THE LITTLE THINGS REALLY DO MAKE A HUGE DIFFERENCE
Living a powerful life isn’t necessarily about money and fame. Nor is it something that’s only attainable when all the stars align perfectly. It’s about making the most of every opportunity that comes along. Sometimes that can feel overwhelming. On any given day, most of us are pulled in a thousand different directions. To help us get a handle on how to stay focused on the end goal, we asked a group of local experts to share tips on everything from sleeping more effectively to eating more healthfully. Follow these sanity-saving hacks to help you live your best, most fulfilling life now.
START (AND KEEP) MOVING
No matter what your age, there are plenty of reasons to keep moving. “Physical fitness is the key to preventing injuries later in life,” says Katherine Vadasdi, a sports medicine specialist at Orthopaedic & Neurosurgery Specialists (ONS) in Greenwich, Stamford and Harrison. “Being active now allows you to do some of the things you may take for granted as you get older, such as getting up out of a chair.
We asked Dr. Vadasdi for some key tips to maximize your daily workout. Here’s what she had to say.
KEEP A DAILY FOOD, FITNESS AND SLEEP DIARY.
“This will give you a sense of what you are currently doing in these areas and what you can change or improve. For instance, if you see that you are eating French fries six days a week, that might get your attention!”
PUT RECOVERY TIME INTO THE MIX.
“I see this all the time with athletes who develop muscle strains from overdoing it. Especially as we age, giving ourselves time to recover between training sessions is important.”
STRIVE FOR THE BIG THREE.
Cardio, strength training and balance training. “I’m a big believer in incorporating these elements into any workout program,” she says. “Balance training, which helps strengthen the muscles around the hips and the core, prevents injuries and falls. This is not something you want to start at eighty but in your thirties.”
THINK ABOUT WHERE YOU ARE AND WHERE YOU WANT TO BE.
“If you are very athletic, think about increasing your strength training and stretching routine. If you’re not active, think about ways to incorporate something into your life. For many people that means taking a walk with friends or working around the yard. If you walk your dog twice a day, that’s an activity. A goal-oriented person might plan to train for a 5K race or a hike they’ve always wanted to do.”
DON’T FEAR FOOD
The adage “you are what you eat” has taken on new meaning in this country, where unhealthy eating habits have contributed to an obesity epidemic. There’s no silver bullet, but even a few small changes can go a long way. “Being healthy requires a more holistic approach,” says Cai Pandolfino, cofounder along with her husband, Jeffrey, of Green and Tonic. “To maintain sanity and stay healthy, it starts with an approach that embraces a love and respect for good, honest food. Life is too short to nourish ourselves in any other way.”
Here are Cai’s top tips to maximize healthy eating.
WIN THE MORNING, WIN THE DAY.
A healthy morning routine is the best foil for hectic days. “Enjoy a cup of coffee—but only after a big glass of water with lemon if you can, and follow it up with something green like a smoothie with a generous handful of greens or a low-sugar green juice,” says Cai.
ADD DON’T SUBTRACT.
Forget about deprivation, try adding delicious and healthy options to your diet. Eat a salad every day, add a portion of vegetables to every meal, enjoy a piece of high-fiber fruit or a cup of herbal tea. “Adding good stuff to your diet will eventually crowd out the desire for bad stuff. You’ll feel more energetic.”
WHEN IN DOUBT, DRINK.
Hydration is key for energy, mental clarity, flushing toxins, supporting digestion and healthy weight and skin. “Simple tricks like drinking a glass of water before a meal, or incorporating tea, low-sodium brothy soups and water-rich fruits and veggies, such as watermelon and cucumber, are great hydration hacks.”
REMEMBER THAT HEALTHY FATS ARE YOUR FRIEND.
Think avocado, chia seeds, nuts, salmon and eggs. “Because they are digested more slowly, this causes a nice steady release of glucose into the bloodstream and helps you feel full longer with consistent energy.”
TAKE CARE OF YOUR GUT.
“So much of our immunity is wrapped in our gut. Make sure you incorporate fermented foods like kombucha, kimchee, sauerkraut, and yogurts in your diet.”
The term self-care is most often associated with setting aside personal “me” time. Who knew it applies to the workplace, too? “To do the best in your profession, you need to be at your best,” says Karen Elizaga, whose Forward Options executive coaching practice is based in New York. “When your mind is clear, your heart is open and you’re physically fit, anything is possible.”
Here, the part-time Westport resident shares some pointers for becoming more effective in the office.
THINK ABOUT THE YEAR AHEAD.
