Tag Archives: habbits

Kindness – It Does Your Body Good

Helping the homelessI remember being told to be kind as a kid, primarily as it related to how I treated any of my five siblings. I was thinking about this again this week while watching how little kindness there seems to be in the news. Between political battles of ideology, fighting for land, arguing over resources and fighting over egos, we have forgotten how to be kind. “Be kind for everyone you meet is fight a hard battle,” is a quote attributed to Plato. Regardless who said it, its message rings true now more then ever. What would it take for us to be more intentionally kind? And, how would our world change we did?

To me, the word Namaste says it all – “may the divine in me acknowledge the divine in you.” May whatever is great in me focus on seeing the greatness in you – even if I don’t know you. And if I did, I would be kinder. If I did, I would be more generous, more loving and more forgiving. I would see the greatness in you, trying to express your inner divinity. “We must find out for ourself that inside us is a god or goddess in embryo that wants to be born so we can express our divinity,” says Deepak Chopra in his book The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success.

Here is an exercise I regularly use for myself and as a challenge I share with my audiences. The next time you are on the highway and someone cuts you off, or you are in line and someone steps ahead of you, how will you make a point of seeing their greatness and their divinity instead of feeling offended? How will you see them as related to you, part of you and part of a greater plan? It isn’t easy because we have been trained to focus on ourselves more than on others. We feel violated, slighted or insulted. But it doesn’t have to be this way – our reaction to this is our choice. As we can choose to be unkind, we could also choose to be kind.

Changing a habit takes intention. To change a habit of focusing first on us takes the intention of wanting it to be different and committing to make the change. The starting point is awareness. We have to be able to see when we are kind and not kind. We have to be present enough to see ourselves in action – to notice our triggers and be aware of our responses. Only then will we be able to stop the “go-to” reaction of selfishness and retaliation, and instead see that we have a choice. That choice could include kindness. In the example of the car cutting you off on the highway, it could mean not blaring the horn and passing a gesture, but instead slowing down, letting the other car in and be entirely unaffected by the event. This is a choice.

The most amazing thing about being kind, is the greatest benefit is not for the other person; it is actually for you. The more unkind we are, the more damage we inflict on ourselves. I was coaching a client this week who is getting ready to leave an employer for some unfair and unprofessional things the employer did. This employee has the ability to “stick it” to his employer; be upset, carry a grudge and bad-mouth his employer. Or, he can realize that in a win-win termination solution, the employee can choose to not be at the effect of the situation, but actually choose to show up kinder, more aware and more committed to greatness. He can choose a mutually beneficial response that treats both sides kindly and professionally. He took the higher ground. His mood, health and spirit were left intact from the event. Kindness, it does a body good.

In what ways can you be more intentionally kind today, this week and this month? Feel the effects of it. See the effects of it. Though kindness does a body good, it also can do a planet good. Choose kindness.

Revealed: My Next Book Will Be About…

HabitsRepeatFourWhenever I start a new book, I think, “This is the most interesting subject of all time. It’s sad, I’ll never enjoy writing another book as much as I enjoy this one.” Every time, I’m convinced. And then I change my mind when I start the next book.

But I really do believe this may be the most fascinating subject ever. It’s the subject of habits. How do we make and break habits–really?

It was my interest in happiness that led me to the subject of habits, and of course, the study of habits is really the study of happiness. Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life, and a significant element of happiness. If we have habits that work for us, we’re much more likely to be happy, healthy, productive, and creative. When I talk to people about their happiness challenges, they often point to hurdles related to a habit they want to make or break.

My habits research started as part of my ongoing happiness research—I often spend a lot of time studying happiness-related sub-topics, such as pain or the sense of smell—but I just kept pushing deeper and deeper into habit formation. Everything I read was so fascinating! The more I learned, the more I wanted to know—but also the more baffled I became.

