Following on from my own challenges last year, I had been asked write a blog post about goal setting.
This is of course a popular time of year to make a new start and think about initiating some healthier lifestyle choices, and perhaps setting yourself some challenges. Having a goal to work towards can be an ideal way to stay motivated, but it is important to choose the correct objective for you. We can be overwhelmed in January by the marketing of various charity challenges ranging from 5k runs to marathons; ultra cycling events to open water swims. Then there is the peer pressure as you see your friends on social media bragging about what they have signed up for. The key is to choose something which is enough to stretch you from where you are at, but that is still achievable, so that you stay motivated, and don't get disheartened. As we enter March, I am hearing from people who are feeling a bit deflated by their progress. It could be that the goals we set in January have fallen slightly by the wayside. Perhaps we over committed with our goal, and have found that bad weather and inevitable sickness bugs at this time of year have hampered our progress. Well the important thing is not to get disheartened!
I have worked with Mark Maycroft, the personal trainer behind 'Marine Phys' over the past 18 months to improve my fitness, strength and flexibility, and to help me towards my own triathlon and cycling goals. Mark believes that health and fitness is made up of multiple components including flexibility, mobility, posture, muscular strength, cardiovascular condition, mental strength and health (reduction of stress, and negative thoughts) and equally important nutrition. Mark served within the Royal Marines for 8 years, with 4 years of that time as a part of British Special Forces. He left the Royal Marines to develop his knowledge of health and fitness by studying a BSc Honours in Sports, Fitness and Coaching with Exercise instruction as his specialisation. He has gained a wide variety of qualifications within the fitness industry, but not following the mainstream training approach, he decided to embrace his working background and coach outdoor related fitness, taking clients away from the mundane repetitive atmosphere of the gym.
In this blog I have worked with Mark to share some of his insights into goal setting. However, we decided that it was important to highlight that exercise and challenge setting is not always geared towards the extreme end of the scale. In other words, I realise that not everyone will be setting their sights on a 900km cycling challenge in 2018! To demonstrate this, we wanted to share a case study with you about someone who is overcoming a health issue to achieve her own personal goals.
Gemma is a 50 year old woman who has, throughout her life been active, though not following any particular exercise regime. When she was in her late teens she played a lot of basketball until she suffered a lower back injury, which went undetected for a number of years. She enjoys exercise which has a sociable element to it, such as hiking, or team based activities. In the second half of 2017, however, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent two surgeries and is currently completing a course of radiotherapy. Thankfully, the prognosis is looking positive, but the whole process has been quite physically as well as emotionally draining. Also, the surgery involved removal of lymph nodes, which has led to some loss of feeling in the arm on that side. Gemma has been doing exercises to help with this, and so recognises the importance of flexibility based exercise such as yoga. She is also considering the idea of doing some marshal arts based exercise, seeing the psychological benefit this could offer. Her diet, although never bad previously, has improved dramatically since diagnosis as she recognises how fuelling herself correctly will help her recovery. We asked Mark to suggest some strategies to help Gemma to achieve her personal goals of getting her body back to full function, whilst incorporating some elements of structured exercise which will benefit her both physically and emotionally over the next few months.
So over to Mark....
"What is a goal? A goal is a specific aim which has personal meaning which should be realistic with a rough timeframe to it. In terms of health and fitness, I try to categorise them into short (daily or weekly small tasks), medium (1-3 months in length but is focused on during your week) and long term goals (which come about from the combination of short and medium goals over 12 months or more). Then I use the acronym SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time specific) to see if the goal is suitable.
I'll cover this in more detail so you can see how its used (I find it helpful but it isn’t essential).
Is there any benefit to setting goals? Most people think of new years resolutions when you ask them to set goals and without real thought or meaning, most let them slip within 2 weeks of starting! We tend to set ourselves goals on a daily basis, without even knowing it, for example the goal of waking up at 7am to get to work on time, this is known as a short-term goal. Or one that related to exercise could be as simple as complete an hour of exercise today.
