7 Itzy Bitzy Keystone Habits That Will Transform Your Life.

Keystone or Cornerstone habits are small changes that have a big impact as posited by Charles Duhigg. It’s a small change that has a ripple effect. Like when you start exercising for 15 minutes in the morning. It ripples out to the rest of your day. You feel more energized, you are more productive, you aren’t in a crabby mood and make better food choices. Research has shown that about 50% of habits are unconscious. So the key is to make these keystone habits unconscious. You don’t want to stop and think about it.

We all start the day with about 100 units of energy. Each time you have to stop and think and make a decision, you’ve lost one more unit. You don’t get them back. So if you depleted all your units of energy by miscellaneous decisions like “what should I wear today” or “what should I have for breakfast” you are using up those valuable irreplaceable units of energy on minor decisions. So when you sit down to work on that big proposal at 3 PM you are spent. The sooner you can incorporate the itzy bitzy keystone habit into your life, the better.


Here they are:

1. Make your bed. Your bed is probably the largest piece of furniture in your life. It takes up a lot of your visual field. When the bed isn’t made, it’s visual clutter. It’s a downer. A made bed on the other hand is a productivity starter. Karen Miller in an article called Your Bed is Your Head, says “Transform your reality. Face what appears in front of you. Do what needs to be done. Make peace with the world you inhabit. Take one minute—this minute right now—to enfold your day in dignity. Tuck in the sheets, straighten the covers and fluff the pillows.”

2. Get 7 hours of sleep. When you are well rested, you think better, you have more energy, you procrastinate less and you have a more positive attitude. The problem is that it’s easy to get sucked into watching “The Walking Dead” or binge watching “House of Cards” on Netflix. When you are at the end of your day your energy and will power are gone. Set up a bed time and stick to it. If you can add 15 minutes of reading a fiction book and keep your technology out of your bedroom, all the better. Set a bedtime and stick to it.

3. Get some kind of movement first thing in the morning. Spend just 10 minutes walking or running or doing push ups. Get your blood flowing. Maybe it’s yoga or walking in place. Put your sneakers next to your bed. Queue the exercise dvd the night before. Set out your gear the night before so that it’s effortless to get up and go. As a client of mine decided, she set up her coffee to automatically brew the night before to save time in the morning to get in some exercise. Move.

4. Separate from the Judge in your head. Give your Judge their voice. As instructed by Shirzad Chamine’s Positive Intelligence, I have been reframing my judgments by giving The Judge a voice. So instead of thinking “I think I look fat in this dress,” think “the Judge thinks I look fat in this dress.” Or “I didn’t get that job because I’m not good enough,” think “the Judge thinks I didn’t get that job because I’m not good enough.” Now the Judge is out in the open and, most importantly, you realize it’s not you. Having a positive outlook versus a negative defensive outlook will transform your life. Out your Judge.

5. Give up on perfectionism. Perfectionism is paralyzing. Regardless of what your mother told you, you are good enough. Mistakes are for learning. You will never regret that your spice rack isn’t alphabetized but you will regret not spending quality time with your partner. Giving up on perfectionism gives you more space to connect to others and isn’t that what life is all about? So don’t worry if your proposal isn’t perfect. Send it off.

6. Try some kind of meditation. At the beginning of your day or at the end or maybe on your lunch hour, find 5 minutes to slip into your body and out of your head. I have to tell you that I have been practicing Shirzad Chamine’s 15 minute meditation for the last few weeks. After meditating, I do three brain challenges from Lumosity. Since starting this new meditation, I’ve been achieving high scores on Lumosity. That’s tough to do since I have been using the app for over 2 years. Clearing out my head helps me think better.

7. Try habit stacking. As James Clear writes in his article, Habit Stacking: How to Build New Habits by Taking Advantage of Old Ones, “This is a concept called ‘habit stacking’ because you stack your new habit on top of a current habit. Because the current habit is strongly wired into your brain already, you can add a new habit into this fast and efficient network of neurons more quickly than if you tried to build a new path from scratch.” It’s kind of like a two for one. As Clear recommends, fill in this sentence:
After/Before [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].
So after I meditate, I will play Lumosity. Before I go to bed, I will lay out my exercise gear. After my shower, I will make my bed. Try stacking your habits.

These itzy bitzy keystone habits are much easier if you just try a small slice. One tiny step. So try meditating or exercising for 5 minutes and not 15 to start. I remember getting back to running after surgery a few years ago. I started with just getting out the front steps. The next day, I walked to the mailbox. Within a week I was back to walking two miles. As Darren Hardy says in The Compound Effect, “slow and steady wins the race.” These habits over time will compound and the half a bagel you cut out of your diet today will equal an 8 pound weight loss two years from now.

25 Itzy Bitzy Mindfulness Habits You Can Start Now.

As Shirzad Chamine says in his 15 minute meditation resource (which is free by the way), “We spend so much time in our head, we can forget we even have a body.” When you think about it our head is about 10% of our body mass but we spend most of our resources and time staying up in our head instead of really occupying our body. Whether it’s a worry loop of “did I close the garage door this morning” or “don’t forget to buy ground coriander” or rehashing the disagreement you had with your partner, we spend a lot of time in our heads while our bodies are just going through the motions.


I love the analogy that Dan Harris uses in his book, 10% Happier, when he experimented in all types of meditation. “Meditation helps you get behind the waterfall (of thoughts).” As I like to say in my workshops, you want to stay out of the back of your head or your limbic system and stay in the front of your head where the prefrontal cortex is. Your best thinking is in the prefrontal cortex. The best way to stay there is to try and be present. Mindful.

So here are the 25 itzy bitzy habits to keep you in the present:

1. Smile when you enter a room.
2. Wiggle and account for your toes.
3. Take three deep breaths.
4. Feel the temperature and texture of the air as it enters and leaves your nostrils.
5. Touch your thumb and index finger to feel the ridges of your fingerprint.
6. Listen for the farthest sound you can hear.
7. Listen for the closest sound you can hear.
8. Feel the weight of your body on the chair as you work.
9. Meditate for 5 minutes in the morning.
10. Do yoga for 5 minutes in the morning.

Being more mindful is also about eliminating distractions. As Dr. Hallowell describes in his book, Crazy Busy, we all just skim through life. We don’t take time to ponder. I skim emails, texts, articles, and Facebook posts. We are in a constant state of distraction which creeps us back into our limbic system and out of our best thinking. So the next few itzy bitzy habits are about eliminating distraction so that we can get back into the present.

11. Turn off all notifications from social media and email.
12. Have a technology sabbatical after 7 pm.
13. Keep your phone in another room (or off) when connecting with others.
14. Set up rules for spam so it goes to your junk folder.
15. Set up blocks of time to work on important projects.
16. Set up blocks of time to answer emails and phone calls three times a day.
17. Set up emails as tasks so that your inbox is not your to-do list.
18. Touch an email once and decide what it is and handle it.
19. Listen to instrumental music while working.
20. Use Luminosity every morning for 5 minutes.

Another key factor with being present is actually being awake and well rested. Getting between 7 to 7 and a half hours of sleep a night is critical to success. Zoning out at work or at home with the folks that you love is not healthy. I’ve worked with a ton of clients around sleep I’ve talked with Executives who aren’t able to work as effectively because they aren’t getting enough sleep. This is not a personal issue, if you have employees coming to work zoned out from lack of sleep, they are not doing their best work. So here are some more itzy bitzy habits around being well rested.

21. Go to bed by a set time 15 minutes earlier than before.
22. Leave your technology in the bathroom or kitchen (not in the bedroom).
23. Set your alarm to wake up 5 minutes earlier.
24. Read a fiction book for 15 minutes before going to bed (it helps create dreams).
25. Write 5 things you are grateful for in a journal at the end or beginning of the day.

You might be wondering about the last two habits. When you are grateful, you are more positive. It’s difficult to be grateful and worry at the same time. By reading a fiction book at the end of the day, it helps kickstart dreams. If you watch the latest from CNN, you are more likely to have restless sleep and start the worry cycle again. Spark some whimsical dreams by reading some classics by Mark Twain or Charles Dickens. Which itzy bitzy habit will you start with?

Laughing at Failure. Lessons from My Son.

You trip on the pavement and mutter under your breath “Klutz.” You don’t pass the certification exam the first time and suddenly you are in a tailspin of self-loathing. You’re driving down the freeway on auto pilot and suddenly there are flashing blue lights behind you. Ugh. 15 over the limit. “Stupid. Stupid. Stupid”.
You know you do it. Everyone does it. It’s what Shirzad Chamine refers to as the Saboteurs in our head. The biggest and baddest of them all is the Judge. According to the Judge in your head you are never good enough, smart enough or thin enough. Hmmm. So what’s this got to do with my son? And how can this help me? Here ya go.

Laughing at failure

I spent most of my Saturday watching kids participate in a state championship weight lifting competition. As I sat there for several hours watching kids 8 to 20 years old step up to a bar and lift, I realized a few things about failure. The ones who prevailed, including my 20 year old son Benson, had some key attributes.

Here they are:

1. Laugh at failure. Each participant gets three tries (attempts) at snatching a weight and three tries at clean and jerking a weight. So in all, there are 6 tries and that’s it. If you don’t do it correctly, you are out of the running. My son’s third attempt at the Snatch, the bar fell back over his head. He laughed. No sulking. No beating himself up. Oh well. I noticed that when the kids that failed went sulking off two things would happen. One – the audience didn’t clap. Two- they failed the next time up. It’s hard to get your concentration back. You’ve let the Judge in your head take over and hijack your performance. I noticed that kids who laughed off the failure came back with a vengeance in the next attempt, almost always prevailing. The lesson? Laugh and laugh often.

2. Have your posse with you. My son participated in the event in Greenville, NC instead of an earlier event in Miami (where he lives) so that he could be surrounded by his family and friends. He knew that when he walked out on that platform that there were 7 folks in that audience to cheer him on. The younger kids that were with a lifting club had a ton of support in the audience as well. Again, the kids that were there by themselves or just a parent did not prevail as often as the other kids who had support. The lesson? Surround yourself with support. Make sure you have folks that are there to cheer you on. Success or failure. Have a posse that has your back.

3. Discipline is what underlies all rituals. Even the eight year-olds had rituals as they approached the bar. Some stomped their left foot on the ground as they grabbed the bar. Some took enormous breaths as they began to lift. They all had rituals. Focus straight ahead. I was talking to Benson’s high school football coach at the end of the meet. He said he convinced Benson to give up track and take on lifting. He said that Benson has the discipline to lift even while going to college full time. It’s the same with your life. You’ve got to have the discipline to show up and accept failure as well as success. Even if you drop the bar, you’ve got to show up the next day and keep on keeping on.

4. Relax and have fun. It was so gratifying to watch these kids have fun. They would be serious and focused as they approached the bar and then, once they were successful, an enormous smile would appear when they finally held the bar above their head. It was such a beautiful sight. Watching these girls and boys radiate as they succeeded in lifting the impossible was gratifying for me. My son was the last of the men to participate because he was lifting the heaviest weight. He failed on his first attempt on the Clean and Jerk. Smile. Got up. Prevailed on the second lift. By this time the entire audience of some 50 spectators were with him and cheering him on as he attempted a personal record and heaviest lift of the competition of 140 kilos (309 pounds). He was whistling. Relaxed. Comfortable. He failed. Oh well. He went to watch the video with his coach. Hmmm. Feet were too narrow apart. He was fine. Resilient. There will be another competition down the road. It’s so similar to Scott Adams book, How to Fail at Almost Everything, as long as you are learning from your failure, that’s the most important thing. So when you fail? And you will. Make sure you are taking the lessons with it.

I think back on some of the big failures in my life. A divorce. A failed restaurant. A lost job. Keeping my sense of humor, learning from my mistakes, having my posse close and trying to stay relaxed was critical. Caving into fear is not an option. Lift that weight, Smile and Move on.

Originally published on Change Your Thoughts on October 27, 2015.

9 of the Best Books from My Reading List

You’re thinking. I’m not sure what book is worthwhile. After all it’s an investment of your precious time.
At least 4 hours if not much more.
If you’re going to invest 4 to 8 hours of your precious, over committed time to reading a book, you want to make sure it’s worth your investment.
Guess what? I’ve got you covered.
I’ve already invested my time in several books over the last year and I’m going to point you in the right direction.
Easy peasy.9 Books

Most Impactful book. The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz. This book is short and sweet and eye opening. The agreements are: Be impeccable with your word, Don’t take anything personally, Don’t make assumptions and Always do your best. From childhood we take on all sorts of agreements which skew our view of the world and of our thoughts. To drop all your prior agreements (re: your story) is incredibly challenging. If you listen to the audio book it’s read by Peter Coyote and he does an excellent job. If you want to change your thoughts, this is a must read.

Most Inspiring Book. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. This is the incredible story of Viktor Frankl as a Holocaust survivor. It’s gripping but incredibly enlightening. Here is a trained psychiatrist recounting his days as he watched many people perish as well as those who overcame the unrelenting torture that was Auschwitz. “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Need inspiration, this is your book.

Most Useful Book. The Relationship Cure by John Gottman. The basics of connecting and/or not connecting with the people in your life. I am vigilant now about the way I connect with people. Am I turning away, turning against or turning towards connection. We’ve all done it. Deliberately ignored someone, been defiant or reciprocated an outgoing gesture. It’s all here. And if you listen to it on audible, Dr. Gottman is the narrator. His voice is so calm and so accessible. You absolutely feel like you can start using the information right now. Really.

Interesting but Not as Useful. Spy the Lie by Philip Houston, Michael Floyd and Susan Carnicero. This book was written by ex CIA operatives. Fascinating stories and tips for picking up on liars. The only problem is that I’m not a detective or a Russian spy. I guess I might be able to figure out if my son stole a cookie from a cookie jar by reading his body language but I guess I don’t think I have that many liars in my life, which is a good thing. This is a must read for anyone in the detective field or maybe Human Resources.

Most Accessible Book. Positive Intelligence by Shirzad Chamine. Chamine gives you things you can start doing right this minute to get out of listening to the saboteurs that are talking in your head. He also has a ton of free assessments and audio meditations on his website: positiveintelligence.com. His main suggestions is to do PQ reps or I would call them mindful techniques to get really present. You can’t be worrying or suffering from anxiety if you are in the moment. Another bonus is that he is the narrator of the audio book.

Most Encompassing Book. 10% Happier by Dan Harris. Dan is a reporter for ABC news. He takes you on an auto biographical journey on his way to being happier and under less anxiety. He chases down every genre of self-help gurus. So if want the Reader’s Digest on Deepack Chopra, Dalia Lama, Eckhart Tolle and countless others, this is your book. It’s fun, at times light hearted and other times cynical but always real.

Least Likely to be Utilized. Unstuff Your Life by Andrew Mellen. This guy has excellent ideas to completely reorganize your life. I would love to hire him to organize mine. But his ideas seem way too OCD. His mantra is everything has a home and everything is in its place. He also obviously does not have a dog or children or a wayward husband. I’d love to take a week off and reorganize, label and back up all my photos but I think I’ll just rely on Facebook.

Cracks Me Up. You are a Badass by Jen Sincero. Jen narrates this self-help book. She is incredibly funny and doesn’t pull any punches. I don’t think I implemented anything from this book but I was incredibly inspired when I finished it. “I can pretty much guarantee that every time you tearfully ask yourself the question, “WTF is my problem?!” the answer lies in some lame, limiting, and false subconscious belief that you’ve been dragging around without even realizing” It’s a fun read and even better listen on audible.

And Out of Left Field. Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jonathan Davis. This book is some 20 hours long so I only suggest this if you like reading about historic figures and if you have a lot of time. I don’t actually have a lot of time but I listen to books when I travel so I got through this in a few weeks. Interesting story and it’s amazing how large the Mongol empire became. Barbaric to be sure, but an amazing story.

A few other honorable mentions are Small Move, Big Change, Better than Before, How to Fail at Almost Anything and Still Win Big, and The Obstacle is the Way. I have also been listening to the Great Courses which is a lecture by a professor who is interesting but they are all about 12 hours long so it is a commitment. But if you want to learn how to be a Non-Fiction Writer or Settle Disputes, there are a bunch of titles to enjoy.
So get out there and pick up that book and invest your time. I didn’t include the many books I thought were duds. Happy reading.

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Dismantling the Judge in Your Head.

I’ve been reading Shirzad Chamine‘s Positive Intelligence. This has shone a huge light on what I’ve previously written about as the inner critic. As Shirzad posits, everyone has a group of saboteurs and the one everyone has is in common is The Judge. Basically, we are all running around with a Judge in our head who is constantly pointing out where we are falling short. So my pants are too tight because I am lazy and fat. I didn’t get that spectacular job because I’m not good enough. Suzy just walked by my office without saying hello because of something I did. Hmmm. I wonder what I did. She thinks I’m inadequate, she thinks I’m too bossy, she thinks I’m ugly. If this sounds like the ticker tape in your head then you have a Judge as well.dismantling the judge in your head

I find it remarkable that Shirzad stepped out on a limb and pointed out to a group of grad students that he felt inadequate and that they all concurred. How vulnerable. Well, I have to say I’ve been listening to my Judge for far too long. It’s useless and debilitating. It can and has brought me to a standstill. This particular saboteur is constantly holding me back and all the while, I am actually free to choose if I want to listen to it or not. I find that not only am I judging myself, but I am judging circumstances and others as well. So it’s raining in beautiful San Antonio because it’s just my luck. The water dispenser is out in the fitness room because this hotel sucks. The train going by at 3 AM is so happening to be annoying. That woman who cut in front of me in line at the lunch buffet because she is arrogant. All of these judgments. All day. Everyday. It’s exhausting. Time to dismantle the Judge.

