Celebrating a major milestone

Lately we’ve been talking about those “little treats” that keep you going toward a bigger goal. They’re so important. Every time I step on the treadmill, I get that reward in the form of a few chapters in the audiobook I’m listening to. But, what about that big reward? That big reward celebrating a major milestone? You know you deserve it, so when’t it coming? When can we celebrate?

Your goals are achievable

We’ve talked a lot about setting goals. That nothing is impossible, if you plan for it. And that’s true. That plan has to include very specific steps and deadlines that lead all the way to the big goal you’ve set. And whenever you complete a step, you deserve a “little treat.” This “little treat” is just that – a quick burst that keeps you on the straight and narrow of your path. It’s different for everyone, as are the goals that everyone sets. One of my goals is to get on the treadmill and run for at least half the time I’m on it, steadily increasing the time, speed and incline of the treadmill. And the treat I give myself every time I step on the treadmill is listening to my audiobook. 

Achieving a big goal means many steps

One of your goals may be to write a book. This is not an easy task, nor can it be done in one sitting. It will involve many sessions, and the words may not always come smoothly. So, to keep you going, a possible “little treat” could be to prepare a cup of your favorite tea to sip while you work. Or write near a favorite light. Another little mood-lifter could be having your favorite childhood stuffed animal on your desk while you write. And a mood-lifter is exactly what these “little treats” are: they keep you happy, engaged, and continuing your program.

A fitness example could be running a 10K race if you’ve never run for more than 100 yards. A little reward for every extra quarter mile! How about a facial mask.

And intermediate milestones, too

jump for joy in achieving a milestone

And when you’ve finished, say five chapters – an intermediate milestone – you deserve a bigger reward! Be sure to choose something that’s meaningful for you, something that’s bigger than one of those “little treats,” but not so big that you’re not tempted to go back and finish your book. This could be something like a spa afternoon, or trying a new recipe that you’ve wanted to try. Or something that’s related to your goal. Like an hour reading (for research, of course) a book that’s been on your list.

And for our fitness example, if you’ve run 2 kilometers during your practice, that certainly deserves a nice reward. A massage, perhaps, if you enjoy them.

But that major milestone needs a major reward

But that big reward celebrating a major milestone should be something even more special. For example, planning that getaway you’ve wanted to go on. Or a launch party with friends and family for your book. Or having a party a few days after the big race. You may feel like the goal you’ve achieved is reward enough, that you’ve grown because you reached it. And you have! Your self-confidence has improved, your resilience has grown, and you’ve shown that you can stick with something major. But, darn it, you deserve it! Your big reward should feel as major as the goal you’ve achieved. Go ahead and celebrate.

Reach your biggest goals one step at a time

Last time we talked about stuff you had to get done, no matter what. For those tasks, you just have to buckle down and do it. But what about your big goals. How can you achieve the things that there’s no deadline for, or that you’d really like to have happen but hadn’t started yet? It can seem overwhelming to have pie-in-the-sky goals, but they’re really necessary. And you can reach your biggest goals one step at a time.

We all want big things, and we usually want them as fast as possible. But the best, most life-changing goals take time. We have to plan the steps that it takes to get to the ultimate goal. Why not just dive in? Because for many goals, we’ll never get there. And for the goals that we do reach, they may be set too low and there may be further achievements that we’d miss out on.

Take the time to plan

Three-time Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas spent eight years away from her sport. But now she’s back in training. In fact, she recently qualified for the U.S. Championships with hopes of making it to the Paris games this year. She stepped away after the Rio games because the training, then the Games themselves, took so much out of her. She said, I went through hell x2 and i lost my joy, i lost my passion, my fire, my love, and then myself.”

So, then what happened? How did Douglas find her passion in gymnastics again? She said that she did a lot of reflecting and journaling. Then when she decided to go back to training she just took a deep breath and stepped into the gym. “Remember, you don’t have to get it all done in one day. Take baby steps — I definitely did.”

One step at a time

And that’s good advice for anyone with a big goal. Douglas knew what it took to achieve success. And she knew that it was a lot. So she took it slow. One step at a time. That’s what we all should do when faced with a really big goal. For me, to reach the goal of a side plank with my leg raised, I modified the move, got stronger, and finally was able to do the full pose. Planning for one step at a time keeps you motivated to continue.

