How to increase willpower and motivation

Lately, we’re hearing more of our guests say they are having difficulty focusing, making decisions, and following through with actions they know would be in their best interest both at work and in my personal life. It’s not easy to perform as well as we would like mentally or emotionally during times of stress—and this past year has certainly been one of the most stressful in our lives! Here is the latest neuroscience on willpower, decision making, and motivation to help you do your best.

Our decision-making “muscle”, commonly called willpower, resides in the prefrontal cortex of our brain. It is the executive functioning center that helps us weigh the pros and cons of a decision from a logical perspective. These deliberate value-based decisions vs our endless reactive and automatic unconscious decisions max out at approximately 75 per day. According to researchers at Cornell University, the average North American adult is making 35,000 decisions a day (226 just about food)!

The most successful decision-makers don’t have super willpower, rather, they conserve willpower by developing routines and habits that help them avoid having to make inconsequential decisions. These mental energy conservationists know what researchers are confirming; making too many decisions and wading (or surfing) through too much information depletes cognitive resources and decision power.

Multitasking is another mental energy drain that results in poor decision-making, mental fatigue, shallow thinking, and impaired self-regulation. It takes energy to jump from task to task, and even more energy to attain a level of focus where we perform our best. Focus on one task, do it really well, then move on.

Motivation is the force that drives our decisions through to completion. We have intrinsic motivation, which is driven by our internal value set. We are motivated to make decisions and take actions that align with our “authentic self,” and are rewarded when we do so—an increase in brain stimulation in our learning and creativity centers is seen when make decisions that align with our values. We also have extrinsic motivation. We feel this form of motivation when we receive external rewards such as awards, praise, status, a raise, or bragging rights. Extrinsic motivation is rewarded by our feel-good hormone dopamine. Both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation play a role in progressing towards our goals.

When under duress, motivation wanes and is replaced with anxiety (fear of failure), burnout (depleted energy reserves), and low self-esteem (competitive self-comparisons). Here is a list of options for you to consider to boost your decision-making willpower as well as your motivational energy.

How To Cultivate Will Power

  • Work in focused time blocks and avoid multi-tasking. Minimize interruptions by turning off prompts, alerts, and auto feeds.
  • After focusing with uninterrupted concentration, set a time limit to followup on emails, texts, and important information feeds.
  • Trust your subconscious “gut instinct” for the less important decisions. Neuroscientists have found that our intuitive subconscious is able to make a decision several seconds before our prefrontal cortex can, and does so without “over-thinking”.
  • Practice daily meditation and mindfulness. A study by INSEAD and The Wharton School showed 15 minutes of concentration and awareness practice made smarter choices while derailing compulsive and addictive patterns.
  • Ensure that self-resourcing and self-regulation punctuate the focus and admin time allotments to keep the brain fueled, oxygenated, and less stressed.

How To Cultivate Motivation

  • Set SMART goals.
  • Pre-analyze potential obstacles and list solutions.
  • Reflect on the benefits of following through on a decision in a journal to build mindfulness skills. Importantly, hold an experimentational mindset.
  • Include fun in some of the decisions to cultivate dopamine rewards.
  • Enlist support from others for emotional alignment.
  • When possible, find alignment to your internal authentic values, and trust that following through will enrich you.

What is Mountain Trek?

Mountain Trek is the health reset you’ve been looking for. Our award-winning hiking-based health program, immersed in the lush nature of British Columbia, will help you unplug, recharge, and roll back years of stress, anxiety, and unhealthy habits. To learn more about the retreat, and how we can help you reset your health, please email us at info@mountaintrek.com or reach out below:

Stop coping with mental and emotional stress and start resourcing

Q: I’m noticing that while coping with the mental and emotional stress of Covid 19 over the last year, my habits of relaxing don’t seem to be working. What can I do?

A: We all have various activities and behaviors that help us cope with uncontrollable situations. It’s humanly natural to avoid adverse or uncomfortable circumstances, as they generate a survival response in our subconscious brain, nervous, and hormonal systems. The uneasiness or duress is often connected to active or passive trauma experiences from our childhood (this is why all stress is individual). When something in our world destabilizes us like a pandemic, war, an economic crash on a societal scale, job change, illness, or having to work from home with our kids, we can feel uncertain, groundless, and wary—this can initiate a state of anxiousness.

