Goal setting has been touted as the most effective way to achieve success in life.  We’ve been told to write them down, stick them to our refrigerator door and even to write them on our bathroom mirror.  You’ve heard that goals should be SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time oriented.  I even wrote a blog post on effective goal setting.  Recently, I’ve moved away from goal setting with both myself and my patients, focusing instead on daily habit formation and the implementation of routines that set you up for success now and in the future.  The inspiration for this change came after listening to the Atomic Habits audiobook by James Clear.  Clear argues that goals are easily procrastinated upon, and can often be too daunting to even get started in the right direction.  By focusing on daily habits and routines, you will improve yourself each day, setting yourself up to achieve success and ultimately to conquer even the loftiest of goals. 

The problem with goal setting

One of the main problems I see with goal setting is that time oriented goals are susceptible to procrastination.  If my goal is to lose 20 lbs. by the end of the year, it’s very easy to let myself wait until 6 or even 3 months are left in the year to start working towards the goal.  Why start now when I have an entire year to accomplish my goal?  A goal that is set out over a year may lose steam after a couple of months, which is what I commonly see with patients looking to make health changes at the beginning of the New Year.  Everyone knows that you will see more people out walking in your neighborhood or exercising at the gym in January, February and March only for it to taper off as the year progresses.  Rather than setting a time oriented goal, instead pick daily habits that will incrementally help you achieve whatever you envision for yourself.

Define your ideal self

Before completely throwing away your list of goals, make sure you have a clear idea in your mind of what you want for yourself.  Envision your ideal job, body composition, and skill set.  Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years?  Where do you want to be financially?  How do you define your ideal self?  Once you’ve established these parameters, you are better suited to implementing daily habits that align with this vision.  If you envision yourself as having a fit and healthy body, implementing a daily habit that helps you save money or be more organized doesn’t necessarily bring you closer to your vision.  Instead, for weight loss, pick habits such as a consistent gym routine, a healthy breakfast at the same time each morning, or reading a book before bed to help promote optimal sleep and recovery.  

Do this instead

As stated previously, the alternative to goal setting is the implementation of daily habits and routines.  Habit formation is beneficial because it focuses on daily growth.  If we aim to grow and improve ourselves little by little each day, the culmination of consistent work will be incredible in the long term.  We may not notice the improvements on a day to day, micro level, however, if we step back after a year and look at the macro improvement the results are substantial.  True growth and change does not come with drastic lifestyle changes such as an extreme 10 day fast or juice cleanse but rather with small steps each day in the right direction.  

 

Next, I show you how to reframe your goals into daily habit formation.

Goal #1: ‘I want to lose 20 lbs. before summer’

Habit: I will work to implement a habit where I do 3 sets x 15 push-ups in the morning followed by drinking a 16 ounce glass of water.  

Habit: Weather permitting, I will go outside in the morning for a 10 minute walk in the sunshine before work.

(First morning exercise and sunshine stimulates cortisol release and helps to regulate our circadian rhythm.  Sufficient cortisol release in the AM will decrease cravings for fried and sugary foods in the evening which occurs if cortisol levels remain high.)

Habit: I will place a pan, plate, and eating utensils out in my kitchen before I go to bed each night.  Already having the pan on the stove increases the likelihood that I will cook a homemade breakfast and adopt a more consistent eating schedule that includes breakfast each day.

 

Goal #2: ‘I want to increase my sales at work by 15% this year’

Habit: I will wake up at the same time every day to ensure a consistent sleep schedule and to increase my productivity at work. 

Habit: I will call 2 potential new clients each day prior to leaving for lunch.

Habit: I will send a thank you card to 2 existing clients each week thanking them for their business.  

For work related goals, consider setting up a daily, weekly, and monthly checklist in a binder or whiteboard to track progress of tasks to be completed.  Make these tasks part of your habits at work and you will see your productivity increase.

 

Goal #3: ‘I want to improve my relationship with my parents’ 

Habit: Each morning I will practice gratitude by writing down 3 things in my life that I am grateful as part of a journaling routine. 

Habit: I will call one of my parents every Friday after work to check in.

 

Goal #4: ‘I want to be more organized’

Habit: Each morning I will make my bed as the first task to be completed in my day.  Making your bed each morning sets yourself up for success throughout the rest of your day and helps you to establish a task completion mindset.

Habit: Each morning when my coffee is brewing I will take 5 minutes to tidy up my living room so I leave for work with an organized living space. 

