How to Build or Change a Habit

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create a habit

Make Your fitness Routine Stick!

Habits are defined as choices that all of us deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about but continue doing, often every day. In The Power of Habit, business reporter Charles Duhigg shows how habits work and how they can transform our lives. “Keystone habits influence how we work, eat, play, live, spend, and communicate”, and they “start a process that, over time, transforms everything.” Keystone habits are a series of changes that ultimately radiates out to every part of our life. By focusing on one pattern, other areas of our life are reprogrammed.

Keystone habits are a series of changes that ultimately radiates out to every part of our life. Click To Tweet

There have been studies that habits, like  memory and reason, are at the root of how we behave. We might not remember the experiences that create our habits. But once they are registered deep within our brain, they influence how we act. We might  not even realize it. The habit loop, as explained by Duhigg consists of a cue, a routine, and a reward. However, what powers the loop is a craving.

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Make Fitness a Habit

Understanding how habits work is very important when trying to establish a new fitness routine. Or simply start working out more. By understanding the loop, we can incorporate fitness into our lives. Excitingly, the benefits will spill over to other areas.

In order to create a habit we need to find a simple and obvious cue. Then clearly define the reward. Habits are powerful because they create neurological cravings. We’re already anticipating the reward before doing our routine. As we associate cues with certain rewards, a subconscious craving emerges from our brain. It starts spinning the habit loop. Habit emerges once we begin craving something associated with the cue.

For example, a simple cue can be our alarm going off in the morning. The routine would be exercising first thing in the morning. And the reward would be starting our day calm, collected, and centered. We need to allow ourselves to feel these benefits so that eventually the craving of them will make it easier to fit the 45 minute workout first thing in the morning. When our brain starts expecting the rewards we feel after exercising, which are a clearer, calmer mind and an energized body, we will begin to crave those feelings. It will become automatic to exercise every morning. Or at least five times a week. The cue must trigger the routine and the reward to come. When the temptation to sleep longer instead of waking up earlier to fit a workout in, we have to focus on craving the rewards that exercise brings because only the craving will drive the habit loop.

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Photo © Michelle Fimbres

Beauty of Keystone Habits

When we start habitually inserting the new routine of a workout first thing in the morning, we will start changing other seemingly unrelated parts of our life, often unknowingly. Exercise is a keystone habit that will trigger widespread change. It makes other good habits easier. I believe that we will start breathing more efficiently throughout the day. We will be more productive. We will have more energy and patience. Maybe, situations will cause less stress and anxiety. Maybe the habit will spill over to our eating and drinking habits. It will even change how we treat other people.

All You Need Is Willpower

To make exercise a habit, all we need is willpower. I believe that willpower might be the most important habit for individual success. In a 2005 study, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania analyzed 164 8th grade students. Those that exerted higher levels of willpower earned higher grades and got into better schools. Having willpower was seen as even more important to determine this, than having a high IQ. Cultivating self-disciple and turning willpower into a habit will ultimately spread to other areas of our life as well. We will have the power to refuse things we know are not good for us.

Studies show that willpower is a muscle. As we strengthen our willpower muscles, good habits spill over. “When you learn to force yourself to go to the gym or start your homework or eat a salad instead of a burger, part of what’s happening is that you’re changing how you think,” said Todd Heatherton, a researcher at Dartmouth. “People get better at regulating their impulses. They learn how to distract themselves from temptations. And once you’ve gotten into that willpower groove, your brain is practiced at helping you focus on a goal.”

What to Do When the Going Gets Rough

Duhigg points out that another important ingredient to the habit loop is how to design willpower habits to help us overcome painful inflection points. This translates to designing a plan when we don’t want to wake up earlier. Or when we feel unmotivated. We have to tell ourselves how we are going to make it over the hump. We can write out plans that anticipate how we will approach situations like these and practice the plan again and again until it becomes automatic. This is how willpower becomes a habit: by choosing a certain behavior ahead of time, and then following that routine when an inflection point arrives.

So if we want to make exercising daily a habit, we can start designing our habit loop that includes the cue (alarm waking us), the routine (a workout), and the reward (feeling good throughout the day). The craving and anticipation of all the benefits we will receive throughout our day from simply starting with an exercise of our choice will power the habit loop daily. We will exercise our willpower muscles on a daily basis and the benefits will spill over to other areas of our life! Let’s get started!

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Photo © Michelle Fimbres

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Top Mother’s Day Gifts to Promote Self-Care

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self-care-gifts

“A mother is a person who seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie.”