To avoid this dysregulating cascade, we have habituated various forms of pleasure, soothing, and numbing to create a false sense of happiness and stability. Our brain is wired to release “feel-good” hormones in response to these coping strategies, but the momentary happiness we receive from the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin doesn’t rectify the situation. Inevitably, wine and guacamole, Netflix, and online shopping don’t lower our stress, and eventually, these actions lose their momentary pleasure potency. What our mind, body, heart, and spirit really need in difficult times is resourcing.

If we can get over the hurdle of deservedness, and truly resource rather than soothe, we can find resilience, vitality, peacefulness, and joy even when immersed in adversity. Considering that our society aims at keeping us developmentally in the state of the myopic self-absorption of an early teen (who would prefer a chocolate bar topped with sea salt for immediate gratification to release the feel-good hormones over an action we need to schedule), we need to energy manage our will power’s decision making through our day to have the reserves to decide as an adult to invest in our well being.

Here are a few considerations to self resource rather than cope and soothe:

  • “Own your day” by bookending the 1st and last 5 minutes just for you (not work, kids, a news feed, or social media), perhaps to pause and notice body sensations, arising emotions and quality of thoughts, journal, meditate or stretch.
  • “Bookend your workday” start and finish at the same time (as much as possible), but work more efficiently with periods of undistracted focus followed by 5-10 minutes of getting up, moving, and changing your mental state. Eat a snack, stretch, breathe deeply, write down 3 things you are grateful for, or have a tea in your garden.
  • Consider replacing happy hour a couple of times a week with these research-proven activities that lower Cortisol and bathe our brain with serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin: pat a pet for 5 min; enjoy a creative pursuit and drop into the ‘flow state’ for 20 min; cuddle, tickle, wrestle or massage your child or grandchild or make love with your mate for 20 min; walk or hike in nature while mindfully noticing moment to moment what you are seeing, hearing, smelling, and feeling on your skin for 20 min; unite your mind and body with 20 min of yoga, Tai Chi or meditation practice.
  • Prioritize movement/exercise, healthy nutrition, deep sleep, detoxing, and choices that actually lower stress and minimize anxiety throughout the week in order to balance your hormones, maintain an active anabolic metabolism and keep energized.
  • Enrich your weekend with fun outdoor activities with others, or take up gardening, the most recently researched long-term happiness-inducing activity.

What is Mountain Trek?

Mountain Trek is the health reset you’ve been looking for. Our award-winning hiking-based health program, immersed in the lush nature of British Columbia, will help you unplug, recharge, and roll back years of stress, anxiety, and unhealthy habits. To learn more about the retreat, and how we can help you reset your health, please email us at info@mountaintrek.com or reach out below:

Hydrotherapy and it’s benefits

Hydrotherapy, or water therapy, has been used for a variety of health treatments for thousands of years. Even before the Egyptians, humans have been steaming, mineral spring soaking, and immersing in cold water to boost healing in the body and mind. Hydrotherapy has long been incorporated in naturopathic, Ayurvedic, and Taoist health practices—even our modern, allopathic medical system has been using it for pain reduction, muscle, and joint inflammation treatments, as well as surgery and nerve recovery.

Hot Water Immersion

Balneotherapy, or Hot Water Immersion, lowers our stress hormone cortisol, as well as ureic acid and lactic acid post-exercise. Mineral salts (either naturally occurring at hot springs, or Epsom salts in your tub at home) have the added benefits of supporting the release of unwanted chemistry from the skin while also soothing joints, back pain, arthritis, and fibromyalgia. Cautionary caveat: replace your electrolytes after soaking in hot mineral baths or springs, and get up from sitting carefully as lightheadedness is common.

Cold Water Immersion

Cold water immersion has a vast array of benefits, from raising metabolic rate by 350%, lowering Cortisol by 46%, raising noradrenaline by 530%, and raising dopamine by 250%. Pain and inflammation also decrease (as experienced in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia due to an increased production of opioid endorphins in the body). Research has shown that cold showers or cold immersion create a “positive systemic stress activation”, through which the high density of cold receptors on the skin sends an overwhelming amount of electrical impulses to the brain. This positive transient activation ignites the sympathetic nervous system and HPA axis (Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal-Thyroid nervous and hormonal systems). This activation has immense stimulating effects on our immune system by promoting lymphatic drainage! Brief daily cold stress increases the production of T-Lymphocyte, also known as T-cells, a type of leukocyte (white blood cell), and Natural Killer cell, also known as NK cell, production and activation. Both are critical in our immune system. Research is proving the benefits of cold water immersion in antitumor immunity and nonlymphoid cancer survival rates.

