“The single biggest problem in communications is the illusion that it has taken place”
That quote by George Bernard Shaw aptly sums up an experience many of us have faced when we try to communicate with others. In fact, research by Vital Smarts suggests that 70% of people choose to avoid difficult conversations and over 50% have held on to these concerns for over a year without speaking up!
We can all appreciate the value of communication. However, outside of a general communications class most of us took as a college course requirement, few of us take the time to learn how to improve our communication skills.
In their book entitled “Crucial Conversations” authors Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler start by defining crucial conversations as any conversation in which opinions vary, the stakes are high and emotions run strong.
The following are examples of crucial conversations that take place on any given day:
As you can imagine, these types of conversations happen all the time and because of our differing opinions and the high emotional component, the results are often poor.
The authors go on the explain that “when it matters most, we often do our worst”. We either end up in silence, like when our boss surprises us with our annual review and gives us 20 minutes to review it and turn it into HR, or moving toward violence, like when a parent gets so frustrated they resort to yelling and screaming at their child.
Turns out there are several reasons for why we do our worst.
First, we are designed wrong. For example, when someone says something that angers us, our adrenal glands kick into gear and pump our bodies full of adrenaline. And to make matters worse, our body diverts blood away from our brain and toward the muscles in our arms and legs, because biologically we are used to either running or hitting something when we get angry.
Next, crucial conversations often arise unexpectedly, which means we are forced to think about complex issues without being able to call timeout and think things through. And even if we did have time to think about it, most of us haven’t taken a course in personal communications that specifically guides you through dealing with crucial conversations.
And the final reason we perform poorly is that we often act in self-defeating ways. In our adrenaline pumped and blood inhibited brains, we are our own worst enemies.
Here is an example from the book:
Let’s say your significant other has been paying less and less attention to you due to his or her busy job. You would like to spend more time together, so you drop a few hints but your loved one doesn’t respond well. You decide not to add any more pressure, so you clam up, but you continue to get more frustrated with each passing day. Soon you find yourself tossing out the occasional sarcastic remark.
“Another late night, huh? I’ve got Facebook friends I see more often than you.”
Unfortunately, the more you snip, the less your loved one wants to be around you. Your behavior has resulted in the exact opposite of what you wanted and your relationship is now at an all-time low.
The good news is that dialogue skills are learnable. The authors of “Crucial Conversations” have developed a model as well as some simple acronyms to help us become more skilled in the critical dialogue skills essential to navigate our crucial conversations.
Let’s begin by focusing on what is necessary for a crucial conversation to be successful. First, we must have open dialogue between the parties involved. The authors define dialogue as the free flow of meaning between two or more people.
Second, each party must be able to successfully get their ideas, thoughts and other relevant information, into what the author’s call the Pool of Shared Meaning. Now, in order for each person to get their ideas into the pool of shared meaning there is one critical requirement. They must feel safe.
When we communicate in a way that does not create a sense of safety with others we often push others to react in one of two ways. Either with various forms of silence such as verbally withdrawing from the conversation, “the authors refer to this as salute and stay mute” and it often happens when we shut down in the face of authority. Another form of silence is avoiding interacting with the person such as finding excuses to miss dinner or an important meeting and finally, masking, when one withholds their true thoughts (for example, stating something is a brilliant idea, when we think it’s terrible).
The other way people respond is by various forms of violence such as by verbally attacking… “I hate you”, labeling “you are the worst parents ever!” or otherwise trying to control the conversation. For example, by dominating the conversation so the other person can’t get a word in edgewise.
To have successful conversations the authors have created a path to break down these barriers and maintain safety.
During the conversation, you will follow the STATE your path acronym to help guide you. The goal here is to talk persuasively, not abrasively. The first three letters are about WHAT to do,
Now we move into the How to Do it:
In closing, if you want to be able to avoid the illusion of communication and conduct successful, meaningful conversations, then you must “really care about the interests of others, not just our own” and convey that in such a way that they feel safe to add their ideas into the pool of shared meaning.
I strongly recommend reading or listening to the book so that you can master crucial these conversation skills. Learning these skills will improve your career and working relationships, strengthen your personal and family relationships, all of which will also help reduce stress and improve your personal health.
If you would like to order a copy of the book, you can find it on Amazon here. Or go to the Vital Smarts website here.
You can also watch the short video below of me discussing some of the "Crucial Conversation" tools developed by the author's by clicking on the play button below.
The word qì is one that has crept into the vernacular of many Americans due to the growing popularity of acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine in the US. However, many people still struggle to fully understand the true meaning of this word. Do you know the definition of qì? Could you use it in a sentence? And frankly, why should you even care about this ancient Chinese term? Today I plan to answer all those questions.
First, I’ll cover some qì basics. I will then review some of the many and mostly incomplete definitions of qì before revealing the true definition of qì. To conclude, I will then do my best to fuse this eastern philosophy with western biology, so you have a clearer understanding of what qì is and why it matters.
Vocabulary.com defines Qì as:
Hmm, isn’t it contradictory to say that it’s a “life” force and then say every thing has it. I’m sorry vocabulary.com, but there is no qì in your desk or your shoes or anything that is not living.
