Tool #3 Breath Walking

If the way in you think, feel, and act are not supportive of your goals then you’ve got to course correct. This is an extremely effective way that you can do that, by changing the three variables that constitute your mental state: Focus, Physiology and Language. You can use it to drastically change your state in a matter of minutes.

Focus

That is what we focus on. Are we focused on a problem? Are we focused on what’s not working out in a given situation. Do we remain focused on something that is making us angry? What if instead we change our focus and put our mind towards a solution? The first step to change our focus is to become aware of where it’s at right now or in a challenging situation.

Physiology

Emotional states are reflected in our body: how we’re breathing, holding and moving our body, speaking. It matters a lot how we use our body. In the case of breath-walking this means how we’re walking. We can consciously affect our physiology if we choose to.

Language

The words and phrases that we use. These are the questions we ask ourself in our head. If we ask: “Why am I always procrastinating?” – this put’s the focus on the problem. Then we might use negative language and say discouraging words to ourself – this pulls our focus in a certain direction. Questions guide focus. The resulting emotional state then finds expression in our body (physiology/bodylanguage).

This is how a state is created. Now if we want to change our state then we can do so by changing these variables.

Breath Walking

A certain state has momentum. Imagine a massive round boulder half the size of your body on a flat surface: It’s very heavy, but it’s completely round. Now you want to move that rock. You start pushing it. You push with all your strength, but it’s very hard in the beginning. You push all you can but it just doesn’t budge. But you don’t budge either so finally, at a certain point, it starts moving. It’s the same with emotional states. Sometimes you have to keep going at it. You have to keep attempting to change your state and at some point the negativity just evaporates and the a new state appears. Then you can use that more resourceful state to do what you initially intended. If you regularly change your state then you can recondition yourself and changing your state will become easier and the old pattern will get weaker and weaker.

So don’t give up if initially your attempt to make a shift does not yield a result. Just keep at it. You have to do it for 5 or even 10 minutes – depending on what your state at the beginning was and how much engagement you bring to the activity. But you will notice a change eventually.

Walking

Start with the way you are walking. You want to walk in a way that’s strong and empowered. You can do it at home if you have some space, but it’s great to do it outside. Walk in a way where you’re upright and your shoulders can release and drop. Relax your back and allow your head to rise. Get a firm stance on the ground and connect with your feet and the floor. Try to really feel your heels. If you’re outside you can get on your toes and let your heels fall on the floor to get a feel. You can also stomp a little bit to feel your feet and connection with the ground. This can help you to ease into a more confident way of walking. Walk in a way that for you expresses confidence. You can also take big steps and take up some space with your body and this is going to help you to change your emotional state quickly.

Tapping & Breathing

With your thumb now touch your index, middle, ring and little finger and then again start at your index finger. This way you’ll cycle through your fingers one by one – with both hands at the same time, symmetrically. Now with each touch you’ll take a partial breath – so four partial in-breaths through your nose followed by four partial out-breaths through the mouth. Watch my video to get a live demonstration of this if it is unclear. You can also do this breathing exercise without the walking, but combining it with walking is more effective. Now as you sync the breathing and tapping with walking you take one step for each partial in-breath. Find your own rhythm that feels just right for you.

Incantations

You can do a gentle affirmation in your mind to accompany the breathwalking. See that you actually feel what you are saying and do it with conviction, otherwise it’s not going to have much effect. Anthony Robbins teaches that an incantation is like an affirmation, but with conviction and emotion. Here are a two good ones that you can sync to your breathing:

  • “Every – day – in every – way – I’m feeling – better – and better – yes” (8 counts)
    You can use “more and more confident/healthy/inspired”, “getting healthier and happier, getting more and more disciplined) whatever state you want to cultivate. Say it out loud in your head while you are walking, breathing and tapping.
  • All I – need is – within me – now (4 counts, so repeat 2 times)

This has a huge effect on your state. It’s going to take a little time but once you ease into it your state is going to shift drastically. Remember to walk in a way where you are feeling confident, centered, grounded and do the tapping because this activates your body as there are many nerves on the ends of your fingers. It’s a different stimulus that can help you to enter a new state of mind. If you’ve been in a stuck-state and you do something new then you are changing your focus and get unstuck – even if it’s something simple like tapping your fingers. You’re giving your brain something new to focus on, the tapping and confident walking which is synced to your breathing and those inspiring incantations in your mind. You’re affecting your focus, language and physiology. This will work quicker than you think. It’s very easy to do this and also very enjoyable.

