“What’s something that you could change about the way you’re living your life that would help you be the version of yourself that you want to be, reach goals, and contribute more fully to the roles and relationships that matter to you?” – Dr. Kelly McGonigal
Willpower. What is it, and how do we harness it to become the version of ourselves we want to be so we can reach our highest goals? In the latest episode of the Stronger U Radio podcast, psychologist, best-selling author, and educator Dr. Kelly McGonigal sat down with Stronger U’s Manager of Nutrition Education and Innovation, Gianna Masi, RD, to talk about the science of willpower and her book The Willpower Instinct – which our community is collectively reading in September as part of our #StrongerUs book club. Specifically focused on the human response to willpower and its effects on our body’s chemistry, Gianna and Dr. McGonigal explore how we can develop stronger willpower in our lives.
During their deeply engaging and relatable conversation, they dive into the significance of putting our energy and attention on what matters over choosing to avoid discomfort, the power of connection and celebrating successes, the place of willpower when it comes to habit change (you may be surprised on her take,) and meeting challenging moments with whatever it is you need: courage, self-care, wisdom, or sometimes, restraint.
Dr. McGonigal touches on the “feel better effect” phenomenon of how exercise and movement change the brain short term. This includes the science behind how by moving a bit and getting your heart rate up slightly through, say, walking or dynamic stretching, your body releases adrenaline and dopamine that results in an energizing effect and a more positive outlook. She also goes into the long-term effects of exercise on the brain and how consistency is key to fully experiencing these changes.
This not-to-be-missed episode is filled with nuggets of wisdom and aha moments that will leave you feeling inspired. Grab a pen and notepad because, trust us, you will want to take notes.
To learn more about the #StrongerUs book club and join Dr. McGonigal live on September 29th in the Stronger U Community, head to: https://fb.me/e/2DefxIyXj.
In 2018, Mir P. was at an intersection in her life. Mir filled her days with teaching high school students writing, managing the English department, and supporting her school admin as an in-house professional development facilitator. She used her evenings pursuing her passion for writing but did not gain the traction she aspired to, receiving rejections for articles and book ideas from publishers.
“I was burning every candle at every end. I was running around all day. It was very hectic. It was demanding. Teaching is demanding no matter how you do it. You stand all day. You’re on all day.”
As an educator, Mir found that opportunities to pay attention to her nutrition were few and far between. Teachers are confronted with unique challenges regarding maintaining a balanced diet and teaching. Between short lunches, demands on their attention, and frequent comforting snacks in the teacher’s lounge, Mir explains, “It’s really hard to eat well [as a teacher]”. Mir has been a loyal Barre enthusiast for the past 10 years. However, despite her consistent workout schedule, she still struggled with the nutrition piece. She was feeling tired, run-down, and always hungry. “There was just no time for me,” Mir stated.
Eventually, Mir was tired of being tired. After a few failed attempts at working with other nutrition professionals, she was recommended Stronger U by a teacher friend. Feeling like she was running out of options, she decided to make the leap and signed up for her first session. Within her first 12-week session, Mir reached her weight loss goals and transitioned into maintenance. She was enjoying the extra energy and results from her work with barre. Still, after some time, she realized that there was more she could learn to make her Stronger U habits a lifelong change, “I wanted to sustain this for the rest of my life.”
“I needed to complete the part of my [Stronger U] education that went a little further than experiencing the initial success.” Mir shared. During her second session with her coach Jodi, Mir developed her knowledge in nutrition and solidified her skills to sustain her needs for the long haul. “Jodi was really flexible at looking at different solutions that I could maintain for a long time. She also gave me strategies for the long-term, like: ‘if it starts not to work, try these numbers’, ‘if this is happening, try this’. She essentially taught me how to deal with setbacks, which I hadn’t learned during my first session.”
Over time, Mir started to apply Stronger U’s approach of looking at the data to build knowledge about herself to other aspects of her life. “Not being afraid of the knowledge, but using it to inform what I do next. That’s been a helpful strategy I’ve learned from Stronger U. When I’m feeling things aren’t going well, I think, ‘okay, so, what can I learn? What can I do to make it better?'”
