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Starting a Revolution: How NOT to fail at another year of resolutions

I hate the New Years resolution craze. From its growing capitalist bastardization wherein fitness clubs, and CEOs, and celebrities exploit your good intentions to the perpetuation of unsafe dieting, to its perpetuation of unhealthy beauty standards (that are responsible for girls hating their bodies as early as age 6) it has as much potential to cause damage as it does to motivate actual positive change.

As someone who has struggled with mental illness (depression and disordered eating, specifically) for the better part of my life, I learned the skills that allow me to live a healthy life, but I’m always hyper-aware of old thoughts and habits that try to creep back in, especially this time of year. My secret? I said no more to making decisions based on manipulation and feelings of inadequacy, and instead, I chose to make changes that made me happy from the inside out using a set of tactics based firmly in brain science. I’m going to share them with you so that, together, we can get rid of resolutions and quit waiting for a date on the calendar to start a Personal Revolution.

The Birth and Death of a Habit

Habits are created through repeated action over an extended period of time. During their development, something called cortical excitability occurs, where the neural pathway used in the execution of the behavior (whether it is a physical act or pattern of thought/emotional response) becomes activated and, over repeated use, becomes a well-worn pathway. This is when you stop making conscious decisions about your choices. The creation of this path (and the secret to developing new, healthier ones) is known as neuroplasticity.
Habits don’t just come out of nowhere, though. If you pay attention, you will notice that they all have a trigger. They are a response to a specific task, stressor, or associated to a past event. You’ll need to dig deep to resolve some of these.

Old Dogs Can Learn New Tricks

Emerging research in the field of neuroscience is teaching us that thinking about habits and skills as being permanently fixed by adulthood is outdated and just plain wrong. Remember that term I used: neuroplasticity? Well, you can use that to your advantage with goal oriented and intentional behavior. You can decide to act differently, and when you make this choice frequently, you’re developing new main pathways as the old ones shrink, and your new choices become effortless over time.

Mind(set) over Matter

Your habits can be physical actions, but they can also be thought patterns. These can be the hardest to break because sometimes the triggers to those habits are so deeply ingrained in our history that they have become our inner-voice, a part of our Self.

This is where Mindset comes in. To help you understand incredibly complex and overlapping fields of research, I’ve condensed it to this: When you simply think your brain has the ability and potential to grow, you behave differently, causing an increase in achievement and motivation. (This is called Growth Mindset). When you focus on your strengths instead of short-comings, you change how you feel and experience increased, sustained well-being. (This is from Positive Psychology.)
Apply this basic knowledge to your existing habits of thought and emotion, and you can employ the power of neuroplasticity to reroute your thought patterns from limiting and negative to motivating and progressive.

Still feeling the need to make a change? Here’s what to do next:

Creating Your New Year’s Revolution 

1. Love yourself.
Fiercely.
Decide if you are changing for yourself or if it’s one more exhausting, demoralizing effort to squeeze yourself into a mold. How can you tell? Look for the person who stands to benefit off of it first, if it’s not you… re-evaluate your decision. Then, put that mindset into play. Don’t be hard on yourself. Instead of saying, “I’m a failure,” say, “This is hard, but I know I can do it and I’m worth the effort.” (Turn Positive/Growth Mindset into your first new habit)

2. Be Abundant.
Don’t put your focus on the things you need to cut out of your diet or behavior.

Don’t focus on not having enough or not being enough. Start with what you’re grateful for and capable of. (This will also keep you from padding someone else’s pockets looking for a quick fix.)

Celebrate the small gains. Your success is not determined by how drastically your transformation shows on the outside, nor how it compares to anyone else’s. You determine the metric of your success. Be proud of yourself, dammit.

3. Take Your Time.
Think of this as a personal evolution. Your habits–just like the opposable thumb–didn’t show up overnight, so they’re not going away quickly either.

You have to make the choice to follow through even when it’s hard (which, again, becomes a habit all its own).

4. Don’t fight an uphill battle.
If you are struggling because of seasonal or other biological factors, choose something small and attainable to start, and see Steps 1-3.

You don’t have to make sweeping changes, and they certainly don’t need to happen all at once. Basically, don’t go “cold turkey.” Instead, simply replace a bad habit with a good one, like reaching for your water instead of a sugary snack or drink, or taking a breath instead of overreacting.

5. Leverage the power of your brain.
When you begin replacing an unhealthy habit with a positive one, find a way to make your new choice feel good. For example, decorate your water bottle with a sticker that makes you smile. Breathe deep, smile or give a hug before you react. When you do this, you’re releasing feel-good neurochemicals like dopamine and oxytocin (think of it as rewarding yourself for good behavior) and your replacement behavior will become habit faster.

