Tag Archives: better than before

Don’t Fall for the Common Habits Myth that Stops People from Making Successful Change.

2559017400_7c7b63f206_zPeople often ask me, “Why do we struggle so hard to change our habits–why do we so often fail?

There are a few reasons, but there’s one big one — a popular myth about habits that leads people astray. It makes them accuse themselves of being lazy, self-indulgent, and lacking in will-power. It causes them to fail.

What is this myth? It’s the myth that there’s a magic, one-size-fits-all solution for habit change.

You’re read the headline: “The habits that successful people follow each morning!” “Follow these 3 secret habits of millionaires! “The one habit you must follow if you want to get ahead!” “The five habits of all highly creative people!”

But here’s what I’ve discovered. And you know this, too — because it’s perfectly obvious from looking at the world around us. Continue reading

Agree, Disagree? September is the Other January. Time for a New Start.

HappierAtHomePaperback1-300x462Even though I haven’t been in school for a long time, for me, September  marks the beginning of a new year.  Orange is the new black, breakfast is the new lunch, Monday is the new Thursday, pork is the other white meat, and September is the other January. (And yes, it’s still September, even though most schools start in August nowadays — and of course, this is true only in certain parts of the world.)

January is the official start of the new year, and I always get a burst of renewed zeal at that time, but here in the United States, for me, September also gives the same feeling of an empty calendar and a clean slate. The air seems charged with possibility and renewal.

Back-to-school is a time of self-evaluation and reflection–and also a time when I feel the urge to clean out my office.

Because of the new year feeling of September, when I wanted to do a a happier-at-home project, I decided to start it in September. Continue reading

Are You Unnecessarily Severe with Yourself and Your Habits?

coffeepouring-300x169“All severity that does not tend to increase good, or prevent evil, is idle.

– Samuel Johnson, as quoted in James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson

I often think about this remark by Samuel Johnson.

Because I’ve been so focused on habits over the past few years, during the writing of Better Than Before, people often talk to me about the habits they want to change.

And although I have so many strategies and ideas that I’ve identified to help people master their habits, to my surprise, I frequently find myself making the case against changing a habit. Continue reading

Better Than Before: Making the Best of Arthritis

arthritisThe Europeans have it all figured out. At the first sign of any aches they don’t take to bed with a bottle of Aleve. No, they head for the thermae of Italy, the baden of Germany, the baths of England, and station thermales of France The treatments at these detox meccas include water (fresh and sea) and mud therapies that promise freedom from pain — not to mention a cleaner liver. And the concept goes back millennia. After all, Spa is not an acronym for Super Place for Aerobics. Rather, it is named after the town in Belgium favored by Peter the Great. (Yes, that Peter the Great!). They are based, instead, on the restorative and healing powers of thermal and mineral springs and imbibing waters that come directly from those sources.

Alas, we in America may be hard pressed to find these types of cures closer to home as there are only a handful of natural hot springs indigenous to this country. And, truth be told, most people don’t even know they exist. Just ask someone in your office to name a liquid that makes you feel really good. I doubt hot, bubbling water would be the first thing that comes to mind. In fact, make mine a kale and celery smoothie — and a Dirty Margarita for The Lawyer.

Does this mean, though, that we have to suffer such inflammatory ailments as arthritis in silence? After all, about 50 million Americans have been diagnosed with one of the seven common forms of Arthritis. Yes, I am one of them. But limited space will not allow me to regale you with stories about my recent hip replacement! (Call me!) Curative spas aside, it is important, therefore, for patients and care givers to understand the potential impact of the disease and how best to manage it. It can be a critical part of making the decisions to make good on your intent to live a healthier lifestyle that is Better Than Before.

Let’s start with learning a little more about the illness itself. For this I turned to Phyllis Crockett, a specialty-trained pharmacist in the Accredo Rheumatoid Arthritis and Inflammatory Disease TRC.

“Arthritis is a complex family of musculoskeletal disorders consisting of more than 100 different diseases or conditions,” she says. “Although common belief is that arthritis is a condition affecting the elderly, two-thirds of people with arthritis are under the age of 65, including 300,000 children. Also, arthritis affects people of all ethnicities.”

According to Crockett the vast majority of sufferers, about 27 million Americans, have what I have, Osteoarthritis (OA), which is characterized by a breakdown of joint cartridge. A vast majority of OA patients are elderly. (But it could be genetic, and the result of what sets in after you’ve sustained an injury! Hellooo!!)

