Live Happy's Tips for Preventing Decision Fatigue

Do You Have Decision Fatigue? Here’s What It Is and How to Prevent It

Standing in the grocery store at the end of a long day, it’s not usual for me to feel irritated and indecisive. The question that puts me over the edge: “What’s for dinner?”   I’ll do anything I can to divert that monumental question to my husband.  Ask him to run to the store, or text to see what he’s in the mood to eat, or what I should grab.  Anything so that I don’t have to face a decision that doesn’t just impact me, but everyone in the family (who all have their own strong opinions on what should or should not be served).   Why is it that I can function all day, juggling work, kids, and home, but some days the thought of dinner feels like too much?   The answer is decision fatigue, and if you’ve ever found yourself stressed, frozen, irritable, or just plain exhausted at the thought of making a decision, you’ve faced it too.    What is Decision Fatigue? Decision fatigue is defined as “difficulty in making a good decision experienced as a result of the number of decisions one needs to make.”  The more decisions you make in a day, the harder it can be to make those decisions.  Your brain has a limit and if you surpass that limit you can begin to feel the effects.   We make a crazy amount of decisions each day. It is estimated that the average adult makes 35,000 decisions in a day, according to Dr. Joel Hoomans, an Assistant Professor of Management and Leadership Studies at Roberts Wesleyan College.  From the mundane—what should I wear or eat for breakfast, to the complex—planning a work project, or deciding where to enroll your child for school next year.   What makes understanding decision fatigue difficult is the limit of decisions you can handle in a day is not set and can vary.  Factors that can influence your rate of decision fatigue include how rested you are, the food you’ve eaten, the amount of stress you are facing, and how much you are trying to handle on any given day (while multi-tasking may feel necessary at times, it is can be very draining for your brain).  Individuals struggling with ADHD, depression, or anxiety can also experience heightened levels of decision fatigue.   Making a decision involves multiple networks in your brain working together.  The networks involved in making a decision are the same ones that contribute to your executive functions.  These functions are the high-level brain functions that dictate your ability to sustain focus, override impulses, think, learn, plan, and make decisions.  High-level functions of the brain also require high amounts of fuel to support their actions.  This means the more you’ve done in a day involving your mental capacities, the less fuel you’ll have remaining to support thinking and making decisions.   If you struggle with challenges related to ADHD, anxiety, or depression you may be more likely to find yourself facing decision fatigue. Here's How to Prevent Decision Fatigue Next time you find yourself stuck when facing a decision, remember this—decision fatigue is your brain’s way of communicating with you.  Your brain is telling you that you’ve reached your limit.  To push past this limit successfully your brain needs extra support!  If you’re able to, press pause on your decision and take time to implement one of the following energizing strategies first: Rest - a quick nap, mindfulness meditation, or a good night’s sleep can go a long way in providing your brain a chance to recharge Eat - a high protein snack that includes healthy fats such as avocado is a quick way to provide more fuel to your brain Exercise - 20-30 minutes of exercise that engages your muscles and spikes your heart rate can help to increase your ability to focus after exercising Switch gears - if something is causing you stress, taking time to set it aside to engage in something enjoyable, like time spent outside, can help you come back to face the challenge feeling more refreshed Connect with a friend or family member.  Taking a few extra minutes out of your day to connect with someone you care about can help to recharge your mood and energy! Thoughtful planning can help to reduce your frequency of decision fatigue: Use the weekend to plan outfits and meals for the week, to reduce the number of decisions you need to make during your work week Make your biggest decisions first thing in the day, when you are rested and fresh Create habits and routines whenever possible to minimize the little decisions (do your grocery shopping first thing Saturday morning so you don’t need to decide that week when to go) Create to-do lists that include days and deadlines to minimize procrastination (which creates more decision fatigue due to stress and a backlog of decisions!) Don't Make Decision Fatigue a Family Habit If you’re a parent, keep in mind that decision fatigue is just as real for our kids as it is for us!  Our kids also face days full of demands and stressful decisions.  Next time your child melts down when you ask what they want for dinner, know their brain is showing you they’ve had enough for one day!  Implementing the same strategies that help you, can help support your child’s needs as well. We can’t make the stresses and challenges in life go away, but we can work to be better prepared.  Knowing how to identify your threshold for decision fatigue and what to do when the moment strikes will hopefully set you up for success in your 35,000 decisions tomorrow. Weekends are a great time to address decisions such as meals and outfits for the week, reducing the number of decisions you make during your work days. Save the big decisions for times when you are fresh and focused - first thing in the morning, or after you've eaten or exercised are great times to tackle the more challenging decisions, or longer lists! Dr. Rebecca Jackson is currently the VP of Programs and Outcomes for Brain Balance, where she designs and implements programs focused on strengthening the brain to optimize human performance for a variety of ages and abilities. She has been featured on national media outlets, including ABC’s The Doctors Show, NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, Forbes, Business Insider, TODAY, Huffington Post and more.
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Live Happy's Tips for Digital Wellness