Break it down

Consider that goal, and everything that it will take to achieve it. Then think about the logical steps to take to get there. All of them. Write it down. And then plan – concisely, every step, every milestone, with deadlines. Use your “Get It Done” Guide to help you plan! Then do it. And when you reach a milestone, celebrate! That’s what keeps you motivated to continue toward that big goal.

That’s what Olympic champions do.

Just buckle down and do it

I’ve been writing about motivation lately. How you can motivate yourself to do things you don’t want to do with “little treats” (which works really well!), and about different kinds of motivation that have been identified. And that the motivation that’s inside you is more compelling than outside factors that may motivate you. But sometimes you have to just buckle down and do it. Whatever “it” is. 

Procrastination only goes so far

Sometimes it’s hard. You don’t want to do it. You procrastinate for as long as you think you can. But then the time comes and a deadline nears. And you have to just buckle down and do it.

Let’s say you have company coming for dinner tomorrow. And there’s evidence of dog paws on the living room couch. And the rugs need to be vacuumed. You hate to dust, so there could be spots that you missed last time. But you’re having people over tomorrow. That doesn’t leave much time to get it all done. You have your menu planned, you’ve shopped and listed all the cooking steps so dinner gets on the table. But there are people coming tomorrow and you don’t want them to think you live in a pigsty. 

Just buckle down and do it

This is where the rubber meets the road. Your motivation is clear. You know what needs to be done. So you get the spot cleaner out. You put your earphones in and get to work with the furniture polish. Plug the vacuum in and do it.

Chances are your onerous housekeeping chores didn’t take as long as you thought they would. Sometimes it’s just a matter of recognizing the task and doing it. 

It takes all kinds

Why do we procrastinate doing certain tasks? Everyone has different likes and dislikes. There’s nothing that’s more satisfying to me than adding a column of numbers. My sister thinks that’s crazy. I let piles on my desk grow until I have to find something. Other people think that’s nuts too. And that’s the way of the world. There are tasks that you love doing, I’m sure, that I dislike. But sometimes I have to just buckle down and do it. And sometimes that’s motivation enough.

Think of it as your job

When we have tasks that we need to accomplish, sometimes, too, it’s helpful to think of those tasks as our job. When I was working in the corporate world, there were plenty of aspects to the job that I didn’t care for. But I did them. For our “home tasks,” though, we have to change our mindset to see tasks as our job. Instead of a paycheck, though, we’ll get the satisfaction of not having to face that task again – at least for a while.

The example here is a short-term one. When you’re facing a task that has more long-term consequences, though, a different mindset is needed. And I’ll look at that next time.

“Little treats” keep us going

I hate running. I’ve said that before, but it’s actually not so true any longer. I still don’t like to run, but I don’t hate it as much as I used to. That’s because I’ve been running regularly for over a year. I only run twice a week. And it’s still mostly run / walk, but I do run for over a minute at a time. I call that running. How did I achieve that consistency of doing something that I actively dislike? The “Premack principle.” Those rewards, those little treats keep us going.

A little treat keeps me on the treadmill

David Premack, a psychologist in the 1960s developed the theory, now named for him, that said that doing something you like to do can be a reward for doing something you don’t want to do. Like my listening to an audiobook that I really enjoy while I run, which I do not enjoy. It’s that little treat – an audiobook that I get for nothing – that keeps me on the treadmill. My body gets much more of a benefit from running than my brain does by listening to that audiobook. 

Those little treats keep us going, but they’re not luxuries

A recent article in Psychology today explains that these little treats are not a luxury. We’re not pampering ourselves by getting rewards. Ray Christner, the article’s author, says that the Premack principle has a solid foundation in psychology. And we use it for our dogs too. It’s called positive reinforcement. These little treats keep us going by offering encouragement for doing something good. 

It’s like dog training

Likewise, our dogs are rewarded for doing what we like. We always say that “what gets rewarded gets repeated.” And this holds for us, too. That audiobook gets me on the treadmill twice a week. And, now, to tell the truth, when I have to miss a day of running, I don’t feel quite right.

And studies have shown that the speed of the reward matters. The faster the reward is linked to the action, the more motivated to perform it. And it actually may not be the reward that compels us to perform the action – it may be how that reward makes us feel. Listening to that audiobook is not a tangible thing. And it’s different every time I turn the player on. But I feel the same enjoyment.