The rest of arthritis sufferers have the more severe form: Rheumatoid arthritis. “Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is characterized by inflammation of the membranes lining the joint. Although it can strike at any age, women are typically diagnosed between the ages of 30 and 60, while male patients are usually older. There are about 1.5 million affected individuals in the United States. Finally, Juvenile Arthritis (JA) is a term used to describe many autoimmune and inflammatory conditions that can affect children ages 16 and younger.”

The disease takes a heavy toll. “Each year, arthritis accounts for 44 million outpatient visits and over 900,000 hospitalizations. In fact, it’s the leading cause of disability in the United States and is a more frequent cause of activity limitations than heart disease, cancer or diabetes. By some estimates, 67 million Americans will have arthritis by 2030.”

So what do we do?

“Managing the disease so that patients can continue to live normal lives is important,” Crockett continues. “Each patient is different and a physician can help determine the best treatment plan, including pain management and managing the symptoms of arthritis.”

She shared with me some tips that she offers her patients, starting with exercise. “It is a valuable tool in the fight against arthritis. OA and RA patients particularly can benefit from both endurance and resistance training.”

Maintaining a healthy weight and protecting against joint injury can help prevent OA. “Every pound of weight lost reduces the pressure on each knee by 4 pounds. Even a small weight loss can be a big help in fighting it.”

Apart from lifestyle modifications, there are also many drug therapies available for arthritis patients—and doctors and specialist pharmacists can help identify the best one for you.

For patients who already are on medication to treat the condition, adherence – taking medications as prescribed – is critical to healthier outcomes.

“But do not self-medicate!” she cautions: “Combining over-the-counter medications with prescription medications can be risky, and can cause side effects such as an increase in GI irritation or a GI bleed. And don’t adjust doses or making changes to the medication regimen without checking with your health care team.”

“Watch for drug interactions: Some common medications like acetaminophen can have a drug-drug interaction with arthritis medications. Limit intake and remember that acetaminophen is often a component in common sinus, cough/cold and pain medications.”

Opt for an anti-inflammatory regimen like the Mediterranean diet – you know the drill, easy on the acidic foods like sugar, white flours, and alcohol, and sticking with leafy greens, whole grains, and lean proteins. “But some foods and beverages can block the effects of arthritis medications,” Crockett concludes. “These include grapefruit, apple and orange juice as well as milk and yogurt. Wait at least four hours after taking medications. Exact times can vary depending on the disease and the treatment. Check with a trained clinician.”

I can assure you from very painful, personal experience that if arthritis does go too far, surgery may be the only option. So if your intent is to help avoid – or at the very least, prolong – this possible outcome, be aware that lifestyle modification and medication may be the answer.

 

Better Than Before: Recovering from a Cruise Excursion

cruise buffetA few weeks ago, I was invited to go to an 80th birthday party. Among the select group of fellow guests were important political figures, judges and lawyers. Now, one would naturally assume that this distinguished assembly of New York City notables would have preferred something equally elegant, say a staid steak house or an upscale Italian eatery. Nope. The destination of choice was, wait for it, a ‘Cruise to Nowhere.’ That translated to one night on the Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Gem, a massive modern ship that normally sails to the Caribbean, Canada and the Bahamas. On this voyage, however, the ship simply goes a few miles out to sea – and back. Enough distance, though, to be able to gamble and shop at a duty-free store. Who knew that sailing to New Jersey (or at least safely offshore from the Garden State) could have such lucrative advantages – and be considered “international” waters?

There was one minor problem, though — I have been known to get seasick in a hot tub if the jets make too many waves! So I was understandably hesitant to accept this invitation. But then I read the trip’s description on NCL online: “Leave all your cares on land and slip away for a cruise to nowhere,” it beckoned. “Enjoy dinner and dancing, take in a show, win big in the casino, party the night away or spend some time in the spa to relax and rejuvenate!” It had this overly stressed journalist who hasn’t had a vacation in years at “leave…” So off I went – with my own Lawyer in tow (not that he needed a lot of convincing to take part in something that pretty much promised an open buffet for the entire time). Besides, I was determined to prove to my readers that it is possible to go on a cruise – and return in shipshape, no matter what the temptations. While 18 hours on board isn’t much time to get out of shape,  I still considered this an opportunity to test the waters for the longer lasting versions. Detective Beauty was on the case!!

