Rachel Naar: “Set daily goals but be realistic”

For a focus Habit: Set daily goals but be realistic. (remember to pat yourself on the back for completing each goal) — these goals can be as small as “taking out the trash”, “calling close family”, etc. But by focusing on developing productive, realistic goals and completing those goals, it helps you with your mental state in […]

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For a focus Habit: Set daily goals but be realistic. (remember to pat yourself on the back for completing each goal) — these goals can be as small as “taking out the trash”, “calling close family”, etc. But by focusing on developing productive, realistic goals and completing those goals, it helps you with your mental state in addition to building on other habits.

As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rachel Naar.

Rachel Naar, MS RD CDN, is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with passions for drama therapy and helping clients redefine their relationship between food and mood. Discovering her passions began with receiving a Bachelor’s degree in Theater at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts with a focus in Applied Psychology, a Masters degree in Clinical Nutrition from New York University’s Steinhardt School of Continuing Education, and covering the psychiatric and neuroscience units in-patient at Mount Sinai West in New York City. On the way, she’s developed a cross discipline approach to building habits to optimize wellness, performance, & focus. Sticking to her unique background has led her to be right where she wanted to be today; And today, Rachel is the founder of her virtual dietetic private practice, Rachel Naar Nutrition.

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?

Thank you so much for having me! Cue “Getting to know you” for all your musical theater fans out there. I’m originally from Livingston, New Jersey, and am a daughter of two lawyer parents. I had a passion for singing and acting from a young age- I performed at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in middle school and was auditioning and acting through high school. I went to NYU for theater at Tisch School of the Arts and I really wanted to be a performer. It was hard though, to have inconsistent work, to have comments on my appearance consistently. I ended up working in sales and marketing, and ultimately decided to go back to school for nutrition while working for Estee Lauder Companies. I had always had a passion for nutrition and food and wellness, but was afraid of the sciences. Who knew I actually was going to love organic biochemistry? Not me! And here I am today working in my private practice seeing clients and doing groups virtually!

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

I think the idea of someone who can help navigate this crazy world of nutrition was always appealing to me. I did not understand it myself growing up, and there’s so much noise in this space online with individuals who are not professionals professing their knowledge from the rooftops of the interwebs. We need evidenced based research. I wanted to specifically help women who were told to be at war with and hate their bodies find some body respect.

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?

I had a great voice and speech teacher, Marika Becz who instilled a lot of the confidence to look internally at the inner dialogue instead of external dialogue when assessing ourselves and others. I can recall doing a meditation in theater school with her and feeling so resistant. I just wanted to crawl out of my skin completely. I remember my neck aching and my back hurting; I think even my pinky toe was distressed! In that moment she mentioned breathing into the discomfort. That was game changing to me. Today I have clients breathe into objects they enjoy to look at when they feel unsettled, it’s a really amazing tool.

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?

Pressure to be funny! So many funny things have happened along the way. I once gave a webinar that I thought nobody was going to sign up for and then 300 people signed up and I didn’t have the back-end tech to handle all of those people (good problem to have, but it was intimidating!) Don’t bite off more than you can chew, be strategic and focused, but take risks!

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?

Don’t worry what your undergrad degree was in. You can really do anything. And honestly, if you can’t afford college and a degree, it doesn’t matter in the same way anymore. Do something that you like doing. Work for yourself if you have the chance. Pop into a few different industries. Set boundaries for yourself about time off and bedtime for electronics. And read. Read as much as you can. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people who are doing an amazing job who you aspire to be, they will most likely love to talk to you.

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?

I am really enjoying “Sick Enough.” It is a comprehensive guide to eating disorders. I utilize this as part of my nutrition education for clients. I love that it includes case studies, and examples and hits about weight stigma and addressing our privilege and internalized biases as healthcare practitioners.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

Feeling the pressure to have a good one! I love the “short cuts make long delays” quote by J.R.R. Tolkien from The Fellowship of the Ring. It’s the hard work, it’s the dedication, it’s the hours that other people do not want to put in. I invite myself to put in the 10–20% extra effort in now to help me sustain in the long run.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

A lot of great things going on! We’re about to run a holiday campaign on social media to help individuals increase food security in my local NYC community, and I’m hoping to insure other small businesses to do the same.