“Ask yourself these questions: Where do you want to end the year? What do you want to achieve? What goals do you want to set? Then create concrete concepts to be guided toward those goals.”
BE YOUR OWN BEST ADVOCATE.
“So many of us just put our heads down and do the work and forget to be our own cheerleader. If you are making great strides at your company—if you got that grant or brought in the deal—let key people know. Otherwise, you can be overlooked.”
“The way you carry yourself is key,” she says. “Whether you walk onto a stage or into a room for a meeting, you want to appear confident, eager and reliable.”
WORK TOWARD GETTING TO ‘YES.’
“Often, we are stuck in the old way of doing something. When someone on your team suggests something new, instead of saying, ‘We’ve never done it that way,’ consider the alternative. You can learn something new and get to an outcome that is both new and innovative.”
MIND THE MULTITASKING
Mindfulness is one of those buzz words that gets tossed around a lot but no one is ever sure precisely what it entails. “It’s exceedingly simple in concept but difficult to practice, especially in today’s environment with all the technology at hand,” says Christina Schwefel, a psychologist, professor and owner of Go Figure Barre Studios. The ability, if not compulsion, to multitask across multiple platforms comes at a high cost. “We are less centered and present than ever,” she says. For Christina, the goal is embodied mindfulness, and she underscores the idea that “you can do it all, but not all at once.”
To help you get there, she has these suggestions.
BEGIN A DAILY MEDITATION PRACTICE.
“Start with an achievable, attainable goal,” she says. “Just five minutes a day for a week. Focus on breath, open eyes or closed. Eventually work your way up to ten minutes a session.”
PUT THE PHONE DOWN FOR AN HOUR A DAY.
“I am the poster child for cellphone temptation,” says Christina. “People are going in a million different directions and these devices are the vehicle for pulling people in those directions. Just say, ‘This is my text-free, phone-free, and device-free hour.’ Same time, every day, no exceptions.”
“I can’t underscore this enough. Full-capacity diaphragmatic breathing. Most of us are not breathing correctly.”
Develop an exercise practice that encourages being centered and present and includes a focus on posture and alignment. “Do something once or twice a week that is not competitive but rather makes you focus inward and gain a deeper understanding of your own patterns and process.”
Marie Kondo’s best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, sparked a major movement around the cathartic benefits of decluttering. The organizational specialists of the Riverside-based Faire Évoluer, take a more practical approach. “It’s true that everything has to bring you joy,” says Lily Perry, the company’s cofounder. “But if your only black sweater isn’t bringing you joy, keep it until you get another one.”
Here she and her business partner, Sarah Baldwin, help you create a clutter-free closet.
“It’s nearly impossible to stay organized when you have too many clothes,” says Lily. “Get rid of clothes that don’t fit or are outdated trends.”
KEEP EVERYDAY ITEMS VISIBLE.
“What you wear most frequently should be easy to see and easy to reach,” says Sarah. “Store seasonal clothes and party gowns elsewhere.”
DITCH THE MISMATCHED HANGERS.
Having the same hangers creates a more uniform look. Lily and Sarah favor velvet slim-line hangers, but “any will do, as long as they are all the same,” says Lily.
Bins, shelf dividers and drawer organizers are your friends. “We use shelf dividers to partition stacks of sweaters or to separate handbags and keep them upright,” says Sarah. “We use drawer organizers to separate socks, scarves, underwear. And shoe boxes or clear bins to store shoes. These little helpers keep things neat and make it easy for you to put things back in the right place.”
In a town where there are countless volunteer opportunities, few organizations do it better than the Junior League of Greenwich. “Our membership is a force of nature,” says president Debra McLaughlin. “We get a lot done.” Indeed. The group’s signature fundraising events—the Enchanted Forest and Touch-a-Truck—routinely raise thousands of dollars each year to support various community projects.
Debra offers these words of wisdom on how to get—and stay—involved.
CONSIDER WHY YOU WANT TO VOLUNTEER.
“You want to work with people who have like-minded goals,” says Debra. “People who share your passion.”
KNOW HOW TO WORK WITH DIFFERENT PEOPLE.
“Remember to respect the diverse lifestyles of those around you. Not everyone can devote time in the mornings; others need to be home when their children get out of school. Recognize that everyone has a unique contribution to offer.”
KEEP AN OPEN MIND.
“There is nothing that is instantaneously gratifying except ice cream,” says Debra. “Even our Done in a Day projects involve substantial teamwork and planning. You will be completely fulfilled at the end of a project if you commit to the preparation and execution of the volunteer opportunity.”
