Can These Tiny Habits Change Your Life?

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Continuing with our recap of the top brain health tips of 2018, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen give you advice on how to rise above your current predicament by using simple, tiny habits to permanently alter your behavior and completely change your personal trajectory.

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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. Here we teach you how to win the fight for your brain, to defeat anxiety, depression, memory loss, ADHD, and addictions.
Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we've transformed lives for three decades using brain SPECT imaging to better target treatment and natural ways to heal the brain. For more information, visit
Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceutical products to support the health of your brain and body. For more information, visit
Welcome to The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome back. We are launching into this new year with you, and we're viewing the highlights from The Brain Warrior's Way, which is a book Tana and I wrote together. We actually have an online course. There's a 50% discount this week. The course is 26 hours. It's awesome. So if you really want to be a brain warrior-
Tana Amen: We had so much fun doing that. Yeah.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... go to Amen University and sign up for the course. I loved the reviews. Thank you for sending-
Tana Amen: Yeah, we really do.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... the reviews. This is from Fran Sinclair. "Thank you, Tana, for being so open and honest. To be vulnerable and open about a painful time is very hard to do, but you are helping a lot of people by sharing your experience. I have depression and PTSD for over seven years and have tried everything to get better. It's a horrible place to be. I have a son with autism, and it breaks my heart that he has never truly gotten to know who I really am."
Tana Amen: Oh.
Dr. Daniel Amen: "Thank you for sharing your story."
Tana Amen: Oh.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, Fran, we know how hard-
Tana Amen: Yeah.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... that is, but if you can stay present and do the right things for your brain and for his brain-
Tana Amen: That really is so hard.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Coming up early this year, we have a new course with Dr. Jerry Kartzinel called Healing Autism that is coming out from Amen University.
Tana Amen: You know, just to acknowledge this, so I've had depression to where I wanted to die. And I've also been really sick with cancer, and I've had ... In April, I said I had a hysterectomy. So I've had acute illness as well. I got to tell you, there's no comparison. I think I was even telling you. We were talking about our best moments of the last year, and I'm like, "Well, I can't really say that it was my best moment, 'cause I literally was in so much pain from surgery." But one of my best moments was after surgery, you and Chloe were just so good to me.
So that's my point, is that depression is a whole different thing. You can be sick and you can be in pain, and if you don't have ... Like depression, it's not as bad. I mean, you can overcome that if you've got support. But when you are depressed, it's just horrific. It's horrific. So I just wanted to acknowledge that, 'cause I've had both.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Yes, you have.
Tana Amen: I would do anything to avoid being depressed.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So what are the things you avoid?
Tana Amen: Yeah, if I start to feel myself getting wonky, like as soon as I start to feel myself not ... I just started to feel like I didn't have motivation, like my passion wasn't the same. I'm like, "Okay, time to go to the doctor. Time to get my numbers checked." 'Cause if I start to feel anything-
Dr. Daniel Amen: Okay, so got to get your mindset. I can do something about this.
Tana Amen: Oh, absolutely.
Dr. Daniel Amen: The second thing is assessment.
Tana Amen: Yes.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Know your important numbers. And too often, your doctor'll go, "Oh, you don't need to know all of those things." We had that-
Tana Amen: Yeah, 'cause for me, it's a huge red flag, and I'm like out the door.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And so often, we see your thyroid's off or your hemoglobin A1C's off, your-
Tana Amen: Your ferritin, your vitamin D.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... vitamin D's off, or your vitamin D.
Tana Amen: And then for me, I go exercise.
Dr. Daniel Amen: You want to optimize, and then-
Tana Amen: Almost immediately.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... get your food right. And then "T," so we're talking about mastery, so this is the backbone of The Brain Warrior's Way is training.
Tana Amen: Yep.
Dr. Daniel Amen: What are the things you do day in and day out that hurt you? And I'm absolutely convinced you use exercise as an antidepressant.
Tana Amen: I totally use exercise as an antidepressant, and I figured that out when I was a teenager. Here's the thing. When you're down ... and no one knows this better than I do. When you're down and you don't feel like it and you're not motivated and you're feeling icky, you don't want to exercise. So what I tell myself is, "It doesn't matter what I want," okay? Do you let your kids do that? No. It doesn't matter what I want. And I tell myself that in the minute. I'm not doing this because I want to, I'm doing this because it's my medicine. That's just it. And you just get up and you do it. If you don't feel like working out heavily, go for a walk. 'Cause then you're going to start to feel better. Then just do a little bit more and a little bit more. It's not about what you want. It's about what you need.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So you actually just reminded me of Freud.
Tana Amen: Please don't say that.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And you know I'm not a huge fan of Freud.
Tana Amen: I'm not a fan.
Dr. Daniel Amen: But one of the most helpful concepts that he came up with is understanding the id, the ego, and the superego. So the id is the child in you. Too often, the reason your health isn't right,-
Tana Amen: You've given-
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... is the four year old is running the fricking show of your life.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Where you go, "Oh, I don't want to exercise," so I don't exercise. The ego is sort of like the healthy adult. So I think of it-
Tana Amen: Oh, that's good.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... as the good mother or the good father. The superego is sort of the punishing conscience. We are living in a society where the id and the superego are running the show. "You should do this, you should do that. You're bad because you don't believe the way I believe." Or the child is, "I want what I want when I want it."
Tana Amen: "And if I don't get it, I'm going to throw this massive temper tantrum."