6 Hacks for Better Digital Wellness

So what is "digital wellness?" For me, it’s all about maintaining a “tech-life balance” by understanding how digital technology affects 4 pillars in my life–Focus, Mental Health, Physical Health, and Relationships–and how to balance these using technology while minimizing the negative effects. Here are some of my favorite small hacks that anyone can do to help: 1. Have a phone-free bedroom. Daunting to some, easy for others. One study suggests that doing this can improve happiness, quality of life, sleep, and relationships, and reduce anxiety – in just one week! 2. Put the phone away when engaging in conversation or doing work. One study suggests that the difference in productivity can be as high as 26% when comparing having the phone on the desk to having it in another room while performing a task. 3. Be a role model. Do you get frustrated with your kids always being on their phones? Or colleagues scrolling through meetings? Be the change you want to see! It is a lot easier to help others change by showcasing the desired behavior ourselves. 4. Turn off “Self View” in video meetings. Not your video, so people can still see you, but just so you don’t see yourself! It introduces stress and removes focus from the conversation. 5. Manage notifications. Determine which apps have the right to take your attention. Turn off any non-essential notifications or use functions in the phone to batch them. It has been found that just turning off email notifications can lower your heart rate and stress. 6. Consider your information intake. Staying up-to-date with news and events is important, but think about how often and how much information you consume. Think critically about whether the information actually is essential, adds value to you, changes your decisions, or just makes you feel worse. You can find tons of advice and resources and officially take the Digital Wellness pledge at (May 6).  However, the takeaway here is that you can do any and all of these hacks any day. You don’t need a special day to take stock of your tech-life balance. Taíno Bendz is the founder of Phone Free Day and his own consulting business, and his message on mindful and intentional technology usage has reached and inspired hundreds of thousands of people around the world. He is a public speaker, workshop facilitator, and conducts research on digital technology usage. His latest book, Tech-Life Balance: 101 Ways to Take Control of Your Digital Life and Save Your Sanity is scheduled to be released in October 2022
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Building Emotional Resilience When Dealing with Events Outside Your Control

There is a lot happening in our world today, and these last few years have spun us out of control. Anxiety is high anytime there is added uncertainty. Most of life is uncertain, that we can agree on. However, when our daily routines and the people, events, and circumstances we depend on for consistently are disrupted, how do we cope? The answer is through normalcy and celebration. Yes, as upsetting as this may seem to some, we must create and acknowledge life’s little joys, no matter how dire the circumstances. What works for you may not be what someone else needs. Can we stay open to allow others the experience and control they choose to create? We can, and our emotional intelligence will help. We can all increase or use our ability to understand, manage our emotions positively, empathize with others, overcome challenges and defuse conflict. Start with what we can control Recent events in Ukraine have forced families out of their homes, into shelters, and some into refugee camps. These events are the worst imaginable, and yet some still find life, love, happiness and joy through the smiles, songs being shared, and simple life events that are posted on social media. This is what so many fight for, work for, and believe in. The simple song of a young child being sung in her native tongue brought smiles, tears, connection, and a reprieve from the harshness of their current circumstance. A small kitten being rescued from a river with a willing participant and a cardboard box. Meals are cooked and shared. Many found care and concern for life still exists in our world. We are not a world only filled with disaster, hardship, and oppressiveness. There is a great need to find the simplest reason to smile, remember why so many are fighting for life and the life they are fighting for. This all is about what you can control. Often when in despair, we feel we have no control and therefore no hope. What is needed most in our times of struggle is just that, hope. Hope a future exists for us and loved, hope for the simplicities of life. Embrace all of your emotions This is not to say we as individuals, a society, and a world should not be reverent or respectful of suffering. We all process pain, disappointment, and disaster differently. The pandemic has created an atmosphere of survival and fear around the world. Many celebrations had to be put on hold, and some never happened. Birthdays, weddings, family reunions, even the celebration of the life of a loved one departed was taken. There has been a lot to feel sad about. Seeing people gathered in a small room with smiles on, a young girl proudly standing on a chair belting out “Frozen” during a crisis in her country warmed my heart as it did her onlookers and those with her. It was uplifting for sure. We all need moments to get out of the sadness, loss, and suffering. Being happy is a choice. Not one we want to make all the time or feel like we can. But we must keep happiness close at hand. We must provide opportunities for relief, moments of feeling hope, love, acceptance, and joy. We deal with events outside our control by controlling what we can We can’t control the weather, but I can plan for an umbrella. We can’t control another’s reaction, but we can control our behavior and make a choice for sharing love and joy. We can’t control a lot of life. This is not new. However, we reduce our frustration, stress, and anxiety by taking action on what we can control. For some, it will be a reminder that life is still good. For others, it will be a donation or a way to volunteer. For others, a vote. What can you control? What can you do that makes you feel just a little better? Maybe it will be watching a cat being rescued, a stranger donating a stroller or youthful reminder of a familiar song. We can choose to find moments of control, especially through connection and caring of others. We can choose to acknowledge a smile on another’s face and be reminded that there is hope, and happiness still exists. Stephanie Bolster McCannon is an Organizational Psychologist, published author of BolsterUp!: The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Happy Healthy Human, and CEO of BolsterUp, a well-being coaching company that supports emotional, mental, and physical mastery.
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Nurse having headache and tired from work while wearing PPE suit for protect coronavirus disease. The wellbeing and emotional resilience are key components of maintaining essential care services.

