9 Secrets of Motivated People

Real-life strategies that will help you to actually accomplish the goals you’ve set for yourself this year from ©Real Simple

New year, new you. It’s the perennial January catchphrase that holds such conquer-the-world promise. And then, well, you get sidetracked with conquering your to-do list. But even the loftiest resolutions (running a marathon, writing a book) don’t have to fall by the wayside come February. Staying motivated―and achieving what you set out to do on that bright New Year’s Day―is surprisingly possible. Just follow these nine mantras, provided by researchers who study motivation and backed up by women who have used them to realize their biggest ambitions.

1. When you make a plan, anticipate bumps. Before even trying to achieve a goal, target potential pitfalls and troubleshoot them. Peter Gollwitzer, a professor of psychology at New York University, in New York City, says that people who plan for obstacles are more likely to stick with projects than those who don’t. In a 2009 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Gollwitzer compared two groups of women who wanted to be more active. Both groups were given information on leading healthy lifestyles. But the second was also taught how to foresee obstacles (example: “The weather forecast is bad, but I’m planning to go for a jog”) and work around them using if-then statements (“If it rains, then I’ll go to the gym and use the treadmill rather than skip exercising altogether”). No surprise, those in the second group fared better. Michelle Tillis Lederman of New York City practiced this strategy when she was writing a book last year. She installed blinds on her home-office door to minimize disruptions and hired an editor to give feedback on each chapter so she wouldn’t get stuck along the way. She also established rules, like checking e-mails only after she had written for two hours. “It was easier to follow this plan,” says Lederman, “than to wrestle with every distraction in the moment.” Her book, The 11 Laws of Likability (American Management Association), will be published later this year.

2. Channel the little engine that could―really. A person’s drive is often based on what she believes about her abilities, not on how objectively talented she is, according to research by Albert Bandura, a professor of psychology at Stanford University. His work has shown that people who have perceived self-efficacy (that is, the belief that they can accomplish what they set out to do) perform better than those who don’t. That self-belief is what helped Ingrid Daniels of Newark, New Jersey, leave a stable corporate job to develop a T-shirt line after the birth of her first child. “It never occurred to me I could fail, even though I had no experience,” she says. Today Daniels runs two successful small businesses (the T-shirt company and a line of stationery), which allows her to stay at home with her three children.

3. Don’t let your goals run wild… When your sights are too ambitious, they can backfire, burn you out, and actually become demotivating, says Lisa Ordóñez, a professor of management and organizations at the Eller College of Management, at the University of Arizona, in Tucson. Instead of aiming unrealistically high (such as trying to save enough money for a down payment on a home in six months), set goals that are a stretch but not an overreach (come up with a doable savings plan for your budget).

…But work on them everyday. According to Daniel Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us ($27, amazon.com), taking small steps every day will not only help hold your interest in what you’re trying to achieve but will also ensure that you move slowly, but surely, toward your goal. So, for example, set up a down-payment-fund jar and dump your change into it every night. You’ll get a sense of accomplishment each day, to boot.

4. Go public with it. Instead of keeping your intentions to yourself, make them known to many. “Other people can help reinforce your behavior,” says James Fowler, a political scientist who studies social networks at the University of California, San Diego. After all, it’s harder to abandon a dream when you know that people are tracking your progress. Take Stefanie Samarripa of Dallas, 25, who wanted to lose 20 pounds. She created a blog and told all her friends to read it. “I wanted something to hold me accountable,” she says. Samarripa weighs herself weekly and announces the result on Desperately Seeking Skinny (skinnystefsam.blogspot.com). During her first three weeks, she lost six pounds. “People read my updates and make comments, which helps me keep going,” she says.