The science is clear: you have the power to make the changes you want and your mindset is the key to your happiness. Whatever you decide, don’t make your choice because of the date on the calendar or some slick marketing tactic. Never feel obligated to make another ineffective resolution ever again, because now you know the secret to lasting success is to start a Personal Revolution.

Need Proof?  Watch this video:
Learn about 
Andrew Short, currently pursuing a Masters Degree in Disability Studies, who also lives with cerebral palsy. He and his trainer Lee, are applying the concept of neuroplasticity to overcome the challenges of his disability.

Your Gift is Not for You

This morning I had to wait behind a school bus as it stopped to pick up children from the homeless shelter.
Outside the building’s front doors, I watched two jovial young men having an animated conversation while an older gentleman hovered near the wall deep in contemplation–or perhaps still in a morning haze–with his weathered hands wrapped around a steaming mug held close to his heart. As traffic began to move again, I passed a woman probably about my age walking slowly and uncertainly. She had bright, round, brown eyes that, in the few seconds that I had, revealed what looked like a sense of disbelief. She had not resigned to accepting this current state as her life. I almost stopped to invite her to join me for a coffee. Instead, I continued on, as did she, in her dusty blue pea coat and a still-white quilt folded with obvious care draped over her crossed arms. As she faded into the rearview, I wondered if that blanket was a family heirloom.
As I arrived home to begin my work, I took assessment of my abode. It is not extravagant, but it has stocked cupboards, clean water, and solid foundations. It took me back to my days as a young girl riding the school bus, and recalling the ineffable wrenching in my chest when we stopped in front of one particular house and the condescending, almost amused comments would start to raise out of the chatter as two sisters stepped from their home, the tarpaper roof giving way to windows bereft of any warm glow in the cold early twilight. The comments were always quick to silence as the girls boarded, but consistently left my mind and heart feeling as though they were underwater while wondering how life doled out such privilege and iniquity.
As I began to gather my thoughts toward the work ahead of me today, I scrolled through my facebook feed, full of aspiring entrepreneurs posting with a mix of excitement and insecurity. I wondered how many of them opened their laptop and even took note that it existed. With internet. In their home. And I wondered how differently we would all approach the way we work and serve our roles, if it began with a deep gratitude.
It is possible to have deep gratitude and still hold a kernel of the fear of losing it all. Of not having enough. Of not being enough. We may practice gratitude daily and count our gifts, but here’s where I think many people get it wrong.
We talk about people “having a gift,” whether its athletic, academic, or artistic talent or just a way of speaking and connecting with others, but we think of that Gift as being something divinely or genetically gifted to us, but that gift is not for you. It is your Gift to the World.
When you have this Gift to give, (and you do) and you shift your worry from not having enough to not giving enough, that is when your life will begin to truly feel fulfilled.
We all have a Gift; for some, it just takes effort to find it. But I know the shortcut.
Take time to do things for your Self. Allow yourself to gravitate toward activities that bring you both joy and a sense of accomplishment. Let go of attachment to perfection and comparison regarding the outcome. Welcome the nurturing and growth within the act itself. You will find your gift there, waiting for you to unwrap it and share it with the world.
I encourage you to embrace this oft-neglected realm of the inner child, the one who is eager to explore, who still looks at the world with a sense of wonder and amazement, pointing excitedly about your discoveries to anyone who will glance your way; you become more connected with your true Self. You will find that any successful* person still chooses to spend time in this realm, playing with their child-Self. No magic formula, no strategy, no upper-class upbringing, no diploma nor certification took them to their success–otherwise anyone with similar privilege would be seeing the same results. Rather, it is their time spent connecting inwardly with their Gift that allows them to then take action (using their externally acquired knowledge) from a place of authenticity that is innate and inimitable.
Find your Gift, and embrace it for all its seeming imperfection, incompletion, or insignificance. Forget about having enough, know that you are enough, and ask if you are giving enough. That is where you will find success.

*Success is such a truly subjective idea. For the sake of clarity, in this instance, I am using it to mean accomplishing a desired purpose or state of being through honest and ethical means. There are many people who proclaim “success,” yet live in a world depleted of simply joy, and amass only wealth or status through means that are authentically bankrupt and morally corrupt. These people do not fit my definition of successful.

5 Simple Ways to Boost Your Creativity (without taking extra time out of your day!)

If you are a busy business owner like me, or your work keeps you in a less-than-stimulating environment (this goes for you stay-at-home parents, too!), perhaps you can relate to the day-to-day monotony and have days (let’s be honest–weeks, or months) where you feel like you don’t get a moment to your self. No matter how creative or stimulating your work is, we all go through slumps of feeling bogged down and lackluster.

