woman looking out the windowThis whole year has felt like a continuous cycle of repetitiveness. Wake up, brush teeth, put on a clean-ish shirt, and begin the day. It’s become so monotonous that most of the time, you don’t really need to think about what you’re doing, you just do it. You’re on total autopilot. And before you know it, you’re scarfing down a low-fat muffin or skipping your workout entirely because your next Zoom call is about to start — even though you had loose aspirations of having this be the week you got up early to exercise or set aside time for a solid protein-packed breakfast before work.

When you’re stuck on autopilot, you’re not consciously aware of your choices. As adults, we make an average of 35,000 decisions each day. And research shows that 96% of people admit to making most of them with zero thought. https://www.newscientist.com/article/2151137-your-autopilot-mode-is-real-now-we-know-how-the-brain-does-it/‘>2 Your mind strives to take the path of least resistance to conserve resources. It also craves routine. Because, generally speaking, not knowing what’s going to happen next is stressful.

When you don’t have to think about how to do your to-dos, it’s a much easier request of your body and brain. You do the same thing over and over again, staying neatly tucked inside your comfort zone and you don’t have to put in extra effort or feel the effects of added stress or uncertainty.

That’s why, if you’ve been continually beating yourself up about why you can’t seem to lose the weight or get in shape, your comfort zone could be to blame. There’s too much uncertainty! And really, I’d argue that 2020 has given us more than our fair share of that feeling already.

But uncertainty does have its benefits.

According to research from Yale, it signals the brain to kickstart new learning capabilities. In this study, monkeys were taught to press various targets – each with their own reward system.https://today.yougov.com/topics/lifestyle/articles-reports/2020/01/02/new-years-resolutions-2020-health-finance‘>1 But I get it. Any routine that’s different from your normal one can be a challenge to start, let alone stick with.

The good news is, this is kinda my specialty. I love teaching my clients to nurture their own personal accountability. When you’re responsible for your own actions — and the outcomes of those actions, it puts you in the driver’s seat. You’re in control when it comes to what you’re doing and not doing. It also sends a positive message to yourself that you’re worth it and that this change is important enough for you to make it a priority.

On the flip side, when you just toss a plan out there, cross your fingers, and hope for the best with a lukewarm attitude (and zero consequences), you’re pretty much setting yourself up to fail.

The first rule of accountability? Getting clear on your goals and the reasons why you want to achieve those goals. For your situation, I’d start by asking:

  • What time am I waking up?
  • What kind of exercise will I be doing?
  • What type of equipment or gear will I need?
  • Where will I be doing it?
  • How long will I be exercising?
  • Why does this matter to me?
  • What will happen if I don’t break my snooze button habit?

Why is all of this important? Because there’s a big difference between people who set goals and those who actually succeed at them.

There’s a great piece of research that shows that having a concrete plan makes you three times more likely to achieve your goals.2 In the study, 248 participants who wanted to build better exercise habits were divided into three groups. One group was asked to track their workouts, one group received motivational information about exercising, and the third group was asked to formulate a plan for when and where they would work out.

More specifically, they were asked to complete the following sentence: During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on (day) at (time) in (place). For you, that might look like:

I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on weekdays at 5:15am in my bedroom. Or dial it in even more by saying: I will partake in 20 minutes of weightlifting on weekdays at 5:15am in my bedroom.

Another way to increase your odds of getting yourself up on time? Make it easier to do — or harder to not do. James Clear, the quintessential expert on habits says, “the environment that you live in makes it easier to practice unhealthy habits and more difficult to practice healthy habits (…even if you really want to make a change).”

So, if you want to make it easier to work out in the morning, place your clothes, shoes, and weights in a place where you can visibly see them. If you want to avoid smashing the snooze button, consider putting it somewhere out of reach, like the bathroom or a room down the hall. You’d literally have to get out of bed to turn it off.

Practice these techniques and accountability tactics and see what happens. My guess is you’ll have a routine in place before most people are drafting up their New Year’s resolutions.

Tom asked:

“I find that I toss and turn most nights, or I wake up around 3:30 in the morning and have trouble going back to sleep. It’s definitely annoying, but it’s it normal?”

Common, yes. Normal, maybe. Ideal, absolutely not. A lot of my clients struggle to stay asleep, and it’s seemingly more of an issue than actually falling asleep. So, in short, you’re in good company. That said, it’s definitely something you’re going to want to address pronto. Here’s why.

