7 Itzy Bitzy Keystone Habits That Will Transform Your Life.

Keystone or Cornerstone habits are small changes that have a big impact as posited by Charles Duhigg. It’s a small change that has a ripple effect. Like when you start exercising for 15 minutes in the morning. It ripples out to the rest of your day. You feel more energized, you are more productive, you aren’t in a crabby mood and make better food choices. Research has shown that about 50% of habits are unconscious. So the key is to make these keystone habits unconscious. You don’t want to stop and think about it.

We all start the day with about 100 units of energy. Each time you have to stop and think and make a decision, you’ve lost one more unit. You don’t get them back. So if you depleted all your units of energy by miscellaneous decisions like “what should I wear today” or “what should I have for breakfast” you are using up those valuable irreplaceable units of energy on minor decisions. So when you sit down to work on that big proposal at 3 PM you are spent. The sooner you can incorporate the itzy bitzy keystone habit into your life, the better.

photo-1420207452976-ae61088134b7

Here they are:

1. Make your bed. Your bed is probably the largest piece of furniture in your life. It takes up a lot of your visual field. When the bed isn’t made, it’s visual clutter. It’s a downer. A made bed on the other hand is a productivity starter. Karen Miller in an article called Your Bed is Your Head, says “Transform your reality. Face what appears in front of you. Do what needs to be done. Make peace with the world you inhabit. Take one minute—this minute right now—to enfold your day in dignity. Tuck in the sheets, straighten the covers and fluff the pillows.”

2. Get 7 hours of sleep. When you are well rested, you think better, you have more energy, you procrastinate less and you have a more positive attitude. The problem is that it’s easy to get sucked into watching “The Walking Dead” or binge watching “House of Cards” on Netflix. When you are at the end of your day your energy and will power are gone. Set up a bed time and stick to it. If you can add 15 minutes of reading a fiction book and keep your technology out of your bedroom, all the better. Set a bedtime and stick to it.

3. Get some kind of movement first thing in the morning. Spend just 10 minutes walking or running or doing push ups. Get your blood flowing. Maybe it’s yoga or walking in place. Put your sneakers next to your bed. Queue the exercise dvd the night before. Set out your gear the night before so that it’s effortless to get up and go. As a client of mine decided, she set up her coffee to automatically brew the night before to save time in the morning to get in some exercise. Move.

4. Separate from the Judge in your head. Give your Judge their voice. As instructed by Shirzad Chamine’s Positive Intelligence, I have been reframing my judgments by giving The Judge a voice. So instead of thinking “I think I look fat in this dress,” think “the Judge thinks I look fat in this dress.” Or “I didn’t get that job because I’m not good enough,” think “the Judge thinks I didn’t get that job because I’m not good enough.” Now the Judge is out in the open and, most importantly, you realize it’s not you. Having a positive outlook versus a negative defensive outlook will transform your life. Out your Judge.

5. Give up on perfectionism. Perfectionism is paralyzing. Regardless of what your mother told you, you are good enough. Mistakes are for learning. You will never regret that your spice rack isn’t alphabetized but you will regret not spending quality time with your partner. Giving up on perfectionism gives you more space to connect to others and isn’t that what life is all about? So don’t worry if your proposal isn’t perfect. Send it off.

6. Try some kind of meditation. At the beginning of your day or at the end or maybe on your lunch hour, find 5 minutes to slip into your body and out of your head. I have to tell you that I have been practicing Shirzad Chamine’s 15 minute meditation for the last few weeks. After meditating, I do three brain challenges from Lumosity. Since starting this new meditation, I’ve been achieving high scores on Lumosity. That’s tough to do since I have been using the app for over 2 years. Clearing out my head helps me think better.

7. Try habit stacking. As James Clear writes in his article, Habit Stacking: How to Build New Habits by Taking Advantage of Old Ones, “This is a concept called ‘habit stacking’ because you stack your new habit on top of a current habit. Because the current habit is strongly wired into your brain already, you can add a new habit into this fast and efficient network of neurons more quickly than if you tried to build a new path from scratch.” It’s kind of like a two for one. As Clear recommends, fill in this sentence:
After/Before [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].
So after I meditate, I will play Lumosity. Before I go to bed, I will lay out my exercise gear. After my shower, I will make my bed. Try stacking your habits.

These itzy bitzy keystone habits are much easier if you just try a small slice. One tiny step. So try meditating or exercising for 5 minutes and not 15 to start. I remember getting back to running after surgery a few years ago. I started with just getting out the front steps. The next day, I walked to the mailbox. Within a week I was back to walking two miles. As Darren Hardy says in The Compound Effect, “slow and steady wins the race.” These habits over time will compound and the half a bagel you cut out of your diet today will equal an 8 pound weight loss two years from now.