― Tenneva Jordan

Mother’s day is just around the corner. On May 14th we get to celebrate the woman who is always in our corner, cheering us on, making countless sacrifices, thinking of everyone before herself, and loving unconditionally. There is no greater selfless person.

Given their selfless nature, at the bottom of a mother’s priorities is self-care.

As far back as I can remember I never saw my mom taking time for any sort of  indulgence. I rarely saw her in a workout outfit because there never seemed to be time for exercise. She ate whatever was fast and convenient in between carpools and PTA meetings. And she definitely didn’t make time for a spa day.

For mothers, it’s hard to find the time and energy to take care of themselves. Their optimal health is at the bottom of the barrel, with emotional well-being not even being a blimp on their radar.

Sooo…what is self-care?

The term describes the actions you as an individual take in order to reach optimal physical and mental health. In other words, choosing to do something nourishing for yourself.

It doesn’t necessarily entail expensive trips to the spa or “treating” yourself to consumer goods. Self-care can include those things, but it can also mean simply taking a walk or unplugging from a mobile device or social media for an hour. Small actions that help restore a sense of balance to daily life. By blocking out time for self-care, you furthermore refuse to feel guilty about putting yourself before others. Which is something mothers tend to struggle with.

Research has illustrated that adding self-care into your daily routine reduces stress, decreases the chance of mental and physical ailment, increases productivity, and inspires feelings of happiness. By giving yourself a daily dose of self-love, you are able to approach work and relationships with a clear, happy mind, thus allowing the cycle of positivity to continue.

So for mother’s day, why not give a little nudge to the last person who would take the time to care for themselves.

Here are the top ten gifts to promote self care:

1.Gift basket full of goodies to promote a bedtime ritual

After a busy day, there is nothing like a bedtime ritual to decompress and apply all kinds of lotions and potions that promise to enhance a good night’s sleep. Taking the time to ensure you get the restorative sleep your body and mind needs is of the utmost importance. This determines waking up the next day feeling refreshed and energized.

Give mom the opportunity to schedule in that hour before bed to relax and indulge and create habits for a good sleep. Luckily, there are beauty items that she would love, not only because every woman does, but because they are special for overnight recovery. Such as this Serene Sleep Set from Kiehl’s. You can also add this Tata Harper Aromatic Stress Treatment.  It promises to provide a sense of calm and inspire feelings of peace and relaxation. You can customize the basket to fit your mom’s likes and needs while also sharing your favorite treats!

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2. The Happiness Planner

Mom spends so much time thinking about everyone else. This year, give her something that puts the focus back on her. This notebook serves as a planner, but also includes daily and weekly exercises to help her set goals, practice gratitude, and focus on the positive. This daily mindfulness planner is like a beautifully crafted happiness road-map. Daily and weekly exercises will help her reflect on what brings her joy and focus on making it a habit. She’ll be prompted to build reflection into routine, set goals, practice gratitude, note the good stuff, and track her progress.

Self-Care-Gifts

3. Stainless Steel Water Bottle

I often rave about drinking more water and how it changed my life. I used to get almost daily headaches and without knowing, it was because I was severely dehydrated. After making drinking more water a habit, the headaches disappeared. So, why not give mom a water bottle she will love and get her to create drinking more water a habit. This one includes a motivational message. Keep her hydrated throughout her busy day!

Mother's Day Gifts

4. Mom and me cooking class (or any mom and me activity)

Turn the gift into an activity that also counts as special bonding time. She will love the gift and experience. There are studies that reflect the power of shared experiences. This study by Yale University, demonstrates how sharing an experience with others makes the experience more enjoyable.

Shared experiences are powerful because they bring people together and enhance each person’s individual experience.Click To Tweet

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5. Moon Juice Swag

Amanda Chantal Bacon is the founder of Moon Juice. A shop full of tonics, herbal supplements, and probiotic snacks. Google Amanda and you’ll quickly find a slew of criticism for her esoteric health brand. However, her take on health is intriguing and she offers a style of eating focused on ingredients derived from Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine. Her new The Moon Juice Cookbook includes helpful information on how to harness the power of plants to nourish and elevate your body, beauty, and consciousness.

Moon Juice products, which Amanda describes as “medicinal-grade,” are labelled according to their purported effect on she who consumes them: Beauty Food, Stress Reliever, Joy Promoter, Brain Activator. The promise of transport is powerful. We are all a sip or a shot or a dusting away from being ugly, bummed, harried, dumb. Mom is sure to be intrigued and seduced by these products.