How Resiliency and Wellness are Being Weaponized

Instead of doing more during a crisis period, give yourself permission to feel better during times of adversity. Recently we conducted a survey, asking people to describe how they were feeling today using one word. A resounding amount of people responded with the word 'DONE.' People have had enough. As a collective, we have all experienced varying degrees of micro and macro traumas since March 2020. We are permanently changed from living during COVID-19. We are seeing educators, health practitioners, and families pitted against one another. The divides around ideas, beliefs, values, and actions have become expansive. We are weary, wobbly, and discouraged. The feelings of numbness and hopelessness are a result from direct and indirect exposure to pain, suffering and uncertainty. It is hard to hold hope after such a long change season. And what is exasperating our collective weariness is being told that personal resiliency and self-care is the remedy. Band-Aids on Bullet Wounds Telling someone to be resilient or self-care themselves back to good when the world is on fire is like putting a band-aid on a bullet hole. It might stop the bleed for a millisecond, but the injury needs a proper intervention. As a scholar of resiliency and wellness, I am deeply concerned with how resiliency and wellness are being weaponized. Amid systems of corruption and deconstruction, plus social injustices, telling people to just be more resilient or up their self-care is cruel. The reality is that organizations, systems, and companies need also carry some responsibility in addressing the demands on their people. The demands are rising, and our supply of self-care is not proportionate. Professional care is also needed. Self-care is what we bring. Professional care is what an organization can do to mediate and address the stressors (more to come on that topic soon.) The Pace of Crisis Living Comes at a Cost We have experienced over 600 consecutive days of a crisis, yet many of our professional and personal roles and responsibilities still have us in the early crisis pace and mode. In the immediate aftermath of a crisis, people are on high-alert; change and responsive action are required. We are not future-focused. We are surviving at the moment and trying everything to minimize the blast radius. With all that is being asked of us, our plates are broken from the weight of everything, and now the platter we are balancing is starting to overflow too. We have moved from juggling watermelons blindfolded to juggling chainsaws on fire. I recently commented in a presentation that I feel as though I have brought a fruit roll-up to a knife fight. And in the weariness of our brains sizzling, our children missing key milestones, and being in another wave, WE feel we are not doing enough. We believe we are not resilient. Or maybe we are just tired of being resilient or living in systems that require this degree and scope of resiliency to cope. The Perpetual Loop of Waiting until Monday to Start As a behaviorist, I have a deep appreciation for the use of tools and strategies to help people adapt, cope, learn, and grow. I can also read the room, and I know the last thing people want right now is to do more. So, here is my invitation, let's try to take small, consistent, and purposeful steps towards looking after ourselves as we continue to work on regulating a hurting and broken world. This is for you to start to hold hope again. To believe that we will weather this storm and look after ourselves in the process. I invite you to give yourself permission to start feeling good again where you can, during this season of uncertainty and change, not waiting until afterwards to start getting back to those good feelings and thoughts. We are in a perpetual loop of waiting until Monday to feel better. This is a false promise we convince ourselves is true. Once I feel better, and the world is better, then I will be okay. We must find a way to be okay DURING the change season. This is for you, not the establishment. And what is terrific about this truth is that when you start feeling better, our perspective shifts from threat-tunnel focus to broader views, increasing problem-solving, critical thinking and innovation. And that is the mindset we need to solve the problems that are plaguing us right now. What are some of my program’s wise practices that can accomplish this? Let me tell you. Tools for Those Who Are Tired of Tools We are complex beings. We are feeling-factories who entertain over 65,000 thoughts per day. It takes a herculean effort to balance our emotional lives when we also factor in impulses, drives, lived experiences, pressures, a boss, with a side of occupational loneliness while also celebrating our familial roles, pets, oh and getting ready for the holidays! And yet, we still strive for a clean house too. Simply start where you can: I surrendered my need for a clean house to a clean kitchen, and it has done wonders! Who says this needs to look or be done this way? Challenge the belief that everything needs to be in order and perfect. Ask for help where you can. There is no shame in asking for help when the weight of your world cannot be supported with your two hands. When we are in a constant state of doing and giving, it may be hard to receive. Some may feel like it is easier just to do it yourself than explain to someone how to help. Pick your priorities and let the other things be good-enough-for now. Find micro-breaks where you can: There is no one coming to rescue us. We don't need saving. We need 5 minutes in solitude to drink a hot coffee or one great podcast that helps name what we feel and inspires us to keep going. Take 5 when and wherever you can. Hold empathy for yourself as you would for others: As you show kindness and gratitude for others, please share that with yourself. It is by showing empathy and compassion for ourselves that it can then flow onto others. You are entitled to a bad day. That doesn’t make you an ungrateful person. Recognize dual truths: You can love your life and need to cry. You can love your job and fantasize about owning an animal sanctuary. You can love the holidays and be looking forward to January. Honor all the behaviors! Even those maladaptive behaviours that are helping you cope; Thank you Netflix, rompers, pets, chocolate, venting sessions with that dear friend and Ted Lasso. Every behaviour serves a purpose. You do not have to fix anything or everything today or ever. You don’t have to grow, heal, and achieve every second of your life. Go for the ONE thing that will make you feel like you are living your values. Maybe it is reading a story to a child. Or perhaps it is getting a gift to the local toy drive. Or making time to walk your dog. Each day make sure that ONE thing is getting done. Often our value-based behaviours fall to the bottom of the never-ending list. Honor how much you have gone through and grown through. List all the things that you have discovered and learned about yourself these last 20 months. Celebrate it all. Give yourself credit and recognition for what you have done and continue to do. You may have also brought a fruit roll-up to this knife fight, but thankfully we are using our words, and it looks like we are going to walk away from this alive! Described as one of the most sought-after, engaging, thought-provoking, and truly transformative international speakers and scholars in her field, Dr. Robyne is a multi-award-winning education and psychology instructor, author, and resiliency. Dr. Robyne’s maiden book, Calm Within The Storm: A Pathway to Everyday Resiliency, released in March 2021, is now in its third print as it makes its way into the hearts and practices of people around the globe.
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Live Happy Revolution of New Year Resolution

