Tag Archives: mindset

Why can’t you keep your weight off? — The 8 Essential Rules for Weight Maintenance

29 Oct

Recidivism among dieters has prompted major revisions in treatment methodology as researchers discover the significant contributions of genetics, psychology, and environmental factors to eating behavior. More than 85% of Americans have dieted during their lifetimes, yet the majority of diets offer little flexibility to accommodate the biopsychosocial components of the dieter’s life. Weight regain is virtually inevitable under these circumstances as self-regulation and emotional management deteriorate. No longer can the traditional focus of nutrition from the calories in versus calories out approach; exercise; and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) be considered the gold standard intervention trifecta. Studies report a 98% relapse (weight regain) rate following weight loss. Approximately 50% is gained back after three years and the rest gained back after five years. While discouraging, we can learn a lot from the two percent who are successful maintainers. What do they do? How do they think? Where do they differ in regards to behavior? Research accessing the lived experiences of successful and unsuccessful maintainers offer rich details that those of us who are actively engaged in the weight loss process and preparing to embark into maintenance can begin applying.


1.     Be constantly vigilant: The dedication you implement during weight loss must continue during maintenance. The effort you put toward your health cannot stop once you have reached your goal weight. Ask what you are doing now that you are willing to continue with when you achieve your goal. Defensive pessimism, a concept described in the weight loss literature, explains the adoption of an approach with a foothold in reality. Successful maintainers anticipate threats that may occur, know that there will be times they struggle, and plan ahead accordingly. Any goal that is met with commitment is one we will work toward with a “no matter what” attitude. Relying on motivation for goal achievement will lead to disappointment—we will often “not feel like it” or “not want to” do something, but those who keep on keeping on understand the fleeting nature of feelings. With practice, they can more easily move past them and onto how happy and encouraged they will feel if they follow through with what they know is in their best interest. Self-determination theory classifies these types of goals as intrinsic. Weaved into the fabric of our lives, intrinsic goals parallel our core values.


2.     Develop a support system: Not only is support the number one factor contributing to well-being and resilience, it is a primary element in maintaining commitment to weight maintenance related behaviors. While research shows that responsibilities in other contexts, such as familial, relationship, career, etc. can create tension that can lead to goal-compromising behaviors, having a support network minimizes the negative effects of goal threats.


3.     Challenge your ingrained beliefs and behaviors: Most individuals who have been on and off of diets for most of their lives acknowledge the entrenched beliefs and meanings around food often created in childhood. Food as comfort, food as love, and food as a stress reliever are three of the most commonly held attachments to food. Many of us grew up hearing “clean your plate” or “you can have dessert when you finish your dinner.” Throwing away food was unacceptable. On the other hand, many are brought up in households of abundance. Food was always available and access unconnected to hunger. In essence, it was used as a pacifier when negative emotion was experienced (i.e. getting a cookie from during a time of upset). Successful maintainers become conscious of their motivations to eat and begin rewriting their narratives about food and the relationship they want to have with it.


4.     Self-monitor: The National Weight Control Registry is a wealth of information from over 10,000 individuals who have lost and maintained their weight for significant periods of time. Self-monitoring is one behavior you will hear them mention repeatedly as critical to their weight maintenance success. Practical aspects of monitoring include consistent weight tracking, monitoring of portions, engaging in regular exercise, and setting boundaries around eating practices. Emotional monitoring to avoid engaging in stress eating or eating for reasons unrelated to hunger include practicing awareness and management of stress, choosing more effective methods of dealing with negative

emotion, but also being flexible and compassionate with one’s self when setbacks occur.


5.     Adopt a growth mindset: Carol Dweck, a researcher from Stanford University, has studied the difference between a growth versus a fixed mindset and its impact on goal achievement. Individuals who take steps toward their goals with a growth mindset focus on discovery and exploration and believe that through learning they can develop skills and enhanced knowledge and proficiencies. It encourages persistence and expectations of failure for the purpose of greater success. We learned to walk by falling! A fixed mindset, on the other hand, encourages one to give up easily and reduces the likelihood that grit will be extended toward mastering something new. The concept of neuroplasticity and the manner in which we can be active participants through adulthood in changing our brains should provide ample evidence and motivation to continue learning! The growth mindset spurs individuals to be on the lookout for opportunities, and expansion of one’s biases and normal ways of behaving increases gray matter in the areas that matter most too. Your prefrontal cortex will thank you! Finally, successful maintainers adopt a non-perfectionistic approach. While they may not like failure, they embrace it and give themselves permission to experience it; they allow versus avoid painful emotions and disappointment, thus positioning themselves toward greater pleasure; and they are grateful for their successes.