Self-Care-Gifts

6. Class Pack for an exercise mom will absolutely love

Exercise is not only important for a person’s physical well-being, but for their spiritual and emotional well-being as well. This gift will give mom the opportunity to get stronger mentally and physically, happier, less stressed, and infused with confidence. Mom will get countless benefits with this gift that keeps on giving. Every fitness studio offers class-packs so that students can try a class for an extended period of time. It ensures they get the most out of it and start seeing results. Maybe give mom the experience of trying out something new!

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7. Self-Massage Kit: Foam Roller & Massage Ball

A post-workout routine is just as important as the workout itself. The best thing is that it can also be applied after a hard day’s work. The foam roller is the perfect at-home tool for massaging sore muscles and improving circulation throughout the body after an intense workout…or a hard day at work! Foam rolling is a self-myofascial release stretching technique. By using a foam roller, mom will give her muscles a deep massage and break up the “knots” in the soft tissue. The benefits include: increased blood flow throughout the body, better movement, increased range of motion and flexibility. This is the best Foam Roller. You can also include this product by TriggerPoint. It is designed to replicate what it feels like to be pummelled in the deep tissue. Whenever, mom needs a massage, it will be fingertips away with these products!

8. Essential Oil Best of the Best Set

This set of 14 10mL bottles of assorted essential oils is perfect so mom can reap the benefits of aromatherapy. They will help reduce anxiety, boost energy levels, eliminate headaches, boost cognitive performance, induce sleep, strengthen the immune system, reduce pain, improve digestion, and increase circulation. As a plus, this set is packed with an informational guide explaining the therapeutic benefits of each oil.

Self-Care-Gifts

9. The Five Minute Journal

Help mom form the habit of starting the day off in a state of gratitude with The Five Minute Journal: A Happier You in 5 Minutes a Day. 

Research shows journal writing can make you healthier. Studies have found that emotional or expressive writing can reduce high blood pressure, enhance the immune function, and more. This journal is simple, quick, and effective with its simple structured format that takes just 5 minutes. It uses the science of positive psychology to improve happiness. It will focus mom’s attention to the good in her life, improve her mental well-being, make her feel better every day, and help cultivate gratitude.

The-Five-Minute-Journal

10. Tank with an attitude

A new addition to mom’s workout gear is a fun and encouraging gift. It can only motivate her to keep up with that fitness routine and her wellness goals. Why not get her a tank with a fun slogan. For example, if she loves yoga, she will love this Happy Baby shirt!

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How Yoga Came To be My Form of Expression

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Personal Story on an Existential Crisis

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It was 10:30 a.m. and I was still in bed one Tuesday morning. I had no desire to get up. Zero motivation.

This was my scenario for a few weeks.

I moved to New York for a Professional Training Program at Steps on Broadway. I’ve always loved to dance and my goal was to train hard in the two year program and eventually audition all around the city to get paid to do what I loved. Even if it was an Off-Off-Off Broadway show, it would’ve still been a dream.

The first year of the program has been one of the highlights of my life. Living in NYC, taking in all the city has to offer, and being in dance class and rehearsals every day. I did ballet, jazz, contemporary, musical theater, everything. My day started at 10:00 a.m. and ended at 8:00 p.m. I danced between 7 to 8 hours a day and loved it. I couldn’t get enough of dance.

So how did I find myself so unmotivated a year later?

Well, I got injured. I was in contemporary class, did a relevé (which means going up on your toes) and I felt something in my knee pop. It hurt. A lot.

I thought it was temporary. I rested and took the next day off. Which I mistakenly thought would be enough. But the day I was supposed to come back, the pain was there and worse.

This went on for a while.

Eventually I had to take a month off. I really wanted it to heal and thought the only way was to rest completely. At first it was fine; you know watching T.V., reading, stuff I hadn’t been able to do. I went out with my friends without the pressure of I have to wake up early and dance my butt off all day lurking at the back of my mind.

Well, my knee never healed. Even when I went back, it didn’t feel the same.

I went to physical therapy religiously for a year, did the exercises… It was disheartening to find out that my knee pulled because of misalignment that started in my hip. Basically I had to change the way I walked and moved. Easyyyy…

It’s a challenge for your mind and emotional state to realize that you basically have to re-learn how to walk and stand.

