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“Spend time in nature.” with Brittany Ferri

Another wellness habit is spending time in nature. This helps improve our mood, enhances our ability to regulate our emotions, allows us to practice mindfulness, and can give us renewed creativity. All individuals can benefit from spending at least 20–30 minutes in nature each day. For some individuals, this may be one of the first […]

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Another wellness habit is spending time in nature. This helps improve our mood, enhances our ability to regulate our emotions, allows us to practice mindfulness, and can give us renewed creativity. All individuals can benefit from spending at least 20–30 minutes in nature each day. For some individuals, this may be one of the first habits they practice in the morning by sitting outside or on the porch to drink their coffee. Others may find it relaxing to take a short walk after dinner to assist with digestion.

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

Brittany is an occupational therapist and the owner of Simplicity of Health, where she provides consulting, community wellness education, health writing, and telehealth services. She has clinical and leadership experience in behavioral health and pediatrics. Her writing pursuits have led her to publish three therapy books for students and therapy practitioners. She is a candidate for a PhD in Integrative Mental Health and has guest lectured at 20+ OT/OTA programs across the nation. Additionally, she is an adjunct professor at Nazareth College in Rochester, NY and has been quoted as a health expert in numerous publications, including NBC News, Healthline, Woman’s Day, Parade Magazine, and Care.com.

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

I started college as a biology major with the intention of going to med school. I found that the early content in my courses was very dry and I couldn’t picture myself taking 8+ years of chemistry and similar courses. I had always been interested in medicine and science, so I searched for other health professions and learned about occupational therapy (OT) for the first time. I was thrilled to hear about its simultaneous focus on the body and the mind, so I applied, got into the program, and the rest is history!

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?

Without a doubt, my father played a large part in where I am today. At a time in my life when I was being pressured by most of my family to go for a certain career, my father was the only constant source of support who encouraged me to pursue something I was passionate about. From the day I began the OT program down to each of my accomplishments as a professional, my father is always thrilled to hear everything I am doing. He modeled the value of hard work and productivity, both in a personal and professional sense. I believe this underlying focus on purposeful activity is what made OT appealing to me, as the field focuses on restoring an individual’s capacity for meaningful “occupations” after an illness or injury.

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?

In an early anatomy class, I needed to dissect cats, which I was not very good at! It could have been a combination of the fur and the smell, but I dreaded going to that lab each week. Thankfully, I’m a dog person so I had an easier time than some of my peers, but we still struggled to enjoy any part of it!

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?

I believe my success and happiness within my field is due to my ability to think outside of the standard definition of therapy. I am always looking for new and unique ways to use my skills and, thus, am not afraid to go down a path that has rarely been taken. I would encourage young professionals to adopt the same mindset and use their creativity to transform existing roles or create entirely new roles that are a fit for their abilities and goals.

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 absolutely loved the message of “The Go Giver.” I can’t say too much without giving away the ending (it’s a good one!), but the story follows a businessman who is on a quest to find what specific features make a successful person or employee. There isn’t a list of things that you can check off a list, rather a combination of concepts. It also emphasizes that success is a journey we must cherish each step of the way, because those smaller accomplishments are truly what make us successful.

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

My favorite quote is “Don’t allow the voice of your fears to be louder than the other voices in your head.” I have experienced a fair deal of negative self-talk over the years, which was difficult to overcome. Now, I give myself a little pep talk in the morning to make sure I’m starting the day off right. This also helps shut out any doubts that have the potential to interfere with my day. Forming this habit has helped me focus on what is important.

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

I recently completed a consulting project that expanded my thinking and really enhanced my creativity. I completed a 15-part webinar series on feeding concerns for children for a speech & occupational therapy clinic in Chicago. It was a lot of writing, which I am used to, but a different type of writing coupled with worksheets, infographics, etc. I think it will be a tremendous help to parents who struggle with stereotypically picky eaters, since this is a big focus of specialized pediatric therapists.

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?

Habits are the foundation of any successful person. The importance of habits can be seen in the length of time they are practiced for. As individuals continually carry out habits, they become more established and form stronger connections in the brain. These connections release brain chemicals that make us feel pleasure along with reward and motivation, which all encourages us to continue pressing on with the habit. Creating good habits such as sticking to a healthy diet, exercising, and taking medication has a large impact on our health. Good habits have a short-term and long-term effect on the prevention of injuries, the development of new conditions, and maintaining existing or chronic illnesses so they don’t worsen or cause complications.

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

I am all about to-do lists. Each Friday, I sit down and write out one list for each day in the upcoming week. There are a million ways I could digitize my lists, but keeping hard copies motivates me and keeps me on track. If I put lists in my phone, then I find myself looking at the list in bed or in waiting rooms, which would make me worry about getting something done when I’m not in a position to do so. When the list is in front of me at my desk, I can hone in on getting everything done that I can. Lists have not only kept me productive during all hours of the day, but they act as a reinforcement so I don’t forget anything, big or small.

Another habit is keeping jazz on a low volume in the background. Even if I’m logged in doing a telehealth treatment, I find the instrumentals both calming due to the absence of lyrics and motivating due to the beat. When I’m sitting and doing writing, I will turn it up so I can really focus on getting the thoughts on paper.

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

When you’re looking to establish a new habit, focus on small changes before quitting something cold turkey or making a large-scale life change. If you are looking to quit something (like caffeine or cigarette smoking), you will want to substitute a healthier habit to help solidify the change. For example, when you get a craving for caffeine, you can train yourself to drink a cup of herbal tea instead. It is also important to plan for your triggers. If you know that you are particularly susceptible to “cheating” around 3 pm each day (for whatever reason — fatigue, irritability, not eating a full or satisfying lunch), set up some safeguards to ensure you stick to your new habit. For example, go for a walk around that time to ensure you are not close to a vending machine or the break room. You can also ask a coworker to help reinforce your decision by distracting you or reminding you to practice your new, replacement habit.