I hope this was helpful and I encourage you to get a feel for this. Do it at home or somewhere you are comfortable doing it (it’s rather discrete anyways) – maybe on your way home from work or on your way to the subway. You can only do the breathing and tapping alongside the incantations and it’s still going to be helpful. However when you start to walk in an empowering manner then you will quickly begin to feel more centered, confident and positive. Not only that but you can increase your performance, charisma or well-being. Once you’ve learned how to do it then you have a great little tool to change your state when you need to. You can also use this to recondition yourself over the long term, by regularly practicing it each morning. Your body and mind flow towards habits. Practice makes perfect.

Tool #2 Relaxation Breath

Today I want to share a very effective and simple breathing exercise for effortlessly bringing more balance and relaxation into your life. We go through varying levels of tension and relaxation throughout our life. Tension manifests in our body through the function of our autonomous nervous system, more precisely the sympathetic nervous system. Relaxation on the other hand manifests through its counterpart, the parasympathetic nervous system. “Stress” is actually a very natural function and an asset, if it is balanced with sufficient periods of rest and digest activity. It is then we speak of a balance of the autonomous nervous system. This can be measured by the variable of heart rate variability.

When our sympathetic nervous system is chronically over-stimulated then we have a problem on our hands. Now via the breath we can effectively trigger the parasympathetic nervous system response. We can directly affect our physical and mental/emotional state. How regulating our breath affects our body is scientifically researched. It’s all around our culture and has become a great trend – be it with yoga, which also incorporates breathing patterns, or modern “breath meditations”. All these things are great and they work – provided that you consistently do them. The technique I share here is extremely simple and easy to do so there really can be no excuses. It can be done in a matter of a few minutes, wherever you are. It’s simple and very effective for relaxing your body. It happens by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, the “rest and digest” response, via stimulating the vagus nerve. It also allows you to take in more oxygen, which you might have been deprived off through shallow breathing or high stress levels.

Breathing Exercise

Begin by taking in a deep breath. As you do this notice where your breath is flowing. Are you breathing into your chest? Are your shoulders lifting? Or are you breathing more into the lower parts of your lungs, your belly, lower chest and on the lower back? Many of us have developed a habit of shallow breathing. Children know how to breathe naturally and deeply into their belly. Shallow breathing is related to states of tension and danger. It’s fine when we breathe in this way when there actually is immediate danger or a challenging situation – but if we stay in a stressful state and maintain shallow breathing for too long then problems are brewing.

Now in the video I drew a glass being filled with water. The water fills the glass from the bottom up. When we breathe like this then we can get much more air into our lungs than if we superficially try to press air into our chest. We can allow our diaphragm to gently expand and our lung to fill from the bottom up. You can feel the difference. This way we get much more air into our lung and take in more oxygen. In addition deep belly breathing stimulates our vagus nerve and we can use it to consciously relax.

Breathing through the nose is quite important as the air gets cleaner and breathing out is slower so you can absorb more oxygen than via mouth-breathing. If you habitually breathe through your mouth you should do some reading on this and consider switching to nose-breathing.

  • Now put one hand on your belly and place your feet flat on the floor so you have a good stance. Let your head rise and sit comfortably relaxed and upright. Now imagine that you are filling your lungs, like a glass of water, from the bottom up with air. Remember to breathe through your nose. Fill your lower belly, down into your groin area, to the back of your lungs and up to the abdomen. Fill your lungs from the bottom up all the way to the chest. Don’t push it into your upper chest so that your shoulders rise – focus your breathing on the lower parts of your lungs and let it rise from the bottom up. Do this for 5 seconds on the in-breath, filling your lungs gently and expanding them. Don’t press the air in but do make a little effort to breathe deeply and fill your lungs. Also try to breathe into the back (explore where you can actually put air into!)
  • Hold the breath gently (don’t press) for 2 seconds
  • Breathe out for 5 seconds through your nose by relaxing. Don’t push the air out but let your lungs “collapse”. Don’t try to push all the air out, just breathe out gently.
  • Now again hold for 2 seconds (your lungs now being somewhat empty).
  • Then again breathe in for 5 seconds.

Repeat this process for 6 deep breaths in total.

This is a very strong and effective practice. Don’t underestimate it because it’s so simple. It quickly refreshes and restores your body and mind to a higher state of functioning. It helps dissolve excess stress and to find your center. This is something you can do anywhere. You can do it at home, on the subway or during work. Once you get the hang of it you can even do it while walking. I’ve done another video on progressive muscle relaxation which is not really suitable to be done in public. This breathing exercise is completely discreet. You can do it anywhere and nobody will notice it – except you who is going to feel its positive effect! I practice conscious breathing for a few minutes every day. It has a great effect on the body and mind and helps a lot with managing stress and restoring balance. In addition you will develop more awareness for your breathing patterns and thus gain control over your habitual patterns of tension.

Commit to try it a few times in the coming days (do it once a day when you are commuting for example). This way you’ll store it to memory and you’ll remember it when you need it. You’ll know first-hand of its positive effect.