I’m also working on putting together a nutritional psychiatry self-guided course. I’m hoping to teach people about the importance of the gut-brain connection so that they can optimize their wellness, performance, and focus/cognition in their everyday lives. Stay tuned!

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?

Everything is interconnected: good habits affect both you and those around you. You’ve heard of the cliché “We are what we eat” but it’s really, “We are what we _(Blank)_”; and those habits, big or small, that we incorporate into our everyday lives fill in that blank whether we like it or not. So the way we do one thing is often the way we do everything. For example, when I started waking up earlier in the morning I had to start going to sleep earlier at night. I knew I felt good getting up in the morning early to walk and move my body instead of just rolling into work. As a performer I was also defined by the everyday habits that I was engaged in. When I was dehydrated I was not able to sing as well, I learned quickly that being adequately hydrated was crucial to my performance.

Building good habits affects your mental state which heavily influences how you act towards others. If you’re hungry and your cognition is down (maybe you’re reading the same sentence again and again), your interpersonal relationships may suffer due to a snap or rash decision. As I work with clients to mend their relationship with food, this in turn helps heal and expand their mental capacity and improve their relationships not only with themselves but with the people around them. Any act big or small is for sure interconnected.

How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?

Habits for sure have been very useful in my success. Even what I was mentioning earlier about rising early to sleep has been insanely helpful for my cognition and interpersonal connections. Setting boundaries with family and friends and clients about when I am available is also very crucial to long term sustainability of self. The art of saying no is also underrated. If there’s a lot on your plate, and this opportunity does not align with your beliefs or you don’t have the bandwidth, say no! I’ve been burned by saying yes to just about everything in the beginning, and I realized I wasn’t happy and was doing everything ~50%. Also logistically, I like to view my emails with the starred ones on top. Starred emails for me mean that there’s still an action item related to them. For example, online purchases will be starred until I receive them, or flights, or important emails. I will also mark emails as unread until I’ve decided what to do with them or I start them for later. I also use Trello to remind me of my to-do list. It’s also important to schedule out personal and professional admin time as a block, and not jump from task to task.

Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?

I recommend changing the framework that you should be punishing yourself because you recognize that you have a bad habit. Can you come at this with curiosity and compassion instead of blame and judgment? In the development of a good habit, it can be helpful to goal-set or think “big picture.” By allowing yourself to have a goal and acknowledging your authentic self wins instead of focusing on reprimands. When we hear the word “no,” we often flinch and hold tension in our bodies. If we can physically change our body to be more open and say “yes,” something amazing happens. Bad habits will shift little by little, and the sustainability of these good habits will become more a reality when you are kinder and more compassionate to yourself.

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.

Again, everything is interconnected! Wellness leads to better performance which leads to a greater mental capacity for focus.

For a wellness habit: Eating regularly timed meals, making sure that you are getting enough fuel for the day. This seems like a simple habit, BUT it’s really not in our society. I can’t even count the number of times my clients skipped meals blaming it on “being busy.”

For a performance habit: Not counting your views/comments/followers on social media. This does not contribute to mental wellness and it doesn’t lead to focus. When I’ve done this I often become less productive and more anxious and more reactive. I allow my social media marketing intern to relay to me insights twice a month, so I can view the stats in my own relaxed time.

For a focus Habit: Set daily goals but be realistic. (remember to pat yourself on the back for completing each goal) — these goals can be as small as “taking out the trash”, “calling close family”, etc. But by focusing on developing productive, realistic goals and completing those goals, it helps you with your mental state in addition to building on other habits.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

Sure, I have a few key bullet points:

  • Wellness:
  • Scheduling in meals as if it were an event during the day or a 1:1 with your boss
  • Performance Habit:
  • Asking a friend to keep you accountable; Asking my interns to keep me accountable; setting positive reminders in my phone
  • Focus Habit:
  • Diaphragmatic breath consciously, not autonomously. Breathing helps to circulate oxygen in the brain, which can help clear your head so that you can set clear & realistic goals.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal performance at work or sport? Please share a story or example for each.