Fast forward three years and now, Mir is no longer in the classroom. Instead, she has moved into a new role as an Instructional Specialist. In this coaching position, she helps educators throughout her district hone their skills to be more effective in the classroom and facilitates district-wide professional development. She is also teaching courses at a local university.
And she’s still writing in the evenings. “With my writing, I had tried to do it many years ago, to publish a book, but again, it didn’t work out. So, I thought, ‘I’ll do something safer, like blogging, where people can’t say no to me.’ But then I started to think, ‘it’s time. When is this going to happen?’ I started sending my articles to a couple of education publications, and they started saying yes.” In fact, in 2020, when the pandemic started, Mir opened her email to see a message she’s been working towards for nearly two decades: a publisher approached her about writing a book. “I started thinking maybe I just had to get to the point where I had something that people wanted to hear. Maybe I just wasn’t there yet. Maybe this is what growth is. It doesn’t happen necessarily when you want it to happen.”
Last May, Mir’s first book, “Teach More, Hover Less,” was published. Her second book will be hitting shelves in March, and she is scheduled to present at an English Teacher’s Convention in Disneyland. “Just like we tell people with Stronger U: you’re not going to get there overnight, you’re not going to lose the weight overnight. It’s going to happen, you just need to get to that place where you’re ready.”
As many teachers prepare to head back into the classroom over the next month, Mir offered some of her best tips for prioritizing teachers’ needs while meeting the demands of working in education.
Mir approaches her eating the way she does her teaching—with a plan! “You can plan your week using the same skills you use to plan your lessons. So, the question is, how are you setting yourself up for success?” First, she takes the time the night before to input her food into her tracker. Then, she’ll copy and paste meals to help make the process even faster. She believes that the next day will run smoother and create an opportunity for success by taking 10-15 minutes in the evening to pack a lunch, prep meals, or input your food into your tracker.
Use the Right Tools
- Keep transportable containers on hand.
For example, Mir loves to use her salad container with a separate cup for dressing so that everything is fresh and crunchy when it’s time for lunch (even though she packed it the night before).
- Keep an insulated bag large enough to carry your food.
You can place your day’s prepped meals in it and place them into the fridge the night before.
- Have convenience foods that you enjoy on hand.
Since school lunches are short and teachers aren’t usually able to leave the building, keeping prepacked protein bars, shakes, beef jerky, and tuna packs in your desk is a great way to have a plan B in case your lunch doesn’t work out.
- Use the Stronger U Facebook Community as a resource.
She checks the feed every morning and uses her time in the community to learn more about recipes, progress from other members, and help support other members on their journey.
Keep transportable containers on hand that are functional for your needs. For example, Mir loves to use her salad container with a separate cup for dressing so that everything is fresh and crunchy when it’s time for lunch (even though she packed it the night before).
She recommends keeping an insulated bag large enough to carry your food, so you can prep your day’s meals and snacks and stick it into the fridge the night before.
Mir also recommends finding convenience foods that you enjoy. Since school lunches are short and teachers aren’t usually able to leave the building, keeping prepacked protein bars, shakes, beef jerky, and tuna packs in your desk is a great way to have a plan B in case your lunch doesn’t work out.
Lastly, Mir recommends using the Stronger U Facebook Community as a resource. She checks the feed every morning and uses her time in the community to learn more about recipes, progress from other members, and help support other members on their journey.
Protect Your Time
“At lunch, kids come, colleagues come. We’re not wired to protect our time. We’re wired to help when people ask,” Mir explains. While on the clock, teachers will compromise their minimal free time to support students and colleagues alike. Mir found that by going outside to eat lunch, she could create some boundaries that allowed her to enjoy her meal without interruption, eliminating the unintended outcome of getting overly hungry and reaching for something that wasn’t in her plan.
She also has become a well-oiled habit-stacker and considers her daily barre workouts non-negotiable. So how does she find the time? Simple. She treats it with as much importance and consistency as brushing her teeth. She keeps her workout clothes closer to her bed than her work clothes. She wakes up a little earlier than the rest of her family to make sure she has the time to focus on herself.
