How to Feed Your Mind to Have a Better Life

The average human brain weighs three pounds. Our brain cells can live our entire lifetime and are capable of having 50,000-70,000 thoughts per day or 35-48 thoughts per minute. We use the terms brain and mind as though they are one in the same but they are two distinct and separate things. Our brain is the physical organ located inside our skulls whereas the mind is the invisible world of our thoughts, attitudes and feelings. Just as we choose to nourish our body with healthy food, we need to nourish our minds to be the best version of ourselves.


How Our Mindset Impacts our Abilities


So how do we can we feed our minds to have a better life? By the thoughts we allow in, what we focus on daily and what we allow to grow within ourselves. The type of thoughts we have can certainly impact our daily lives. Positive thoughts will add value, help build skills to see more possibilities in life. Negative thoughts close our minds to many possibilities and narrowly focus our lives.


In a research study conducted by The University of North Carolina, groups of people were shown short movie clips. One group was shown clips that contained the negative emotions of anger and fear. A second group was shown clips having the positive emotions of joy and contentment. They were then asked to imagine themselves in similar situations as the clips and write down what they would do. Those who viewed the positive clips had many more responses than those who viewed the negative clips. This proves that positivity opens our minds to possibilities.


No one is to blame. This is a leftover survival skill from centuries ago that helped us when we crossed paths with a bear or tiger. We needed to be able to narrow our focus, eliminate all distractions and get out of harm’s way. Today, thankfully, we don’t need to do this as often but our brains are still patterned this way. This explains why it is our nature to always look first for the negative or what is wrong in every situation. For example, if I have to give up sugar then I can’t ever have dessert or I can’t exercise because I don’t have enough time. We have all met the “Negative Nellys” who find fault with every single thing in life. They are never happy and have the ability to suck the life right out of a room. Negativity has a very strong pull and uses up valuable energy.


Changing Your Mindset to Enhance Your Life


So what are some things that you can do to feed your mind for a happier life?


#1) Meditation


The simple act of daily meditation can help increase your positive emotions. It doesn’t matter when you decide to meditate and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Start with sitting in a quiet place and focus on breathing. Start for two minutes and then build on that. Don’t worry if at first your mind keeps wandering off to other places. Just redirect it back to your breathing and continue. Each time it wanders and you bring it back, you are strengthening pathways. It truly is amazing how quickly you can build your ability and see results. I love starting my day this way. I find that I am calmer and less reactive to the daily stresses of life.


#2) Gratitude


Practicing gratitude daily helps improve happiness. This can be paired up with meditation. Everyday think of one thing you are grateful for. It can be as simple as your eyesight to see a beautiful sunrise. If you do this in the before bed, think of something that made you smile that day or brought you joy. You may want to keep a gratitude journal where you can write about your positive experience. At the end of the year, you can reflect back on all those wonderful memories.


#3) Schedule “joy” in your life.


We fill our schedules with so many busy activities. Working a job and raising a family leaves little time for anything else. Schedule “Joy” into your calendar.  Do something small each day that makes you smile. This can be as simple as reading for 15 minutes or enjoying your favorite cup of tea after work. Once again, it doesn’t have to be difficult or take up a lot of time. We all need more “joy” in life to help us be more vital.


Earlier this week I was listening to a podcast featuring Tony Robbins. He talked about the idea of “what you focus on, you will find”.  If you focus constantly on the negative then you will find only negative limiting your possibilities.  Focusing on the positive will help you see more possibilities increasing happiness. As you continue on your health journey, remember to care for your mind that cannot be seen. It is as important as caring for your body in achieving your ultimate vitality!

Should You Exercise While You’re Sick?

Have you ever wondered why during the winter months, we battle more colds, flus and other illnesses? In the past couple of months, the common cold, flu and the infamous stomach bugs have surrounded me at work. Walking into my local grocer’s, I first notice the tired, sniffling and sneezing victims waiting to be seen at the clinic. So far, I have been able to avoid these little bugs and that is my goal each year. For one thing, I hate being sick and secondly I would have to miss my training session! I chalk my success up to the fact that I get plenty of sleep, eat a healthy diet most of the time and as a nurse, I excel at hand washing. All of these habits help keep my immune system running well which is my defense.


Our immune system is our defense system when we are exposed to bacteria, viruses and other nasty things. It is housed in our bone marrow and thymus. Contact points of entry for invaders are our mouths, noses, eyes and lungs. When we are exposed to a virus, like the common cold, our immune system responds through our lymph nodes, spleen and mucus membranes to protect us.