6.     Be structurally flexible: Successful maintainers understand how rigid food rules and depriving themselves of their favorite foods creates more cravings, more urges, and the propensity to binge. They realize that they can’t eat whatever, whenever, but they plan for indulgences in moderation. Structured flexibility gives them a sense of control without the belief that willpower will carry them through the tougher situations. They learn to ask questions of their cravings and check in with themselves to understand what might be driving their urge to eat. They practice recognition of black and white/all or nothing thinking as well as distorted thinking that propels them toward mindless or emotional eating. For example, the use of “I choose not to” versus “I can’t eat that” feels empowering and more intrinsically motivating. Being structured but flexible means having high expectations in combination with the understanding that uncertainty is inevitable and will require reflexivity and responsiveness rather than impulsivity.


7.    Develop a toolbox of strategies: Different contexts demand different strategies. What is effective in one situation may not be appropriate for another. But successful maintainers know that they have the choice to change their environments or change the way in which they respond to them. In some contexts, an “if__________, then____________” approach can work well. This is called an implementation intention. For example, “If Don asks me if I want some dessert, then I will say ‘no thank you’ and excuse myself.” In other contexts a more flexible, responsive approach is needed. This could mean drinking more water when a cravings is felt; pausing to really assess physiological hunger; repeating a motivational, empowering mantra; asking a question to increase awareness; and/or slowing down during a meal to fully experience satisfaction and reduce overeating. In essence, successful maintainers create rituals—new patterns of behavior that help to create lasting, meaningful change.


8.    Master mindfulness: Successful maintainers describe how they’ve acquired a new sense of themselves—about their bodies, about their minds, and about their lives and what is important to them. As they have practiced opening up to new experiences, objectively assessing their circumstances, and observing their behavior less judgmentally, they see their lives through new lenses. They practice being present, more compassionate, paying attention, deepening their awareness, avoiding avoidance, and intentionality. Through such practices, a successful maintainer can recognize that different identities sit down to eat sometimes – identities based on prior learning, on comparisons of self to others, and ideas about what others believe.


Don’t miss out on the discussion! Tell us about your emotional triggers and the biggest difficulties you’ve had as you move toward your goal of weight loss OR if you’re working on keeping it off! What bogs you down and gets in your way?



3 Jun

It’s not our intuitive nature to do this. It is our tendency to move toward comfort. What if when we ask we receive an exceptional reply?

The “rest and digest” reptilian oriented state. Homeostasis. Equilibrium. You name it.

Chaos, on the other hand, and I speak in terms of cognitive, emotional dissonance, or put another way, incongruence or complexity, well, that’s another story.

A story. That you have the privilege of writing, if you so choose.

It embodies a questioning of the “facts.”

A discovery approach to your experiences.

A mindset that makes life your playground.

Hide and seek, without the hide. Seek and you shall find. “Looking in the mirror to see a bit clearer,” as the lyrics by Green Day say.

Can you be in your life like it’s a classroom, without the mindless repetition and regurgitation of the information, but one that has you engaging the information.

The ozone is depleting. Why? How are you contributing to this effect?

What good does “just knowing” do us?

Without asking questions and exploring “the truths”, we are the ones who deplete.

Candace Pert said that the brain is situated within the skull. It doesn’t move.

The mind, by contrast, reveals itself by way of the entire body.

Are you using your mind or your brain? Are you living as a whole person?


Fit and Focused—Mindfulness Matters

29 Jan

Mindfulness CartoonIf you haven’t yet checked out our new magazine, Alpha–The Evolution of Fitness, I’d snatch it up quickly. Don’t miss a single day that could be used to start creating your best life with cutting edge nutrition, fitness, mindset, and sport information!

In our last issue you were introduced to one of our contributing writers with a photo of him sitting upright yet relaxed in a cross-legged position, his supinated palms resting purposefully on his knees, the thumb and forefingers married intently.  The caption humorously poked fun at his Zen-like posture and its usefulness in capturing the attention of beautiful women. Guys, if you read it and gave it a try, we’d like to hear from you–we may be onto a novel way of match-making! If you haven’t assumed the sitting meditation pose, there are far more reasons than the possibility of discovering your true love. How about finding your truest life?

Those of you who know me are aware of my penchant for everything mindfulness-related. My audio courses and teleconferences teach it; my mental edge program (which, by the way, is not just for competitors) utilizes its principles for the development of optimal emotional intelligence; and while you won’t find me popping a squat in the middle of my office floor at The Diet Doc, you will find me screaming at Joe from below his loft, “You better not be eating and typing at the same time!!” I’m not obsessed, but I am excited. I’ve felt the benefits of mindfulness in my own life and I can tell you it has changed my perception of who and how I am, of what is important, and how I relate to others.  I’m happier, I’m more self-accepting, I’m more successful, I’m less negative, and I can more easily roll with the punches. I’ve never felt healthier. But don’t take it from me. I’m just some wacky, single, mid-30’s cat lady (you’ll understand when you read the magazine)! Read on to learn how mindfulness could make the difference in your life too.