So what type of goals should I set? I like to categorise them so I can focus on different aspects of my life, this is particularly useful if/when something unexpected happens like an injury, illness or even pregnancy. Having different goal categories means you always have something focus on no matter what your current situation is and will help keep you motivated during a potentially unpleasant or hard part of your life. Below I’ve listed in my order of importance the types of goals I set.
Below are the goals I have created for Gemma which show how diverse you can be, these aren’t something she has set or needs help with, I’ve just used her as a case study:
Emotional well-being Goals
A long-term goal could be to not let her breast cancer experience affect her daily life (specific) within 12 months (time specific), this means not to check for problems or consider it on a daily basis in fear or regression and to just undertake routine check-ups when advised to (it’s hard to measure by mental well-being and thoughts, but a mood diary or even a negative thoughts change jar could be used with this.) It’s achievable and realistic. Making this a smart goal is quite hard, but with medication post treatment it will bring up thoughts and memories and so trying not to live in the past and focus on the positive will help with the recovery process.
A medium-term goal could be something to do with mindfulness and living in the moment, getting through something like this can provide you with deep gratitude for life and the simple things. But the treatment and use of Tamoxifen will bring on early menopause, this isn’t a pleasant experience for women, but look at the positives and embrace this because every day is an opportunity to be happy that may not have been around had her fighting spirit and cancer treatment not gone so well.
Research has shown that eating a low carb diet can lead to Autophagy which can aid healing but also has a lot of other health benefits. Gemma’s diet hasn’t been too bad but she should aim to eat a lower carb diet (under 100g a day) on days when not doing any intense exercise, she should do this by doing alternate days to start and within 1 month be following it daily for the duration of her recovery. Her focus should not be on calories but instead on a variety of quality foods. Her protein content (around 60-90g per day from varied sources and organic/ wild/ grass fed if financially feasible). She should aim to eat 25-30g of fibre a day from fruits and vegetables (aiming for up to 12x 80g portions a day, with most coming from vegetables and then berries to keep carb and natural sugar content within a sensible range). She should aim to consume 2 litres of water a day and add 1 litre for every hour of exercise she completes.
A short term health goal which is applicable to nearly everybody is to reduce stress and tension within the body, this can be done from aiming to get 8 hours of sleep a day, turn off all screens 1 hour before bed, use a meditation app daily (benefits of meditation) such as headspace. From her back injury and treatment Gemma has pain in her back and shoulders, she should seek to be pain free in these areas within 1-2 months by trying to commit 15 minutes a day of meditation and mobility work for any tight muscles. Our aim for her is to be pain and medication free within 1 month, but it may take a little longer and that isn’t a problem.
Just because you aren’t an athlete doesn’t mean you can’t set some SMART performance goals. I try to always have short, medium and long-term performance goals to keep me working hard in my training. For Gemma, I have set her the task of achieving a 5 mile walk once per week, I’d suggest getting up first thing and just doing it no matter the weather, this is a goal based on consistency and aimed at reducing stress, improving cardio vascular and heart health which also links to a health goal. This is short term goal because we are looking to achieve it right away.
A medium-term performance goal is for Gemma to be able to hold a normal plank for 3 minutes within 6 months, this will help improve core strength and posture but also assist with her love of gardening, walking and want to start a martial art. I suggest she starts performing a max effort plank 3 times a week, maybe as part of her morning routine after using headspace! Start the day with a positive focus!
A long-term goal would be for Gemma to be able to complete a particular yoga move that she currently finds difficult - the aim is within 12 months and if she practices yoga as a minimum once per week for 60-90 minutes I am certain this will be achievable.
Body Image Goals
As I have mentioned, I don’t like these as I think they can cause issues with anxiety, depression or eating disorders. But as most people’s exercise habits have an aesthetic purpose they can be used positively. According to BMI (which isn’t always the best judge of somebody’s body composition, since I’m around 95kg and apparently verging on obese with around 12% bodyfat. So those who are athletic I’d never advise BMI to be a definitive guide) Using this gauge, though, it would class Gemma as slightly overweight and she could benefit from losing a small amount. I am setting her the target of losing 3.5kg of fat, so this doesn’t mean the scale must go down that much, but if it does, it would put her in the healthy BMI category. This is a medium-term goal and should be easy to achieve within 6 months of just becoming more active, I am using this combined with the goal of doing 30-60 minutes of activity at least 5 days per week which will be from walking, yoga, a martial art and gardening. This increase in activity and focus on a lower carb diet will see her naturally shift back to a lower body weight within the time frame. So, the real goal is to be consistently active for 6 months and the body image goal will happen naturally!
