Category: Empowerment

Top 10 Things that Riding my Dirtbike Reminded me About Life

  1. 75342_1571305235064_7896641_n Skills you don’t use continually get rusty.

As humbling as it may be, if you don’t do something for a while, you’re probably going to have to take a few steps backwards, initially.


  1. Sometimes you might need to ask for help.

This is an area I’m continually struggling with. I love to give help but I’m not good at asking for it. The fact is, sometimes you just can’t do it al by yourself.


  1. You’re going to get messy.   IMG_5281

If you hope to get anywhere worth going to, you’re going to get a little messy. At least sweaty from the effort, but more than likely a little mud too.


  1. It’s important to dance.

Fighting against the bike does nothing but make you tired. Allowing it to dance under you; relaxing, and dancing with it, gets you were you want to go.


  1. If you don’t face your fear, you’re going nowhere.

Ride within your ability but remember that you can do more than you give yourself credit for. Sometimes you don’t realize that until you find yourself smack dab in the middle of what you didn’t think you could do…


  1. You can’t only specialize in the things that you’re good at.

As much as you like climbing up hills, at some point, you ARE going to have to come down.


  1. Prepare for what you can but remember that a lot is out of your control.

Every now and again, you are going to run over a sharp rock or a slippery root. It will happen and there’s nothing you can do about it.


  1. Once you pick a line, commit to it 100%.

Changing your mind mid-rut is incredibly difficult and indecision is dangerous. Pick one line – stick to that one until you get to the top.












  1. Look ahead, and plan for the nearest obstacles, but don’t look TOO far ahead.

It’s also important to watch those who have gone before you but make your own decisions.


  1. Sometimes you’ve just got to say F*& it and grab some throttle!

85% of the time, acceleration is the right answer. 10% of the time, it’s using your clutch and changing gears; only 5% of the time, is the correct answer to squeeze your brake.


This is me. No make-up. No cover-up. No pretense. Just me.

Debbie Hatch | Family & F.I.T.

Bear with me. Read the whole thing please….. this is from my heart.

This piece was originally written as a Facebook post on the day the photo was taken: a few days after my 50th birthday in June, 2014.


“This is my favorite picture from my photo shoot because it actually shows my hard work. This photo may offend some (in the current anti-fitspo sentiment) and if so, I apologize. That’s not my intent. I am not looking for comments nor compliments. I am comfortable enough in my own skin to no longer require external input, so please don’t feel that you “need” to say anything.

Sincerely, I hesitated to post this but; ultimately I am for a couple of reasons.

First, because I am a figure competitor, this IS me. I haven’t always looked this way.  I worked hard to get to this point.  I’m fully clothed (even wearing more than you’ve seen in my stage photos). My husband and family support me. Many of my friends also participate in this hobby (I love my fitness girls the best – you ladies rock!!!!).

There are three things I want to specifically point out in hopes that I might be able to help SOMEBODY.

(1) This was taken a week after my 50th birthday. It does not matter how old you are.

(2) I am 15 (Fifteen) pounds heavier in this photo than I was at my last competition over a year ago. The scale is a liar!!!   Weight does not matter!!  No, I don’t think I need to lose 15 pounds. If this photo makes a difference to even one person who drives themselves crazy weighing every day, I will be thrilled!!

(3) Several of my friends [and family too] don’t care for the “hard” muscular female body that I appreciate so much…’s not for everybody. Strangers make comments. People sometimes look at me oddly. I wear long sleeves when I teach. Close friends treat me like I’m a freak when I’m in show-prep. It’s all okay. Sincerely. I CHOOSE this lifestyle.

But what I wanted you (my friends and family) to see is that I [we] don’t always appear “overly” muscular. All of the pictures were taken on the very same day and yet my body is different in every one of them. Hard in the first one. Very soft in several of the others.

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People used to make fun of my big legs and I’ve been told more than once that they’re “manly”. Well, I kind of like um!!!