Tool #1 Progressive Muscle Relaxation

I want to share a very simple and powerful relaxation technique with you. It is effective in two ways:

  1. Developing awareness for bodily stress. By tensing up all the muscles in our body and then relaxing them we explore the two extremes of full tension and complete relaxation of the muscles our body. This helps us to develop awareness for how it actually feels when our muscles are really relaxed.
  2. As an Emergency Tool. It is extremely effective if you are feeling really tense, worried, are having a challenging day or something threw you off. If you have only a few minutes to really relax and calm down before you need to move on – this technique is very strong and always delivers.

A lot of us go through the day holding a lot of tension in our body without knowing it. We’ve become accustomed to these tensions and often only notice the negative consequences of accumulated stress when it is too late (when we can’t fall asleep at night). By the way that is a situation where progressive muscle relaxation can work wonders! First mental tension manifests in our body and later this tension feeds back negatively into our mental and emotional state. You may well remember the last time you had really tense shoulders or a painful back. If we use tools like this one to release stress that has become physically manifest in our body then we can significantly increase our productivity and quality of life. We also become more pleasant company for others. Now if you watch my video you can see me going through the steps. You can also hear my voice change and get a little bit deeper and more relaxed. This tool is great for freeing up your voice from tension and nervousness before a presentation or speech and can give you better vocal projection. As the tissues in your body are relaxed they start to resonate with your voice and your voice becomes louder.

I’ll describe the process to you. Read through it once and then give it a try, it takes about 5 minutes at most. It’s not important that you follow everything to the letter, the main thing is that you go through all muscle groups one-by-one, tense up all muscles in that group, hold this tension for 10 seconds and then release and feel the relaxation for ten seconds. At the end you tense up all the muscles in your body (by adding the muscle groups in the same sequence) and then relax completely.

Face
Start by tensing up all the muscles in your face. Eyebrows, lips, cheeks, Eyelids. Tense every little muscle you can find and then hold that tension for ten seconds. Now release the tension and relax your face completely. Again count to ten and feel the relaxation in your face.

Shoulders & Arms
Hands, upper arms, lower arms, shoulders, the back and front of your shoulders, on the inside – tense all muscles you can find. Now hold for 10 and then relax and feel the relaxation for 10 seconds.

Chest & Abdomen
Tense your chest on both sides, all of your abdomen all the way to the inside, see that you find every little muscle and tense it up. Again hold for 10 seconds and then let all tension go and feel the relief.

Back
Upper back, lower back. Inside and outside – tense the whole breadth of your back. Hold for 10 and then relax and feel into the relaxation for 10 seconds.

Hips & Butt
Front, back and on the inside, all around your hip joint. Tense your bottom and every muscle you can find in that area. Now hold for 10 seconds, relax and really feel the relaxation.

Legs & Feet
Thighs, calves, around your knees, your feet and curl up your toes (carefully).

Whole body
Now go through all the areas again broadly. Face, shoulders & arms, chest & abdomen, back, hips & butt, legs & feet. Tense up your whole body and hold the tension for 10 seconds. Then let it all go for the last time. Take a few minutes to feel into the deep relaxation and release in your body. Remember this state.

You can do this anytime you need a quick relaxation. You can also do it lying down. Over time it’s going to help you to develop awareness for how much tension there is in your body. Once you notice excess tension you can start relaxing it. This is going to make you a lot more productive and balanced. Commit to use it a few times in the coming days (do it once a day when you come home from work for example). This way you’ll actually store it to memory and it’s going to be available when you need it. You’ll know first-hand of its efficacy.

5 Keys To Great Sleep

Why is sleep so important and how can we drastically improve our sleep quality? I’ve been listening to a great audiobook called “Sleep Smarter” by Shawn Stevenson. Applying the tips and strategies from it I was able to improve the quality of not only my sleep, but my waking time as well. Following these simple tips you can do so almost “over night”.

Why sleep is so important

Sleep isn’t merely time where we are unconscious. It is a time where our body rests and regenerates itself. There are a lot of hormonal processes happening in our body during sleep. When we take great care of our sleep, this affects our entire organism. For a long time I thought: “I’ll sleep less, so that I can do more!”, but this book has laid out clearly (backed up by peer-reviewed studies) that there are many severe downsides to having suboptimal sleep quality and quantity. These include: depression, cardiovascular disease, increased inflammatory markers and obesity. Sleeping too little has been found to result in decreasing one’s telomere length – this means you’ll age faster (with all of aging’s downsides, not only wrinkles).

