Personal Development

The Point of Decision: The Key To Staying On Track With Your Goals

P1080930.jpg

The key to strengthening good habits and weakening the ones that don’t serve us comes down to one thing— decisions.

Now that we’re into February, the time that’s notorious for when most people have already thrown in the towel on their New Year’s resolutions and goals, I’ve been paying close attention to where I could potentially get tripped up so I can catch myself before getting off track.

And by paying close attention and weaving in the nuggets of wisdom I’ve been learning in my daily reading, it’s all starting to click.

What I’ve realized is that the critical microseconds when I’m making the small, everyday decisions like— to do something or not, to eat something or not, or to think something or not are what determine whether or not I stay disciplined.

So, in this post, I’ll share some practical tips and ideas that have been helping me stay on track since the New Year. These tips and ideas are a combination of insights I’ve been studying in my daily reading, discovering in online sources, and applying.

My goal for this post is to encourage you to hold on and keep pushing for your goals (after the New Year’s “buzz” has worn off). By applying a little ancient Stoic wisdom and modern-day neuroscience, you’ll see how the points of everyday decisions and choices hold the key to what you want.

Here we go!

1 | Acknowledge you are in control of your choices.

In the daily devotional I’m reading this year, The Daily Stoic, the theme for January has been “Clarity.”

The guiding principle of the ancient Stoic philosophy is that one must clearly identify the difference between what he can control/change and what he cannot, and not give energy to what he cannot control.

Instead, one should give energy to what he can control/change, and the Stoics believe that the main thing we do possess control over is our choices.

Staying on track with our goals has to do with making choices— most importantly, the many little choices or decisions we face throughout the day.

All of these little in-the-moment choices and decisions add up to our big picture.

Things like, “Should I buy these cookies or not?;” “Should I go to the gym or not?;” “Should I work on my side project or go to the movies?;” or even, “Is this thought healthy for me or not?” (Thoughts are an absolute choice as well because we have control over them.)

Seemingly little or insignificant everyday decisions compounded over time hold the key to shaping who we are and our future. The stronger we are in those microseconds, the abler we are to unlock our power in shaping ourselves and our future.

So rather than feel powerless and/or unconsciously make decisions and choices, when we create a space of awareness just before a decision, we acknowledge our power, override unsuccessful decision making patterns of the past, which better guides ourselves into the future.

2 | Activate your ability to reason.

Items 2-4 in this list are the “3 Areas of Training for every Stoic” and these areas ride on the heels of the overriding Stoic principle of knowing the difference between what you can and cannot control.

So, the first key in actually making a decision is to become aware or activate your ability to reason— wake up and pay close attention, if you will.

When you find yourself facing a decision about whether to or not do something that will impact where you want to go with your goals, activate your mind and create a sense of awareness, guiding yourself through the decision with your innate power of choice.

This heightened state of alertness helps you train your brain to make slower, conscious decisions vs. unconscious, stay-in-my-comfort-zone ones.

3 | Know your desires and aversions and associate them with pleasure and pain.

Desires are the things, actions, or even inactions that keep us on track with what we want. We strengthen our ability to seek them out by training our brain to associate them with pleasure at the point of decision.

Aversions are the things, actions, or inactions that stand between us and what we desire. We strengthen our ability to avoid them by training our brain to associate them with pain at the point of decision.

So depending on what your goal is, assign an aversion to the thing that stands in your way of staying on track. For me, sugar is no longer a source of pleasure; it’s an aversion. (My brain tells me it’s a source of pleasure, and this is what I need to retrain.)

Or, it could be a matter of action vs. inaction that you assign an aversion to. If you are trying to stay active, reframe that activity as pleasurable as opposed to painful. Within time, it absolutely will be a source of pleasure.

To dive into this point a little further, here’s a video of a talk given by fascinating neuroscientist, Moran Cerf, where he talks about a study to help people quit smoking where an aversion (the smell of rotten eggs) was used to retrain the brain to associate smoking with something bad.