As you can see goal setting can be very diverse and should always be unique and something you really want to do for yourself, not because it looks or sounds impressive. The use of short medium and long-term goals can link together between the four categories and are useful no matter what stage of your fitness journey you are at! Remember that although achieving your goals is important, health and happiness comes first, and so emotional wellbeing is for me the most important thing to focus on."
Thanks Mark, and hopefully there is something in there for everyone. The main take away to remember is that it doesn't matter what starting point you are coming from, you can benefit from setting a goal, whatever it may be.
As is customary, let's finish off with a song, here Alicia Keys' "Empire State of Mind", an anthem to overcoming challenges and achieving your dreams.
In this blog post I want to talk about the natural high we get from experiencing new things, overcoming challenges and also in true nnoodl style, embracing the unexpected. Interspersed with the usual smattering of themed song choices of course!
Each of us has our own “comfort zone” which, more than an actual place, is a psychological/emotional/ behavioural construct that defines the routine of our daily life. Being in your comfort zone implies familiarity, safety, and security. It describes the patterned world of our existence, keeps us relatively comfortable and calm, and helps us stay emotionally even, free from anxiety and worry to a great degree. Creating a comfort zone is a healthy adaptation for much of our lives. But so is stepping out of our comfort zone when it’s time to transition, grow, and transform.
But experiencing a little stress and anxiety now and then is a good thing, too. If all you ever do is strive to stay wrapped up in your little cocoon, keeping warm and cosy, you may be missing out on quite a lot, maybe no new experiences, no challenges, and no risks. And looking at the bigger picture of life, if you can’t step out of your comfort zone you may experience difficulty making change or transitioning, growing, and ultimately, transforming; in other words, all those things that define who you are and give your life personal meaning.
Very simply, what we fear most about challenging ourselves is that we may fail and/or get hurt in the process. But truth be known, most of us have the ability to rise to the occasion, overcome hurdles and obstacles, and actually succeed in accomplishing something new and challenging. So for my first song, it's '11am (Daydreamer)' by the rock band 10 Years who challenge the concept of the comfort zone... (Speaking of challenges, this video seems to keep changing location, so may be worth a 'Google'!)
The Neurochemicals of Happiness
Life in the human body is designed to be a blissful experience. Our biology insures that everything necessary for our survival makes us feel good. All animals seek pleasure and avoid pain. Therefore, our brain has a plethora of self-produced neurochemicals that turn the pursuits and struggles of life into pleasure and make us feel happy when we achieve them. Let's look at some of our brain molecules that are linked to happiness and simple ways you can trigger their release in your daily life.
Through daily physicality and other lifestyle choices we have the power to make ourselves happier. One of the side-effects of living in a digital age is that we are increasingly removed from our physicality and each other. Our biology is short-circuiting. The balance of neurochemicals that evolved for millennia has been disrupted by our modern lives, making us more prone to depression, anxiety and malcontent.
I've always been someone who is more naturally drawn to artistic and creative subjects, but I find the science behind what happens in your brain from different activity quite fascinating. So here is some insight into what goes on...my secondary school science teacher would be proud (if a bit surprised) at my enthusiasm for science :)
Endocannabinoids: “The Bliss Molecule”
Endocannabinoids are self-produced cannabis that work on the CB-1 and CB-2 receptors of the cannabinoid system. Anandamide (from the Sanskrit “Ananda” meaning Bliss) is the most well known endocannabinoid.
Recent studies have shown that endocannabinoids are, most likely, the cause for the so-called 'runner's high'. A BBC documentary recently carried out a mini-trial to test this theory. They recruited three volunteers from local running clubs who did a 30 minute run. Small blood samples were taken before their run, immediately after the run and also at 15 minutes and 1 hour afterwards. Professor Dave Barrett and Dr Catherine Ortori in the University of Nottingham’s School of Pharmacy analysed the samples and recorded an average increase of 30% of endocannabinoids in the bloodstream of the volunteers. Now that's got to be a good enough reason to go for a run?
