Wellness Wednesday: “The Feel Good Effect”

Sarah Gelman on September 02, 2020

Wellness Wednesday:

Well, it’s been a minute, as the kids say. My last Wellness Wednesday article was in April, where I talked about parenting in a pandemic. Life has felt…overwhelming (and I’m being very kind with that word), so let’s just say I haven’t really been motivated to cover wellness books since then.

These days, I’ve been turning to wine more than matcha, and pressing snooze instead of meditating. And though it’s not meant as a pandemic guide, Robyn Conley Downs’ first book, The Feel Good Effect: Reclaim Your Wellness by Finding Small Shifts that Create Big Change, could not have come at a better time.

I was first introduced to Downs through a colleague, who suggested I listen to her podcast, The Feel Good Effect. Listening to Downs’ podcast is like having the kindest, wisest friend supporting you through life. Her method is rooted in science and research, specifically in how the brain works and how habits are formed. If that hasn’t hooked you, Downs’ mantra is “gentle is the new perfect.” Is there a more relevant mantra for our current times? I think not.

The Feel Good Effect is physically a beautiful book, and Downs herself narrates the audiobook, which is a treat for fans of her podcast. The book is broken into three main sections: Mindset, Method, and Life. And while I’m a regular listener of the podcast, I still felt like I learned a lot in this book.

Below are three of the lessons that resonate the most with me, particularly in this unique season of life.

Process over Goal: At the end of July, a friend told me how healthy and empowered she felt after completing a 30-day workout challenge on a popular exercise app. I too wanted to feel healthy and empowered, so I resolved to commit to 30 workouts in a row for the month of August. And guess what, I did it. But I cheated. Some nights I fell into bed after a full day of parenting and working, only to realize I hadn’t logged my workout, so I would put on a five-minute meditation with the volume turned down, and fall asleep. Or I would play an hour of tennis and go on a two-hour hike, but since it didn’t count towards my app I had to “cheat” again. And while I do feel pretty healthy, and I tried some new workouts, I was way too focused on the goal, rather than the process of getting there.

Getting that check mark at the end of each day stripped me of the joy and happiness I normally feel from moving my body. Downs stresses that if you are miserable training for the marathon that’s your ultimate goal, it’s the wrong goal (or a waste of your time and happiness). Instead, switch your focus from the outcome to the journey and let yourself find joy and purpose in the act of getting there.

Decision Diet: No, this isn’t the kind of diet where you count your macros (thank goodness). Downs compares our willpower to a battery, and lot of different things can deplete your battery, especially decision fatigue. Take food. She notes that studies have shown that we make an average of 227 decisions about what to eat per day. Imagine that battery drain.

You know how at the end of a long day you tend to make less healthy decisions, like reality television and a pint of ice cream? That’s your willpower battery in the red zone. But if you narrow down your decisions during the day and provide less options for what you’ll eat or what you’ll wear, that energy goes elsewhere, like toward your willpower.

The Two out of Three Rule: In our house, we eat pizza and watch movies on Friday nights, or as we creatively call it: “Pizza and Movie Night.” This is part of our family’s decision diet—we never wonder what we’ll eat on Friday nights, and it’s also a great break from cooking.

My body functions best on a lot of veggies, so I usually strive to eat a little pizza and a lot of salad. But sometimes I go a little overboard and wake up the next day feeling ashamed and bloated. It’s tempting to think, “Well, this weekend is a wash already. I think I’ll have a pastry for breakfast.” But applying Downs’ two out of three rule, I can practice some self-compassion and focus on making my next two meals healthy and veggie-forward. By not thinking in absolutes (I ate so much pizza, and therefore I failed), I make my goals more sustainable. It’s *okay* to slip up eventually, and I have two more chances to get it right!

Gentle is the new perfect. Try it, I urge you. Downs’ brand of wellness is not only science and research based, it’s realistic. This is not about all or nothing—in fact it’s specifically about dropping all-or-nothing thinking.

I consider the day I discovered Robyn Conley Downs to be a gift in my wellness journey, and I’m so excited to introduce others to the “feel good” way of life.

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