Mindfulness meditation, while it has been around for thousands of years, has been garnering tremendous interest among fitness, health, and medical communities of late. Described by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a researcher and founder of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program at UMass, as a compassionate, non-judgmental focus on present-moment experience, mindfulness meditation is among the top six most recommended therapies of complementary and alternative medicine. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, in 2006 slightly over 9% of Americans engaged in meditation. That same year almost a million children meditated. School districts across the country are now teaching mindfulness to children in the classrooms, and governor Tim Ryan of Ohio has written a book about how mindfulness has changed his life. He is using his knowledge and experience with the practice, as well as the research behind it to develop the curriculums that many school in his state are implementing.

Mindfulness - You Can't Do it WrongIf you believe meditation in its various forms, and mindfulness in general, is just a rather fruity way of achieving some sort of transcendental spacing out, think again. It is being used  by millions to achieve optimal wellness; to cope with anxiety and stress; to manage emotional pain; to decrease the debilitating effects of depression, insomnia, and chronic illnesses such as cancer and heart disease; and to manage the psychological effects and treatment of disordered eating and substance abuse, just to name a few. The children who practice it are more emotionally aware, concentrate better in class, and exhibit greater resilience in the face of setbacks. Spacing out has no place in mindfulness—it is all about tuning in.

Fitness influences more than just the muscles beneath your skin that aid in the movement of your skeleton and impact your adiposity, strength, stamina, and flexibility of the shape that is uniquely you. Like the benefits listed above, exercise confers numerous health-related advantages, lowering our risk of many diseases and extending our longevity and quality of life. Consider that for every five points that an individual moves past the 30 point BMI, he/she loses 4% of the gray matter of the brain. That muscle beneath the skull, the one that actually gives us the ability to achieve the balance and proprioceptive skills necessary to lift the dumbbells over our heads, is significantly impacted by our focus on health. But without an intentional and direct emphasis on it, we’re choosing a lack of attention on half of the health equation.

A study published in Neuroimaging revealed that mindfulness increases regional gray matter with 8 weeks of practice and the benefits extend beyond formal practice time. Changes occurred most noticeably in the areas of the brain critical in emotional reactions, learning, memory, empathy, sense of self, and stress (Lazar, et al., 2011). (Those of you who struggle with will-power, poor body image, self-control, and related behaviors, I’d listen up). Sorry folks, the most common reason most people use for avoiding adoption of a fitness routine– “I don’t have time”– just won’t fly here. It’s not a valid excuse when it comes to exercise and nutrition, and I feel the same about it in this situation. All of us can say we don’t have the time. We make it for the things that we’ve deemed important. What’s the point of having a healthy body if you don’t have the mental capacity to appreciate it?

Mindful EatingThose of you who set goals for 2013 to lose weight, exercise more, eat more healthfully, or any combination of the three, and  you’re still plugging away, congratulations. Don’t stop. At any time you may stumble, encounter a setback, or feel less than thrilled with your progress, but these are expectable. If you want to ride the roller coaster of life’s ups and downs more resiliently, however, consider the effects of mindfulness on decision  making. A study published in Frontiers in Neuroscience in 2011 found that mindfulness practitioners as compared to those who do not engage in mindfulness, use different parts of the brain for decision-making (Kirk, 2011). Rather than impulsive and emotional reactions, the mindful individuals exhibited greater rationality and objectivity. Other research indicates that one of the most crucial components in successful weight loss and weight loss maintenance is behavioral flexibility. That means you have to be able to step out of your black and white, I-have-to-have-it-this-way-or-it’ll-all-fall-apart mindset, and be able to respond versus react.

Okay, if I’ve not convinced you yet, here are five more compelling reasons to begin incorporating mindfulness into your fitness routine.

  1. Mindfulness enhances immune response through increased antibody production.
  2. Attention, anxiety, memory and mood (say that five times fast!) are each impacted positively with mindfulness practice. Just 4 days of practice is all that’s necessary to increase focused attention, working memory and cognition.
  3. Irritable bowel syndrome symptoms decreased by 50% with 10 weeks of mindfulness training in a study published in 2010.
  4. Long-term mindfulness practices results in greater brain volume, less atrophy with aging as compared to individuals who do not engage in mindfulness, and strong neural connections.
  5. Binge eating was shown to decrease by 75% in a study conducted at Duke University with use of a mindfulness program.

The evidence is there. Will you put it into practice?

The Secrets to Success Aren’t Secrets at All–Strive and You Will Thrive!

13 Nov

Yup. Here I go again. Doing a running pole vault onto my “you’ve gotta fail to prevail” soapbox.

How can I not go there when research resoundingly and repeatedly supports the concept of goal striving for success. The individuals who “make it” have worked for it.

