Meet The Author: 7 Quick Questions

Michelle P. Maidenberg Ph.D. MPH LCSW-R, the author of Ace Your Life was kind enough to take a few minutes to answer our questions and share her thoughts with all of our readers here at Habit Stacker.

1. If you could only keep one chapter of your book which chapter, would it be, and why?

I would keep Chapter 2 on Discovering Your Core Values. Values help us to understand what’s truly meaningful to us. They guide our choices and decisions and reflect and dictate the direction we’ll take in order to live a thriving life. They also serve as a foundation for acting on behalf of our acceptance, compassion, and empowerment.   

2. What do you enjoy most about your work with children and adolescents?

They tend to be flexible, open, curious, and willing to learn. When they let their guard down, they’re authentic, playful, and engaged. It’s thrilling to connect to them on that level and make such a positive impact in their lives.

3. How important is it to get self-talk right when it comes to building self-worth and confidence?

Too often, we get in our own way of living our best life because of negative self-talk and internalized criticism or rejection from others over the years, which we have now internalized. When we feel we should be a certain way, or we’re not meeting personal criteria or the standards of others, we judge ourselves. We may say, “I’m not good enough”, “I’m unlovable” or “I’m useless.”

Hyperfixation on perceived shortcomings, self-judgment, and condemnation of self-worth can compromise mental health and can lead to intense anxiety, depression, shame, and self-destructive behaviors. It depends on the way we perceive mistakes and the significance they hold for us. Albert Einstein remarked, “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” Michael Jordan said: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Albert Einstein and Michael Jordan see the value of mistakes and failures as prime opportunities for growth, learning, and thriving. Pain and disappointment define those occurrences, but to their benefit, contemplation, gratitude, and progress follow. When we accept all of ourselves, including our human imperfections, we build our confidence, increase our self-worth, and open ourselves to learning and significant personal growth.

4. What’s your go-to process for creating good and lasting habits?

Learning about habits is an integral part of the empowerment process. It’s important to know ways to integrate good habits or extinguish bad habits.

Here are some tips:

(1) Do something simple and achievable every day until it becomes automatic. Repetition of action causes habits to form. Even after conscious motivation decreases, once a habit is formed, less focus, conscious motivation, and effort are needed, which makes the habit far more likely to continue. This is why habits are useful—we’re able to use less mental energy because they become automatic,

(2) Start out small, so you won’t be discouraged. Gradually build up to bigger tasks and goals,

(3) When looking to create a habit, choose an easy context cue (e.g., after breakfast, when you finish reading a book, etc.),

(4) You must determine your own goals so you have more agency and investment in them,

(5) A behavior can reach a peak and plateau if you don’t set a new goal to strive for. To re-engage your motivation, you need to continually step it up,

(6) When considering habits, you need to assess and consider intrinsic and external motivators. Intrinsic motivation comes purely from within; it’s not due to any anticipated reward, deadline, or outside pressure. Extrinsic motivation can increase motivation in the short term, but over time, it can wear you down or even backfire. It’s also generally non-sustaining (e.g., deciding to lose weight because your daughter’s wedding is slowly approaching),

(7) Especially until your behavior reaches automaticity, forming habits requires you to have awareness, a willingness to be uncomfortable, and self-control,

(8) Understand that more complex behaviors take longer to form automaticity than easier behaviors,

(9) For all tasks, especially harder ones, it’s possible to achieve a great degree of automaticity. However, circumstances will require more of your willingness for discomfort, self-control, self-regulation, and effort, especially when you’re feeling particularly emotionally vulnerable, you don’t feel grounded or physically well, and/or you’re directly triggered in some way,

(10) The purpose of rewards is to satisfy our cravings and to teach us which actions are worth remembering. As we go through life, our sensory nervous system is continuously monitoring which actions satisfy our desires and deliver pleasure. For good habits, this substantiates the need to consistently return and reinforce the rewards, which help you to create and sustain the habit. For bad habits, understanding your habit loop and the pleasurable sensations it evokes can help you extinguish habits that don’t serve you well,

(11) Evidence has shown that as the strength of a habit grows, intention becomes decreasingly predictive of the behavior. That’s why even when you intend to change behavior, because of all the ongoing processes related to your brain (i.e., production of dopamine, memory and consolidated learning, associations it makes, etc.), it’s not enough to do so. This reinforces that the intention to change behavior won’t cut it; there’s a need to consciously and proactively commit to incrementally doing things differently than you had before,

(12) For behaviors involving repetition, habits are crucial. In Wendy Wood’s research for her book Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick, she found that our actions are habitual 43 percent of the time. She substantiates that willpower or self-control is not enough to change or sustain your behaviors. You must devote time and effort to behaving differently whether or not you feel like it at the moment,

(13) To change or break a habit, reconstruct the environment around you to prompt good behaviors and increase friction so that bad habits are inconvenient, (14) For accountability and to sustain interest and motivation, it’s often helpful to create habits alongside a buddy who’s committed or to enlist support from family members, friends, or someone else who’s encouraging,

(15) To help break unproductive habits, instead of struggling mentally, tap into mindfulness training in order to turn toward experiences rather than away from them. Learn to gradually sit with the discomfort in service of doing what you want to be doing,

(16) Cultivate mindful awareness and an interminable state of curiosity. Mindful awareness helps facilitate curiosity and personal insight. It forges an openness to new habits and decisions and will help to break habit loops leading you to more mindful actions,

(17) To create continual motivation and fuel the creation and sustaining of habits, you must find your purpose or personal meaning in completing certain behaviors connected directly to your values, and

(18) Find intentional and meaningful ways to encourage your positive habits and growth through self-compassion and self-love. Surround yourself with people who encourage you, believe in you, and support you.

Many people think it takes just 21 days to change a habit, but one recent study suggests that the average might be closer to 66 days or even longer—especially if a habit is particularly hard to pick up. Habits never completely disappear; they become encoded in the structure of our brain, which is advantageous as we can often pick up creating a habit where we left off.

The challenge? Our brain can’t tell the difference between good and bad habits, so if you have a bad one, it’s always lurking, waiting for the right cues and rewards to get reactivated. Therefore, it is important to remember that changing any habit requires intentional awareness, repetition, persistence, and the willingness to be uncomfortable no matter what.

5. What would you say is your biggest barrier when it comes to showing yourself the same compassion you show others?

For me it’s being a perfectionist. I tend to like to be in control and get uncomfortable with uncertainty. When I feel I’m not doing my absolute best or aren’t doing a good enough job “managing” or “controlling” things, I can get hard on myself if I’m not mindful and grounded.

6. Looking back, what was the best part of your journey in creating the ACE Method?

When I was able to articulate and formulate a step-by-step processes by which I work with my clients and recognize that it all centers around acceptance, compassion and empowerment. It was thrilling to see it take form to enable me to share it with others outside my practice.

7. If you could only share one piece of advice with everyone, what would it be?

Act from your values, rather than from your thoughts and feelings. If you stay connected with your values, you behave based on who you are and how you want to be, no matter what. Your thoughts and feelings are a result of many things such as your memories, prior experiences, narratives, judgments, etc. They often don’t serve us well. Our values will always lead us toward our confidence, what’s meaningful to us, and how we want to authentically live our lives.

Big Thanks Michelle!

Big thanks to Michelle.  We simply love Ace Your Life.  Keep up the great work!


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