In my opinion, a good night’s sleep is non-negotiable. Sleep is downright essential for performing basic physiological functions, from balancing your hormones and your mood to keeping your immune system strong, which is especially important right now.3

Walking up in the middle of the night could be because of something you ate or drank during the day. Some studies have linked sleep quality to macronutrient intake – meaning you might need more or less carbs to achieve a solid 8 hours of shut eye. And if you’re a coffee drinker, even low levels of caffeine can have consequences. Try keeping a food log for 3-5 days and see if you notice any patterns between what you’re consuming and how you’re sleeping.

You’ll also want to take a look at your pre bedtime rituals.https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037‘>5

So, in a nutshell, the way you’re thinking about your food intake actually has more of an impact than the food itself.https://www.marksdailyapple.com/definitive-guide-to-metabolic-flexibility/‘>7 You can burn fat for fuel. You can burn carbs for fuel. You can go back and forth between metabolizing them with relative ease. So, cut yourself some slack, and appreciate the fact that your body knows what to do.

Now it’s your turn! Drop me a few questions in the comments below.

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I think everyone can agree that things look a lot different this year. We’re planning smaller holiday gatherings with just our immediate families.https://psychologyofeating.com/mind-over-food/‘>2 It all starts in your hypothalamus, which processes senses, emotions, and biological functions like hunger. When you feel guilty about what you’re eating, the hypothalamus transmits signals that slow your digestion and cause your body to store more calories as fat versus burning them for energy. In theory, saying to yourself “this will make me fat” becomes kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

On the flip side, when you enjoy food as you’re eating it, the hypothalamus releases pleasure signals that stimulate digestion so that you thoroughly break down food and more effortlessly burn off the calories.

So, it’s not just what you’re eating, it’s what you’re thinking about what you’re eating.

Not only that, negative thoughts can lead to other compensatory behaviours. In this study, researchers analyzed data from 3,177 people, examining the differences between those who experienced food guilt and those who didn’t.https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-practice/201305/avoidance-coping‘>4

You Can’t Just Let Go of Food Guilt, Can You?

If you’re wired to see foods as good or bad, it’s going to take some unraveling, but it’s completely possible. It’s also completely worth it so you’re not white knuckling it through the holidays. Or worse, yet, beating yourself up about it for days. And as you let go of good guilt, there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself eating more intuitively. Here’s how to get started:

Step 1: Challenge your food rules.

We all have them. It’s that little voice inside that says, “you shouldn’t have that” or “stop grazing” or “that’s going to go right to your thighs.” This is all based on your stories or beliefs you created through your experiences growing up. Once you’ve acknowledged one of your rules, confront it. You always have a choice to decide if it’s valid or just reflecting old, outdated programming and no longer serves you.

Step 2: Be curious vs judgmental.

How often are you judging yourself? And not just when it comes to what you eat? You might be so used to being in judgment mode that you don’t even realize when you’re doing it to yourself – or someone else. Try, instead, to be curious. Ask yourself why you think a certain food is bad or where these judgements are coming from. You might find that the beliefs you have aren’t even your own. Also, learn to approach these situations from a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset. You can read more about how to do that here.

Step 3: Have a plan.

Nine times out of ten, if you walk into a holiday feast hungry, you’re going to choose foods you might not choose otherwise. That’s why it’s so important to have a plan in advance. My go-to strategies for avoiding impulse binging are to: prioritize protein and fat, make breakfast your most calorically dense meal of the day, and always answer hunger with a meal. You might still indulge, but you’ll feel better about your decision if your body and brain are satiated.

Step 4: Know your triggers.

If you know you can’t pass up a bowl of candy when you’re hungry, don’t put out a bowl of candy (or don’t show up hungry). If you cope with stress by eating or drinking, find healthier ways to decompress. Getting clear on what triggers you is a game-changer in situations like this. And it can save you hours — or even days of grief afterwards.

Step 5: Practice self-compassion.

Being kind to yourself is a skill not everyone has. That’s why it’s so important to practice it on a regular basis. Self-compassion requires empathy and the ability to be fully present with yourself and whatever feelings you’re experiencing — without running away, hiding, or diving headfirst into a bag of M&Ms. You never need to be punished for your actions, so resist the urge to “diet harder” by eating bland chicken breast for three days straight or committing to a steady stream of chronic cardio for the next week. You deserve better.

How to Have a Guilt-Free Feast

It doesn’t matter if you’re paleo, keto, vegan, whatever. Letting go of food guilt is the healthiest move you can make. Use these steps to get to the bottom of your food fixation and get ready to enjoy your holiday feast guilt-free.

  • Challenge your food rules
  • Be curious vs judgmental
  • Have a plan
  • Know your triggers
  • Practice self-compassion

Do you experience food guilt? What strategies work for you?

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growth mindsetEver heard the quote, “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work?”

