How to add a new habit


Relying on motivation or willpower alone to make a change in life is often not enough to embed new behaviours e.g. those required for better health.

In this talk Bill Fogg suggests making our existing habits the trigger for us to automatically do the new behaviours we want and to start small with a new “Tiny” habit.

So, “after I pee, I will do 2 press-ups” has grown to doing 12 each time he visits the bathroom.  The idea is that when you do the existing action, afterwards you’ll  get the urge to do the new one automatically so, to quote Nike, “you just do it” rather than having to remember to do it or find the motivation to do it.

Your brain takes a shower whilst you sleep

This 11 minute TED talk reveals research that shows that when we are asleep our brain (literally) washes away waste products created by metabolising the nutrients brought to it by its blood supply.

One of these waste products is amyloid beta which, if left to build up into plaques, is implicated in the onset of Alzheimer’s.

Another good reason then to make sure you get enough, good quality sleep.

Reframing Lent


Seeking inspiration for this post, sunshine, snowdrops, daffodils and blue tits inspecting the bird box in my garden all turned my thoughts to Spring and new starts and my spirits soared.  Then I remembered Lent with its fasting, suffering and penitence and wham, my mood dropped like a portcullis.  “Why do I have this negative attitude towards Lent?” I wondered and set out to investigate.

I discovered that sugary pancakes on Shrove Tuesday and Mardi Gras (literally “Fat Tuesday”), with its carnival and feasting, symbolise how our ancestors used up rich foods in one glorious blow-out before Lent.  Little positive PR for austere Lent to be found there!

Then I read how the Greeks approach things slightly differently.  Lent starts two days earlier on the Sunday evening with a service at which people bow to each other asking for forgiveness for their shortcomings in the previous year.  In this way everyone starts the next day, called Clean Monday, with a clear conscience and renewed feelings of love from, and towards, those around them.  I read elsewhere that the logic for choosing what we take on during Lent is not only to make up for what we regret having done or not done in the past but also to help us grow as people.  Lent, if you will, is about character building.

Here was the positive spin I sought.  We forgive others their failings and are forgiven in return. We stop beating ourselves up about the past.  We choose something for the 40 days of Lent that will be tough yet means something to us so we come out as better people.

Think then of something you have been meaning to do to improve your health and wellbeing, banish your personal critic (what’s done is done, move on) and with a clean slate commit to that something for 40 days.  If your mind has gone blank here are some ideas:

Eat fresh foods rather than all the packaged stuff

Vow to leave work at the office

Be kind to yourself (whatever that means to you)

Reduce or eliminate added sugar

Raise your heart rate for 15 minutes daily

Stretch muscles and creaking bones by taking up a class or sport

Reduce nicotine intake

Watch TV or downloads for an hour less a day, talking to friends and family instead

I wish a purposeful, determined Lent to one and all.

© 2017 Untangle Your Life Ltd

What is love?


In 1392 the poet Chaucher linked St Valentine’s day to romantic love by declaring it to be the day birds chose their mate. Things have snowballed somewhat since then with an estimated £1.9 billion spent in 2016 expressing love on this single day in the form of flowers, confectionary, cards and so on. Is this love? If we can’t pull off some amazing scheme that has our sweetheart swooning at the romance of it all on the 14th of Feb will we forever be alone?

Happily, not. The 2013 survey “Enduring Love? Couple Relationships in the 21st Century” found gestures such as flowers and chocolates, less important than the thoughtfulness behind them. Saying “thank you”, making a humble cup of tea to show appreciation or sharing household chores and / or family responsibilities were prized most highly by all participants.

Recognition of the time and effort required to complete the everyday mundane tasks which underpin relationships and the smooth running of the household was also highly valued as were surprise gifts and small acts of kindness. All participants identified good communication as important along with open conversations to unburden the stresses and strains of the day.

Thoughtfulness and appreciation as aspects of love are reflected in one of the four words the ancient Greeks had for love. Eros is about what we want, about being fulfilled by our lover, possessing them. Less well known is agape which is characterised by the desire to fulfil the beloved. It seems to me this is the love most prized in that 2013 survey.