Yup. This is me. No make up. No hair-do. No pretense. No cover-up.  Just me. and I kind of like it.

“You are Fat, Lazy, and None too Pretty.” The things we think it’s okay to say – but only to ourselves.

Debbie Hatch | Family & F.I.T.

If you told me I was fat, lazy, and not too pretty, we probably wouldn’t be friends for long. I would find you rude and inconsiderate. I would likely say that I don’t care about your opinion and I don’t need people like you in my life.

Here’s the problem: I have said every single one of those things to myself. Multiple times. And you know what else? I’d like to say that the words were uttered a long time ago before I knew better, but that would be a lie. Just yesterday I told my husband that I’m lazy. This past week I told myself I was getting fat and that I’m out of shape. While getting prepared for my last figure show (June 2014), I told the make-up artist, “I’m not one of the prettiest girls, just do the best you can to make me look good on stage.” I’ve told myself I’m not fast enough, strong enough, good enough: I don’t have enough muscle and I have too many stretch marks…for YEARS.

To quote Jill Coleman of JillFit Physiques, “The actual mental, subjective side of the equation (how you feel about your body) has very little to do with the objective measurements (how your body looks). I’ve seen women at 10% bodyfat who hate their bodies and women at 30% who love every inch. The negative self-talk can act as a distraction from the real issue, which is finding a solution and simply showing up in your life every day and doing your best.”

Are the things I say about myself true? Well, let me put it this way. If I met a person who ran 3 businesses, traveled 200 days a year, still got to the gym 4-5 times a week, and helped people when ever she had a spare 10 seconds, I probably wouldn’t think she was lazy. If I told you my closet is full of clothes from high school, and that I can still fit into them, you would likely tell me to go shopping but you wouldn’t think I’m fat.

Why do I allow myself to talk this way, then?

No, I am not shredded. No, I don’t look like I could walk on stage tomorrow. AM I walking on stage tomorrow? No!! So why does it bother me? I say these things because it’s competition season. I have friends and clients competing within the next 6 weeks and I have a touch of the bug. I say these things because I am human.

You say those things to yourself too. Every one of you do at some point, and we need to stop!

I received a text from a client this morning. It read, “I have gained 3 pounds in the last two weeks and I’m frustrated. I’m doing everything I’m supposed to and my body is doing nothing.” Here’s the truth: this girl has already lost over 90 pounds!! Her body has done a lot! She’s accomplished amazing things. None of that makes her feel better. The sad fact is that I get messages frequently from people who have “only lost 3 pounds”. They’re not thrilled with such a small number: they wanted to lose more. Yet, we gain 3 pounds and it’s depressing – if not the end of the world. I’m not exempting myself from this. I get it. I’ve done it too. I do it.

The fact is that no one is truly exempt.

Have you seen this video by Dove?

You might be pretty good at being kind to yourself but we all have those “days” (or weeks, or months, or lives…..) Even Molly Galbrath, fitness professional and kick-ass creator of Girls Gone Strong, wrote this week: “EVERYONE, even fit pros, and even fit pros who love themselves and feel comfortable in their own skin, still have feelings like this on a regular basis. There is nothing wrong with these feelings. It’s what you do with them that counts. Are you letting them rule your life, or are you taking a moment to figure out where they are coming from, and then reacting accordingly?”

I’m working on the later. In that vein, I did an experiment last week. I asked several of my friends to tell me one thing they like about me and one thing they like about themselves. I saw two interesting things. First, not one person said they like me because I have a small waist or curvy shoulders – although a couple of people noted my physical and mental strength. One person wrote, “I like that you never let me beat you when we run together. You make me work.” That made me smile.