Dictionary.com defines Qì as:
Ouch, thanks for the strong vote of confidence in my profession, dictionary.com! Remind me not to visit your site ever again! Oh, and by the way, your definition of qì also falls short.
Urban dictionary.com offers a number of definitions of Qì, of which my favorite was #5:
Ah, now I can see that I’ve finally got your attention! Perhaps this qì stuff has some potential!
Chinese Definition of Qì:
Even though the literal translation is gas or air, it’s important not to view this term strictly in the literal sense. This will be clearer as we get into the different types of qì.
Now let’s go even deeper and look at the ancient Chinese view of the different types of qì. For the purpose of today’s blog, I’m only going to highlight the top four of the seven types of qì listed in the image below. First, we have Air Qì, which the Chinese referred to as Kong Qì which we derived from the air we breathe (a gas). Next, we have Food Qì or Gu Qì, which was derived from the food we eat (a form of material energy). These forms of qì would combine or gather in the chest, forming what was known as Gathering or Zong Qì (think of the energy needed for the heart to pump blood throughout the body). The Gathering Qì would then flow through the body to ultimately create one's True Qì or Zhen Qì (our underlying life force).
Now that we are starting to form an understanding of qì based off the Chinese definition and have taken a look at it's different types, let’s shift gears and look at one of the body's key processes, that of cellular respiration, from a biomedical perspective. Cellular respiration is the process in which we take oxygen from the air we breathe and combine it with glucose that is broken down from the food we eat and use it to enable our mitochondria to create adenosine triphosphate, or ATP which then powers the chemical and mechanical reactions necessary to support cellular life. As a result of this process, in addition to ATP, we also create carbon dioxide (which we exhale from the body) and water vapor.
Without this process, our cells, which are the basic building blocks of human life, wouldn't be able to survive let alone thrive.
So, what does cellular respiration have to do with the flow of qì throughout the body? When we take a moment to overlap the two models from above and compare the four types of qì that we highlighted in the first diagram on top of the model of cellular respiration, we see that they fit quite nicely in the image below.
Take a moment to follow along as we follow the path of qì and my own interpretation of how it maps to our process of cellular respiration. First, fill your lungs with fresh air qì which brings in oxygen. Next, when you go to have your next meal, eat a healthy diet to ensure you provide your body with the highest quality food or gu qì which your body will break down into glucose (and other important nutrients the body needs). Next take some time to exercise so that you can strengthen your hearts ability to gather your air qì (oxygen) and your food qì and transport it throughout your vascular system so that your cell’s mitochondria can absorb the oxygen and glucose and convert it to ATP energy or True Qì to power the chemical and mechanical needs to maintain healthy cells.
I hope this blog has provided you with a clearer understanding of not only what qì is, but how by eating a healthy diet, breathing fresh air and exercising you can create and circulate an abundance of qì to sustain health and well being.
The following is from a short talk I gave at a Toastmasters lunch meeting on how you can improve your fitness by adding in short 7-10 minute highly effective workouts into your daily routine. If you prefer to read rather than watch, skip below the video to read a copy of the speech.
Here we at the start of another new year. For many, January is the traditional time for making New Year’s resolutions. This in turn is followed by February which is the traditional time that most of us end up breaking those very same resolutions!
One resolution that many people set and but rarely achieve is to get into better shape. I see it every year at my fitness club. January comes around and my gym becomes flooded with new members. In fact, it was so busy this past weekend that every treadmill was taken, which almost never happens at my gym. However, by February almost of those new people will have disappeared. I've seen this pattern replay year after year for the past 20 years.
When we start to look at the reasons why people fail to achieve their fitness goals, the number one reason most people give is that they simply don't have the time. Therefore, I would like to begin by taking a closer look at how much time is necessary to improve your health and fitness.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, an adult should strive to get 150 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise per week, which breaks out to an average of 30 minutes per day over 6 days, allowing one day off per week. Further, the guidelines recommend you spend at least two days a week doing some form of resistance training.
Adding in 30 minutes, or more if you include some resistance training, into an already busy schedule is a challenging commitment for most people. However, when we add in additional time to get to the gym, change our clothes, workout, cleanup, get dressed and then on to work or back home that 30-45-minute time commitment balloons up to 60-90 minutes for most. In the end, it’s easy to see why many people fail to make this resolution stick.
To address this problem, I'm going to present you with two different workouts, both of which involve HIIT training. HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval training. These are short, scientifically proven, effective workouts that require no gym membership, no equipment, and take 10 minutes or less to improve your health and fitness in the coming year. Both of these workouts have been featured in the NY Times (see here and here).
The first type of H.I.I.T workout is all about the cardio. Researchers discovered that performing 10 minutes of cardio that included three 20 second intervals of all out exercise (which are highlighted by the orange bands) and interspersing that with 2 minutes of light-moderate intervals provides the same health benefits as doing a 45-minute workout at a moderate intensity. Let me repeat that. Following these guidelines, in 10 minutes, you can achieve the same health benefits of a 45-minute workout.