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.

One good habit for wellness is stretching throughout the day. This is especially good for people who sit all day when working. A good routine to get into is setting an alarm on your phone to remind you to do a lap around the office, get up and stretch, or go for a short walk to the car/outside each hour. Stretching encourages good posture and prevents low back, neck, and jaw pain as well as cumulative trauma injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

A second good wellness-related habit is drinking lots of water. This assists your routine for the first habit by encouraging you to get up and use the bathroom frequently, but also keeps your energy levels up, food cravings down and helps flush the body of bacteria while enhancing your focus. Similarly, a phone alert or certain dedicated apps can help remind you to drink water if it doesn’t cross your mind organically.

Another wellness habit is spending time in nature. This helps improve our mood, enhances our ability to regulate our emotions, allows us to practice mindfulness, and can give us renewed creativity. All individuals can benefit from spending at least 20–30 minutes in nature each day. For some individuals, this may be one of the first habits they practice in the morning by sitting outside or on the porch to drink their coffee. Others may find it relaxing to take a short walk after dinner to assist with digestion.

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

One powerful habit for improved performance is visualization. Many people think of visualization as a way to relieve anxiety, but it is a wonderful tool to help people picture the success or the result they strive for. Athletes, musicians, speakers, employees, students, and more can take a few minutes out of their day (ideally before a big game, performance, meeting, etc.) to close their eyes and picture what they hope to achieve. Maybe they see themselves as a business owner of a large and successful company, maybe they see themselves as a volunteer doctor who visits foreign lands to help others, or possibly they see themselves as a professional athlete who sets countless records. Individuals can incorporate this into any part of their daily routine to assist in calming nerves, enhancing their focus, and planning their short-term goals to reach the goal they envision.

Another good performance-related habit is eating a balanced, healthy diet. This habit can prevent a myriad of health conditions, but more importantly will make you more energized, stronger, and demonstrate greater stamina for any part of your day. Smaller behaviors that contribute to this habit include doing meal preparation once weekly to help your diet throughout the week, having healthy snacks readily available, not skipping meals, eating meals at the same time each day, and not eating after 7 pm. This will give your body the nutrients it needs to remain well-equipped for anything that you encounter each day.

One last habit for improved performance is meditation. This differs from visualization in that you can use this time (short intervals, ideally) to picture yourself in a relaxing place to assist with managing anxiety. Anxiety can be a huge barrier to someone’s performance if they do not get it under control, so building a meditation practice will help calm someone by taking them to a place they find relaxing. Some people choose to go to their favorite vacation spot, others choose their childhood treehouse, and some opt for a mountainside view or a tropical getaway. If you are new to meditation, there are scripts and YouTube videos that can guide you through the process, but many people prefer to dive deep into a place rich in details of their own choosing. Start with 2–3 minutes and work your way up to longer periods of time as you focus on the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes in the place you are picturing.

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

One habit that can assist with improving focus is gratitude. People who are gracious for the things they currently have, including accomplishments, luxuries, friends, family, etc., often find a renewed sense of focus when working toward things they want. Gratitude can easily be incorporated into a nightly or morning routine, where individuals can name 3 things they’re grateful for. This can help bookend the day and ease bedtime anxiety or get your day started on a positive note. Gratitude can also be incorporated into a journaling practice where you write about all you’re grateful for at the time.

A second focus-based habit is time management. Eliminating distractions, avoiding procrastination, and having a solid plan are all great ways to better manage your time. Through improved time management, individuals often find they are more focused because they have the resources they need to get their work done the right way.

Lastly, another great habit to improve focus is to develop a consistent and relaxing bedtime routine. Individuals can begin by washing their face, taking a bath, changing into new clothes, reading a book, lighting a candle, or journaling. This will be followed by setting a reasonable bedtime that gives you enough sleep to perform your best. This enhances your focus the next morning and throughout the day, but also gives structure to your night rather than just improvising and seeing what you can fit in before bedtime.

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?

Flow comes with practice and finding something you love doing. It took me a while to realize this, but writing is something I truly love, whether it be writing articles for a health publication, crafting pieces for a therapist advice website, or jotting down my feelings in a letter. I am in a state of Flow even while I write now.

I found that, although I was good at writing while I was in school, it did not make me happy because there was too much stress surrounding assignments. Now, my mindset has completely shifted, since it is consistently my choice when I pick up a pen and paper.

Flow comes with time and exploring your interests. If you find something you love, dive into it — learn more, do more, and experience more. You may find you love playing the guitar but it’s too easy and you don’t find much personal reward from it. Maybe combining this with something else, like singing, will give you the sense of satisfaction you need to achieve a state of Flow. If you don’t try new things, you may never discover something that puts you in a happy place and gets you in a good groove.

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.

I am passionate about women’s health, so I would love to develop a non-profit in that area. Ideally, it would focus on prevention and advocacy efforts for women that assist women in obtaining access to diagnostic and treatment services.

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 would love to have lunch with Diana Taurasi. I am from Connecticut and grew up as a die-hard fan of all Uconn basketball, but especially the women’s team. They were all so talented in the late 90s and early 2000s, but especially Taurasi. She was such a hard worker and clearly rose to become the natural leader of the team. Her work on the court and during practice was impressive and inspiring.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can learn more about me and my business by visiting www.simplicityofhealth.com

I can also be found on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/brittanyferri/

A full portfolio of my writing work can be found at https://brittanyferri.contently.com

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

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