How about Warm Water Therapy you ask? Sorry, not much happens. Head-out-of-water immersions in 20 C / 68 F water will cause metabolic rate to go up marginally. However, throw a few ice cube trays into the tepid bath and drop the temp to 14 C / 58 F and your metabolism will quadruple. Water immersion has benefits, but the greatest health measures are when it’s hot enough to sweat or cold enough to want to shiver in order to affect blood flow and its healing constituents!

There is a growing trend for cold immersion thanks to Wim Hof from the Netherlands. Wim researched water immersion practices from a variety of cultures and married them to breathwork from Vedic and Taoist origins. He leads workshops around the world in taking practitioners beyond their fear-based imaginings to reap the health benefits of hyperoxygenation (what happens when you hyperventilate) and prolonged cold water immersion.

How To Try Hydrotherapy

You don’t have to swim under the polar ice cap like Wim, but consider experimenting with ending your morning shower in cold water, which is called contrast hydrotherapy. You may notice its antidepressive release of beta-endorphins as it awakens you. Do your best to surrender to the sensation of the water on your skin, and know that the vasoconstriction of millions of tiny muscles around the capillaries of your circulatory system are exercising as they pump the blood quickly from your skins surface to your abdominal organs, raising your metabolism and circulating your blood, while actually lowering your blood pressure and giving your heart muscle a break. You can end your shower back to warm or hot water if you wish. The point is to move from hot water to cold. What you do after this is your choice.

As with anything new, approach this new practice with curiosity and always ask why. Please also be cautious if you’ve had heart issues in the past, as cold immersion can cause transient arrythmias in patients with heart problems.


What is Mountain Trek?

Mountain Trek is the health reset you’ve been looking for. Our award-winning hiking-based health program, immersed in the lush nature of British Columbia, will help you unplug, recharge, and roll back years of stress, anxiety, and unhealthy habits. To learn more about the retreat, and how we can help you reset your health, please email us at info@mountaintrek.com or reach out below:

Finding Balance with sugar, alcohol, and caffeine

Achieving balance is no small feat. Especially when it comes to elements of our life that involve rituals, friends, or cravings. Take a few of the most common ones; sugar, alcohol, and caffeine. We all battle these daily, and constantly. One month, we’re off of them completely, then the next we find ourselves overindulged to the point we feel toxic. This cycle can leave us feeling stuck, dependent, and out of control.

We need balance. We can’t be all work and no play; all stress and no fun. But we also can’t be all fun and play. That is when actions become habitual, obsessive, or addictive, and we become out of balance with our balancing acts. It’s worth asking ourselves once in a while whether our choices are serving us or we are in service to them?

Our philosophy at Mountain Trek is that nothing is evil—not Ben & Jerry’s, zinfandel, nor espresso—it’s all about the amount, frequency, and timings of our favorite indulgences. To be habit-free we must know “why” we want any dopamine-rewarding substance. This requires asking ourselves a few mindfulness-invoking questions. Typically we are chasing a need with these pleasures. It could be to relax and unwind, reward ourselves for working hard, filling a moment of boredom, masking an uncomfortable emotion, or often sharing something socially. None of these, or any reasons, are shame-worthy. Once we know why we want these choices, we can ask if they are truly bringing us balance and happiness beyond the moment? This question might require some deeper contemplation and reflection to notice and track what effect these substances have on our energy levels, moods, mental clarity, digestive system, sleep, and even self-esteem. Journaling is a wonderful aid in documenting insights and helps you get out of your own head. If we realize we might be “holding the tail of the tiger”, we can experiment.

If you feel that cutting these elements from your life is preventing you from enjoying time with friends, lowering your overall happiness levels, and feeling overly obsessed, then there may be another path. Fortunately in this world of choices, there are replacement options for many of our pleasures! There are chocolate bars with higher levels of cocoa and lower levels of sugar, and even sugar-free chocolate bars are getting more sophisticated and delicious with natural sugar-free sweeteners (try Xylitol from Birch Tree sap). There are de-alcoholized wines, and 0% microbrewery beers, and even quality alcohol-free spirit replacements to give us options for the social or ritual aspects of ‘happy hour’ fun. Micro roasters have been creating high-quality swiss water decaffeinated espresso beans for years, so we can still be in joy savoring the flavors, aromas, and rituals without some of the un-balancing effects.

The key is to play around and not get stuck in habits that we may think are meeting our needs but are actually tipping us out of balanced health. Be present, savor and enjoy!


What is Mountain Trek?

