Learn the definition of intermittent fasting and how to unlock its power.
It is commonly said that losing weight is simply a matter of calories in versus calories out. Eat less than you usually do, and you’ll lose weight. Exercise more than usual, you might see the same effect. But what if changing when you eat, not what or how much, would do the trick?
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting restricts all of your eating to a specific period of time in the day. Most people eat throughout the day, starting with breakfast and ending with dinner. A person practicing intermittent fasting condenses all their eating into a shorter window of time. Intermittent fasting is a diet only in the sense that it involves making conscious choices about your food intake. It is not limiting what foods you eat or how much you eat. Some intermittent fasters eat multiple full meals during their eating window, while others might graze throughout that time.
Let’s get right to the point: intermittent fasting is an effective practice for improving mental and physical health in a variety of ways (de Cabo & Mattson, 2019). Here are some of the backed-by-science benefits of intermittent fasting:
Intermittent Fasting Schedules
Intermittent Fasting 16/8
Perhaps the easiest place to begin with intermittent fasting is to go 16 hours without eating. For example, a common pattern of fasting is from about 7:30pm to 11:30am each day. Therefore, the eating window starts at 11:30am and ends at 7:30pm. For most people, this can feel like “skipping breakfast”, although the goal is still to eat as many calories as they usually would during the eating hours.
Intermittent Fasting 20/4
The longer you fast, the more your body experiences the benefits of fasting, such as ketosis and autophagy. That means many people attempt to limit their eating window to four hours a day, spending 20 hours fasting. A common way to do 20/4 intermittent fasting is to break one’s fast in the mid-afternoon, then finish eating in the early evening.
Intermittent Fasting OMAD
For the truly strong-willed, there is OMAD, or “One Meal a Day”. This is just what it sounds like – trying to cram all your caloric intake for the day into a single meal, or a short period of about an hour.
OMAD fasting is effective in the short-term for weight loss, but not very sustainable in the long-term. It’s hard to get a full day’s calories into your body in just an hour! Although many people practice 16/8 fasting or 20/4 fasting daily or almost daily, OMAD fasting should be undertaken only temporarily.
Intermittent fasting is a simple, straightforward technique for accessing a variety of health benefits. While it is difficult at first to sit through one’s hunger, many people have experienced the rewards on the other side.
That said, if you are considering trying intermittent fasting, try not to go into it with any particular set of expectations. The benefits to your health, your focus, or your waistline may not be easy to discern at first. Like so many techniques for promoting health, intermittent fasting needs time and commitment to show its effects.
Learn what SIBO is, some of the potential causes of SIBO, and how you may be able to treat SIBO.
A healthy digestive system is equipped with a system of checks and balances, keeping bacteria where they ought to be and keeping their numbers at appropriate levels. However, for several reasons, things can get out of balance, and the number of bacteria in the digestive system, especially in the upper part of the digestive system, can increase to abnormally high levels. When this happens, a condition called SIBO, or Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth, may develop. This may lead to negative effects on health and well-being.
What Is SIBO?
SIBO, or Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth, describes a condition either where the total number of bacteria in the small intestine increases, or there is a change in the diversity of bacterial species in the small intestine. To qualify as SIBO, these physiological changes must be accompanied by gastrointestinal discomfort or symptoms of digestive distress (Bures et al., 2010).
In a healthy digestive system, there are usually fewer bacteria in the upper part of the digestive tract compared to the lower part of the digestive tract. Gut bacteria are usually at their lowest concentrations in the small intestines and their highest concentrations in the colon (Stearns et al., 2011). In SIBO, this balance is altered and there are excessive bacteria in the small intestines, leading to gastrointestinal symptoms (Pimental et al., 2020). Moreover, the bacteria found in the upper digestive tract of people with SIBO are from species more typically found in the lower parts of the digestive system.
Symptoms of SIBO
Excessive bacteria in the small intestine can interfere with how nutrients like carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, and vitamins are metabolized and absorbed. Bacteria in the small intestines may metabolize the foods you eat before your body’s cells have the time to extract and absorb nutrients. The metabolites that these bacteria produce may then cause gastrointestinal discomfort. In addition, elevated levels of gut bacteria or their metabolites may “leak” out of the intestine, leading to an inflammatory immune response (Ghoshal & Ghoshal, 2017). The effects of excessive bacteria in the small intestine may lead to gastrointestinal or nonspecific symptoms of SIBO.
The most common symptoms of SIBO are digestive discomfort and can include (Rao & Bhagatwala, 2019)
Tests for SIBO
The gold standard for SIBO testing involves taking a sample from the small intestine and testing it for bacterial content (Choung et al., 2011). This is done via a medical procedure called an endoscopy in which a long tube is interested through the mouth and is guided into the intestines. This procedure is invasive, time-consuming, expensive, and requires sedation (Pimental et al., 2020).
A simple, non-invasive, inexpensive alternative to endoscopic testing is a breath test. Breath tests rely on the fact that human cells do not produce the gases hydrogen and methane (Pimental et al., 2020). If these gases are detected in the breath, bacteria capable of producing these gases are implicated. Bacteria in the intestines metabolize the foods that you eat and produce these gases, which are then absorbed into your bloodstream and then eventually expelled through your lungs when you breathe (Gasbarrini et al., 2007). In a SIBO breath test, you ingest a specific carbohydrate (usually glucose or lactulose). You then provide a breath sample every fifteen minutes for anywhere between 90 to 240 minutes (Resaie et al., 2017).
How to Treat SIBO
The goal of treatment for SIBO is the relief of uncomfortable symptoms and restoring the small intestine’s ability to clear food and absorb nutrients. This can be achieved by treating any underlying diseases, prescribing a course of SIBO-specific antibiotics, or using a SIBO diet.
Dr. Mark Pimentel, a prominent SIBO researcher and gastroenterologist at Cedars-Sinai hospital, suggests that anyone who suspects they may have SIBO first undergo breath testing to confirm this and to determine which type of bacteria are present in excessive numbers. A course of antibiotics can then be prescribed to decrease bacterial numbers. Once the SIBO has been brought under control through the use of antibiotics, dietary changes may keep the GI tract functioning. This may involve changing the content of what you eat, taking in fewer complex carbohydrates that support intestinal bacteria. Dietary changes to reign in SIBO may also involve increasing the spacing between meals, allowing your digestive system ample time to process and digest food. This may mean a period of 4 to 5 hours between meals, although longer periods, such as in intermittent fasting, may also be beneficial.
The bacteria that live in the human gut are essential to good health and well-being. They play a crucial part in extracting nutrients from the food that you eat and in creating the chemical building blocks of your cells. However, when these bacteria become too plentiful, or when they migrate to places where they don’t belong, you may experience symptoms of gastrointestinal discomfort.
Luckily, relief may be possible. Straightforward, noninvasive laboratory tests exist to determine whether you have excessive bacteria in your digestive tract. These tests may even be able to determine the specific bacterial species that are present in excess. Treatment may also be relatively straightforward with many
Learn what a leaky gut is and how you may be able to overcome a leaky gut.
Leaky gut can describe a range of disorders, syndromes, conditions, or clusters of symptoms affecting the lining of the intestines. The intestines are long tube-like structures that are part of the digestive system. After it’s swallowed, food moves to the stomach where it’s broken down and combined with digestive enzymes. This food mixture then travels through the intestines. When everything is working well, nutrients and water are extracted through the intestinal wall and taken into the bloodstream.
Within the intestines, different cell types work together to ensure that while nutrients travel from the digestive tract into the bloodstream, potentially harmful substances do not. The cells that make up the walls of the intestines are equipped with junctions that allow nutrients to pass through, while bacteria, toxins, and other harmful substances are prevented from doing so (Kinashi & Hase, 2021). The intestines also contain mucus, peptides, proteins, and a variety of helpful bacteria that all play a role in ensuring that only nutrients make it through to the bloodstream.
For a variety of reasons, this complex system may become dysfunctional, and harmful substances may “leak” from the intestines into the bloodstream (Camileri, 2019). In leaky gut syndrome, the intestines have become pathologically or chronically permeable - they regularly let bacteria, toxins, and other harmful substances move from the gut into the bloodstream.