2:00 mins: Warm up (25-40%)
0:20 secs: High Intensity Interval (50-95%)
2:00 mins: Light-Moderate Interval (25-50%)
0:20 secs: High Intensity Interval (50-95%)
2:00 mins: Light-Moderate Interval (25-50%)
0:20 secs: High Intensity Interval (50-95%)
3:00 mins: Cool down (25-30%)
Here is an example of how I do this work out:
This is a picture of my stairwell in the 4-story building that I live in.
To perform the workout, I stand at the top landing a do some jumping jacks or run in place for 2 minutes to warm up and then I head to the bottom of the stairs at a moderate pace before pausing at the bottom. I then go nearly all out as I run back up the 4 flights of stairs which takes me about 20-22 seconds. I repeat this process 3 times before ending with another 3 minutes of running in place at the top of the stairs as part of my cool down for a total of 10 minutes. I have also completed this workout by jogging in the nearby park and doing 3 20 second sprints, as well as at the gym using a treadmill, a stationary bike or a stair climber. There are plenty of options.
The second type of HIIT training is called the Scientific 7 Minute workout. To do this work out, all you need a chair, a wall and some floor space. The workout involves performing 12 different exercises, doing as many reps as you can of each for 30 seconds and allows for 10 seconds of rest between each exercise. The great thing about this type of exercise program is that it combines both cardio and resistance training into one short exercise regimen. Most of the exercises will be familiar to you, but you don’t need to memorize any of them.
Thanks to technology, there are several apps that are available on your smartphone, tablet or computer that will walk you through this workout program. The one that I recommend is the Johnson & Johnson Official 7 Minute App. This app expands the number of exercises options from 12 to 78 and provides 22 workouts variations giving your thousands of different workout options. It also has a 7 min program specifically designed for beginners. The app also provides video demonstrations, a timer with voice reminders, and enables you to add in your own music.
Now, before I conclude, I need to admit that prior to discovering these workouts, I hated doing cardio workouts and since I didn’t need to lose weight, I focused mostly on weight training. Utilizing these workouts, I’m now doing some form of cardio 6 days a week.
As the 19th century English philosopher Herbert Spencer said, “The great aim of education is not knowledge, but action!” I've done the math and it turns out that 10 minutes’ equals almost exactly 1% of your waking day if you are up for 16 hours. I hope you will set aside 1% of your day and use that time to take action by creating SMART fitness goals and utilizing H.I.I.T. so that you might live a longer, happier and healthier life.
SAFETY NOTICE: Before starting or changing an exercise routine, talk with your physician about how much and what kind of physical activity is safe for you. If you have not worked out before, you may want to start with 10 minutes of walking and gradually increase the intensity. Always listen to your body and adjust your workouts as necessary.
The following is from a short talk I gave at a Toastmasters lunch meeting on the negative health impacts of sitting for extended periods of time and the health benefits of adding movement in throughout your day. If you prefer to read the rather than watch, skip below the video to read a copy of the speech.
I would like to start off today with a quick survey. As you read this blog, how many of you have been sitting for at least two or more hours today including work time, time eating or the time spent commuting this morning? How many of you have been sitting for three or more hours today? Four or more? If you said "yes" to any of the above statements, it turns out that you are in good company. A university of Vanderbilt study estimates that Americans spend 55% of their waking time or about 7.7 hours a day sitting.
Research has linked sitting for long periods of time with a number of health concerns, including:
· increased blood pressure
· high blood sugar
· elevated cholesterol levels
· and not surprisingly, excess body fat around the waist
Too much sitting also seems to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Due to these negative health consequences, some medical experts have started referring to long periods of inactivity as “sitting disease”.
Now before I proceed, I must admit that I too have been guilty of sitting too much and have struggled with balancing work demands with trying to stay active. In the past, I would do what many Americans do and that is go to the gym before or after work. Unfortunately, studies show that spending the recommended 30 minutess a day exercising doesn't completely offset the risk of sitting disease.
It turns out that the only true solution to sitting disease is simply to move more frequently throughout the day.
The impact of movement — even leisurely movement — can be profound. For example, the muscle activity needed for standing and other movement seems to trigger important processes related to the breakdown of fats and sugars within the body. When you sit, these processes stall — and your health risks increase. When you're standing or actively moving, you kick the processes back into action.
Don’t believe that adding small actions will make a change? Then consider these two studies:
In the first study, researchers purposely overfed a group of office employees by 1000 calories a day. Surprisingly, even with this high level of excess calories, they found a handful of employees from the group who did not gain any weight even after taking into account differences in the participant’s metabolism. When they studied the movement of this subset of employees, they found that this group was more active than their coworkers. The termed this movement: N.E.A.T or Non-exercise activity thermogenesis, which means they burned more calories than the others in the group by getting up more frequently to engage with their co-workers face to face, standing while on the phone, doing walk and talk meetings, getting up to for some water or to simply take a quick lap around the office.
In the second study, researchers recruited 11 healthy college students and, using ultrasound and a blood pressure cuff, measured the level of normal blood flow through the main arteries in their legs.
Then then had each subject to sit for three hours working or studying at a desk.