Mountain Trek is the health reset you’ve been looking for. Our award-winning hiking-based health program, immersed in the lush nature of British Columbia, will help you unplug, recharge, and roll back years of stress, anxiety, and unhealthy habits. To learn more about the retreat, and how we can help you reset your health, please email us at info@mountaintrek.com or reach out below:

Different Kinds of Meditation

We live in a world of choice; 50 shades of grey, 150 flavors of ice cream, 50 styles of yoga, and over 300 various mind/body practices of meditation. It’s oh so easy to get frozen in the decision-making process and then not choose anything! Below is a summary of the different kinds of meditation to help you find the technique that resonates with you, so you can exercise your mind to be more potent and free.

First, let’s back up and discuss the benefits of meditation, and specifically, the practice of mindfulness, which is one of the most researched topics in psychology and neuroscience these days. Unequivocally, as exercises, it shows positive results in both brain and mental/emotional health. Though we tend to think of meditation as only something to bring mental benefits like increased attention span, heightened concentration, improved focus capabilities, peace, and tranquility, all the various techniques also have a somatic, or body-centric, benefit by invoking the parasympathetic nervous system. The result is lowered stress hormone levels, relaxed muscles, oxygenated blood cells, and ultimately, a deeper mind-body connection.

Current researchers have been cataloging the various practices, and have synthesized them down to the 20 most common, which can then be subdivided into 3 primary themes; Focused Attention, Open Monitoring, and Ethical Enhancement. Though there are the various flavors imbued from the original religious or spiritual wellspring that these techniques are associated with—whether Christian, Sufi, Buddhist, Judaic, Taoist, or Hindu—they are all, at their core, techniques to train our mind to be in present moment awareness, a mental state called consciousness.

Focused Attention Meditation

Focused Attention Meditation (FA) uses a vast array of internal or external phenomena to concentrate the mind on. From the sensations of the breath rising and falling or passing the tip of the nostrils; to gazing at a candle flame; the sounds of singing bowls, word phrases, mantras or, chants; or the details of each foot landing in slow motion while mindfully walking, focusing is the focus. When we notice our attention drift to thoughts, feelings or, body sensations, all schools of this form of meditation encourage a non-judgemental “letting go” followed by a return to concentrating the awareness on the stimuli. Brain scans show increased neuron activity in the centers responsible for cognitive control, thought regulation, and sensory information processing. Try this 8-minute breathing meditation:

Open Monitoring Practices

Open Monitoring Practices (OM) do not use an object of focus. Instead, they center on moment-to-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, and body sensations also without judgment or preference. Again, with this practice, certain areas of the brain show improvements in action and thought regulation, cognitive control, and sensory information processing. These schools of meditation practice noticing and letting go of anything and everything to foster awareness of our thought tendencies, from a place of present moment witnessing without attachment.

Ethical Enhancement

Ethical Enhancement forms of meditation (EE) include contemplative, gratitude, and compassion centric exercises. They tend to focus thoughts and feelings towards higher states of acceptance and loving-kindness. The improvements noticed through neuroscience are related to areas in the brain associated with ’empathy’, ‘pain perception’ and, ‘body sensation processing’.

Whether you choose to start a meditation practice from any one of these channels, the results are beneficial for the mind, heart, and body. Besides becoming practiced in being focused, aware, or more compassionate for self and others, you’ll notice how your interpersonal presence increases, your ability to stay on task at work increases, and how anxious thoughts can be simply noticed and let go. All of these benefits bring more peace, and joy to our lives.

How To Start A Meditation Practice

Here is a simple starting formula:

  • Pick a time of day that you can own as consistently yours; before getting into bed, or after your morning shower and smoothie.
  • Create a place that invites you to feel calm and relaxed; a chair or cushion in corner of a quiet room, perhaps a serene piece of art or houseplant nearby.
  • Start gently, set a pleasant bell or gong timer for just 5 minutes.
  • Lightly close your eyes, breathe slowly and deeply from the bottom of your belly to the top of your ribs through your nostrils.
  • Invoke your mind’s focus on either the movement/sensation of your breath; the light awareness of the thoughts, feelings, sensations that arise; or focused thoughts or images of gratitude or compassion.
  • Be kind to yourself if you notice a constant stream of thoughts interrupting your practice, this is a normal occurrence for all of us—be patient and, over time your concentration will increase and so too will the space between thoughts.
  • Keep a journal to track your experience and insights.