Revolution of the New Year’s Resolution: A Real Soul Evolution

Good habits to practice to help keep your health and wellness goals on track. It’s early January. It’s dreary, misty, and cold outside. Members of my tribe slowly check in with me to say Happy New Year and inform me that they are doing a dry January or that they got up extra early this morning to get their workout in. Or that they are going to lose that extra weight they have been intending to take off. I cheer them on, support them, uplift them, but I cannot help but think to myself, what about after January? According to the Journal of Clinical Psychology, nearly 50% of Americans intend on making a New Year’s resolution but only 60% keep those resolutions after the first month and only 8% keep those resolutions for the year. Despite the intention to make positive changes to our lives every new year, such as losing weight, drinking less and getting more sleep, the success rate of achieving those goals is low. Intending. What exactly is an intention? defines it as “an act or instance of determining mentally upon some action or result.” So how do we change an act or an instance of determination into many, repetitive acts of intention. Enter the word we all know—resolution. defines a resolution as “a formal expression of opinion or intention made,” and “the act of resolving or determining upon an action [or] course of action…” Even more telling is’s “other words for resolution: resolve, determination, perseverance, tenacity; strength, fortitude.” These are the words you will need to carry you through to the end of 2022, not just till the end of January. It’s great to intend the night before to wake up early by setting your alarm, telling your friend you will do so, and getting to sleep a bit earlier. And it’s great when you actually do it. But how do you power yourself to make it a habit. What will give you the staying power to see your project through to the end, to stay the course, is resolution. Here are six good habits you can practice during the year to keep your health and wellness goals on track. Resolve Embedded in the word intent is the implicit I will try, or I want: the desire. But embedded in the word resolve is the solve—the Resolving and Re-soling of the problem or the project you intend to accomplish or achieve. Determination The word has a finality about it, and within it contains the word “terminal”—reminiscent of the last bus stop, the terminal. Resolution is what gets you to the last bus stop, the end goal. But of course, the journey is not about the end, it is the about the journey itself, the tale of how you got yourself to the gym after work when you were tired and hungry. Perseverance To persevere is to keep going even when you don’t want to or when you feel like you can’t. It is what peels you off the cozy, comfy couch. It is what pushes you past what you think is the bottom of your tank, only to find there is more. According to the VIA Institute on Character, perseverance is the strength most associated with life engagement and achievement, which both adds to your happiness and well-being. Tenacity Tenacity is holding on. It is what makes you put down the chocolate bar and pick up the apple instead. Apples are high in sugar, pectin, and fiber, and power you through workouts. Chocolate feels good for a minute while it melts on your tongue into silky softness, but then comes the sugar crash and hunger cravings. And no way to power yourself through anything. Tenacity is accepting the weak moments but staying the course because you respect yourself too much. Because you will be happier later. Strength Strength, like anything, has everything to do with practice. Even more than the physical muscle, you need to flex the mental muscle that takes your intention of making a healthy food choice, over and over, until you do it without much thought because it has become embedded into your psyche. Fortitude It takes bravery to admit your failures and to get back up and try it again. Fortitude is not perfection. Fortitude is knowing you may have lost the battle, but you will win the war. Even though your intention may have failed you when you overstepped the boundary of the one square of chocolate a day (one square becomes one row which becomes, gasp! the whole bar…), it is resolution which allows you to rein in your raw desires and stay the path. Practice Makes Perfect Healthy habits are no different from any other habits–they require commitment, practice, grit, and most of all, the boring daily grind repetition that is required to transmogrify your intent–your will–into your resolution–your real soul evolution.
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Lifestyle shot of a woman cooking breakfast food on the stove.

5 Sustainable New Year Intentions That Stick

Reach your health goals in 2023 by practicing these lifestyle changes Nothing is more synonymous with the new year than coming up with resolutions. Every new year we get motivated and set about making goals to better ourselves. Many resolutions revolve around our health and taking care of our bodies, but will we be doing these “healthy” practices six months from now? Most likely we won’t since only four percent of people actually stick to their New Year’s resolutions. Why is this? The goals and practices that we set for ourselves in January simply aren’t sustainable. If you want to be able to keep your resolutions, the key is to set goals that you’ll be able to maintain. Here are five ways to help you transform your health in 2023 with sustainable lifestyle practices. 1. Eat a higher-protein breakfast Many resolutions tend to revolve around more healthful eating. However, it can be incredibly challenging to change one’s diet overnight. Cutting out processed fat, sugar and otherwise unhealthy food can be beneficial, but going cold turkey and maintaining a new, strict diet could be setting yourself up for failure. Instead, start by altering your diet with a higher protein breakfast. A study published in the International Journal of Obesity showed that eating a high-protein breakfast, can help control glucose levels, thereby providing a more healthful lifestyle. High protein breakfasts include foods such as eggs, turkey bacon, string cheese, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, chicken sausage or protein shakes (be careful of hidden sugars here) coupled with one serving of whole grain carbohydrates. 2. Physical activity Working out is a common New Year’s resolution, the trouble is that people try to go from zero to 60 the first week of January. It simply doesn’t work that way and can lead to fatigue and even injury. It’s best to ease into physical activity. The American Heart Association recommends that healthy adults get 150 minutes (30 minutes, five days a week) of aerobic activity. Try to go for a 30-minute walk after dinner a few days a week and work up to five days. Or, if you can’t walk for 30 minutes straight, start by breaking it out into three 10-minute walks or two 15-minute walks. The idea is to simply get started, but in a more sustainable way. Additionally, a recent study found that physical inactivity is associated with higher risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes, so getting in some moderate exercise could be crucial during this time. 3. Optimize sleep Sleep is when your body rests and repairs itself. By including sleep on your resolutions list, you can feel good about squeezing in some extra hours or even a nap. The CDC recommends that adults ages 18-60 get seven or more hours of sleep per night. Not only that, but if one of your resolutions is weight loss, a study showed that people sleeping 8.5 hours a night compared to 5.5 hours lost 55 percent more body fat while consuming the exact same diet. Plus, lack of sleep or burnout may increase risk of COVID-19 infection, so getting those extra ZZZs can be imperative to your health. 4. Optimize vitamin D Vitamin D is a vital nutrient that helps your body maintain healthy bones, is an anti-inflammatory, an antioxidant and protects muscle and brain activity. Taking a vitamin D supplement is a completely sustainable resolution that can have a tremendous impact on your health. Not only that, but a study showed that vitamin D deficiency was associated with a six-fold increase in severe disease from COVID-19 and 15-fold risk of death, so this is a healthful, timely and easy resolution. 5. Reduce exposure to synthetic chemicals Obesogens are synthetic chemicals that disrupt the endocrine system and may lead to weight gain and obesity as well as hinder your body’s natural immune response. They are being let loose at astonishing rates into our environment, with 10 million new chemicals released each year, which is more than 1,000 per hour. The five obesogens most commonly found in the home are Bisphenol-A (BPA), Phthalates, Atrazine, Organotins and Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA). Reducing exposure to these chemicals is as simple as paying attention to the types of products you use or bring into your home, making it an easy resolution to keep. If you’re not sure of your current exposure level, you can ask your healthcare provider for an Array 11 test. The Array 11 test measures a large range of environmental chemical toxins that are found in your system. This will let you know what type of exposure you’ve already had, and then as you make adjustments, follow-up tests make it easy to monitor progress of exposure reduction. These lifestyle changes can make your resolutions stick As you start making your New Year’s resolutions, remember that sustainable resolutions are best. It’s tempting to set ambitious goals, but that’s a sure way to get resolution burnout and set yourself up for failure. There are some easy things you can do to transform your health and lifestyle in 2023 without setting the bar astronomically high. Making simple adjustments like eating a high-protein breakfast and getting enough sleep are easy to do and easy to maintain. Try incorporating the five resolutions above for a new year that will effectively and simply transform your health. Dr. Chad Larson, NMD, DC, CCN, CSCS, Advisor and Consultant on Clinical Consulting Team for Cyrex Laboratories. Dr. Larson holds a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine degree from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and a Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Southern California University of Health Sciences. He is a Certified Clinical Nutritionist and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist.
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Live Happy New Year Intentions