The presence of harmful toxins in the bloodstream can cause the body to launch an immune response. The immune response may take several different forms including inflammation. Although the toxins may enter the bloodstream through the intestines, the inflammatory immune response may appear in almost any part of the body. There may even be a link between leaky gut and mental and developmental disorders including depression, anxiety, autism, and schizophrenia (Schmidt, 2015).
Leaky Gut Symptoms
Since leaky gut can lead to inflammation and a systemic immune response, symptoms may be very broad and may potentially include almost anything. However, digestive system discomfort may be the most common symptom of leaky gut. According to the Cleveland Clinic, symptoms of digestive discomfort that may be symptomatic of potential leaky gut may include:
How To Fix a Leaky Gut
If an underlying medical condition like Inflammatory Bowel Disease or Celiac disease is responsible for the leaky gut, addressing these broader medical concerns may also address the difficulties with leaky gut.
In the absence of treatment for a medical condition, you may be able to gain relief using:
If you find yourself with symptoms of leaky gut syndrome, all is not lost. You may be able to reintroduce order by changing your diet or by introducing supplements.
This may be a relatively straightforward process that you can achieve by eating more fresh, unprocessed foods and fewer processed, fatty, and sugary foods. However, your path to recovery from leaky gut may be more complicated - requiring you to craft a specific diet and incorporate supplements. This may require you to move forward in your quest for gut health with the support of a qualified professional like your doctor or a registered dietician. Whether you opt to tackle small manageable changes yourself or to work with a professional on more intensive and targeted changes, you may be able to achieve relief from the discomfort of a leaky gut.
Learn the definition of body positivity and how you can practice it in your life.
In American culture, forces internal and external draw our attention continuously to how we can “fix” our bodies to make them somehow finally acceptable. We all engage in this kind of thinking on some level – it’s so ubiquitous that it’s become ingrained, automatic.
It is only in the last couple of generations that voices have begun to challenge the idea that our bodies are in constant need of improvement. From the feminist movement of the 1960s to movements led by Black women in the 1980s to present-day movements on social media, a new line of thinking has instead promoted body positivity (Cwynar-Horta, 2016; Darwin & Miller, 2021).
Body positivity has two elements: (1) the acceptance of all bodies without regard to their shape, size, or features; and (2) a focus on health and functionality instead of appearance (Cohen et al., 2019b; Sastre, 2014).
What does this mean? Instead of limiting our understanding of our bodies to how they look, and whether they meet certain expectations we commonly hold for bodies, body positivity encourages us to respect and honor the inherent value in all bodies (Sastre, 2014). Body positivity also means focusing on what our bodies can do and placing higher value on the body’s capabilities than on whether it looks a certain way (Cohen et al., 2019b).
Another alternative to body positivity is called body neutrality. This approach involves simply placing less emphasis on physical appearance in the first place (Rees, 2019). It is thought that taking attention away from one’s appearance altogether will help people focus more on finding value in the rest of their being, such as their personality and the things they can do (Rees, 2019).
Body Positivity Tips
How can you practice body positivity in your own life? Below are some tips.
While using social media has been associated with lots of poorer psychological outcomes, this is one situation where being on social media can actually be helpful! Looking at body positive content on social media has been associated with better psychological health in several studies. Specifically, people seem to appreciate their own bodies more and report more satisfaction with their bodies as they see more of this content (Nelson et al., 2022). It may be that people build a healthier body image over time as they view body positive content, becoming less likely to compare themselves to others in the process (Rodgers et al., 2022). So we encourage you to look at body positive content online if you would like to feel better about your body.
Researchers have asked the question of whether all body positive media are created equal. What they have found is that messages that are pressuring or prescriptive may not be as helpful as messages that promote acceptance and encourage agency (Betz & Ramsey, 2017; Legault & Sago, 2022).
What does that mean? Let’s look at a couple examples. In a culture that promotes thinness, a post that celebrates curviness can be body positive. However, there is a difference between a caption reading “Never be ashamed of your curves” and “Sending love to all my curvy sisters out there”. Maybe you can feel the difference – the first message creates pressure to not feel shame, while the other just promotes a feeling of solidarity.
For you as a consumer of media, these research findings suggest you will be best served by looking at content that encourages you to accept yourself just as you are. Content that promotes a certain body type, even if it is pushing back against cultural standards by celebrating something that is not traditionally seen as attractive, may make you feel badly if your body doesn’t quite fit with that particular message.
Here's another tip: It might be helpful to think of your body as a “process”, not an “object” (Franzoi, 1995). There are two key aspects to this approach:
1. A body in process is a body that does things.
It is defined by its actions, the energy it contains, its capacity to change the world. The body as an object is simply an appearance, deriving no value from what it can do.
2. A body in process is forever changing.
Nearly everything we judge in our bodies is impermanent. If we can accept that nothing about our bodies, neither the “good” nor the “bad”, is permanent, then we don’t have to obsess over those parts of us.
There are countless examples of people online practicing body positivity. While we encourage you to embrace and borrow freely from other people’s creativity, you are the one and only authority on what body positivity will look like for you. If you can, be patient and gentle with yourself in your efforts to build body positivity in your life. We all have a lot of programming to undo. Every step is a victory.
Learn what emotional eating is and how to overcome it.
Have you ever casually told somebody that you were going to go “eat your feelings”? Have you come home late from work and ended up eating something entirely different from what you planned to have for dinner? Or maybe you have a ritual involving your favorite TV show and cookies, ice cream, or potato chips?
Feelings and eating are closely connected for virtually all of us. Sometimes our emotions aren’t the byproduct of eating, but the driving force behind it. In this article, you’ll learn about the definition and scientific background of this behavior, called emotional eating, as well as what you can do to overcome emotional eating.
What is Emotional Eating?
Emotional eating is when we eat as a response to experiencing negative emotions or stress (Arnow et al., 1994). Eating food when we feel bad – especially foods that are highly rewarding and satisfying, such as those high in fat or sugar – gives us temporary relief from the negative emotions we’re experiencing.
We can identify whether emotional eating is happening by paying attention to the emotional context of our eating. Any situation that involves negative emotions could trigger somebody to emotionally eat. This is because two common strategies we use to deal with negative feelings – strategies that are more common in people who emotionally eat (Spoor et al., 2007) – are trying to cope with the emotion directly or avoiding the emotion altogether. In other words, we emotionally eat to head off a bad feeling that’s coming down the road or deal with one that’s already here.
Emotional eating is also more common in people who have trouble identifying their feelings, regulating their emotions, and who are highly susceptible to getting stressed out (van Strien, 2018). One study found some gender differences in the likelihood of emotional eating: women were more likely to emotionally eat when stressed out, while men were more likely to emotionally eat when bored or anxious (Bennett et al., 2012).
But, emotional eating is not an official disorder you can find in a medical volume such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (commonly referred to as the DSM). However, it functions in a similar way to “traditional” eating disorders such as binge-eating disorder (BED). Researchers have found that many people with BED also are emotional eaters, but not all of them. And the reverse is true as well: most emotional eaters do not have a diagnosed eating disorder (Lindeman & Stark, 2001).
While emotional eating isn’t a disorder, people who emotionally eat are more likely to be overweight or obese (Frayn & Knauper, 2017). They are also at greater risk of becoming someone who binge eats than are people who don’t emotionally eat (Arnow et al., 1994; Ricca et al., 2009).
How to Stop Emotional Eating
The following are some science-based steps to reduce your emotional eating.
1. Get in touch with your hunger signals.
Some people may emotionally eat because they are not aware of the signals that their body is hungry (Tan & Chow, 2014). For example, some people may misinterpret their body’s reaction to stress as a signal that they need to eat. Or, you may have difficulty noticing signs that you have eaten enough, which will make it harder to recognize emotional eating as unnecessary.
2. Get suspicious of your impulse to eat.
First, a caveat: this is not a recommendation that you second-guess every thought about food you have. However, it is clear that people who emotionally eat may not recognize the link between their emotional state and their urge to eat (Kemp & Kopp, 2011). So, my advice is simple: the next time you’re hungry and it’s not mealtime, get curious: what else am I experiencing right now? Are there feelings I’m having but not really acknowledging? If I ate something, would that feeling go away?