During this three hours, the volunteers were told to keep one leg perfectly still, with their foot flat against the floor. With the other leg, the volunteers were told to fidget — tapping their heels against the ground for one minute and then staying still for four minutes.
The researchers monitored the blood flow in the volunteers’ leg arteries. They found that the blood flow in the unmoving leg declined precipitously, but it rose in the fidgeting leg, compared both to baseline levels and to the unmoving leg.
At the end of the three hours, the researchers tested the ability of the volunteers’ arteries to respond to changes in blood pressure. The vessel in the unmoving leg no longer worked as well as it had during baseline testing, which suggests it was already not as healthy as it had been. But the artery in the volunteers’ fidgeting leg responded as well as or better than it had at baseline to changes in blood pressure. Thus, the solution in terms of both increased blood flow and to burn more calories comes down to standing and moving move and limiting stationary sitting.
Please don’t take sitting disease sitting down! Standing and moving a little more each day tones muscles, improves posture, increases blood flow throughout the body, ramps up metabolism and burns calories. Find ways to stand and move and your body will thank you for it.
We all know that creating change is hard, but somehow everyone of you reading this blog has managed to create healthy habits, like brushing your teeth everyday. Sure, maybe you had to rely on your Mom or Dad pestering you to brush your teeth every night while growing up. Or worse, perhaps you failed a few dentist visits by being told you had a cavity, but eventually you got into the habit. So now that Mom and Dad are no longer around to ensure that you're doing what you should, what can you do? Thanks to technology, there are Apps and online programs designed to help you develop new healthy habits.
In my last blog, I discussed some helpful tips for developing and keeping healthy habits. However, I intentionally left two very important tips out which are to set reminders and to keep track of your progress. Fortunately, for those of you with a smart phone, tablet or a computer, there are some free apps available that are designed to help you track and remind you of your goals so you can be more successful in achieving them. Now that you no longer have your parents around to tell you to brush your teeth, the app reminders and goal trackers serve to take their place.
I’m going to review two apps available for the iPhone (and iPad). The first one, Strides is also available to use on your computer. The second app is called HabitBull (and is also available for Android phones). I’ll also provide a link for other non-iPhone options for those who want to look at other Android options or have Windows phones. Both of the apps I’ll review are available for free although they also have premium paid versions which I'll also discuss.
First, I'll delve into Strides since I've been using it the longest. Strides is a robust goal and habit tracking program that's available both as a an iPhone App and a computer web based program. For the purpose of my review, I’ll focus mostly on the iPhone app, but I’ve tried the computer web based program and it provides the same functionality (and even offers some more robust tracking templates than the iPhone app version). However, it’s not as handy as having the app on your phone where you have access to it all the time. In addition, if you wish to set reminders, these will be more timely if you have them set on your phone.
Once you have downloaded the app and signed in by providing your email and creating a password, you can immediately begin setting up trackers. In the first image below, you can see that the app provides several common goal templates, but you can also simply enter in your own goal or habit in the top box. In the second image below, I've already selected the Exercise template and renamed the goal "Gym" so I can track how often I'm getting to the gym. You can then set up your exercise goal (I've set mine to 4 times) and the time period you wish to achieve that goal (per week). Strides will enter the current date as the start date, but if you want to set up a future goal, you can enter in the date you wish to begin the goal. You then have the option to set up alerts and when you want to be reminded. Finally, you can set up additional motivational factors like tracking how many consecutive weeks you achieve your goal and entering in a goal streak. In my example below, I've set the goal of completing this every week for the entire year (52 weeks).
Example: Setting Up Exercise Goal in Strides
What makes Strides great, is that it's very robust and allows you to set up different types of goals or habits. However, it's also fairly intuitive and easy to figure out (although it does come with a overlay tutorial, FAQ's and the ability to submit questions if you get stuck).
In the next example below, I've chosen the Save Money template, entered in an example of a start value ($500) as well as a goal value ($2500) and then entered in a date of 3 months from now in which to achieve the goal. In the next image, you can see how you can tailor your alerts to be reminded on certain days of the week as well as the time of the alerts.
As you use the app, you may want to adjust your goals, turn on or off reminders or how frequently you receive them. I started with the alerts turned on and over time, I felt like I didn’t need or want my phone chiming every time a reminder popped up, so now I just receive silent banner reminders when I open my phone.
Example: Setting Up Save Money Goal in Strides
Before I delve into how I've been using these apps, I'd like to preface that it's best to focus on just one or two goals (there is more advice on best practices for this type of app further down in the post). To give you a view into how I've been using Strides, you can see the list of my goals in the screen shot of the daily tracker below. For each goal, you can quickly see how well I was doing at the point in time based on the color of the goal. Goals listed in green (meditate, connect with colleagues, my clinic website) have been achieved for the time period that I set up. Goals listed in red (gym, drink water, weight, and move, walk, etc.) are behind based on the time frame I set up. Strides places a little vertical line of where you should be a any given point based on the time of day and day of the week (or any other time frame you set up when you created your goal, whether it's three months, a year, etc.).