Striving, by definition, is action oriented! It’s powerful and carries an inertia about it that was brought front and center for me this weekend with so many of my clients competing in some very challenging shows. Some individuals, having dieted for over a year, exemplified what striving truly is: 1. To exert much effort or energy; endeavor. 2. To struggle or fight forcefully; contend. They knew what they wanted and they took the steps necessary to get there. Certainly not always easy, they contended with obstacles that threatened their ability and motivation to continue. Some questioned the reasons they were making the effort. Some were unwavering in their pursuit but acknowledged that they were suffering in some ways. Others dug deep enough each day, each moment, and exerted whatever energy they could to stay positive and mentally tough. No matter how they got to their goal, each of them failed in some way along the course. But they kept going.

What makes the difference between those individuals who decide to throw in the towel, adopt an “I’ll never be able to…” attitude, or believe they “just don’t have what it takes”  and the “all-in” folks?

Who are my weight loss clients who achieve success?

Who are my competitive clients who achieve their personal bests?

Who are the kids in our country who go on to college, graduate from college, and start successful careers DESPITE what would appear all odds being stacked against them– single parent homes, low incomes, poor modeling.

The ones who struggle and keep going.The ones who fall apart, pick up the pieces, look for alternatives, and move forward. And the ones who don’t expect to get something for nothing.

I could continue this blog with a rant about the election and what appears to be a country that is expecting handouts– yes, a lot of the younger population voted for a president who appears to want to increase reliance on the government, and I can only imagine what this might mean for the next generation– but I’ll stick to the facts.

Go all the way back to attachment theory, which states that kids need a nurturing relationship and environment to grow up in, especially in the early stages of development, to learn how to self-soothe, develop a measure of emotional management skills, and delay gratification. Recall Carol Dweck of Stanford who developed the theories of growth and fixed mindsets, and her research demonstrating how children who believe their achievements come from hard work and effort (extrinsic drivers) as opposed to being born with brains or without ( you can reference her studies in her book Mindset and my articles which describe what she found) expect to make mistakes and will try at something repeatedly before giving up. You’ve got the studies done with students who’ve come from various educational systems and socioeconomic backgrounds as well, and no, it’s not the kids who score highest on their SAT’s and ACT’s who are most likely to go to college and actually graduate. It’s the kids who get good grades in high school– the GPA is more indicative of college success than standardized achievement tests. Over and over again we see that it’s the work, time, effort, and perseverance toward the goal that makes the difference.

How come then, do I meet so many people who  1) expect for the journey toward whatever they’ve got their sights set on, to be easy; and 2) believe that something must be wrong if they can’t skate through the process without trips and stumbles?

Ask yourself this too: how often do you end up frustrated and mad, disappointed, or despondent because you can’t figure something out right away? Be honest. I’ve worked with many an individual and the word “breathe” is often one of my first pieces of advice when I see that crazed look in their eyes as if to say, “HELP ME!!!” I’ve also been met with this statement far too many times than I’d like to admit: “You’ve never had to struggle with something like this, Kori.” Or my favorite, “You wouldn’t understand. It’s always been easy for you.”

Ahem! Perhaps it’s not that it has been easy more than it has looked easy because I expect that in order to meet my goals I am going to suffer a bit, squirm around and not get what I want immediately, and wallow in the toil that comes with the minutiae and small steps toward the grand achievement. This is exactly what one researcher from UCLA has shown recently in his studies with children regarding teaching and learning.

As a graduate student Jim Stigler traveled to Japan to learn about the teaching methods there and how they compared to the approaches most often implemented in the U.S. What did he find? While there it became clear just how differently the children themselves took the learning process. They expected to struggle! They understood, because of the teaching style, that struggling was their opportunity to test their mental metal! They knew that solving problems meant being able to withstand the emotional conflict often experienced when you have to persevere as you trudge through the muck.  This is a far cry from the “you either get it or you don’t” mentality, right?
There has been a lot of coverage in the news recently about how far behind U.S. school children are in academics as compared to children in other countries. Teachers start out getting paid a lot more than in other countries. The class sizes are smaller. U.S. children spend more time overall in the classroom per year than most other countries’ kids. And yet they rank 25th in math, 17th in science, and 14th in reading. I’m not writing this to blame teachers. What I am proposing is that this has a lot more to do with the focus being in the wrong place. Academics are important. There is no arguing that point. But if we focus ONLY on academics  and getting the right answer versus what it takes to come by the answer, aren’t we missing the boat?

In his book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, Paul Tough described the differences found between children who acquired their GED versus those who graduated from high school, when their educational path was followed. 46% of high school graduates, at the age of 22 years, were enrolled in a university. Care to guess the percentage of GED recipients? Try 3%.  Factors such as annual income, employment rate, illegal drug use, and even divorce were considered, and GED holders looked just like high school drop outs. AND they are considerably more intelligent than high school dropouts! So what does this mean?

