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Feb 15 24

Realizing Your Potential to Achieve Success

by Beth

Adam Grant wants us to redefine success as how far we’ve come rather than how well we are doing in comparison to others. “The true measure of success is not the height if the peak you’ve reached, but how far you’ve climbed to get there.” He also wants us to place less value on innate ability and to celebrate learning instead. We can all work to become better. Amen to both!

Yet both suggestions are easier said than done. Social comparison is a natural human tendency and learning is hard! First, we need to make intentional efforts to remind ourselves what our ability level was in the past, so we can appreciate what we have achieved. We also need to make the pursuit of mastery a little easier. Grant provides several suggestions for this in his book Hidden Potential:

1) Embrace discomfort – We learn by challenging ourselves and this requires doing things outside our comfort zone. Struggling to learn a foreign language is a great example. When I was learning Spanish, I was so embarrassed by how poorly I spoke. But I knew the only way to get better was to keep speaking it despite how uncomfortable I felt.

2) Have fun – Another key to building skills is to have fun. Deliberate play is a way to structure learning so that it’s enjoyable. You can add variety by changing up the routine or turn learning into a game. When you make learning fun, you are more likely to stick with it.

3) Reject perfectionism – Perfectionists obsess about details that don’t matter, avoid challenges that might lead to failure, and berate themselves for mistakes. All three of these are major impediments to learning. We do much better when we strive for progress rather than perfection, understanding that mistakes are the path to growth.

4) Ask for and give advice – Feedback is focused on what you did right or wrong in the past. Advice focuses on what you can do better in the future so you can improve. Giving advice to others can also help you. We tend to give people advice that we could also use. Grant cites a study where high school students who gave advice to younger students earned better grades themselves.

You have the potential to achieve your goals. Celebrate the progress you’ve already made and keep learning!

Jan 11 24

New Year, New Habits

by Beth

Over the years, I’ve been adding well-being habits to my daily routine. Discovering the science of positive psychology led me to practice gratitude and start meditating to boost my happiness. After reading more about the negative impact of eating meat on my health and on the planet, I stopped eating meat. Learning about hormesis, that small amounts of stress enhance health and slow aging, led me to add habits like intermittent fasting, HIIT workouts, and cold showers to my routine.

This year I’m adding new habits to flatten my glucose curves. Reading the Glucose Revolution helped me understand the negative impact glucose spikes have on my health.

Eating carbs floods our bodies with glucose. Some of it is stored in the liver and muscles and the rest is stored as fat. When we eat more glucose than our cells need for energy, the result is a glucose spike. Spikes cause our cells to release free radicals. Too many free radicals lead to a state of oxidative stress, which causes heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, cognitive decline, and aging. Bottom line, glucose spikes are not good for us!

But there is good news! You don’t have to give up carbs to avoid glucose spikes. There are several hacks you can use when eating starch or sugar to slow down the amount of and the speed at which glucose is absorbed. And that will flatten your curves.

Here are some things you can do:

  • Eat fiber first, then protein and fat, then carbs – There are three ways fiber reduces glucose absorption: 1) it slows gastric emptying, 2) it reduces the action of the enzyme that breaks starch down, and 3) it creates a mesh that makes it harder for glucose to enter the blood stream. Fat also slows gastric emptying.
  • Start with something green – Because fiber reduces glucose spikes, a good hack is to eat your veggie first. If are going to a restaurant or party and don’t plan to eat veggies, have a few baby carrots or something green before heading out.
  • Eat a savory breakfast – In a fasted state carbs are digested more quickly, so breakfast is the worst time to eat sugars and starches. A glucose spike from a sweet food is worse than from a starchy food because it also creates a fructose spike, so it’s better to have a savory breakfast.
  • Eat dessert, not a sweet snack – If you are craving something sweet, don’t have it alone as a snack. Wait until after a meal so the food you’ve eaten will minimize the glucose spike.
  • Don’t eat carbs alone – Just like eating sugar alone causes a much bigger spike, so does eating any carb alone. If you are going to eat a carb, add some fiber, protein, or fat. Put some butter or olive oil on your bread, add veggies to your pasta, eat some peanut butter with your apple or cheese with those crackers, have some nuts with your beer.
  • Move after you eat – Every muscle contraction burns up glucose, so moving after meals reduces spikes. Glucose goes to muscles instead of fat reserves. Go for a 10-to-20-minute walk after eating or do some push-ups, squats, or planks.
  • Add vinegar – Consuming vinegar flattens glucose spikes. The acetic acid in vinegar temporarily inactivates the enzyme that transforms sugar and starch into glucose, so it is absorbed more slowly. Choose vinaigrette for your salad. Drinking a tablespoon of vinegar with water or tea up to 20 minutes before or after your meal will also do the trick.