3. Minimize temptation.
You’ve probably never heard anybody complain that they went overboard mindlessly eating kale, have you? The foods that most of us crave when we emotionally eat are tempting for good reason: they deliver a quick, powerful rush of satisfaction (Ganley, 1989). If you want to reduce the likelihood that you will emotionally eat, you may need to remove some of the chief suspects – your favorite snack foods – from your home, your office, or even your car.
All of us have likely engaged in emotional eating at some point. Food is so effective at changing our moods and so easy to access that it’s almost inevitable. Thankfully, this is a behavioral pattern that we can recognize and change. Each time you catch yourself emotionally eating is an opportunity to learn something about yourself. What emotions are hard for you to handle? What other coping skills would you like to strengthen? With time and effort, you may see changes that go beyond your eating habits or your waistline.
Humans have been fasting for thousands of years, but modern research is just starting to unveil its power.
Our lives revolve around food. Our ancestors thought about little else, and it’s still one of the first things we think about in the mornings. We organize our social connections and our daily schedule around eating. We relish cooking shows, farmer’s markets, and the thriving gardens in our neighborhoods – they all exemplify the bounty and beauty of food in our lives.
In our culture of abundance, we can easily lose sight of the benefits of going without – of intentionally choosing not to consume. As this article will demonstrate, the benefits of fasting are plentiful and powerful – enough to make it potentially a key component of your self-care routine.
What Is Fasting?
Fasting means not eating for a certain period of time. While fasting has become popular in recent years as a health-promoting lifestyle choice, it is a practice with millennia of history, deeply rooted in several religious traditions (Kerndt et al., 1982). Ancient Greeks practiced fasting to prepare for rituals and celebrations. The Old Testament suggests that fasting is a powerful way to connect with the divine, and monks have practiced fasting for centuries. Fasting has also been utilized as a form of protest, with political prisoners often fasting during their incarceration.
In the last couple centuries, doctors and scientists began to observe and track the health benefits of fasting, especially for weight loss. In the last several decades, benefits far beyond reducing our waistlines have begun to be discovered (de Cabo & Mattson, 2019).
Fasting has profound effects on our metabolism and how our cells operate and regenerate, which can reduce hypertension, arthritis, and neurodegeneration (the breaking down of nerve cells, such as in the brain) (Longo & Mattson, 2014). Fasting also strengthens the immune system and makes our bodies more stress resilient (Longo & Mattson, 2014). Some studies have found that fasting is even as effective as the typically-prescribed drugs in treating seizure disorders and conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis (Hartman et al., 2012; Muller et al., 2001).
Through many processes, fasting helps the body stay young. It literally refreshes your cells. This means that it may be able to help with degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and support people in overcoming strokes (Gudden et al., 2021). While these effects are more easily seen in older adults, it is possible that fasting can help with cognitive functioning in younger adults as well (Seidler & Barrow, 2021).
One of the coolest potential applications of fasting is in fighting cancer. Cancerous cells derive their sustenance from what the host body eats, so fasting deprives the cancerous cells of the sustenance they need to survive. This is why some doctors are now recommending that people fast while undergoing chemotherapy and other kinds of cancer treatments (Nencioni et al., 2018).
Fasting is also a well-established way to lose weight. Studies have found that people who fast, whether intermittently or for very long periods of time, lose weight (Cho et al., 2019). Since intermittent fasting in particular may be more sustainable over time than diets that focus on restricting overall calories, it is often described as one of the most effective ways to lose weight (Welton et al., 2020).
It may be intimidating to try fasting. Here are some tips for how to successfully introduce fasting into your lifestyle:
1. Start modestly.
Consider starting with one sixteen-hour fast in a week. Pick a day that will be low stress, where there are few demands on your time and energy. Choose a food for breaking your fast that you will look forward to, but not one that you might be tempted to eat before the fast is done.
2. Break your fast judiciously.
If you eat something carb-heavy to break your fast, your digestive system will rush to process that new source of energy, giving you a big spike and dip in your energy levels. So, break your fast with a smaller meal that includes a good source of protein, such as dairy or chicken, and ideally some fiber as well. This ensures a smoother transition into the eating window.
3. Embrace your hunger.
You might not believe it when you are first starting out, but hunger doesn’t last. In this regard, it is like most sensations we have – temporary. So, expect to feel hungry – and expect that the feeling will pass. If you have a mindfulness practice, consider using it to acknowledge, but not become controlled by, your hunger.
4. Consult with your doctor.
For many of us, eating regular meals is important. Or perhaps you take a morning medication that wouldn’t go down well on an empty stomach. It’s always a safe bet to talk to your doctor before trying something like fasting.
Fasting is a time-honored human tradition, with origins in spiritual traditions and abundant modern research documenting its physical health benefits. If you are not someone who has tried fasting before, it stands to benefit you in many ways.
At the same time, fasting is not for everyone. If you have, or have had, a complicated relationship with eating, move very slowly with fasting. Fasting is not sustainable, or even worth the effort, if it causes you emotional distress or discomfort.
Discover tips and ideas you can use to make your life healthier.
There is more than one way to stay healthy, and if you asked people around you what a healthy lifestyle is, chances are you’d get a different answer every time. This difference stems from the fact that everyone makes choices based on their cultural and personal priorities and can only access options available within their socioeconomic and geographical environments (Cockerham, 2021).
Despite differences in definitions, scientists have long been conducting studies focused on the effects of lifestyle on health and wellbeing. A large meta-analysis that included the health outcome data of over 500,000 individuals concluded that adherence to a healthy lifestyle was linked to lower mortality risk (Loef and Walach, 2012).
A more recent study tracked the health habits and outcomes of over 120,000 participants for three decades. Individuals that met the researcher’s healthy lifestyle criteria were far less likely to die prematurely because of cardiovascular disease or cancer (Li et al., 2018). But how much lower is the risk of premature deaths when people live healthy lifestyles? According to this study, women with healthy habits lived an average of fourteen years longer than their counterparts with unhealthy lifestyles (Li et al., 2018). In contrast, men with healthy lifestyles lived approximately twelve additional years (Li et al., 2018).
Of course, a longer lifespan isn’t the only benefit of a healthy lifestyle. A study with over 3,000 men and women between ages 55 and 85 has shown that individuals with healthy lifestyles performed better than their counterparts in all measures (Visser et al., 2018). For instance, the individuals in the healthy lifestyle group were faster in physical agility tests and less likely to display symptoms of depression (Visser et al., 2018). They also had slower declines in cognitive function and social interactions (Visser et al., 2018).
In short, living a healthy lifestyle can help us feel healthier and be less likely to be depressed. Moreover, we might live an additional decade by adopting health-promoting habits.
How To Build a Healthy Lifestyle
The secret to building healthy habits that last is to choose sustainable behaviors that you can stick to. Here are some tips:
1. Choose healthy habits that you enjoy
So how do we know if a behavior is sustainable? The sustainability of a behavior depends on how much time and effort it requires and whether we are willing to commit to it day after day. Thus, habits that require the least time and effort might be easier to incorporate into our daily lives. Yet, there is another secret ingredient to make habits stick: likability. As discussed earlier, many people find detrimental behaviors hard to shed because they feel good. It becomes even more challenging if we attempt to replace them with habits that we don’t enjoy. Therefore, if we want our habits to last a long time, we might pick those we like and enjoy doing.
2. Social support and healthy habits
Another factor that may help lifestyle changes stick is the support from others. If you have family and friends who encourage you to take healthy steps and cheer you on your journey, you may find it easier to commit to those changes. If you don’t have a support system, no worries. You might be able to find support groups or organizations where you live or online and interact with others making similar changes. Moreover, you might also use apps to help you set goals, send you reminders, and display daily affirmations.
3. Create an exercise routine
Lack of physical activity has many harmful consequences, ranging from cardiovascular disease to atrophied muscles and metabolic syndrome (Bowden Davies et al., 2019). Unfortunately, many adults in the U.S. don’t get enough physical activity. But how much activity is considered enough? According to the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations, adults should aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week (WHO, 2010). Moderate activity is defined as an exercise that increases your heart rate by approximately 40% from its resting state, whereas a vigorous activity raises it by 60% or higher (MacIntosh et al., 2021).