World renown for his 40+ years spent working on marital stability and divorce prediction, Dr John M. Gottman can spend 5 minutes with a married couple and predict, with 91% accuracy, whether their relationship is for keeps. Of the twenty emotions Gottman monitors during an interview with a couple, if he sees defensiveness, stonewalling, criticism and contempt (“The 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse”) then urgent work is advisable. So a couple’s relationship may look perfect (as evidenced by how they mark Valentine’s day) and yet, in reality, be anything but.

What is love? For me it is this definition from the 1998 film “Meet Joe Black”:

Joe Black: … But Allison loves you?

Quince: [Quince nods yes between stifled sobs]

Joe Black: How do you know?

Quince: Because she knows the worst thing about me and it’s okay.

© 2017 Untangle Your Life Ltd

Make New Year Resolutions stick

December / January

How to avoid being one of the 66% of adults who break New Year resolutions within one month or less.   

Attach pleasure to the new habit, pain to the old:  Humans seek pleasure and avoid pain (Freud, Tony Robbins, many others).  As you pull on your gym kit, if you are thinking “I hate exercise” (pain) how will you resist slipping back into the pleasure of TV on the sofa whilst munching crisps? So……

Be clear about the “why”: Neuroscientist Dr. Toleikyte suggests listing as close to 50 benefits of the new behaviour and 50 drawbacks of staying where you are as you can.  Re-read first thing to cement in your brain WHY you want the new habit more than the old.

One stepping-stone at a time: You cross a raging river not with a single leap but by stepping onto the closest rock, then the next then the next till you are across. Pick one habit to change and take small steps to avoid triggering the “flight” response in which your brain “freaks out” (Dr Toleikyte again) at the unfamiliar routine, it all gets too much and you run back to the safety of the old habit.

Set realistic expectations: Whatever you are trying to change took time to get how it is so it is logical that re-training your brain will also takes time.  A 2009 UCL study showed it look an average of 66 days to change a habit, longer if it was complicated.  Factor this into your plans.

Stop “all or nothing” thinking. If today is not going 100% to plan, do what you can, you are still making progress.

Rewards: Plan in rewards (pleasure) for reaching each stepping stone towards your goal.  Record your progress so when self-esteem is flagging you can boost yourself with evidence you can do it.

Look after yourself:  Taking breaks whilst working and sleeping and eating well reduces overall levels of stress and tiredness and defuses these two triggers of “to hell with it” moments.

Escape the habit-web:  Behaviour we want to change is often held in place by other habits e.g. on the way to work you buy coffee in a shop so you buy a pastry.  Take coffee with you to avoid the shop and using up (finite) willpower resisting that pastry. Think about breaking chains of habits which have you shackled to behaviour you want to change.

© 2017 Untangle Your Life Ltd


If “sitting is the new smoking”…


If “sitting is the new smoking” what can we do if our work requires it and the sofa beckons during long Winter evenings?

Dr. James Levine coined this phrase having spent 30 years studying the harmful effects of too much sitting.  Articles in The Lancet in 2012 and this year show physical inactivity is a risk factor for heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.

Whilst researchers are still trying to pinpoint why sitting is so risky, their studies show getting out of our seats now could save us the pain and enfeebling effects of these diseases (and, I guess, keep us out of a wheelchair) later. Working standing up isn’t enough (University of Exeter study, 2015), we need movement. Exercise also reduces the risk of stroke, a major cause of vascular dementia.

We all know of someone who died suddenly and too soon and the devastating effect on their family.  If working activity into the day could save you and your family the trauma of your suffering and premature death isn’t it worth a try?  Here are some ideas to get you started:

Stairs are your friend. Yes, we know we “should” shun the escalator or lift. Did you know that poor circulation as a result of diabetes 2 means you could lose a leg or a foot? No, nor did I.

Park further away.  In any car park pick a space as far away from the shop or office as you can manage or walk a few times around the building before going in.

No equipment workouts. Invite family or friends to join you to make it social and if you feel self-conscious doing this on your own in the office, buddy up with co-workers and book a meeting room.

Talk rather than email.  Perhaps call to check now is a good time then go talk to a colleague rather than emailing back and forth.  The job gets done quicker and you get to know each other better.

Walking meetings. Something to consider when you and a small group are trying to solve a problem or do something innovative.  A change of scenery, of perspective could produce a change in thinking.

Take the long way home. We tend to take the shortest route anywhere.  Try walking 5 – 10 minutes to get back to your house or desk after lunch, an errand or a meeting.