Our sleep affects our digestion, physical regeneration and the function of our brain

During nighttime our brain does its “housekeeping” – it physically cleans itself from waste products via the glymphatic system as well as stores data to long term memory – which is crucial for learning. So if we don’t get proper rest then our brain can be severely disturbed in its function. When sleep deprived our brain enters a “survival mode” and parts of the brain that are used for higher functions like decision making, logical thinking etc. are impeded. Our body tries to conserve energy, especially when under stress. This can be physical, mental stress or also “stress” from sleep deprivation. This can result in a tendency to resort to habitual behaviours as our brain goes into “survival mode”.

Sleep deprivation messes with our gut flora (which is crucial for healthy digestion) and our sense of hunger, as it suppresses leptine which is a hormone related to satiety. Furthermore problems with sleep have an effect on our body’s insulin sensitivity. The tricky thing is the combination of the effects on the brain, gut flora and on leptin levels as well as insulin sensitivity as it can promote bad food choices. Increased feelings of hunger combined with a decline in our ability to make proper long-term decisions can thus lead to weight gain and potentiall diabetes.

Work performance

Mental and physical performance suffer. There have been many studies and I recently took a look at a study on “The Effects of Fatigue and Sleepiness on Nurse Performance and Patient Safety” which concluded with: “The evidence is overwhelming that nurses who work longer than 12 consecutive hours or work when they have not obtained sufficient sleep are putting their patients’ health at risk; risk damaging their own health […]”

If you think that you are “winning time” by sleeping less you might actually be making more mistakes by sleeping less which you then have to fix afterwards. You’re not winning anything but losing both in your work performance and health-wise.
As you prioritize sleep and get proper rest, incorporating these 5 tips for proper sleep, you can improve your sleep quality, performance, overall happiness and health:

1) Light

The sun is crucial in establishing a natural circadian rhythm. This has a strong effect on optimal hormone secretion which in turn affects important deep sleep. Sunlight even on a cloudy day is stronger than most artificial light sources (even SAD-therapy lamps) it is always to be preferred. Especially get some sunlight during the early hours of the morning. The light tells our body that it’s time to be awake and active cortisol gets secreted. Cortisol is called a “stress-hormone” but it may be referred to as an “activity-hormone”. You want your body to secrete cortisol – in the morning, not in the evening. This way we can help our body settle into a natural rhythm: awake in the morning, sleepy in the evening. Besides sunlight helps us produce serotonin, the precursor to melatonin which is important for sleep (it helps shift your circadian rhythm to sleep).

Now if we don’t get appropriate sunlight during the day our body gets confused and the line between day and night becomes fuzzy. We may feel really tired in the morning as well as throughout the day (as our sleep quality suffers). This is often compensated by heavy caffeine use which in turn can further affect sleep quality. Even having a coffee 5-6 hours before sleep can impair deep sleep (without you knowing it)! More on that below.

I’ve been in the “Twilight Zone” quite a lot in my life, feeling exhausted in the morning, never quite waking up – until it got dark outside… It is such a relief to have a properly functioning sleeping rhythm these days and to enjoy getting up early. If you’re stuck in a negative spiral: There’s a way out! So be creative and find ways to get your daily dose of natural sunlight.

Blue Light

The advent of modern technology has introduced a “second day” to our bodies, if we so choose. This messes with our natural biological rhythms. If we sit in front of a bright electronic screen for the entire evening prior to going to bed our body thinks “I need to be awake and active!”. Melatonin is suppressed – this is not what you want! Shawn Stevenson suggests to avoid screens at least half an hour before going to sleep and to use a blue light blocker like Flux on your computer. I use both use Flux and stopped doing computer work right before bed. I now get to bed earlier and sleep better than I used to.

Blackout Curtains

There are studies linking excess light during the night (everything besides the moon and stars) to depression as well as a decrease in sleep quality and quantity. The suggestion is to darken your bedroom so that you cannot see your hand before your face. If you are living in the city, chances are there is going to be a lot of intrusion from the outside. You cannot change that, but you can get opaque curtains that block light pollution at night completely. I’ve been making my bedroom darker and it’s much more cozy this way!

Not quite sold yet? Check out this article on The Guardian describing a study where campers fell asleep about two hours earlier as they were deprived of all artificial light exposure in the evening.

2) Exercise

A great thing to do, especially if our sleeping rhythm is temporarily or chronically off (this means we have trouble getting and “waking” up or have difficulty falling asleep), is to exercise – especially in the morning. Only 6 minutes of high intensity exercise like Tabatas are said to help the body settle into a higher level of cortisol, helping facilitate a natural sleeping rhythm. As a result we can feel energised and awake in the morning and sleepy in the evening. I’ve shifted my daily workout to the morning, straight after getting up and haven’t regretted it since. That being said: Any exerxise is better than no exercise. A recent study even seems to refute the commonly held belief that evening exercise inferferes with sleep.