I had many questions that seemed quite obvious and pressing to me, but strangely, few of the experts seemed to recognize them. For instance:

  •  Sometimes, people acquire habits overnight, and sometimes, they drop longtime habits just as abruptly. Why?
  • Why do practically all dieters gain the weight back?
  • It’s understandable why we have trouble acquiring habits of activities we don’t want to do, but why is it so hard to make ourselves acquire habits that we do want to do?
  • Why do some people dread and resist habits, and others follow them eagerly?
  • Why are people often so unmoved by consequences? Many graduate students take several years to write their dissertations, and stay ABD (“All But Dissertation”) even though they’re much better off finishing faster. One-third to one-half of U.S. patients don’t take medicine prescribed for a chronic illness.
  • Do the same strategies that work for changing simple habits (tooth-flossing) also apply to complex habits (drinking less)?
  • Do the same habit-formation strategies apply equally well to everyone?
  • Why is it that sometimes, even though we’re very anxious—even desperate—to change a habit, we can’t? A friend told me, “I have a lot of chronic health issues, and I do a lot better when I don’t eat wheat or dairy. But I do. Why? These foods make me feel lousy. But I eat them.”
  • Certain situations seem to make it easier to form habits. Why?
  • Why do we indulge in a bad habit even when we’re painfully aware that we’re doing it? I’d heard that sequence in my own head: “I shouldn’t. I told myself I wouldn’t. I want to. I have to. Watch me.”
  • Most importantly, what are the overarching strategies that allow us to change our habits—or help someone else to change a habit—whether that habit is exercising more, taking medication, doing homework, turning off the TV, or anything else?

I searched unsuccessfully for the answers, until one day a thought hit me: “I should write a book about habits! I’ll figure out the answers to these questions.”

And so I am. I’ve written the entire first draft, in fact.

The book’s title is Before and After, because that’s what we all want from our healthy habits—to go from before to after.

In Before and After, I identify the sixteen strategies that we can use to make or break our habits. Some are quite familiar, such as Monitoring, Scheduling, and Convenience. Some took me a lot of effort to identify, such as Thinking, Identity, and Clarity. Some are more complicated than you might assume, such as Rewards and Others. The most fun strategy? Treats. The funniest chapter? The chapter on Safeguards (I include a list of the loopholes we invoke to justify breaking our healthy habits, and they are hilarious.)

The book will hit the shelves in 2015, and if you want to be notified as soon as it’s available for pre-order, sign up here.

Here on the blog, I’ll continue to write generally about happiness, and in particular–as you may have noticed reflected in a few design changes–what I’ve learned about habits. My work on the four Rubin Tendencies came out of my habit research, for example. I was struggling to understand why people seemed so different from each other, when it came to their attitude and aptitude for habit. Why did I find it fairly easy to adopt a new habit, and I love my habits, but other people detest habits? Or they want habits but can’t form them? Or can form them in some situations, but not others? I wanted to solve that riddle—which required me to come up with a framework to capture the variations in human nature.  (It took me months to figure this out.)

I identified the abstainer/moderator distinction before I started to focus on habits, but the habits analysis helped me understand the implications of that distinction much better.

I’ve always loved “Before and After” stories, in books, magazines, and TV shows. Whenever I read those words, I’m hooked. The thought of a transformation—any kind of transformation—thrills me. And that’s the promise of habits.

I’m going to add a new feature to this site (I hope): I’d love to feature people’s stories of their own “before and after.” It’s so helpful to hear about other people’s experiences, and how they’ve managed to change their habits for the better. If you have a before-and-after story to share, you can send it to me here. I may not be able to run them all, but I’ll certainly read them all.

Habit allows us to go from before to after, to make life easier and better. Habit is notorious—and rightly so—for its ability to direct our actions, even against our will; but by mindfully shaping our habits, we can harness the power of mindlessness as a sweeping force for serenity, energy, and growth. Habits allow us to look back at the end of each day and see that we’ve undertaken the actions that reflect our values—without even having to think about it.

Before and after! It’s what we all crave.


  • If you’re thinking, “But Gretchen, I’m dying to read Before and After. I can’t possibly wait until 2015!” well, fear not. In the meantime, you can read my most recent book, Happier at Home.

