The Daily List Hack: No day should start without a daily task list. You will be motivated to keep going when you have a concrete sense of what you need to do, and you will be a lot less likely to get confused and overwhelmed. I work with a to do list daily and number my tasks between 0–10 in terms of how important they are for me to do. I start my days with my 10s and work my way down. On days that I am tired and not feeling very productive, I make a ‘little list’- a sticky note with 3 things that must happen today, no matter what.
As a part of my series about “5 Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Michelle Rozen, PhD
Dr. Rozen is a game-changing, revenue- building, performance-boosting change expert, keynote speaker, and highly respected authority on the psychology of change. She is an author, a Huffington Post contributor, and a frequent guest on media outlets such as NBC, ABC, FOX News, and CNN. She holds a master’s degree and a PhD in Psychology and resides in the greater NYC area with her husband, three kids, and two dogs.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the story about how you first got involved in fitness and wellness?
I deal with wellness from the angle of making winning decisions so that we can live the life that we want and deserve, both in our personal lives and in our professional lives.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
It all started on a rainy, windy day, on October 11, 2008. I was 37 years old and I felt that my life sucked. Back then, I’d meet my good friend at Starbucks at 7am every Saturday morning before our kids woke up. One day, I told her how much I hated my job and routine. She looked at me and said, “Then change it. Go to school and change your path.”
“I wish I could,” I told her while holding back the tears. “My kids are so young, and they need me. Adam is in a startup and never home. One day, when the time is right, I’ll do exactly that.”
She gave me a sharp look and then told me something that changed my life.
“Michelle,” she said, “you just don’t get it, do you? Your kids will always need you and Adam will always be in a startup. Go and sign up for classes this week and tell me next Saturday that you’ve done it.”
I looked at her puzzled. That never crossed my mind. I never thought of it that way.
SO, I REGISTERED. I COMMITTED TO CHANGE
Not many people start their master’s with a five-year-old toddler, one-year-old infant, full-time job, and spouse who constantly travels. The new 3am to 6am shift for studying was brutal, but my life was suddenly full. I was being challenged. I was finding fulfillment. I was going somewhere.
Then, in 2008, the economy nosedived. My husband’s startup shut down. Being challenged moved closer to being broken. I told my husband that I thought the most sensible thing for me to do was to take a break.
“I’ll go back to school later,” I told him. “When things get better and the time is right.”
He looked at me and said two things that I’ll thank him for every day for the rest of my life. “Who deserves a PhD more than you?” Then, he said, “Michelle, if you leave now, you won’t go back. Stay with the program no matter what and finish your degree.” So, I stayed.
A few semesters in, I found myself struggling with bills, kids, work, and school. The juggle impacted my coursework, and I even received a warning letter from the university. It said I was on probation unless I repeated a class. I literally sat and cried.
That night, I cried myself to sleep. I was tired and worn out and felt that I had no wins under my belt. Everything seemed to work against me. Perhaps I was wrong with my choice to go back to school. And a PhD? For a full-time working mom of three little ones with a husband who is never home? What was I thinking?
Maybe I should have thought this through. Maybe I want too much. Maybe I am just aiming too high.
That night I cried myself to sleep.
The next day was my daughter’s 10th birthday party. I had it all planned beautifully, with the kids and the balloons and the beautiful cake and all the fun activities. I was smiling on the outside, but my heart was heavy. What am I to do? Should I stay at school, or should I leave? I had a big paper that had to be submitted within a week. I am chanting to myself: should I stay, or should I go? Should I stay in school? Or leave? Should I even write the paper at all? Just to think of all the spare time I’ll have if I just won’t have to do it…
And then the cake came, and I hear the kids chanting:
Are you 1
Are you 2
Are you 3
Are you 4
And suddenly, out of nowhere, I remembered a tool that I learned in one of my classes. We’ve learned a tool of scaling for people who suffered from depression. It was called scaling questions; it was a part of Solution Focused Brief Therapy and the goal of the tool was help people scale how they feel.
Are you 5
Are you 6
And I think to myself: what if I use this to decide, right now, right here- what on earth am I going to do? What if I use this tool to figure my decision out?
Are you 7
Are you 8
Are you 9
My head is chanting: Do I stay or do I go?
The kids were chanting:
Ae you 10
And then they yelled-
And then it hit me.
It’s a 10. It’s a 10 for me. How much do I really want to leave? 0. I just kind of think it’s something people expect me to do but it’s not what I really want! How much do I want this? 10! I want this a 10.
I got up. I gave Abby the biggest birthday hug and felt so relieved. So happy.
Gosh. Now I must write this paper.
I know what I want.
I know my 10.
I know what matters the most to me.