4 | Deliberately direct your impulse to take action or inaction.

Finally, once you acknowledge how an aversion will lead you away from what you desire, it’s easier to resist an impulse and take the action (or inaction,) depending on what your goal is.

Resist the urge to stay safe and/or comfortable and guide your actions to reinforce your habit. Within time, your decisions will become second nature and require less thinking.

5 | When faced with the decision to quit or to keep going …

An additional interesting insight I learned from Moran Cerf’s talk is that our brain is in a certain state just before we are about to quit, for example, strenuous exercise.

One way to keep pushing is to say, “Yes, I want to give up, but I’m going to hang in here for a little longer,” and each time try to extend the time a little more before quitting.

I plan on trying this while running once the weather gets warmer. Rather than stop at the point I usually stop, I’ll keep going, even for just a little bit longer and add to that as much as I can.

According to Cerf, this practice trains one to make decisions that go against what the brain is telling us to do, which is to stay comfortable, recoil, and retreat.

Taking Things A Step Further

If you’re facing a goal that involves impulses that are particularly hard to resist, Moran Cerf suggests keeping a diary for a week where you log your decisions related to that goal or habit.

He encourages us to get to know our own brain and suggests taking note of the following items below as you make critical choices/decisions.

At the end of the week, see if you notice any patterns that made you stronger or weaker in your ability to make better decisions:

  • Hunger

  • Time of day

  • Social State (alone or in a group)

  • Urgency (close to a deadline)

  • Thought (deliberation)

  • Emotional State (angry, calm, anxious, afraid, etc.)

  • Sleep State (tired or rested)

Conclusion

Because we are wired to seek out what’s safe, comfortable, familiar, and pleasurable, our desires may be aversions and our aversions may actually be desires.

However, by stopping ourselves at the point of decision and reframing these things in our minds, we begin to retrain our brains to make strong decisions so we can grow.

Suffering is part of the equation for growth so, in order to grow, we have to initially endure some suffering. But over time the decisions require less thought, the suffering falls away, and we begin to see the results we desire.

To recap …

  • Know your goal.

  • Acknowledge you have control over your choices.

  • At the point of decision, activate your ability to reason.

  • Know your desires and aversions and associate them with pleasure and pain.

  • Deliberately direct your impulse to take action or inaction.

  • Keep a journal, if necessary.

As always, good luck!! Your efforts will be worth it!! ~Ellie

A Ridiculously Simple System To Help You Stay Consistent With Your Workouts

P1040362.jpg

If you struggle with staying consistent with your workouts (like I have for most of my adult life,) this post is for you!

A little over a year ago, I wrote a post entitled, “How To Stay Motivated To Workout,” where I shared a list of things I do to keep myself on track with my workouts. Everything I outlined in that post has kept me consistent since then.

However, I have since expanded on the fourth item in that post, which talked about having MINIMUMS and MAXIMUMS to backstop dips in motivation. Here is what #4 said:

4. Have Minimums & Maximums to Backstop Dips in Motivation. As you schedule your workouts, have a MINIMUM number you aim for each week. I've often heard that in order to get results, we need to train at least 4 times a week (5 varied workouts/week is ideal.) Of course, this is something you may need to work up to, but what I've noticed is that 4 workouts keep me consistent. With any fewer, I run the risk of getting off track. And if too many consecutive days go by without getting a workout in, it gets really easy to let the habit fall to the wayside. It's like you have to stay in the flow-- to get results, stay motivated, and strengthen your habit. In addition to your minimum number of workouts per week, keep in mind a MAXIMUM number of days you'll go in between workouts-- for me, that's 3 and 3 is pushing it. Once I've gone two days without working out, I know I need to get back in there ASAP. Stay in the flow!


In this post, I will expand on that concept and share a super simple system that helps me stay consistent with my workouts.