Cognitive ability, while important, did not net these individuals success. So what did? And what traits can you begin to learn to be that steadfast, determined, mentally tough, driven individual? Each one of us knows someone like this– that person we want to emulate and just soak up as much of their energy as we can. Here’s what they’ve got:

Many of these traits and skills are related to one another. For example, an individual who can manage his emotions effectively (i.e. discern stress and calm himself down so he doesn’t become overwhelmed to the point of giving up) can delay gratification in order to focus for a longer period of time on one step toward the bigger goal. Behavioral flexibility would allow the dieter who has been exercising daily but has just gone on a business trip and has no access to a gym to anticipate how she might work out while she’s gone but in a different way, for example, a hotel room workout.

Allow me to repeat. You must learn how to strive in order to thrive. You must learn how to fail if you want to prevail.

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated failures. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. ~Calvin Coolidge

P-A-I-N is a 4-Letter Word

27 Oct

Our Program Director wrote his first blog this week entitled Train with Pain. He describes his experience with exercising despite injuries, the value of modifying positions, and developing creative alternatives to facilitate continued work toward one’s desired goals. It’s an excellent article- you can reference it here—but it got me thinking along the lines of the psychological components of pain and how that pain often serves to derail our best efforts just like an injury in the gym might.

I’m no stranger to pain during my workouts. In fact, I relish it. My license plate frame is emblazoned with “Pain is weakness leaving the body,” an old quote that I adopted as my motto in high school when I wanted to be GI Jane. I still want to be Demi Moore in that movie. I think most of you who know me would argue that I am that tough, mind-of-steel, hard core woman, but my personal journey toward mental toughness and the power of the psyche to guide you through life has far surpassed what I  believe GI Jane ever endured or intentionally sought to practice. And I will forever be in a state of learning.

That stuck place where many find themselves, wondering what to do next, questioning how they are going to climb out of the holes they  feel buried in or perhaps feeling like there is no way out all,  stems in part from the mindset they’ve adopted. I give lectures often on this concept. Mindset is a word used in so many different ways. “I need to change my mindset” or “my mindset needs an overhaul” are common sentiments of those recognizing how their ways of interpreting their circumstances limit the accessibility of more novel ideas and new methods of behaving.

“My work is fast and furious now and I really like it that way, but I am not thinking about the eating bit the way I should.  I have been thrown into this new role of constantly having 5 or 6 things in progress or waiting on another project to come together.  I still prepare for my meals but the exercise is not something I am faithful about particularly since I spend the whole day with much on my mind and when I get home I am downright tired.  It’s like Murphy’s law – everything that can go wrong, does.  I have not been visiting the fitness place lately.  I don’t plan to give up this new life style, but it has become harder for me to stay focused.”

A great example of how mindset can cloud motivation and the determination put toward pursuing goals, this email from a client recently made me pause to consider just how much each of us can differ in how we make sense of our worlds.

For the most part, I would argue that we are more alike than different when we look at how we think instinctually. The majority of our actions are often geared toward a desire for acceptance, connection, and meaning. I see it all the time—random events being linked to something for the purpose of it being explainable. The unknown is hard to accept. We desire control over our worlds. So humans have developed in a manner that has us thinking in a more conceptual versus literal way. Take this simple example: when looked at literally, pain is nothing more than a 4-letter word. P.A.I.N. But when you see the word “pain” or you say the word “pain,”  you almost automatically conjure images of what you’ve interpreted as painful experiences. You may see a face, you may be taken back to a moment during your last leg workout, you may be reliving the moment when you had to put your pet to sleep, or perhaps something occurred more recently and  you’re back at home getting ready for work when you burned yourself while making breakfast. You get my point. In essence, this conceptual style of relating to something is based on a  mindset formed through processing of information.

A more literal interpretation of events is rare—even if we consciously try to access it, it can be difficult to separate ourselves from what we’ve already formed interpretations around. Ever tried to solve an old problem a new way? Generating solutions to common issues using a novel approach often proves to be quite difficult. Scientists have addressed this in studies of brainstorming, showing that the technique, despite being popular, is really quite ineffective for what its purpose is. In a group of individuals with a singular goal, everyone is being guided by everyone else’s thoughts, thus limiting the creativity of each individual. The likelihood that one person will keep what could turn out to  be a novel idea to himself because of the risk of ridicule or perceiving that it won’t be accepted is very real. We’re dealing then not only with sociological and relational issues at that point, but cognitive ones as well.

In other research, savants have provided us with telling demonstrations of the more literal cognitive style. Savants typically fall within the autism spectrum, but their skill in accessing the unfiltered information that each of us would benefit from, shows up usually in childhood or after trauma to the brain. Using the pain example above, a savant who is exercising might not necessary say during a particularly intense workout, “I can’t do another rep—this pain is unbearable!” Instead you might hear something like, “There’s a burning sensation in my bicep” or “My heart rate appears to  be elevating.” Obviously there are advantages to seeing or interpreting the world this way- such objectivity can net you a great ability to persevere through what others might deem too uncomfortable. On the flip side, of course, looking at situations in a purely literal sense may not bode well for other circumstances in daily life that require empathy in relationships or even reading comprehension.  Take the savant child who when asked to explain the ending of a book read in class recited word-for-word the final page but exhibited no concept of the meaning conferred in the words.

