Plan for focus time. It’s easy for meetings to fill up your day. I try to carve out time for dedicated work.
Pause and reflect before starting focus time. It can help you reset and remember what you are trying to accomplish.
As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nora McCaffrey from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition.
Nora McCaffrey, the Chief Academic Officer for the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, oversees all academic components to IIN’s course offerings. Before joining IIN, she trained at the Institute for Culinary Education in culinary arts and ran her own catering business in Brooklyn, NY. Her business focused on providing health food options for private events, school events, and meal deliveries. To support her health focus, she became an IIN health coach and joined the IIN team in 2011. Nora has worked in education, student success, and education technology. In 2017, she obtained a Master’s degree in Instructional Systems Technology from Indiana University. She has used her experience and education to continuously improve our current course offerings and learning platforms. Nora also works with teams to innovate new course offerings to support our current and future students. Nora believes health coaches are pivotal to support the improvement of health and happiness. She struggled with weight, depression and general well-being since her teens. In her twenties, she made it her mission to improve her health and happiness. Over the span of fourteen years, she made continuous progress, lost over 70 pounds and is now the healthiest she has ever been. During that time, she learned how to listen to her body, understand the root of her cravings, and shift her lifestyle choices in order to meet her health goals.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I grew up in Brooklyn, NY. Both of my parents worked full-time. I have a sister who is a little over 5 years older than me and has always been an artist. As a kid, I liked sports, movies, and playing in my imagination. I struggled with my weight constantly. Food was a source of comfort and I seemed unable to moderate volume and quality. I loved all kinds of food and enjoyed tasting new flavors. However, as I got older, I started to suffer from depression. I was dealing with bullying and coming to the realization that I was gay. In an effort to cope with my depression, I ate large volumes of food and felt unable to stop. I would watch movies late into the night and ate all sorts of food along the way. When I entered college, I came out of my depression but could not shake the habits that got me through tough times. By the time I graduated college, I was 75+ pounds overweight, smoked, didn’t exercise and did not practice any form of self-care. I am not sure I even knew what self-care meant. One weekend, I went to visit my grandmother. At one point, I overheard my grandmother describe me as obese to my mother and express deep concern for my health. Even though I knew I was unhealthy, this hit me hard. After that, I went through extreme measures to try and lose weight. Some healthy. Some not. Eventually, I re-learned what it meant to eat healthy food and take care of myself. I experimented with several types of diets, exercise, and cooking methods. At some point, I was able reconnect with food and fall in love with it in a brand-new way. Now, at the age of 36, I am the healthiest I have ever been. In fact, I feel like I am getting better with age.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
Figuring out what I wanted to do with my career was hard for me. When I graduated college, I wanted to become a therapist. I felt committed to helping others in the way some adult figures in my life helped me when I was a kid. However, before committing to grad school, I wanted to start working and explore. I ended up going to culinary school and running my own catering business in Brooklyn. At one point, I enrolled at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) in order to expand my offerings to clients. I loved IIN so much, I started working there.
While at IIN, I’ve become passionate about creating an online education for adults to further their career or personal development. Going to school or continuously learning can be hard while also juggling everything life throws at you. Online education, especially vocational training and personal development, can give so many the opportunity to further themselves. In a way, I feel like I am following through with my desire to give back, just in an entirely different way than I imagined.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
It’s impossible for me to pick just one. There are so many people who made me who I am:
My parents: They raised two kids while both working full-time. They taught me work ethic and learning from your mistakes. My mother worked while also going to school to get her PhD and eventually MBA. She showed me the value of continuously learning both in school and art work.
Joshua Rosenthal: The founder of IIN took me under his wing many years ago. He helped me discover the value I bring and supported me in succeeding in more ways than one. I also worked with someone at IIN who inspired me to get a degree in instructional technology. This same person sparked my interest in online education, education licensure and educational partnerships.
Lynda Cloud: Lynda joined IIN as CEO almost 2 years ago. She immediately became a mentor to me. She has taught me to value work experiences, think more strategically, and be a better leader.
The staff at IIN: I would say I’ve learned the most from the amazing staff at IIN. This is a unique collection of individuals committed to helping the world grow to be their best selves. IIN staff are so committed to the mission, embody what the school is about, and are tirelessly committed to our students and graduates. They have taught me to be my more authentic self, build space for mindfulness, and always work to be improve myself and processes.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
We rolled out a new webinar platform that allowed us to break students into groups and create more intimate learning discussions. In one of our first webinars on this platform, we realized students could turn their cameras on to be seen by the whole class. Once students realized this, they held up different foods, objects and signs as a way to be funny. It was hilarious but slightly distracting. We learned the value of testing platforms and working out the kinks before going live. We also learned that our students are very understanding and were able to have fun with our mistakes.