This system is really all I use at this point. It’s so simple that I almost feel silly writing about it, but it works so well for me that I figured it was worth sharing.

Here are the steps:

1 | Commit to a MINIMUM. First, have an absolute MINIMUM number of workouts you will commit to each week. For me, it’s currently 3, but 4 is ideal. If you’re not sure or you’re just getting started, I would suggest 3— but 4 or even 5 is best for really seeing results, especially if you’re also eating clean. My workouts consist of gym workouts, running outside, and mini workouts I do from my home. The more options I have, especially when time is short, the more likely I’ll keep my commitments.

2 | Commit to a MAXIMUM. Now, commit to a MAXIMUM number of days that you will go without working out. If you’re shooting for 3 or 4 workouts a week at a minimum, you really can’t go more than 2 or 3 days without a workout. Again, if you’re just starting out, I would suggest going no more than 3 days because this will keep you in the “flow,” of working out. Establishing your MAXIMUM will ensure that you hit the MINIMUM number of workouts you committed to each week.

3 | Find A Little Spiral Notebook. Now, find a little spiral notebook that’s probably in a drawer in your house and not being used. Just a little one is all you’ll need. It’s all about keeping this simple! If you don’t have one, go to a local dollar store and pick one up. For only a $1, you’re going to lock in this habit, I’m telling you!!

4 | Start Logging. At the top of the first page write “Week of _______” and fill in whatever date you’d like to start your weeks. Personally, I start with Monday, and this works for me because I like ending the week with Saturday and Sunday in case I need the weekend to round out my MINIMUM committed workouts. Use one sheet per week so you can easily see how many times you’ve worked out. Here’s a sample of one of my weekly logs …

P1040087-2.jpg

5 | Be Specific. Each time you workout, log it in and also write down what you did in your workout— include specific activities, sets, reps, time, distance, etc. The process of writing this down will give you a positive feedback loop and also show you what areas of your body you’re working out. It’s also great to flip back to see what you’ve done to give yourself proof that you’re staying consistent each week. Looking at past workouts will also give you ideas for future workouts.

The more you keep commitments to yourself, the more confidence you will have in yourself, and the more this habit will become part of who you are.

6 | Keep Your Notebook Close. Keep this notebook in a place where you can see it every day. It will also help you with scheduling/planning your workouts every week. Sometimes we don’t always know when we can schedule our workouts, but your MINIMUMS & MAXIMUMS will guide you. If you have a strong commitment to your MIMIMUMS & MAXIMUMS, this act of logging your workouts and seeing what you’re actually doing/not doing will be concrete evidence that you’re either on track or not. For example, if it’s Thursday and you haven’t workout out since Monday, you’ve already reached your MAXIMUM days without working and so you have to make time that day for your workout #2. Then, you can breathe a sigh of relief because you still have Friday - Sunday to make time for workouts #3 or #4 and you’re totally on track. Now that the rest of your week’s schedule is more clear, you may even have a better idea when you can fit in workouts #3 and #4!

7 | No More Guilt, Take Control! The great thing about having minimums, maximums, and logging your workouts is you’ll always know where you stand and you’ll feel less guilt. Even better, as you continue this week by week, your discipline become stronger which translates into feeling more in control of your habit.

So, that’s all there is to it! Ridiculously simple! If you decide to give it a try, I’d love to hear how it goes. I really hope it works as well for you as it does for me.

A Simple Lifestyle Approach To Consistent Self-Care

P1030314-3.jpg

When we hear about self-care, there’s usually a list of recommended things we could or should be incorporating into our days.

We’re all familiar with them— Eat right. Exercise. Manage stress levels. Spend time with loved ones. Laugh. Get enough sleep. Hydrate, etc.

But rather than feeling lucky to hit on just one or maybe a few of these areas each day, wouldn’t it be great if we started and managed our actions and decisions during the day to hit on most, if not all, of these areas?