Pros and cons exist on either end of the continuum. What is the meaning of all this then? That we benefit from having a flexible mindset….a growth mindset. Carol Dweck, a researcher at Stanford University, wrote a book about this concept, in fact. She describes the fixed versus growth mindset and the barrier to adopting a “this is just the way I am” stance. Essentially, one who views achievement in a more effort-based manner than on innate skills and talents will thrive. She has demonstrated it in studies of children and their successes. The growth mindset in essence, embodies a desire to learn, to embrace opportunities for accessing new thoughts and ways of being to facilitate the achievement of a goal, and for training with pain–enduring the discomfort because it will eventually result in success.

One more example to exemplify how accessing a more literal frame of mind can enhance your life comes from a client navigating the choppy waters of a potential divorce. In therapy we often talk about process versus content. Process means the underlying meaning, for example, if your friend said to you “I’m really hurt by what you did the other day,” and you replied “I can’t believe you didn’t bring this up before,” a process focus would mean you are looking at HOW you are interacting with each other. In this example, you missed the boat. You just ignored that she was expressing to you a feeling. But your friend did a nice job of not blaming you. The how. The content is the WHAT of the interaction. She’s hurt. You’re confused. You can look at the conceptual versus literal  mindsets in much the same way.

Recently having gone through the death of his father, this man shut down a bit, became withdrawn, angry, and was lashing out at his wife in a manner she’d never been accustomed to from him. He struck out in hurt, criticizing his father and her. Some time had passed and he had reconciled his pain with having lost his dad, but now was dealing with the reactions of his wife regarding how he had behaved toward her at the time. He explained to me that he had recently had an epiphany of sorts, interpreting his experience in a new way and that he had wanted to share it with his wife. At a time when they were contemplating separation and actively engaged in significant relational strife, it took much courage for him to approach her with this. When he did, being desirous of a discussion about the content of his words, she brushed over the topic with surface-level attention, saying “everyone deserves some mercy now and then.”  For me, the impact of this was profound. She was explaining what he should have done for his father, and it was exactly what she was refusing to offer him.

Two things are demonstrated in this example:

  1.  My client had not considered this in her reaction to him. He said, “I’ve never thought about it that way.” (This is my whole point—we often see things in the same way every time  based on our mindsets)
  2.  With this new interpretation, they would be able to move in a new direction. She might be able to see that the more important aspect of this interaction was that it happened…that  he went to her with it.

Training with pain then, essentially involves us learning how to see things in a fresh way. Often that may mean taking as objective an approach as is possible, often getting feedback from others who can point out our biases, and by assessing the values that we infuse into our interpretations. For my client who described having difficulty staying focused, I offered her the following insights under the auspices that it might prompt her to think of her circumstances in a disentangled manner. Perhaps my response will help you too:

“I know the game of adjusting to a new role, new responsibilities, a new pace, and a new structure. A lot of my time is not MY time, if I’m not in appointments, my door is open and people can walk in at any time. I may be mid-thought writing an article for our magazine, or an email to a client, developing an exercise program, and WHAM!, I’m taken somewhere completely different. I also always have pending tasks–long term projects that always have aspects of them left undone and short term projects that can get done in two minutes. Wasn’t easy at first, but it got easier and feels just “normal” now. Tired — I know this well too. Tired is not synonymous, however, with being useless or unable to plan. Now we delve into the characteristics inherent in motivation and commitment– perseverance, determination, autonomy (someone not forcing you to do this but doing it because YOU recognize its importance), values (you have defined for yourself why it’s important), and competence (understanding that the more you practice, the better you get at it).
Please remember too that the thought you had that “it has become harder to stay focused,” is temporary. It is not that it’s harder permanently. Your circumstances currently are such that you are having to juggle your priorities differently. If you imagine your responsibilities like a pie chart (divided into sections according to their level of importance), even day to day the pie chart can take on a new look, the chunks expanding or minimizing.

Those who you would look at and call determined or driven, don’t necessarily want to be doing what they’re doing all the time. I certainly don’t. Do I get tempted by food? Yep. Do I eat every time I’m tempted? Nope. Do I take the time to think through what I’m going to have for dinner even when I get home at 8pm and feel exhausted? Yep. Do I want to? Nope. Why do I make the effort? Because the consequences of not doing these things are far worse than the short term discomfort required to get through them.