© 2016 Untangle Your Life Ltd

It’s not just the cold making us blue


The loss of the light evenings limits many happiness inducing outdoor activities to weekends. Once the clocks go back on the 30th it is dark by 4.36pm triggering our brains to make us sleepy and ready for bed when most of us work till 17:30 or later. Less exposure to sunshine lowers vitamin D levels increasing tiredness and adding to that “meh” feeling. Try these ways to boost energy and mood:

Walk for 30mins at lunchtime: Challenge the “I exercise in the evenings / at the gym” mindset and make the most of any sunshine on offer into the bargain.

Revamp your playlist: A University of Missouri study in 2013 showed that listening to upbeat music was helpful to those trying to lift their mood.

Get active: During exercise your body releases natural painkillers (endorphins) to ease any discomfort and increase our sense of well-being. Embrace Autumn with walks through woods of crunchy leaves or ice-skating at the rinks that pop up at this time of year.

Zzzzz: Being active means when it is time for bed we’re more likely to sleep better and give our bodies the time they need to repair, refresh and re-boot ready to seize the new day.

Do good to feel good: According to Action for Happiness “scientific studies show that helping others increases life satisfaction, provides a sense of meaning, increases feelings of competence, improves our mood and reduces stress.  It can help take our minds off our own troubles.”  Volunteer at

Give something up by taking something up:  Displace boredom or loneliness on dark evenings with a new hobby or activity. Try

Get social: We humans have a biological drive to be in relationship with each other. A 2014 University of Chicago report warned that lonely people are nearly twice as likely to die prematurely than those who do not suffer feelings of isolation. Look up family and friends or find groups of people who like the same things you do via

Eat wisely:  The wider the variety of foods in your diet, the more likely you are to get all the vitamins and minerals your body needs to function at its alert best.

Seek support: Consider visiting your GP to be sure you are not wrestling with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), depression or a physical ailment draining your energy.

© 2016 Untangle Your Life Ltd


A client came to me recently who had misophonia.  I did not have any experience of working with misophonia so did some research to find out where there was some expertise, where I could suggest this client go for support.

I put this sheet of suggestions for what to do together for them and wondered if it might be of use to others so here goes.

This paper is the most useful research article I found which includes an approach to how decrease sensitivity (pp115 – 117) rather than simply blocking out offending sounds with earplugs etc.  This, it seems, can be counterproductive in that a person can just become even MORE sensitive to, and less tolerant of, sounds they find difficult:


A group full of people who understand what you are dealing with and from whom you can draw support when perhaps those around you don’t “get” what is going on for you.

Some ideas from members of this group (but please see “proceed with caution” note under ear plugs and buds section later):

Bose noise cancelling ear-phones for  mobile ‘phone.

BOSE Bluetooth transmitter attached to the TV so the person living with misophonia could use headphones to block out their spouse breathing / sniffing / chewing, and their spouse could listen normally i.e. did not also have to wear headphones.

Of the ear plugs in the amazon link below one person said “This was the best £9 I ever spent! Enables me to go to the cinema, restaurants etc.” These earplugs cut out background noise but meant they could still hear their partner or the film.

If at all possible be referred by your GP to NHS services because if you go privately then you have to pay and if you do not have health insurance, bills can soon run up.


For some people blocking out “trigger” noises works, for others though it makes them even MORE sensitive to such noises as they start listening out for them through whatever ear barrier they are using so proceed with caution:


It seems that referral to hospital probably means a range of tests (possibly involving an MRI scan) to ensure there is no physiological reason for decreased sound tolerance then, if misophonia is the diagnosis, working with an audiologist and a psychoanalyst (a type of psychotherapist / counsellor).

I expect that the psychotherapist / counsellor is working on what it is about the particular trigger sounds that makes it so unpalatable and produces such strong emotions i.e. what core beliefs are being offended by the sounds and how to change (or come to terms with and accept), those core beliefs. I would add from my own experience that when a person is anxious or stressed the trigger noises become even more annoying so perhaps use exercise and relaxation techniques to keep stress / anxiety levels down generally.

Pages 115 – 117 of the paper at the top of this page details sound therapy tested out on some people living with misophonia.

© 2017 Untangle Your Life Ltd