It all begins with having a mindset of making yourself a priority (without feeling selfish,) and being ok with spending a little extra time on yourself here and there throughout the day.

Take the extra 60 seconds to cut up a lemon for your water. Spend the extra five minutes cutting up some veggies for a healthy breakfast, rather than a quick fix like a bagel or even skipping breakfast. Or, how about giving yourself permission to kindly say no to a time commitment that will cause you stress or isn’t a priority to you?

Most importantly, when we care for ourselves, we’re also better equipped to care for others— now and for the long term.


In this post my goal is to share an easy-to-implement approach to self-care that works for me. I believe that by being consistent with this simple approach, you will not only feel the difference over time, but you’ll also expand upon it in your own way.

Your approach to self-care should be customized to your needs, personality, likes, dislikes, what’s important to you, and where you are on your own personal journey.

It’s a matter of paying attention to what you need and what works for you.

What works for me may not necessarily work for you in all instances, but hopefully you’ll walk away with at least a few new ideas to incorporate into your approach to self-care.

And by consistently practicing your own approach to self-care, you’ll realize how you are more in control of how you feel than you think!

Without further ado, let’s get into it …

My Approach

I view self-care as being intentional about everyday decisions and actions so they work together, are dependent on each other, and over time ultimately guide me to how I want to feel and where I want to go.

The most important thing I’ve realized is that I can initially elevate my mood and energy levels in the morning and keep them elevated throughout the day by the decisions and actions I take. Not only do I enjoy my day more and have more energy, I’m also more inclined to stay aware of practicing self-care consistently over time.

Gravitate toward what fuels you, and avoid what depletes you and what isn’t important to you.

Morning | Priming Your Mindset & Energy Level

The minute you get out of bed is the most critical time to kick your self-care routine into gear.

Because we our mood and energy level varies from day to day, we have to be proactive about priming our mindsets and energy levels as we begin our days, especially on days when we wake up tired, in a funk, or uninspired.

This involves making conscious decisions to do some things and avoid others.

1 | Eat a healthy breakfast of protein, power foods, and healthy fats. Ever since I participated in a 21-day clean eating challenge at my gym, I realize that breakfast is the most important meal of the day because it primes my energy level for the rest of the day.

Rarely do I eat carbs like bagels and muffins. I also stay away from sugary yogurts.

My go-to breakfast is fresh veggies (including 1 or 2 power veggies), two eggs, and a healthy fat— either a handful of unsalted nuts or a few slices of avocado.

To make this as easy as possible, I always have the veggies partially prepped so all I have to do is cut them up, toss them into the pan, and saute them for a couple of minutes before adding a couple of beaten eggs.

Some of the veggies I frequently use are red and green peppers, red onion, and my two favorite power veggies— baby spinach and shiitake mushrooms.

I highly recommend doing a little research on power veggies to figure out which ones you like the most. The nutritional value of these foods is incredible, and some are even a good source of protein.

Steel cut oatmeal with dark berries and nuts is another option if you’d rather not eat eggs every day.

Consider investing the extra time and effort to eat a healthy, satisfying breakfast because the boost it will give your energy level and mood should last for hours.

2 | Listen to peaceful, uplifting music, a positive message, or if time allows, start a morning routine. To get my mental state on track, I usually start my day by asking Alexa to play music that I find easy to listen to but positive and uplifting. After breakfast as I’m getting ready, if calm music seems too calm, I’ll switch to something more energetic.

The key is to listen to something that elevates my mood and doesn’t bring me down.

I find it best to not even turn on the news because (by design) it’s filled with stories of tragedy that don’t serve me and I don’t even need to know about. If I want to know the weather, I check the weather app on my phone.

At the beginning of the day, whatever I listen to should help me lock in a positive mindset and fuel my energy.

On days when time allows, I’ll indulge in a morning routine, which is always time well spent.