Time for a short musical interlude and this one came to mind, a REAL blast from the past! Well, having said that, it was resurrected much to my delight in the recent film 'La La Land'
Dopamine: “The Reward Molecule”
Dopamine is responsible for reward-driven behaviour and pleasure seeking. Every type of reward seeking behaviour that has been studied increases the level of dopamine transmission in the brain. When we get something we want, whether it’s a promotion, an ice cream, or a kiss from a loved one, our brain releases dopamine. This chemical is also often known as the “feel good” neurotransmitter because it does just that.
There is also evidence that people with extraverted, or uninhibited personality types tend to have higher levels of dopamine than people with introverted personalities. To feel more extroverted and uninhibited try to increase your levels of dopamine naturally by being a go-getter in your daily life, and flooding your brain with dopamine regularly by setting goals and achieving them. Goal setting is something I will be covering in my next blog in more detail, but in the meantime, here's a classic from Bon Jovi. It's a song I often have in my head when I have a big challenge coming up - I love the line "I just wanna live while I'm alive"...
Oxytocin: “The Bonding Molecule”
Oxytocin is a hormone directly linked to human bonding and increasing trust and loyalty.
In a cyber world, where we are often ‘alone together’ on our digital devices, it is more important than ever to maintain face-to-face intimate human bonds and ‘tribal’ connections within your community. Working out at a gym, in a group environment or having a jogging buddy is a great way to sustain these human bonds and release oxytocin.
This is something that I have also found that people react well to in my nnoodl events. So often people have been waiting to try a new activity but have been depending on friends who aren't available to join them. The one thing that all of these events have in common is a group of people coming together with the same interest - trying new things with interesting, like-minded people. A lot of the comments I receive after these events is how people have perhaps been nervous about coming along on their own, but leave having forged new friendships.
So many songs could have been appropriate for this dopamine rush that comes from being with groups of supportive people. It reminded me of choosing music for the 'stings' of music that would be played as people would walk onstage to as they collect their awards to at some of the big events I have worked on. These really are moments that are very special and emotional, as people are surrounded by loved ones cheering on their achievements. Here is one that reminded me of the 'Place2Be - Wellbeing in Schools' Awards where I met some truly inspirational people...
Serotonin: “The Confidence Molecule”
Serotonin plays so many different roles in our bodies that it is really tough to tag it. For the sake of practical application, let's call it “The Confidence Molecule.” Ultimately the link between higher serotonin and a lack of rejection sensitivity allows people to put themselves in situations that will bolster self-esteem, increase feelings of worthiness and create a sense of belonging. To increase serotonin, challenge yourself regularly and pursue things that reinforce a sense of purpose, meaning and accomplishment. Being able to say "I did it!" produces a feedback loop that reinforces behaviours that build self esteem and make you less insecure, creating an upward spiral of more and more serotonin.
I can totally identify with this one, as I feel at my best and most confident when I am challenging myself to new things. OK, so cycling across the Andes might seem a bit extreme in terms of day-to-day challenges, but this type of feeling is very easily replicated. When I am feeling a bit under par I know it is time to try something new, take the recent example of my trapeze skills workshop, which left me feeling exhilarated. Again, definitely something which nnoodl embraces - get out there and feel the rush from trying a new challenge!
Another classic from the 80's here, and worth it for the oh-so-cheesy video that I had forgotten about.
But I am balancing it with something a bit more recent from the inimitable Eminem and 'Lose Yourself' which is a favourite of mine for some pre-challenge energy. It is an anthem to hard work and 'carpe diem'.
Adrenaline: “The Energy Molecule”
Adrenaline, technically known as epinephrine, plays a large role in the fight or flight mechanism. The release of epinephrine is exhilarating and creates a surge in energy. Adrenaline causes an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and works by causing less important blood vessels to constrict and increasing blood flow to larger muscles. An ‘adrenaline rush’ comes in times of distress or facing fearful situations. It can be triggered on demand by doing things that terrify you or being thrust into a situation that feels dangerous.