Fighting tooth and nail I got my PhD. The day I got it was one of the happiest days of my life. Not that I liked the ceremony, I hate ceremonies (also, didn’t really eat that morning and forgot my banana in the car so I spent the entire ceremony thinking of that banana- full disclosure). But what I really felt good about that day was that I stuck with what mattered to me the most. This wasn’t about pleasing anyone. This wasn’t about doing what other people expected of me. This was about following my “10” through and through. And it felt whole, and it felt right.
That decision I made at that birthday party is a decision that changed my life. It changed my life not only because I took a decision that changed the course of my career and ultimately my life, but also because it gave me a tool to work with when it comes to making decisions that I found myself using in my daily life more and more. And the more I used it, the more successful, focused and high achieving I became.
I used it for prioritizing and time management, and found myself a lot more confident and in control of my time, both for work and for rest.
I used it for making business decisions for myself.
I used it for managing my day to day
I used it extensively with leaders throughout the globe that I was working with. I found that leaders used it in team meetings for team decisions, and for their own decisions that they had to make.
Who to hire?
Who to fire?
How to price
Outsource or in-house
Instead of being in doubt, indecisive or taking the wrong turn if life, in a business, as a leader or within your family, I started getting out of my own head and coming up with a number for every decision in my life. I was amazed at the impact it had on leaders I have worked with. I was amazed at the power it had over my own life. I learned to be bold. I learned to be decisive. I learned to act. And I witnessed how successful and powerful it made others. Change was no longer just in sight. Change was happening.
I believe in the power of the human mind to do amazing things when we are given the tools and the freedom to make the decisions that shape our lives. I believe in getting in the driver seat of our life, work and future.
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
As you know, I am a speaker. This story is only funny in retrospect considering how much I move on stage these days but at the time it was not that funny at all. My first speaking engagement was in Canada at a conference for elementary school teachers. When I got to the conference, the organizer pointed at a podium and said: “Michelle, I just need you to stand there.” I was so confused. How can I be engaging if I just stand behind the podium the whole time? Hesitant, I asked him: “Are you sure? I would rather move around and interact with people.” The guy just looked at me impatiently and said: “Michelle, please. I just need you to stand there, behind the podium and please don’t move from there, that’s it.” Being that this was the first time I spoke to a large audience; I had no experience to understand that just standing behind a podium and not moving literally ruins a talk. I followed his request and stayed behind the podium the whole time. Somehow, I got through the talk and did what he asked but this is what I had learned: communicate expectations ahead of time, stand your ground, and take the lead. I never, ever, just stood behind a podium again.
Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the fitness and wellness field? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?
What I focus on is wellness in the sense of living your best life. Living your best life is all about the decisions that you make.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I owe so much of my success to my husband and business partner, Adam. I am so grateful to him. Adam has this thing about him where if I set a goal for myself or want something, he commits to it himself. When I came and said that I want to go back to school, this guy, who was always in trouble with me for not helping enough around the house, took it upon himself to stay with the kids and run the house while he was working full time so that I can go to classes. When he couldn’t do it, he made sure we hired help. When I wanted to quit school because the economy collapsed and he lost his start up and we had no money, he pushed me to stay. In my hardest moments. He encouraged me to push forward.
Two years ago, he joined the business as my business partner and manages the marketing and branding. When we started working together, after already being married for 20 years, it is a miracle that we even stayed married. It was so challenging, and we didn’t get along at all. Now, we work together in complete harmony. We understand each other completely and I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for Adam’s relentless work and belief in me.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, exercise more, and get better sleep etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the 3 main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?
The three mind blockages for making those changes that we know are good for us but have a very hard time adopting are lack of patience, lack of clarity and not making changes in our environment.
In other words- we rely too much on our willpower!
- Lack of patience. Change takes time. It takes between 30–60 days to adopt a new habit and it takes even longer than that to see results. We live at a time of immediate gratification. We want everything now or else we lose patience. The solution: set smaller goals. This way you will not lose your patience along the way and you trick your mind so that it does get a sense of a more immediate gratification, success and dopamine release.
- Lack of clarity. People set goals that are not even clear enough to themselves. Saying ‘eat healthier’ means nothing. Saying ‘eat a salad every day for lunch’ is something concrete that you can follow up on. Get specific. The more specific the better.
- Not making changes in your environment. Stop telling yourself that you need more willpower and more discipline. Yes, self-discipline is an asset, and plenty of successful people seem to benefit from having truckloads of it. But many others have increased their productivity and happiness simply by making small changes in their environment, making it easier for them to adopt the habits they want. Want to stop using that credit card so much? Don’t keep it in your wallet. Want to stop checking Facebook at stoplights? Disable the app on your phone. Want to eat more vegetables as snacks? Splurge on pre-cut, pre-washed versions that take much less effort. Want to run in the morning? Put your sneakers and gym clothes right by your bed at night. Don’t get bogged down with thinking that lifestyle changes are only about willpower. The more you can manipulate your environment to better condition you into certain habits — the higher your chances are to crush it reaching your goals.
Can you please share your “5 Non-Intuitive Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”? (Please share a story or an example for each, and feel free to share ideas for mental, emotional and physical health.)