3 | Make the final rinse in your shower cool (or gradually cold!) There’s a lot of research about the benefits of exposing our bodies to cold, and they make sense to me. An easy way to make this part of your routine is by making the final rinse of your shower cool (or even better) gradually cold. To be honest, I often forget to do this, but by writing this post and re-reading the benefits, this is something I want to do more often.

4 | Use a hydrating facial mist. After I get out of the shower, the first thing I do is mist my face with a rosewater facial mist. It feels great. It smells great. And it makes me feel a little pampered as I start the day. When considering buying one, take a close look at the ingredients.

Throughout The Day | Maintaining & Resetting Your Energy

5 | Take breaks. Spend a few minutes to get some fresh air, sun, and take in the sounds of nature. There’s also a lot of research out there about how taking breaks boost our productivity. One school of thought on this is the Pomodoro Technique. If you’re interested in trying it, an online timer can be found here. I think this is a great tool when working on specific types of longer projects that require focus. Taking breaks is also a great way to solve problems and come up with new ideas. That’s because our brains “chew” on the things that are on our minds even while we’re not engaged in them. This is why we often wake up in the morning with a solution to a problem or get the best idea while walking the dog.

6 | Spend some time in nature by yourself. Spending time in nature by yourself is a great way to reset your mind and energy level and to also get answers to questions you may not even realize you have. This summer I did quite a bit of running at places where many people walk, and I was always surprised to see so many women walking in pairs rather than by themselves. The women walking in pairs were typically engaged in a heated discussion that involved complaining or gossiping, and they were missing out on most of the benefits of their walk. Every now and then, consider getting outside by yourself.

7 | Gracefully say “no” to things that don’t serve you. When you get a request to do something or an invitation to go somewhere and that inner voice says, “ugh,” listen to it. It’s telling you that if you say yes, you’ll regret it; you probably won’t have a good time; and you could quite possibly miss out on something that’s more important to you. It’s ok to listen to your gut and pass. If you want to dive into this topic more and learn about essentialism, here’s a great Tim Ferriss podcast episode entitled, “How to say no gracefully and uncommit.” This is a wonderful episode filled with so many strong examples that further support the overall message of this post.

8 | Avoid gossip and drama. It’s amazing how one quick comment or conversation can derail one’s mood or even the entire day. As much as you want to support a friend or relative about their problem, if it can wait, it might be better to save a conversation until the end of the day. Another source of drama can be social media so train yourself to think twice before checking it.

9 | Run your errands during off-peak times. This has come to be one of the best strategies I’ve learned to adopt. Whenever possible, I run my errands when the masses aren’t. For example, I avoid Costco on the weekends as much as possible. Instead, I go after dinner on a weeknight. I practically have the place all to myself, and lines are short. If I must go on the weekends, I try to get there right when they open or just before they close. Another thing I do is avoid stores that tend to always drain me and shop at stores where I have a better experience. Once you start paying close attention to this, it’s pretty eye-opening.

10 | Avoid multi-tasking, especially while doing something you enjoy. I am the first to admit that I get caught up in multi-tasking. I make myself a nice lunch, and then I’ll decide to fold a load of laundry while I take a bite here and there. I’m really trying to stop myself from doing this even if it slows me down a little. It’s worth a few minutes to sit down, relax, and enjoy my lunch. On the other hand, I think multi-tasking works when we’re doing something that is not as enjoyable or even tedious. For example, while prepping dinner, I may turn on a podcast to listen and learn. This actually helps me enjoy the process of prepping dinner more and before I know it, dinner is prepped and I’ve learned something new and feel inspired.

Evening | Winding Down, Reconnecting & Resting

11 | Get comfy. At the end of the day, as soon as you can, put on your most comfortable clothes to start to unwind a little.

12 | Make your phone calls to family & friends. Because I have my day behind me, I find the evening the best time to call family and friends. I find I’m a better listener then too!