A surge of adrenaline makes you feel very alive. It can be an antidote for boredom, malaise and stagnation. Taking risks, and doing scary things that force you out of your comfort zone is key to maximising your human potential. This doesn't need to be throwing yourself out of a plane, skiing down a black run or swimming with sharks, however - it can be the smallest push to do something different.
Again, cue nnoodl where your challenge can just be the fact that you are putting your destiny in someone else's hands (mine!). When I did my own research for nnoodl, I used one of these little things below to randomly choose my activity for that weekend. I ended up kayaking down the Thames at 4am, climbing over the O2 Centre (with a stag doo!), becoming a barista, and creating a graffiti artwork.
Was I apprehensive about doing these things? Always. But how did I feel afterwards? Amazing!
So let's sign off with a feel good song that embraces the sentiment of trying something new and surprising yourself, with this one from Jack Garratt. Definitely another one worth watching for the video as they track a group of individuals as they challenge themselves. On that note, if you feel inspired to surprise yourself, we still have some early bird places left on the next nnoodl adventure on Saturday 10th March. So go to www.nnoodl.co.uk/the-packages.html and select the 'Mad March' event. Enter the code SURPRISE30 to get a whopping 30% discount off this full day event.
I promise there is nothing scary about it!
As bookings have just opened for the next nnoodl event on 10th March, I thought it was about time I re-embraced my inner adventurer and undertook a little challenge myself. It’s been a while since I did this, but as I looked for activities that I could do on the only free afternoon I had, I already felt excited, and of course a bit apprehensive. I stumbled upon a Trapeze School called ‘Circus Glory’ who are based in Primrose Hill and had a Friday afternoon trapeze training workshop. Static trapeze is described as 'a fun blend of sport and art, where regular training will improve your strength, flexibility, and agility as you learn to manoeuvre and create beautiful shapes in the air. Trapeze training is recognised as a great stress-reliever, energy-booster, and a wonderful reminder of the importance of play and creation'. Flexibility and heights are not great areas of strength for me, and so I was slightly apprehensive, about committing to this, but when I emailed the head of the school, Genevieve Monastesse, I immediately felt reassured by her response as to how welcoming the school was to people of all levels. Genevieve has taught circus arts for over 30 years, is respected as one of the best aerial teachers in Europe and currently teaches the Degree Programme at the National Centre of Circus Arts, one of Europe's leading providers of circus education. She worked in Cirque du Soleil for two years on their very first show, and has had a successful career as an aerialist performing films, theatre, and even doubled for Kate Moss as her stuntwoman! I knew I would be in safe hands. She also features in the video for the George Michael song ‘Spinning the Wheel’. So, it seems like a timely moment for a song...
Turning up to events on your own, I realise can be one of the hardest things to overcome for many of my nnoodl adventurers. I still feel the same myself as you wonder what the people will be like. Will everyone know each other? Will they all be really experienced? Without exception these fears are unfounded, and my trapeze afternoon was to be no exception. We were a small group of six, ranging from people who had been training for eight years, to others who were relative beginners. They immediately put me at ease - all of them super-friendly and encouraging. Genevieve started us off with a warm up on the mats, which involved a lot of abdominal work such as planking etc. This set the tone for what was to come, as I realised how a strong core will really benefit you on the trapeze. We then did a small circuit of equipment-based warm up exercises. Genevieve came round with me as I tackled the first one – a tuck. Now this looks really easy, as she demonstrated, hold the bar above your head and then tuck your knees up above your head to meet the bar. I could only get them about halfway – what?? I was encouraged that apparently that was really good and can take a while to achieve. Next I was to attempt a straddle with the rope. Again, hands above your head on the rope, but this time, taking your legs above your head in a V-shape over your head. I think the last time I was on a rope like this I was about 8 years old wearing navy blue gym knickers, getting rope burns on my legs. Well leg strength to climb the rope was not applicable for this element – it was all about arms and core strength. Again, this is a lot trickier than it looks and so Genevieve demonstrated a version from the mat, arms over head on the rope, and pulling your legs over from there. The wobble board on one leg was a station here I felt I could do, and I was to find out how strong, not wobbly legs were to help me later that afternoon…