After a few months, I continued the program and tried to dance maybe not 8 hours a day but definitely 5. My knee was still tender and I couldn’t do a full ballet class- no jumping. I also couldn’t do anything full-out. This was soul-crushing. Especially to a girl where her thing in dance was throwing herself in the movement with abandonment. That was my thing. I didn’t have perfect technique or body type, but I definitely had the passion and fearlessness to just move as if my life depended on it. So after I couldn’t do that, I felt like I had nothing to give anymore.

It was a physical and emotional rollercoaster. I had one good day and my knee would hurt the next. Basically it felt like I would never heal and never go back to the way it was.

Well, this went on for more than a year.

The psychological nature of not feeling like myself in dance took its toll. I felt way behind the other girls in the program who were able to give it their all and advance. Me, I was not advancing. Just lingering.

I finished the program, but obviously not the way I wanted.

Fast forward to lying in bed with no motivation to do anything.

What was I going to do now?

It took a while for me to decide what I wanted to do with my life. And New York is no easy place to be in this state.

What do you do when you have a dream. Spend years going after it. And suddenly you have to have a new dream in order to feel worthy?

I eventually got a job still related to ballet but it was a desk job. For the first time in my life I was going to have to learn to sit still. No wonder I have complexions about my age. I retired before I even started and went straight into a job that dance retirees go when they’re in their mid-30s. Except I went ten years earlier. And I stopped dancing completely. Not even as a hobby.

I faced the fact that my day to day life consisted of sitting in a chair in front of a computer. And I faced daily existential questions.

I still didn’t feel like myself. Something was missing.

Until one day I took a yoga class. I had taken yoga as a supplement to my dance training. But never by itself. After that day, I began seeing it as a practice. A habit. And suddenly something inside me shifted and I began to feel like myself again.

I eventually got out of bed with purpose again.

I never knew why I felt so different until two days ago that I was in class and a friend was observing.

“I’ve never seen this approach to yoga before, but your practice looks like you’re expressing yourself. Like you’re performing choreography. It looks like you never stopped dancing; you just fueled it right into your yoga flow.”

It all clicked.

Three years ago, yoga got me out of bed. I approached my daily life and my job differently because of it.

And now I just completed my initial 200 Hour Teacher Training and I am on the path for the 500 Hour Certification.

And yes, as cheesy as it sounds, I learned that when one door closes, another door opens.

I will keep creating dances within my yoga flows and will hopefully provide the space for other people to do the same through my teaching.

So my mission is Yoga for Expression.

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Spring Clean Your Health Routine

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My favorite time of the year is here. The snow starts to melt; the possibility of an end to the cold winter months is on the horizon. I get off work and the sun is still shining. Not to mention pushing those thick sweaters to the back of the closet. Everything is a promise of new beginnings and warmer weather.

Along with the melting snow and the longer days, spring brings with it the chance to turn over a new leaf. It is the perfect time to evaluate where we are and where we want to be.

“An optimist is the human personification of spring.” – Susan J. Bissonette

Optimism creates room for transformation. We can spring forward with an attitude of change.Click To Tweet

Spring brings change; from darkness to light, from cold to warmth, from grey to bursts of color. It is a time for cleaning, new growth in gardens, and baby animals.  The new life, new beginnings, and bright, colorful new look that spring brings are hopeful signs of life renewal. We don’t remain in any one season or cycle.

We, too, have cycles and rhythms to our lives and to our growth process. What better time of the year to introduce some “house cleaning” and “new growth” to our wellness routines!

We can spring into action and spring clean our wellness routine.

Here are 12 ways to spring clean your fitness and wellness routines.

