“Always” + “Never” = Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Words are things.

Very powerful things.

Last night my mentor wondered aloud if I realized how often I made “always” and “never” statements. It’s been pointed out to me before how often I do this, but I hadn’t (nearly used “never” there) stopped to actually notice.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that so many people have stopped me recently to point out how often I use those two words. It’s no wonder I feel stuck, I’m creating and perpetuating myths of my own design, whether that’s what I consciously want to do or not.

Now I’m left wondering how I can be more conscious of my word choices. I’m usually pretty conscious, especially when I write. But when I’m just talking, especially from the heart, rambling, unfiltered, the truth always reveals itself. “Always” and “never” sprinkle themselves like salt and pepper through my speech and it is immediately constricting.

When I decided that I was going to complete Bigness Project, a strength training program designed around hypertrophy, I was adamant this be the one I finished. I was saying things like “I NEVER complete these programs” and “I ALWAYS get bored halfway through and quit”. For about 5 weeks after I started I was STILL making these statements, even though that wasn’t the reality I wanted to create. Even though I knew better. Then it was pointed out to me and I was a bit gobsmacked. Am I really saying those things?!

Today I ask you to consider your words, to notice them and how they feel when you say them. There is no need to judge them as correct or incorrect, right or wrong. But consider them within the context of the reality you are trying to create. Do they serve your intended creation? If not, how can you choose differently?

Rewards, Habits and the “I Deserve It” Trap

Over the past several weeks, the subject of “rewards” has come up multiple times. Each instance was within the context of reinforcing a behavior, not an outcome. And each instance brought out varying degrees of resistance from me, so much so I exercised my “phone a friend” option to get some help unpacking what was going on.

I’m at the tail end of the last generation before everyone started receiving participation awards. Every single award I received, I earned, whether it be first place ribbons for music competitions (I played trumpet from the time I was 9 until I was 19), prize money for a poem I wrote about trash in the 6th grade or placing in the top three during a Speech competition.

But it goes further than being a generational thing: I was reared on outcome based rewarding. If I wanted my driver’s license, I had to give my parents straight A’s. 3 YEARS IN A ROW. And then I had to KEEP my grades where they were in order to keep driving. That’s actually the only example I can give because otherwise, all reinforcement was negative i.e. so I didn’t get yelled at.

So rewarding myself because I DID something I said I would feels very “participation award” to me. But as I dig deeper into the research I’m starting to understand something key: rewarding the behavior is like focusing on progress as opposed to the goal. You’re reinforcing pleasantly something you want to keep doing so that you eventually reach the goal. The goal is a reward in and of itself. It’s about progress, not perfection.

Eventually, in this conversation with my friend, I agreed to try rewarding myself though I didn’t do exactly what we talked about. By the end of the week, I knew I’d reached an obvious reward point: I completed the first week of a new strength training program. I want to reinforce this behavior because I want to complete the program, something I’ve never actually done. But the second I started thinking about how I could reward myself, I came up with my daily movement goal as a trump card.

I try to get some type of movement in every single day, whether it be a walk with my dog, yoga, or even 25 kettlebell swings. Because I missed a single day of movement due to my work schedule last week, I wanted to negate the fact that I’d completed the strength training program as prescribed – 4 days, each day with a different focus. I even managed to get in a mobility day and a walk. And yet, I didn’t want that to be enough.

Eventually, I saw reason and decided that I had done what I said I would. So I chose to paint my fingernails, something I rarely take the time to do anymore.

This is where we get into the “I deserve it” trap. Sometimes people take things too far and decide that EVERY behavior is worth reinforcing, including the negative. I hear an awful lot of “I deserve it” when it comes to unhealthy rewards. This often looks like rewarding with food/drink or spending money, two behaviors that often generate guilt and can be (and often are) forms of self-sabotage. As a matter of fact, one of my rules is no rewarding with food/alcohol or by spending money (though a small expenditure can be warranted and/or necessary sometimes).

Here’s why: most people have health goals they want to reach or financial goals they are working towards. By rewarding your week of no missed workouts with a donut, because let’s face it, we don’t reward ourselves with healthy food, you’ve already undone any positive emotional progress. The same goes for buying yourself a new $300 handbag because you just paid off one credit card while you still have $20k in student loans. And what you’ll almost always hear when something like this happens is “I deserve it”.

The question you should always ask when rewarding yourself is what am I rewarding? Am I rewarding a behavior I want to reinforce? The follow-up question should be how do I reinforce this in a way that is positive and not in a way that might set me back?

Ultimately, I ended up painting my nails while I had my Sunday night bath. That might sound risky but I assure you everything worked out just fine. Multitasking is something I kind of have to do presently, so I ran with it. I have no idea what I’ll do when I complete this week, but I will reward myself when I complete all the workouts for the week.

What’s your relationship with rewarding? Are there any behaviors you want to reinforce that you think might benefit from rewards? I’d be really interested in your thoughts and experiences.

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Results May Vary

Sometimes great things come to me during my morning meditation. Here’s an excerpt of the email that is going out to my subscribers Friday morning, sparked by a meditation session:

You see that disclaimer with just about anything that is trying to sell a dream, weight loss programs especially and get rich schemes; anything that tries to circumnavigate actual effort; anything that wants us to ignore what we already know – that anything we want takes effort and work.