Originally said by NBA all-star, Kevin Durant, this is a perfect example of utilizing a growth mindset — meaning your success can be cultivated by your efforts. When you operate from the opposite perspective (called a fixed mindset) you believe your talents and abilities are predetermined. Either you’re good at something or you’re not. End of story.

Maybe you believe you’ll always have a layer of fluff around your middle because you never stick with anything. Or you avoid working out because everyone in your family is uncoordinated. Or you’re “so intelligent” but can’t seem to figure out how the heck to lose those last ten pounds. If that’s you, congratulations, you have a fixed mindset.

When you start viewing things through a more optimistic lens, you move into growth mindset territory. And that’s where the magic really happens.

Let’s Define Growth Mindset

You can’t talk about this term without acknowledging the famous Stanford University psychologist who coined it. Decades ago, Carol Dweck published research that kind of changed the world.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17328703/‘>2 In this study, they taught one group about the brain and how intelligence can be developed, while the other group had no intervention. As you might expect, students who adopted a growth mindset were more motivated and got better grades than their fixed-minded counterparts.

Students with a growth mindset not only believed that their abilities could improve through effort and persistence, they actually made it happen.

Examples of a Growth Mindset

  • I’d like to get better at this
  • Mistakes help me learn
  • This has been a challenge, but I’m working on it
  • I haven’t figured out how to do this yet
  • This might take some time

Dweck’s research proved that changing a key belief about yourself can make a big difference. But clearly, it’s not just students who can benefit from this concept.

Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadellauses growth mindset tactics with his management teams to create an environment of constant learning…

Michael Jordan (who was initially cut from his high school basketball team and was passed up during the first two NBA draft picks) used it to persevere and become uber-famous…

I use it in my own health coaching practice to help my clients overcome their previous, self-described failures…

And you can too. You just need the right tools to shift your mindset.

So, What Causes a Fixed Mindset?

Anyone who shaped your childhood – parents, teachers, coaches – may have inadvertently had something to do with it. Research shows that the way children are talked to (both positively and negatively) can have a profound impact on their mindset. Maybe you were told that you were super talented growing up. Or that you were “so skinny” or “not strong enough” or some other trait-based comment.

This sends the message that what you can achieve is completely tied to something innate. On the other hand, if you were praised for your hard work, you might have gotten the message that your effort is what led you to your success. And that anything you want (looser clothes, better relationships, a better night sleep) is within reach.

Examples of a Fixed Mindset

  • I’m a binge eater
  • I just have a slow metabolism
  • I’d never be comfortable doing that
  • I’m bad at sticking to routines
  • I’m a night owl

Regardless of your upbringing, you’re not stuck with what you’ve got.

Moving away from a fixed mindset requires you to take a deeper dive into your beliefs and stories, the way you talk to yourself, and the actions you take. Keep in mind, no one stays in a growth mindset all the time. You could be inherently growth-minded but get triggered into a fixed mindset state by certain people or situations.

How to Cultivate a Growth Mindset

The key thing to remember here is that attaining a growth mindset isn’t about ignoring your past. Actually, quite the contrary. It’s about leaning into learning — taking educated risks, gaining wisdom from the results, and surrounding yourself with people who challenge you to grow. These are six strategies I use to help my own clients work toward shifting their mindset.

1. Check your self-talk. These are the (conscious and subconscious) messages you send to yourself all day long, and they have the power to motivate you or limit you. Your brain’s job is to protect you, so it sometimes enables negative self-talk to keep you safely tucked inside your comfort zone. So, if you’re used to telling yourself “I’m not good at this” try reframing it as “I’m learning something new every day” and see how that feels. And don’t give up. Rewiring your brain’s neural pathways takes time.

2. View challenges as opportunities. Asking yourself, “What can I learn from this?” is a huge part of self-improvement. Unfortunately, it’s easier to focus on the perceived failures. And a lot of times it leads to giving up before you even get going. When you fear getting it wrong or making mistakes or just flat out taking it as a sign that you’re just not cut out for whatever it is you’re attempting, you’re missing out on a big opportunity to grow. The more you can test your abilities, the more you learn about yourself.

3. Stop looking for approval. Or more appropriately, stop doing things to avoid disapproval. If you’re a self-described people pleaser, you know what I’m talking about. Whether you’re attempting to eat healthier, move your body more, or take better care of yourself in general, looking for outside approval can lead you down a path of self-sabotage because you’re always waiting to see if you got it right. Or worse, never starting because of the overwhelming fear of that disapproval. Instead, work on your underlying beliefs about yourself (i.e. your stories) and learn to trust yourself enough to see what’s possible.

4. Use the word “yet” regularly. This is a really powerful way to begin switching from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. Using this word shows that while you might be struggling with something right now, it’s only because you haven’t gotten the hang of it yet. Try saying, “I haven’t conquered my sugar cravings yet” or “I haven’t woken up at 5am to meditate yet” and pay attention to what happens.