Looking Back Over the Last Year Can Help You Plan for the New One

A new approach to self-transformation may be the key to reaching your goals This time of the year, there are millions of people who look back at the goals they set on New Year’s and often see where they fell short. Many people make resolutions at the beginning of the year, fall short in reaching them, and then beat themselves up when they get ready to go into the next year. One personal development coach says that’s the wrong way to go about improving your life, and she offers a whole new “zoom out” approach to successful transformation. We often get in the habit of just setting goals, not reaching them, and then being hard on ourselves as we set them again the following year.  According to a study published in the December 2020 issue of the journal PLoS One, most of the goals people set each January focus on physical health, weight loss, and eating habits. Their large-scale study finds that one year later, 55% of the people feel they were successful with the goals they had set, and that there were two things that helped them be more successful. The first thing that made people in the study more successful was having approach-oriented goals, rather than avoidance-oriented ones. In other words, instead of making the goal to completely avoid something, people are more successful if they have a way to approach it that is healthier and more manageable, or if they wanted to avoid something they had an approach to successfully achieve that. Secondly, those who had some kind of support were significantly more successful compared to those who did not. That support can be in the form of a group, friend, or a personal development coach. When you have someone who can help keep you motivated and mindful, it will go a long way toward helping to achieve goals and dreams. Try a new approach to reaching your goals I have provided support and guidance to many people, helping them to transform their life. My approach involves looking back over the last year, but not in an effort to look at shortcomings or beat yourself up. Instead, it’s about viewing your life from a distance, seeing what you’d like to change, and then visualizing what you want your life to be like. Here are the steps to the “zoom out” approach to planning for the New Year: Get a journal and set aside some time for personal reflection. Get some perspective about yourself by zooming out and viewing your life over the last year. To do this, visualize that you are watching your life in a movie reel. Observing from a distance will give you a chance to be objective. Ask yourself some questions and write the answers in your journal. Ask yourself things like how the last year felt, what it meant to you, if there is a misalignment in what you see and what you want, what felt good and right, what needs to shift to be more in line with what you want, and what you want the next year to look like. As you perform this exercise strive to be objective and mindful but be gentle with yourself. If there are things you didn’t like that’s okay, this is the time to put them in the spotlight so there can be a shift. Visualize how you want the next year to be and write it down. With that visualization in mind, go into the New Year with a positive attitude, moving your life in the direction that you want it to be. Be gentle with yourself and just keep moving forward. When a new year starts it’s the perfect time for reflection and transformation. When you do this exercise you will no longer be stuck. You will have a visualization of what you want your life to be like and can help make it happen. By zooming out you get a different perspective about yourself and it can be powerful in helping with self-transformation. Katie Sandler is a popular impact coach and provides health and wealth coaching and personal and professional development. She has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in mental health counseling, has a strong foundation in mindfulness-based stress reduction, and has worked in hospitals and private practice. She previously spent time as a research assistant while at Johns Hopkins, focusing on purpose in life. To learn more about Katie Sandler and her services, or to see the retreat schedule, visit
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Husband trying to comfort his wife at a graveyard