My Top Ten Tools for Tempering Temptation

26 Aug

In my last post I agreed to share with you my strategies for maintaining an iron will for goal achievement. Many of you are dieting for health and fitness reasons or you may be gearing up for a competition.  Whether you’re doing so because it’s necessary to prevent illness or the exacerbation of a condition or because you want to look and feel your best, you have hopefully assessed the meaning of your goal and the incentives of accomplishment. If you haven’t I’d stop what you’re doing right now, grab some paper and identify your reasons.

Why is this important to me?

The rest of this post won’t make a bit of difference if you have not at least developed your purpose in goal striving! If you’re asking this question now, look internally for the answer. INTRINSIC goals are those that will propel you forward when the going gets tough. For example, some of my clients have said the following:

1. I want to be able to get on the floor with my future grandchildren.

2. I need to be able to fit in the airplane seat when I go on this missions trip.

3. I want my kids to never struggle the way I did with weight.

4. I no longer want to be at the mercy of food!

Identifying your goals from this perspective is foundational. When you’re setting them is the time to dig deep for these answers. But what do I do when the threat is right in front of me?

My Top Ten Temptation Tempering Thoughts (in no particular order) are as follows:

(I get sarcastic with myself, and yes, as I mentioned before, I talk to myself…out loud. Keep in mind there is a specific reason I use each of these thoughts).

1.  Really? You’re THAT hungry that you would actually compare yourself to a starving child in Africa? (Brings me back to reality and out of emotional reasoning).

2. You do realize that you just ate, right? You consumed ___ protein; ___carbs; and ____ fat. I think you’ll be okay. (This is an objective, just-the-facts assessment of the situation; we can easily get carried away by our emotions and make poor decisions as a result).

3. You have another meal coming up soon. (Another objective statement; no emotion attached).

4. You could have cake anytime. Why is it imperative that you have it RIGHT NOW? (Changes my perception of the situation; when I’m craving something or feel a sense of urgency to eat it, reminding myself that it’s always available takes away the thought that “if I don’t eat it now, I’ll NEVER be able to eat it,” which just isn’t true).

5. They’ve got their goals and you’ve got yours. You’re seriously going to justify eating that because everyone else is? (We are easily swayed by the actions of others. We want to fit in, we sometimes don’t want to explain ourselves, and let’s face it, when everyone else is doing the same thing, it can be more difficult to live above the crowd).

6. It’s not that you can’t have it, Kori. You could have it any time you want. You choose not to. (When we feel limited and caged and like we do not have a say, we want to break out of our box and prove that we have control. Think of the last diet you were on that mandated you eat a certain time, in a certain way, with a certain recipe, etc. How long did it last? Structure is good– we thrive with it. But make it too rigid –“you can never eat that food again”– and you’ll likely want to bend the rules. Get back to reality and recognize that you can have any food you want; yes, you really can. But you are choosing not to have certain foods because you feel better without them, mentally and physically.)

7. You’ve been down this road before. Is it worth it? NOPE. (If your immediate, impulsive, no-pause answer moves you in the direction you desire, great. Impulsivity is a problem for most people here– I want it, so I eat it. Instead, develop some rules or standards for yourself. Rules are appropriate in some situations. For example, “I don’t walk into the break room” or “Cheetos give me a stomach ache. I don’t like them.”

8. You know the negative consequences far outweigh the short-term pleasure. Walk away. (Here I’m thinking of similar situations I’ve been in and where they have led when I make a certain decision. I love pita chips, but I don’t even go down the pita chip aisle. Why test myself? It’s like a recovering alcoholic going into a bar, sitting down, ordering a drink and willing himself not to take a sip. Why risk it?)

9. Is what you are thinking of doing in line with what you’ve said you want to accomplish? (We’ve all been there. We say we want one thing but then we act in a way that is incongruent with those wishes/hopes/desires/goals. Pause for a second and ask yourself if you want to be the broken record. Aren’t you tired of asking, “How come I self-sabotage?” I will answer that for you– because you don’t stop and RESPOND. You are impulsive and act without thinking.)

10. Are you even hungry, Kori? Genuinely, physically hungry?  (If I have to ask myself this question, there is a high probability that I’m not. And in that case, I am not going to tarnish my winning streak of positive decisions!)

And there you have it. I’ve got a lot more where those came from.

I’d love to hear what YOU do to temper temptation. Using both cognitive (thoughts) and behavioral strategies can provide a winning combination for achieving your edge in tempering any temptation and moving closer to your goal!

Don’t Worry…..Be Happy! Really?

7 Jun

In 1988 Bobby McFerrin sang this feel-good, toe-tapping a capella song that rose to the top of the billboard charts and stayed there for two weeks. Not a surprise when it seems happiness is one area that most people claim to have a difficult time finding.  Happiness appears to be an enigma.

What is it? How do you get it? Where does it come from?

