Archives for May 2012

How to Gain Self Control?

Will she give in to temptation?

I know there are people who actually think that we have collectively lost our willpower and self-discipline during the last decades. The reason that is usually offered is that life is too easy these days: we have grown soft and gained boatloads of weight! I disagree, but I think there’s a grain of truth to it.

But let’s put my philosophizing aside and concentrate on how to gain self control.

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I have been thinking about self control a lot lately, because I’ve been reading Kelly McGonigal’s book Willpower Instinct. (It’s an excellent book – one that everyone should read.)

It’s a captivating read because it helps you to better understand your behaviour, but at the same time it teaches you things about self control and willpower you didn’t know. (In my opinion, that’s an ideal combination in a book).

According to Kelly McGonigal, self control is an instinct just like the fight-or-flight instinct (aka stress response) we are more familiar with. Instead of running away from a saber tooth tiger or consuming a piece of chocolate cake, it makes us pause and plan before we act. [Read more…]

Workout/FBB Update

Entering Female Body Breakthrough Phase II

I haven’t posted about my workouts for a while. They have been going on as usual in the background though.

I’m now finished with the first phase of Female Body Breakthrough and am going to enter the phase #2: Define Yourself.

The reps are going to drop form 10-12 to eight and the rest periods are going to be shorter. Erg – does that mean I’m going to sweat even more than I do now? Maybe I should buy a sponge and use it during the workouts!

To my (yet) untutored eye the new set of workouts (A and B) appear very similar to the moves in the first phase, except the prone cobra is replaced with a plank and instead of regular pushups we are supposed to do T-push ups. [Read more…]

Breaking Bad Habits the Kaizen Way

I wonder if she dreams of giving up her pipe habit....

It can be said there are two main strategies for breaking bad habits or forming new ones. The first one is fast, flashy and radical. It’s also vastly more popular than it’s unpretentious step-sister: the strategy of making small improvements.

Robert Maurer, author of the  book One Small Step Can Change Your Life, describes the first strategy – which he calls innovation – like this:

..innovation is a drastic process of change. Ideally, it occurs in a very short period of time, yielding a dramatic turnaround. Innovation is fast and big and flashy; it reaches for the largest result in the smallest amount of time.

I bet that sounds familiar to you.

I cringe when I  think how many times I’ve sworn to make a radical change in my life.  My past is littered with failed attempts at losing weight, becoming a regular exerciser, starting new hobbies or becoming more productive (well, I did become a regular exerciser but that’s beside the point). What usually happens is that after going strong for a couple of weeks or several months, my momentum peters out and I’m back to where I started or worse.

The worst consequence of my too-numerous-to-mention failed attempts is that I feel like a failure.  I hesitate to start any new improvements projects, because I don’t want to botch them up too.

Of course there have been times I’ve managed to break some bad habit “cold turkey”, but my failures vastly outnumber my successes.

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But let’s get back to the alternative strategy of breaking bad habits – or forming new ones: making small improvements.

In management consulting, the alternative strategy is called ‘Kaizen’,  and it means small steps for continual improvement. The Kaizen technique actually originated in the US,  migrated to Japan and took root there. In this case, I’m  more interested in Kaizen as a technique for creating personal change.

To be successful with Kaizen requires that you understand and accept the fact that the changes you’re going to make are very small, even ridiculously small. For example, someone wanting to start an exercise habit could begin marching in front of television for one minute every night. On the second week she could increase the time to two minutes, and so on.

That was the exact advice Robert Maurer gave to Julie, a busy, overweight single mom who was in a risk group for diabetes. Instead of lecturing Julie about the importance of starting a rigorous exercise regimen, Maurer suggested that she could start pacing in front of the television for one minute every night. Julie agreed, and in a few months time she had transformed from a couch potato to a regular exerciser.

I think that would’ve been a very unlikely result if she had received the standard advice.

Robert Maurer believes there are two reasons why Kaizen technique is so effective. First, it bypasses our inner resistance or fear of change, and second,  it gently prepares our brains for bigger changes by laying down neural circuits for new habits.

If you start by taking tiny Kaizen steps, you may discover you’ve changed your habit with almost no conscious effort.

Breaking bad habits the Kaizen way – my experiment

Naturally, I’ve set up my own experiment with Kaizen. My goal is to get rid of one very long-term bad habit of mine.

I have this nervous habit of scratching the skin of my thumbs with the nails of my forefingers. I guess my habit is some kind of variant of nail-biting, except I have never been a nail biter. Because I’m a high-strung person,  my left and right thumbs often look like they have been gnawed by little animals. Sometimes it gets so bad I draw blood and have to bundle my thumbs with band aid.

I’ve been doing this more than 25 years, so let’s just say that I’d be thrilled if I got rid of the habit. I could stop hiding my hands and even use some nail polish from time to time.

My tiny Kaizen step is this: once a day, I’m to catch myself scratching the skin of my thumbs and stop myself from doing it. That’s all. Next week I’m probably going to up it to three times a day.

My experiment has been a success so far (I started a couple of days ago), as I’ve easily caught myself scratching at least once a day.  🙂 I’m eager to find out what happens in the long run.

There are other things I want to apply the Kaizen technique for, but I have to figure up suitably small steps for them first.

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Have you ever tried breaking bad habits or forming new ones in very small steps? How did it go?

What It Takes to Keep Your Inner Glow Alive?

The birthday cake - guess who ate most of it?

A couple of weeks ago I went on a mini vacation to celebrate the birthday of one of my little nieces, Iiris, who just turned four and her sister, Siiri, who turned six a month ago.

It was a fun trip and a also a good reminder of what it takes to keep your inner glow alive.

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Before I left, my mom emailed me a quote from a Finnish philosopher Esa Saarinen. Loosely translated it says something like this:

There’s a lot of people who live their life giving all they’ve got, driven by their inner glow. Too bad that most of them are under age 7.

Siiri with her Zhu Zhu hamster

I love the quote and I boasted to my mom that I’m going to be the rare 44-year-old (I turned 44 on Monday) who is driven by her inner glow, giving life all I got.

Read on to find out what happened. 🙂 [Read more…]

Thinking of Getting A Treadmill Desk? Read this first!

Lifespan treadmill desk

Lifespan treadmill desk

Ever since I read James Levine’s book “Move a little, lose a lot“, I’ve been aware of what sitting all day does to us both physically and mentally.

On way to stay physcially active even in an office job is to get a treadmill desk or a standup desk.

When I heard my online friend Sharyn has got a treadmill desk, I shot her a couple of questions by email.

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Here are Sharyn’s answers:

Why did you get a treadmill desk?

In the past couple years, since I’ve been learning internet marketing and building my own business I’ve spent more time sitting on my butt than ever before. The weight has gradually crept up on me (oops! I plumped), so I decided I had to do something about it. I’ve always exercised every day, but that doesn’t make up for the other 23 hours in the day of inactivity. Of course, my secret little chocolate addiction doesn’t help either – no matter how many salads I eat the rest of the time! [Read more…]