Kick Bad Habits In Four Simple Steps Monday, Feb 24 2014 

by Charles Duhigg as appeared in Bottom Line Health, Bottom Line Health

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Want to kick a bad habit—just about anybad habit? There’s a proven system that has helped millions of people give up damaging habits and establish new, healthful ones in their place. You can simplify that system to help yourself do the same. The secret: Drawing upon four key components of 12-step programs.

The first and most famous 12-step program is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and there are dozens of similar programs based on the same basic principles. These principles can help you, too, whether your goal is to cut back on junk food, quit being a couch potato, give up cigarettes, spend less, stop biting your nails or whatever.

The reason: What makes AA and other 12-step programs so effective for so many people is that they provide a powerful methodology for changing bad habits, according to Charles Duhigg, a Pulitzer prize–winning journalist and author of the best-selling The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.

Members of AA often attest to the necessity of doing all 12 steps to deal with the life-threatening problem of alcoholism and achieve lasting sobriety. However, for the purposes of overcoming less grave bad habits and replacing them with good habits, you can think in terms of the following four key ideas…

Identify your primary commitment. People who come to AA typically have many problems—with family, friends, money, job, health, etc. All of those problems matter, and abstinence will help address them, but none of them are the main focus. Instead, people come to AA for one primary purpose—to get and stay sober.
Try this: In considering what habit of yours you’d like to change, commit to one specific goal (or one at a time, at least). For instance, instead of vowing to “get healthier” by overhauling your lifestyle (how complicated is that?!), focus on the single most important goal—say, no longer being a couch potato. Once you’ve established a routine of regular physical activity—for instance, taking a daily 20-minute walk—and have this new habit firmly embedded into your life, then you can start addressing other bad habits.

Take a self-inventory. AA encourages members to do an inventory, examining their feelings and behaviors and the “rewards” they get from drinking. This helps members to understand why they are drawn to drink and to recognize the specific triggers that spark cravings for alcohol. For example, a person may come to see that she drinks to numb feelings of fear or resentment or to feel more at ease in social situations…and that she is triggered by certain people or places, such as a longtime drinking buddy or a favorite bar.
Try this: Examine your own rewards and triggers. For instance, if you continually break your own promise to stop snacking on chips or sweets, what’s the reason? It’s probably not real hunger—instead, you may habitually reach for junk food when stressed or bored. To break his own afternoon cookie habit, Duhigg had to realize that it wasn’t the actual cookies he was so attached to, but rather the enjoyable routine of taking a break—getting up from his desk, walking to the cafeteria, chatting with coworkers. Once he understood this, he was able to come up with alternatives that provided the same rewards, such as walking around the block with a colleague or buying an apple instead of a cookie from the cafeteria.

Replace a bad habit with a good one—and practice the new habit every day. In AA, new members often are advised to “pick up the phone instead of a drink”…in other words, to take some positive new action (phoning a fellow alcoholic) whenever the urge strikes to indulge in the old habitual action (drinking). New members also are urged to attend 90 meetings in 90 days so that not a single day goes by without reinforcing the new habit of staying sober. Even if you are battling something far less serious than alcoholism, it takes at least several weeks for a healthful new habit to replace the old one—and consistency is key, Duhigg noted.
Try this: Suppose your goal is to get more sleep, so you’ve committed to going to bed by 11 pm every evening instead of habitually staying up past midnight. Do not undermine yourself by staying up late “only on Tuesdays” to watch a favorite TV show or by abandoning your new sleep routine on the weekends—at least for now. Once your new sleep habits are well formed, you may be able to make occasional exceptions without reverting to old bad habits (except in cases where complete abstinence is key to success, such as with an addiction).

Make use of a support network. In AA, selection of a “sponsor” (an AA mentor) plus contacts made at meetings provide a ready-made support system for each participant.
Try this: No matter what behavior you want to change, ask your friends and family members to support your efforts to establish your healthier new habit. It’s well proven, Duhigg said, that change is easier when you have someone who holds you accountable and applauds your progress. If you can find a buddy who has the same goal and the two of you can work together—or if you can find a mentor who has already achieved what you’re striving for (such as giving up smoking)—so much the better. Having the encouragement, advice and support of someone who truly understands what you’re going through will make it far easier to break old bad habits and create a healthier lifestyle for yourself.
These four steps could add up to one huge step for you!

Source: Charles Duhigg, Pulitzer prize–winning staff writer at The New York Times, and author of the best-seller The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. (Random House).

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The Healthiest Chocolates of All Wednesday, Feb 12 2014 

by Carole Jackson>, Bottom Line Health

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It seemed too good to be true when studies began to tell us, seven or so years ago, that dark chocolate actually is healthy… but since then additional research has made the claims sweeter yet. Cacao beans, the base of chocolate, contain flavonoids (antioxidant-containing plant pigments) that make the antioxidants in dark chocolate nearly eight times as abundant as those in strawberries, which are themselves considered an excellent source. And then we learned that cacao beans help lower blood pressure and LDL (bad) cholesterol and that they can increase levels of serotonin, a natural antidepressant, as well.