5. Develop more grit. According to Angela Duckworth, TED talk speaker and author of Grit: the Power of Passion and Perseverance, “grit is the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals.” She adds that while people are born with different degrees of grit, it’s a trait that develops through experience. And that can lead to a growth mindset since grittier folks are more apt to stay the course even when they struggle, falter, or all out fail. Here are a few APA-approved ways to build more grit.

6. Appreciate the journey more than the destination. Your end goal might be to lose 15 pounds or get super ripped, but when you have a “journey mindset” as researchers call it, you benefit from the opportunity to learn and grow from your actions. Plus, studies show that you’re more likely to continue the new behaviours you’ve adopted even after you’ve reached your goal.

6 Strategies to Shift Your Mindset

I’ll tell you firsthand that believing your abilities are carved in stone will send you down a path of trying to prove yourself over and over again — and not learning from any of it. Even if you grew up with a fixed mindset, it’s never too late to grow. Do me a favor. Whenever you hear yourself say things like “I can’t stick with this” or “I’m terrible at sprints,” give these strategies a try:

  • Check your self-talk
  • View challenges as opportunities
  • Stop looking for approval
  • Use the word “yet” regularly
  • Develop more grit
  • Appreciate the journey more than the destination

What do you think? Do you have more of a Fixed Mindset or a Growth Mindset?

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The post Having a Growth Mindset Can Be a Game-Changer for Your Health appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.

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is snacking okayHey folks! Erin Power is back for another round of Ask a Health Coach. This week she’ll be answering questions about beating the 3pm slump, what to eat when you’re hungry all the time, and strategies for speeding up a slow metabolism. Comment below with more questions or head over to the Mark’s Daily Apple Facebook Group.

Pete asked:

“I get so sleepy in the afternoons. In fact, sometimes, I actually have to take a nap. What can I snack on to beat my daily 3pm slump?”

Feeling a dip in energy mid-afternoon is so common, a lot of offices actually have a nap room. They also have boatloads of processed snacks, sugary coffee drinks, and vending machines to help you perk back up after your carb-laden lunch.

But just because it’s common, doesn’t mean it’s normal. Sure, you could be having a reaction to what you ate for lunch. Some food choices trigger a blood sugar spike and crash (think pasta, pizza, giant subs, a handful of candy).https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15111494/‘>2

Sugar-free or “diet” foods aren’t any better. In fact, this study proved that sugar substitutes, although calorie-free, adversely affected the metabolism of participants, causing them to eat more.3Even a can of diet soda can increase your appetite because your brain thinks you’re getting something sweet, but your body never receives the energy it’s expecting.

My solution? Step one, ditch any processed or diet foods you’re consuming. That means ones labeled “healthy” or “low carb” or “low fat.” Step two, sit with your hunger next time you feel it and know that you’re okay. I promise you that you won’t starve. Even if you had zero pounds to lose, you’d still have access to thousands of calories in stored energy.

Feeling as if your only choices are to succumb to hunger and *fail* or really punish yourself and diet harder, aren’t good choices if you ask me. Work on trusting your body’s signals instead of fearing them.

Suzanne asked:

“Now that I’m in my 40’s, I can’t even eat a few fun-sized candy bars without seeing it on the scale in the morning. Any tricks for speeding up my metabolism?”

Chances are you could eat whatever you wanted as a kid. Fun-sized candy bars, heck, even a few full-sized candy bars wouldn’t impact your weight or your mood or mental clarity for that matter. As you mentioned, age has made it harder to indulge when you feel like it, and potentially a “slow metabolism” is to blame.

For those who don’t know, your metabolism is the system of the body that decides how fuel is used and has implications for weight management, energy, and more. The uneducated will tell you that the extra five pounds around your mid-section (or your brain fog, or blah feeling) is just a sign of getting older. They’ll say that because of your age, your metabolism has just naturally slowed down.

That is absolute BS in my book. I believe that over time, your metabolism does “forget” to effectively put fuel to use — and seems to just start storing it instead of burning it. But you can help your body remember by making some simple changes to what you eat and how you move.

The goal here is to become metabolically flexible. That means your metabolism gets to a place where it can effortlessly switch between burning carbs and burning fat — leaving more room for a few treats now and then. All those people who can “eat whatever they want”? Those people have excellent metabolic flexibility.