5 Ways Making Your Bed Will Make You a Better Person

Full disclosure, I am a reformed bed maker. I never made my bed as a kid, teenager, college student, newlywed or mother. Ok. I made my bed after washing my sheets, but beyond that or having company over, never. I would think, I’m so busy, there isn’t enough time, no one will know the difference. Then I dated a guy for several years who was probably best described as OCD. I learned a lot from this guy including, how to do perfect laundry (hint: hang everything immediately), how to make the perfect margarita (hint: fresh lime juice) and how to make your bed every day. Actually it wasn’t literally how to make your bed but more so the habit of making your bed. I began to appreciate the Zen of making your bed and, eventually, it became my habit as well.5 Ways making your bed will make you a better person

At least once a week, I leave the house before my husband is out of bed. When I arrive home, if the bed is not made, I feel let down. So no wonder that meeting didn’t go well. I immediately repair the situation and make the bed. Whew. Relief. As my husband says, the shui is back, as in feng shui. Feng shui is an eastern philosophy of positive energy flow. Regardless of what some Taoist said 3,000 years ago, a made bed feels better.

So here they are. The rationale behind making your bed everyday:

1. Productivity. Charles Duhigg’s, The Power of Habit says “Making your bed every morning is correlated with better productivity, a greater sense of well-being, and stronger skills at sticking with a budget.” This has been true for me. I am more productive when my bed is made. There is a sense of satisfaction that if I can make my bed, I can get all sorts of things accomplished. It’s the added advantage that it’s normally accomplished first thing in the morning and sets the rest of your day up for success.

2. Head. Karen Miller in an article called Your Bed is Your Head, says “Transform your reality. Face what appears in front of you. Do what needs to be done. Make peace with the world you inhabit. Take one minute—this minute right now—to enfold your day in dignity. Tuck in the sheets, straighten the covers and fluff the pillows.” I get this. Here is one of the largest objects in your life and it is at peace. There is space. Make your bed to clear out your head. It allows you to address those things that need to be tended to.

3. Chain reaction. Small habits start a chain reaction of big transformation. Duhigg says, “Small wins are exactly what they sound like, and are part of how keystone habits create widespread changes.” Keystone habits beget other habits so if you eat a nutritious smoothie in the morning, you skip going to Starbucks, you read a book instead of watching TV and on and on. It’s like lighting a fuse to momentum. I write better when my bed is made. I feel like exercising, eating better, working harder, being better. So a two minute task can do all that? Let’s do a temperature check. Is your bed made right now? What is the chain reaction either way?

4. Impact. In Gretchen Rubin‘s blog Make Your Bed, she says,” Especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed, picking one little task to improve your situation, and doing it regularly, can help you regain a sense of self-mastery. Making your bed is a good place to start, and tackling one easy daily step is a good way to energize yourself for tougher situations.” It seems so small. So mundane. It’s almost like it builds resilience. Hmmm. Instead of having a V-8, make your bed.

5. What is. When I first married my husband, I struggled with trying to get him to make the bed. He frequently slept later than I and my expectation was that last one out of the bed makes it. Well, this was not a priority for him. I held a lot of resentment if he didn’t make the bed. I’ve let that go. As Byron Katie posits “Love what is“. I can spend all day wishing and praying or nagging and cajoling or I can let go and love what is. Find the joy in tasks like making the bed. There are plenty of other tasks that my husband does so ‘what is’ might be me making the bed. ‘What is’ are the two minutes in my life to embrace the simple elegance of making the bed. Set yourself free and love what is.

My kids, as young adults, still don’t make their beds. And I’m not about to twist their arms. The minute they head back to college or their apartment from vacation, I head up to their rooms to make their beds. I don’t know if there can be better energy or chi by proxy through my efforts but I sleep so much better knowing that in the bedrooms above me, there is order and space. Do you make your bed on a regular basis?

Conquering Fear. More Lessons from my Dog.

There is a hyper-delicate balance between rational and irrational fear.  This is easily explained by example:  there is the well-founded fear of standing-in-the-middle-of-a-field-with-an-umbrella-in-a-thunderstorm fear.  On the flip side there is the fear that the cockroach skittering on the floor will somehow approach and harm you.  I suffer from both.  I am the biggest wuss in my house.  Ask my kids. They will be happy to back this up.

In Galvin de Becker’s book, The Gift of Fear, the case is made that some fear is innate.  Fear can save your life as he shows in an example in the book.  The simple act of an attacker closing a window as he leaves his victim behind in the room and, intuitively, the victim realizes that if she doesn’t get out of there, she will be a murder victim.  She does and lives to tell about it.