You can also click on any goal or habit and see a more in-depth history of how you have been tracking on that goal as you can see from the second image posted below that shows my gym progress. The top section shows how you have been doing that week, since the screen image was saved on Sunday morning, the first day of the week and I hadn't yet been to the gym, the top section was still blank. The middle section shows my overall success rate, current streak and my best streak. The lower section shows my weekly progress over the past seven weeks where again green highlights a successful week and red shows where I fell short.
My Dashboard and Gym Success Rate in Strides
For those interested, there is a Strides Plus premium option and on the image below you can see the prices and what you get for your money. Personally I feel like the base app provides you with everything you need and the premium options are not worth the steep ongoing price commitment, whether you pay monthly or yearly. With most apps that I’ve come across that you pay for, normally there is a one-time fee that ranges from $0.99 - $19.99 (although apple allows for developers to charge up to $999). By contrast, the HabitBull App that I will review next also offers an upgraded version for a one-time fee of $4.99.
Below HabitBull is very similar to Strides, but with a few pros and cons:
Below are screen shots of my HabitBull habits. Since I'm still using Strides for mostly personal habits, I decided to use HabitBull for goals/habits that focus on my career, like ongoing acupuncture training, health related reading, attending networking events and posting relevant health related articles to my Acupuncture Facebook page. The first screen shot is the dashboard view showing all habits. The next three images show you the weekly view (all habits), monthly view for my Acu DNA Training and finally statistics on my overall success and ongoing streak progress for my Acu DNA Training.
If you have an iPhone or iPad and would like to get started, you can click the link here for the Strides App or HabitBull App. If you wish to use your computer to track your goals, you can click this link for the Strides Web based app. If you have an android phone, you can click here for HabitBull or here for Goal Tracker which is is another highly rated free app available on Google Play. You can also click this link to go to APPCRAWLR and see a list of additional apps comparable to Strides. If you have a Windows phone, you can click here to download the highly rated Habitual app.
Here are a few important things to keep in mind (from the people at HabitBull):
I've been very impressed with both of these apps and have not had any issues with either one. If you are ready to start developing healthy habits or other goals, I highly recommend you download one of these apps (or both if you want to test drive each before you decide which one you like best). If you do decide to download both, stick to just one or two goals and enter them into both apps. Try them out for one or two weeks and then decide which app best meets your needs. While it will be a little redundant tracking your goals in both, it will provide the best side by side comparison vs tracking different goals in different apps like I have done. However, if making change is hard for you, simply pick one app and one goal and get started. Don't get overwhelmed with all the options and views that you don't do anything at all.
There is a famous quote by the late Arthur Ashe who was a great tennis professional and humanitarian, where he states "Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can." If Arthur were alive today and had his own smart phone, he might update his quote as follows: "Start where you are. Download and use your new habit tracking app. Do what you can."
In the comments below, let me know your thoughts on which app, if any, you use to help you with your goals and what you like about it. Also, if you haven't already, please read my previous blog which provides 5 additional tips for building and maintaining healthy habits.
P.S. - Why not consider making Acupuncture one of your healthy habits to achieve your best overall health and wellness goals!
In case you missed it, this past weekend was the beginning of Spring! If you live in the Eastern time zone, it started on Sunday morning, while for the rest of us in the U.S., it started late Saturday evening. Unless you are 120, March 19th is the earliest day that Spring has arrived in your lifetime. This is due to a couple of factors, one being that this is a leap year (If you want to know more about what determines the first day of Spring and why it came early this year, you can check out the farmer’s almanac).
Spring, like New Year’s, is a popular time for people to try to implement change. In fact, New Year’s originally fell in Spring time. The earliest recording of a new year celebration is believed to have been in Mesopotamia, circa 2000 B.C. That celebration was celebrated around the time of the spring equinox (also known as the vernal equinox) when the crops were planted.
In my blog this week, I’ll provide some insight into how we got started on making annual resolutions and how they evolved into our quest to make personal changes in our lives. I’ll then discuss why Spring may be a better time for making changes than January 1st (although it also depends on what type of change you want to make).
Brief History of New Year’s Resolutions and Our Modern Day Calendar
According to the History Channel, in addition to holding the earliest New Year’s celebrations, the ancient Babylonians of Mesopotamia held a massive multi-day religious festival known as Akitu, where the Babylonians crowned a new king or reaffirmed their loyalty to the reigning king. During this time, they also made promises to the gods to pay their debts and return any objects they had borrowed (we would probably all benefit if everyone made those promises still!). These promises could be considered the precursors of our New Year’s resolutions.
To better understand how the process of New Year’s resolutions became a part of our present day culture, it’s important to understand some history of our modern day calendar and how it evolved over the centuries.
Our present day calendar evolved from the time of the Roman Empire. The original Roman calendar was said to be invented by Romulus, the first king of Rome, around 753 BCE (Before Common Era). The Roman calendar was believed to have been based on the lunar cycle and started the year in March (similar to the Mesopotamians) and consisted of 10 months. The winter season was not assigned to any month, so the calendar year only lasted 304 days with 61 days unaccounted for in the winter. In 46 BCE Julius Caesar introduced a new solar-based calendar that was a vast improvement on the ancient Roman calendar, which had become rather inaccurate over the years. The Julian calendar decreed that the new year would occur on January 1.