Our innate immune system is our first line of defense. It is made of physical barriers (ex: mucus lining of our noses), chemical barriers (ex: the acid in our stomachs) and “killer” cells (ex: our white blood cells) housed by our body. A quick side note-women have better innate immune systems than men-um-sorry guys! Then we have an acquired immune system. This develops as we are exposed to different viruses and bacteria in our lifetime. It takes over when our first line (innate) system is overcome. It prevents bugs from setting up home or colonizing in the body and destroys foreign invaders. This explains why children are sick more than adults since they have not been exposed to as much.


So back to the question-Do you exercise or rest with a minor illness? Everyone knows not to come to the gym if battling the stomach flu or you are contagious but what about those minor illnesses like a cold, sinus infection or a sore throat? Some might look for any reason to skip exercise and lay on the couch with a blanket and the remote but is that necessary?


First let’s understand that there is a difference between training, I like that word better than working out, and simply moving the body. Every training session does not have to cause us to breath heavy, sweat, raise our heart rate or cause us to work hard. “Moving” the body can help us to feel better and get better faster, I believe. Getting out for a walk in the fresh air, riding a bike at a low intensity or merely stretching are all great ways exercise when feeling a bit under the weather. I would like to also say that good nutrition can help when combating inflammation caused by illness. Limit any processed foods that are inflammatory to the body. Eat whole foods, especially a diverse mix of fruits and vegetables that contain the vitamins that support our immune system. And finally, drink plenty of water to flush out toxins and help keep you hydrated.


It’s clear that training or exercising with a fever or feeling like you can’t lift your head off the pillow is not the right thing to do. If you are coughing and short of breath just walking to the kitchen then exercise is out of the question. It’s okay that day to lie on the couch and rest. Just don’t let an illness be the excuse for you to fall off the exercise wagon. You can merely lower the intensity exercise if you aren’t feeling it that day. If you are use to running three miles a day, start by just walking. If you enjoy lifting weights then start lighter or even with body weight exercises. By keeping your good habits in place, you stay consistent and moving forward to your goal. Be careful not to fall victim to the illness trap!

Exercise of the Week: Kettlebell Swing

Power development is one of the most important aspect of physical fitness as we age, and also one the most underappreciated. We are taught to focus on cardio, cardio, cardio as we get older (not that we shouldn’t strive to increase our cardiovascular fitness) without any thought of muscle strength or power.


So what good does cardio do us if we’re not able to get up and down off of a chair without assistance? Even if we’re in the best cardiovascular shape we can be in at any age, what does that truly mean if aren’t able to perform in our lives in a vital way? Well, in short, not much. And here’s why…


Why Power Development is Important


When most of us think of power development exercise, our mind’s might automatically go to Olympic Lifting. In a typical Olympic Lifting routine, you’ll see exercises like the power clean, clean and jerk, and snatch, all of which are wonderful power development exercises. They also require very high technical skill and lots and lots of practice to truly master the movements (notice I said MASTER the movements…that’s where true effectiveness comes into play). At the same time they’re a bit intimidating to the average person. And since many people think this is the only way to create power, they avoid it like the plague.


But power development is probably one of the most, if not the most, important physical aspect we should focus on as we age. In fact, the average strength decline between those under the age of 40 and over the age of 40 is between 16.6% and 40.9%. And the weaker you get, the less mobile you become. And the less mobile you become, the more assistance you need to get around. So, needless to say, developing your strength and power as you age is a significant proposition.


Kettlebell Swings to the Rescue


So, even though many people think that the only way to effectively develop power is by utilizing the Olympic lifts, there is an exercise that anybody can use to increase power at any age with a significant decrease is the risk:reward ratio.


The kettlebell swing is a wonderful exercise for many reasons. First, it doesn’t require a bunch of heavy plates and barbells, it only requires a single kettlebell which can be purchased for less than $50 (for the average person). Second, although the technical skill for performing the movement is still high, the likely hood of injury if you perform the swing incorrectly is significantly lower than say a power clean. And finally, you can easily implement this exercise into any workout routine without over-stimulating your nervous system to an extreme extent.


The important thing to remember with a kettlebell swing is the angle of the knees and hips throughout the movement. Many people want to perform the swing as a squat (maximal knee bend and maximal hip bend). This is fine if that’s how you’d like to perform the movement. You have to understand, though, that swinging with a squat pattern will increase the pressure put on your lower back due to the angle forces.


To insure that you’re keeping as much pressure away from your lower back as possible, focus on doing the swing as a hinge (minimal knee bend and maximal hip bend). The hinge is simply a deadlift. When you deadlift, you move in your hips in a way that forms a “V” with your hips at the bottom of the movement, where as a squat will for an “L” at the bottom of the movement.


Keep this little tidbit in mind when you start to implement swings into your routine. Don’t be afraid to up the weight or the reps as you get comfortable.