I recommend hydration specifically with water. Water and hydration play such an important role in cell recovery and cell metabolism. We often do not realize we are thirsty until we are very dehydrated. I also recommend putting reminders/daily tasks in your line of sight. To go back to the hydration hbit, I keep water on my desk as a subtle reminder to make sure I stay hydrated. I also purposefully put fruit out in a bowl to make it easier for me to make a nutrient-dense snack choice. Finally, I recommend separating your place of work from your place of rest. This can feel almost impossible in 2020. Maybe you start with not working literally in your bed, and that’s the boundary that you hold. Associating your place of rest with your place of work can negatively affect both productivity and rest.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

Sure. For Hydration I recommend buying a water bottle that is fun to look at (bright colors work) and keeping it by you like your phone. With regards to line of sight, designate a to-do area, and put reminders in a place that you visit every morning. Post-its on the fridge work or in the bathroom where you brush your teeth. In terms of separation, consider working in a location separate from a relaxation location. If you literally cannot do that, consider a foldable room divider. To put it all together: Water helps keep you at your best. Putting a water bottle near you keeps you accountable. By designating a place for work/rest, everything has a place including that water bottle!

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal focus? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Making sure you are adequately nourished and hydrated. If you aren’t taking care of your body, your brain is not going to be able to function as optimally and your concentration will decrease. All to often I see high-level executives crashing and feeling fatigue because they blew through lunch meeting after meeting.
  2. Practicing mindfulness. When you feel your mind drifting away, bring yourself back to the present moment by focusing on your sensations. For example, name 5 things that you see that are orange, feel the contact of your feet on the ground, or practice diaphragmatic breathing.
  3. Break your tasks into smaller, manageable chunks. It’s easier to tackle a project when the whole entire thing is not looming over you. If possible, divide the task into ones that will take 20–30 minutes. It won’t feel as big of a burden, and you’re more likely to be able to focus for that amount of time. When I’m running, I’ll mentally break the run or workout into mile segments and make myself stay focused on the one I am running instead of thinking about how much I have left.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

Start practicing regularly checking in with your hunger and fullness and listening to what your body needs. It sounds simple in theory, but it can be difficult in real life. If you do not know if you are nourishing properly, start monitoring how your body feels (energy level, concentration, etc.) with your normal dietary pattern and if you make any adjustments.

Practice mindfulness outside of times when you are stressed or busy. Set aside 5–10 minutes of every day at first to get used to this practice. I personally like practicing mindfulness to start my day, but I would say just find a time that is consistent.

Be honest with yourself about how long you can sustain focus for. This can constantly change depending on the time of day, sleep, stress, etc., and that’s okay. Adjust your tasks to fit your current capabilities.

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?

Find your passions. Cheesy, I know but allowing yourself to explore areas that you are actually interested in learning more about makes achieving a state of Flow so much easier. Personally, that’s how I feel about working with my clients through my private practice. It’s difficult work and makes me think outside of the box, but I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.

I understand what I just said is a privilege though because not everyone has opportunities to go after what they’re passionate about. But finding the good in things in daily life can also help keep you in that positive mental space, even if they are just tiny things that make you smile. For me it’s my Dr. Scholls Slippers! They’re insanely comfortable for my flat feet.

Acknowledge and congratulate yourself for all of the work you’ve been doing. It is easy to get caught up in your mistakes and start bashing yourself, but when you take the time to actually show some pride for what you’ve accomplished big or small, it makes it easier to continue on. I actually keep a notepad in the shower (don’t worry it’s waterproof) and I jot myself little notes of encouragement and congratulations.

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.

Bringing down diet culture. Diet culture affects basically everyone whether they know it or not. So many people’s lives revolve around poor relationships with food and their body and hold them back in life(relationships, work, or individual goals). Can you imagine the confidence and freedom we would all have if we could live a life without fear of not going to the gym, comparison traps, and other lies ingrained in us? Maybe I wouldn’t have a job as a RD anymore if diet culture didn’t exist, but I guess I’ll put my theater degree to good use!

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 🙂

I live for Gary Vee! I used to feel really embarrassed about putting my content into the universe, but whenever I feel that way I pop on a Gary Vee video and feel instantly better. I’d love to go on a walk with Gary and chat with coffee, even better than a lunch or breakfast. I’d love to hear what he has to say about the future of healthcare especially for clinicians within private practice.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

They can check out my website, https://www.rachelnaarnutrition.com/, where I post articles/blog posts and recipes, and they can learn more about my practice. They can also join my mailing list on there to keep up with what I am up to. I am also on Instagram (@naartrition), Twitter (@naar_rachel), and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/Naartrition/) for those who are on social media!

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

This was so great thank you so much. Great questions!

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