We hope this helps you on your journey to balanced health. If you would like a kickstart, including guided meditations, please join us for an upcoming Basecamp Weekend Retreat, an online retreat where our expert team brings our award-winning program to you.


What is Mountain Trek?

Mountain Trek is the health reset you’ve been looking for. Our award-winning hiking-based health program, immersed in the lush nature of British Columbia, will help you unplug, recharge, and roll back years of stress, anxiety, and unhealthy habits. To learn more about the retreat, and how we can help you reset your health, please email us at info@mountaintrek.com or reach out below:

Q&A: I am over working from home. What should I do?

Q: I am really struggling with working from home. What should I do?

A: The world has learned a lot from the past 10 months of Covid. One of the unforeseen outcomes was a mass migration of office workers from downtown to their dens. A variety of research on the phenomena has found both positive and negative ramifications, however, one thing all university and corporate research has pointed out is that for the foreseeable future—even after Covid—work will be remote or from a hybrid of locations, and mostly virtual. How do we as managers and employees prepare for this change?

With 40% of the workforce able to work from home, and 80% of their employers planning to permit them to work part-time or full-time from home post-Covid, strategies are going to be required that build employee satisfaction and productivity for the new reality. The main struggle for homebound employees is work-life balance, distractions, and loneliness from isolation, while corporations struggle to maintain the inter-employee relationships that are so vital to trust, team collaboration, and creative synergy.

For many, the honeymoon phase of working from home is over with some 55% of employees struggling from distractions such as family-shared workspace, children and pets needing attention and support, and negative world news affecting their fear of the future. But even with more flexibility to manage work hours than ever before, 66% of 2000 office workers surveyed are working more nights and weekends than they did before, and 49% find it difficult to keep boundaries, while 59% feel less effective. The blurring of work-life balance is showing up in degradation of physical, mental, and emotional health. Lack of gym and studio access, proximity to the fridge, and the ease for interruptions from the virtual world to pop up are having a negative effect on healthy lifestyle habits as well as productivity. Physical isolation is also taking its toll. The post-grad 20 to 30-year-olds who moved to a new city for employment were counting on coworkers for friendships. Zoom fatigue is setting in and many meeting participants stay blank screened (don’t turn on video), allowing the few extroverts to carry meetings. The “heartbeat” of the office where serendipitous encounters in the hall or spontaneous collaboration at the coffee machine which build trust and relationships through countless unscheduled gestures and interactions has gone missing.

The managers of the future will need to be savvy on technology and off-site work efficiency practices, but also be able to leverage virtual relationships, trust, and team synergy if they want to be leaders in maximizing employee happiness, creativity, effectiveness, and longevity. Though many surveyed employees appreciate the trust from their managers to work from home, and the freedom to customize their day, they are often complaining of boredom and loneliness. It’s too easy for distance workgroups to lose a sense of belonging, feel disconnected from the culture of the organization, and lose sight and commitment to the corporation’s aims and objectives. This can lead to withdrawal and apathy.

Now is the time to realize we are not just coping with a singular crisis. The way we work is going to change forever. So here are some considerations for both employees and management to build the healthiest and effective virtual teams:

  • Create strategies and protocols that schedule work and life separation, while allowing for some freedom and flexibility
  • Utilize the old commute time for personal health resourcing and stress reduction
  • Invest in virtual team-building activities that transmit the corporate culture of health, connection, and co-creation
  • Utilize technologies and protocols that foster face to face small group communication for relationship and trust-building which are foundational for effective brainstorming and collaborative solution finding
  • Transfer office equipment (stand up desks) and gym pass memberships to home and virtual outlets to support physical health
  • Provide workplace and health coaching as well as counseling therapeutic support for individuals who are feeling anxious or depressed from the chronic stress of Covid, but also afterward as we empower a new way of working more virtually

We hope this article helps you with ideas on how to build a sustainable approach to long-term working from home.


What is Mountain Trek?

Mountain Trek is the health reset you’ve been looking for. Our award-winning hiking-based health retreat, immersed in the lush nature of British Columbia, will help you unplug, recharge, and roll back years of stress, anxiety, and unhealthy habits. To learn more about the retreat, and how we can help you reset your health, please email us at info@mountaintrek.com or reach out below:

How To Stay Healthy During The Holidays

While the holidays are supposed to be a time to recharge, reset, and rejuvenate with friends and family, they often feel more like a drain on our energy. Maintaining a balance between your holiday traditions and indulgences and your health goals is the best way to stay healthy during the holidays. Below are our top tips for how to stay healthy during the holidays. We’ve picked only a few so you aren’t overwhelmed!