We have all heard horror stories about these types of trips. As one would naturally assume with something informally known as a “booze cruise,” they either attract the college crowd who stay up all night and drink wherever they are, or those who could be deemed the “Real Housewives of 7-Eleven.” And upon boarding and looking around, I had to admit that this particular excursion lived up to that reputation. There were drinks of every form offered on practically every deck – for an extra fee. Even though it was only 1pm in the afternoon, it seemed as if many cruisers had already had a few — or ten. Of course, when somebody dressed in a full dolphin costume came over and put his or her (hard to tell) arm around me to pose for a ship photo and I happily submitted; smiling broadly at the ridiculousness of it, it no doubt appeared to others that I might have knocked back a few myself.

Let’s skip to lunch. Unless you want to go to a specialty restaurant onboard, which is also extra, it’s basically what you’d expect for cruise food – and lots and lots of it. That means unlimited amounts of whatever is on the menu, much of it not terribly good for your health. Suffice it to say, though, that The Lawyer was in seventh heaven. Restaurants with All-You-Can-Eat buffets, you see, usually have to check with their bankruptcy counsel whenever he and our sons descend upon them. “Jane, should I have a steak?” he asked, knowing that I was sitting next to him and would kibosh the order, but decided to see if I mellowed in the negative ions of the ocean air. Here’s a tip: Look for the options with checks in front of them signifying that they are ‘heart healthy.’ Okay, maybe not what you would get at, say, Sweet Greens organic salad bar, but good enough to not gain ten pounds or fill any arteries left unclogged. And order triples on vegetables. That was all I actually ate, but the waitress nonetheless commented that I had a “hearty appetite.”

There is a long list of possible activities that my group of women and I scanned during our meal. I strongly suggested for them, and for those of you who follow this nautical path, a visit to the gym and spa. Every top-of-the-line ship has them and they are a perfect way to while away the hours instead of going to a bar or playing afternoon Bingo. The gym is open from 6am to 11 pm and offers everything from Thighs, Buns and Tum hour, to Fab Abs, yoga, Pilades, body shaping and all things in between. Everything you would find at a full service gym is right there. I loved the TRX workout, a revolutionary method of suspension training that is brought to us by the Navy Seals, and will make it a point to find a class here in the city that offers something similar. So take advantage of a unique opportunity to try different exercise options.

Finally, visit the spa. This cruise had a particularly gorgeous one — the Mandara. Splurge on a hot rock massage, an oxygen facial, acupuncture, or a cleansing thermal wrap. (And if you’re not Gwyneth Paltrow, how many of us realistically have all those hours to devote to detoxing?) I knew where The Lawyer would be – undoubtedly at the afternoon buffet — so I didn’t have to worry about him honing in on my “me” time. I still remember one year when I was certain that he was at the marina of a French resort taking note of the topless human condition, I called down to the hotel spa to arrange for a treatment. “Impossible, Madame,” was the reply. “Your husband is at this moment on the massage table about to start the very last appointment.”

Yes, I was a little sick to my stomach; but it was because the waters were particularly choppy, not the fact that I caught the dreaded Norovirus. But, at the end of the day, I disembarked the morning after looking and feeling Better Than Before. And if you just plan your cruise activities accordingly, you can, too. As for The Lawyer, he’s still annoyed that I didn’t let him eat any birthday cake. 

Become ‘Better Than Before’ with the Power of Intent

Screen Shot 2013-06-16 at 9.38.38 AMAll of us suffer from something. It could be as simple as an irritating or unhealthy habit like nail biting, jaw clinching, or smoking, to more complex issues like chronic stress, fears, and phobias of every nature variety. Other issues could be low self-confidence, and/or limiting beliefs like feeling unworthy or “less than” in some way. To that end, I am often asked two questions: What does it take to become Better Than Before? And can I change my life overnight?

I wish I were a (fake) clairvoyant like Simon Baker in “The Mentalist” and be able to predict that all great things will happen in your imminent future. (I once asked my brother, “What if I had true psychic powers?” “What if a piano fell on your head,” he responded.) Alas, I can’t. And there are no instant fixes or magic bullets. You have to do it all by yourself. The whole concept of being Better Than Before implies change of some sort; moving in some way by small increments from where you are to where you want to be. That change can be physical, emotional or spiritual. But in reality, all change involves all three energies.