3) Sleep Rhythm

We’ve got to respect the natural hormonal cycles of our bodies which are heavily influenced by the natural cycle of the sun. Shawn Stevenson calls the time from about 10pm to 2am “Money Time Sleep”. In this time our body expects us to be asleep and we can make use of the natural secretion of Melatonin (which on average peaks at 10:30). That is if we got enough sunlight, were active during the day and avoided bright screens in the evening! Melatonin helps us to get proper sleep and suppressing it by staying up too late will mess with our sleep and we may enter a “second wind” as our circadian rhythm shifts into another phase of wakefulness. It might then be very difficult to fall asleep. Hormones and our rhythm get out of balance and as a result sleep quality suffers – even if we sleep the same amount of hours.

Consistency

It is recommended to not shift sleeping and wake times for more than 30 minutes. Shawn Stevenson as well as other resources suggest: it is a bad idea to sleep in on the weekends. The reason is that our body expects a consistent rhythm (dictated by the sun) and synchronizes to it. So remember: If you want really great sleep then you should “hit the pillow” before 10-11pm hits.

Now if you think you’re a “night owl” – I can understand. I was a night person for most of my life. Check out my article about Getting Up Early to find out why and how I changed to being a (happy) morning person.

4) Bedroom

Plants

It’s really important that you have a sleeping environment where you feel comfortable. You can get some plants like english ivy or snakeplant – these two help clean the room air. What may also help you relax and feel at ease is a small indoor fountain or arranging things for symmetry.

Device-Free

Laptops, tablets and phones create an unsuitable neuro-association for your bedroom. You want to associate your bed with sleep – not with browsing the internet, working on the laptop or watching an exciting movie. If there’s one thing I learned in the last few years it is the power and impact of habits and rituals.

Temperature

16-20 degrees Celsius is a good temperature. If it’s too hot then your body will have difficulty downregulating its core body temperature, a process that happens during sleep. This is probably a little colder than most people sleep.

5) Beverages

For many of us a morning without coffee is difficult to imagine. Yet hear me out. Caffeine has a half-life period of 5-6 hours. This means that after six hours half of the amount of the stimulant is still in your system. If at 5pm you drink a big cup of coffee, at 10-11 in the evening you are still going to have half of that cup in your body. That’s like half a cup of coffee before bed. The problematic thing is: you might think that it’s no issue for you, because you’re able to fall asleep regardless but to cite one study: “Caffeine, even six hours before bed has been found to increase sleep latency and reduce total sleep time as well as time spent in deep sleep. REM sleep was not affected.” This may lead to a chronic sleep deficit and you may not feel as rested as when getting proper sleep consistently. The problem here is that feeling tired during the day may then lead to higher caffeine consumption which in turn can aggravate sleep problems. The solution is to have a caffeine curfew at around noon. I can’t comment from my personal experience as I don’t drink caffeine beverages.

Alcohol

Drinking in the evening has been found to disturb deep sleep. Alcohol makes falling asleep easier, but the body goes “too deep” during the first part of the night (this is because of alcohol’s effect on adenosine) and then sleep gets “too light” in the later parts of the night as the body tries to compensate. Thus your whole night can be negatively affected. Alcohol prior to sleep should be avoided.


A quick recap

  • Get morning sunlight. This helps your body get into a natural rhythm where you’re feeling awake and energized during the day and ready to sleep in the evening. At night you’ll have solid and rejuvenating deep-sleep.
  • Control devices in the evening, as it messes with your sleep cycle making your body think “time to be awake now!”. Also get rid of light pollution in your bedroom. It’s not about the stars and the moon but strong artificial light sources like passing cars or streetlights.
  • Get moving. Phyical activity improves sleep. Especially morning exercise can wake the body up and help with establishing a natural rhythm.
  • Follow the the sun’s rhythm. “Money Time Sleep” from about 10pm to 2am is the ideal time to spend in bed. If you are still wide awake at 11pm you might be getting into a second wind, making it hard to fall asleep and causing possible long-term problems with performance and health. Consistently go to bed once your Melatonin peaks (at around 10:30 on average) in order to help your body maintain and heal itself optimally. Being disciplined will yield great benefits!
  • Have a “sleep sanctuary” where you feel comfortable and that you keep cool. Make your bedroom a “device-free zone”, so that it’s associated with sleep instead of work or entertainment. This makes it easier to fall asleep. You can use plants or a small waterfall for a relaxing atmosphere. Setting up your bedroom for great sleep is an investment that can help you make sleep a priority in your life. It’s saying: “I’m investing time and energy in improving my sleep because I recognize that it is important and that great sleep has many benefits!”
  • Be careful regarding coffee and alcohol. Recognize that coffee has a half-life of about 6 hours. A caffeine curfew around noon can be very beneficial to get great sleep and thus perform and feel great during the day. Avoid alcohol before bed – you might fall asleep quickly but it harms sleep quality.