So how do you get metabolically flexible? Start by exercising. And not in a chronic cardio sort of way. Go for a daily walk, try some speed intervals, or add a weight training session here and there. Not only does this help you burn fat, it increases mitochondrial biogenesis, a key factor in reversing age-related loss of insulin resistance.4

Next up, get fat adapted. For a period of time, choose foods that are unprocessed and higher in protein and healthy fats. While you’re at it, cut out all snacks. Honestly, if you’re eating satiating foods, you won’t need them. While this might seem opposite of what you want right now (to eat candy without gaining weight), it will eventually allow you to indulge without the same consequences to your waistline.

Got thoughts on snacking? Metabolic function? Hunger pains? Share them in the comments below.

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not enough timeIf you’ve read Tim Ferris’ 4-Hour Workweek, you can just jump to the end of this post. For everyone else, I invite you to take a closer look at your relationship with time. Especially those of you who are too busy to spend, oh, I don’t know, 5 or so minutes reading this.

Somehow, “I’m busy” has become the new “I’m fine” in response to being asked how you are. I get it thought — I know you actually ARE busy, but stay with me here.

Whenever I’m working with new clients, they’ll typically tell me they don’t have time to sit down for a satiating, nutrient-dense breakfast, so they just grab a “quick toast and coffee.” Or they have too much going on and can’t get to bed on time. It’s not just a once-in-a-while-thing either. It’s day after day after day.

Sound like your life? If so, let me ask you this: why do some people seem to effortlessly crush their to-do lists and others find theirs growing out of control?

Seriously, There’s Not Enough Time

I never like to say “We all have the same 24 hours in the day,” because that logic is fundamentally flawed, and can come off sounding privileged. In truth, all of us are filling our 24 hours in different ways depending on our jobs, lives, families, hobbies, obligations, and unique life goings-on.

Sometimes I choose to be busy during my 24 hours because I have lots of things that are important to me — family, friends, my clients, my home life, my role at the Primal Health Coach Institute. And *usually* I like that because I enjoy my work and I like being productive.

I’m choosing to be busy because it leaves me feeling fulfilled. The problem arises when it leaves you feeling like a victim, like you can’t keep up, or like you just want to bury your head in the sand.

Lack of Time = Lack of Priorities

It all comes down to priorities. If better health or a leaner waistline was really important to you, you’d make it a priority. Unfortunately, if you’re like most people, you unknowingly put other, less important priorities in their place (everything from stewing over a mean comment on social media to worrying how you’re going to get it all done).1

Whenever you catch yourself having an I-don’t-have-enough-time moment, remember that what you’re spending your time on is a choice — and you always have options. This is the perfect time to take a step back and ask yourself these four questions:

  • What’s important here?
  • What’s not important?
  • Am I wasting time on things that aren’t important?
  • What else could I be doing with my time?

Go ahead and do this exercise with me for a sec. Get out a piece of paper (or the notes section on your phone) and jot down your daily schedule. What time do you typically get up? When do you go to bed? How much time do you spend at work? On social media? With your family? Daydreaming? Running errands? Working on your health?

Looking at your list, what are the three things you spend the most time on?

Like it or not, those three things are your priorities. How you spend your day reflects what you believe to be the most important. If that’s not sitting well with you — or you feel like you have an equal amount of priorities (even though that’s not actually possible), you’re in a good place to start making change.

Because when you learn to eliminate your non-priorities, you free up time to focus on what does matter to you.

How Do You Eliminate Non-Priorities?

It starts by taking things off the table that aren’t important or urgent. Research shows that having too many options can lead you to waste time attending to details that don’t matter or avoid a task altogether. In this experiment, a Columbia University professor set up a booth selling jams at a local farmers market. Every few hours she alternated between offering 24 jams and 6 jams. She found that 60% of the customers visited the booth when there was the larger assortment, however more people actually made purchases when there were fewer options.https://academic.oup.com/jcr/article-abstract/45/3/673/4847790‘>3 Researchers found that the effect was even more prominent in people who describe themselves as busy, adding that they were more likely to select an urgent task with a lower reward because they were fixated on the clock and “getting it done”.

But how do you determine what’s urgent and important? Enter the Eisenhower Matrix, named for the 34th U.S. President, Dwight D. Eisenhower. It’s a prioritization framework (used by everyone from athletes to CEOs) that helps you eliminate time wasters in your life.

And in case you need proof that Eisenhower knew what he was talking about, during his two terms in office, he signed into law the first major piece of civil rights legislation since the end of the Civil War, he ended the Korean War, oh and he created NASA.

Eisenhower recognized that having a solid grasp of time management means you’ve got to do things that are important andurgent — and eliminate all the rest.

  • Important tasks get you closer to your goal, whether it’s wearing a smaller pant size or not feeling ravenous all day.
  • Urgent tasks are ones that demand your immediate attention, like a deadline or showing up on time for an appointment.