4. Stick to a Healthy Diet
A healthy diet has two primary goals: prevent malnutrition and maintain a healthy weight. Unfortunately, many people don’t eat whole foods and consume high amounts of unhealthy fats (i.e., saturated and trans fats) and added sugars. According to the United States National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), a healthy diet should include lean proteins (i.e., nuts, beans, fish, poultry, eggs, etc.) and limit added sugars, unhealthy fats, and excess sodium. Furthermore, it might include several servings of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains for sufficient fiber, calorie, and micronutrient (i.e., vitamins and minerals) intake (NHLBI, 2022).
Gradually replacing harmful habits with beneficial ones that you enjoy can help you attain a healthy lifestyle and increase your well-being.
Let’s look at what clean eating really is, the benefits of a clean diet, and ways to eat cleaner.
Before we begin, let’s talk about the word choices we use for food. To be clear, there’s no such thing as “dirty eating.” No food on its own is inherently bad, perhaps unless it’s expired or is highly processed. All types of food—whether it be leafy green salads or saucy spaghetti with a delicious piece of restaurant bread—can be enjoyed in moderation. The philosophy behind clean eating is relatively simple. Clean eating encourages the consumption of whole foods, while minimizing or eliminating processed foods that contain added sugars, salts, and artificial ingredients. Benefits of this dietary choice include feeling more energized, improving heart health, and losing weight if that is what is desired (Baker & Walsh, 2020).
While clean eating may be a great option for you if you’re looking to incorporate more whole and natural foods into your diet, researchers also suggest that being too restrictive about your food plan may be detrimental (McCartney, 2016). Eliminating all foods with added sugars or limiting yourself from indulging in cravings from time to time may not only lead to feelings of irritability and increased hunger, but you may end up overeating to compensate or could be at an increased risk of developing an eating disorder (Ambwani et al., 2019).
A good reminder here is to choose a dietary lifestyle that is best for your body and speak with a healthcare provider about any nutritional questions or concerns you may have.
Let’s look at some healthy foods to incorporate into your “clean” diet. This list is by no means exhaustive but includes a few options for different forms of macronutrients and micronutrients (USDHHS, 2014).
With carbs, you may want to stick to options that are lower in processed sugars and higher in fiber. Here are some options:
When we talk about different protein options, we want to make sure they are high quality (e.g., organic or grass-fed). Below are options of healthy proteins to try.
Most of the healthy fats from which we can derive nutrition are often found in whole, plant-based food options. Here is a list of some healthy fats you may want to include in some of your home recipes.
Tips to Get Started
Clean eating isn’t something that can be done overnight and may take time to build up to before adopting it as a lifestyle choice. Here are some tips to help as you start (or continue) a clean eating journey.
Revamping your diet can be a challenge, but it is something you can achieve. If you’re looking for a new diet or just to eat healthier, clean eating may be a choice you want to consider. A gentle reminder that “clean eating” is a lifestyle choice and may take time to get used to. If you find yourself struggling to keep up with clean eating habits, try your best to be kind to yourself and remember to focus on eating in moderation. Hopefully, this article helped you gain a foundational understanding of clean eating and provided tips to start your clean eating journey.
Discover the many ways to detoxify your body, all with the potential to powerfully impact your long-term health.
Today, we are continually interacting with things in our environment that may introduce toxins into our bodies, from the food we eat to our pillowcases to our cooking pans. Toxins are organic and non-organic matter that, once they come into contact with our bodies, can cause all sorts of mental and physical health problems (Trasande & Liu, 2011).
When you hear the word toxins, you might initially think of heavy metals in drinking water, pesticides in crops, or lead paint on the walls of your house. And not without reason: the cost of exposure to environmental toxins, even just among children in the USA, is approaching $100 billion dollars annually (Trasande & Liu, 2011).
But if we give the word “toxin” a broader definition, there are plenty of other, everyday encounters between our bodies and the world that cause us harm. In this article we will have a look at how we can detoxify our bodies to live cleaner, longer, healthier lives.
What Does It Mean to Detoxify Your Body?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, detoxification involves removing a toxin or its effects from someone (CDC, 2010). In simple terms, detoxifying your body is removing something harmful from it, or alleviating the harms it has caused.
How to Detoxify Your Body at Home
Detoxifying your body, at its core, means returning to a more natural way of living. It means renouncing many of the modern innovations that make our lives more convenient but expose us to unnatural and harmful chemicals and substances. Detoxing is as much about what you don’t do as what you do. So, when you think about detoxifying your own body, remember that the solutions are going to be specific to your own circumstances. If you try to think big and broad about detoxification; you would be doing your long-term health a real favor.
In this article, we’ll discuss what bad habits are and how to break them.
A habit is any action we perform so often that it becomes almost an involuntary response. If this habit becomes undesirable, we may consider it to be a “bad habit”.
If you open the dictionary and look up bad habits, one of the definitions you’ll see is “a patterned behavior regarded as detrimental to one’s physical or mental health, which is often linked to a lack of self-control” (Segen’s Medical Dictionary, n.d.). Essentially, a bad habit is a recurring action you do that typically provides instant satisfaction but often leads to long-term problems.
Examples of Bad Habits
How to Break Bad Habits
Now that we know what bad habits are and what causes them, how do we break them? Sure, people may tell you to just stop, but that’s easier said than done. Here are some steps that may help you break bad habits:
In terms of enacting life changes, everyone starts from somewhere. The first step is to identify the bad habit and accept that you are willing to change. Breaking bad habits takes time and effort, and as we discussed, it requires replacing them with better habits. You may not be successful all the time, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t making meaningful steps in the right direction. It is more important that you be persistent and kind to yourself on your journey.
Learn about motivation and how to feel more authentically motivated.
Motivation is an energizing force that drives you to act. When you’re motivated, you feel excited and driven to start working towards a goal and to keep working towards that goal, even in the face of obstacles (Parks & Guay, 2009). It can even feel exhilarating to be genuinely motivated to work on a goal that you care about (Cook & Artino, 2016).
How Basic Psychological Needs Contribute to Motivation
We are more likely to be intrinsically motivated to achieve goals that fulfill three basic psychological needs (Cook & Artino, 2016). These needs are:
In addition, you’ll feel more satisfied and more motivated if you can pursue goals that are consistent with your values and interests (Parks & Guay, 2009). If you can structure your professional, educational, health, domestic, and personal life around your values and interests, you’ll feel a greater sense of intrinsic and integrated motivation. This will make building habits and completing goals easier. When you’re acting in ways that support your values, you’ll likely feel happier and more motivated.
How to Get Motivated to Work
Generally, you'll feel motivated to work when you find your work interesting, when your work has clear and well-defined goals, and when you can link your work to a wider project. You can increase your motivation to work by addressing your basic psychological needs (Sharp et al., 2009).
You’re more likely to feel motivated if you feel a sense of ownership or choice over your work. When faced with a boring or unpleasant work task, you can increase your sense of autonomy and motivation if you can connect the task to a career path that you have chosen. Having some variety in your work can also increase your sense of autonomy and your feelings of motivation.
Work that is technically challenging will be more motivating than work that is too easy. You’re unlikely to be motivated by boring tasks that don’t fulfill your need to feel competent.
You’ll probably be more motivated to work if you have a sense of belonging within supportive workplace networks. Team-building exercises and happy hours with your colleagues may help you feel more connected and more motivated in your work. You’ll also feel a greater sense of motivation if you can connect your contribution to a larger project that is impactful and important.
Not all motivation is created equal. Intrinsic motivation, where joy is inherent in the performance of the act, and integrated motivation, where the act has become part of your self-identity, are the highest forms of motivation. So you probably feel happy and fulfilled when you work on something you love or when you work on something important to you.
Learn how to create a roadmap to get to your desired life destination.
Remember when we were younger, and people used to ask us what we wanted to be when we grew up? It may seem silly to ask an eight-year-old what they hope to do with their life. But maybe this small talk was also a way to get us to think about what we wanted from life. And most of us answered this question with confidence, revealing our hopes and dreams. However, as we grew older and learned how to manage the curveballs life threw at us, we might have lost sight of what we once hoped to become and achieve. So, take a moment now and ask yourself what you want to be. It doesn’t have to be what you hope to achieve five or ten years from now—what is something you want to do next week? Next month? Next year?