I really recommend getting the book: “Sleep Smarter” by Shawn Stevenson. I’ve learned a lot from it and implementing the tips my sleep and energy levels have improved. I hope that this overview was helpful to you and I wish you great sleep!


 

“Recent studies have shown impaired performance of executive functioning including measures of verbal fluency, creativity, planning skills, novelty processing, and driving performance. The impact of sleep deprivation is likely to be particularly prominent in tasks that strongly depend on attention, i.e., tasks that require other than well-learned automatic responses will be most vulnerable.”
[https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2778638/]
 
“We provide preliminary evidence that children with shorter sleep durations have shorter telomeres. This finding is consistent with a broader literature indicating that sub-optimal sleep duration is a risk for increased physiological stress and impaired health.”
[https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5662004/]

“We found that sleep duration was positively associated with telomere length among women under 50 years old.”
[https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21853136/]

“Telomeres were on average 6% shorter in men sleeping 5 hours or fewer compared with those sleeping more than 7 hours per night. […] Short sleep duration is also associated with cardiovascular disease and other health outcomes such as obesity, raised levels of inflammatory markers, and depressive symptoms.”
[https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3483149/]

“Living in areas with greater outdoor nighttime lights was associated with delayed bedtime and wake up time, shorter sleep duration, and increased daytime sleepiness. Living in areas with greater outdoor nighttime lights also increased the dissatisfaction with sleep quantity and quality and the likelihood of having a diagnostic profile congruent with a circadian rhythm disorder.”
[https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4863221/]

“[…] electric light at night, even at low levels, may lead to circadian disruption directly and/or sleep disruption indirectly, either of which may result in adverse health consequences for human beings. […] The physiological effects of light at night and sleep disruption have been ‘proven’ in the sense that there is general acceptance in the scientific community of its truth; i.e. a consensus of experts.”
[https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4375361/]

How to Develop Essential Habits – Bright Lines

Bright Lines is an extremely effective concept for adopting new habits or changing detrimental behaviours.

When we want to make a change in our life, we might not be sure exactly how we’re going to do it. We know something is off and we make an attempt to change it – but somehow we revert back to our old habits. Maybe because there’s too much stress in our life or we don’t even know where exactly we want to go. Or maybe because our why (the reason we want to change) simply isn’t strong enough. Bright Lines help in all of these cases!

So what is it about? It is about having Rules that are very clear. This means that when you want to change something in your life – instead of making a weak or unclear decision – you make a very strong and clear one. Instead of grey you make it black and white. An example:

You want to improve your health and maybe reduce your sugar intake: A bright line is to not eat any products that contain additional sugar on the label. You would still be able to eat natural products like honey (depends on where you draw your line of course). So each time you now make an eating decision, or when you’re shopping:

  • you have absolute clarity. You know which foods are okay and which are not. When you pick something up and read the label – you don’t have to think about it and use willpower. Instead you can very easily make a decision based on this Bright Line that you’ve established for yourself.
  • you save willpower. This is especially important in the beginning when establishing a new habit. Changing your behaviour takes effort and your brain likes to do what it’s used to and what feels comfortable – especially when under stress.[1] It can already be challenging enough to change our eating habits – if you don’t have clarity about how you’re going to do this then you are going to make it even more difficult for yourself! With Bright Lines the temptation to break your resolve is going to be much weaker, because you have clear rules!
  • you make it actionable. When you’re standing in the shop – you know what to do and you take action. You put the product in question back into the shelf and you get something else. That’s a clear action that will get you closer to your goal. It’s a beginning and the change is now real. Well done!

If you follow this strategy then changing your behaviour becomes easy. I’m not kidding here. I’m using this a lot in my own life and compared to making changes when you are lacking clarity it is like day and night! It makes change so much more effective when you establish Bright Lines and clear rules for your own behaviour.

How do we implement this?

1) Decide. You make a clear choice. What is your Bright Line to optimally support your goal going to be? It needs to be right for you. Not for somebody else or dependent on what other people think. You’ve got to feel: “This is a good decision. This supports me with my goal(s)!” Your goal? That’s the WHY. The magic here is not in the Bright Lines concept, but the magic is in the WHY. If your why is strong enough – if your reasons are convincing you will be successful. Your why includes:

  • Negative consequences if you fail or don’t change your behaviour. Maybe you’ll get sick or don’t like how you look or you don’t have a lot of energy and feel lethargic most of the time. Realistically, if you don’t change, these things are going to get even worse. You need a very strong why in order to gain leverage for change. You’ve got to clearly see: “Yes this is affecting me, this is very negative if I continue and I am going to suffer.” You’ve got to make this clear to yourself. You have got to be realistic and face the facts honestly, using your best judgement. It’s a little uncomfortable, but necessary.
  • Positive consequences if you do follow through and change: “I’m going to have more energy, I’m going to feel happier and more emotionally balanced. My mind is going to be clearer. I’m going to be more healthy and feel great about myself.” You need to really get clear on the details of your WHY. Best write it down in handwriting so that it can sink in! This is what’s going to make the shift happen in your life. This is extremely important. If the why is not in place then this whole concept is not going to work.