1) Take a 20-min “turkey burner” walk after-dinner.

Get outside, get some fresh air, some movement, and enjoy your neighborhood’s lights. It’s inevitable that we all indulge during the holidays. Taking a nice walk after large meals will balance your blood sugar levels and lessen the impact of over-eating, improving your digestion and sleep.

2) Savor your indulgent moments.

We all know these moments too well—they are inevitable during the holiday season, and they typically come with an internal struggle. This year,  try something different. Rather than allowing these indulgences to bring up feelings of guilt, shame, anxiety, or stress—go the complete opposite direction. Really enjoy the sweetness of your favorite treat on your tongue, bite by bite, or the warmth of your favorite holiday drink, sip by sip. You may find you actually indulge less.

3) Stay hydrated

Keeping your urine a pale apple juice color. Being well-hydrated can help prevent the diuretic effects of alcohol. Drink clean, filtered water to hydrate. Pro-tip:  Stop drinking 20 minutes prior to eating and resume 20-minutes after eating (sans enjoying a glass of wine with dinner). Drinking lots of water while eating prevents your saliva (an alkalizer) from neutralizing the acid in your stomach.

4) Put your fork down between each bite.

This tip will slow you down and help you savor your food more. It will also allow your stomach ample time to tell your brain when it’s full.

From our family to yours, we wish you the best of health, happiness, and balance this holiday season!


What is Mountain Trek?

Mountain Trek is the health reset you’ve been looking for. Our award-winning retreat, immersed in the lush nature of British Columbia, will help you unplug, recharge, and roll back years of stress and unhealthy habits. To learn more about the retreat, and how we can help you reset your health, please email us at info@mountaintrek.com or reach out below:

The four pillars of mental health

Neuroscientists continue to discover that our well-being can actually be trained, just like our muscles. Our brain is the key component in this endeavor, and it’s all possible thanks to a principle called neuroplasticity, which states that our brains are constantly changing in response to our experiences and our lifestyle. Just like riding your bicycle every day will inevitably lead to bigger, stronger leg muscles, applying effort in the right direction will also cause your brain to change, for the better.

Dr. Richard Davidson is the leading neuroscientist in this field and the founder and director of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He often likens the importance of nourishing our mind to the importance of brushing our teeth—both are learned habits that are not hardwired into our genome yet are essential to our overall well-being. Just like we all have adopted the habit of brushing our teeth, so too must we adopt habits that improve and strengthen our mental health.

Meditation and other forms of mental training are the habits that train our minds and change the way our brain functions. The changes aren’t trivial, either. Dr. Richard Davidson is proving that meditation and mental training reduce inflammation and can subsequently alter gene expression. Chronic inflammation itself has been proven by the Cleveland Clinic to be the root cause of 75-90% of today’s major illnesses. What this means is that these practices can work in tandem with other healthy lifestyle choices to measurably reduce our chances of cancer, heart disease, and dementia.

To helps focus our efforts and maximize benefits, The Center for Healthy Minds has created a framework. They have found that focusing on four areas in particular will rewire our brains and help our health and happiness flourish; meta-awareness, connection, insight (or your own narrative), and purpose. If we can improve in these four areas, our well-being and mental health will improve. Mindfulness, compassion meditation, and loving-kindness meditation (aka “metta meditation”) are three forms of meditation that work well for most of the pillars, but they aren’t the only practices that help. Dr. Davidson often notes that “mediation and mind training” is akin to “sports”. It’s broad, and there are many subsets that do different things for your brain, just as cycling may increase your leg strength and running your endurance. Our recommendation is to start by being curious about the four-pillar framework and to explore various forms of meditation and mind-training to see which practices work best for you.

The four pillars of a healthy and happy mind

Meta-Awareness

Witness our thoughts, feelings, and sensations when we are doing anything before we become mindlessly habituated so that we can make a free choice about our actions and how we are performing them, and what our goals are.

Connection

Lifting our heads up from self striving to notice our connection to other beings and life allows us to savor everything and everyone, and naturally fills us with appreciation and gratitude countering the deep sense of loneliness most of us feel

Insight/Narrative

Negative self-talk is one of the biggest causes of depression! Changing our relationship to our internal negative thoughts (doubts, fears, self-criticism) to self-compassion and conscious focus on our attributes and strengths creates a positive attitude. Davidson explains this pillar is “just about getting curious about your own preconceived thoughts and opinions. Your brain is not set. You can question your own assumptions and biases, and this has tremendous potential to heal the division and ‘othering’ that we see in today’s society.”