Flattening your glucose curves will not only make you healthier but you will experience fewer cravings, less hunger, and increased energy. Why not give it a try with some of these hacks?

Dec 15 23

Managing Expectations for Greater Happiness

by Beth

Have you ever heard the saying “happiness equals reality minus expectations”? It is true that expectations have a significant impact on our happiness. We are happier when reality is aligned with or slightly better than what we expected.

Denmark consistently ranks as the happiest country in the world. Researchers were curious as to why Danes are happier than people living in Sweden and Finland, countries that are similar to Denmark in many ways. They conducted a study comparing the countries and found that the biggest difference was that Danes have much lower expectations. Unrealistically high expectations, from parents and social media, may be contributing to the unhappiness younger generations are experiencing these days.

As we approach the holidays, trying to set realistic expectations can help us avoid disappointment. What are some of the expectations you have regarding gifts, food, relaxing, or everyone getting along? How likely is it that those expectations come true? Adjusting what you hope for so that it is more realistic can bring you greater joy over the holidays.

There is a caveat here, however. Realistic expectations are important for happiness, but so is anticipation. The excitement and positive emotions experienced while looking forward to something can add more joy to your life. Thinking about the upcoming holidays can boost your current happiness.

So what should you do? I think the best way to approach things is to make plans that you look forward to and to anticipate the joy you think those plans will bring. Yet try not to have specific expectations. You can anticipate the positive emotions you hope to feel, while avoiding imagining exactly how things will go.

I am very much looking forward to the holidays. I anticipate that having some time off and celebrating with my family will be wonderful. I expect to experience joyful moments together, to eat some delicious meals, and to make some happy memories. But realistically, I don’t expect everything will go according to plan. I will manage my expectations so that I won’t be too disappointed if our flight is delayed, or the weather is bad, or some of the meals aren’t that great. It won’t all be perfect, but there will be many moments of joy and looking forward to them puts a smile on my face!

Nov 13 23

Using Mindful Optimism to Stress Less

by Beth

In her book, The Mindful Body, Ellen Langer proposes that a mindless view of events causes stress. Stress relies on two things: 1) we assume something is going to happen and 2) when it does, that it’s going to be awful. She explains that we can reduce stress by challenging these two points. First, we can’t predict what is going to happen next. If we generate reasons why the event might not happen, we will feel better. Second, nothing is inherently positive or negative. Considering how something you think is negative might have hidden advantages can diminish stress. Instead of thinking this terrible thing is definitely going to happen, reflect on the fact that it may or may not happen and, if it does, there will be some positive aspects.

Defensive pessimism is preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. We think by expecting something bad to happen that we will be in a better position to handle it, but our expectations can shape reality. Hoping for the best sounds nice, but it acknowledges that the worst is a real possibility. The stress caused by worrying the worst might happen can negatively impact your health, your effectiveness at work, and your relationships.

Mindful optimism is a better approach. You make a plan, then live fully in the moment with the expectation that everything will be fine. It’s like buying insurance. We can worry or we can relax, and things can turn out good or bad. Langer explains why it’s better to relax and expect the best. If things turn out well, you haven’t wasted time worrying. If things don’t turn out as you hoped, then you are stronger and better able to deal with it.

Making choices can be stressful. Understanding that the outcome of every decision is unpredictable can reduce stress. You should make the best decision based on the information you have with the understanding that there is never a single right choice. Langer suggests that rather than worrying about making the right decision, it is better to make the decision right. Choose a plan and then do everything needed for the plan to work. Regretting a decision makes no sense because you can never know if the choice not made would have been better.