2) Ignore. Disregard what other people tell you. If you start employing Bright Lines people might get irritated. Your friends might say: “What? You don’t eat any sugar? Isn’t that a bit extreme? Come on…” People might feel a little uneasy (they can smell that you’re changing things up!). From my own experience? Bright lines work. Period. If you make a clear decision it might seem extreme – but so what? The main thing is that it works. In the beginning you need these bright lines to support your change. Once your behaviour has aligned and your identity has shifted (to one that supports healthy or successful actions by default, actions that align with your vision for your life) and you feel like: “I don’t really crave these sugary snacks that much anymore” – then you can be more casual about things. You can have a snack here and there and it’s not going to be so bad. But chances are you won’t enjoy it so much anymore (I warned you right?). If we don’t have this Bright Line in the beginning however and listen to our friends then we might fall back to our old behaviour. So that’s very dangerous! In the beginning these strong and clear rules give you a lot of security and orientation. They help you to be successful in changing your behaviour and habits.

So when it comes to other people giving you advice: Only listen to someone who is already successful in what you want to accomplish. Is he or she succeeding in changing their habits? Is that person having healthy eating habits? If not – it’s best to disregard their advice. It’s not going to lead you where you want to go. Even if this sounds harsh and if it’s a good friend or even a family member. Be friendly and say: “Thank you for sharing, I need to do it my way. I’ve got to learn by myself how to do this.” Then you just follow through on your own best judgement. That’s going to get you where you want to go.

3) Improve. It’s like learning to throw darts. You’re not going to be immediately successful all the time. There’s going to be challenges, you may partially revert back to your old habits and that’s okay. As long as you are getting up again!  It’s important to remember that this is a learning process. You’re throwing darts and the better you get at it the more often you are going to hit the center. You need to track what you are doing, so that you know if you are actually succeeding or not! I suggest pulling out a calendar and decide: “For 30 days I am going to avoid anything where it says “sugar” (or glucose syrup and similar processed stuff) on the label.” Or:  “For 20 days I am going to take the stairs over electric staircases and elevators.” (That might be challenging if you work in a skyscraper so be careful with what you commit to!). Then for each successful day you draw an X (VERY satisfying).

Another important thing about daily habits: If you want to establish a strong and solid habit then you’ve got to do it daily. You’ve got to make a streak: 20 days or 30 days, whatever you chose. If you feel uncertain you can go for 7 days but I suggest a longer time. It is better to set a small goal and keep doing it for longer than a big one for a shorter time! Then IF you miss a day for whatever reason (something very unexpected happened or you got sick), the next day you have to make doing your habit your top #1 priority. You’ve got to just schedule it and get it done so that you keep your streak alive. This is crucial for building the new habit and reconditioning yourself!

So as you start applying this concept in your own life you’re going to:

  1. Find out your why.
  2. Make clear rules and a strong decision.
  3. Ignore what other people tell you as you’ve got to find out for yourself how things (especially your mind) work. Back away from people’s advice who aren’t successful in what you want to accomplish.
  4. Lastly you need to constantly improve and track what you’re doing. Put down that X – every single day. Make a streak. This way you check that you are succeeding. If you fall off then you’ve got to make it a priority to get back on the horse. Simply make it your top priority the next day to keep your streak alive. This is crucial!

There’s going to be ups and downs in the process – you don’t knwo what exactly is going to happen and how things will unfold. You are going to learn a lot about yourself! Yet with Bright Lines you now have a very strong and useful guideline for changing your behaviour. I wish you much success with letting go of self-sabotaging behaviours and adopting healthy and supportive habits. So that you can have an amazing impact! Not only on your own life but also on the lives of others!

 

 

 


[1]
“Stress has been shown to increase habitual behavior— for better or worse! Two experiments at UCLA and one at Duke University found that stress increased people’s gravitation toward habitual behavior. Based on her study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Quinn, J. M., A. T. Pascoe, W. Wood, & D. T. Neal. Can’t control yourself? Monitor those bad habits. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. (2010).), Professor Wendy Wood argues: “People can’t make decisions easily when stressed, are low in willpower or feeling overwhelmed. When you are too tired to make a decision, you tend to just repeat what you usually do.” This holds true for both good and bad habits and is a crucial insight for their importance in our lives.”
Guise, Stephen. Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results

Impact Habit #2 – Clarity is Power

Back in the days I was going to school and later when I was living at the outskirts of Vienna I wasn’t really clear about what I wanted to do with my days. I really wanted to make progress and move towards my goals. But actually: I had no clarity about what exactly I wanted my days to look like. Most of the times my days would end with me being very frustrated. In the evening I would reflect about my days and I’d think: “Wow. I really didn’t achieve something today. I really don’t feel like this day was successful.” Often I felt devastated and completely depressed. Even when I had worked very hard on that day and did many many things. What I was lacking was a clear vision and strong focus. I didn’t have a clear image of what I wanted to do and so it was impossible to reach my goal and destination. As a result I wasn’t “successful”.