Life After Loss

No longer relegated to live a life defined by tragedy, survivors and scientists alike are finding the positive side of grieving. Becky Aikman took her place on a metal chair. In her 40s, and much younger than most of the others in the group, she already felt out of place. During the session, the older women addressed her with barely disguised resentment. She was haunted by the “bad juju” of the group. Later, she explained to the facilitator that she felt the group should be following its description: “Moving Forward After Loss.” He responded by asking her not to come back. Partly because of her experience with that support group, she says, “I realized that getting out in the world and having positive experiences helps me. I realized that having friends and doing things with friends helps me. I realized that looking at the humor in life was very helpful.” Becky decided to form her own group, one that would emphasize new experiences and comradery. What she was looking for was a positive experience, despite her loss. Eventually, she would emerge as a happy, wiser person. Channeling her time as a journalist, Becky sought out research on grief. She discovered that the “five stages of grief”—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance—had been discarded as outmoded by most grief researchers and counselors. She also found someone who had made researching how people grieve his life’s work: George Bonanno, Ph.D., a professor at Columbia University Teacher’s College. The New Science of Grief George came to grief research unexpectedly after what he calls a “curious” job offer early in his career, to direct a grief study at the University California in San Francisco. It was the beginning of a lifetime of studying bereavement, one in which he found, “almost nothing from the traditional ideas seemed to hold up,” he says. Although some seemed to get stuck in the intense grieving phase after a death, George found most people were able to move on. “The more common outcome is of being sad by the loss, being unhappy about it, but continuing to do OK in your life,” he says. “It suggests that it’s what we’re wired to do. “And to some extent, it is. We have a biological response to stress that’s extremely effective.” George found there were factors that helped people naturally evolve through grief. People with a better network of supportive friends and family, potential for financial resources, education and physical health, as well as fewer other stressors, tended to bounce back more easily, although virtually no one got off without significant pain. An additional factor is resiliency, which George believes may be influenced, at least partially, by genetics. He has written cautiously that he believes as well that people can nurture resilience. “That may be a little naïve and a little dangerous, because we don’t really know a lot about that yet,” he says. Until we learn more, there are some things people can do to feed resiliency, George says. For one thing, we can work to lessen stress. We can keep social relationships active. And, “laughter is a very good thing, because laughter and amusement are kind of incompatible with being upset.” It may be artificial to watch funny movies—but doing so reminds you to have joyful experiences with other people. Being optimistic and flexible are useful, too, he says. Not Recovery, but Renewal Becky assembled five women who had lost their husbands at a relatively early age. “We were all still going through a lot of changes, and we were going through them together,” Becky says. “We understand each other in a deep and profound way. It’s a friendship that’s really deep and lasting because of that.” By the time Becky began the group, she had remarried—but it’s a mistake to think she didn’t need support at that time. “A lot of people think that if you’ve lost a spouse, when you remarry, that’s it. Problem solved. And it’s not true. That experience will always be a big part of me,” she says. Specialists in grief counseling agree that people never “recover” from grief. Recovery means returning to life as it was before, and we can never get back a loved one who has died. Instead, we learn how to build a new life, says Bill Hoy, Ph.D., a faculty member in medical humanities at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. “I call it renewal. We learn how to build a new life in this radically changed world in which I live now as a bereaved person.” What’s more, the grief process ought to be a lifelong process of becoming a new person, he says. “I think we are constantly being renewed by the deaths of the people we say goodbye to,” Bill says. Twenty-one years ago, Bill’s father died, and he continues to think about his dad as each significant event in Bill’s life arrives. “That doesn’t mean I haven’t moved on or moved past his death, and it certainly doesn’t mean that my life is organized around his death,” he says. What does renewal after a death look like, and when does it occur? There is no one-size-fits-all timetable, counselors say. But, eventually, there comes a time when most people say they are OK, that they are getting through the grief. Bill says they might tell him, “ ‘Probably Christmas is going to be hell on wheels again, even the third year—or maybe even the fifth year, but I’m able to get through it.’ And it’s not just slogging through it and it’s not ‘I’m a damaged person forever.’ Instead, ‘I’m actually a better person in one way or another.’ ” Forming a ‘New Dave’ Similarly, Dave Kurns talks about the “new Dave” who is forming. His wife, Sharon, died on Dec. 23, 2012—“a difficult Christmas for the kids and me, and probably always will be.” “Hopefully, many of the good things that I was and many of the good things that I’ve become will emerge in a new Dave,” he says. A therapist he has spoken with called it re-forming—“You shatter, and you re-form into a new person.” “I don’t think I’ll ever recover,” Dave says. “I don’t know that I’ll ever become whole. But I do think that I will re-form into something new that I hope is different—and maybe even better than before—as a person.” Sharon was a director of a regional education agency in Des Moines that serves central Iowa schools. She was also an avid reader, and her book club presented Dave with a memorial fund to use to advance the love of reading. The idea to set up a virtual book club, “A Year of Reading Sharon,” originated with teacher Sarah Brown Wessling and her book club. After interviewing Dave and his children, then examining the books Sharon had recommended for her book club, Sarah suggested a year’s worth of reading: 13 books that spoke to Sharon, ending with the last book she was reading, Isaac’s Storm. The book club includes a Facebook page liked by more than 450 people, a Twitter feed and a discussion group on People are encouraged to read the book that month and then give it away, to promote the love of reading. Participants post photos showing the book being left for others all over the world.  It’s a way to celebrate Sharon’s love of reading and her sharing spirit, but it’s more than that. “Even though we’re sad, we can still feel some of the joy that she brought to us,” Dave says. No Right Way to Reconcile With Grief “A Year of Reading Sharon” has helped Dave mourn, which is an absolutely necessary step, says Alan Wolfelt, Ph.D., who directs the Center for Loss and Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colo.  “There’s no one and only way to mourn,” Alan says. In talks throughout the world, he champions “companioning,” or traveling with someone through the darkness of the journey toward reconciliation, or a realization of the reality of death. Alan cautions against shaming a person for not getting grief right—when there is no right way to grieve. Where, years ago, we experienced death often and shared our grief more, now we are uncomfortable and unfamiliar with it—people can get into their 40s before death touches them closely, and then they tend to be impatient with the grieving process. The next logical, but incorrect, step is to attempt to manage grief instead of surrender to it. “In the last 40 to 50 years, we’ve shifted from surrendering to the mystery of grief to now wanting to manage the science of grief,” Alan says. “Knowledge can be an obstacle to the path to wisdom.” Spiritual or philosophical beliefs can be obstacles, too, and sometimes religious communities buy into the same assumptions that society as a whole makes. And religious organizations that believe that if you have enough faith, “this won’t hurt very much,” or that God punishes people who do bad things, also undermine a grieving person, Bill says. If a faith community offers the necessary social support, it can help tremendously. But often, death causes people to question their faith. “It’s very hard to square a good God with a dead child,” says Bill, who spent the first 10 years of his career as a congregational pastor. So people had better have a theology that is big enough to encompass that, he says—“And I do, but that’s a 53-year-old theology now, and so I can make sense of that for myself that bad things happen in the world in which we live, even though there is a good God.” Alan’s center is nondenominational; he sees people who are helped by their faith and people who feel there is no God. But when faith teaches that if you are strong enough, you can bypass the need to mourn, people can feel ashamed. And that shame can cause you to become stuck in your grief, Alan points out. On the other hand, Becky’s group found happiness by choosing a way to grieve together. As members shared new experiences, they bonded. And in 2013, Becky published Saturday Night Widows, sharing the group’s experiences and how, together, they came back from tragedy. “When we get together, we have a blast,” Becky says. “We do things that are fun. We laugh ourselves silly all the time.” That’s not to say that the group members don’t endure pangs of grief, waves of overriding feelings of loss that Alan calls “grief bursts.” Becky says, “I absolutely agree with people who say you need time to recover….Everyone is different, everybody needs a different amount of time, but I agree that there's a low period that people go through—and nobody gets to skip that part. “I'm just saying that everybody does have the ability to work their way through this over time, and to find joy again.” The women are, Becky says, moving on—and focusing on the future. Their movement happened not in spite of the grief they felt, but because of it, Alan says. “There are times in life we need to be sad,” he says. “The more we befriend it, the more we ultimately can be happy.”
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A woman happy in nature.