No one said they like me because of what I weigh or the size of my pants. This didn’t surprise me but I think it’s a relevant point we should try to remember. Instead, they said things like:

  • You’re such a positive person. I love your heart.
  • You have great perseverance and dedication to accomplish whatever you decide you want to do.
  • You take ownership and responsibility for everything you do.
  • I respect your desire to help others. So much of what you do both in regards to fitness and outside of that is because you want to help. You do fitness group after fitness group and offer advice daily, something you could probably make a decent living off, yet you do so much of it for free and your simple desire to help.
  • I like that you are honest. You tell me like it is. That you are willing to help people get healthy and that you are an inspiration to others!
  • You genuinely make me feel special and loved.

The other thing of interest in my survey – the MOST interesting thing – was the number of people who either didn’t tell me something they liked about themselves. 23% (almost a full quarter) of the people I surveyed said they couldn’t think of anything at the moment. What’s up with that? A throwback to, “if you have nothing to say…..”? I supposed it’s one iota better than the negative trash talk.

Here’s your call to action:

  • Let’s put ourselves in our friend’s shoes.
  • Let’s try to see ourselves through their eyes.
  • Let’s try to treat ourselves as positively as we treat them.
  • List 3 things you love about yourself. Don’t over analyze. Don’t think, “That makes me sound like I’m bragging”.

If you’re not at a point where you’re willing to say this out loud on Facebook or in a blog comment, send me a personal message. I’d love to hear your input!!

Down for the Count: A knockout punch in favor of female body image!

Debbie Hatch | Family & F.I.T.

Unless you follow Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), you might not know who Ronda Rousey is.  That said; the girl is making some noise in many areas so you might have heard of her regardless.

This is not about fighting, well not the kind you’re thinking of anyway, so if that’s not really your thing, please keep reading for just a second.

This is about fighting for a positive female body image.

Ronda is a 28 year old mixed martial artist. She is the first, and current UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion as well as the last Strikeforce Women’s Bantamweight Champion. She smashed down the door, and is leading the way for Women’s MMA in the United States.  So far she’s been unbeatable.  Ronda was the first American woman to earn an Olympic medal in Judo. That was at the Summer Olympics in Bejing in 2008.

People love her or hate her; there is no in-between.  She definitely evokes very strong emotions.

I applaud Ronda for this interview where she talks about posing in a bikini.

“I walk around at 135 for a couple hours a year JUST before a fight, after cutting weight. The way I look on the scale [for a fight] is not the way I look in real life.  It’s not realistic or healthy for me. I don’t want to do a photo shoot like that. I don’t want people to believe that’s how I really look.”

“I want to be able to take off my clothes right now and get in front of the camera.”   Just the way I am!! Not the way I look after I’ve “prepared”!!


Although you’d hear very few of them ever say it, the largest percentage of body builders, figure and bikini competitors, and models you see in magazines have “prepared”.  They have been air-brushed, photo shopped, and have cut weight for the shoot.  They don’t really look like that.

If you don’t already know, cutting weight involves significantly decreasing carbohydrates, calories, sodium, and water for a few days or a week prior to a certain date (that could be weigh-in for a fight, or the competition date). It is an extreme method of losing weight very quickly.  It may also involve sitting in a sauna and/or taking hot baths as a way to drop as much weight as possible by sweating out all of the body’s sub-dermal water. There is an ambulance at every bodybuilding competition and never a shortage of people who have cramped up or passed out behind stage. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.


I have cut weight for a competition. I’ve helped my son do it for a fight and clients do it for competition as well as wrestling meets.

It’s not fun. It’s NOT healthy.

I have also had the self-induced headache for two days due to severe dehydration and brain fog for close to a week.  Super low carb intake was responsible for that.  As bad of a reputation as they’ve been given, your essential body systems – like brain functioning! – require carbohydrates!!!!

****** THIS is precisely why all of those 3-30 day detox “miracles” you see advertised cause people to “lose weight”.  They really do work.

****** They work just long enough for the after photo to be snapped.

****** One glass of water and 8 hours later, there is NO weight loss!!  There never was any fat loss!!

***** Ask to see the AFTER after pictures!!!!!!!!!!  Ask to look at the photos that were taken 2-5 days later. You’ll find ZERO long-lasting change.