January is named after the god, Janus, the two-faced god whose spirit inhabited doorways and arches. January had special significance for the Romans. Believing that Janus symbolically looked backwards into the previous year and ahead into the future, the Romans offered sacrifices to the deity and made promises of good conduct for the coming year.
For early Christians, the first day of the new year became the traditional occasion for thinking about one’s past mistakes and resolving to be better in the future. In 1740, the English clergyman John Wesley, founder of Methodism, created the Covenant Renewal Service, most commonly held on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. The night services held on New Year’s Eve spread to other Christian denominations and were often spent praying and making resolutions for the coming year. Despite the tradition’s religious roots, New Year’s resolutions today have since evolved to where most people make resolutions to themselves which typically focus on self-improvement.
When you look back at our world history, you can see that the start of Spring was often considered the start of the new year by ancient civilizations and continued in some places all the way until the middle ages. Further, when you consider how many people fail at keeping their New Year’s resolutions (A study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology by the University of Scranton states that about 45% of Americans usually make New Year’s resolutions, but that just 8% of them are successful in keeping them) you can make a strong case that we might have been better off keeping the start of our New Year in line with the Spring Equinox.
The Chinese Perspective on the Seasons
According to the ancient Chinese, winter is a time for storage and preserving one’s energy. It is a time to rest and get plenty of sleep. Rest is important for revitalizing the kidneys as well as strengthening immunity for the winter. Focus on trying to lower stress and avoid overworking. If you suffer from insomnia, this is a good time to heal your sleep. In winter, it is advisable to mimic the quieter qualities of the Water element by being still and quiet, and containing your energy within yourselves. Meditation, yoga, qi gong, contemplation are all great tools that help you to be present.”
Therefore, come next January 1st, if you want to make a few resolutions, some ideal ones to make at that time would be to begin a daily meditation practice; start a yoga class; or focus on getting a good night sleep and plenty of rest. For individuals (like myself) who want to gain weight, winter is the ideal time to add to your body’s stores.
While winter is a time to conserve energy and reduce activity, spring is a time of regeneration, new beginnings, and a renewal of spirit. Spring also aligns with the Wood element whose energy flows up and out and with the liver organ. Therefore, if hitting the gym or getting outdoors to exercise more is your objective, spring is the ideal time to set this type of goal. Spring is also a great time to do your spring cleaning and unclutter your life.
How to Make Lasting Changes
If you are like the majority of people I know, you have one or more habits you would like to change or implement in your life and at least one or more major goals that continues to elude you. However, most of us struggle to implement changes in our lives and many have simply given up.
5 Tips for Developing and Keeping Healthy Habits
1. Understand Your Motivation and Create a Written Plan
Before setting any goal, you should take a few minutes and reflect on why you want to incorporate this goal into your life and in what ways it will improve your life. You should also identify what are the negative consequences of not making this change. Write down your answers and post them where you can see them so that when you hit a bump in the road you can reignite and refocus yourself toward your goal.
After you have read all the tips in this blog, create a plan of action in which you create your goals, identify potential allies, identify ways of avoiding triggers, and setting up a reward system.
2. Start with Modest 30 Day Goals
Lasting habits take time to develop. It normally takes at least 30 days to form a habit with the first week or two being the most challenging. Stephen Covey, author of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, gives an analogy that forming a habit is like trying to go to the moon. The vast majority of a rocket’s energy is used to travel the first 62 miles due to the friction created by the atmosphere and the strong gravitational pull of the Earth. Once you clear the Earth’s atmosphere there is much less resistance and it takes significantly less energy to travel the remaining 238,838 miles to the moon. Therefore, while you may be gung ho to start a challenging hour long exercise program, your rocket engines might fizzle out before you reach outer space because carving out an hour every day or two is proving to be more difficult than you hoped. You might be better served by setting a more modest goal of going for a brisk 15-minute walk 3 times a week to begin with. Or try this scientific based 7-minute workout by the New York Times.
3. Get Others on Board
Tell other people about your goal. This can be scary for some because they are afraid that by publicly announcing their goal, everyone will know if they fail. However, there are two benefits to telling people about your goal. First, the more people you tell, the more accountable you become. For example, I told just one person that I was going to write a blog over the weekend to send out on Monday and that actually helped me sit down and focus on my task at hand.
Secondly, when you share your goals you are more likely to discover that others may have a similar goal. This helps you build a support system of one or more people who you can call if you find yourself struggling and need a little pep talk. This also helps create a network of people that you can try to enlist to join you in your goal. For example, getting together with a friend to go for a walk every morning or signing up for a healthy cooking class (Google “healthy cooking classes” or if you live in NY, Chicago, or LA try coursehorse – they also have online courses).
4. Replace a Bad Habit
If your goal is to stop a bad habit, then you should try to incorporate a good habit to take its place. This effectively doubles the benefit of the habit you are trying to stop. Whether your goal is to stop smoking or reduce the amount of sugar you eat, it’s important that you replace that habit with something to fill the gap you are creating. Replacing a cigarette with breathing exercises or keeping carrot sticks or some nuts handy to fill that sugar craving for example.