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
Seize any opportunity you can that will help you understand how everything works together. I try to be aware of how every experience is teaching me something.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gillman. I had a hard time in high school and it took me longer than others to figure things out. One summer I completed a college prep program and we read this short story. It was the first time I was able to truly understand the deeper meaning and appreciate literature in a new way. I find it interesting that the story tells a tale of a woman trying to free herself from her confines. It’s a story of feminism.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“Every light has a shade.” We come across opportunities, experiences, and people that give us the impression it is perfect. But, in reality, nothing is perfect. Every person, every choice, every experience, has its positives and negatives. Once I really became aware of that, it made me see things in a bigger way. It also allowed me to see myself as an imperfect person and be OK with my flaws.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
At IIN, we are about to launch a new course called Whole Person Health. This is a 6-module course that provides a wide range of learners the tools and knowledge to discover what works best for them. We talk about physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. We talk about the impact of stress, the value of sleep, and so much more. We are really proud to offer this course to anyone seeking to transform their life
At home, I am building a LEGO city with our kids, reading Harry Potter book 5 with my oldest, exploring my youngest’s wild imagination, creating interesting menus, and hiking while the weather allows it.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to create good habits? Can you share a story or give some examples?
For me, good habits help me be my best self as much as possible. It also allows me to maintain healthy balance without it feeling so hard. I am a lover of food. For me, this entails eating interesting desserts, trying new flavors and exploring different cuisines. Not everything I eat is clean or would be described as healthy and I am totally OK with that. I am OK with it because I’ve developed a habit where I eat super healthy Monday through Friday and am more flexible Saturday and Sunday.
- Meditate every morning so I can walk into the day focused.
- Do a daily journal and task list so I can stay on point (I’ve recently been into the Focus Planner).
- Take a break before long meetings and go outside. This allows me to reset and walk into the meeting clear-headed.
- Breathe before I react to something.
How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
The past two years have been extremely hectic and stressful. At work, it was all related to good things, but the work was accumulating and it was hard to prioritize. I found myself getting lost in the weeds or focusing on the wrong things. I decided I needed to build the habit of determining what my goals were on a more regular basis. I created annual goals and set dates for each goal. My goals are both professional and personal. Some include launching a course, others are goals related to personal development, and some are related to building new habits or routines that serve me in some way.
Each week, I establish weekly goals. The goals are often aligned to my larger goals. At the start of each day I establish my top three goals that will help me reach my weekly goal and keep a list of other tasks I need to get to that day. I then check things off as I get them done. Anything I don’t get to, I move to the next day. It has allowed me to see the big picture, get more done during the week and see progress even though there is still much to be done.
Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?
As you can tell, I am goal oriented. I set a goal and then create small steps to help me get there. When I wanted to add meditation to my daily practice, I started with short 3 to 5-minute meditations. I slowly built in the routine and now do it a few times a day. Making time for this crowded out other bad habits, like checking social media first thing in the morning.
Let’s talk about creating good habits in three areas, Wellness, Performance, and Focus. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum wellness. Please share a story or example for each.
- Value your sleep. Sleep is so important and building the habit of shutting down at night will help you greatly. Getting the right amount of sleep has helped me accomplish more in my day, increased my energy, think clearly, and stay focused on what it most important to me.
- Get outside. As we continue to cope with COVID, it is very easy to stay inside. However, getting outside has helped me reset, move my body, and take in nature. I can get so immersed in an issue or project that I lose sight of bigger things. Connecting with nature can help me reconnect with world.
- Create space for reflection. We live in a fast-paced world and sometimes I feel like it is getting faster by the day. This can cause us to keep moving and not take the time to pause and think. If you pause, you have an opportunity to ask yourself why you are doing something, could you be doing something different and how could that help. Pausing has helped me realize that I have been over indulgent in some areas, lost sight of a goal, or give too much weight to a certain issue. From there, I reframed narratives and felt more positive about life.
Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
Start small. Don’t try to do everything at once. Pick one habit and give yourself a small goal. Over time, slowly build it up. Also, be kind to yourself if you go off track. It’s OK. It happens. The important thing is to recognize it and try to bring the habit back.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal performance at work or sport? Please share a story or example for each.
- Connect with your team. A person can get easily caught up in their own work or goals, and lose sight of how others are impacted. Carve out time to connect (socially and professionally) with your team members. Get to know each other as humans, and learn from each other. This will help you work as a team and support each other during stressful times.
- Take breaks. You need to give yourself the time to reset between jumping tasks or projects.
- Prioritize your work. Make time to evaluate what needs to be done and what needs to happen first.
Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
I encourage people to build their goal list. Plan their day and build time for their priorities.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal focus? Please share a story or example for each.
- Plan for focus time. It’s easy for meetings to fill up your day. I try to carve out time for dedicated work.
- Pause and reflect before starting focus time. It can help you reset and remember what you are trying to accomplish.
- Carve out time for admin work. I use the morning and end of day to go through emails and clean up my inbox. This limits my distraction during the day and helps me keep up with the never-ending emails.
Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
Schedule out time to accomplish big tasks and small tasks. It is really easy for the day to get away from you. I find blocking out time for specific tasks helps me stay focused and accomplish more of my goals.
As a leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?
When I need to be in a state of flow, I think about how the environment needs to be set up and what tools I need. For me, I need a quiet space without interruption. I pop on my headphones and play music that has limited lyrics. This puts me in a meditative state and able to focus on what is in front of me. I also LOVE a white board. I can draw out my ideas, erase what doesn’t make sense and continuously build on my ideas. Hours can go by and I do not even realize it. I try to stand and pace every now and then so I can keep my train of thought going.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Empowering people to take control of their personal and professional growth so they can accomplish as much as they can in their lives.
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, especially if we both tag them 🙂
Alice Waters. She created a movement in the world of farming and culinary arts. I also feel like it would be a really good meal. ☺
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.