Women in these magazines have been portrayed as the “perfect” for all of us.  How many young girls, adolescents, and women look at those pictures and believe that is what they are supposed to look like??? How many young boys, teens, and men look at those pictures and believe that is what women are supposed to look like???

I can tell you this: I did! I can tell you this: my daughter did! I can tell you this: many of the women I work with now:  did!

And I can tell you this, too: many people still believe they are “supposed” to look like that or they’re simply not good enough.

Ronda kicks some major booty (and breaks arms) in the ring but this is one fight she might need some help with!

I’m joining the fight – and you should too.

I want you to be happy with yourself. I want you to be able to walk on the beach, or run if you prefer; to play with your children and grandchildren; to be strong enough to take care of yourself. I want you to be healthy for a long time!!!  There is no perfect size, shape, or weight.  You most certainly don’t need to look like those ladies in your magazines.  Especially since most of them don’t even look that way.


Stressed Spelled Backwards is DESSERTS. 5 Strategies for Dealing with Emotional Eating.

Debbie Hatch | Family & F.I.T.


We all have “those” days. Things don’t go as planned. You’re running from the very moment you wake up until late that night when you finally fall into bed, exhausted and stressed. The day has been a blur. You accomplished nothing you planned. Thank goodness for those quad Starbucks triple mocha cappuccinos or you probably wouldn’t have made it through!

These are the days you seek comfort wherever you can find it. Many times that comes in the form of chocolate, cookies, or four helpings of pasta with a loaf of bread for a side, washed down with one or two bottles of wine. We try to drown out our emotions with food and beverage.

I know it’s not just me who seeks to fix my problems by sticking my head inside a half-gallon of butter pecan ice cream. What’s your comfort food?

Nobody craves a piece of tilapia and asparagus at the end of one of these days – I can promise you that! Well, unless it’s asparagus hidden under a pound of melted cheddar cheese and sprinkled with bacon, anyway.

I am an emotional eater. To be honest, I was raised that way. My mother thought food was the answer to everything. Sad? Here’s a sugary treat to make you feel better. Happy? Let’s get something yummy to help us celebrate. Made the honor roll? We get to go to McDonald’s for breakfast tomorrow. Angry? Let’s get something to eat and take some time to calm down. We can talk over a plate-sized cinnamon bun. I remember her cooking an entire loaf of bread as French toast and having a competition to see how many slices I could eat. She helped me gain 63 pounds when I was pregnant with an 8 pound baby because, “this is the one time when you can eat anything you want and you don’t have to worry about whether you’re gaining weight”.  It actually goes back even further than that though. When I miss my grandmother, I automatically crave the coconut macaroons, Dunkin Donuts, and Baskin Robbins ice cream she used to bring me.

Actually it can go one of two ways. I surveyed some of my friends and clients the other day. It seems like about 90% DO eat when they’re stressed. The other 10% do not eat – anything – when they’re stressed. Clearly, neither of these extremes is ideal.

What can we do about it?

The stress isn’t going to go away. Our lives are not magically going to be rainbows and sparkling tiaras from this point forward as long as we will it. People we love pass away. Relationships we want to work out, end. Things we wanted to do, we can’t. Things don’t always go our way. We don’t get that promotion. We have too much to do. We get in arguments and have disagreements. It’s the human condition.

We need to prepare ourselves to be ready to deal with these difficulties in a better way. We need to plan how we’re going to handle the next crisis when it comes. We need to think about it now before we are IN the situation.

5 Strategies to help with Emotional Eating
  1. Start by trying to take your mind off food.

 Rather than walking into your house, grabbing the first sugary, fatty, salty thing you can find; crumbling onto the couch and stuffing it into your face, take just a few minutes.