There is the completely neurotic fear that my dog, Baci, suffers from.  She won’t step on a different surface.  New hardwood, tile, slate or plywood.  She will not step over it, onto it or around it.  She is paralyzed.  It seems so irrational but there must be something to this paralysis.  Did she step onto some surface in her puppydom that caused this irrational fear?

So now what? How do you conquer fear?

1.  Check First.  Is this rational? What are you basing this on?  Is the cockroach really going to attack you? When did you last read the headline – “Mother Killed By Palmetto Bug.”  Think about this in relation to YOU – Would applying for that new position mean you would lose your current job? Nah.  Face it, most decisions you make are not catastrophic.  But investigating what your fear is based on is important; especially when it comes to your future in the workplace.

2. Research.  I find that researching all available scenarios helps.  If you are looking for a new job, maybe this means looking down avenues you would typically not consider.  Maybe you would be willing to move or adding an extra 30 minutes to your commute. Maybe look at a different industry.  Baci is constantly testing the waters;  especially if there is a desirable tennis ball in the middle of the piece of plywood. Doing the research makes it easier for her to take the next step.

3. Test. Take a step. Go grab your slipper from the other room. At least you’ll be prepared to smack that cockroach. Call a friend you know in the industry you might want to move to and ask what opportunities are available.  Baci starts by putting out a paw and then retreating.  She’s testing her hypothesis.  You are going to have to test the waters.  Start writing the blog even if you don’t finish it in the first pass.

4.  Scared. Sometimes you just have to do it scared.  Actually, you frequently have to do it scared. My husband and I were watching the gymnastic trials for the Olympics last year.  There was Danell Leyva on the high bar, flying high above the bar in some kind of back flip. I turned to Kevin and said, “So how do you try that the first time?” We laughed. But you have to.  I can promise you Levya, was at least a little bit scared the first time he let go of that bar to launch himself 25 feet above the ground. You really don’t want to fail at that the first time out –  watch it here. Do it scared.

5. Pathways. You are going to need to lay some new neural pathways.  Charles Duhigg compares them to ruts in the mud. It’s really difficult to change ruts. The only way is to start working on it.  This is extremely hard for me. Take a breath, regroup and lay down a new rut.

My dog Baci is amazing at this. First, she is paralyzed by the new hardwood floor in the dining room. She won’t set a paw on the floor. But her favorite window for squirrel hunting is only three feet away…across the new surface. She runs around to all the entrances to check that the new surface is everywhere. She looks at my husband to be assured that the new surface is safe.  Sniffs.  Tests it with her paw.  Retreats.  It may take an hour or three days, but eventually she is trotting up to her favorite spot staring out the window, standing proudly on the new hardwood floor.  She’s laying new neural pathways.

How about you?

Radishes for breakfast

Willpower is a finite resource.  I’ve been reading “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg at the suggestion of Cindy Lamir from Impact Business Coaches.  It’s amazing what researchers will do to college undergraduates.  In one study, they had two groups of participants.  The first group was put in a room with a bowl of radishes and a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies and they were told to eat  all the cookies they wanted but ignore the radishes (easy enough) for 5 minutes. The second group was told to eat all the radishes they wanted and ignore the cookies, so they spent 5 minutes resisting the warm cookies.  Afterwards they were given a difficult puzzle to solve.  The cookie folks spent an average of 19 minutes trying to solve the puzzle, the radish folks (in addition to being grumpy) gave up after 8 minutes.  The radish folks had spent their willpower.

In another study with two groups of participants, one group was given an altruistic  reason to resist eating warm chocolate chip cookies for 5 minutes and treated with respect. The other group was treated rudely and told to resist the cookies.  The group that was treated with respect out performed the other group when given a cognitive test.  The disrespected group had spent their willpower.

All of this involves your prefrontal cortex which, as I described in my post “The Big Lie”, is a small stage with room for maybe three actors. Unless you can make something a habit and, therefore, moved off the stage, you will be exhausting your resources.    So how can you get the best results from your prefrontal cortex and optimize all those radish inducing moments?  Here are 5 steps:

1. The early bird.  Your best work is in the morning.  Your tank is full.  The stage is clean and there plenty of resources available.  If you need to deal with a difficult situation (perhaps reprimanding an employee or talking to your ex) do it in the morning.  If you are going to be creating (writing your novel, painting a master piece, or developing a new project) the early bird gets the worm and better results.

2. Unplug.  The last thing you want to do is spend time on email, voice-mail, social media or sit around the water cooler.  This seems counter intuitive – doesn’t everyone spend the first hour at work cleaning out their inbox and putting out fires?  You are going to need to turn it off to do your best work.  Putting out fires will only deplete your fuel tank and leave less resources for your creative best.