Planning out your life doesn’t mean having every minute of every day mapped out. Instead, life planning is a process of creating a generalized guide of what your purpose(s) in life is, what you hope to accomplish during your lifetime, and how you aim to work toward those goals (Smith, 1999). Life plans often include an estimated timeline of when you hope your goals come to fruition and also take bumps on the road into account. Ultimately, life is full of surprises, and we cannot possibly predict unforeseen events. As such, life plans are often works-in-progress, should be amended as life goes on, and preferably, are flexible rather than rigid blueprints.
Why Might You Want a Life Plan
Even if you are someone who enjoys going with the flow and taking life one step at a time, you may still find the following information useful, or at least insightful. Let’s take a look at why life planning can be beneficial for you (Miller & Frisch, 2009).
Strategies to Create a Life Plan
Do you feel like making a life plan would be useful for you? Try walking through some of these steps to create a life plan, or at least start thinking about making one.
Whether you write your answers down or ponder these questions in your head, take some time to reflect on your life. Here are some questions to consider:
2. Assess Your Life Satisfaction
I am going to provide you with a list of categories in your life. You may find it beneficial to rate your satisfaction with these categories on a scale of 1-10. This activity may help you figure out what works well and what needs to be improved in your life. This is not an exhaustive list and I invite you to incorporate any life categories that are relevant to you as you complete this activity.
3. Create Goals
Maybe you looked at this list and realized you hadn’t visited your parents in a while, didn’t take a vacation last year, or missed participating in a hobby that you loved. Once you have made a list of your top priorities, you may find it helpful to create some goals that can help you increase your satisfaction with these different life aspects.
Learn self-management skills and strategies to better control yourself.
Do you find yourself getting easily overwhelmed by your inexhaustible to-do list? Have you been in a situation where your frustration led you to tears? Has there been a time when you wanted to start eating a better diet but struggled to follow the plan? If this sounds like you, don’t worry—we’ve all been there. Sometimes our thoughts and emotions can overpower our self-control and lead to what we wouldn’t consider to be our proudest moments. But that’s why we’re here to help you understand the importance of self-management and how to become more mindful and productive.
The practice of self-management includes being able to assess your priorities, manage your time, hold yourself accountable, follow through with the task at hand, and most importantly, maintain your well-being (Hackman, 1986). Many of us may struggle with procrastination from time to time, especially when it comes to school assignments or mundane tasks at work. But we may also deal with procrastination in our home life.
Without healthy self-management, we may find it difficult to complete simple tasks (or big projects), achieve our goals, gain personal and professional growth, and take care of our emotional well-being.
Here are some self-management skills you may want to consider improving on if you haven’t already done so (Lorig & Holman, 2003; Grady & Gough, 2014).
Discover practical strategies that can help you become more decisive.
Do you often feel torn between two or more options that sound equally appealing? If you do, you’re not alone. Every day, we need to make numerous decisions, big and small. Maybe you start your decision-making struggle when picking an outfit in the morning or thinking about whether you want your eggs for breakfast to be scrambled, poached, hard-boiled, or fried. Later in the day, you might spend hours thinking about whether you should authorize a business transaction or which job offer to accept.
Indecisiveness is the difficulty we have in making satisfying decisions (Appel, Englich & Burghardt, 2021). When we are indecisive, we evaluate and reevaluate the same set of information. We may spend a long time weighing the pros and cons of every option, only to be paralyzed by them.
Sometimes indecision is caused by having too many options to consider, such as when browsing the shelves of a supermarket for salad dressing and there are at least fifty different bottles to choose from. Nevertheless, the inability to make decisions has also to do with our upbringing and the society we belong to. For instance, a multinational study has found that Japanese individuals exhibited greater indecisiveness than American and Chinese participants (Yates et al., 2010).
Researchers have also found that childhood trauma alters brain activation patterns involved in decision-making. Simply put, young adults who experienced traumatic levels of stress as children were unable to evaluate risks associated with options, which in turn hampered their ability to make sound decisions (Birn, Roeber & Pollak, 2017).
How to Work Through Indecisiveness
Occasional indecisiveness isn’t all that bad. If you are indecisive because you are carefully weighing your options, you are likely to avoid rushing into decisions that you might regret later. If you tend to be indecisive in many situations, you may end up wasting your mental energy on trivial matters. Here are a few strategies to overcome indecisiveness that you might find helpful.
How do you make sure you achieve your goals? Here’s what science says about goal setting.
Goal setting is the process of thinking about and deciding on specific aims or objectives that one would like to achieve. Many years of research have shown that setting goals can help us improve our performance (Latham, & Locke, 2007). Although there are many types of goals—life goals, work goals, financial goals, relationship goals, etc...—all of these goals can be benefited by going through a goal-setting process that helps us identify, clarify, and execute the goals that are likely to actually make us happy.
Goal setting theories offer us some useful insights on what to do. To start, goals establish an endpoint so that we know which direction to go in. This goal-directed action includes four parts (Latham & Locke, 1991).
Is your goal specific?
Ask yourself, does your goal include clear boundaries? James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, says we should set upper and lower limits for our goals. For example, we might set a goal to go to the gym at least twice per week but no more than 4 times per week. By setting these boundary conditions, we get clearer on exactly what our goal is and help prevent ourselves from burning out.
Is your goal meaningful?
Ask yourself, why does this goal matter to you? Dig deep to make sure your goal is consistent with your values and is in alignment with your desired lifestyle. If your goal goes against your values or lifestyle, it’ll be hard to stick to and hard to build a habit.
Is your goal achievable
Ask yourself, is this goal possible? There are a lot of folks out there telling you that you can easily wish your way to getting anything you want. Although having positive expectations can indeed help you reach those expectations (Rasmussen, Scheier, & Greenhouse, 2009) and setting challenging goals helps us perform better than we might have expected, the science does not support the practice of setting impractical goals. For example, if your goal is to make a million dollars, think carefully about the amount of effort you can exert and the likely results of that effort. Otherwise, you could be setting yourself up for disappointment.
Is your goal realistic?
A realistic goal might include time parameters. Ask yourself, is the timeline you’ve set for the goal realistic? Given the number of hours you have in a day, can you reach the goal in the time you expect to?
Is your goal trackable?
Lastly, ask yourself, is the goal trackable? We are more likely to achieve goals when we track them. Seeing our progress can help motivate us and enable us to see if we’ve gone off track. So, make sure your goal is trackable. For example, if your goal is to make the world a better place, how would you track this? Would you count the number of kind things you say to strangers, the number of times you volunteer, or something else? Whatever your goal is, break it down into trackable, measurable chunks.
How do you cultivate a mindset for success and happiness?
Our mindsets are crucially important because our attitudes and beliefs affect everything we do, feel, think, and experience. Although you might say each of us has one overall mindset, this mindset is made up of many smaller parts. Some of these help us improve our well-being and succeed in the world. Others hurt our ability to do so. That's why developing certain mindsets can greatly help us improve ourselves, enjoy our lives, and be more successful.
Some of the most well-known (and beneficial) mindsets include:
These mindsets are changeable. If you find that you don’t really have much of a particular mindset, you can engage in thought exercises and activities to develop that mindset. So let's talk a bit more about each of these mindsets and how they can be developed.
A growth mindset is the tendency for people to believe that their abilities can be developed through hard work. With a growth mindset, you try harder, you want to learn new strategies, and you seek out feedback when you are stuck (Dweck, 2015). Growth mindset is the most studied type of mindset. Having a growth mindset has been linked to success in a variety of life domains (Yeager et al., 2019). One way to develop a growth mindset is to learn a bit more about neuroplasticity—or the brain's ability to change and grow. Indeed, we have the power to change our brains, learn new things, and develop new skills. When we have a mindset that believes this fully, we're more likely to put in the effort required to learn and grow, which helps us improve our lives in a multitude of ways.
A positive mindset is the tendency to focus on the good things in life rather than the bad. People with a positive mindset may use strategies like gratitude, reappraisal, and savoring to identify the good things and increase their positive emotions (Quoidbach, Mikolajczak, & Gross, 2015). Their attitudes are generally optimistic, and they tend to expect the best.
A positive mindset can be great for our well-being and even help us to be more successful. In fact, the broaden and build theory of positive emotion suggests that positive emotions build on themselves, eventually leading to things like professional and relationship success (Fredrickson, 2004).