 Have a glass or two of water. DO something. I know you don’t feel like going to the gym. That’s okay. Just go for a short walk. Call a friend while you’re walking, or listen to music (an audiobook or short podcast). Look at your to-do list and resolve to get one or two quick things checked off. Crank your music and dance around for 5 or 10 minutes. Don’t sit down. Don’t get on the computer. Move for a few minutes and get your blood circulating. I know it’s hard at first – especially if something has happened and you’re depressed, sad, or angry. You owe this few minutes to yourself though. AND this will make you feel better than food will.


  1. Face the emotion.

 We’re taught by our parents, teachers, and even in the workplace, that there are “good” (joy, happiness, pleasure) and “bad” (anger, fear, jealousy) emotions. We’re continually told (and/or we tell ourselves) that we need to suppress “negative” emotions. Don’t be angry. Don’t be sad. Don’t be depressed. Be happy. Be calm.

 In fact, every emotion serves a purpose! Emotions themselves are not “bad”. It is how we choose to act upon or respond – or even worse, NOT respond – to our emotions that may cause problems.

 Think about the emotion without the food. Ask yourself questions like these:

  •  How do I feel right now? Be specific. Name the emotion. “I feel angry, sad, frustrated, belittled, depressed, over-worked, under-appreciated, unloved, stressed……”
  •  What led to this feeling? Was it a specific situation? Is that an on-going situation or something that just happened this once? Was it a specific person? Was it that you responded poorly because you said something you didn’t really mean or you didn’t listen? Did you take on too much?
  •  Can you / what can you do to fix the problem? Not the emotion but the cause of your sadness, anger, frustration, etc. Can you do anything about THAT? What? Could you talk to the person, could you explain your feelings, could you decide to take a few things off your too full to do list? Could you ask someone for help? Do you just have to deal with it?
  • If you can’t do anything about it, because things do sometimes happen TO us that are outside of our control, how can you deal with it? Can you think of some way to positively handle the situation if you can’t change it? Would it help to talk to someone? Would it help to write your thoughts down? Would it help to clear your head by finding something to do for a few minutes? Could you allow yourself 5 or 10, or 15 minutes to cry, to scream, to melt-down? AND then take a few minutes to just breath.

 You might think I’m weird but I’m going to be completely honest. Don’t knock it until you try it once or twice. I take 5 minutes to just sit or lay down. I close my eyes and I take a deep breathe in. As I slowly exhale, I imagine that the breathe (instead of “just” being exhaled) is being pushed throughout my body. I can feel it going to my lungs, then to my stomach, my arms, my legs. It takes up all of the space inside my body so as it is expanding, it pushes all of the negative energy out – through my shoulders, my finger tips, my toes.   This does not take my problems away but it does typically calm me enough so that I can re-center again. I can think more clearly, and I can have a fresh approach.


  1. Eat intentionally.

IF you’ve tried to get it off your mind but you find that you really, really want the chips (or whatever “it” is for you), have them. If you’re an emotional eater, you should NOT keep these things in your house. That makes it much too easy for you. Instead, make the foods you want to limit as inconvenient as possible. At the very least, put these things on the very top shelf of your pantry so you have to expend the effort of dragging out a chair to get to them. I bury stuff in the bottom of my freezer. Unless it’s been a really, really bad day, I’m not going to take the time of digging all the frozen food out just to get to the Thin Mint cookies.

 Better yet, if this stuff is not in your house, you’ll have to drive to the store. On these days, once you’re in, you’re not likely going to feel like going back out. When you DO go to the store, buy one individual serving size of what you’re craving. Don’t give yourself that BS story about how the larger bag is the better deal, it’s more economical and you’ll save a lot of money by buying the King-sized. That is true but here’s what you need to remember – it’s not a better deal unless you eat the entire thing. You can either waste your money buying the smaller bag OR you can put the extra chips on your waist. One or the other. Waste or waist.  You choose.