  1. Set a schedule
    During winter, at least in the city, the less you leave your home the better. You skip morning workouts and prefer to stay warm under cozy blankets. You skip evening workouts because you get off work and it’s already dark. Very un-motivational! Now you get to recharge your fitness goals. Post your exercise plan for the week on a calendar app, smartphone, or if you’re like me, pencil it in your old-school agenda. Planning your exercise in advance allows you to allot time for it, commit to it, and at the end of the week you get the satisfaction of knowing you achieved your goals for those days! Which brings me to the next point.
  2. Create new goals
    Now is the time to switch up your workout routine and try something new. Mixing up your routine is important so you don’t plateau and so your muscles don’t become used to a specific way of moving. It’s time to take the cardio workouts outdoors or maybe try bootcamp classes near the water. Maybe your goal can be as simple as bumping up the times you visit the gym. Hey, it’s simple yet effective. “Goals provide the energy source that powers our lives. One of the best ways we can get the most from the energy we have is to focus it. That is what goals can do for us; concentrate our energy”– Denis Waitley.
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  3. Change your thoughts
    Instead of setting goals with the destination or end game in sight, concentrate on the journey.
    Find a workout you enjoy and makes you notice all the other spiritual and emotional benefits. This is the key to making fitness a lifestyle. When you notice how much it positively affects other areas of your life, you won’t want to miss a workout.
  4. Spring clean your pantry
    It’s time to throw out those leftover Valentine’s Day chocolates. And while you’re at it, spring clean your pantry and throw away other foods that are low in nutritional value, such as cookies, pretzels, cereals, white bread, and yes everything that has the word “100 calorie snack pack” or “Skinny” on the label. Instead, start making those weekly trips to the Farmer’s Markets and get to know your local farmers. This way your foods will be fresh and seasonally appropriate to fit your body’s needs.
  5. Pump up that playlist
    Are you still listening to the same tracks from December? Do some playlist spring cleaning by downloading fresh energetic music to get you motivated and happy.  If you plan to incorporate outdoor fitness into your new routine, it is vital to have music on the go. With the new season it’s time to delete  Mumford & Sons’s “Winter Winds” from your list and replace it with U2’s “Beautiful Day.”  Countless studies have shown a link between music tempo and exercise performance. In a 2010 study, scientists noticed that cyclists tended to work harder while listening to faster-paced music. When was the birth of Soul Cycle?
  6. Stretch it out
    If you normally skip the cool down due to the fact that you can’t wait to get home and curl up under a blanket, it’s time to dedicate 15 minutes to stretching or foam rolling at the end of a workout. Stretching after a workout helps to reduce muscle fatigue. After working out, your muscles are warm and you benefit from increased blood circulation. Stretching will help your muscles to recover faster from a tough workout. Other benefits include, improving your joint range of motion and overall athletic performance, and decreasing your risk of injury. Sidenote, muscle soreness is one of the reasons that many people skip exercising.
    foam rolling
  7. Spring clean that workout gear
    A new, bright colored fitness outfit can give motivation and perspective to your upcoming fitness regimen. Still sweating it out in the same sports-bra as last year? Maybe it’s time to get a new one (FYI a typical bra has the lifespan of about 8 months).
  8. Hydrate hydrate hydrate!
    The importance of drinking water is not stressed highly enough. Habits are created easier if we have visual beneficial results. I always used to hear the importance of drinking water and it wasn’t until I witnessed the physical benefits that I started making a conscious effort to drink more. I used to suffer from migraines. Used to get 3 to 4 headaches per week. Now I know that I was severely dehydrated. So, I started drinking more water and the headaches miraculously disappeared. Now I get a headache per month. True story. With the change in weather it’s even more important to up your water game. By drinking more water, you avoid muscle cramping and fatigue. The more you sweat, the more fluids you need to replace, so drink up especially after a vigorous workout. This brings me to the next…
  9. Go green
    As flowers start blooming we can have a new grown appreciation for the planet as so much green surrounds us. In the city, central park is the epitome of nature at work. The park goes from being barren and brown to being lush and brightly colored. Now is the perfect time to trade in those daily plastic water bottles for a stainless steel bottle that is reusable and planet friendly.
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  10. Spice up your weekend activities
    Break up your routine with outdoor activities like tennis or golf, or team up with friends for an afternoon of spikeball (which I had seen pitched on Shark Tank and now see every time I picnic in Central Park.) All that Netflixing and Chillin’ done during the cold winter months where all you wanted to do was curl up with the heater are long behind us. Start treating the weekends as opportunities to do fun, outdoor activities that will get the blood flow moving. Biking around the city, hiking, swimming, there are countless ways to do something productive and fun that also gets you breathing all that spring air.
  11. Sign up for a race or challenge
    Find something that interests you and adds a positive goal to your fitness routine that will make you feel better and give yet another purpose to your fitness training. Look into local half or full marathon races or challenges that can be found in many fitness studios. You can even get friends together and get in that quality time as well. Maybe you can do something that you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t found the time. I signed up for a 100 hour Yoga training. I always wanted to do it and kept postponing it because I was always too busy. Well guess what. I think I will always be busy. If it’s not due to work, it will be due to countless other personal reasons.
  12. Indulge in a little self-love and reward yourself
    As a friend wisely said to me: you are your biggest investment. And it’s so true. So take care of your body and mind and schedule in that relaxation time. You know the scheduling I talked about? Well, pencil in specific blocks of time for a massage, manicure, or some “you” time.
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