Events don’t cause stress. Having a negative view of events causes stress. We often stress about daily hassles. When you feel stressed, ask yourself if it is a tragedy or just an inconvenience. And if you are worried about something, remind yourself that it may not happen and, if it does, it won’t be all negative.

Oct 16 23

Using Mindfulness to Improve Your Health

by Beth

For years, Ellen Langer’s research has fascinated me. She is a psychology professor at Harvard who studies mindfulness, which she defines as the process of actively noticing things. One of her first studies was the Counterclockwise study in the 1970s. She housed elderly men in a retreat that was “retrofitted to suggest that time had gone backward twenty years” and asked them “to behave like younger versions of themselves”.  A week later their vision, hearing, strength, and physical appearance had improved. She concluded that our minds determine our body’s health.

Langer’s latest book, The Mindful Body, summarizes her research to date supporting what she refers to as mind-body unity, that every thought affects every part of the body. Here are a few of her findings:

  • People who were labeled “low prediabetics” with a blood sugar level of 5.7 were significantly more likely to get diabetes than people labeled “high normal” with a level of 5.6.
  • Using clocks to make people think they had slept more or less time than they actually had, performance on a variety of physical measures was worse for those who thought they had only slept for five hours.
  • People who were told they had a “tiring” gene had less endurance and poorer lung capacity when running on a treadmill.
  • On a vision test using a standard eye chart, people could read lines they couldn’t before when the chart was reversed, putting the largest type at the bottom. When words get smaller it creates the expectation that at some point you won’t be able to see them.

Being more mindful of our bodies and experiences can have a positive impact on our health. Langer proposes that a powerful way to do this is to pay attention to symptom variability. If we are diagnosed with a chronic disease, we expect our symptoms will stay the same or get worse. Noticing subtle changes lets us see that symptoms come and go. Noting the circumstances that might be contributing to the fluctuations gives us the opportunity to exert some control over the situation.

  • In one study, participants who recorded their heart rate every day for a week and noted the activity they were engaged in at the time were later able to raise and lower their heart rate when asked to do so in a lab.
  • Pregnant women who attended to the variability of the sensations they experienced reported having an easier pregnancy.
  • Patients with chronic pain who paid attention to the variability in their pain levels reported significant decreases in pain interfering in their lives.

Noticing symptom variability increases mindfulness, which is good for your health. It also helps you realize that you don’t have symptoms all the time, increases the likelihood that you find a solution, and lets you feel more in control. Rather than mindlessly accept a diagnosis or health issue as given, choose to be mindful and notice all the possibilities for improvement.

Sep 18 23

Do You Have a Psychologically Rich Life?

by Beth

In my book, Beyond Happy, I discuss two factors that are important for well-being: happiness and meaning. A couple of years ago, psychologists Oishi and Westgate proposed a third path to a good life: psychological richness.

A happy life brings you joy, security, comfort, and fun – you feel good and satisfied. A meaningful life is about feeling purposeful and significant, like you made a difference.

So, what is a psychologically rich life? It’s a life of curiosity, novelty, adventure, openness, and exploration. It’s best characterized by a variety of interesting and perspective-changing experiences. While a happy life and a meaningful life both contribute to well-being, they don’t capture the full range of human motivation because they can be repetitive and monotonous.

A psychologically rich life is full of interest and excitement. Individuals who lead a psychologically rich life do so via a range of experiences in which they have encountered a wide variety of perspectives and recognized life’s complexity. This leads to wisdom from having “a breadth and depth of knowledge along with humble and relativist mindsets.”

Your life can become more psychologically rich by reading books or having conversations that challenge your perspective, traveling to foreign places, or experiencing dramatic events. Engage in experiences that pique your interest, add more spontaneity and playfulness into your day, find new things to try and learn.

I spent the last few days in New York City. I always feel a sense of excitement walking through the streets of New York. I visited the Metropolitan Museum and went straight to see my favorite impressionist paintings. My curiosity then led me to wander through the modern/contemporary wing. I liked a lot of the paintings more than I had expected I would and realized maybe I need to update my opinion of modern art. Changing my perspective felt really refreshing.