5. Lean on a support crew when struggling. Think of the friends and family who truly want to see you succeed. Enlisting those with whom you have authentic relationships is key when your motivation begins to wane. Choose people who may have seen you fail in the past and who know how much success means to you, says Edward L. Deci, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, in New York. For Jane Arginteanu of New York City, support came in the form of her fiancé, Glenn. Arginteanu had smoked from the time she was a teenager and had tried to quit before. When she decided to give it another go, Arginteanu says, “Glenn stood by me and told me, without ever issuing an ultimatum, that he wanted to grow old with me. That was terrific motivation.” A year later, she’s smoke-free.

6. Make yourself a priority.Put your needs first, even when it feels utterly selfish. You will derail your progress if you sacrifice yourself for others in order to please them (such as eating a cupcake that a coworker baked even though you’re on a diet). A few years ago, Karen Holtgrefe of Cincinnati was at the bottom of her own priority list. “I had a demanding full-time job as a physical-therapy manager and was teaching physical therapy part-time,” she says. “Plus, I had a husband and two children to care for.” As a result, she found herself stressed-out, overweight, and suffering from constant backaches. “I hit a wall and realized I needed to make some changes for my sanity,” Holtgrefe says. So she quit the part-time teaching job, joined Weight Watchers, and scheduled nonnegotiable walks six days a week―just for her. In a year, she lost 85 pounds, and her back pain (and stress) disappeared.

7. Challenge yourself―and change things up. It’s hard to remain enthusiastic when everything stays the same, says Frank Busch, who has coached three Olympic swimming teams. To keep his athletes motivated, he constantly challenges and surprises them―adding a new exercise to a weight routine or giving them a break from one practice so they can recharge. Amy Litvak of Atlanta did the same thing. She had several half-marathons under her belt but wanted something new, so she signed up for a series of mini triathlons. “Each race was longer than the last or had a slightly different challenge,” she says. She breezed through them and is now training for a full marathon.

8. Keep on learning. To refuel your efforts, focus on enjoying the process of getting to the goal, rather than just eyeing the finish line. Janet Casson of Queens, New York, set out to teach yoga. She completed her training, but finding a position took longer than anticipated. So she wouldn’t lose steam and become discouraged, Casson used the time to perfect her skills. She attended workshops and studied with different teachers. “It was invigorating and kept me working toward my goal,” says Casson, who now teaches five classes a week.

9. Remember the deeper meaning. You’re more likely to realize a goal when it has true personal significance to you, according to Deci. (For example, “I want to learn to speak French so I can communicate with my Canadian relatives” is a more powerful reason than “I should learn French so that I can be a more cultured person.”) And when the process isn’t a pleasant one, it helps to recall that personal meaning. Not all dedicated gym-goers love working out, Deci points out, but because they have a deep desire to be healthy, they exercise week after week. Jennie Perez-Ray of Parsippany, New Jersey, is a good example of this. She was working full-time when she decided to get her master’s degree. However, she knew that pursuing that goal would mean spending less time with her friends and family. “But I was the first person in my family to get a degree, so it was very important to me,” Perez-Ray says. She kept this in mind every evening that she spent in the classroom. Although the sacrifices she made were hard, she reflects, “reaching my goal made it all worthwhile.”

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Exercise and Major Depression

Learn how exercise and physical activity can change your brain chemistry and support your major depression treatment plan.

Exercise is prescribed for a wide variety of health conditions — from heart disease to diabetes. Science shows being active can improve your physical and mental health, and make positive changes in your brain chemistry. But if you’re battling major depression, the thought of working out may seem unthinkable. Here’s some information about the benefits of exercise that may change your mind.

Exercise and Nerve Growth    Early brain chemistry research found that mice living in an exercise-friendly environment stopped acting depressed after a stressful social experience — while mice who didn’t exercise stayed depressed. Scientists attribute the mice’s recovery to the growth of new brain nerves caused by exercise.  This and other research has led scientists to understand how brain nerve growth works in humans, too. Adults affect their brain chemistry through experiences — such as physical activities — and how they respond to them. The proteins largely responsible for the brain’s ability to adapt and change are called neurotrophins. Antidepressants affect neurotrophins in the brain — and so does exercise.