An entrepreneurial mindset is helpful for those who want to be entrepreneurs, but it's also a useful mindset for all of us in the modern world. Modern life is undergoing near-constant change and the types of skills needed for entrepreneurship are the same skills that are most useful in adapting to, and coping with, rapid change and uncertainty. That's why an entrepreneurial mindset can be a crucial mindset to develop.
According to a whitepaper on entrepreneurial mindset (Gold & Rodriguez, 2018), this mindset is made up of several important skills including:
These skills are thought to aid academic and career success. Of course, this is a broad range of skills and no one person likely has high levels of all these skills. So, developing the skills we are weaker at may be the most beneficial approach.
A challenge (vs threat) mindset is thought to arise in performance situations like test-taking, game-playing, athletics, work tasks, and elsewhere. We can either evaluate these situations as a challenge that we can handle or a threat that might beat us.
This mindset is about how we evaluate the demands of the situation and our resources for coping with these demands. Resources may include skills, knowledge, abilities, dispositions (like positive self-esteem), and external support. Demands may include danger, uncertainty, and required effort (Blascovich et al., 2004). The thing is that most of these resources and demands are attitudes, perceptions, and other cognitions—things that we have the power to change.
By pushing ourselves to see our difficult circumstances as challenges that we can handle, we respond to these situations in ways that are more beneficial. In fact, a challenge mindset changes our physiology in ways that can make us more successful at the task (Blascovich et al., 2004).
Discover ideas and tips to plan your week effectively.
Have you ever spent part of your Sunday dreading the week ahead? Thinking about everything you need to do in the next few days might stress you out, especially if you’ve just finished a whirlwind week that was neither efficient nor productive. Maneuvering between tasks throughout a week without a clear plan might feel like navigating through a choppy ocean on a cloudy night without a compass. This is where weekly planning comes into play. It allows you to set attainable goals and figure out how to spend your week.
Weekly planning is the act of writing down your activities, tasks, and events for the entire week. Even if organizing your weekly tasks seems inconsequential at first, dividing your time wisely throughout the week may help you better control your life and reduce your stress levels. Moreover, writing down your short-term goals and everything you want to accomplish for the next few days gives you a chance to achieve your personal and professional pursuits and maintain a work-life balance.
Although weekly planning is like daily planning, a weekly plan isn’t the more extended version of a daily agenda. Whereas daily plans typically include specific time slots allocated for each task and activity, most weekly plans focus on setting and accomplishing short-term goals. Therefore, weekly planning can help you achieve your long-term goals by conquering their short-term components. Let’s discuss some ideas for fail-proof weekly planning.
Planning Your Goals
Many people have goals they would like to accomplish someday, such as learning a new language, eating healthily, or reading more books. Often, these long-term goals are postponed and sometimes abandoned. One way to ensure reaching your long-term goals is to break them down into smaller weekly goals. You can set multiple goals per week, as long as they are attainable, and you aren’t overbooking yourself. When your weekly goals are achievable, every week will bring you one step closer to your larger life goals.
Planning Your Exercise
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week for adults (WHO, 2010). Moreover, having clear short-term fitness goals can keep you on track, as demonstrated in a study with runners that weekly goal setting was associated with increased running distance (Wack, Crosland & Miltenberger, 2014).
When designing and incorporating your exercise plan, you might want to consider factors such as your fitness goals, age, body composition, general fitness level, and whether you already have an exercise routine. For instance, if you are generally in good health but don’t have an established exercise routine, try choosing relatively easy workouts first and progress slowly. If you have any existing health conditions, consider talking to a health care professional before creating an exercise routine.
Planning Your Mental Wellness
Unfortunately, mental well-being goals don’t always get the attention they deserve. There are, however, several easy mental health activities that you can embed into your weekly routine. Here are some practical mental well-being activities you can try.
You can’t avoid stressful situations indefinitely, and stress-inducing tasks might make regular appearances in your weekly routine. Taking deep breaths during stressful periods can slow down your heart rate and help you calm down (Van Diest et al., 2014). So try incorporating reminders into your plan to practice deep breathing before stressful activities, such as an important meeting with a client or a midterm exam.
Mindfulness is being aware of your experiences without passing judgments. Practicing mindfulness allows you to pay attention to your thoughts, sensations, and emotions. Being aware of what you think, and feel can allow you to accept your thoughts and feelings and achieve an optimal mental balance. Although mindfulness is often incorporated into activities such as yoga and meditation, you can practice mindfulness anytime, anywhere.
You might want to reserve some time each week for relaxing activities that will help you feel happier. These activities can be practicing yoga, tai chi, meditation, or running. Others might prefer spending time in nature or losing themselves in a hobby. Others feel happy and energized when they socialize with friends. Whatever your relaxing activities are, regularly engaging in them might help you feel joyful and give you a positive outlook.
Here are some science-based tips and techniques to improve yourself.
Self-improvement can involve improving any aspect of the self—for example, personal qualities, skills, and even the roles we play (like husband or wife and son or daughter). When we start thinking about self-improvement, it can be helpful to be strategic about where we put our efforts so we don't waste time on the wrong things. Some aspects of ourselves are relatively changeable and some aspects are pretty fixed. So, we're best served by focusing our efforts on the parts of us that are the most changeable.
Luckily, a leading psychology researcher, Martin Seligman, offered information about the aspects of ourselves we actually can improve (and the aspects we can't), according to the research. According to Seligman (2009), these aspects of ourselves are good candidates for self-improvement as they are quite changeable:
Other researchers have shown that specific aspects of ourselves can be changed/improved (Sedikides & Hepper, 2009). Some of these aspects include:
To begin our self-improvement journey, here are some tips to try:
1. Engage in self-reflection
Self-reflection is an important part of self-awareness. Without self-reflection, we may not have a clear self-concept—that is, how we see ourselves may not match how others see us (Johnson et al., 2002). By engaging in self-reflection, we can better understand the areas of ourselves that we might want to improve.
2. Try mindfulness
Mindfulness is the act of bringing attention to the experience of each moment. It also involves an attitude of curiosity and acceptance (versus judgment) and seeing thoughts and emotions as transient states (Bishop et al., 2004). Like self-reflection, mindfulness can potentially make us more open to experiences and possibilities that can aid self-improvement.
3. Cultivate a growth mindset
A growth mindset is a mindset where we believe that we can grow and improve our abilities (Dweck, 2015). If we have the belief that we can improve, we're more likely to put in the effort actually required to learn and grow. That's why building a growth mindset can help us achieve many of our goals and improve ourselves in the ways we desire.
4. Acknowledge feelings of shame
The truth is that many of us are motivated to engage in self-improvement due to societal pressures (Sedikides & Hepper, 2009), external expectations, or even shame about not being good enough in some areas. But if we strive to improve ourselves simply to please others, we are likely to end up feeling unsatisfied, even if we succeed in our self-improvement goals. So, it's worth thinking about your reasons for engaging in self-improvement, acknowledging any shame, and rethinking your self-improvement goals to ensure that they are in alignment with your core values.
5. Build reappraisal skills
Reappraisal is an emotion regulation strategy that can help us reinterpret stressful situations in more positive ways that help us reduce negative emotions and increase positive emotions. To do it, try to think of a current difficult situation in a way that is less bad (e.g., "at least I have a roof over my head"), or more good (e.g., "this is an opportunity to learn and build character"). The more you practice this skill, the easier it will become.
6. Find and use your strengths
When we aim to improve ourselves, we often focus on our weaknesses—the things we may not do as well as we would like to. But building on our strengths can also be a good idea—it can help us become masterful in our existing abilities.
There are lots of things you can do to change yourself in positive ways. Here are three.
Are you feeling discouraged about your life? Do you engage in habits that you want to stop? Or, do you just want your life to move in a different direction? Regardless of whether you’re trying to quit smoking, start that business you’ve always dreamed of, or be more open and accepting of whatever life brings, there are things you can do to start changing yourself and your life.
Probably the first and most important step to changing your life is to change your thoughts. Thoughts generally come before emotions and actions. And, depending on what our thoughts are, we might experience different emotions or choose different actions.