Dr. Daniel Amen: Right. So little detour into parenting. The best parents are firm and kind. You have rules at home. I like the podcast we did with Jim Fay, 'cause his rule was,-
Tana Amen: He's so awesome.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... "Don't make a problem." I love that. All rules rolled into one. "Don't make a problem."
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And when you say something, you mean it, and you back it up. So as you said, "Well, I don't want to exercise." And the good parent inside you said, "This will make you feel better. Go do it."
Tana Amen: And this ties right into our very first podcast for this week. So when I didn't feel like it ... Like just this morning, I was busy. So this morning, it wasn't 'cause I didn't want, it was more 'cause I needed to hurry. And so you start making excuses. So I told myself, "Okay, this has nothing with what I want to do right now. Today, it's heart health. That's it. Get in there and do it. You're taking care of your heart today." That's why you have to be motivated. You have to tie into the intention, right?
If I just went, "Well, I don't feel like working out, 'cause I'm busy," well, I would have just given in to that. But because it's tied to my "why," right? So either I don't want to be depressed, I don't to be a slog, like just like slugging around all day, or because I'm ... Like today, it's about my heart. I'm going to like do today's heart health.
Dr. Daniel Amen: I love your heart.
Tana Amen: Oh, thank you.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So training, exercise. There's so many benefits. You know, I'm working on a new book called The End of Mental Illness. I've been having so much fun with it. You just have to look at the research with exercise. It increases neuroplasticity, so how your brain takes care of itself. It increases, it grows the size of your hippocampus that's involved in mood and memory. It stabilizes your blood sugar. It increases nitric oxide. It has been shown to be an antidepressant. There's just so many good things it does. If you could do one thing, it's walk like you're late, more.
Tana Amen: I know this is going to throw us into the next episode for the rest of it. But it's okay, 'cause this is important. So one of the things with training is it's really about daily habits. So we talk about that in the book. You did a whole thing on daily habits. It's wonderful. It's tiny habits, right? So it's about creating these tiny habits every day.
So someone asked me, she said, "Well, what would you suggest for someone ... " Like she goes, "I just don't know how to give up soda. I can't give up my Diet Coke." I go, "You can't?" And she goes, "Well, what would you suggest? Like what kind of a tiny habit would work for that?" I go, "Oh, this is perfect." But she gave me like three things at once, right? So I was trying to explain to her, "Okay tiny habits, let's ... " So she's like, "So does that mean I have to give up Diet Coke, and I have to now start drinking water, and I have to ... " She goes, "And I have to like start drinking green juice." I'm like, "Wait, whoa, back up. Tiny, okay?"
Dr. Daniel Amen: She's defeating herself.
Tana Amen: Right, "So tiny habit. Let's back up. So maybe it means that for today, okay, we're going to start with today, you're going to not have the Diet Coke. Instead of the Diet Coke, you're going to replace it. We never want to just like eliminate it, we're going to replace it. We're going to replace the Diet Coke with sparkling water, and you're going to add some stevia to it," right? So that's one of them.
So she was trying to get rid of all sugar from all drinks is what she was trying to do. So she like started with Diet Coke and then she went to coffee and then she went to like all different things that she had sugar in. So I'm like, "Let's start with that. Let's do sparkling water with stevia. And let's do that for a week."
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, and let's tell you, there is a company. We have no stock in it, called SweetLeaf. Maybe I should buy stock.
Tana Amen: I know, right?
Dr. Daniel Amen: They make 10 different flavors of stevia, from peppermint to orange, lemon, grape, berry. My favorite is chocolate. I put chocolate in everything. And so, I get sparkling water, and I love this. I'm on a plane, and you know, "What do you want to drink?" "Sparkling water." I always carry the chocolate stevia in my computer bag. I put in a squirt of it. It tastes like a soft drink, but there's no calories and nothing bad for me.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: I'm a value spender. I hate wasting money, right? I mean, I'm not cheap, but I'm a value spender. Wasting money just irritates me. So I think of that way with calories, 'cause calories are like money. So just that one simple act saves me tens of thousands of calories a year.
Tana Amen: And the sugar, the amount of sugar. So when I talk to her, so I go, "Look, the whole point of the tiny habit is do that for a week for so. And if it takes two weeks, it takes two weeks, until you feel like, 'Okay I can do this. I've eliminated the Diet Coke.' Then go to the coffee," and then I gave her the recipe that we use for our half caff almond milk cappuccino. She's like, "Oh, I could do that." Like, "I can do that." I'm like, "The point of the tiny habit is chunk it down to a size that feels manageable to you, so that you can master it." The whole point of this is mastery, right?
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, and what I gave for Christmas gifts this year to the people close to me is ... Because I love making Tana's almond milk cappuccino, pumpkin spice cappuccino, is I actually gave people, not the recipe, I gave them all the things to make it. So make it super easy, because that's how I show Tana I love her every day. And that's how I show the people in my life I love them. I'm not making it for them unless they come to our house, but it's just giving the gift of brain health, that's love, right? I mean, you do this because you love them.
Tana Amen: Right. So figure out one bad habit that you want to change ...
Dr. Daniel Amen: And other training things, and then we'll have to stop.
Tana Amen: Right, but one bad habit you want to change, and then figure out a tiny habit you can take from that. Tiny. And if it feels too big, make it tinier, and then master that.
Dr. Daniel Amen: We'll be back.
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