Once you’ve got that straight, you can overcome the tendency to focus on the unimportant tasks and instead, do what’s essential to your success, whatever that looks like for you.

Let’s Put the Matrix into Action

Using the questions below, you’ll be able to get a good handle on your priorities, evaluating which are urgent, which are important, and which can be delegated to someone else — or ditched altogether.

1. Does it have consequences for not taking immediate action and does it align with your goals?

ACTION STEP: DO IT. This is a task that’s both urgent and important, which means it’s a priority. And getting it done first will take a lot of pressure off your plate. Examples are:

  • Completing a project for work
  • Deep breathing when you’re stressed
  • Responding to certain emails

2. Does it bring you closer to your goals, but doesn’t have a clear deadline?

ACTION STEP: SCHEDULE IT. This is a task that’s important, but not urgent. Since it’s easy to procrastinate here, scheduling time to attend to it is your best bet. Examples are:

  • Working out
  • General self-care
  • Spending time with your family

3. Does it need to get done within a certain timeframe, but doesn’t require your specific skill set?

ACTION STEP: DELEGATE IT. This is a task that’s urgent, but not important — at least not important for you to do, specifically. Sure, it needs to get done, but you could probably pass off this task off to someone else, which frees up your time. Examples are:

  • Making sure the kids are ready for school
  • Shopping for groceries for the week
  • Meal prepping

4. Does it not have a deadline or get you closer to your goals?

ACTION STEP: DELETE IT. This is a task that’s not important or urgent. And it’s a huge time suck! It’s the kind of “task” that makes you wonder where all your time went. Using a browser blocker like Freedom can help a ton. Examples are:

  • Scrolling your social media feed
  • Playing online games
  • Worrying, obsessing, and stressing out about things that don’t matter

Bonus Tip: Figure out what time of day you’re the most focused. When do you tend to get a lot accomplished? Are you a morning person? A night owl? Knowing when you’re the most productive can help you get stuff done with less effort.

Now tell me what you think. Have you tried these strategies? What’s worked for you?

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morning routineStarting your day with a deliberate movement routine that you repeat every single day can be life changing, because it creates the leverage and the power to become a more focused and disciplined person in all other areas of daily life. Contrast this with the disturbing stat from IDC Research that 80 percent of Americans reach for their phones as the first act upon awakening.https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/brain-wise/201209/why-were-all-addicted-texts-twitter-and-google‘>2 Julie Morgenstern, renowned productivity consultant and author of Never Check Email In The Morning, explains that when you reach for your phone first thing, “You’ll never recover. Those requests and those interruptions and those unexpected surprises and those reminders and problems are endless… there is very little that cannot wait a minimum of 59 minutes.”

The Dope On Dopamine

The reason you’ll never recover is because your morning foray into hyperconnectivity is creating a dopamine addiction.https://markmanson.net/self-discipline‘>4 Alas, when you hijack the dopamine pathways too often with the aforementioned folly, you down-regulate the serotonin pathways in your brain so you become wired for quick-hit pleasure at the expense of long-term happiness.

The Magic Of Morning Movement

Extricating from this mess starts first thing in the morning! Since most of us have tons of sedentary influences during the day (commute, office work, evening screen entertainment), I’m going to suggest a mindful routine of exercises, poses, and dynamic stretches that build flexibility, mobility, core and muscle strength. Your morning routine will help you naturally awaken and energize (especially if you can do it outdoors), improve the fitness base from which you launch formal workouts, help prevent injuries, and boost your daily movement quota especially if things get hectic and you don’t have time for formal workout.

I’m not a big routine or consistency guy and never have been, so amassing a four-year streak of doing a template routine every single day may be more of a revelation to me than to big-time creatures of habit. If you’re already good at self-discipline and consistency, applying your skills to a morning movement routine will pay big dividends; you’ll likely increase your level of sophistication and degree of difficulty over time. If you are a “go with the flow” type of person, the morning routine will serve as a much- needed anchor for a focused, disciplined day—especially against the formidable foes of distraction and instant gratification.

The original impetus for designing a short morning movement routine was my frustration with recurrent and lingering soreness and stiffness after every sprint workout. I realized that I wasn’t adequately acclimating my body to doing all-out blasts once a week, because nothing else I did approximated what happened on sprint day. Perhaps many weekend warriors can relate: If you never approximate your most difficult workouts or do preparatory drills and exercises consistently, your big efforts are going to beat you up and require extended recovery time. I figured if I could raise the baseline from which I launched these tough workouts, via better core strength, hamstring and hip flexor mobility, and so forth—the workouts would be easier to recover from. I noticed these benefits right away and excitedly shot a video back in 2017 of my original routine. That’s when I learned the sequences actually took 12 minutes instead of five! I also did lots of the moves in bed (to make sure I’d do them right away) until I later discovered that the core stimulation is much more intense on the floor than on a soft mattress.