Then we were onto more focussed work on the trapeze. Genevieve was brilliant at making an assessment on what level people were at as she demonstrated the exercise she wanted them to try. It was wonderful to see the more accomplished students demonstrating some lovely shapes. My manoeuvre was to be the candlestick which involved standing at one side of the bar and pulling your legs up onto it, then with one knee over the bar, and one leg up the rope, dropping your upper body underneath the bar. I found this one slightly easier to pull myself into and felt an immediate rush from my first hanging move. Genevieve reminded us to all remember to keep our eyes open and focussed on what your legs or arms were doing, as the tendency can be to close them. Hmm, I wonder why, is it so that you can’t see the ground rushing towards you? Next was a sideways move on the bar. The first challenge on this one for me was actually getting my legs up onto the bar. I realise that muscly cyclist’s legs are no advantage in this form of training, they are just more weight to pull up! Once up and sitting on the bar though, Genevieve talked me through how to move yourself to one side, on one buttock, and how to balance there whilst tying to point your feet and stretch out to the side and down with one arm. I have a feeling should look a lot more graceful than this, but it’s a start (yes, that's me on the right below obviously)! One thing that I thought I would feel a lot more self conscious about throughout the afternoon was the fact that everyone else watched as we practiced our moves. But everyone was so encouraging that this really wasn’t an issue. It was also a great opportunity to watch some of the more advanced students demonstrate some more difficult shapes, which was really inspirational.
My final move of the day was one that got my heart racing just watching the demonstration as it involved climbing up to standing on the bar – I immediately was thinking about how much higher I would be from the ground! One of my fellow students was also fairly new to this training though and said that ‘fear is your friend’. She explained that the concentration involved to go though the moves meant that you actually achieved more than you expected to, as you were distracted from everything else. I could totally relate to this. As Genevieve talked me through each step, I found myself standing on the bar (toes only, use them like fingers she explained) and then stepping off with one foot to wrap the rope around one leg and then the other. (I could now understand why there is a ‘leggings, not shorts’ rule for this class as the movement of your legs along the bar and rope could cause some of those primary school type rope marks I am sure). Then it was a case of lowering yourself down the ropes into a suspended seated position and then finally dropping underneath the bar, supported by your feet on the bar and ropes around your lower legs, arms outstretched. This felt amazing! Of course after that it was down to the abs to pull myself back up to seated, but adrenaline was my friend by this point!
I was on an absolute high as I finished the class – this was supposed to be a ‘recovery day’ from my triathlon training, but my heart rate was right up there. In fact as I skipped out of the class to get to my singing/guitar rehearsal, my friend who was picking me up asked me “Have you had a drink of Irn Bru or something?” And so, with abdominal muscles that hurt every time I laugh (which is quite a lot), I find myself totally hooked on this new activity. What started off as a one off experience I know will be added to the ever-growing list of hobbies I am collecting via my nnoodl research which includes paddle boarding and singing. I would totally recommend Genevieve at Circus Glory if you would like to try this wonderful activity. I will be incorporating it into my training regime for sure.
If hanging upside down isn’t your thing though, rest assured it won’t be the activity at the next nnoodl activity, though I feel it may be included in the future….
So, if you are inspired to take part in the next nnoodl adventure, there are still some places available on our early bird offer for the event on Saturday 10th March. Sign up here using the code SECRETS30 for a whopping 30% off this adventure, which will have a little creative, rather than physical twist.
My next blog will look at what happens in our brain when we try new things, and how it can really develop us in all sorts of ways when we push ourselves out of our comfort zone. In true style, let’s sign off with an uplifting song. This is one I was listening to a lot this week, when I was looking for songs about trying and not giving up. Well, lo and behold, when I was looking for a video clip of it, Pink is only doing an aerial performance to it. Surely a sign!
Denise Yeats is an events professional with over 18 years of creating inspiring events ranging from arts events at Tate to Tower Running races. She set herself a personal challenge over two years called 'The Secret Life' which involved doing a new pursuit every week which is chosen at random by an allocated colour and number. This has led onto the creation of 'nnoodl - discovering your secret london life' where people are led on surprise activities...