How to use those little treats

If the little treats keep us going, how do we use them? First, we have to set clear, achievable goals. For me, it’s treadmill time twice a week. Walking no more than half the time. And running at 7 miles per hour or more.

Identify meaningful rewards

Identify meaningful rewards and tie them to specific achievements. Choose rewards that you like, perhaps a cup of coffee or a half hour doing a crafting project after you perform the behavior you’re not fond of.

All things in moderation. Don’t go overboard – either with the reward you like or the behavior you don’t. Have the reward fit the behavior. 

And make sure it’s helping. For me, it is – I’m faster than I was, I can run longer, and I no longer hate running.

It’s true – those little treats keep us going. They motivate us to face challenges and lead a happier life. Remember to celebrate your achievements – big and little.

Not feeling it

After 325 articles about fitness, exercise, motivation, time management, healthy aging, balance, and other aspects of my world, I sat down to write something new and fresh and uplifting. But I just was not feeling it. Had I covered it all? I refuse to believe it. I just was not motivated to delve deeper.

Outside and Inside Forms of Motivation

So that leads me to the controlled and autonomous forms of motivation. Yes. Another research study! But this one is completely relevant to fitness and how we approach it. Controlled motivation is determined by outside forces. If it’s raining, we’re motivated to close the window. If my dogs are jumping on me, I’m motivated to put in another few minutes of training. I see controlled motivation as cause and effect. If you know you’re supposed to exercise and you’re not feeling it, controlled motivation is not going to cause you to change into workout gear and run. 

Outside motivation doesn’t last

Well, perhaps if you’ve eaten an entire candy bar, you may feel motivated to exercise for a while. But that candy bar is not going to inspire you to develop the healthy habit of a regular exercise program. Working out because you feel guilty or bloated today is not going to remind you to exercise in two days.

This controlled motivation goes away when the immediate need is satisfied. Once you don’t feel the bloat, you’re not likely to lace up those sneakers.And you know that exercise is not effective unless you do it several times every week. You won’t get all the benefits that exercise offers, like weight control, stronger heart and bones, better cognition and mood, and improved memory, unless it becomes a habit.

Healthy habits are autonomous motivation

And autonomous motivation creates healthy habits. That is, motivation that comes from within. So, even though you’re not feeling it, you go exercise. You brush your teeth twice a day no matter what. Every time you get in the car, you put your seatbelt on. You know that your teeth and gums stay healthy only if you brush twice a day. Putting your seatbelt on is not just the law, it saves lives. Sound familiar?

That autonomous motivation keeps me lacing up my sneakers 4 or 5 times a week because exercise has become a habit. So, even though I’m not feeling it, I still do it. I know that I’ll be in a better mood. And even though I may not realize it right away, I’ll be able to remember more. My sleep quality will be better.

So, even though you’re not feeling it, exercise anyway.

People in recovery turn to fitness

Why people who are recovering turn to exercise for motivation

First off, this is a no-judgment zone. People who are recovering need our support, not our opinions. It’s all too easy to try substances that your friends try, then when it’s too late, discover that it’s nowhere near as easy to stop that substance. People who are recovering absolutely require other outlets for their interests. They need all the tools that the world can give them for that recovery. I learned that people in recovery turn to fitness which can provide the distraction and motivation they need.

Fitness is a community

Movement provides “transformational” mental and physical health benefits, according to Scott Strode, founder of a national “sober active community.” Fitness also brings people who are different in many other ways, together.

Physical and mental benefits

We know that exercise provides benefits from improved health, to better cognition, to more quality sleep. It also improves mood and reduces the risk of depression. But according to a 2023 study, people who jogged and did weight training, who were also being treated for addiction, were more likely to reduce their substance use than those who were not active.

From the results of this study, there were non-quantitative physical, emotional and brain-based benefits that led to positive change. We’ve seen before that exercise can produce that “runner’s high,” even though we’re not running. Exercise encourages the growth of brain cells, andl that leads to the release of dopamine. That mood boost is yet another reason for why people in recovery turn to fitness.