As I accumulated an impressive streak one day at a time, I started to realize some amazing physical and psychological benefits. My first few steps out of bed in the morning (that is, before starting the routine) were light and graceful—no more limping, creaking and cracking my way to the bathroom. My post-exercise soreness pretty much vanished—something I’d struggled with after every sprint workout for over a decade. Since I typically pair my morning routine with an ensuing chest freezer cold exposure session, the one-two combo gave me a sense of stability, focus and self-discipline that was missing, since I’m not part of rituals like rush hour commuting or an 8-to-5 office workday.

My routine has evolved quite a bit over the past four years. Buoyed by the confidence that I can carve out the time to execute every day no matter what, I continue to add more custom-designed moves to my template, increasing both the duration and degree of difficulty. Currently, the session lasts for a minimum of 32 minutes. Often, I will transition right into a proper strength training session since I’m so warmed up and fitness focused. This video shows the exercises and repetitions comprising my current routine, with an explanation of each.

Yeah, it’s time consuming and some of these moves—especially the grand finale Bulgarian Split Squats—are not easy! It’s important to note that I’ve progressed naturally and gradually from a modest starting point four years ago. If you are ready to take action, here are the important parameters to honor:

Start Small

Design a routine that is simple and do-able every day. Don’t make it too strenuous or too long in duration out of the gate. You must strive for consistency, convenience, and low stress. If five minutes is all you can spare right now, start with that. Over time, when the routine has become integrated into habit, you may choose to increase the duration and degree of difficulty in a manner that feels natural and fun.

Daily Commitment

Place extreme importance on doing your routine as soon as possible upon awakening every single day no matter what. The goal is to establish a streak that will become as natural as current streak of brushing your teeth every day. If you typically have to visit the bathroom, brew coffee, tend to children or pets, or check the stock ticker as your first acts upon awakening, insert the movement routine into a recurring slot in your morning pattern: bathroom, coffee, hit the deck sounds great! If a particularly hectic morning prevents you from doing your routine, perform a makeup session later in the day to honor your commitment to the project.

Repeatable

Perform the same exact sequence of movements and repetitions every time. You don’t want to have to apply any creative energy or waste precious cognitive resources deciding what exercises to do or how many reps to complete. Repeating the same sequence will make it easier to program your routine into habit. Over time, feel free to modify your template by adding or subtracting exercises, but always have a working template in place. Don’t listen to the folklore that you need to confuse your muscles with ever-changing exercises. Let’s check back in 20 years and see how not confused your body is from completing a great routine every day.

Mindful

Doing the same thing every day adds a meditative aspect to the experience. I focus entirely on proceeding through the rep count for each exercise, which is synchronized with my breathing on many of the moves. I’ve made the mistake a few times of trying to listen to a podcast or take a phone call during my routine, and it invariably causes me to lose count during one of the sequences. That’s when I established a penalty of having to start the reps of that particular exercise over if my mind wanders. That will keep you focused! Now my morning routine is a time to enjoy the view of the trees, the sound of birds, and the mind- body connection that comes from sequential movement—as you might enjoy in a guided yoga class.

Outdoors (Sunlight, Fresh Air, And Maybe Even Cold!)

Research suggests that exposing your eyeballs to direct sunlight as soon as you awaken can have a powerful effect to entrain your circadian rhythm. The sunlight hits your retina, travels down the optic nerve to the all-important suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus. The SCN is considered the master clock of your circadian rhythm, and directs all manner of light-driven hormonal processes.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2290997/‘>6 In the winter months, my routine doubles as cold exposure as I’ll wear only shorts in temperatures freezing or below.

Customized

Design exercises that support your fitness goals, address any muscular weaknesses or imbalances, and counter sedentary lifestyle patterns like being hunched over at the car and computer. My leg swings and hamstring extensions are contemplated with sprinting and high jumping in mind, since these muscles take a lot of impact trauma when sprinting. The difficult yoga wheel pose is directly applicable to bending over the high jump bar!

Enjoyable

There are all kinds of expert-recommended exercises that I’ve tried and discarded since I didn’t enjoy them or they don’t work for me. I did the familiar “pigeon” stretch from yoga for a while but I believe I sustained a knee injury from it, so it’s out. I have a few other cool exercises not shown on the video, such as monster walks and shuffles with Mini Bands. I’m tempted to officially add them to the routine, but I prefer to keep them as optional add-ons. With my current routine at 32 minutes, I occasionally experience a bit of time stress to get it done if I have a busy morning planned. I don’t want that feeling to happen more than occasionally, so I’m hesitant to add anything else at this time.