Why You’re Perfect Just The Way You Are.

shutterstock_123704254Less than two years ago, I was lucky enough to be living in walking distance to a Barnes and Noble. Somehow I would always find myself attracted like a magnet to the often shamed and typically avoided self-improvement aisle. My friends used to joke that my walking into my then-favorite section was like an alcoholic walking into a liquor store: I would literally go through book by book for hours on end, searching for some hidden secret that I thought might help me do a little better at this whole thing called life. These were my “self-help” binges, and I would exit those aisles more utterly confused than when I walked into them. Still, upon first whiff of that delicious Barnes and Noble scent, I was unable to stop myself from going back for more.

I must be missing some kind of guidebook everyone got when they were born, I would think to myself as I scanned each book in my favorite section. If only I could find the answer somewhere in one of these books, I would have it all figured out.

I came across many-a-book that would instruct me to love myself unconditionally, and I was told that if I could just give myself unconditional love and gentleness, I would have the peace I was looking for. I would repeatedly fail to understand what that meant and assume this implied I was failing life in general, only to love myself a little less as I sadly trudged away from the self-help section.

I would search and search, and I would find nothing I didn’t already know or nothing that could really give me what I wanted. Why? Because what I wanted was to be accepted just as I was, not if only I could love myself. This could only come from me, not from “passing” the exam called “life” with flying colors because I spent my whole life in the self help section of the book store and got all the answers down.

Although I’m slightly sober of my self-help section habit (okay, I did make one trip there the other day) I’m still finding I’m walking away from many a “spiritually minded” article or magazine with the same feeling of inadequacy I used to get from reading Cosmopolitan, or hanging out in that darn aisle of the book store. No, I don’t feel like my abs are too flabby or like I don’t have enough sex appeal, but I do feel a little bit like I’m “not spiritual enough” or like my limited kale intake doesn’t grant me access to some kind of higher plane of living.

So let me just say, I’m deciding there aren’t any rules. I’m deciding I’m good enough right where I am (and I get to decide that every single day.) In a world filled with rules and instructions for how to let go of rules and instructions, I am always granted the choice to accept myself, warts and all. No matter what I might be struggling to quit, hang onto, or pick up, I can embrace myself right where I’m at, well before I get to whatever final destination I’m heading toward.

After all, I may never “arrive” there anyways. I might as well enjoy the ride.


For more, check out my website, The Light Files, and follow me on Facebook or Twitter.

Trick or Tips For Having a Healthier Halloween

Halloween - PumpkinsI hesitate to admit, but Halloween is my favorite ‘holiday’ of all. I am not above sending cards and messages to family and friends telling them to have a Happy ‘Boo’ Day. Or a ‘Fang’tastic Afternoon.  Or a “Spook’tacluar Evening. Once I even wore a T-shirt emblazoned with: “Ding Dong, the witch isn’t dead.” (And, alas, nobody begged to differ.) I have been known to serve cocktails with a peeled grape at the bottom of the glass. (Eyeballs, see?) And display whole a cauliflower as a centerpiece. (A brain, understand?)

My kids loved it, too. After all, it’s the one night of the year when we let our children ring door bells and accept candy from total strangers –albeit friendly neighborhood ones. (Ah, such illicit liberation.) My babies are all grown up now. So that leaves my husband and me to carry on the tradition. While he doesn’t actually trick or treat — I mean, he’s a lawyer –and even they have certain standards — he likes it for a different reason.  I let him buy candy. That being said, he also never fails to fool me. We start off on a positive note. He is very concerned about what he will be handing out to the wee ones. So he methodically sorts through the bags of goodies at our local chain pharmacy

“Not this,” he says, throwing back the fun-sized Butterfingers. “Too many calories! Not these either,” he sneers, turning his attention to the Star Burst Fruit Chews. “Sugar and fat!” The Reese’s Peanut Butter Pumpkins also didn’t make the cut. Neither did the Laffy Taffy, Mounds, Baby Ruth’s, or Tootsie Pops. “That’s just begging to go to the dentist.”