 

Goal #5: ‘I want to get better sleep this year’

Habit: I will develop a habit where I turn off all electronics at least 1 hour before bed time.  Blue light exposure stimulates cortisol release at the wrong time of day and will make falling and staying asleep more difficult. 

Habit: Prior to going to bed I will write out tomorrow’s ‘To Do’ list in a journal that I keep by my night stand.  Getting tomorrow’s tasks written down will give you peace of mind and allow your brain to turn off before going to sleep.

Habit: I will read for 20 minutes before bed.  Reading, especially fiction, gives your brain a singular point of focus, and helps you get your mind off of the day’s stresses.  

 

I hope this article gives you valuable insight into daily habit formation and the power it can have.  I finish with a quote from W.H. Auden – ‘Routine, in an intelligent man (or woman), is a sign of ambition.’

Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC.  Check out his bio here

Despite the chaos of 2020, the coming holiday season brings with it a time for self reflection, family bonding, and solidarity within the community. For many, personal health initiatives such as dietary, lifestyle, or exercise improvements go on pause during the holiday season, only to be resurrected come the new year.  To avoid taking steps backwards during the holidays, I’d like to offer some suggestions to make the end of 2020 your healthiest yet.

Gym Alternatives

Many people still feel uncomfortable going to the gym. However, not having access to a gym is not an excuse to let your fitness goals go unaccomplished. There are numerous ways to get an excellent workout from the safety and comfort of your own home with no equipment at all. One option is to perform a 15 to 30 minute guided yoga, tai chi, or qi gong class.  Each practice combines controlled movements with deep breathing and can help with stress and anxiety, as well as improve blood flow throughout the body. There are hundreds of free classes you can take on YouTube, turning your home into your own yoga studio. I personally enjoy the  Yoga With Adrienne YouTube Channel which has classes for all different skill levels and even has sports specific classes that cater to what you love most.

Another excellent alternative to going to the gym is to perform an at home bodyweight exercise circuit. You can create a challenging workout with no equipment necessary. Make sure to include movements such as the body weight squat, body weight forward and reverse lunge, wall sits, planks, side planks, and push-ups. Here is a sample home exercise routine that is a great alternative to going to the gym: 

Perform 3 rounds of: 

10 body weight squats

20 reverse lunges (10 each leg) 

15 push-ups

30 second wall sit 

30 second front plank 

30 second side plank (each side) 

(Rest for 2 minutes between each round)

Once this circuit becomes easy, you can add additional rounds, increase repetitions, extend the time for the planks and wall-sits, and decrease rest time between each round. You can also add more explosive movements such as jump squats, speed skaters, jumping lunges, clap push-ups, and burpees. If you have someone to join you for a home workout, have them provide manual resistance to make exercises such as the push-up and planks more difficult. 

You’ll be amazed at the quality of workout you can get once you start being creative and learn how to use your own body weight to your advantage!

Holiday Sweets Alternatives

Make this holiday season your healthiest yet by choosing these delicious alternatives to the sugar laden treats of Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Each of these options is low in refined sugar and absent of harmful vegetable oils. These ‘desserts’ will leave you feeling energized instead of fatigued and mentally sluggish.

  • Dark chocolate and nut butter 
    • Opt for a dark chocolate that is 85% cocoa content or higher to limit the amount of sugar. 
      • Cocoa is an excellent source of nutritional antioxidants, bioflavonoids, and arginine which helps improve blood flow. It is also a great source of healthy saturated fat.
    • For the nut butter, do your best to choose a freshly ground, organic option.  Make sure the sugar content is 3 grams or less per serving or more ideally, none.  
      • Nut butters are an exceptional source of healthy fats and also are protective against heart disease and type 2 diabetes due to their high fiber and magnesium contents.  
  • Sliced apples fried in coconut oil with cinnamon
    • Over medium heat, sauté your thinly sliced apples in coconut oil until golden brown on each side. Sprinkle with cinnamon and enjoy by themselves or with unsweetened greek yogurt or whipped heavy cream from an unpasteurized milk source.
      • Apples are a great source of vitamin C, fiber, and potassium.  Regular apple consumption is consistently associated with lower rates of heart disease, cancer, asthma, and type 2 diabetes.
      • Cinnamon’s health benefits, which come from the oils in its barks, include reduced risk of heart disease, improved insulin sensitivity and decreased risk of type 2 diabetes. It also acts as a nutritional antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.  
      • Coconut oil is a top choice for healthy saturated fats and also has a high smoke point which makes it ideal for cooking.  
  • Paleo nut energy bars 

Connect with your family and community 

Staying connected socially is very important not only to the health of the body, but also the mind. Human beings crave connection, social interaction, and a sense of community. Consequently, the health of our bodies will suffer if we cannot maintain these connections. Having a positive interaction with your community is vitally important for your health. Steps you can take to improve your personal relationships, as well as with your community include sending a handwritten letter to a relative you haven’t spoken to for awhile, volunteering at a local food or clothing drive, helping an elderly neighbor with landscaping or other small maintenance job at their house, or preparing one of the desserts above to surprise your neighbors with a healthy treat! 