With all that going for chocolate, it’s not surprising that there’s now a wide array of “healthy” chocolates for sale pretty much everywhere, from bustling national supermarkets to tiny, Zen-like health-food stores. Soon you will even be able to buy camel-milk chocolate, said (of course) to have health benefits unique to its unusual source. But what makes the difference between a healthful piece of chocolate and just a fattening indulgence? I called über nutritionist and weight-loss expert Joy Bauer, MS, RD, CDN, regular contributor to the “Today” show and author of several books, including her newest, Your Inner Skinny, to ask the question.

Healthy Chocolate

Bauer says the only way to be sure you are getting a reasonable amount of flavonoids in chocolate is to select those containing at least 70% cacao, noting that the health value escalates the higher that percentage climbs. She said that milk chocolate — including the camel-milk variety — can’t compete in the healthy sweepstakes, since the added milk reduces the body’s ability to absorb the antioxidants in cacao. Bauer gave a thumbs down to the heart-shaped boxes of Valentine’s chocolates that have those creamy or caramel centers — these are very heavy on sugar and should definitely be left in the box, she says. On the other hand, “mix-ins” made of nuts and berries are good. As for white chocolate — it isn’t a true chocolate and, not surprisingly, contains almost no flavonoids.

If you are looking for a healthy dark chocolate, Bauer says you don’t have to pay up for a premium brand. While upscale brands use very high-quality cacao beans and are “incredibly delicious,” she says that the health benefit is about the same no matter the price, noting this is true of mass-produced brands, such as Hershey’s and Dove (which is owned by M&M/Mars), and mid-priced brands, such as Lindt or Ghirardelli. And it must be said… all chocolate contains lots of calories along with the flavonoids — averaging 150 calories per ounce, says Bauer — so it is important to enjoy it in moderation.

Source: Joy Bauer, MS, RD, CDNToday show contributor, and author of several books, including her newest, Your Inner Skinny (William Morrow Cookbooks).

Leadership training: 8 steps to coaching for better performance Sunday, Feb 2 2014 

by Sharlyn Lauby

Smart business people know it’s more profitable to keep existing customers than constantly having to find new ones. That’s because the costs of acquiring new customers are so high.

The same principle applies to employees. Employers invest thousands of dollars to acquire a new worker. They pour time and resources into recruiting, interviewing, hiring, onboarding and training a new employee.
So if a new employee—or a long-tenured one, for that matter—makes a mistake, it’s often best to consider coaching, mentoring and additional training instead of immediately thinking about discipline and possible termination.
Don’t delay coaching
It comes down to a cost-benefit analysis. What are the relative costs of replacing a staff member compared with salvaging an already-established relationship?
Say a manager is dealing with an employee who isn’t contributing his or her fair share. Everyone understands that the situation needs to be addressed. Other team members can tell this employee is a poor performer. It’s time for the boss and the employee to have a performance conversation. The purpose isn’t to punish the employee. It’s to change the employee’s behavior.
The sooner the conversation occurs, the better. The longer the wait, the harder it becomes.

8 steps to better performance
Here’s an outline a manager can use to prepare for a performance conversation with an employee.
1. Let the employee know your concern. Cut out the small talk and get straight to the topic of performance improvement. This conversation is important and should be treated as such.
2. Share observable behavior. Offer specifics about actual behaviors that have been witnessed. If someone else saw the behaviors, try to have that person there. Employees will not respond well to statements such as, “Someone told me you did this ….”
Because the goal is to change behavior, it’s important to specifically address behavior.
3. Explain how the problem affects the team. Employees might not realize how their behavior negatively affects others. Managers should be prepared to draw a connection between the employee’s performance and the company’s success. If negative impact can’t be explained, then an employee will question the need to change.
4. Tell them the expected behavior. Even if it has been explained before, managers should clarify what the company’s acceptable performance standard is and how employees can achieve the standard.

5. Solicit solutions from the employee. This is so important! Let the employee outline the action steps he or she plans to take in order to correct the situation. If a manager has to tell an employee what to do, the employee hasn’t bought into the solution.
6. Convey the consequences. Communicate to the employee what will happen if the situation is not resolved. Consequences can vary greatly, from a transfer request being denied to disciplinary action.
7. Agree upon a follow-up date. “No news is good news” is not a management philosophy. After the employee agrees to work toward improving performance, set a follow-up date to discuss progress.
8. Express confidence. Managers should affirm their belief that the employee has the ability to correct the situation.
Negative performance conversations are never fun—for the person giving them or the person receiving the feedback. Think of the different responses that could arise and how to best answer. Preparation will make the conversation easier.