13 | If you watch TV, keep it light. Again, I really try to stay away from the news unless there’s a story unfolding that I want to follow. I don’t want to begin or end my day learning about tragic events. I also stay away from violent, disturbing, or criminal shows. I once heard someone say that we eat with all of our senses, meaning we take in what we listen to and watch and that sounds logical to me. Instead, if I watch television at all, I’d rather watch something positive or funny.

14 | Put down your phone about 2 hours before bedtime. This article does a great job of explaining all of the reasons why looking at your phone close to bedtime or even in bed prevents you from getting optimal sleep.

15 | Get the amount of sleep you need. Easier said than done sometimes, but this is huge!

16 | Sleep in a completely dark room. Personally, I need to sleep in a completely dark room. Even the tiniest presence of light can disturb my sleep. Here’s an article with a link to a research study about how sleeping in complete darkness is good for mental health.

Conclusion

So there you have my approach to everyday self-care, which basically involves gravitating toward what fuels me and avoiding non-essential things and situations that deplete me. I find that if I begin my day with this approach in mind, it stays with me throughout the day and carries over into the next. I’ve found that the more that I’ve practiced this, the more it becomes a habit or a lifestyle. As always, good luck with it!!

15 Ideas To Help You Win Your Day

15 Ideas To Help You Win Your Day

We all have days when we wake up and feel as if we can handle whatever comes our way as well as days when (for no apparent reason) we feel the heaviness of the day-to-day. It's part of being human. The key to making most of your days in the positive category is learning how to "win" your day.

Winning your day is an intentional daily practice of locking in a feeling of optimism and purpose at the beginning of your day, which typically sets the tone for the rest of your day. Successfully repeating this process over the long-term will reap immeasurable results.

Discovering the best way to win your day is a personal endeavor because we all don't respond in the same way to the same things. But learning how to win your day is critical to your day-to-day happiness, your long-term success, and your ability to make the most positive and meaningful impact during your life.

Over the past seven months I've been more intentional and consistent about self-betterment than ever before, and here is what I've concluded about winning my days:

How A Morning Routine Can Help You Live With More Purpose And Die Without Regret

How A Morning Routine Can Help You Live With More Purpose And Die Without Regret

Back in 2009, Bronnie Ware, a nurse who cared for dying patients, shared the collective personal wisdom imparted by them to her in an online article called "Regrets of the Dying."

Because of the profound impact that her patients' insights had on her life, Ware felt called to share their wisdom publicly. The article went on to be read by more than 3 million people around the globe in the first year.

According to Ware's article, the 5 Most Common Regrets of the Dying are:

1 I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2 I wish I hadn't worked so hard.

3 I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.

4 I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

5 I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Why Do So Many Die With The Same Top Regret?

Most people carry around regrets throughout life.

We live with regret over the things we still have the power to control or change because we tell ourselves we could have what we desire if only we had more of some resource-- time, focus, dedication, conviction, energy, money, health or maybe even courage.

How To Stay Motivated To Work Out

How To Stay Motivated To Work Out

Getting regular exercise is one of the most healthy and rewarding habits we can practice for ourselves yet it's one of the most difficult to establish and therefore, often neglected. Why is that?

We start. We can't stay motivated. We stop. We start again. Life gets in the way. We stop again. The endless cycles of attempts to master this habit get old and frustrating, making it so hard to achieve results.

During the past two years, I've been the queen of starting and stopping. I've started, stopped, started, stopped and (for a fleeting moment) even considered giving up before deciding that I needed to figure all of this out. I knew I could do better. I also knew that mastering this habit would help me achieve other goals in life.

Now, into my 5th consecutive month of maintaining a strong level of commitment to my workouts, I feel that I have a good handle on how to stay motivated to work out by using the set of tools and practices I've acquired along the way, keeping me on track.

I started paying close attention to my mindset and actions so I could keep myself on track and catch myself before derailing again.

Here are the tools and practices that I've been using. I hope they help you too.