This holiday season could not come at a more vital time in our society. I encourage you to use these next couple months to treat your body and mind with care and to create a greater sense of unity in your family and communities.

Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC.  Check out his bio here.

The new year is a popular time for setting goals, health and lifestyle improvement, and new beginnings. We believe New Year’s resolutions offer an excellent opportunity to achieve your health and fitness objectives. Goal setting can be a tricky business, so we want to provide you with the tools you need to define, execute, and achieve your goals.  Make 2020 your best year ever and bring in the new decade with clear, focused intentions that push you towards a healthier and more fulfilling life. 

Establish Your Why

Before you start writing out your goals, you need to start by defining your ‘why’. Popularized by Simon Sinek’s excellent book, Start with Why, the idea of defining your why, or overall purpose in life, is the essential first step in goal setting.  What motivates you to succeed? Who do you want to help? What is your purpose in life? What are you truly passionate about?  Until you answer questions like these, the goals you set will lack a deeper meaning and you will be less likely to achieve them. Once you have established your why, you can align your goals with the vision for your life and how your goals directly relate to that why.

Write It Down 

In modern society seemingly all written documents are stored electronically. Everything from doctor’s chart notes, financial budgets, to the newest book on Kindle are digitized and meant to be read off of a screen. Instead of typing out your goals on a computer or cell phone, take the time to write them down on a piece of paper. There is value in writing your goals down on paper – a paper document is concrete, solid, and cannot be deleted with a stroke of your finger.  

Place this piece of paper somewhere you will see it everyday – on your desk at work, attached to the fridge, or take it a step further and tape a laminated copy of your goals on the inside wall of your shower! By seeing your goals in writing EVERYDAY you will be reminded of your goal, your why, and the ultimate purpose for achieving it. 

Write Out Action Steps for Each Goal

You can think of this as a to do list for each goal. Make one of these action steps something you can do TOMORROW. Examples of immediate action steps include purchasing a gym membership, cleaning up your resume, cleaning the junk food out of your fridge and cabinets, or calling a job or business lead. Make this first task simple to complete, so you will have zero excuses not to complete the task by the end of the next day. Subsequent action steps can be more complex and time intensive but should still have specific time frames for completion.  Giving yourself concrete deadlines will increase the likelihood you complete the action steps and ultimately achieve your goal.  

Create Goals that are: SMART

S= Specific: 

Your goal needs to be simple and specific. You should be able to answer the following questions: What do I want to accomplish with this goal?  Why do I want to accomplish this goal? What are the resources (people, monetary, time, etc.) needed to accomplish this goal? How will I know when I have completed this goal?  Once you have answered these questions you will have a clear vision of what you need to do to start on the path towards achieving your goals. 

M= Measurable:

Use specific facts, events, or metrics to clearly define your goal.  A clear and well-defined goal will better provide you with the blueprint you need to complete it. Instead of making a goal like, ‘I want to lose weight this year’, make a more specific goal such as:  ‘I want to lose 10 pounds by March and decrease my body fat percentage by 2-3%.’  

A= Attainable: 

While it’s okay to shoot for the stars, having practical goals you honestly have the resources to achieve are much more likely to be met. An unrealistic goal may demotivate you because you are asking too much of yourself. Use realistic timeframes. If your goal is going to take some time to complete, don’t give yourself a tight deadline which will ultimately end up stressing you out.  Conversely, don’t pick a goal that is overly easy to achieve. Find the sweet spot. You want a goal that will push you hard and motivate you, but not one that is so difficult it will cause stress and decreased confidence in yourself.

R= Relevant: 

Make sure your goal aligns with your life and career aspirations. Goals that do not push you towards your why feel empty and are less likely to be achieved.  By the time you’ve reached this step you should have already defined your why, and you can make sure your goals and your why are working for each other. 