Finding Joy Again

How to recover from loss and live happier now. The search for happiness is often a journey that’s filled with hurdles and detours. But, what happens when you find that life, profession or person that brings you joy—only to have it taken away? “Loss is an inherent part of the human narrative. We have to experience loss to experience the joy,” says Randi Waldman, a professional counselor and educator who specializes in helping patients rediscover happiness. “By working through the pain, we have the opportunity to grow, find purpose and, ultimately, live a fuller life.” Randi knows firsthand how daunting that journey can be. She was a divorced, single mother of three children, one of whom was severely disabled, trying to survive on a teacher’s salary when she decided to go to graduate school. Ultimately, the loss of her marriage and the need to provide for her kids were the catalysts that lead her to her true calling. “I think it’s human nature to want one, big answer to emerge right away. But, recovery typically happens with little shifts,” she says. “It’s much like weight loss. There’s real value in starting small, making incremental changes every day.” Although everyone has a different timeline, finding your way after loss means venturing into the unknown. “It’s important not to attach yourself to one outcome, as this will morph throughout life,” Randi says. “Instead of saying, ‘I will be happy when I do X, Y or Z,’ be open to the possibilities. You can’t go back to the life you had, but you do have the opportunity to add to that life—sometimes in extraordinary ways.” From Devastation to Life Purpose There’s no better example of that concept in action than Dana Donofree. In 2010, at the age of 27, she seemingly had it all—a great job as a director of design and merchandising, a fabulous fiancé and a very bright future. Then, the day before her birthday, two months before her wedding, she was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma. After a 14-month blur of treatments, including a bilateral mastectomy, reconstruction and a grueling chemotherapy regimen, Dana tried to regroup and get back to normal. But, even the most basic things were no longer normal. Including lingerie. “I remember pulling out all of these wonderful things I received at my bridal shower, only to discover that nothing worked with my new body,” she says. “The only bras that actually fit were these matronly, institutional things sold at the mastectomy shop.” She had her life, but she felt like she lost her femininity in the process. “As cancer survivors, we were supposed to just be happy that we were alive. But, no one was actually thinking about us actually living our lives post-surgery,” Dana says. “I realized that I was letting this dictate the way I felt about myself, the way I was acting, everything. The more survivors I talked to, the more I was inspired to do something about it.” Dana parlayed her background in the fashion industry into AnaOno, a company that creates beautiful lingerie designed to fit post reconstruction bodies. Was she scared? Absolutely. “Being scared and facing those fears gives you some of the best opportunities to grow, expand and become the person you want to become. I didn’t want to end my life wondering what if,” Dana says. “I wanted whatever amount of life I had left to have meaning.” For the past six years, she has not only made AnaOno a success, but has also used that platform for advocacy, fundraising and, in the process, has become a go-to resource on life after breast cancer for women worldwide. In business, as in passing her own cancer-free milestone, Dana continues to beat the odds. “For all of the darkness of my cancer, there’s been five times more brightness that’s come out of it all,” she says. “I have met incredible people. I’ve learned how to live a happier life. And, I know I’m making a difference.” The Ability to Cope Why do some people thrive after setbacks while others struggle? Are some people simply born made of tougher stuff? Yes and no. “About one-third of the qualities that make people resilient are grounded in their DNA. But, two-thirds of those characteristics are acquired throughout their lifespan,” explains Rick Hanson, Ph.D., psychologist, best-selling writer and author of the new book Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness. “It’s important to know that resilience is more than recovering from loss or trauma. People who are resilient are also able to pursue opportunities in the face of challenges.” Joey Anders has always been one of those people. By age 11, he wanted to go to college. But, as the son of a single mother working two jobs, he knew that the onus was on him to find a way there. So, he decided to excel at basketball. Joey was athletic, but definitely not a basketball prodigy. “I believed, if I worked harder than everyone else, that I could become as good as any player,” Joey says. He was right. At just 6-foot-1, Joey earned a college scholarship, with pro potential. Then came the severe ACL injury at all-star camp the summer after his freshman year. Just like that, his basketball career was gone. “Sure, I cried. But then, I had to figure out how to survive,” Joey says. “If you’re in a burning house, you don’t crawl under the bed. You start knocking out windows until you find a way out. So, I started looking in every crevice of my being for any talent I thought I could develop if I worked hard enough.” He decided to pursue golf. Although he never played before, he believed that with his natural coordination and ability to solve puzzles, he would be good at the game. He started hitting balls on the driving range and logging hours on the course. In just one year, Joey accomplished the near-unheard-of feat of going from novice to pro-level golfer and was accepted into the golf management program at New Mexico State University. The thing is, he wasn’t surprised. “I think most of us are capable of more than we’re doing with our lives. We have so many more possibilities than we realize,” Joey says. “You just have to believe in yourself, and give yourself permission to dream.” Now, 19 years later, he is one of the top junior golf instructors in the country, making an impact on myriad young hopefuls every year. One of his original students was the then 8-year-old Jordan Spieth, now a top-ranked superstar on the PGA Tour. Although he still feels a rush when basketball season begins, Joey has nothing but gratitude for the way his life turned out so far. “Joey is a classic example of what Carol Dweck calls the ‘growth mindset’; he sees himself as someone who can learn, rather than someone with a finite amount of talent. He knew he could get better at things if he plugged away at them,” Rick Hanson explains. “He stayed focused on the opportunity, instead of avoiding the pain of being knocked down again.” In short, Joey achieved incredible outcomes because he was willing to take on the risk of dreaming big dreams. The Strength to Love Again Perhaps the most profound reality of human life is the fact that we all will lose someone we love. As Thomas Attig, Ph.D., wrote in The Heart of Grief: Death and the Search for Lasting Love, “The central challenge for mourners is to move from loving someone who is present to loving them even though they’re absent. Death ends a life, but it doesn’t end the relationship.” Honoring that love while still moving on is a challenge that Julie Huỳnh-Ruskunderstands all too well. From the moment she met Liam, she knew that this striking Green Beret was “the one.” Two years later, the couple was engaged with a wedding planned after he returned from a six-month deployment in Afghanistan. Yet just weeks before his deployment ended, Liam was killed by an Afghan soldier the U.S. was training. Her first day alone, Julie couldn’t get out of bed. Then, she used her love as the catalyst to move forward. “I spent a lot of time thinking about Liam, and how he might want me to recover from this,” Julie says. “He lived life with such fervor that he never had a down moment. To honor him, I had to try to make something meaningful out of it all.” She did everything she could to heal: books, therapy, grief seminars and connecting with military peer mentors who had suffered a similar loss. “I realized that, even with all the support around me, I had to find my way myself,” Julie says. Julie decided that the best way to honor Liam was to fulfill the dreams they had together. So, with an urn of his ashes in tow, she went solo on hikes, climbs and excursions, scattering a little part of him as she worked her way through their bucket list. Every adventure brought a little more healing, a little more independence. She got a new job, and in time, even became open to the idea of dating again. But, it was difficult to talk about Liam with people outside the military, or the fact that he would always be a part of her life. On a skydiving trip to mark the second anniversary of Liam’s death, everything changed. That’s when she met Shane, a skydiving expert and Green Beret who accompanied her on the jump. “He was so easy to talk to. He understood what I went through as only someone in the military could,” Julie says. The two never stopped talking. Ultimately, honoring Liam was the very thing that led Julie back to love. “So often, people are afraid that if they stop grieving for someone, they’ll forget that person, so they stay stuck in sadness,” Randi says. Julie found a way to work through her grief without ever giving up her love for Liam. She honored his life by also moving on with hers. We All Have It in Us Loss, trauma and setbacks are inherent to the human experience. But, we also have the capabilities to grow from the pain, rediscover joy and live a happy life. “We are resilient creatures, we Homo sapiens. Deep down inside, we are tough critters,” Rick says. “If you tap into your own natural sturdiness and strength of character, and look for those little things you can do every day that help you recover, heal and redeem yourself, life will gradually get better.” Sometimes, better than you ever imagined.
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Choice concept. Woman standing between arrows showing different directions. Go forward or go back, Move Ahead