For example, let’s say you’re trying to quit smoking. Before you actually have a cigarette, you have a thought of wanting a cigarette. You might then try to rationalize why having a cigarette right now is a good idea (more thoughts). Then you might think about going outside for a smoke break. The emotions (perhaps excitement) follow next, then the behavior (smoking the cigarette) comes at the end of this pathway (of course, other thoughts and emotions may also follow the behavior).
Given thoughts guide our actions, shifting our thoughts in specific ways can make it easier to change. Here are a few strategies that can get you started.
1. Change your mindset
One of the most beneficial mindsets for changing or improving your life may be a growth mindset. A growth mindset is the tendency to believe that abilities can be developed over time with hard work. Those with a growth mindset try harder, strive to learn new approaches, and seek out feedback when they are stuck (Dweck, 2015). Perhaps these are some of the reasons why having a growth mindset has been linked to success in a variety of life domains (Yeager et al., 2019).
2. Change your expectations
Another important thing in making positive change is having positive expectations. Positive expectations are simply thoughts that things will work out well. We know from research on the placebo effect that a non-active intervention or treatment can result in positive change as long as we believe it will (Moerman & Jonas, 2002). What the placebo effect really demonstrates is that our expectations have a huge impact on our outcomes. If we expect that something we’re doing will make a difference, it is more likely to. For example, if we expect we’ll be able to quit smoking, we are more likely to be able to. Or, if we believe that a class will help us learn some skill we want to learn, it’s more likely to.
3. Change your emotions
The broaden and build theory of positive emotion suggests that positive emotions build on themselves, eventually leading to positive outcomes like professional success and relationship well-being (Fredrickson, 2004). Indeed, research has shown that positive emotions generally lead to greater success, not the other way around (Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005).
On the flip side, many of our most self-destructive habits are fueled by negative emotions—we might smoke to manage stress, we might drink to feel happier, or we might shop as ‘retail therapy’. Our unhealthy or undesirable behaviors are often attempts at controlling or reducing our negative emotions. These are just some of the reasons why learning how to change your emotions can be key to changing your behavior and changing your life.
Learn more about motivation and how to motivate yourself.
The word motivation comes from the Latin verb movere, which means “to move”. So, motivation is the word we use to describe what “makes us move”. In other words, why do we do the things we do?
When we think about motivation in the modern world, we often think of it as our ability to push ourselves to do things. We might wish we were more motivated to do things, especially things that need to be done or that will help us achieve our goals.
Overall, motivation is thought to involve:
So, motivation is responsible for why we do something, how long we do something, and how hard we try to do something. But it’s important to keep in mind that motivation is not a constant thing. It ebbs and flows over time as we work towards different goals (Dörnyei & Ushioda, 2013).
So, what leads to motivation? Theories see motivation as both a cause of action and an effect of action. For example, we might not be motivated to study for a test >> so we don’t do well on the test >> this leads us to be even less motivated to study in the future. In this way, low motivation may result in even lower motivation.
On the flip side, maybe we feel motivated to play the guitar. Then we feel good about our guitar playing skills and we become even more motivated to play the guitar. As you can see, motivation seems to be something that builds on itself (Dörnyei & Ushioda, 2013).
Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation
Two types of motivation—extrinsic and intrinsic—can help explain why we do things the way we do. Let’s talk about each of these types of motivation in a bit more detail.
For intrinsic motivation, there is no apparent reward for taking an action (Lindenberg, 2001). In fact, rewards (like money or good grades) often decrease intrinsic motivation while praise and positive feedback increase it. This has led some to question what intrinsic motivation actually is. They suggest that perhaps intrinsic motivation is simply enjoyment—we are more motivated to do something because we like it. And we don’t need to be rewarded for doing it because it’s fun (Lindenberg, 2001).
Extrinsic motivation is generated by giving someone a contingent reward. For example, I might be motivated to work because I get paid (and I will only get paid if I work). In the situation of work, research shows that extrinsic rewards can be motivating in the short term, but can also be alienating or dehumanizing. So, providing performance contingent rewards (a bonus for good work) can actually backfire (Benabou & Tirole, 2003).
How to Boost Motivation
1. Make a plan
Motivation involves a variety of processes such as planning, goal setting, intention formation, task generation, taking action, and outcome evaluation (Dörnyei & Ushioda, 2013). If you’re not sure what to do, what steps come first, and how the actions you’re taking will lead to the goal you seek, it can be helpful to make a solid plan for whatever it is that you’re hoping to achieve.
2. Set implementation intentions
Implementation intentions are strategies you set up ahead of time to help ensure you reach your goal (Gollwitzer, 1999). Basically, you just set an intention that IF X happens, THEN you’ll do Y.
This helps you stay more motivated regardless of the situation. For example, you might decide ahead of time that if you’re feeling really unmotivated to do one task, you’ll do another task. Or, you can set implementation intentions for when life gets in the way of completing a task.
3. Make tasks clear
The clearer you can get on the tasks you need to accomplish, the easier it will be to accomplish them. So consider creating a list of tasks and breaking them down into smaller chunks. For example, completing your homework could involve reading the textbook, making note cards, then reviewing the note cards.
If you’re into the rational pursuit of love and truth, you just might be a humanist.
Humanism is the belief in the capacity of our species to be rational and kind, and in our ability to see ourselves and each other as the infinitely complex and miraculously improbable organisms we all are without anticipation of eternal punishment or reward. Humanistic psychology is an approach that prioritizes a holistic understanding of an individual and seeks to aid them in living an authentic, meaningful life. It emerged out of the convergence of two philosophical disciplines: phenomenology and existentialism (Buhler, 1971).
Let’s dig into some of the primary components of humanism a little more.
Humanistic Psychology: Phenomenology
The primary tenet of phenomenology, particularly when applied to psychology, is that the whole subjective human experience is more important than its parts. In other words, to try to understand ourselves solely in terms of mechanisms or according to various theoretical frameworks is a little like trying to describe the colors of the Grand Canyon at sunset by talking about wavelengths of light and what happens when photons hit your retina. The mechanisms of color vision are really fascinating and knowing how it works can certainly be useful, but it doesn’t help you to understand the most important part, which is what it’s like to experience the colors of the Grand Canyon at sunset.
Humanistic Psychology: Existentialism
The question of “what shall I do about it” is one of the primary concerns of existentialism. Existentialism is a little like phenomenology in that for both disciplines the reality and primacy of the human experience is a central theme, but existentialism places a particular emphasis on action, on how you should respond to existence. Existentialism also stresses the importance of the context in which a person exists. Martin Heidegger, a 20th-century existential-phenomenological philosopher, termed this notion being-in-the-world, by which he meant that an individual and the world in which they live are inextricably linked. We’ll get back to the idea of being-in-the-world a little later on.
The convergence of these two schools of thought produced the basic questions from which humanistic psychology proceeds (Schneider & Längle, 2000):
Humanism is an approach to life—a framework to guide our behavior—that prioritizes understanding yourself, your reality, and those around you through inquiry, reason, and experience, with the aim of living a meaningful life and being fully human. A humanist perspective grants an individual the autonomy to purposefully move through the world in search of beauty and connection, and the responsibility to accept reality honestly and compassionately as it really is. In essence, a humanist is anyone who is curious, open-minded and has a compelling belief in the goodness and potential of humanity.
Learn about what self-forgiveness means and how to forgive yourself for past mistakes.
No human is perfect. In fact, human fallibility is one of the great enduring truths of the universe. So, if we know that mistakes are an inevitable part of life, then why is it so hard to forgive ourselves for them? How do we manage the feelings of guilt or shame over the mistakes we have made? And how do we allow ourselves to move forward after we’ve betrayed someone we love or treated someone unjustly?
What is Self-Forgiveness?
Self-forgiveness has been defined in a variety of ways. It’s been described as “a willingness to abandon self-resentment in the face of one’s own acknowledged wrong while fostering compassion, generosity, and love toward oneself” (Enright, 1996) as well as “a shift from a fundamental estrangement to being at home with one’s self in the world . . . from an attitude of judgment to embracing who one is” (Bauer et al., 1992). Though researchers have not reached a consensus on a single, precise definition of self-forgiveness, most definitions include the following characteristics (Webb et al., 2017):
One of the primary features of self-forgiveness is self-acceptance. Some researchers even suggest that self-forgiveness is more accurately understood as a form of self-acceptance (Vitz & Meade, 2011). This understanding of self-forgiveness emphasizes accepting your fallibility, recognizing that you are an imperfect person and that you are not defined by your mistakes.