Four years ago, Mir was looking for a way to focus on nutrition in an impactful way. With the help of her Stronger U coaches, she now nourishes her body, practices kindness to herself in all aspects of life, and can be the best educator she can be to students, teachers, and now, readers.
To learn more about Mir’s book Teach More, Hover Less, check out her website!
It’s one of the busiest times of the year: back to school, back to activities, back to overcommitted schedules. If you’re wondering how you can focus on your health goals while managing so much on your plate (no pun intended,) you’re not alone. That also means you don’t need to go it alone! As parents, we tend to put our well-being last on the list of priorities. So, while you might consider a break from your healthier habits, a coach’s support is most important in these challenging seasons. Life will always be busier than ideal. There will always be something that seems more pressing, resulting in feeling like something else must give. That “something” is typically us. Here’s the thing, prioritizing our wellness will help us accomplish more and be happier overall. Eating the correct number of nutrients, drinking enough water, sleeping better, and getting more exercise can boost our energy and give us a better outlook to optimize our days without feeling burned out.
Setting up a routine is an excellent place to start. We’ve rounded up five habits you can begin to incorporate right now:
Plan Your Meals.
Review your weekly schedule, determine how many people you’ll be cooking for each day and how many meals and snacks you’ll need to prepare. Next, make a list of the ingredients you’ll need for those meals and snacks. Then, plan a specific day to grocery shop (if you’re short on time, consider using a meal delivery service.)
Pro tip: Have the same meal more than once and choose meal options that last and freeze easily. This reduces planning, prepping, and cleaning!
Set a Bedtime and Stick to It.
Does your summer sleep schedule have you reaching for the snooze button more than you’d like? While it might be tempting to stay up and scroll social media during those precious minutes of alone time at the end of the day, your sleep is much more critical. Unplug from your digital devices at least an hour before bed and set your phone in another room so you won’t be distracted by it. If you’re someone who uses the alarm on your phone, consider investing in a traditional alarm clock instead.
Track Your Meals in Advance.
If you’re currently tracking macronutrients, you can take planning a step further and enter pre-planned meals into your Stronger U Nutrition Tracker in advance. You can choose to do the entire week or just a day ahead. This takes the guesswork out of your meals and portion sizes and will save you from having to track them later.
Prepack Lunches the Night Before.
Put the planning into action. While you’re packing your kids’ lunches, prepack your own food too. By taking these extra minutes the night before, you can save time in the morning and avoid leaving without your planned food for the day.
Get Your Steps in During Sports and Activities.
Is soccer practice taking up your weeknights? Instead of sitting on the sidelines, do laps around the field during practice, use a step tracker, and aim for 10,000 steps daily. Perhaps invite other friends to join you for a little friendly competition.
Having the guidance and tools to overcome obstacles that come with new schedules and long to-do lists can set you on the path to success for the remainder of the year. You’ll also have an easier time staying on track with your goals. These are some general ideas to implement, but a Stronger U coach can provide many more personalized tips and support for your unique situation.
To learn more about the benefits of working with a coach, chat with someone from our Member Experience Team.
As the leaves begin to change, students head back to school, and our summer plans come to a close, let’s take this opportunity to align for the upcoming season. As we continually strive to look inwards at our responses and reactions to life’s common problems, we have the opportunity to grow and improve our entire lives.
As Stronger U members, we’re often confronted with challenges that require us to consider what’s most important to our plan. Things like:
- Professional and personal stress
- Social lives and eating out
- Balancing our goals with our family at home
Many of our Stronger U members come to the community to ask how to have better willpower. Whether it’s eating less sugar, not drinking with friends, or committing to a movement schedule that supports their goals. Let’s focus our conversation on willpower in September by reading a book together that focuses on what willpower is and how to harness it without getting burned out.
The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal explores willpower a scientific, psychological, and personal experience to help illuminate what willpower is and how we can make it work in our own lives.