If you are trying to quit a bad habit, it’s also important to have a plan to address when stress and boredom arise. Otherwise, you will likely revert back to your habit during these times. And finally, learn what triggers your habit and then create a plan to avoid them.
5. Reward Yourself for a Job Well-done!
Think about setting up a reward schedule as that is either neutral or acts as a secondary benefit, similar to replacing a bad habit with a good one. For example, if your goal is to stop eating excess sugar, reward yourself with a new outfit (neutral) or a healthy massage (secondary benefit), rather than a small piece of cake. If your goal is to quit smoking, set up a fund with the money saved from smoking that will go tickets to a show (neutral) or a weekend hiking trip (secondary benefit). Also try to create rewards that will be fun and create lasting memories. While there is nothing wrong with rewarding yourself occasionally with a piece of cake (I certainly do!), that cake will long be forgotten by the time the next day rolls around.
Making positive change is difficult, but taking advantage of the lengthening days of spring can provide a boost to make some healthy changes in your life that might otherwise prove more difficult in the dead of winter when the days are short (save for the few suggestions mentioned earlier). However, regardless of season, you can implement change in your life if you take the time to make a plan, enlist help, and then follow through with it. If you do fail, rather than simply giving up, try to review what went wrong and then revise your goal accordingly.
In my next blog, I’ll discuss how you can use technology to further help you create positive habits and track your progress.
P.S. – Acupuncture can be beneficial for helping reduce stress which can further support you during the process of making positive lifestyle changes. Acupuncture can also be helpful for those trying to quit smoking. Feel free to call or email me if you have questions or to schedule an appointment.
This Sunday, March 13th marks the annual rite of spring when you must deposit one full hour of your life into a time bank as daylight savings time (DST) kicks off. Our government requires you to do this so that you may enjoy longer daylight hours throughout the next 34 weeks of spring, summer and fall. Thankfully, you will get that hour back on November 6th when we once again fall back to standard time.
For the purpose of this post, I won’t get into arguing about the potential benefits that have been studied which supposedly justify making this semi-annual adjustment (e.g. do we truly save on our energy consumption). Instead, I’ll explain why making this adjustment is challenging for our bodies, along with some of the negative consequences that can result, and three strategies to make the adjustment a little easier.
Why the DST Adjustment is so Disruptive to your Sleep
Moving our clocks forward abruptly changes our exposure to daylight, which is the primary cue our bodies use to set our circadian rhythm (i.e. the natural 24-hour cycle which helps us feel awake during the day and sleepy at night). In doing so, our internal clock becomes out of sync with our current day-night cycle and for many people it can take several days or even weeks to fully adjust to this new schedule.
For those of you who travel over one-time zone on a frequent basis, you may have noticed that springing forward each year is harder for your body to adjust to than say flying from Chicago to NYC for business for a few days. The reason springing forward is more difficult than traveling one time zone over is because when we travel into a whole new time zone, our principle light cue moves with us. For example, if today you flew from Chicago, where the sun rose at 6:15 am this morning, to NYC and spent the night, the sun would rise tomorrow in NYC at 6:18 am. A mere three-minute difference. Thus, your body does not notice any significant difference in the principle light cue it receives.
When we compare that to the spring forward time change, we see a big difference. On Saturday March 12th, the sun will rise in Chicago at 6:07 am. After you adjust your clocks, the sun will rise on Sunday March 13th at 7:05 am. That’s a 58-minute difference and for many people who wake everyday before 7:00 am, you will go from waking up during early daylight to having to get up in the dark. Thus, your body is confused as to why you suddenly are forcing it out of bed an hour earlier everyday. This is why it can take several days to several weeks to adjust. For those living in the CDT zone, you will have to wait over a month, until April 17th, before the sun rises at 6:07 am or earlier again.
Studies Show there are Several Negative Health Consequences to DST
Springing forward has been shown to cause decreases in performance, concentration, and memory in addition to fatigue and daytime sleepiness over the days following the time change, all of which are similar to individuals who are sleep deprived. Furthermore, during the first week of DST there's a spike in heart attacks, according to a study in the The American Journal of Cardiology (and other previous studies). That's because losing an hour of sleep increases stress levels and provides less time to recover overnight.
Beyond the impact to your heart, a study by the American Psychological Association showed an increase in workplace injuries following the shift to DST and another study by the University of Colorado at Boulder that found an increase in fatal motor vehicle accidents the first six days after the clocks spring ahead.
For these reasons and others, some believe we should do away with DST altogether and have proposed a change to a simpler system of two time zones throughout the United States that never change.
Three Strategies to Make Springing Forward a Little Easier
1. Lengthen the Post-DST change Adjustment Period by Planning Ahead
Some of you reading this may have flexible work schedules. Back when I worked for an IT Consulting Company, I used some of these techniques. First, take a few minutes and review your schedule on Monday March 14th (and the following few days if possible) and try to move any meetings that happen during your first hour of work back an hour or more. Then block off the time so no one comes along later and tries to schedule something else. This will enable you to ease into the new time schedule by knowing you don’t have to be in the office at the normal time if you weren’t able to get enough sleep. If you can block off the time and get your bosses approval, you might even plan to go into work 45 minutes later the first day, 30 minutes later the second day and 15 minutes later by the third day (you can then make up the time by shortening your lunch break or adding the time back at the end of the day if necessary). If your boss balks at the suggestion, point him or her to this study that shows that one result of DST is more employee cyberloafing. Of course, you can always go in at your normal time if you feel well rested, but just knowing you have the option to start later will reduce stress and better enable you to get the rest you need. By mid week, you will have likely adjusted to the new time change.