T= Time Bound: 

Utilize a time frame and concrete deadlines.  As stated earlier, pick an action step to be completed by the end of the day tomorrow.  Pick another to be completed by the end of the week. Pick yet another more complex action step to be completed by the end of the month.  You can even pick goals that fall into different time frames. Write out a 1 month goal, a 6 month goal, a 1 year goal, a 5 year goal, and a 10 year goal. These goals can be interrelated or entirely separate.  Again, make sure these goals align with your why. Your 5 and 10 year goals should be intimately associated with your why because you will have had the most time to plan and execute these monumental goals.  

Ask for Help 

One of the best resources you have for completing your goals is your family and friends. Let them know what your goals are. Simply telling someone you have a certain goal is a powerful motivational tool. For added accountability, ask a family member or friend to check in with you periodically on the progress on your goal. If you have a career or skill acquisition oriented goal, find a mentor. Mentors can be a valuable asset in achieving your goals as they have likely had similar aspirations for themselves. Most mentors are more than willing to help an individual in their field as it gives them an opportunity to share the information they have worked so hard to learn. 

We hope these simple steps help you to define and conquer your goals in the New Year.  Make 2020 the best year of your life!

Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC.  Check out his bio here.

Many patients come to me with the goal of losing weight. They have seemingly tried everything from complex dieting, hiring personal trainers and life coaches, to intense calorie restriction and juice cleanses, yet nothing seems to work. Many methods work for a month or two and then the patient reverts back to their previous way of eating, often consuming more of the unhealthiest foods as a means of compensation for months of dieting. This cycle is repeated many times until the patient is discouraged and feels like lasting change will never happen. However, with proper education and dedication towards taking small steps in the right direction, lasting change is possible. In the following blog post, I’ll outline simple ways to take steps toward losing weight and keeping it off for years to come. 

What is metabolism?

Metabolism refers to the caloric cost of all biochemical processes in the body: digestion of food, maintenance of blood pressure, regulation of body temperature, protection from pathogenic diseases, production of ATP for energy, etc.  As metabolic rate increases, the amount of calories burned each day increases as well. Basal metabolic rate or BMR refers to the amount of calories burned while at rest. If you were to lie in bed all day your body would still be using calories to perform it’s essential needs, and the amount of calories you’d burn would be your BMR.  A main goal of weight loss is to increase the patient’s BMR (metabolism at rest), that way they are using more calories during the day, even when not exercising. One of the best ways to increase BMR is through resistance (weight training) exercise.

When we perform resistance exercise of appropriate intensity, we increase the amount of lean muscle mass in the body.  An increase in lean muscle mass is important because the metabolic rate is directly determined by the amount of lean muscle mass in the body.  As the percent of lean body mass increases, the metabolic rate also increases, resulting in more calories used throughout the day.  

An important point to remember is that lean muscle mass weighs more than fat.  This means that when you start performing resistance exercise, your body weight may initially increase. It is important to not get discouraged. Even though you are gaining weight, your metabolic rate is increasing and your percentage of lean muscle mass is increasing.  As metabolic rate continues to increase due to a higher percentage of lean body mass, you will eventually start to lean out and lose weight. I’ve seen too many patients get discouraged from an initial increase in weight and they end up missing out on the true benefits of resistance exercise.  

As an added bonus, one of the best ways to maintain the structure and function of your bones is through resistance exercise. Bones grow and remodel in response to external force.  You need to utilize barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, and machine weight training to stimulate growth and repair in your bones. 

‘The Fat Burning Zone’: 

There is a common misconception that the best way to lose weight is through long duration cardio at a slow pace, such as taking long walks, slow jogging, or low level cycling on a stationary bike.  Most people have seen the charts on the treadmill or bike that highlight the ‘fat burning zone’ which supposedly gives the desired percentage of heart rate (HR) max that burns the most amount of fat.  The target zone is typically around 60% of the individual’s estimated heart rate max. While there is truth to the fact that our body’s burn more fat at lower intensities of exercise, the total amount of calories burned is much less when staying within the ‘fat burning zone’.  The amount of calories burned is more important than the percentage of fat being utilized for exercise. Higher intensity exercise such as sprints, repetitive jumping, resistance weight training, and plyometrics, burn more calories in less time and thus are more beneficial for weight loss.  

I prefer patients to perform short duration, high intensity bouts of exercise.  I’m not suggesting they completely give up taking long walks, or other forms of lower intensity exercise, but rather know the importance of getting their heart rate up and muscles firing in order to achieve a successful fat loss workout regimen.  Commonly known as high intensity interval training (HIIT), this training model uses short bouts of high intensity exercise, interspersed with brief periods of rest to reset cellular energy levels. The purpose of HIIT is to utilize and grow the body’s fast-twitch skeletal muscle fibers (type II fibers).  These fibers are responsible for sprinting, jumping, and heavy lifting, and are highly active metabolically (meaning they burn lots of calories). HIIT can be performed with running, biking, or with body weight exercises.  