Purpose

Aligning our actions to our core values gives us a reason to do everything. It takes us beyond our self-centered unconscious actions moving us towards a meaningful life that is centered on our true self’s needs.

Focusing our mind on noticing, curiosity, compassion, connection, and inner alignment enriches our life, gives us true ongoing happiness, and rewires our brain to be more present, peaceful, and joyful, as well as effective.


What is Mountain Trek?

Mountain Trek is the health reset you’ve been looking for. Our award-winning retreat, immersed in the lush nature of British Columbia, will help you unplug, recharge, and roll back years of stress and unhealthy habits. To learn more about the retreat, and how we can help you reset your health, please email us at info@mountaintrek.com or reach out below:

18 Ways To Improve Your Mental Health When Working From Home

While working from home certainly has its perks; no commute, no dress code, a more flexible schedule—it also blurs the line between work and personal life, disrupting the sensitive balance that exists between the two. Incidences of depression due to working from home are on the rise. So is anxiety. We haven’t yet been taught how to maintain our mental health as our work and personal lives inexorably intertwine. As more companies continue to move their workforce remote, it’s time we learn this newly important skill.

Below are 18 ways you can improve your mental health while working from home, listed in chronological order so you can follow along as your day progresses.

Gift Yourself Your Old Commute Time

Stick to your old routine where you had to commute to work. Only now, instead of spending that 30-45 minutes in your car or in transit, use your “commute time” just for you. The next few tips will give you ideas about what to do with this new-found self-care time.

Break Your Fast

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day for our physical and mental health. Skipping breakfast mimics famine which increases our stress levels. Inversely, eating breakfast will reduce cortisol (stress hormone) production. Additionally, eating breakfast sets up our energy levels for the day and has been proven to boost anabolic hormone levels by 15%. Make a smoothie or simple sprouted grain avocado tahini toast and eat within 30 minutes of getting up to break your intermittent fast from the night before. Not hungry when you wake up? Make sure to eat your last calorie at least 12 hours before you plan to wake up. This allows our body’s autophagy process for cellular recycling and reducing inflammation to occur, and ensures we will be hungry when we wake up.

Take a Morning (Sun) Bath

In the correct situation, the cortisol hormone we mentioned above can be your friend as it’s what perks you up like a natural cup of coffee. Eat your breakfast near a window to allow the early morning light to set your circadian clock for a productive morning. Encourage other family members to join you.

Own Your Morning

It’s too easy to immediately turn to watching the news or checking emails upon waking. However, this starts our minds spinning. Instead, consider reading something inspiring or pleasurable immediately upon waking, or go for a 20-minute walk outdoors, noticing as much of the natural world from as many of your senses as possible (the sky, the snow or rain, the breeze, space between branches, the sound of a bird). This practice of presence will bathe your brain in neurotransmitter feel-good hormones. Paying attention to the details and richness of the world we live in adds more beauty and gratefulness to our day.

Get A Pre-Work Fat Flush

If you can wake up 90 minutes before work, consider walking briskly (between 6.5 and 8.5 perceived rate of exertion out of 10) for 40 minutes to get a cardio fat flush, or alternate walk days with online HIIT workouts, or an online yoga class. Getting a full workout in before has been proven to significantly reduce anxiety and the effects of depression, starting your day on the right foot, literally.

Channel Your Inner Wim Hof

Take a hot shower and end with a cold rinse to increase your circulation and support your elimination system in its ongoing detoxification process.

Dress For Success

Dress for work not sleep to boost your commitment and confidence.

Setup Your Workspace for Success

Situate your computer in front of a window for natural light (if possible, use an adjustable standing desk and alternate between sitting and standing to promote circulation). Consider some greenery, house plants, fresh flowers, and photos of nature all of which help balance constant screen time. Quiet background music (classical, meditative instrumentals, or binaural beats) can help promote calm and concentration and override sounds coming from family members in the house.

Optimize Your Concentration

Too often our productivity is sabotaged at home by distractions. This can lead to a sense of failure for the day. Instead, check your daily calendar for the priority list you set at the end of yesterday’s workday—ask yourself if the items are still relevant. Then organize your day into 90-minute concentrated segments where you work on just one thing. Give yourself 10 minutes between these concentrated work sessions to resource yourself while giving your eyes a break from the screen. After experimenting in 90/10 time segments you may wish to try the Pomodoro Method of 25/5 and notice which time period works best with your concentration levels. You will accomplish more while still giving yourself necessary breaks, resulting in a satisfying day of work.