Another option, if your job allows it, is to work from home on the first few days of daylight savings time. Not only will this enable you to save the commute time and ease you into the earlier start to your workday, but as noted previously, it will also keep you off the road with all those other groggy drivers, which may save you a fender bender or more severe accident.
A final option is to simply take a day or two off which will give you another 24-48 hours to adjust before you have to return to work. I have a friend who does this every year. If you select this option, you should still try to begin adjusting your wake up time forward each day. Otherwise, if you sleep late on that Monday off, getting up on Tuesday or Wednesday morning will be just as difficult.
For those of you who have kids that you have to take to school on Monday morning, these options may not work as well since you may still have to be up early to drive them in. So you might want to consider the next two options instead.
2. Spring Forward Earlier
There are two options here. The first is to simply set your alarm clock 15 minutes earlier each day starting on Thursday March 10th. Thus, if you normally get up at 7:00 am for work, Thursday you will set your alarm for 6:45 am, Friday for 6:30 am and Saturday for 6:15 am and finally Sunday, just set your alarm back to 7:00 am after you have moved your clocks forward. I’ve often joked with family and friends that we should spring forward in 15 minute increments over four weeks to make DST easier. However, no one would want to have to reset their clocks that many times. Therefore, an easier way is to just set your wake up alarm differently for a few days. This is an especially good plan if you have to work on Sundays so that getting up earlier is less challenging on the first day of DST. This enables you to spread out the change slowly over four days. This is also a good plan for your kids who are in school, although getting them up earlier when they know they don’t have to may be an even greater challenge.
The second strategy is one I’ve used in the past when I was in school, and it can help those who don’t have to go back to work or school until Monday. Staring Friday evening after work, I move all my household clocks forward to the new time. Of course, my cell phone still tells me the actual time and I make sure to set alerts on my phone giving me extra advance notice of any place I need to be, like meeting friends for dinner Saturday night. However, I try to use the clocks around the house and my bedside alarm clock to begin planting the seed in my mind that it’s an hour later. I also try to go to avoid making late night plans during the spring forward weekend and try going to bed as soon as I feel tired on Friday and Saturday night. I then set my alarm to get up 20 minutes early on Saturday morning and then another 20 minutes earlier on Sunday. Using the 7:00 am wake-up example, set your alarm for 6:20 am on Saturday, 6:40 am (after the time change on Sunday) and then 7:00 am on Monday, your normal wake time for work.
This also essentially spreads the time change over three days and allows me to begin easing into the new time when it's less likely to induce stress and impact my sleep (since I don’t have to worry about work or school on the weekend). However, if you work on Saturday mornings this is not the plan for you. Instead set up your own adjustment time frame that will work best for your work schedule.
3. Limit Evening Light and Get Outside to Exercise
If you can’t adjust your work schedule or move your clocks ahead earlier, or you want to try other methods to help your body adjust more quickly, then another option is to dim your blinds after 6:00 pm and exercise in the late afternoon or early evening.
By dimming your blinds in the early evening, you can mimic the sun setting and help your body ramp up melatonin production, which will help you fall asleep.
As for exercising, although the exact mechanisms are unknown on how this improves sleep, one way may be by the body-heating effects of exercise, especially when performed in the afternoon or early evening. Here again, a study by the American Psychological Association noted that exercise triggers an increase in body temperature, and the post-exercise drop in temperature may promote falling asleep.
To summarize, try to take as much control as you can by spreading the time transition out some by either springing forward early, ahead of DST, or by adjusting your work schedule after DST by following the strategies I’ve noted above. Or you can try the wellness tips I covered in my final suggestion to help your body more easily adjust. I realize some of you may argue that using the first two options just spreads out the painful process of losing an hour of sleep. If the spring forward change is no big deal for you, by all means, just follow the standard protocol and change your clocks Sunday morning. However, for those of you who get stressed out knowing you are going to feel the impact come Monday morning, these strategies will help you manage your environment rather than feeling like you have no control.
Let me know which strategy you choose and how it worked for you. If you have any other suggestions, please share them in the comments below to help my readers learn from your experience. And also feel free to share your opinions on whether we should continue to put ourselves and our health through this semi-annual change.
P.S. – Do you have trouble sleeping beyond the spring forward time change? If you suffer from insomnia, I have a unique treatment plan that combines both Eastern and Western therapies to help you sleep better. Contact me or schedule a free consultation to find out more.
P.P.S – For a humorous take on why DST may not be beneficial to your health or your energy consumption, watch this segment from Tonight with John Oliver from last year. I strongly recommend you save the link and take a few minutes to watch it as soon as you can. Laughter, after all, is another proven way to improve your health and wellness.