You know that saying we all heard as kids? Money doesn’t grow on trees (well, yes, actually it does, but I’m not trying to be a smartass here). Sometimes it was said in exasperation when we were careless with our things. Most often though, it occurred to me in this meaning: there are no handouts in life. You have to earn it.

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All About That App

This week I’m sharing apps that I use that have been beneficial in habit formation and my overall wellbeing. Most of them are free with upgrade potential and all are available via iTunes. I don’t know about Android compatibility, unfortunately.

  1. Momentum: this is a habit tracker. Well, you can track anything in it, but I use it for three specific habits: meditation, writing, and movement. It’s free for up to 3 habits, upgrading gives you an unlimited amount of items to track. What I particularly love about this app is the reminders. I have it set to remind me at 8 PM if I haven’t done my three habits. It actually saved me last night as I’d forgotten to get my movement quota in.
  2. Calm: this is my meditation app. I only use it as a timer which is free. The guided meditations are a paid upgrade. What I like about it is that you can set a theme which has background noise (I like rain). This is beneficial for those of us auditorially hyperactive as it masks life noises such as dryer buzzers, cars driving past with loud music, or the neighbor’s dog barking incessantly.
  3. MyFlo: a friend of mine just introduced me to this app, which is menstrual cycle tracker. This was $1.99 and it’s been totally worth the cost. It was designed by a fellow health coach and the insights have been really interesting, even for someone who studies hormone balance. One of the neat functions is that you can add your partner to it so that he is alerted to how you’re doing. If you have a super supportive partner, this could be really nice. Did you know that ALL women once they hit 35 are considered to be perimenopausal? I didn’t.
  4. Fitocracy: this one is a free fitness app with an accompanying website. I use both. It’s just a great way to track what, specifically, you are doing for exercise and it assigns points, kind of like a video game, which is nice if you’re a gold star collector. I’m still tickled when I level up and it’s neat that it notifies you when you’ve hit a PR. It’s also social so you can do challenges with your friends if you’re into that sort of thing.
  5. Spotify: Okay, this really isn’t habit related, but I REQUIRE music for many things. You can use it for free (with ads) but I highly recommend upgrading.
  6. Mint: Cleaning up my financial house has been something I’ve been working on diligently since last August and I could NOT do that without a budget and financial tracker. I check in every single morning which helps me stay in integrity with my spending and keeps me from burying my head in the sand when it gets tight.
  7. Thyme: this is a free timer, designed for cooking. It has 5 timers you can run simultaneously which is nice when batch cooking.
  8. Ibotta/Ebates: cash back on stuff you’re going to buy anyway? Yes, please.
  9. OurGroceries: I’ve been using this one for years, including when I had an Android phone so I know it’s available on that platform. It’s a grocery list that can be synced to the website AND it can be shared with family members, which is nice. Two things I’ve learned not to do is shop hungry or shop without a list.
  10. Evernote: I use this for many things including writing, to do lists, and saving articles/recipes. It’s a very useful tool. They’ve changed the pay structure for this recently so now you can use it on two devices for free. I’ve yet to max out the allowable storage per month – you’re allowed to store a certain amount each month new, not in total – which is better than some other cloud storage services.

That’s all for now. Have a great week, everyone!

Sunday Morning Appreciation

A couple years ago, I came across a man named Jesse Elder. He was a presenter in a symposium led by Ben Greenfield and while I cannot remember what drew me (Ben Greenfield is a well-known biohacker in the Paleo/Primal community, something that is just that side of too complicated for my tastes), what Mr. Elder had to say about fear led me to participate in two of his coaching programs. Long story short, one of the things that has stayed with me is the act of appreciation.

This concept wasn’t foreign to me. Years ago, while struggling to find a job, I learned about a book called 365 Thank Yous by John Kralik. The short synopsis is that he turned around the black hole that was his life through the simple act of expressing gratitude. I was so struck by it that I immediately started writing thank you notes to everyone. And while Mr. Kralik doesn’t go into it in the book, the act of gratitude and appreciation creates a distinct energetic shift that allows the good stuff to come to us.

Just like many people, I tend to forget how good I have it until it, whatever IT may be, is gone. I also know I can shift that tendency into active appreciation instead of using it as a knee jerk reaction to negative stimuli. So without further ado, here is MY Sunday Appreciation:

  1. I appreciate that there is birdsong, today, February 19th.
  2. I appreciate that it is nearly 50 degrees.
  3. I appreciate the quiet of the early morning.
  4. I appreciate that I can make decaf Bulletproof coffee.
  5. I appreciate that I live in a world where I have choices.
  6. I appreciate that there is a multitude of Paleo bloggers writing recipes so I don’t have to – here’s a great recipe for Simple Saag.
  7. I appreciate that I have not one but three jobs, two of which allow me to meet my and my child’s needs.
  8. I appreciate that my allopathic physician is just open-minded enough to hear what I have to say about certain supplements that are making a huge difference in my health.
  9. I appreciate that I’ve learned when to open my mouth and when to keep it shut.
  10. I appreciate you all.

Now I invite you to find your appreciation. Feel free to share in the comments. To paraphrase Mr. Elder, that which you appreciate appreciates. Have a lovely Sunday.