  1. Be mindful of how much you’re eating.

 If you come into the house, grab that large bag of chips, plop onto the couch, pull out your 

Screen Shot 2015-03-21 at 2.58.19 AMiPad or turn on the television, that bag is going to be gone and you won’t even remember putting your hand to your mouth. That doesn’t even count the can of dip you cleaned out with these chips, either. If you’re eating – because of stress, emotion, or just because you’re eating – be mindful of how much you’re eating. Don’t carry the bag to the couch. If you don’t have an individual serving, get out one serving in a bowl. When it’s gone, it’s gone and you’ll notice it. Even if you go back for a second helping, there’s no denying it – you’ll KNOW what you’re doing and you’ll have to decide whether you really want to have more or not.


  1. Please remind yourself that YOU ARE IN CONTROL.

 I know it might not feel like it at that very moment. Life seems so difficult and you feel like crap. Who to hell cares? YOU will! Even if you don’t right this moment, you will later. You have been through difficult times before. You have been stressed. You have survived. Can you tell me of one time when food or alcohol fixed any of your problems? Personally, I can tell you how many times they’ve helped me. Zero! Not even once. A loaf of fresh sourdough bread slathered in butter, and a six pack of Guinness is not going to make anything better this time either.

 If you over-consume, you end up feeling guilty and sluggish. You’ll feel like you let yourself down. You’ll be disappointed, sad, angry, AND you still have the original issue/stress. If you don’t eat, you will feel exhausted and “disconnected”. It’s hard to concentrate on anything and you become even more emotional when you don’t have food in your body. AND you still have the original issue/stress.

 We think comfort food is going to comfort us. For me personally, once that last bite is on its way to my stomach….I feel no comfort. I need to either keep eating or realize that my problems are not going to dissolve into a piece of Hershey’s death by chocolate cake.

You are in control

GET OFF THE CRAZY TRAIN! Stop this diet & exercise insanity.

Debbie Hatch | Family & F.I.T.

I’ve received a few e-mails over the last couple of days that I feel I need to address publicly.

There are a billion “nutritional programs” out there.

MOST of them will work if they cause you to change your normal eating habits; cause you to (a) eat fewer processed foods and/or (b) eat fewer calories than you’re burning. Some of these “miracles” will also trash your metabolism over the long term, make it harder for you to maintain your weight-loss, lead to yo-yo dieting, binging and any host of problems.

I lost a bunch of weight by going on a cigarette, coffee, and Suzy Q (chocolate, cream-filled cake) diet when I was young and foolish. I went on a grapefruit only diet; a skim milk only diet, and a “drink vinegar before every meal” diet. I’ve done high fat, low/no carbs, Paleo, Atkins, Beverly Hills, IIFYM, and everything in between.  I lost weight on every one of them……..temporarily!!

I’ve also done the exercise insanity! At one point, I would only sleep 2 or 3 hours a night because I had to be in the gym doing cardio for an hour before work. I lifted weights for an hour and did 30-45 more minutes of cardio in the evening after work. Six days a week.

I felt like crap. It didn’t matter. My priority was to lose weight.  I would get off the plane at 10 or 11 o’clock at night and not go to bed until after I had worked out. If my flight was at 6 or 7 a.m., I had already spent at least an hour in the gym before I headed to the airport.   I maintained memberships to three different gyms so I could be sure to find a place to work out no matter where I was.

My body fat was so low that I did not have a period for over a year. My energy was so low that more than once my husband found me sleeping in our home gym, on the foam roller where I had been trying to ease some of my soreness and I had fallen asleep. My emotions were so messed up that I would cry at the drop of a hat. I was grouchy. My relationships sucked: if they took time away from my workouts, I simply couldn’t fit them in my life.

Does any of this sound healthy over the long term to you?

 …. Before you say, “no”, remember that I DID lose weight.