About the Book
As much as we wish it could be true, willpower is not a product of genetics. The good news? Even if we feel like we have no willpower, there are ways that we can practice it and develop it. Through mindfulness, exercise, nutrition, and sleep, the habit of practicing willpower can become easier and more manageable. When people experience increased control over the things that challenge their willpower, they experience increased health and happiness.
The Willpower Instinct explores the idea of creating and harnessing willpower for overall life improvement. It highlights the importance of balance and how too much rigorous self-control can lead to higher temptation and stress. With scientific data, Kelly McGonigal offers prescriptive advice and exercises to support the development of personal willpower to help readers approach their common willpower triggers with confidence and clarity.
About the Author
Kelly McGonigal is a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University who specializes in understanding the mind-body connection. As a pioneer in the field of “science-help,” her mission is to translate insights from psychology and neuroscience into practical strategies that support personal well-being and strengthen communities.
She is the best-selling author of The Willpower Instinct and The Upside of Stress. You might also know her from her TED talk, “How to Make Stress Your Friend,” which is one of the most viewed TED talks of all time, with over 20 million views.
Through the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism, she helped create Stanford Compassion Cultivation Training, a program now taught around the world that helps individuals strengthen their empathy, compassion, and self-compassion.
In January 2020, Oprah Magazine honored her ability to “transform scientific data into wisdom” by naming McGonigal the first ever O! Visionary, people whose groundbreaking way of seeing the world mean a better future for us all.
Let’s Get Stronger Together
Ready to jump into the fall with a clearer mindset and tangible practices to help strengthen your willpower? Join the Stronger U Community as we read “The Willpower Instinct” together!
- Order your copy of “The Willpower Instinct” (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indie Bound)
- Join the Stronger U Community and aim to complete the book by September 29th.
- Join the conversation! Use the #StrongerUsBookClub in the Stronger U Community to share your thoughts, reflections, and questions.
- Participate in the Live Community Discussion in the Stronger U Community on September 29th at 7:00pm EST (More details to come).
Summer is synonymous with the great outdoors. After a long winter (for many) and a chilly spring, the warmth gives a welcomed sense of rejuvenation. Many of us are heading out to explore other parts of the world, country or even within our own neighborhoods. Whether you live by the beach, in the city, in the country or in the suburbs, making it a point to trade air conditioning and wi-fi for fresh air and sunshine should be topping your to-do list.
Catching some rays results in a lot more goodness than a tan (although we’re here for that, too!). In fact, a study published in 2019 by researchers in the UK found that spending at least 120 minutes per week in nature (that’s only about 17 minutes a day!) is associated with good health. The benefits that can potentially come from spending more time outside range from improved immunity to feeling happier and sleeping better.
Here are 5 ways a little extra sun can boost your overall wellbeing:
Clear out the brain fog by stepping outside for an afternoon walk. The increased levels of oxygen improve your brain function so you can have more energy and be more productive. Win/win!
There’s a reason we’ve been hearing about Vitamin D so much for the last two years. In addition to helping support your immune system by protecting you against infections, it also reduces inflammation, promotes cell growth, strong bones and teeth.
Insomnia killin’ your vibe? Exposure to sunlight early in the day can help reset your circadian rhythm (the fancy term for your internal clock). Sunlight triggers melatonin production which is a chemical that helps you fall asleep easier and get better zzz’s.
Lower Blood Pressure
When your skin is exposed to sunlight, your body releases an important molecule called nitric oxide which causes blood vessels to widen as it moves into the bloodstream. This results in a decrease in blood pressure and increase in blood flow to the heart.
It’s true, getting outside really does make you feel happier! Sunlight helps increase production of the hormone serotonin, which is responsible for stabilizing your mood.
It’s easy to see why prioritizing outdoor time should be an essential aspect of your wellness regimen. We know our body is an interconnected series of functions that work together – when one thing is off balance it impacts all the others. The health benefits from spending more time in nature mentioned above can affect how you eat and exercise, especially when it comes to getting better sleep and feeling good overall.