3. Focus.  Set the timer for one hour and focus on your masterpiece.  If you can’t possibly handle an hour, then start slow with 15 or 30 minutes .  There are apps for this as well.  Check out the link for some apps that are available to keep the distractions from your desktop at bay.  Anywhere from 60 to 90 minute chunks are optimum for flow.  Try for one chunk per day and then move up as your schedule (and distractions) permit.

4. Break. Take a break after your chunk of flow has been completed.  Powering through on for 2 hours or 10 will diminish your abilities.  Your prefrontal cortex only has so much in the tank and it needs some time to recoup.  If it’s not possible to go for a walk, talk with a colleague or call your mother; kill some time doing menial tasks like cleaning out your inbox or clearing off your desk.  Just be sure to step away from your masterpiece.

5. Return.  Get back into the project only after you have completed steps #2 thru #4.  Remember that as the day wears on, you are expending precious resources and that your best work is likely behind you.  This is true so long as you can stay away from the radishes and rude folks.  If you are starting a diet, upset with your cable company or just found out you bounced a check…walk away from the project.  If you can’t do your best work with all of your resources and a stage with one actor on it – leave it for another day.

So now you are thinking – but I won’t get anything done.  You can get things done and the quality of your work will be far superior if you just plan ahead.  Take care of your prefrontal cortex to maximize your results.  Stay away from the radishes for breakfast.

What would you do?

Triskaidephobia

This is my 13th blog post and I have the fear of the number 13; hence the title. Ironically, it’s my daughter’s favorite number. There is a hyper-delicate balance between rational and irrational fear.  This is easily explained by example:  there is the well-founded fear of standing-in-the-middle-of-a-field-with-an-umbrella-in-a-thunderstorm fear.  On the flip side there is the fear that the cockroach skittering on the floor will somehow approach and harm you.  I suffer from both.  I am the biggest wuss in my house.  Ask my kids. They will be happy to back this up.

In Galvin de Becker’s book, The Gift of Fear, the case is made that some fear is innate.  Fear can save your life as he shows in an example in the book.  The simple act of an attacker closing a window as he leaves his victim behind in the room and, intuitively, the victim realizes that if she doesn’t get out of there, she will be a murder victim.  She does and lives to tell about it.

There is the completely neurotic fear that my dog, Baci, suffers from.  She won’t step on a different surface.  New hardwood, tile, slate or plywood.  She will not step over it, onto it or around it.  She is paralyzed.  It seems so irrational but there must be something to this paralysis.  Did she step onto some surface in her puppydom that caused this irrational fear?

So now what? How do you conquer fear?

1.  Check First.  Is this rational? What are you basing this on?  Is the cockroach really going to attack you? When did you last read the headline – “Mother Killed By Palmetto Bug.”  Think about this in relation to YOU – Would applying for that new position mean you would lose your current job? Nah.  Face it, most decisions you make are not catastrophic.  But investigating what your fear is based on is important; especially when it comes to your future in the workplace.

2. Research.  I find that researching all available scenarios helps.  If you are looking for a new job, maybe this means looking down avenues you would typically not consider.  Maybe you would be willing to move or adding an extra 30 minutes to your commute. Maybe look at a different industry.  Baci is constantly testing the waters;  especially if there is a desirable tennis ball in the middle of the piece of plywood. Doing the research makes it easier for her to take the next step.

3. Test. Take a step. Go grab your slipper from the other room. At least you’ll be prepared to smack that cockroach. Call a friend you know in the industry you might want to move to and ask what opportunities are available.  Baci starts by putting out a paw and then retreating.  She’s testing her hypothesis.  You are going to have to test the waters.  Start writing the blog even if you don’t finish it in the first pass.

4.  Scared. Sometimes you just have to do it scared.  Actually, you frequently have to do it scared. My husband and I were watching the gymnastic trails last week.  There was Danell Leyva on the high bar, flying high above the bar in some kind of back flip. I turned to Kevin and said, “So how do you try that the first time?” We laughed. But you have to.  I can promise you Levya, was at least a little bit scared the first time he let go of that bar to launch himself 25 feet above the ground. You really don’t want to fail at that the first time out –  watch it here. Do it scared.

5. Pathways. You are going to need to lay some new neural pathways.  Charles Duhigg compares them to ruts in the mud. It’s really difficult to change ruts. The only way is to start working on it.  This is extremely hard for me. Take a breath, regroup and lay down a new rut.

My dog Baci is amazing at this. First, she is paralyzed by the new hardwood floor in the dining room. She won’t set a paw on the floor. But her favorite window for squirrel hunting is only three feet away…across the new surface. She runs around to all the entrances to check that the new surface is everywhere. She looks at my husband to be assured that the new surface is safe.  Sniffs.  Tests it with her paw.  Retreats.  It may take an hour or three days, but eventually she is trotting up to her favorite spot staring out the window, standing proudly on the new hardwood floor.  She’s laying new neural pathways.

How about you?