Studies of happiness (also known as well-being, flourishing, thriving, positivity, emotional vitality, life satisfaction, to name a few) typically measure the state biologically, with brain imaging and hormonal levels, or through self-report measures that assess the frequency of positive or negative thoughts we experience, feelings we have, or memories of positive or negative thoughts within a given time frame. It seems such an ambiguous concept– each of us would define happiness differently.

Regardless, happiness impacts all aspects of our lives, and it’s related closely to optimism.

Think about how you IN GENERAL perceive the world. Some people I know, when asked how they see the world, would say, “It’s a dog eat dog world” conveying a perception of everyone being out for themselves and life really being about survival of the fittest. On the other hand, I am fortunate to know many individuals who rarely have a negative thing to say, perceiving the world “as my oyster…” In stark contrast to each other, studies have demonstrated that individuals who operate with a pessimistic worldview live shorter lives and have a significantly higher risk of disease and other illnesses. Older adults ages 52-79 who were followed over a 5-year period were monitored for their feelings and showed that those expressing greater happiness were 35% less at risk of death within 5 years.  More compelling, and likely not surprising, is the higher likelihood of more substantial income, higher work quality and productivity, more satisfying relationships, increased physical activity, lower stress, greater social support, and less pain found among those who express greater well-being.

But happiness is a mindset. Happiness does not just happen. You build it brick by brick through intentional effort. While we all have a happiness set point (just like our metabolic set point), we CAN function above or below that set point. In fact, 40% of our happiness is in our control.Wait! Before you start thinking “WHAT?! That’s it?!” (if you did, this is a great example of your tendency to view things in a glass half empty or full manner!), imagine a pie chart. 50% is genetic; 40% is personally controlled (how you think, perceive, and view your circumstances); and 10% is environmental. You can compare this again to your metabolism. 50% is genetic. We may have a higher propensity for obesity, but does that mean we will be obese? I know plenty of individuals who have obese parents who are very fit and healthy. But guess what, it takes effort. So too, does happiness.

Ironically, the more you go searching for happiness, the more elusive it can become. Think about when you’ve felt most at peace and fulfilled. It’s not typically when you’re complacent, have nothing to do, or are just going through the motions. Nope. Would you agree that you notice you feel most happy when you’ve striven hard for something, when you’re accomplished a goal, when you’ve demanded a lot of yourself? I know this is the case for me. But you’re missing the boat if you’re only focusing on the outcome. The happiness is derived through the cultivation process– the growth that occurs between the setting of the goal and the meeting of it. Because think about this– how often do you meet a goal and then just take the time to relish in it? More often than not you’re asking, “Okay, now what?” You are so ready to move on, there is a lack of appreciation taken for what just went into your adventure!

I titled this blog the way I did because it’s antithetical to happiness. Without some worry, toil, or frustration, happiness remains an enigma. Without the discomfort, the focus on growth and learning, the recognition that “this is tough!” or that you are being significantly challenged, happiness often remains a pipe dream. You’ve heard the old adage, “There must be dark in order for you to appreciate the light.” Same thing. Goal frustration has even been researched and shown to be highly advantageous to creating commitment and striving toward achievement. The kicker with this– it depends on the support and other measures you have in place for staying consistent and true to what you’ve deemed important. Again we’re back to the necessary component of deliberate and intentional action. You must pay attention to what you’re doing and live less on automatic pilot if you want to be happy, fulfilled, and successful.

Ask yourself now what you notice about people in your life who seem genuinely happy. I consider myself one of these people. I’m rarely in a “bad mood.” It’s not worth it to me to wallow in self-pity, live in regret, or stew in negativity. I’m never bored– how do people get bored?!  There are always things to do, people to see, lives to impact, and self-growth and knowledge to glean!

So a few take-aways about happiness…what can you do and BE now to practice being happy? Because it’s not going to come from money, it’s not going to come from food, it won’t come from sex, drugs, or rock and roll. You must work to create meaning and purpose in your life to fully LIVE.

1. Stop living in the past (unless you are going to use it for good, for change, for growth, regret is not an asset).

2. Understand that adversity is inevitable AND beneficial. We often create it ourselves for the very reasons we’re talking about here. Think about how often you’re frustrated. You don’t have to be! But when you’re complacent you’re not exactly happy either!:)

3. Happy people feel in control of their lives. They recognize that who they are and what they feel, how they perceive the world is most about their internal dialogue. Sure, outside circumstances you can not often control, but you CAN control your thoughts about them.

4. Happy people  enjoy what they’re doing even if it’s difficult. They embody a growth mindset. This means that they see adversity as a challenge as opposed to failure.

5. Resilience is seen among happy people. They take whatever comes their way in stride. They’ve become adept at looking at things more objectively so as not to get swept away by emotion and thought. I’ve said it many times, but our feelings and thoughts often lie to us. We have to learn how to filter them.

Happy people worry. They do. And then they assess what aspects of their worry they can have an influence on. You can do the same to begin living a more fulfilled life.

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