Finding ways to get out more doesn’t have to be a big production either. It can be as simple as taking small steps to incorporate it into your daily life. Put on some sunscreen and head out for a short walk each day in between tasks or meetings, set up your laptop on your patio for an hour or two, opt for a coffee shop or restaurant with outdoor seating, or meet up with a friend for a social hike. Get creative as to how you can make spending more time outside part of your routine.
How will you be making the most of the outdoors this summer? Check in with your coach for more personalized ideas and be sure to share your favorite alfresco activities with us by tagging @strongeru on Facebook or Instagram.
Crank up the radio and roll the windows down, it’s summer, which means Stronger U members are hitting the open road on road trips, camping excursions, and so much more. Stronger U coach Katie Leahy, RD, is dishing her common member tips for making this year’s road trip the best one yet, with gas station and packing tips, how to handle the road, and much more!
Pack Your Car for Success
The perfect road trip has a couple of non-negotiable essentials: good music and food (of course!). And while there’s nothing quite like the open road and an open bag of something crunchy to munch the miles away, when we’re working with a Stronger U coach, sometimes those salty snacks can hurt our progress! When prepping for your upcoming road trip, consider what foods you can pre-pack to keep you awake, satisfied, and focused on your goals while you’re away. Just like your car cannot drive on an empty tank of gas, neither can you. By keeping food smart for a road trip means a little prep/planning ahead of time and a better idea of what to look for as you need to stop along the way.
I love to recommend a handful of non-food must-haves for any car trip, including:
- Refillable coffee mugs and water bottles;
- a garbage bag or designated trash;
- portable cooler or lunchbox on ice or reusable icepacks;
- disposable utensils;
- napkins/wet ones, and;
- hand sanitizer.
Rest Easy at the Rest Stop
Beware of gas station fat traps including store made chicken or tuna salad (>20g fat per 2 oz.), donuts, cookies, large bags/containers of nuts or seeds, chips, peanut butter filled pretzels, candy bars, flavored coffee drinks, as we know for all of these choices a little goes a long way calorically and it’s hard to keep track of portion when your eyes are on the road and hand is reaching for snacks.
For shopping at the gas station, survey your options first (plus a quick lap will help you get a little extra movement in too). Not all gas stops are created equal, so take a look at the inventory. Highlight where the protein sources are: deli meat, low fat string cheese, cottage cheese, boiled eggs, Greek yogurt, protein shakes (I found 2 familiar kinds at one of the stops), jerky, and tuna chunk light in a pouch. These are the things I prefer to grab on the go, as food safety is always in the back of my mind. Basic rules, keep cold food cold and hot food hot. Note the two hour rule- any hot or cold food purchased should be eaten within two hours to reduce risk of getting sick. If you’re unsure if your cooler can keep food to temp, many stops offer pre-packed versions of the above that you can grab around the time you’re ready to eat it.
When fresh fruit is not available at your stop, look for no sugar added applesauce pouches, fruit cups packed in their own juices, small portions of dried fruit for great options while racking up the miles. Craving more roadtrip snacks? Check out our recent blog post for 8 Healthy Roadtrip Snacks.
Reflect on Your Return
Having a game plan ahead always makes things feel doable, and leaves us feeling more confident, which is why this is the perfect time to utilize your coach to not only prep but recoup from a road trip. Let your coach know a least a week in advance when you can to create a tentative plan with time to chat about type and length of trip, perceived challenges, strategies, form a shopping list and/or what to look for before you hit the road based on your current individual goals. Many times that added heads up can go a long way with creating a plan that is both realistic and relevant to you and the particular trip.
I always ask members to let me know when they return. We reflect on what went well, what they felt confident with, biggest challenges and also take a minute to compare themselves this trip vs previous trips, while exploring things/strategies they would repeat and adjust for next time. Sometimes work vs family road trip look differently, so a member may have a completely different strategy needed going in.
Here at Stronger U, we want you to have confidence in your next road trip and feel good about your food plan. Road trips are easier when a Stronger U Coach is in your passenger seat, so get your co-pilot today (don’t worry, you can still choose the music). Safe travels, happy intentional snacking and turn that music up!
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