Finally, he reaches the Snickers Minis. “These,” he announces, with a satisfied smile. “These are good!! A nice balance of carbohydrates with the protein of peanuts.”

Well, suffice it to say, his largesse in suddenly caring for the well-being of the little tykes in our building always seems disingenuous. The reason? Snickers Minis (preferably frozen) are the only candy he eats. So I suspect that half of them won’t make it into their plastic pumpkins. Yet I fall for it every time.

And I am always right. Not only does he insist on giving out the, er, ‘boo’-ty all by himself, but when I check the freezer before I go to bed, guess what I find hiding behind the frozen spinach? Yep, the  Snickers Minis. His sneaky little plan is to eat them himself, as snacks, during the week.

With that in mind, focusing on the adults for a moment, I asked Julie Erickson, nutrition expert and owner of Endurance Pilates & Yoga, to share a few simple suggestions we should keep in mind when choosing our treats. And if we do indulge, how to deal with the extra calories:

1. Look at the ingredients: Some of the tastiest candies have some of the scariest chemicals. Choose ones that have shorter ingredient lists and contain less chemicals and processed compounds. For example, if you are deciding between sweet and fruity candies, Swedish Fish have 9 ingredients, the first being real sugar. Strawberry Twizzlers have 20, including  corn syrup  (the first listed) and a chemical preservative.

2. Be honest: If you cannot control your sweet tooth, don’t purchase the candies that you like to give away to the kids. Instead, buy yourself a single serving of your favorite treat and get giant bags of the snacks that won’t tempt you as much.

3. Check out serving sizes, calories and nutrients: One serving of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (2 cups) contains 13 grams of fat- 20% of the recommended daily value.  One Hershey’s Bar provides 40% of the recommended daily value of saturated fat. If you want to indulge, be sure to limit consumption during your regular meals throughout the day.

Exercise-wise, to work off the extra candy-induced (would-be) poundage, Julie recommends the Halloween HIIT (High-intensity Interval Training) 30 minute Calorie Scorcher below. (Note: This is an advanced level workout that assumes a high level of fitness going in. It is designed to burn off as many calories as possible in a half hour. The number of repetitions or duration of each group, however,  can be reduced for those who are newer to exercise. But whatever your fitness level, the effort on the work phases should be all out and the rests should be a complete stop.

1. Warm-up: Run for one mile run at VO2 Max (as fast as you can).. Rest 30 seconds.

2. Jump Rope: For 4 Minutes. Rest 30 seconds.

3. Tabata Pushup Sequence: Push-ups for 20 seconds. Rest 10 seconds. Repeat 8x. (Tabata is another form of HIT).

4. Pilates Rollups/Neck Pulls: Lie on the floor, arms and legs extended. Roll upper body away from floor, stretching arms and chest up and over legs and reaching past toes.  Repeat 10x. Try rolling up from the floor with hands behind the head. Repeat 10x.

5. Tabata Cone Hop Sequence: Jump side to side over a small cone for 20 seconds. Rest 10 seconds.  Repeat 8x.

6. Plank/Teaser holds: Alternate these two power stretches: Facing the mat, press forearms into the floor and extend legs out like the ‘up’ part of a pushup so that thighs are off the ground and toes are curled under. Hold Plank for 30 seconds. Rest 10 seconds. This is the Forearm Plank stretch. For the Teaser stretch, sit up for 30 seconds on the mat with your pelvis tilted, legs extended to 45 degrees and your arms parallel to your legs. Switch back and forth until you have done both stretches 4x.

7. Burpees: From standing, leap into the air with the arms stretching overhead as high as possible. Then fall into a squat position with your hands and feet on the mat and jump your feet back to the ‘up’ part of a pushup position. Immediately do one full pushup, then quickly jump your feet forward toward your hands again and start leap from this crouch position. Repeat 10x.

Armed with the above info, go ahead and eat your Snickers Minis.  But as Julie suggested, try to show some restraint. (Even The Lawyer keeps it to one a day until his cache runs out.) Just know that I scare because I care. I ‘witch’ you all a happy and healthy Halloween. (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)

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