This is the very thing that some people want me to suggest to them now. People want me to tell them to eat 1,000 calories a day. People want me to write super low calorie and super low carb plans for them. I WILL NOT DO IT.

Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 3.37.19 PM

You do NOT need to change your nutrition every week because 

  • There is a “new” program out
  • You haven’t lost any weight in the last week
  • Your best friend (or some celebrity) lost 20 pounds on this new program
  • You saw some shiny new program in a magazine
  • You watched an infomercial
  • You’re bored
  • You saw something on Dr. Oz
  • or you’re impatient and expect to lose 15 pounds in the next few days.

You do NOT need to change your exercise program every week. Your muscles do not perform better if you “confuse” them.

STOP THE CRAZINESS of this exercise and nutrition A.D.D.!!!!! Please. I am begging you.

You lose weight – you get healthy – you get fit, by applying common sense and consistency. Nothing less than that!!

PS you might also have to apply just a little bit of patience.

Throw your Healthy Habits in the Freezer!

Debbie Hatch | Family & F.I.T.

What to heck does snow & ice have to do with establishing healthy habits?  Actually, more than you might imagine!  Give me a second to explain.

To get better at anything, even if you have some natural ability, you have to spend time practicing, learning, and honing your skills. We’ve all heard, (as if we haven’t said it a million times, ourselves), “practice makes perfect”. In fact, if I said, “The more you practice something, the better you’ll get at it,” I doubt many would disagree. But have you ever wondered why this is true? I have a natural curiosity and try to understand how and why everything works – not merely that it does.

Clinicians say this happens because we create neural pathways in our brains. The rest of us typically refer to it as creating “muscle memory” or “habit”. If you practice something repeatedly, it becomes second nature. It becomes natural and effortless. You don’t even think about it. You jump the way you’ve trained to, twist the way you’ve trained to, lift the way you’ve trained to, kick the way you’ve trained to. Practice makes everything easier and more intuitive.

Ever pulled into your driveway after a long day and not remember anything about the trip or how you actually got from Point A to Point B? You’ve done it so many times before, that today you just did it on autopilot. Ever left the house headed somewhere only to find that you automatically drive your typical route and forget that’s not where you intended to go this time? Please tell me I’m not alone in this!!

The automatic responses can apply to all areas of your life and aren’t always positive. Grab a snack when you walk in the house in the evening? Every single day. Like one of Pavlov’s dogs, over time, just pulling into your driveway and putting your key in the front door elicits a digestive system response. You are already salivating. You’re not thinking about it consciously, but your body knows it is soon going to have that hit of sugar it gets every day when you pull into your driveway and open the front door. Changing habits can be hard. Really hard! I used to smoke and always had a cigarette with my coffee. Even now, 20 years after quitting, I sometimes still crave a cigarette with my coffee – the habit was ingrained that deeply.

Did you know, though, that the brain is capable of changing, adapting, and re-organizing neural pathways as a response to changes in your environment or situations? Norman Dodge, a physiatrist and author, wrote in The Brain that Changes Itself, “The brain, far from being a collection of specialized parts, each fixed in its location and function, is in fact a dynamic organ, one that can rewire and rearrange itself as the need arises.” How phenomenal is that idea? How positively amazing is it to realize, from a scientific perspective that we can literally – change our minds? Wow!!!

Since I’m sitting in Michigan watching more snow fall, it seems especially appropriate, that Dodge explains this to the layperson by talking about sledding in the winter. The first time you try to take a sled down the hill, it can actually be quite difficult. You hitch, dig in occasionally, and try to create a path. You have to work at it. The snow hasn’t been packed down yet. Where you actually end up at the bottom of the hill is determined both by how well you steer and the characteristics of the hill itself. The second time you slide down the hill, it’s easier if you stay in the tracks you just made. If you spend your entire afternoon sledding down, walking up, sledding down, at the end of the day you will have a path that is easy and fast. You just sit on the sled and it takes you to the bottom with very little effort and you end up very close to the same place each time. If you decide you want to end up in a different location, you’re going to need to take the time to create another path.