3 Ways to Move Forward

The mental health costs of COVID-19 and related crises have been staggering. According to the CDC, in the U.S. the number of adults with anxiety/depression has risen from 8% in September 2019 to 41.5% in February 2021. Neuroscience says there is every reason to be optimistic about turning this tide back and achieving resilience, or the ability to thrive amidst adversity. How we manage our expectations as we move forward is a critical component of restoring our emotional wellness and ability to thrive. The moment the pandemic became real for you, your amygdala took your entire body to a state of constant hyperarousal flooding your body with cortisol and other chemicals that exhausted your brain and body. This created an on-going experience of a toxic stew of emotions from sadness to anger to frustration to feeling isolated and on and on. Anything you experience for 60 – 70 days literally rewires the brain. Our amygdala’s have kept us hyper aroused for far more than 70 days, rewiring our brain to make disturbing emotions our automatic reaction to any perceived threat. Here are three ways to rewire your brain as we move forward. Practice them consistently to restore your sense of calm and confidence and ability to thrive. 1. Practice Acceptance Accept developing anxiety, depression and burnout as natural responses to this incredibly challenging environment. That’s why so many of us are experiencing anxiety and depression disorders. It’s very disturbing and it interferes with our ability to function well. It is not a sign that there is something inherently wrong with you or those around you. Accepting that your current mental state is a natural response means you cut off the negative self-talk: “What’s wrong with me?” “Why can’t I handle this?” You restore room for helpful, hopeful thoughts, creating space to see that you will gain the ability to thrive—not just survive. 2. Move Forward, Don’t Return COVID-19 has changed every aspect of everyone’s life around the globe. We can’t go back to the way things were. It’s just not possible. Talking about going back to normal, returning to school, going back to work is like giving a booster shot to your amygdala. You are giving it more power to continue the neurological hijacking of your emotions and thoughts. A quick example. A local school district just “reopened.” From the moment kids got on the bus wearing masks and sitting in every other row—there was nothing about it that was a “return” to normal. Sitting behind plexiglass, kids struggled to hear teachers and classmates. Hallways were disturbingly quiet as anxious kids tried to get to their next class. At the end of the first day, one 17-year-old senior said, “I don’t know what that was but it wasn’t school.” The talk of “returning” had set hopeful expectations for the enjoyment of some senior year rituals—like field trips to amusement parks, proms, and graduations filled with hugs. The actual experiences crushed those hopes. Talk about moving forward into new ways of working, learning, and living. Not “returning”—creating a new world. 3. Build Your Pragmatic Optimism Take control of your expectations by consistently answering the following three questions for yourself, family and friends, and co-workers. • Will this last forever? No. Every trusted expert agrees COVID-19 will be driven into submission. We will create new and better jobs. In fact, the rest of this decade has already been termed the “Soaring Twenties.” • Will we lose everything? We have all lost a lot. People were lost to COVID-19. Jobs and family businesses are gone. Yet we gained some important things to be mindful about: we are more empathetic with each other; some of us have become closer to family and friends; what’s really important in life is clearer. • How can I use my experience, talent and motivation to move forward? Each day find a way to make things a bit better. Some days it will be big things, like helping someone find a new job. Some days it will be small things, like helping your 80-year-old neighbor take her garbage out. Together, we move forward to thrive!
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