At first, it will be very helpful to write down each of the exercises and number of repetitions as you strive to lock in an ideal template. In particular, you want to discover a rep count that’s a bit of a challenge, but not too strenuous to have you fretting and sweating over it. As I mention on the video, when I first integrated the challenging Bulgarian split squats, I took each leg to the point of mild muscle burn that occurred at 20 reps. Today, I experience that same mild burn after 45 reps. So the degree of difficulty and mental strain have not changed, but I am validating my fitness progress over time. All of your progress with increasing reps and increasing the overall duration and degree of difficulty of your routine should happen gradually and naturally. Today is a good day to start your streak, so try stringing together a few of your favorite moves and get on the books! Good luck, and let us know some great suggestions in the comments section.

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relationship with foodHi folks, today we’re back for another edition of Ask a Health Coach! Erin is here sharing her strategies for making good health a priority during the pandemic, plus what to do when you feel like you’re putting in a lot of effort without a lot of reward and what she eats in a typical day. Got more questions? Keep them coming in the Mark’s Daily Apple Facebook Group or in the comments below.

Annie asked:

“I love the way I feel when I eat clean, but meal prepping always takes a backseat to all the other things I need to do, especially now that I’m working, parenting, and homeschooling. How do I carve out time to eat healthier?”

You’re not alone in feeling the pressure of doing it all. With all of our waking hours being consumed by work and family responsibilities, making time for the non-essentials like exercise and eating well (which I would argue are essential), seems nearly impossible.http://jamesmahmudrice.info/Time-Pressure.pdf‘>2 It turns out that their time constraints were an illusion.

The pressure of what we have time for and what we don’t has more to do with the things we assign value to rather than how many hours there are in a day.

That being said, everything we do in life is a choice – what we eat, say, and do, where we spend our energy and our money – they’re all choices. And, as you might guess, there are consequences of those choices.

There’s no doubt that your life is busier than ever right now. You’ve probably never worn more hats in your life, but instead of looking at food as an afterthought, or telling yourself you “don’t have the time,” I suggest you try giving it a little more attention.https://www.globalwellnesssummit.com/2020-global-wellness-trends/‘>4 But I get it. You’re diligently putting in the work, day after day, and not seeing the outcome you’re looking for.

There could be a few different factors at play here, but one you might want to consider is a phenomenon called discounting, which basically means that the more effort you put into something, the less valuable the reward becomes. In a study published in Cognitive Affective, and Behavioral Neuroscience, researchers had participants do two simple tasks that would be rewarded with a cash prize.https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Effort-discounting-in-human-nucleus-accumbens-Botvinick-Huffstetler/567db1262529ec7b9144269695314fe0f9e76b32‘>6 It’s the part of the brain that’s in charge of the reward circuitand is based on two essential neurotransmitters: dopamine and serotonin. So, in a nutshell, it’s just how we’re wired.

Does that mean you shouldn’t put in the effort? It depends. In general, I don’t subscribe to the typical diet culture where everything is weighed, evaluated, and overanalyzed. I opt for teaching my clients to have an effortless relationship with food where they eat satiating, satisfying, nutrient-dense meals when they’re hungry without micromanaging every detail.

But if you take pleasure out of reading labels and managing your macros as you’re doing, keep doing it. I’ve found that in situations where people actually enjoy the effort they put in, the journey ends up being more rewarding than the destination itself.

“I’ve been following Mark’s diet for several years and I love seeing posts about what he eats during the day. But what does your day look like?”

Let me start by saying that knowing what works for you and your body is nutrition gold. It really is. You can read every nutrition book in the world, follow dozens of “healthy” food bloggers and influencers, and copy Mark’s diet (or mine) to a tee, but since every human is unique — and responds differently to different foods, it’s important to know what works for you.https://www.businessinsider.com/what-is-the-best-diet-no-such-thing-2019-6.‘>8 Most nights you’ll find me with a grilled ribeye and plate of steamed veggies smothered in butter. Maybe a square or two of dark chocolate. But sometimes, I’ll have an evening where I partake in some good old-fashioned carbs and dairy. For me, nothing beats delighting in a few perfectly crispy, salty roasted potatoes accompanied by a thick dollop of rich, organic sour cream.

I know exactly how my body responds to foods like these. And armed with this information, I can choose to treat myself without any fuss or worry. I encourage you to find what works for you too. When you start your day with eggs and bacon do you feel satiated or starving? When you drink coffee are you wired or alert? When you indulge in carbs do you get sleepy or energized? Like I said, everyone’s different and no amount of researching how other people eat will give you the same answers as listening to your own body.

Got thoughts? Share ‘em in the comments below.

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