Changing pathways, and habits can be hard. Really hard! Have I said that already? Yes, change is difficult even when you know it is what needs to be done. It’s uncomfortable. Here’s where the ice comes in.

The key to creating a new neural pathway is not in just forging a new trail – trying to force a new habit – but rather in solidifying it so that it becomes the “norm”. When I was studying Organizational Leadership in college, I came across an explanation of Lewin’s theory, which completely resonated with me! Okay, at this point I realize I have no chance of convincing you that I’m not a nerd so I guess I’ll own up to it. “Hi, my name is Debbie, and I’m kind of a nerd.” J

Who Kurt Lewin was, is irrelevant for the purpose of this discussion. It’s what he taught me about change that is important. Let’s say you are getting ready to have a party. You really want a ring of ice to float in the punch bowl but your store only sells blocks of ice. You could be incredibly motivated for that block to turn into a ring. You could really want it; really need it to happen. You could get frustrated about it, curse at it, and try to force the block to change. You can apply as much pressure as you want by squeezing, pushing, or even pounding it with a hammer. The ice will resist the imposed change because it is a system of firmly established items (in this case water crystals, rather than previously formed habits but they solidify just as strongly don’t they?). Push or pound too hard, and rather than conform, the ice is just going to shatter.

Can you turn a block of ice into a ring of ice? Absolutely! But only if you take some time to thaw the block first. If you continually heat the block, it’s going to eventually start to soften and then turn to a liquid. Once the block of ice is melted, and it’s been poured into a ring-shaped mold, it’s still not the ring of ice you was hoping for, though. It’s just a bowl of water! You have to throw the mold in the freezer. You can’t make it happen. You can’t rush it. You have to wait for it to freeze into the new shape but if you leave it in the freezer for a while, that WILL happen.

What to does all of this crazy (and wonderful, and phenomenal, and amazing….) talk about neural plasticity, sledding, and floating ice rings have to do with you? Everything! Don’t like the habits that you have right now? Change your mind! I mean, literally, change your mind!! Unfreeze your current habits. Decide what you want them to look like and pour them into that mold. Then refreeze!

I see examples of this all around me! I do a happy dance when I get messages from friends, family, and clients telling me about their work on creating new neural pathways. To be honest, they probably didn’t even know that’s what they were doing until right now as they are reading this blog!!

Yup, this was Karen when she wrote, “I got to the gym this morning. The parking lot was packed. In the past, I wouldn’t stop. That would be all the excuse I needed to just keep driving. This morning I didn’t allow myself to do that. I pulled in and parked. I walked in and did 100% of my workout. I feel great!” This was Alexi when she wrote, “I went to the gym this morning and I planned to work upper body. There were a lot of guys in the free weight area. In the past, when that was the case, I would just turn around and go get on a treadmill. This morning, I heard your voice inside my head: ‘stick to your plan’. I went into the free weight area, picked up some dumbbells and did my workout!” This was Florence when she said “it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle”, and Sylvia when she said, “I’ve stopped drinking Dr. Pepper every day and even ask for water at restaurants! I don’t know who I am anymore!” This is Courtney who has made so many new habits (e.g. working out, drinking water, shopping only in the outside aisles of the grocery store) that I had to have her mom tell me what she’s doing differently because to Courtney, “this is just normal.”

I LOVE that. Yup, these things put a smile on my face that is pretty hard to remove!

“This is just normal!” In fact, this is far, far from what normal used to be but it IS the new normal!

Nathan sledding

I am very tired of winter but I am not tired of this snow and ice.

Every single time you refuse to go down that old, established trail, it will get easier and easier. You’re building a new trail. Once you’ve used the new trail for a while, the old one will start to grow over – going back will no longer be the path of least resistance. It will no longer be your normal. Throw these new habits in the freezer, ladies.  You got this!!