There is some pretty incredible brain science recently that is showing us that practicing creativity can give us just that boost we need to feel more connected, rejuvenated, and balanced. So I have put together some simple ways to give your days an injection of creative juice to give your work and life a boost without scheduling time out of your busy day.

1. Drive home from work/school/practice a different way. See how many different routes you can find, take time to notice what sets the districts or neighborhoods apart. Keep your eyes peeled for a new park to visit or restaurant to try!

2. Keep a doodle pad next to your phone or computer. When you feel your mind starting to wander, it’s a sign that you need a mental break. Instead of wasting effort and energy slogging along half-heartedly, or risk losing hours in a social media sinkhole, set a 10 minute timer and doodle aimlessly. Repetitive patterns are great for replicating the zen effect of meditation!

3. When going about your day-to-day activities, try to notice how many things make the shape of a smiley face. (Like these guys) Not only will you take time to notice details you tend to gloss over, you’ll find yourself smiling more, too!

4. Cook or order a food you haven’t tried before. This could be something you bring for lunch, or, if your family feels like being adventurous with you, plan an exotic dinner. These are guaranteed to spice up your day!

5. Join in our Instagram 30 day photo challenge. Jump right in, don’t wait for a new month to roll around. Just be sure to tag #findyourspark so we can see your awesome shots

Breaking Through Your Creative Block

Have you ever had that moment where there is so much swarming around in your head that you can’t quite grasp that moment of clarity that you know will make everything fall into place? Or worse– you’re simply coming up blank? That fickle muse we call creativity just doesn’t seem to understand that we have a deadline to meet!

Our minds have a funny way of getting caught up in the details. We leapfrog from one barely-hatched idea to another, trying to will this burgeoning list of ideas (each seemingly more brilliant than the last) to our mental tab. Suddenly, another idea comes about, but you can’t think of the right word, so you go to the internet where you discover another rabbit hole of ideas. By the time you come up for air, you’re left surrounded with a pile of ideas with no clue where to start or what is actually worth pursuing.

Think of it like standing very closely to a Monet painting– you have to take several steps back before you get a clear picture.

 move slider to change your perspective

So, when you are experiencing a moment where you have ideas, you’re just lacking clarity, take a moment to step back. Find something else to focus on for an hour or two. If you have the time, take a day or two. While you are at work, focus your energy on something that is productive, but not mentally taxing; this is a great time to clean or organize, sort through that stack of paperwork you’ve been neglecting, and just cross a bunch of the easy-to-do incidentals off your list. Giving your brain something else to focus on will allow your mind to piece those ideas together into something more concrete and cohesive. If at any time, you feel like you might have a breakthrough–even if it’s just on a portion of your project–write it down immediately and don’t self-edit, or sort your ideas onto color-coded sticky notes, then bring this back to your desk when you’re ready to start working again.

Now, moving on to the dreaded creative drought… desert

There are few things in business as terrifying as feeling as though you have run out of ideas, with no inkling as to when, or if, you may get another.

You start sentences and can’t even finish them. You stare at your computer monitor with the cursor blinking back at you impatiently.

You pace the room determined not to leave so you wander aimlessly from chair to couch to window. You lay on the rug, you slump onto your desk, you try a handstand to get blood flowing to your brain, only to realize that you can’t do handstands and sprain your wrist (just imagining here, not at all speaking from experience…) and you get up realizing how much time you have wasted and how little you’ve accomplished. This moment feels so bleak, so exhausting, so empty. Empty. This is your brain telling you that it has run out. But, not out of ideas; it’s out of inspiration. New ideas are created simply by taking experiences or information and approaching or combining them in a new way. The answer in this scenario then, is to feed your brain with new things. Change your work setting (even temporarily), take time to notice the details, textures, and colors that surround you, or go back and revisit an old project. (Check out my post to learn 5 Simple Ways to Boost Your Creativity–without taking extra time out of your day)

And don’t forget to schedule in time for your Self. When you’re at home, sneak in a few minutes for yourself by taking a walk, running a bath, or escaping into a book or a puzzle. Take time at home to try something new and fun, or reconnect with something, whether it’s an old friend or a hobby left by the wayside. This is an area we so often neglect and justify it as time better spent on busywork. I encourage you to pause for a moment though, and tally up the minutes and hours you lose spinning your wheels when you’re in a creative block.

Don’t think of time for yourself as frivolous or wasted. It is, in fact, an investment in your overall wellbeing and your work reaps the benefit.