My expert Dr. John McGrail, a renowned clinical hypnotherapist, personal improvement expert, spiritual teacher, and author of the bestselling The Synthesis Effect, picks it up from here. “One of the most powerful ingredients in harnessing one’s energies to create change is the energy of intention or intent,” he tells me. “If we look at the dictionary definition of intent we see words like purpose, motive, aim, design, and goal; and next to these words we see descriptors like, keen, resolute, sincere, serious, and diligent.”

Dr. McGrail goes on to say that no change, nothing new, in fact, can happen without a purpose, aim or goal. “An artist cannot create art, an athlete cannot compete, a student cannot learn, a business cannot profit, a writer cannot write, a person cannot lose weight, build self-confidence, or change anything about themselves and their life,” he contends. In other words, it is impossible to become Better Than Before without the energy of intent. Intent is the bridge between desire and achievement. “Therefore, it’s not such a stretch to say that intent is indeed the ultimate and universal, motive force behind all creation.”

Yet, for many people defining intent as the creative force of the universe is a bit too abstract a concept to easily integrate and employ. “We desire something more practical and pragmatic,” continues Dr. McGrail. So let’s try this definition: “Intent is laser-sharp focused thought and action dedicated to producing a result. The result in this case, of course, is whatever you wish to change.” Let’s call it your New You, the you that is Better Than Before, that is.

Dr. McGrail emphasizes that it is vital to recognize that two energies must be brought to bear. We need to employ both thought and action. Either one without the other and nothing much happens; or if it does happen, it may take a very long time. “Many of the latest books and films dealing with quantum reality and the Law of Attraction mention the necessity to focus one’s thoughts on what one desires; but they most often minimize and sometimes completely neglect the need to act on those thoughts as well. If you don’t do something to take you through the process—choose, act, etc.—then, well, as they say, ‘you can’t get there from here.’”

He further explained to me that two points become very clear with this concept: First, the desire, aim, and motive to create your Better Than Before ‘New You’ must absolutely be your own. “If you try to change yourself because someone either wants you to for their sake or thinks that by changing something about yourself will make you a better person,” he says, “then bringing the required intent will be difficult, if not impossible, particularly for creating a long-term effect. It may work in the short run, but almost never if you want it to be permanent — and if you want to be happy about it.”

Second, the degree of focus, laser-sharp, becomes very important in producing efficacy. “Think of light energy,” he suggests. “A light bulb does a fine job of illuminating a room with a fuzzy cloud of light. But if you concentrate and focus light energy enough you can create a beam that is brighter and sharper. And if you continue to focus them more, that very same energy—light—becomes a laser, a device obviously far more versatile and incredibly more powerful than any light bulb.”

The same, in fact, holds true for intent and the process of change. According to McGrail, the more we concentrate our thoughts and actions on our desired outcome, the more quickly and efficiently we can and will produce the result. And while this seems simple enough, we in modern Western society tend to have significant challenges with focus; we are distracted by a million different sources of input, technologies, and media; we have come to almost worship the act of multi-tasking (even though I’m convinced that my brain was designed to focus on only one thing at a time); and so we are easily distracted, and thus, the energy of intent can become diffused and eventually powerless. And there goes our result.

Fortunately, there are a variety of tools and techniques that can help us refocus. And “one of the most powerful is a simple, consistent practice of meditation; a natural state of consciousness that creates incredible mental focus and clarity, just what we need to power our intent,” Dr. McGrail concludes.

To that end, here is his easy yet dynamic meditative exercise that will greatly speed the process of becoming Better Than Before:

1) At least once a day, every day, find a place where you can sit quietly and comfortably and be free of all distractions and disturbances.

2) Close your eyes and let them relax completely; let your eyelids feel limp and languid, so heavy that they simply won’t open unless you force them open.

3) Relax your jaw completely; let all the tension that you have stored in your jaw – usually a lot more than we think – melt away. Feel your lower jaw just drop and droop.

4) Take 21 slow, deep, gentle breaths. Breathe all the way in, and all the way out, nice and slowly; and keep count. If you lose track, start over. (You almost surely will at first, but with practice you will get better.)

5) When you reach 21, picture, visualize, or imagine looking at yourself having made the change you are wanting. What does that New You look like, feel like, act like? Stay with the imagining until you can feel the energy of it, the absolute delight of being your “new” you. Hold onto the image and the feeling for as long as it feels comfortable.

The key to this exercise is consistency. When you visualize or imagine your New You and stay with it until you feel it, you are in fact creating that energy within you by reprogramming your subconscious computer. And I guarantee you will become Better Than Before!

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