The three aspects of a good life contribute to different life outcomes. A happy life leads to personal satisfaction, a meaningful life to societal contribution, and psychological richness to wisdom. A person who led a happy life might say, “I had fun!” A person who led a meaningful life might say, “I made a difference!” A person who led a psychologically rich life might say, “What a journey!”

What will you do to add psychological richness to your life?

Aug 10 23

Caring for Your Future Self

by Beth

Many of the things we should do to be happier and healthier in the future require sacrifices today. In his book, Your Future Self, Hal Hershfield identifies several reasons why we aren’t so good at doing this. He starts with his research showing that when we think about our future selves, our brain activity is similar to our brain activity when we think about another person. We view our future selves as strangers. Finding ways to feel more connected to our future self makes it easier to take actions on that person’s behalf.

Hershfield also explains that the way we time travel when thinking about our future selves can impact our behavior. He shares three mistakes that we commonly make:

  1. “We miss our flight” by paying too much attention to what our present self wants. We get to the airport early, decide to have a few drinks in the bar, then lose track of time and miss our flight. Research shows that people prefer to take smaller amounts of money now rather than waiting for a larger amount in the future. Our tendency to overemphasize the present is why we eat junk food and don’t exercise. Bottom line: we don’t think about our future self.
  2. “We engage in poor trip planning” when we procrastinate to avoid negative emotions associated with doing something, while failing to consider that our future self will also want to avoid negative emotions. You would have had a better vacation had you booked a hotel early enough to get a central location, signed up for some tours of popular attractions, and made a few dinner reservations. Bottom line: we think ahead, but not deeply enough.
  3. “We pack the wrong clothes” because we aren’t good at imagining our future needs and feelings. Have you ever packed for a tropical vacation in the middle of winter and ended up not bringing enough warm-weather clothes? Do you know anyone who regrets having gotten a tattoo? These are examples of basing decisions for our future self on our current feelings. According to the “end-of-history illusion”, most of us recognize our preferences have changed significantly over the past 10 years, but we don’t expect them to change in the years ahead. Bottom line: we are focusing on the future, but relying too heavily on the present.

To make better choices for your future self you need to feel close to that person, but also recognize you will be different. The key is to imagine a series of interlocking versions of yourself over time. You will evolve, but each version of yourself overlaps with the others. This can help you feel connected to your future self, while also remembering that your future self will have different opinions and preferences.

Jul 7 23

How Minimalism Enhances Well-Being

by Beth

I’ve written blogs in the past about the positive impact reducing clutter, embracing simplicity, and living with less have on your well-being. So, I wasn’t surprised when an article that reviewed 23 different studies found a positive relationship between minimalism and well-being.

Minimalism, or voluntary simplicity, is a lifestyle choice that focuses on reducing consumption, clutter, and excess to foster a more intentional approach to life. Here are several ways minimalism can contribute to a greater sense of overall well-being:

  1. Reduced stress – eliminating physical clutter and nonessential commitments can reduce mental clutter and the sense of overwhelm it often brings. A less cluttered home environment has been found to be associated with a more positive mood.
  2. Enhanced focus – having fewer physical distractions and possessions can help you concentrate on what truly matters, like goals, relationships, and personal growth.
  3. Improved finances – minimalism encourages mindful spending. Being more intentional about what you purchase can help you save money and achieve greater financial stability.
  4. Better relationships – voluntary simplicity emphasizes meaningful connections and experiences over material possessions. One of the best ways to improve your well-being is to invest time and energy in nurturing relationships.
  5. Environmental consciousness – owning fewer things contributes to a more sustainable lifestyle. As I’ve written before, our lives are meaningful when we feel we are making a positive difference. Reducing your ecological footprint by consuming less is a great way to make a positive impact.
  6. Heightened self-awareness – minimalism requires choices about what to keep and what to eliminate from your life. Reflecting on your values and priorities when making these choices can lead to a greater sense of self-awareness and personal growth.