KNOW YOUR LIMITS.
Pressed for time? Keep it simple. Help with a food drive. “That’s a wonderful way to contribute to the community,” she says.
PARENT LIKE YOU MEAN IT
Too often parents of young children try to control their kids, which works up to a point. “Then preadolescence and adolescence sets in and all bets are off,” says Darby Fox, a child and adolescent family therapist working in Fairfield and Westchester counties and New York City. “Research tells us that the gold standard of parenting is high-structure, high-nurture.”
To help parents maximize their parenting skills, Darby offers the following advice.
FORGET THE KID’S TIME OUT.
Take a parent’s time out. “Too often in the heat of the moment, a parent does what the child does and it becomes a battle of control,” says Darby. “Take a moment to regain your composure. Take a breath. Figure out what you want, and communicate that clearly.”
STICK TO YOUR GUNS.
“If children miss the bus because they can’t get out of bed and are unorganized, don’t just yell at them and drive them anyway. Let them know they will have to wait until you are available and let them sign in late to school. Don’t make excuses for them. They will quickly learn time management, responsibility and respect.”
FOLLOW-THROUGH IS KEY.
Grounded means grounded, even if that means your child is going to miss a party or a special event. “When you follow through on your actions, children learn respect and the importance of communication.”
TALK ABOUT TECH.
“The tech piece is here to stay,” says Darby. “Monitor your kids’ devices. Talk to them about how they can be used to hurt people. If a kid needs a smartphone before the age of twelve, they are not under correct supervision.”
GO TO BED
People who are chronically sleep-deprived are at greater risk for all kinds of health problems. “Sleep is just as important as diet and exercise,” says Dr. Saul Rothenberg, a sleep specialist at Greenwich Hospital’s Sleep Center. The good news? “There is a lot of machinery in your brain to help you sleep, and your job as a sleeper is to get out of the way and let all those systems do their job.”
Dr. Rothenberg offers some sleep hygiene dos and don’ts.
KEEP REGULAR HOURS.
“You can’t force yourself to go to sleep. But if you wake up at the same time every morning, your body will tell you when to go to sleep.”
DON’T LOOK AT THE CLOCK DURING THE NIGHT.
“Set your alarm and forget about it. It’s normal to wake up multiple times during the night, but you won’t remember because you’re in a sleep state. Looking at the clock will bring you out of that sleep state.”
AVOID STRESSFUL ACTIVITIES LATE IN THE DAY.
“Once you know your optimal bedtime, don’t do anything too engaging or stressful two to three hours beforehand.” Even reading can be problematic. “When you use it as a form of a distraction and letting the world go, that can be very helpful. But if you find yourself reading for two or three hours, that’s not productive.”
“Don’t be too hungry or too full, which causes disruptions in sleep.”
EXERCISE IS IMPORTANT BUT NOT RIGHT BEFORE BEDTIME.
“If you exercise within two hours of going to bed, that can lead to wakefulness.”
BED IS FOR SLEEPING AND ROMANCE.
“If you start spending more time in bed not sleeping, then you are weakening the connection between bed and sleep.”
BE PART OF A “WE”
There are plenty of studies that show the benefits of a stable relationship. “When we’re emotionally bonded with another person, we are fully engaged, ” says Trevor Crow Mullineaux, a Fairfield-based licensed marriage and family therapist. To help facilitate healthier relationships, it’s important for couples to feel connected to one another.
Here are a few tips for relationship success.
FOLLOW THE 33 PERCENT RULE.
“We are constantly making bids for each other’s attention. We can’t always show up 100 percent of the time,” says Mullineaux. “Strive for being emotionally available 33 percent of the time. That goes for your kids, too.”
“Put your phone down and ask your spouse or partner, ‘Are you okay?’ Followed by the magic words, ‘Tell me more.’”
LISTEN AND TRY NOT TO FIX THINGS IMMEDIATELY.
“That just marginalizes how someone is feeling.”
IF YOU MUST TRY TO FIX, ASK PERMISSION.
“Otherwise they will feel as if they failed at trying to solve their own problem. Emotions are genderless. Men and women have the same need for emotional security and bonding,” she says.
FOCUS ON YOUR OWN EMOTIONAL PROCESSING.
“You need to know your trigger points. In stressful situations, great couples can calm down, step aside, take a breath and be balanced and open.” And speaking of being open, “The great love affairs that endure have one thing in common,” says Mullineaux. “They don’t take each other for granted. There is always something new to learn.”