What exactly do you want?

A good definition of success is: “Achieving a pre-determined goal.” So you set a clear goal, you achieve that goal and then you have an experience of success. Simple right? What if you don’t define a clear goal for yourself and don’t even know what success means for you? Then you won’t feel successful! Ever. No matter what you do… Even if you work for 12 hours straight on a given day. Only if you define a clear goal and then reach that goal (or its sub-goals) can you have an experience of success. Why is experiencing personal victories so important for your overall success? Find out in my article on Staying Motivated.

Clarity is Power. I can see it in my own life. Nowadays I usually have a plan for the day – I know what I want to achieve on a given day. I have one thing that is most important, also healthy rituals and habits that support my productivity and well-being. I have clarity about what I want to do, but also about my bigger vision for my life. A lot of the times I achieve the goals I set for myself – because I know and consistently remind myself of what I am working towards! This way it becomes tangible and I can move in the right direction and not be scattered and all over the place like I used to be. Focus – where you are collecting your energy like the beams of the sun with a magnifying glass. This way you really have an impact. With Impact Habits you can easily focus your energy on making changes at the right places – where it matters most.

A little technique

I use a little trick each time when I need clarity – honestly I use it almost every time when I record a video. Often I start recording a video and it just goes nowhere. I’m all over the place and my message isn’t clear. I’m not happy with my performance… What I then do is:

  • I close my eyes and in my mind’s eye I visualise a clear goal. I visualise that I finished the video and that I feel proud because I’ve made a good video. I imagine the quality of the video being good and that I was able to get the message across really well. I imagine that I delivered strong presentation. I imagine that I feel comfortable and proud of myself for achieving what I wanted to achieve.

For one or two minutes I visualise these things and get a clear picture in my head of the moment where I have achieved my goal. The point in time where it’s done. Where I feel confident and satisfied with myself and my performance. I also allow myself to become emotionally engaged and dwell in that vision for a while. Then I just let it go and continue working.

I must admit: Almost every single time when I do this – when I set a clear intention: It works! I perform in a way where I achieve my goal. This can work with anything! I also do this in other areas of my life.

Clarity is power.


 

Here’s a quick exercise to go deeper, but first we have to differentiate between “lacking clarity” and “being open to possibility”. When you’re going through the world with an explorer’s mindset saying: “I’m open to experience, I’m open to learn, I’m open to play and explore like a child”. That’s definitely a good attitude! What we want to resolve is a state of confusion, where you want something, but you can’t really define it. Or you are constantly allowing yourself to get distracted. You’re not feeling good where you are! Once you have made up your mind, made a clear decision and know where you’re going – this gives you an incredible amount of strength and motivation and self-esteem.

  1. Write down 3 situations in your life, recently or many years back, where you lacked clarity and focus. Where you felt confused and scattered. How did this state of mind feel and how did it affect your performance? Is this a desirable habit or even character trait?
  2. Write down 3 situations where you did experience clarity and focus. Find situations where you actually achieved what you wanted because you made a strong decision and made up your mind. Where you had a crystal clear vision in your mind’s eye or where you could really feel what was important to you and what you were going for. Write next to it how that made you feel. What was the impact of this, very different, attitude? Is this a desirable habit you may want to nourish? What impact will it have on you and those around you if you deliberately bring more of this clarity into your life every single day?
  3. Lastly write a short paragraph about WHY it is important for you to work on this habit of clarity and really knowing where you’re going. Also take some time to think about the consequences of not working on this crucial area of your life. Maybe you even want to try out the little technique I introduced. Before you do some task where you have to perform – at a presentation, a meeting, or maybe it’s getting up with purpose in the morning. I actually do this exact same thing before going to sleep. I visualise how I imagine the morning to be and set a clear intention for the next day. Using strong goal-setting and visualisation in your life today can enable you to make conflicting intentions and self-sabotage a thing of the past and gain certainty, purpose and definite results.

Clarity is Power. When you focus your energy things start happening. You remember that success means achieving a predetermined goal. Instead of being divided between 10 different things you get crystal clear on what you want and then concentrate your energy on reaching it. You don’t allow yourself to get distracted and keep going. Then when you achieve it you have an experience of success and this motivates you and builds your self-esteem to tackle bigger things!