Adjusting Nutrition Around Your Workouts to Achieve Your Goals

Last week we discussed how to build a healthy nutrition program outside of the gym. Being consistent with what you are doing while you are not training was the focus. Once you have this figured out then you should look at what foods to eat before and after exercising to improve performance and to attain your goals.


First let’s cover the purpose of pre and post training nutrition. In a nutshell, the food around training should provide fuel for your body, aid in the recovery process, help improve future performance and provide hydration. Protein, the building blocks for our body, is the food source that helps preserve and build lean muscle mass. It is also is what our body uses to repair the muscles post workout. Carbohydrates are what will provide fuel and will restore the glycogen (stored fuel) in our muscles and liver. Fats some say have no impact on performance but because they do slow the digestion process, they will help sustain a stable blood sugar while exercising. This in turn helps to keep your energy level on an even keel during intense activity. By eating a normal well balanced meal within 1-2 hours before and after your training session will provide the necessary nutrients for the average, healthy person.


A common question from the morning exerciser is “Should I train on an empty stomach?” Well, that depends on how you feel and the intensity of the exercise.  If you have eaten well the day before and are going to be exercising for an hour of moderate to high intensity then hydration is most important. Sleeping all night depletes our hydration status more than the fuel in our body. We all wake up in a mild state of dehydration that can hinder performance. It is best to drink a bottle of water prior to leaving for the gym and take another with you to drink while exercising. If you become nauseous, lack energy or strength while training on an empty stomach then have a light snack as well. After your session consume your well-balanced breakfast of lean protein, smart carbs and veggies not doughnuts from the local bakery! As with all pre-workout nutrition choose foods that agree with your stomach or you will suffer the consequence.


For those of you who choose to exercise after working all day will probably need a small snack before hitting the gym.  For example, if you eat a well-balanced lunch at noon and will be headed to the gym at 4 for a weight lifting session, a protein shake made with water, handful of spinach and thumb full of nuts might be in order. Then go home and eat a balanced meal post workout. Base your carbohydrate needs on your goals. If you desire to lose weight then your carbohydrates need to be less than those who have the goal of mass gain. Regardless, it is not necessary to eat refined carbohydrates until you are stuffed after exercise to have results. Eventually this type of behavior will lead to poor performance and body composition.


Now for those who are endurance athletes, into bodybuilding or looking to improve athletic performance, you do have special needs when it comes to nutrition. Training for a marathon or trying to put on serious mass requires more carbs and more calories. If you are spending a great deal of time in the gym and intensely exercising trying to lean down to single digit body fat will need less carbohydrates.  It would be best to hire a coach to help you come up with a plan in these situations so you can achieve your goals while making it easier for you.


Let’s face it nutrition is confusing. For most of us who are just looking to get healthy, feel better and look good it doesn’t have to be. Now that you understand how foods support you during exercise and recovery spend time experimenting to find what works best for you. Don’t fear that you will do damage by not downing a protein shake immediately following your workout. Just eat well outside of the gym, keep in mind when you ate last, have a small snack if it’s been longer than 2 hours since your last meal and get to the gym. Post exercise if you can’t go home to eat your meal, bring along a protein shake and a piece of fruit to have then eat dinner within 2 hours of your session. Keep things simple but be consistent. Ask for help if you have more ambitious goals so you will have the proper guidance to get you there.  

Conquering Short-Term Pain to Achieve Long-Term Pleasure

One of the things we struggle with most as human beings is being fulfilled with our lives and what we’re accomplishing. Most of us work hard, day-after-day, to get ahead in life and just seem be going in circles. And hard work is necessary in order to get to where you’re trying to go (if you actually know where it is you’re trying to go). But is it as simple as working hard to get ahead?


Why Working Hard Doesn’t Always Get Your Goal


Hard work is something that is not hard to find, especially in the United States of America. The average American works about 35 hours a week, tops amongst all other countries. The average full time American works 47 hours a week. Again, number one in the category. And even though we work as hard as we do, how are we still unhappy about the accomplishments that we’ve had in our personal and professional lives? Why does it seem life we are working to take 2 steps forward, but end up taking no steps forward? The answer to these questions can be answered in a number of ways. And the approach I’m going to take is likely to make some of you upset…but that’s okay. Because sometimes we need a little reality check to let us know what needs to happen to lead us to the path to achievement.