I call them the 5 mind hacks for success:
- The Daily List Hack: No day should start without a daily task list. You will be motivated to keep going when you have a concrete sense of what you need to do, and you will be a lot less likely to get confused and overwhelmed. I work with a to do list daily and number my tasks between 0–10 in terms of how important they are for me to do. I start my days with my 10s and work my way down. On days that I am tired and not feeling very productive, I make a ‘little list’- a sticky note with 3 things that must happen today, no matter what.
- The Milestones Hack: Create realistic and attainable interim goals in order to achieve long term goals. For many people, delaying gratification sabotages motivation because it creates pain in the form of frustration. Because the human motive is achieving pleasure and avoiding pain (physical or psychological), it is best to set milestones in order to keep motivation at peak while moving from one milestone to the next one. I create small milestones for myself for almost everything that I do- tasks, work, fitness. I write them down and check them off as I go. Most of my milestones are daily.
- The Momentum Hack: Want to do something? Act. Now. Don’t wait. Don’t overthink it. Take the first action right now. Make that call. Write that email. The best way to combat your anxiety is immediate action to sustain momentum. That’s what creates the difference between those that talk about doing something and those that do it. I am a great believer in momentum. When I decide to do something, I start immediately, because I always dread getting too comfortable and not even starting.
- The Self Talk Hack: Literally talk to yourself to maintain focus and task engagement. This way, you verbalize your thoughts to convince yourself that you have what it takes to succeed. Self-talk is very helpful in maintaining attention and focus. I believe in mantras and positive self-talk. I always tell myself “you can do it”. If I catch myself telling myself anything discouraging or negative, I stop myself right away and work on my inner talk.
- The Reward Hack: Create unique and meaningful reward triggers to supercharge or hack your motivation. We live in a world of extrinsic motivation and from a young age, we are accustomed to being rewarded for desirable behaviors. Because our mind is conditioned that way, create a reward system for yourself for achieving milestones. Being the ones who determine our own milestones and rewards, also gives us a sense of control and empowerment, which only fuels motivation. There are two rewards that work best for me- positive self-talk and fun time with my family or going out to a fun place. I don’t find that food is a reward for me, and I don’t like shopping believe it or not so that doesn’t motivate me either.
As an expert, this might be obvious to you, but I think it would be instructive to articulate this for the public. Aside from weight loss, what are 3 benefits of daily exercise? Can you explain?
- Good for your bones and for your muscles. Bone is living tissue; it changes over time in response to the forces placed upon it. When you exercise regularly, your bone adapts by building more bone and becoming denser.
- Good for your mental health and makes you feel happier. When you exercise, it increases endorphins, dopamine, adrenaline and endocannabinoid — these are all brain chemicals associated with feeling happy, feeling confident, feeling capable, feeling less anxiety and stress and even less physical pain
- Good for controlling blood sugar. First, your muscles need energy to work. To feed them, your body burns sugar as an energy source, lowering the glucose levels in your blood. Second, when you exercise regularly, it helps your body use insulin more efficiently. This can lower your blood sugar levels for up to 12 hours after you exercise.
For someone who is looking to add exercise to their daily routine, which 3 exercises would you recommend that are absolutely critical?
- Power walk for at least 30 min a day
- Use weights and do some strength training
- Take the stairs whenever you can
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
The book that had the most profound impact on my life is The Law of Success by Napoleon Hill. It is a book from 1928 that talks about the fundamentals of success. My favorite quote from this book is: “No man ever achieved worthwhile success who did not, at one time or other, find himself with at least one foot hanging well over the brink of failure”. I have gone over that quote many times in my mind when I was struggling myself and on the brink of failure.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I have my heart on working with teenagers and kids from less privileged communities. I feel that many of these kids lack role models and inspiration and their dreams are limited simply because they have not seen any adults that can demonstrate to them what they can possibly become.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
My favorite life lesson quote is “It’s never going to be the right time. Take the first step”
As people, we have a moral responsibility to lift others. This is something that everyone should be doing with everyone around them, today more than ever. People in the speaking industry have more impact on more people. It’s just a wider scope of people that hear you and are impacted by you. Getting the mic, getting that impact is an opportunity that comes with a huge moral responsibility. If you got the mic and you were mediocre- you’ve wasted the mic. You’ve wasted the opportunity. I am here to fully respect and max out the opportunity that I am getting.
My main empowering message is this: it is never going to be the right time. Take the first step. Take control. You make 35,000 on average every single day and those decisions shape your life. I want you to get in the driver seat of your life, work and courage and make winning decisions that will get you to the life that you want and deserve. If I could do it- so can you.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Oprah, of course. Because she is living a life that is beyond any circumstances and filled with purpose. She is a living proof that anything is possible no matter what your circumstances are. I don’t know about the lunch though. I don’t think I’d be able to chew!
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!