Benefits of Exercise Therapy for Depression In addition to stimulating new nerve growth and improving your ability to think, remember, and learn, exercise boosts serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and endorphins in your brain. These neurotransmitters help you calm down and focus. In studies, exercise therapy has also shown an antidepressant effect.

One Duke University researcher, James Blumenthal, PhD, has been studying exercise and MDD for over a decade. “Based on the best available evidence to date,” Dr. Blumenthal believes that “exercise may be generally comparable to medication in the treatment of MDD.” Similar studies continue to find at least modest clinical benefit for exercise and better mental health. But don’t self-treat your depression symptoms or try to get through your recovery with exercise alone. Talk to your doctor about treatment and self-care options — including exercise — that are right for you.

Adding Exercise to Your Treatment Plan Once you start exercising, you’re likely to notice some changes in your symptoms right away. “Simply moving more and sitting less will make a difference in how you feel,” says exercise physiologist and dietitian Amy Ogle, MS, RD. “And if you typically exercise alone, consider working out with a group or partner because the social connection helps lessen depressive symptoms.”

Shoot for at least 2 1/2 hours of exercise in a week. Strength training counts toward that time, too. Just remember to check with your doctor first, especially if you have another medical condition.

“Sticking to a plan and following your progress,” Ms. Ogle adds, “will renew your sense of self-mastery and control.”  You can progress to the following routine:

  • 5-10 min warm-up, gently moving upper and lower body in full range of motion
  • 30 min aerobic exercise, such as walking, light jogging, swimming, biking or a group exercise class. You should be able to talk, but not comfortably sing.
  • 5 min cool-down and stretching

How Your Doctor Will Diagnose Major Depression

An accurate diagnosis is the first step toward recovering from clinical depression.

Unlike health conditions marked by clear physical signs, major depression (also called clinical depression, major depressive disorder, or MDD) can be hard to diagnose. One reason is that the symptoms of major depression can look a lot like other health conditions — especially other types of depression or grief. Another reason is that many of the most important major depression symptoms have to do with how you feel emotionally, so a solid diagnosis depends on you sharing symptoms information clearly and openly with your doctor.

To diagnose major depression, your doctor will ask you several questions to help rule out other health conditions and pinpoint the type of depression you have. Your doctor may also conduct other medical and psychological tests to better understand what’s causing you to feel depressed. Here’s what to expect from a depression screening:

  • Questions about your symptoms. To be diagnosed with major depression, you must have certain symptoms for at least two weeks. Your symptoms must also be severe enough to interfere with normal activities, work, and your ability to take care of yourself. To make a major depression diagnosis, your doctor will ask you about your feelings, thoughts, and behavior.
  • A physical exam. A physical exam won’t tell your doctor whether you have major depression, but it will help your doctor assess your overall health and rule out obvious illnesses and injuries that may be related to your depression. A physical exam is likely to include a check of your height, weight, temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, and abdomen.
  • Blood tests. Some health conditions, such as hypothyroidism (a slow thyroid) or kidney disease, can cause symptoms of depression, so your doctor may also want to do a blood test to check your hormones or complete blood cell count.

Many people don’t realize they have major depression, so some doctors include depression screening as a part of a regular office visit. Answering these two questions honestly if your doctor asks them can help you get the diagnosis and treatment you need:

  • In the past month, have you felt down, depressed, or hopeless?
  • In the past month, have you felt little interest or pleasure in doing things?

A “yes” response means you may need further depression screening.

A “Bad” Habit That Helps You Live Longer?

Some of us just can’t live without our morning coffee fix. And some of us may be feeling a little guilty about that.

Not to worry. Your morning cup of joe could actually be helping you live longer. A recent study has linked coffee drinking to a reduced risk of death, regardless of the cause.

Healthy or Not, Here I Come!
Over the years, research has produced mixed results on the health benefits of coffee. But a recent study was a win for the earthy brew. Heavy java drinkers (2 or more cups per day) experienced a modest decrease in all-cause mortality, including death from heart disease. We can probably credit the antioxidant-rich beans used to brew the stuff. In fact, Americans drink so much coffee that it’s one of our top sources of antioxidants. 

Reality Check
So what are the caveats for coffee drinking? There are only a few. If you are sensitive to caffeine, you don’t need to be told not to be a java junkie. And unfiltered coffee can raise blood fats, so use paper filters and ditch the French press. Although it remains to be seen if coffee has a long-term impact on blood pressure, we know it can cause a temporary spike, so go easy if you have high blood pressure. And — as always — do everything in moderation. A pot-a-day habit probably doesn’t do anyone any favors.

Self-Help Strategies to help you along in Cope With Major Depression

Build on other depression treatments with small steps to feel better every day.

In addition to the scientifically supported treatments for major depression — antidepressants, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two — there are other steps you can take to help lift your mood and support your recovery. Although clinical depression can rob you of energy, motivation, and the desire to do things that you once enjoyed, remember that inactivity can make depression worse. Staying active will distract you from negative thoughts, and it’s one of the best things you can do to cope with major depressive disorder (MDD).

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) recommends these self-help strategies to ease the burden on yourself while you’re depressed:

  • Don’t wait to seek treatment for major depression. The earlier you start treatment, the better (and faster) your recovery will be.
  • Set realistic goals. Treating major depression isn’t a quick fix, and improvement can be subtle. For example, you may start sleeping better or eating better before your mood brightens.
  • Stay active. Whether it’s exercise, cooking, going to the movies, or dinner with friends, return to activities you once enjoyed. As your treatment starts to take effect, you’ll find yourself enjoying your favorite activities again.
  • Be around other people. Isolating yourself from others worsens major depression, but spending time with family and friends helps boost your mood so you can stick with your treatment program.
  • Don’t let everyday activities overwhelm you. Divide major tasks into smaller chunks, set priorities, and do what you can.
  • Don’t accept roles with a great deal of responsibility, which can be overwhelming when you’re depressed.
  • Recognize negative thinking as a symptom of clinical depression. Try to reframe negative thoughts in a positive light.
  • Don’t engage in self-blame while experiencing depressed mood.
  • Postpone major life decisions until you get relief from depressive symptoms. Don’t change jobs, relocate, enter into or end a primary relationship, or make major financial choices when you’re in the grip of major depression.
  • Each day, make it a point to identify one positive reason to make it through the day.

4 Foods for Better Immunity

Your immune system is responsible for helping fight off everything from the common cold to cancer. A tall order!

Send in some reinforcements so it doesn’t get battle fatigue. Here are four foods your immune system loves.

Sweet, Creamy, Steamy, Crunchy . . . Oranges, yogurt, tea, and pumpkin seeds are the order of the day when it comes to giving your immune system a treat, according to experts Michael Roizen, MD, and Mehmet Oz, MD, authors of the best-selling (and now newly expanded and updated) YOU: The Owner’s Manual. Here’s how these four superfoods help:

  • Oranges are chock-full of vitamin C, an antioxidant vitamin that helps your immune system fend off disease-causing invaders. Other good C options: bell peppers, strawberries, cantaloupe, and broccoli. Or take 400 milligrams of vitamin C three times daily.
  • Yogurt (unpasteurized) contains Lactobacillus acidophilus — a healthy bacterium that helps thwart fungus-related infections. Or take a 20-milligram acidophilus supplement twice daily.
  • Tea is full of flavonoids, powerful vitamin-like substances that reduce immune-system aging. You’ll also find them in oats, onions, broccoli, tomatoes, apples, and berries.
  • Pumpkin seeds are great year round, not just at Halloween, because they contain zinc — a nutrient that’s been shown to help reduce the average length of the common cold.

The 20 Most Life-Altering Concepts I’ve Ever Embraced

The 20 Most Life-Altering Concepts I’ve Ever Embraced

iStock_000012148477SmallDo you have one life lesson or philosophy that has changed the course of your life?Sometimes you can read something or have a life experience that hits you over the head with its brilliance and perfection. A huge mind shift takes place, and your life is forever altered for the better.These can be years in the making or overnight sensations. I’ve had my share of both, and even the overnight sensations can take years to fully assimilate in my psyche.But the important thing  is the discovery of these concepts and how you apply them to your life. Once you realize these great truths are out there, it becomes a lifelong quest to discover more of them.

That’s what personal development is all about — the ongoing search for the truths that will set us free to be who we are and to live our best possible lives.

Through my adult years, there have been many of these concepts that I’ve discovered (or that have hit me over the head) along the way. I’ve chosen 20 to share with you that have impacted me most profoundly. And I’ve suggested a resource for further reading on the topic.

1. The Power of the Present Moment

It has taken me a long time to fully grasp this one, but the power of now is probably the most life-changing concept I’ve embraced. Our entire lives are comprised of present moments, so what we do in each moment and how we choose to view our current circumstances is what determines our happiness. Don’t fritter them away — make each moment count.

Resource: The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, by Eckhart Tolle

2. Don’t Struggle with Reality

What is happening is supposed to happen because it is happening. That sounds simple, but most of us resist our circumstances and argue with reality. As teacher and author Byron Katie reminds, “If you want reality to be different than what it is, you might as well try to teach a cat to bark.” When we stop opposing reality, and accept exactly what is, it frees us for creative thought and action based on truth.

Resource: Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life, by Byron Katie

3. Let the Future Unfold

This is a hard one for those of us who are planners and goal-setters. You can still plan and set goals, but hold on to them loosely. Steer your boat in the direction of your dreams, but then let the current and wind carry you forward. Don’t worry or fret about what’s around the next bend. The future has a way of taking care of itself.

Resource: Release the Future (Marianne Williamson L.A. Lecture Series)

4. Simplify Everything

I spent half of my adult life making things busier and more complicated — only to realize that busyness, things, and complications were sucking the joy out of living. When you do and have few things, you have more time to savor them fully and focus on what affords you the most pleasure and fulfillment.

Resource: Simplify Your Life: 100 Ways to Slow Down and Enjoy the Things That Really Matter, by Ellen St. James

5. Let Go of Attachments

This goes along with simplifying. And the act of simplifying certainly helps you recognize your attachments. You’ll see what I mean when you start to give away a perfectly good suit that you haven’t worn in ten years. Suddenly that suit looks really necessary. But once you do let go, you never look back. And suddenly you are lighter and freer than ever before.

Resource: The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life,by Francine Jay

6. Don’t Believe Your Thoughts

This one was so liberating for me. For the longest time, I believed my thoughts were the definitive truth about reality. If I thought it, it must be the way it is. Now I realize that often my thoughts are completely wrong or just one perspective on truth. It is always good to find evidence to support the opposite of your thoughts, especially negative and limiting thoughts.

Resource: Don’t Believe Everything You Think: The 6 Basic Mistakes We Make in Thinking, by Thomas Kida

7. You Can Train Your Brain

The science of neuroplasticity has changed everything about the way I view my capacity for learning and adapting to new things. Our brains are not rigidly mapped as scientists once assumed. Our brains are capable of rewiring to accommodate new learning and reinforce new behaviors well into old age. Even visualizing alone can strengthen areas in our physical and mental lives.

Resource: The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, by Norman Doidge, M.D.

8. Focus on the Task at Hand

This is the most practical and productive concept I’ve embraced. I’ve heard it for years, but my friend Leo Babauta of Zen Habits made it real for me. He showed me how to clear everything off my desk, pick one important thing, and give that one thing the time and attention it deserved for a fixed amount of time. Now I’m not distracted and pulled in other directions.

Resource: Focus: A simplicity manifesto in the Age of Distraction, by Leo Babauta

9. Don’t Overthink

Historically I’ve had  a tendency to let my mind whir off on over-thinking tangents. I believed I could think my way out of a problem or into a great decision. Some amount of thinking might be required for these situations, but at some point you get stuck like a gerbil on a wheel. I’ve discovered some brain tricks to help me get off that wheel and break free of over-thinking.

Resource: Women Who Think Too Much: How to Break Free of Overthinking and Reclaim Your Life, by Susan Nolen-Hoeksema

10. Find Your Passion

I went for years thinking I didn’t have a passion. Finally, at age 48, I did the work necessary to learn what makes me really happy and how to apply it to my life and work. This work is often ignored or put off, but it is the only way to learn how to create your life by design rather than by reaction.

Resource: Discover Your Passion: A Step-by-Step Course for Creating the Life of Your Dreams, By Barrie Davenport

11. Live Through Your Values

Your core values should be the blueprint for everything else in your life. Until I did the self-work mentioned above, I didn’t give my values a lot of thought. But if your life is aligned with your values, then you have a purpose and guide for every decision and action.

Resource: What Matters Most : The Power of Living Your Values, by Hyrum W. Smith

12. Stop Pleasing People

If your life is defined by pleasing others, winning their approval, or keeping them from disappointment, you are living a false life. You can’t be authentic and live this way. This impossible goal only reinforces low self-esteem and unhappiness. Once liberated from the pleasing addiction, you are free to be yourself and love yourself.

Resource: The Disease To Please: Curing the People-Pleasing Syndrome, by Harriet B. Braiker

13. Whine Less, Give More

The more I talk about my problems and focus on them, the worse they seem — and the worse I feel. I’ve discovered when I feel bad about my life, I go do something for someone else. Then I feel better. It’s amazing how that works — but only every time.

Resource: The Power of Serving Others: You Can Start Where You Are, by Gary Morsch

14. It’s Never Too Late

Using age as an excuse just doesn’t hold water. We can do most anything we want to well into old age. Why not live every single day learning, growing, and having bold adventures?

Resource: Age Doesn’t Matter Unless You’re a Cheese, by Kathryn and Ross Petras

15. Focus on Your Top 20%

Rather than trying to do it all, pick what is most important and spend your time and energy on those things. This all ties in with simplifying and focusing on the task at hand, but it’s the bigger picture. Look at all areas of your life, and decide the top 20%. Let everything else fall away.

Resource: The 80/20 Principle: The Secret to Achieving More with Less, by Richard Koch

16. Happiness Is (Partly) a Choice

Our genes and circumstances account for half of our happiness levels, but the other half is totally in our control. That allows for a big heap of happiness if we choose it. I learned so much about what can foster happiness from this resource book.

Resource: The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want, by Sonja Lyubomirsky

17. There’s Nothing to Fear

Unless we are in imminent danger, most fears are projections about a perceived future. By staying the present moment (see #1), you will see there is nothing to fear. Right now, everything is just fine.

Resource: Fearless: Creating the Courage to Change the Things You Can, by Steve Chandler

18. Create vs. React

Most of us spend our lives in reaction mode. Life throws things at us, and we respond accordingly. But you can flip that around and take control. Once you do that passion and value work mentioned above, you have the tools to create an extraordinary life by your design.

Resource: Shift your Mind: Shift the World, by Steve Chandler

19. Action is the Answer

When you don’t know what to do, just do something. When you feel afraid, do something. When you don’t want to start, do something. Any action, tiny action, will give you momentum. And that gets the ball rolling forward.

Resource: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey

20. Stay Open to Possibilities

I love author Shakti Gawain’s quote, “This or something better now manifests for me in totally satisfying and harmonious ways, for the highest good of all concerned.” When you aren’t too attached to outcomes and remain open, you might get something better than you bargained for!

Resource: Creative Visualization: Use the Power of Your Imagination to Create What You Want in Your Life, by Shakti Gawain