Minimalism fosters a more intentional, simplified way of living. Reducing clutter and focusing on what matters most, including personal values, relationships, and meaningful experiences, can bring us all a deeper sense of well-being.

Jun 5 23

The Benefits of Embracing Your Biological Clock

by Beth

Your circadian rhythm is your internal representation of time or your biological clock. It helps your body respond to the 24-hour day/night cycle by regulating essential functions. In his book, Life Time, scientist Russell Foster discusses the many well-being benefits of living in harmony with your biological clock. They include:

  • Improved sleep quality – Your circadian rhythm tells your body to feel awake during the day and tired at night. Following a consistent sleep schedule helps you feel energized or tired at the right times. Exposure to natural light is also important. Your eyes distinguish between dawn and dusk, which impacts wakefulness and sleep. Going outside first thing in the morning and limiting bright lights and screen time at night will both help you sleep better.
  • Better digestion and metabolism – We have a completely different metabolic state during the day and at night. Our internal clock signals our digestive system to secrete gastric juices, enzymes, and hormones in the first half of the day to burn calories. At night our bodies store glucose as fat. Eating meals at consistent times and avoiding eating later at night contribute to weight management and metabolic health.
  • Enhanced immune function – Your immune system uses your circadian rhythm to better protect you. During the day you are more likely to encounter viruses or bacteria, so your immune system is more active. When you eat, invasive bacteria may be in your food, so immune cells move to your gut. This means keeping a consistent schedule for meals and sleep can strengthen your immune function.
  • Better mood and mental health – Living in sync with your internal body clock can boost your mood. One study found that people with circadian rhythm disruptions, defined as increased activity at night, decreased activity during the day or both, were more likely to develop major depression and bipolar disorder.
  • Improved cognitive functioning – Circadian rhythms affect attention, memory, and problem-solving abilities. Cognitive performance is high during the day and decreases at night.
  • Long-term health benefits – Adhering to your body’s biological clock has been linked to lower risk of chronic diseases, including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

The best ways to work with your circadian rhythm to optimize your well-being are to establish consistent schedules for sleeping and eating and to get exposure to natural light, especially in the morning.  

May 15 23

Using Your Senses to Boost Well-Being

by Beth

Our senses play a crucial role in our well-being. In her latest book, Life in Five Senses, Gretchen Rubin explains how sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch can impact human connection, creativity, energy levels, and more.

Sight provides information about the world around us. It lets us read to learn new things. It helps us understand others by seeing their facial expressions and body language. Our sight allows us to appreciate nature’s beauty, and exposure to daylight regulates our circadian rhythm, which improves our sleep.

Hearing also lets us learn and it allows us to enjoy music and other sounds, as well as communicate with others. Music has a strong influence on our emotions. Hearing laughter can make us happier by reducing tension or strengthening a connection with someone. Using your sense of hearing to really listen to someone can improve your relationship.

Taste and smell work together to help us enjoy food and drink and avoid dangerous substances, like spoiled food. Did you know that we have olfactory neurons in our mouth? Bonding over shared food can deepen our relationships.

Rubin writes that Andy Warhol wore a perfume for three months and then never wore it again, so the scent reminded him of that time. My husband did something similar on family trips using hearing. He would pick one CD and play it over and over again. At the time he drove us crazy, but now every time I hear Mumford & Sons’ first album I’m back in Annecy, France with our 13- and 15-year-old kids.

Physical touch can also contribute to well-being by reducing stress and promoting feelings of connection.

Focusing your attention on your senses can help you be more mindful. When you go for a walk, note the varying colors of green in the trees, try to distinguish different bird calls, notice the smells along the way, and feel the air on your skin.

Paying closer attention to your senses and actively shaping your sensory experiences can help you live a fuller, richer life. You can create different playlists for occasions when you want to be energized or need to calm down or feel like taking a trip down memory lane. Hosting a “Taste Party” with friends is a fun way to try new foods or see who can identify different wines. Fresh flowers add color and a nice scent to your home. A lavender spray in your bedroom can help you relax. Burning a peppermint or eucalyptus candle can help you focus. Listening to Baroque music also helps with focus.

How will you use your senses to improve your well-being?