A popular form of HIIT training is a Tabata workout. The classic Tabata protocol is 20 seconds of max effort high intensity exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest.  Complete this cycle 8 times for a total workout time of 4 minutes. Exercises include squat jumps, burpees, lunges, push-ups, or any movement that can be performed repetitively and explosively.  If you are new to HIIT training, instead of jumping right into a Tabata, consider performing interval training starting at 30-45 seconds of a moderately fast pace, followed by 20 seconds of rest, for 6-8 cycles.

Decrease inflammation to lose fat

A growing body of research is linking inflammation and obesity.  Obesity leads to inflammation in the body, and inflammation makes weight loss more difficult.  Inflammation is the body’s response to injury or infection and is characterized by redness, swelling, heat, pain and loss of tissue function. Inflammation can be looked at as the body’s alarm system. While an important and essential response to injury or infection, the body can kick on the inflammatory process in the absence of injury or infection.  When our body’s alarm system is in a constant state of activation, damage to tissues can occur. The most likely culprits of increased inflammation are diet, poor or absent exercise patterns, physical and mental stress, lack of sleep, and lifestyle diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.  

The common belief in human physiology for years was that after puberty, you are essentially stuck with the number of existing fat or ‘adipose’ cells in your body.  After puberty, the fat cells would only be able to shrink or grow, but the total number would stay the same your entire life. New research suggests this is not the case and that fat cells can die and even transform into other cell types such as muscle or neural tissue. This information should be very encouraging to an individual trying to lose weight. Even more interesting is the same research suggests that chronic low grade inflammation in the body makes fat cells more resistant to dying or transforming.  If the patient is seemingly doing everything, yet they are still not losing weight, look to inflammation as the culprit. Decrease inflammation in your diet by cutting out refined sugars and grains, corn, soy, pasteurized dairy, grain fed meat, and commonly used vegetable oils such as corn, peanut, safflower, and sunflower oil. Instead eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, grass fed meats, pasture raised eggs, sustainably caught wild fish, coconut oil, olive oil, grass fed butter, and a wide variety of spices (garlic, turmeric, cumin, cayenne, etc.).

Morning sunshine exposure

For each of my patients I recommend 10 minutes of sunshine first thing in the morning with as much skin exposure as possible. There are numerous health benefits to morning sunshine exposure, with the most important being the regulation of your circadian rhythm.  Think of your circadian rhythm as a giant clock, and at specific points in the day, certain hormones are released on a timed schedule. Cortisol, our ‘awake’ hormone, is released in the morning and is stimulated by UV light exposure from the sun on our eyes and skin. It’s important to get an adequate cortisol release in the morning to avoid elevated afternoon and night time cortisol levels. Cortisol is often wrongly referred to as our ‘stress’ hormone.  Cortisol release only causes stress when released in the afternoon and evening, when our body should naturally be shutting down and preparing for sleep. When cortisol levels are high in the afternoon, our body’s naturally crave refined sugars and unhealthy processed fats. You’ve probably noticed how you gravitate towards sweets and fast food when you are most stressed. You can avoid these cravings by making sure cortisol release in the morning is adequate.  

Leptin and ghrelin are two important hormones that also depend on an intact circadian rhythm to function properly. These hormones regulate appetite and need to be in balance if weight loss is going to be successful. Leptin is an appetite suppressor and ghrelin is an appetite stimulator. Leptin is released when our body has consumed enough energy from food and we no longer need to eat. Leptin is our satiety hormone, and tells our brain when we are full.  As you can imagine, if leptin release does not occur, we will not have the signal to stop eating and we will over consume calories and increase weight gain. Ghrelin does the opposite, stimulating appetite when our stomachs are empty. These two hormones work in alternate relationship to each other and both rely on a healthy Circadian rhythm to function. An excellent health initiative would be to visibly watch (no sunglasses/ no windows) the sunrise and sunset every day.  Balanced hormones, better sleep, improved energy, and better appetite regulation are some of the many benefits you’d get. 

In summary, three excellent ways to trigger weight loss are: 1) start performing a high intensity interval training (HIIT) program, 2) decrease inflammation through diet and exercise, and 3) regular sunshine exposure to optimize your circadian rhythm and hormonal balance. 

Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC.  Check out his bio here.