Understanding Your True North


So if we already work harder than any other country on our Planet, why is this not getting us toward our goal and overall idea of success? The first reason we don’t seem to be going any where is life is because you are lacking your True North. What is your True North? Simple, I know that every single one of us was put on Earth for a reason. And the reason is not what you do on the surface. So what your profession is does not define why you’re on Earth. Your profession is only a tool to help you achieve your True North or your guiding purpose. Your True North is your “Why” for being on this planet


For instance, I got into fitness coaching because I wanted to get people in shape. And that’s what guided me for a long time. But I quickly learned that, although lifting weights was fun and enjoyable to me, most people were not as enthusiastic about the act of actually working out and eating healthy. And it took me a while to understand why that was. Until I figured out what truly drives people. Once I understood that, on the surface people said they wanted to lose weight, they really meant that they wanted to be able to play with their grandchildren or be there for their spouse or have a more fulfilling life, only then was I able to develop my True North. And now I do what I do so I can help as many people as I can become as healthy and vital as they can be. That’s my True North. That’s my “why” for what I’m doing.


Short-Term Pleasure for Long-Term Pain or Short-Term Pain for Long-Term Pleasure


Once we take the time to truly understand why we do what we do, that’s not enough to help move us forward towards our goals. If you have a True North (which I strongly suggest you develop one if you don’t. Companies are told to have values and a purpose, which are lip service for most organization, and you should have values and a purpose as well. Otherwise, what’s guiding you?), you’re light years ahead of most. Once that’s developed, you have to decide to take the next course of action to get you moving forward. And that is sacrificing short-term pain to have long-term pleasure. Let me explain.


Because we love instant gratification so much, we have developed the sense to have everything we need or want at a moment’s notice. Losing weight is the ultimate example when it comes to wanting instant gratification.


If you Google “how to lose weight”, you’ll be given 98.6 million ways to do it (literally, I just Googled it and there were 98.6 million results…try it!!). And of those 98.6 million results, 98.5 million of them will have a title such as “how to lose 10lbs in 10 days” or “rapid weight loss for fab results” or “the ultimate flabby belly eliminator”. And all of these methods will get you the result they promise if you do what it is. And then, without fail, you will put all of the weight back on, and then some. As a matter of fact, only 5% of people who lose weight on a rapid-weight-loss diet actually keep it off…yup, 5%.


Weight loss is only one of thousands of examples in our lives where we are wanting a lasting result but look for instant achievement. And if we know that we will not actually achieve a lasting resulting if we try this instant-gratification tactic, even though we’ve done it ourselves before or know people who have tried and failed before, why do we still do it…over and over again? One word…PAIN!


Learn to Tolerate Short-Term Pain to Achieve Massive Long-Term Pleasure


Pain and pleasure are at the root of every decision that we make. Whether you’re simply trying to decide which toothpaste to buy or deciding to pull the plug on relative in a vegetative state, you’re weighing the pain or pleasure that you will get out of the decisions that you have. And, although we like to believe we make intuitive decisions on a regular basis, our brains are hardwired to to avoid pain at all costs.


Think about it. 20,000 years ago, our ancestors had to worry about running from sabretooth tigers and giant gorillas and herds of stampeding buffalo. Their nervous centers had to be constantly alert to the threats that lurked on a daily basis. Nowadays we don’t have sabretooth tigers or giant gorillas or herds of buffalo to worry about, so, instead, we worry about what our neighbor said about us or what might happen if we make a wrong decision or why that person cut you off on the way to work. Because our brains are survival machines, it is constantly looking for threats to its existence and avoiding anything that may fit that category.


What does this have to do with achieving goals and being successful you ask? Great question. Intuitively, we know that we could achieve whatever it is we want to achieve, because odds are, it’s been done before. You want to be a millionaire? Great, there are literally 15 million of them in the world. Go ask one of them how they did, then do it yourself. Want to lose 50lbs and keep it off? Wonderful, there are probably 30 million people who have done that (myself included). Go find one of them and then replicate it.


So the strategies to do what we want to do are there. The problem is, everything worth doing in life that is lasting, takes time. And the THOUGHT of taking the time and effort to figure out what we need to do to achieve our goal is painful in and of itself. Because we know, intuitively, that people who made millions of dollars had to go through some pain and suffering to get there. And we know that somebody who has lost 50lbs and kept it off had to figure things out along the way. And because we know that it takes some pain and suffering and figuring and waiting and uncomfortable situations, we don’t take the time and effort to move towards our goal.


So I want to challenge you do to 2 things. Number one, I want you to figure out what you’re True North is. Why are you hear? What impact do you want to have on this planet? What purpose do you want to be involved in that’s bigger than yourself?


Once you have that figured out, here’s your second challenge. Decide to take action. And not just any action. Action without purpose is a complete and utter waste of time. Figure out what you can do to move you FORWARD. What action can you take to move you a step closer towards your goal? To whom can you reach out to find out what strategies may work and what may not?


The answers are out there. The strategies are out there. It will take time. It will be uncomfortable. There will be pain. And in the long-run, there will be absolute, sustainable pleasure.