Fitness provides more positive outlets

Strode says that “movement and exercise helped him redirect subconscious neural pathways related to early childhood trauma at the root of his substance use.” Other studies have shown that exercise leads to an increase in the brain’s neuroplasticity, or the brain’s way of reorganizing thought patterns. This can help someone who’s recovering to find other, more positive, outlets.

And fitness provides routine

A fitness routine can also help someone who’s recovering find structure and grounding. We’ve talked about how to start (and continue) a fitness routine, to form the healthy habit of exercise at any age. It’s another good reason why people in recovery turn to fitness.

The Gut-Brain Connection

It’s all connected. I’ve mentioned many times that when we exercise our brain gets the benefits as well as our body. Exercise promotes improved cognition, better memory and more quality sleep. But something that I hadn’t considered until recently is that there’s a gut-brain connection too. 

I no longer have a cast iron stomach

Up until recently I had been blessed with a cast iron stomach. I could eat anything with no repercussions. And then out of the blue the family irritable bowel came calling. Not to disgust you with detailed descriptions, suffice to say that it’s not fun having a cranky gut. 

A study correlates gut and brain health

Then I read an article about a study performed by Harvard Medical School researchers that seems to correlate gut and brain health. Many people supplement their diets with probiotic foods, seeking to boost mental health. The study indicates that, just as your gut health influences your brain, your brain activity can have a positive impact on your gut health. Biochemical signals run from your gut to your brain as well as the other way.

“The mechanisms in the gut include immune system activation, alterations in the gut’s structure, and the resultant inflammation, which can impact the brain’s structure and function, ultimately affecting our behavior and emotions.” So, your gut really does affect your feelings and how you react in your normal, everyday life.

Can meditation affect the gut-brain connection?

meditation for a clear mind and sanity

The study, in particular, looked at the effects of meditation on gut health. It’s been known that meditation leads to physiological changes, such as reduced heart rate and lowered blood pressure. These in turn lead to reduced stress and overall well-being. This can also lead to more happiness and resilience as we age.

It’s known that stress can lead to “gut aggravation.” So, how would meditation alleviate this dysfunction? Would meditation lead to a calmer gut as well as a calmer brain? Would the gut-brain connection hold for this application?

The answer is a resounding “Yes.” After an 8-day meditation practice, the study found that participants exhibited increased levels of a compound known for its anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and vascular relaxation properties. It also found a decrease in a substance linked to atherosclerosis risk.
I’ve found that a daily meditation practice definitely helps my anxiety. Just a couple of minutes in a Guided Meditation helps. I’ll have to try and go deeper and see if my digestive problems can be alleviated!

Sparking joy in exercise

I’ve said it before: “I don’t like to exercise.” And yet I do it 4 or 5 times a week. Every week. For years, now. You’re probably saying, “She might say she doesn’t like it, but she does. Deep down, she likes it.” No, I don’t. While I don’t exactly dread putting on my exercise clothes, once I’m in them and into a workout, I just keep going. And it’s true, if I really hated it, I wouldn’t do it. No amount of positive mindset-changing can do that. One kind of exercise, though, has always tried to elevate that positive feeling. Jazzercise’s mission is to spark joy in exercise.

Changing with the times

You may say that Jazzercise is outdated. You tried it years ago And, while it’s true that this style of exercise started in the 1970’s, it’s still popular, and not just among people who did it when it was first introduced. Jazzercise centers around a dance-based aerobics routine, but now there’s a strength training component. The music has changed with the times, as has much of the choreography, so Jazzercise is not your mother’s workout.

If it’s not fun, you’re not going to do it.

As I’ve said many times, if exercise isn’t fun, you’re not going to do it. Even if a certain workout has every single benefit you want – like instant weight-loss, a fix for your memory, and getting rid of flabby arms – if you don’t enjoy doing it, you’re not going to do it beyond a few days. 

So, I say if something can spark joy in exercise, by all means, do it. If Jazzercise was your thing back in the ‘80’s but you haven’t thought about it in years, get back into it. Classes are streaming now, in addition to classes that you can attend in person. 

Lots of options

And if Jazzercise isn’t your thing but you’d like other choreography-based workouts, there are plenty available. Search YouTube for instructors and music you like before you sign up for pricey classes. Or perhaps a gym near you will let you try out a class.

While it may take a lot to spark joy in exercise, you can find enjoyment in it. Any exercise you do is better than none. You’ll get physical as well as mental benefits, and it’s essential for your healthy aging. If you like dressing up, you can do that to your heart’s content too. Just be prepared to sweat!