Willingness to Accept Accountability
This one might seem obvious considering that you can’t forgive yourself if you don’t think you’ve done anything wrong, but it’s a really important component of the process of self-forgiveness and is often the hardest and most painful step.
Genuine Effort to Change
This is an important factor because it’s the difference between true self-forgiveness and simply “letting yourself off the hook”. The honest desire to learn from your mistakes and to do better in the future is crucial.
How to Forgive Yourself for Past Mistakes
Experts in the study of self-forgiveness suggest that one of the most critical components of self-forgiveness is the ability to “recognize that each person is part of a community of imperfect others who are mostly striving to be the best people they can be” (Jacinto & Edwards, 2011). With our fallibility and good intentions in mind, let’s look at the 4 steps to forgiving ourselves for our mistakes.
Steps to Self-Forgiveness: The Four R's
Self-forgiveness is a skill that, when practiced, allows you to start the next chapter of your story, to let go of the debilitating narrative that says, “I am terrible and unworthy of love and acceptance” and replace it with “I am a fallible and precious human who learned an important lesson which has helped me to become more than I once was.” Each step in this process – taking responsibility, allowing yourself to feel remorse, taking action to repair the damage done, and renewing your values and identity – can all be challenging for their own reasons and may be difficult in different contexts. However, self-forgiveness is a skill that can be learned and, like any other skill, requires practice and intention. As you move through your self-forgiveness journey, here are some affirmations to help you along the way.
Learn about the benefits of helping others and ways in which we can contribute to the welfare of our fellow humans.
The human desire to help others is deeply rooted in our neurobiology (Hurlemann & Marsh, 2016). In fact, neuroscience research has shown that helping others activates the “reward” area of our brains (Moll et al., 2006). In other words, when we do something kind for other people, it feels good.
Helping others can be as simple as holding a door for someone or as extraordinary as donating a kidney. No matter how big or small the act, when we are kind and generous to each other, everyone benefits. Let’s take a closer look at the science behind helping others and some of the ways in which we can put more good into the world around us.
Researchers often define helping others as the intention or the effect of improving the welfare of another without the expectation of material rewards in return. This means that helping others can refer to well-intentioned behaviors that succeed in improving the well-being of another person as well as the well-intentioned behaviors that fall short of their goal. We can’t always be certain that the help we offer will produce the outcome we expect, but if our goal is to contribute positively to the welfare of our neighbors on planet Earth, it’s always worth a try.
The effects of helping others on both the giver and the recipient have been a popular topic of research for decades. There are now numerous studies that demonstrate the psychological benefits of helping others. The body of research is far too vast to describe it all, but here are a few examples.
How to Help Others
There are as many ways to help people as there are people to help, but here is a list of a few suggestions for how you can help others:
The ways in which we can help others are limitless. Whether we donate unwanted clothing, volunteer at a senior center, or spend our lives providing humanitarian aid to refugees, our acts of kindness make a difference in the lives of others as well as our own lives.
Explore the benefits and importance of selflessness. Learn to be more selfless through examples and reasoning.
Taking care of your own needs and well-being is important but considering the needs of others can also be beneficial to you. The consideration of others' needs and feelings above your own is called being selfless. People who walk through life with a selfless attitude are emotionally stable, feel in harmony, and experience “authentic, durable happiness” (Dambrun, 2017).
Selflessness is important because it can play an important role in our well-being. A 2017 study found that people who demonstrated selfishness had fluctuating levels of happiness while those who demonstrated selflessness enjoyed “authentic, durable happiness” (Dambrum, 2017). Making an effort to shift towards this state of mind could increase the amount—in addition to enhancing the quality—of your happiness.
Volunteering may be the first idea that comes to mind when you think about selflessness, and while this is a wonderful practice, it is only one of many ways we can be giving with our time, energy, and love. For example, learning to be more considerate of others can be helpful for many areas of your life including work, marriage, and everyday happiness.
Selflessness literally means placing less importance on yourself than on others. It is a state of mind in which you put an equal, or more, amount of consideration towards other people's interests rather than towards your own. Selfless people recognize the needs and feelings of others and try to show kindness in their actions.
A selfless person can be described as:
If anyone has ever said that you are a selfless person, consider it a compliment. Many great people throughout history have been described as selfless—people such as Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King Jr. These two pillars of history completely put the well-being of others above their own personal interests.
It’s okay if you feel like you need more practice being selfless. Keep reading if you would like to try to learn how to be more considerate of others.
Acts of selflessness can range from small everyday gestures of kindness to large donations of time or money.
The following are some examples of selflessness in everyday life that you may have performed or experienced before:
Whether large or small, any gesture of selflessness has a positive ripple effect outward. I know that when I experience or perform a small gesture of kindness, my day immediately brightens up. Are there ways you could incorporate more small acts of everyday kindness into your life?
How to Be More Selfless
Would you like to try to be more selfless? We could all benefit from showing and receiving a little more kindness in our everyday interactions. Here is how you can get started:
Learning to be more selfless is not an overnight process. The more you practice recognizing when you are acting with selfish motivation, the easier it can become to change that to selfless action. No one is perfect but we do have the power to build new skills and develop new traits if we put effort into it.
Final Thoughts on Selflessness
Selflessness is a state of mind that can help you achieve “authentic, durable happiness” (Dambrun, 2017). Being kind by considering the needs and feelings of others is how you selflessly move through the world. Acts of selflessness do not have to be large gestures—small, everyday acts of kindness have a similar ripple effect throughout the world. Try to learn to celebrate the differences we all share and appreciate other people’s points of view to act more selflessly, and you just might see an increase in the quality of your happiness and relationships.
What drives people to be good? Learn about altruism, what it is and how to incorporate it into your life.
For the most part, we all try to be “good” people. We try to keep in touch with our friends and family and tend to look out for each other in the ways we can. Whether it be something as simple as helping an elderly person cross the road or as dramatic as trying to pull someone out of a car wreck, people have a habit of wanting to help one another.
However, we know that not all people are good or at least don’t make good choices all the time. So why do people perform great displays of compassion, kind-heartedness, and benevolence? Perhaps more importantly, what drives them to such acts – selflessness or other reasons motivated by darker self-interests?
To start, what do we mean when we say altruism? The term “altruism” was popularized as the opposite of egoism by the French philosopher Auguste Comte (Etymology Dictionary). Altruisme, as it is called in French, was derived from the Latin alteri which means “somebody else” or “other people” (Ciciloni, 1825). This makes sense when we look at the definition of altruism—it is defined generally as the action of acting for the benefit of others—an unselfish concern for other people (Merriam-Webster, n.d.). Basically, altruism is helping out others with no expectation to get anything out of it
Psychological altruism is believed to be primarily related to the empathetic desire to help people who are suffering. People have studied altruism from a psychological perspective, trying to find out why a person acts without motives of self-interest.
Here are a couple theories that psychologists have:
Altruism from an anthropological point of view is the moral notion that we help each other due to our inherent need for cooperation for social welfare (Cortes & Dweck, 2014). For example, when you give up your seat on a bus for an elderly person, you do so because it is in the interest of social and moral well-being.
Other scientists try to see how altruism originates in our brains. Researchers have shown that our brains can actually develop in a certain way to be more altruistic than others (Klimecki et al., 2014). More altruistic people are able to recognize fear easily in others and are better able to detect when someone is in danger.
This is due to the brain region called the amygdala (also known as the emotional center of our brain) that activates our expressions of fear and thus we can act to protect or help others who feel fear. We all have the hardware to help others but whether we develop it is another story.
Altruism can benefit us in a variety of ways:
How to Be More Altruistic
Here are some tips to help you be more altruistic:
Final Thoughts on Altruism
There is no one way to be altruistic – it can be anything from supporting our family to helping complete strangers. Or it can be anything from helping someone cross the road to pulling someone out of a fire – these are all ways to help others with little to no self-benefit.
Pamela (Pami) Parker currently serves as a holistic practitioner, coach and teacher. Her intention is to be a compassionate guide to those who choose to experience a healthier, happier and more peaceful way of life.