So I’ve been working on this and this what I have found so far:

1. Name it. Shirzad recommends giving it a name. So whether it’s Executioner, The Critic, Tormenter, or as I have recently tried Sister Mary Catharine (and she has a ruler in her hand). Giving it a name gives some separation. So much of my inner dialogue is about beating myself up. Identifying “who” is saying all this takes it out of the shadows. Shirzad recommends that if you can’t think of a name you can clearly identify with, just call it The Judge. If you are like me, you spend weeks trying on different names and then give up. So use The Judge unless something else resonates. Just make sure you name it.

2. Voice. Give your Judge their voice. As instructed by Shirzad, I have been reframing my judgments by giving The Judge a voice. So instead of thinking “I think I look fat in this dress”, think “the Judge thinks I look fat in this dress”. Or “I didn’t get that job because I’m not good enough”, think “the Judge thinks I didn’t get that job because I’m not good enough”. Now the Judge is out in the open and, most importantly, you realize it’s not you. Give your Judge a voice.

3. Creator. Instead of being the victim, be the Creator. David Emerald‘s book, The Power of TED, presents the idea that the victim is living in a negative space that is constantly reacting. From my vantage point, that means the victim is constantly listening and buying into the Judge. Emerald writes. “for Victims, the focus is always on what they don’t want: the problems that seem constantly to multiply in their lives. They don’t want the person, condition, or circumstance they consider to be their Persecutor, and they don’t want the fear that leads to flight, flee, or freeze reactions either. Creators, on the other hand, place their focus on what they do want. Doing this, Creators still face and solve problems in the course of creating the outcomes they want, but their focus remains fixed on their ultimate vision.” Be a Creator.

4. PQ Reps. The biggest take away from Positive Intelligence is trying to do PQ reps 100 times a day. I rolled my eyes when I thought of doing anything 100 times a day. BUT a PQ rep is really just 10 seconds or 3 breathes of being present. This has been fascinating to try for the last week. When I walked my dog this morning I was constantly doing PQ Reps. So I smelled some honeysuckle, I spent three breathes smelling the honeysuckle. Then I listened to birds for 3 breathes, then felt the breeze on my face, then listened to my dog panting, then watched a cardinal, then stopped and smelled some roses (yes, seriously). The point of this is to bring you back to your prefrontal cortex where you do your best thinking. When you are listening to the Judge you are in your limbic system and, outside of fleeing from danger like a Saber-toothed Tiger, it’s really not that healthy for you. Try getting in some PQ Reps.

5. Empathy. One of the superpowers that Positive Intelligence brings is empathy. I think I’m pretty empathetic but Chamine promotes being empathetic towards yourself. Have some self-compassion. He suggests finding a photo of yourself when you were a child and full of possibilities, passion and wonder. I found a picture of myself and set it up as wallpaper on my phone. I see that picture of myself every time I swipe the phone (which is turns out is a lot). I see this brave little girl in the middle of Rocky Gorge, one of my favorite places from my childhood in New Hampshire. There is her bright shiny face looking at the camera braving the chilly torrent of a rocky river. That girl? She’s amazing. I want to protect her from the Judge. Find empathy for yourself.

6. Curiosity. Chamine recommends another super power of curiosity. It’s funny because Emerald suggests the same thing. I have written before that curiosity is the antidote for fear. It’s also the antidote for your Judge. The Judge wants you to be choked by your fear; to standstill and resist. Curiosity opens the curtains. It shows all the possibilities. It’s liberating. Reframing any conflict or issue or assumption into curiosity makes it possible. You’re just an anthropologist studying the “Culture of You”. Hmmm. I wonder what would happen if I just called that new client. Hmmm. I wonder what would happen if I went to that meeting alone. Hmmm. I wonder what would happen if I just apologized. Find your curiosity.

I have to suggest you go to Chamine’s website PositiveIntelligence.com and try out some of his assessments. Find out your PQ score (mine was 71) and see if you can move the needle (you want to be above 75). He also has some guided audio sessions to help you connect to your prefrontal cortex (did I mention they are free?). So in the meantime, I continue to dismantle my Judge. How do you shut down your judgmental voices in your head?