Reboot 10 Minutes At A Time

Our happiness is intrinsically tied to our productivity. Creating feels good. It gives us confidence and purpose. In order to be as productive as possible, we must take breaks to recharge and refocus, but a longer lunch is not the solution. We’re better off working hard for 90 minutes then taking 10-minute breaks. Consider these 10 min reboot sessions:

Posture stretches to avoid rounded computer shoulders, text neck, and lower back pain.

8-minute guided mindfulness meditation

Keep Your Blood Sugar Level

Blood sugar spikes and plummets contribute immensely to our mood. Leveling out your blood sugar by eating the right food in the right portions at the right time will avoid any “hanger” or the need for an afternoon jolt of caffeine, which for more than a third of the population causes cortisol levels (that pesky stress hormone) to increase. Spread your calories across your day, eating 6 times; break-the-fast morning smoothie or toast, breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, and dinner. For your mid-morning snack, have a piece of fruit and 2 tablespoons of nuts or seeds, and for a mid-afternoon snack, a few veggie slices with 2 tablespoons of golden almond butter protein dip. Remember to stay hydrated throughout your day, as well!

Batch Cook Lunch Ahead Of Time

Take the stress out of eating lunch at home by premaking a couple of soups on the weekend. This ensures you don’t stress over lunch prep or cleanup. Here are some of our favorite easy “warm-up” soup recipes:

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

Greek Chicken & Feta Soup

Black Bean Soup

Wrap It Up

Don’t just up and leave when the whistle blows. Save the last 30 minutes of your workday to review the day with a dedicated work journal, and then plan and calendar your priorities for tomorrow. Finally, clean and clear your workspace so you can start tomorrow fresh. We can never finish all of our work, but by segmenting your day into periods of resourced and fueled concentration we can be confident in our efficacy. Bonus: end your workday at the same time every day to introduce consistency.

Reward Yourself For A Hard Day’s Work

At the end of a hard, stressful workday, we are craving release. Too often, however, we seek release in the form of wine or salty, fatty, carby snacks. Instead, lower your stress hormones at the end of the day and bathe your hard-working brain with serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine with a more productive option. Try a 5-minute meditation, petting your pet, or 20 minutes of yoga, Tai Chi, creativity, or forest bathing. These are all healthy ‘happy hour’ alternatives that will still satiate our need to feel good.

Go For A Post-Dinner Walk

After eating a healthy dinner, get up from the table and go for a 20-minute walk with yourself, family or pet around the neighborhood to use those calories, rather than store them. This will help set you up for a good night’s sleep and prevent you from waking up groggy.

Power Down 1 Hour before Bed

Power down all electronics at least 1 hour before bed to physically reduce exposure to stimulating blue-light and emotionally reduce exposure to stimulating content like social media, news, and work email. Consider soft lighting, a warm bath (add Epsom salts for an added detox), 10 minutes of gentle and slow yoga stretches, a 5-minute breathing meditation, trading a shoulder massage with your mate, or reading a novel all to invoke the “rest and digest” parasympathetic nervous system to prepare for deep sleep.

Reflect and review

Review your day in a journal. Bring your awareness into noticing how any of these tips are affecting your mental clarity, positive emotions and moods, energy levels, productivity, sense of owning your day and life, and feelings of gratitude. Finally, write down and thoughts bouncing around in your head. Simply putting them down on paper allows us to rest assured that we won’t forget them.

Sleep

Easier said than done, but this last tip is just as important as the rest. Sleep is when we heal, physically and mentally, and recharge our batteries for the next day. Ensure you’re fully charged by following our comprehensive Guide To Great Sleep.

Your mental health and resiliency are vital to a long and happy life. Do your best not to try and implement all of the above at one time. Instead, start by choosing two that interest you and try to implement them just twice this coming week. Once you’ve had success with that seemingly easy task, increase the frequency to three times a week, and then eventually add a third and fourth action. Trying to do it all right off the bat is one of our most common pitfalls when trying to accomplish goals. Read our article How To Build A Healthy Habit in 6 Steps.


What is Mountain Trek?

Mountain Trek is the health reset you’ve been looking for. Our award-winning health retreat, immersed in the lush nature of British Columbia, will help you detox, unplug, recharge, and roll back years of stress and unhealthy habits. To learn more about the retreat, and how we can help you reset your health, please email us at info@mountaintrek.com or reach out below: