What’s Your Favorite Justification When Giving into Temptation?

What goes through your mind when your give into the late night cookies? When you say yes to another cocktail? When you snag a donut from the platter at work? Or when you skip the spin class you’ve had on your calendar all week?

What conversation do you have with yourself to justify the indulgence? Do any of these rationalizations sound familiar?

  • I just want to relax! (exasperated)
  • I really NEED something sweet. (whining)
  • I deserve a treat after the rough day I’ve had. (assertive)
  • You only live once! (carefree)

donutOr maybe you grab the donut and gobble it down quickly so your brain doesn’t have much time to launch into the pros and cons. It’s a reaction to the bakery smell, a compulsion to feel the sugar crystals and yeasty texture in your mouth. Your mind shouts, “Quick! Before she can talk me out of it, grab that sucker!”

You’re not alone. We all succumb now and then. Temptation is like a wave, a very strong, formidable, and sometimes overwhelming force.

But what if you ride the wave of temptation instead of being swept up in it? Take a minute to identify your own idiosyncratic self talk. What do you tell yourself? Once you’ve put your finger on the dialogue, raise a little red flag next time you hear yourself thinking it. Believe it or not, recognizing the pattern is the most important step in changing the behavior

Next step is to challenge the thought. Most of us don’t distinguish between our thoughts and the truth. They are NOT necessarily one and the same. Realizing there is a difference helps diminish the power of our thoughts. Once we know we can challenge them, it becomes a lot easier to do so.

What I’m describing here is sometimes called “conscious awareness,” and it’s one of the guiding principles of mindfulness. It’s the act of checking in with our thought processes and challenging those that aren’t serving us. It’s an important step in developing self-awareness, not to mention self-control.

Consider sharing you’re own favorite line in the comment section below, along with a good counter-argument. For instance the next time I tell myself “You only live once,” before diving into a short stack of chocolate chip pancakes, I might further the thought with “Yep. Life is short. All the more reason to make smart choices.”


Image courtesy of Suat Eman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Lack of Sleep Sabotages Health and Fitness

Sleep is highly underrated. Before the invention of electric lights (1879), humans slept an average of 10 hours each night. And lo and behold, scientists have found this amount of shuteye is optimal for human performance. The prevailing wisdom today is that we need somewhere between 7 and 9 hours, but at least 1/3 of us sleep fewer than 6 hours each night. We are chalking up sleep debt at an alarming rate. Why and what’s the cost to our bodies?


Sleep simply isn’t valued by our society. We respect busyness, productivity, and many of us are addicted to stress. It’s no surprise that we admire the 1-3% who can consistently perform on little sleep (think Martha Stewart, Bill Clinton, Barak Obama and Donald Trump).

It’s somehow been overlooked, but sleep is just as important to our well-being as a healthy diet, regular exercise and a positive outlook. The good news is that relative to the other three, sleep is often the easiest factor to improve. Since sleep, food, mood and exercise are tied together by our bodies’ biochemistry (the stress hormones as well as the feel-good chemicals), improving your sleep is going to pay off big time in your health and well-being.

Below are 8 key benefits of a good and long night’s sleep. Each of them is directly related to levels of the hormone cortisol in our bodies. Stress ramps up cortisol, while sleep (and exercise) bring it back under control. Too little sleep, too much cortisol, lots of problems! Regular and adequate sleep will help you to:

The Dangers of Sleep Deprivation1)  Protect you from Chronic Disease – According to Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, “Treating sleep as a priority, rather than a luxury, may be an important step in preventing a number of chronic medical conditions.” These include diabetes, obesity, heart disease and stroke.

2)  Be Mentally Sharp– Sleep allows us to make decisions quickly and easily, make fewer mistakes, and boosts our short-term memory.

3)   Improve Efficiency – More time in bed may feel like wasted productivity, but a good night’s sleep helps us complete tasks faster.

3)   Strengthen the Body – Sleep helps us cope with pain and strengthens our immune system.

4)   Make Better Food Choices – Lack of sleep causes us to crave fatty and sugary comfort foods. A well-rested mind means willpower is fully available, and healthy food choices come much more easily.

5)   Exercise Regularly – How often do you skip your workout after a bad night’s sleep? Motivation and willpower are highest when we’ve slept well.

6)   Lower Levels of Frustration and Anxiety – Just like a cranky toddler in need of a nap, when we feel tired we are more easily frustrated and less able to relax.

7)   Prevent Premature Aging – Too little sleep slows the skin’s recovery from sun damage and other environmental toxins.

Safeguarding Your Health: Disease Prevention through Sleep, Food, Mood and ExerciseNow you know the benefits; however, sleep doesn’t come easy to all of us. In my upcoming Smarts and Stamina online workshop, Safeguarding your Health: Disease Prevention through Sleep, Food, Mood and Exercise, we’ll delve further into the value of sleep. We’ll also explore a number of scientifically proven ways to help you improve the quality and quantity of your slumber. Sign up by December 20th to get an early bird discount!

TED talk, Arianna Huffington, How to Succeed? Get More Sleep. Jan 3, 2011.


Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Why Sleep Matters – Sleep and Disease Risk.

Maas, James B., Wherry, Megan L., Axelrod, David J., Hogan, Barbara R., Blumin, Jennifer A. (1998) Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program that Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance. William Morrow.

Shaar, M.J. & Britton, K. (2011). Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person’s Guide to Optimal Health and Performance. Philadelphia, PA: Positive Psychology Press.

Science Daily, Sleep Deprivation Linked to Aging Skin, Study Suggests. July 23, 2013.

WebMD, The Benefits of a Good Night’s Sleep. The Healing Power of Sleep. by Gina Shaw.

WebMD, Sleep Disorders Health Center, The Toll of Sleep Loss in America. by Jeanie Lerche Davis

Dr. Andrew Weil’s Daily Health Tips, How Lack of Sleep Can Ruin Your Diet. October 22, 2013.

Is When you Eat Important?

What time of day do you consume the bulk of your daily caloric intake? Do you graze throughout the day, consuming multiple small meals and snacks? Is your appetite slow to get going, but voracious in the afternoon and evening? Or do you follow the adage, “eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper?”
oatmealWe all know the bottom line in weight management is all about balancing calories consumed vs. calories burned. However, new research supports the idea that you may burn more calories if you consume them earlier in the day. Here’s why:

Apparently, our bodies are meant to fast for about 12 hours, i.e. when it’s dark out. When you wake up, your metabolism is at its lowest point of the day. By eating a solid meal within an hour of waking, you will effectively jump-start your metabolism and let your body know that your day has begun. That done, your body will go on to use calories and nutrients more efficiently throughout the day.

If you are one of those people who just isn’t hungry first thing in the morning, take a look at what you ate the latter half of the previous day. How much and what did you eat after 8 pm? And if you prefer to eat a later dinner, say 9 or 10 pm, what are you eating around 5:30 or 6 to stave off those hunger pangs? Some argue that Europeans generally eat later and don’t have nearly the same problem with obesity seen in America. Yet remember that Europeans traditionally eat a larger midday meal, and we should also take into consideration their level of activity (i.e. walking vs. driving) and their food choices (the Mediterranean diet).

Being a night owl just might make it more difficult to lose weight. The International Journal of Obesity reported that people who stay up late consume an average of 248 more calories per day than their counterparts that get to bed earlier. So if you tend to stay up late, try adjusting your sleep/wake cycle back an hour or so.

ben-jerrys-late-night-snackRemember my earlier blog post that described willpower as a muscle that can be exhausted and effectively used up throughout the day? Our willpower isn’t the same at the end of the day, so we are more apt to make bad food choices, and give into glucose-replenishing sweets and starches.

On the other hand, sleep replenishes your glucose, and when a new day dawns, you’re much more likely to eat a healthy breakfast. Even if you’re not in the mood for typical morning fare, remember that starting your day with breakfast will set you up to metabolize your food more efficiently throughout the day.

One last tip – if you’re tempted, as we all are, to eat less-than-healthy food in the hours before bedtime, try postponing gratification. Tell yourself that if you pass on the brownies now, you can have them for breakfast. Shocked? Well, it’s better than eating them at the end of the day, and surely, once you have the clean slate of the day ahead of you, you’re probably going to make a healthier choice than brownies for breakfast.


NPR.org. Blog, The Salt: What’s On Your Plate, “To Maximize Weight Loss, Eat Early in the Day, Not Late
Yahoo Health. “Eat Breakfast Like a King
Health.com. “Can You Eat Late and Still Lose Weight?


Want to Succeed? Monitor Yourself

Have you ever heard of the “quantified self?” It’s what happens when technology meets self-monitoring. Other catchy phrases referencing the same thing are lifelogging, autoanalytics, and self-tracking. Self-monitoring is not a new idea (early adopters include Saint Ignatius and Benjamin Franklin), and most of us have been doing it for years in some form or another – think bathroom scales and heart rate monitors. But as a tried and true idea, self-monitoring — enhanced by technology — is gaining traction. Tracking the details of your daily existence has become hugely popular in the health and wellness industry because it’s effective and computers and smart phones have made it almost effortless.

If your goal is weight loss, diligently recording your food intake along with your activity level will dramatically increase your chances of success. Why? Because tracking diet and exercise increases your self-awareness on several counts. It keeps you focused on your goal, strengthens your commitment to self-improvement, increases your feeling of control, helps you understand patterns in your eating and exercise habits, provides a detailed picture of your progress, and promotes a more positive mood.

Sleep-Cycle-briefapps-icon-150x150But why stop at diet and exercise? We have a seemingly limitless choice of technology to help us track just about anything. From our moods (Mood Panda), to sleeping (Sleep Cycle), and even our menstrual cycle (iPeriod). The novelty is seductive, yet if you can find an app or even create a spreadsheet or handwritten chart that supports you in reaching your goal of self improvement, use it! Self-awareness is the key, and cultivating it through closely monitoring your activities will keep you on track and accountable.

I’ve used Strava and Sleep Cycle and have a client who swears by Fitbit. What tools do you recommend? I’d love to hear about your favorites in the comment section below.



Kirschenbaum, Daniel S. Ph.D. (2000) The 9 Truths About Weight Loss. New York. Henry Holt & Co.

Baumeister, R. F. and J. Tierney (2011) Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. New York. Penguin.

Willpower and Setting Goals

Coaching is a truly effective way to recognize what behaviors and attitudes are working for you and which ones are not. Is your exercise plan realistic for your busy lifestyle? Do you sabotage your desire to eat fresh healthy foods by stocking the pantry with processed junk for the kids? A careful inventory of your lifestyle is designed to boosts your self-awareness around good and bad habits. Once boosted, you move on to making a plan of action with your coach. What do you want to change and how can you change it? This step is all about goal setting. Here is what the authors of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength have to say about using what we know of our self-control to set and achieve reasonable goals.

Don’t Set Conflicting Goals

How many of us want to be the best we can at our job, parenting and as a devoted spouse or partner? That’s three big goals right there. It’s no surprise that juggling the demands of a job, children and a relationship will leave you exhausted, frustrated, and feeling inadequate at all three.

The result of conflicting goals is worry. We spend our energy scrambling to cope with the demands and so “replace action with rumination.” Our physical and mental health may suffer because we are stuck in a cycle of negative rather than positive emotions. Fewer goals mean a better success rate, but who want to hear that! Keep reading; there are a few things you can do to keep that worry in check.

Short Term vs. Long Term Goals

Concentrate on short-term objectives in lieu of long-term goals. Research has found that meeting short-term goals builds confidence and self-efficacy, and improves learning and performance. Setting long-term goals has the same result as setting no goals at all. So though you may want to lose 50 pounds, you’re better off starting small. The path to the larger goal is filled with many incremental and therefore attainable milestones.

Reduce Mental Nagging


Executive coach David Allen’s book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity describes an elaborate but effective filing system that allows you to prioritize and organize every last task and commitment. His philosophy is based on the Zeigarnik effect. “Uncompleted tasks and unmet goals tend to pop into one’s mind. Once the task is completed and the goal reached, however, this stream of reminders coms to a stop.” In essence the process of making a plan–not necessarily completing the task—frees the mind from niggling worry.

Managing the worry caused by conflicting goals and the stress of the infinite to do list involves making a plan. It’s not necessary to complete the job right now, but once you have an action plan in place, the mind can calm and focus on the task at hand.

More on Willpower

Check out two previous blog posts on the book Willpowerhow willpower works and the connection between willpower and glucose. There are more to come, so please follow the blog (button on the left) to be notified about future posts.