make these fairly often to get my chocolate fix.  They’re quick (although rolling them can take some time), easy and healthy.  The best part?  They have no added or refined sugars because dates are naturally sweet, and are high in fiber, minerals and vitamins, including magnesium and potassium.  Unprocessed cacao powder is high in antioxidants, while maca powder provides energy and stamina.  Nut butters add some healthy fats and ground chia seeds add protein and melt the flavors together.

Bonus: If you are feeling artistic, you can also shape them into roses.

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Ingredients:

  • 8 oz medjool dates
  • 1/4 cup cacao powder (plus extra)
  • 1 tbsp nut butter (almond or hazelnut butter works well)
  • 1 tbsp maca powder (plus extra)
  • 1/2 tbsp ground chia seed powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • pinch, pink Himalayan salt
  • 1/2 tbsp extra virgin coconut oil (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom (optional)

Directions:

  1. Blend all ingredients together in a food processor until it forms a dough.
  2. Shape the dough into truffle-sized balls (sprinkle some extra cacao or maca powder when working with the dough to keep it from sticking).

Yields: 12 servings

Motivation

Motivation

Workout motivation, or as I would call it: gym-tivation, is tough to come by if you are overwhelmed with responsibilities, sleep-deprived or are just bored out of your mind.

After skipping the gym for days, I had a great workout today. Here are some tips to motivate yourself to move (indoors or outdoors):

  1. Sleep.  When I lack sleep, I can’t exercise as well, and when I don’t exercise, I don’t sleep well (bad cycle).  Break out of this pattern by ensuring you get a good night’s rest.
  2. Look the part.  Never underestimate the power of cute workout clothes and accessories.  I am not saying that you must shell out a fortune, but wear something that is comfortable and makes you look good.  When you look good, you will feel good and motivated.  Set out your clothes, shoes and accessories the night before so that they are within your line of sight as soon as you are ready to workout. Even if you don’t feel like working out, put on your workout clothes anyway.  As long as you’re dressed for the part, you are more likely to exercise.
  3. Warm up.  Have some green tea and relax before the workout.  Breathe deeply.  Listen to upbeat music and do some stretches.
  4. Have fun.  Find out what you enjoy to do physically (run, dance, jump, jog, yoga, pull, push).  Take a new class that you had been curious about and try something new.
  5. Do something (anything).  If you are just not feeling it, give yourself some measure or goal to reach.  For example, aim to stay on the treadmill for X minutes, run at least Y miles, or until you burn Z amount of calories.   Even a short workout is better than none.  Reaching an attainable goal will make you feel more productive and more likely to exercise again.  For when you feel really exhausted, try something relaxing like yoga.
  6. Music.  I love listening to music when working out. It’s my chance to disconnect from the world, social media, all sorts of nagging thoughts about what I need to get done, and just enjoy my alone time.  Depending on my mood, my workout repertoire can be either upbeat or relaxing.
  7. Get support.  A gym buddy can either help or detract.  I tend to workout best alone, but I also keep promises I make to other people.  So when I really need motivation to exercise, I ask a friend to join me to go for a walk or take a new class.
  8. Schedule.  Put it in your schedule / day planner.  Not only will it be a good reminder, but when you schedule something, you can visualize what your day looks like and what type of workout fits in with the rest of the day’s activities.  On a similar note, sometimes, scheduled classes offered at gyms or studios help me stay on track.
  9. Make it a habit.  It becomes easier to do something if you make it habit.  You don’t need motivation to brush your teeth in the morning or take a shower, do you?  It’s because those activities have been so ingrained that you don’t question whether you should do them. For tips on how to change or form new habits, see Changing Habits.
  10. Rest.  The frequency and intensity of your workout sessions will depend on your schedule, personality and body.  However, everyone needs some rest.  Allow yourself at least one or two rest days each week to give your body a chance to heal and become stronger.

What’s your gym-tivation?

Lentil Soup

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I love Pret-a-Manger’s lentil soup on a cold or rainy day.  It is the perfect comfort food without being heavy.  I was trying to replicate a cleaner version of the soup sans the sodium, while keeping the process simple by using a crockpot.  Lentils have lots of protein and fiber, while carrots provide Vitamin A and Vitamin C.  Tomatoes are rich in Vitamin, E, folate and lycopene, a powerful antioxidant, which is absorbed easier when the tomatoes are cooked.  Onions and garlic provide an immunity boost, while the combination of spices adds flavor and aids in digestion. This soup is hearty enough to make a complete meal, but light enough to have as a side in a smaller portion.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups low sodium, organic vegetable broth
  • 2-3 cups water
  • 6 oz dried lentils
  • 1/2 cup chopped carrots
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 2 large chopped tomatoes
  • 1 small chopped onion
  • 2 large minced garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp mild curry powder
  • pinch sea salt
  • 1 bay leaf

Directions:

  1. Pour all ingredients, except the bay leaf, in a crockpot.
  2. Lay the bay leaf on top.
  3. Cook on low for 6-8 hours on low heat until almost cooked.
  4. Pour about 1/3 of the soup in a blender (not including the bay leaf) and puree until smooth.
  5. Pour the pureed mixture back into the crockpot and cook for another 1-2 hours on low heat.
  6. Remove from heat, discard the bay leaf, and serve.

Yields: 12 servings