An easy fix for weight loss?

Is this the easy fix everyone’s been waiting for?

I was a fat kid. I wrote that for my “About” page for this blog lots of years ago. Back when I was that fat kid, I wanted that easy fix for weight loss, that pill to swallow that would make me skinny. I went on diet after diet, trying to lose weight the easy way, by cutting out way too much food. But that’s what we did back then. When I was in high school I was finally sick and tired of being bullied. I wanted to get into the exclusive dance club. So I did it the hard way. I lost weight by watching everything that went into my mouth and by jumping rope for hours on end on the cement slab behind the house. The weight came off and stayed off all these years later.

Everyone’s on Ozempic

I had a dentist appointment last week, and she asked if I was on any medication, one of the standard questions. I gave my standard answer, “No.” And she said that many of her patients are on Ozempic to lose weight. People seem to think it’s the easy fix for weight loss that I wanted when I was younger.

Would I take it?

And that got me thinking. Would I take it now to lose weight? I don’t know for sure, but I’d like to think my answer would be, “No.” Ozempic is not a drug that’s listed for weight loss. It’s a drug for Type 2 Diabetes. Long-term effects haven’t been studied in otherwise healthy people who take it to lose weight. So, what could it be doing to healthy people’s systems? Rhetorical question, there. And when you stop taking the drug, many people gain the weight back, as with any weight-loss drug.

This writer won’t

I read an article by a writer who’s struggled with their weight their whole life. He’s not at his “ideal” weight, but he’s not going to be taking Ozempic any time soon either. It’s not because it’s a drug, or could be detrimental to his health. He refuses to conform to what society accepts. Good for him!

The right way to breathe

Breathing is something we take for granted, every minute of every day. We only think about it when it becomes hard – for example, if we’re ill. (Like during my cold last week.) And we breathe harder during certain activities, when we exert ourselves running up the stairs, for instance. And we still don’t think about it. That’s pretty amazing, if you ask me. But, is there a right way to breathe?

Air is a life-giving resource that we don’t even have to think about receiving. During our normal, every-day, tasks oxygen comes in and carbon dioxide goes out and we don’t have to do a thing. But when we exercise, we should be conscious of our breath to maximize the benefits we want to receive. When our lungs are working properly, our performance is optimized and we can achieve the other benefits that exercise gives us. So, what’s the right way to breathe during exercise to get the most out of it?

What happens when you breathe?

When you breathe, air travels through lots of tubes and byways on its way to your lungs. In your lungs, the air ends up in little sacs called “alveoli.” Each alveolus is surrounded by tiny little capillaries which drop off carbon dioxide and pick up oxygen and take it through your bloodstream. The primary purpose for breathing is actually to get rid of carbon dioxide rather than to get oxygen.

When you exercise, levels of carbon dioxide increase in your bloodstream, leading to the need to breathe faster to get rid of the excess. Exercise can increase respiratory efficiency but it doesn’t actually lead to increased lung capacity.

When you breathe shallowly, this can lead to additional stress. If you pay attention to your breathing and notice that you’re just using the upper part of your chest, this is shallow breathing. You’re not getting the oxygen you need, and you’re also not getting rid of enough carbon dioxide, contributing to a panic mode. That’s why people say to “breathe deeply” to help you calm yourself. Change your mindset just a little to breathe from your diaphragm and you’ll be calmer and get more out of your workout.

Diaphragmatic breathing

The best way to feel what you’re supposed to be doing is if you try this lying down (no pillow). Breathe in through your nose and feel your lower ribs rise (put your hands there to feel it more). Breathe out through your mouth and feel your lower ribs fall. Using the diaphragmatic breathing technique during exercise, exhale for the exertion and inhale on relaxation.

When you run

My breathing always increases when I run, and sometimes I find myself breathing through my mouth only. Experts indicate that doesn’t really matter – focus on the thing that makes running easier and more effortless. Some experts recommend varying the number of steps you take during inhalation and exhalation so that you’re not always on the same foot. Keep in mind that there’s really no one right way to breathe during exercise. Just be sure to breathe and not hold your breath. Again, focus on the thing that makes your exercise more effortless, and your breathing will follow.