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The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Humans Outside.
Amy Bushatz: No matter who you are or where you go, heading outside even for a few minutes is always worth it. I’m your host, Amy Bushatz, and here at Humans Outside, we’re using the Humans Outside 365 Challenge to build a life around spending time in nature while hearing from fascinating outdoor minded. As a journalist for 19 years, I’ve let curiosity be my guide. After my husband’s injuries from military service, we started looking for a better way to live. That’s why we moved site unseen to Alaska to see if an outdoor focused life was the answer. Since September, 2017, I personally spent at least 20 consecutive minutes outside every single day. No matter. To explore how nature can change my life.
Ready to hear from experts and outdoor lovers who make heading into nature just a part of who they are. While we work to do the same, let’s go.
How do you feel about creating a new habit or resolution New Years or not? For many people, this can feel like a high pressure environment. You might like the idea of setting a big new goal, but have a hard time pushing yourself to do it. Maybe it feels a little. We know what gives you the push to do something every day is that it’s a habit.
We’ve talked here about building a habit or finding a version of one that works for you. And no matter what kind of new thing you’re trying, whether that’s getting outside daily or anything else, you need to approach it in a way that gives you what you need without creating such a harsh situation that it’s unsustainable.
What you need is to give yourself a gentle guide to a. So how do you do that? Well, to answer that question, we have the remarkable Sarah Hayes Coomer, who has become something of our own habit expert since this is the third year in a row. She’s joining us for an episode to talk about habit building. Sarah is a Mayo Clinic and nationally board certified wellness coach, author of the Forbes column, Hey, Health Coach, which by the way, I read and is really good. You guys should subscribe. A personal trainer and author of The Habit Trip, a Fill in the Blank Journey to a Life on Purpose. Sarah, thanks so much for coming back again to Humans Outside.
Sarah Hays Coomer: Thanks for having me. I am a big fan, big fan of your work, big fan of spending time outside, so thanks again for having me.
Amy Bushatz: So if people have heard your last couple of episodes, this might be a little bit of a repeat, but just in case we’re gonna do it again. We start our episodes imagining ourselves in our guest favorite outdoor space, of course. Where are we with you today?
Sarah Hays Coomer: Well, I hate this question because I have too many answers.
So I have a back porch that is probably my favorite place. It’s sort of surreptitiously described in the final chapter of the Habit Trip. And uh, it’s a screened porch, which for the deep south is very important in the depths of summertime. It’s got skylights and succulents and just lovely. But my, my place that I pilgrimage to, my place that I really always go back to is at the top of Griffith Park in Los Angeles. I go back every year, multiple times a year. It grounds me every time. And I’m also a skier, so put me on the top of a mountain and I am happy.
Amy Bushatz: Well, you’ll have to come up here and join us for some skiing. It’s something that I’ve been getting into in the last couple years despite claiming that I would never, ever, ever in a million years do it.
And I will be Nordic skiing even today after we speak. So it’s definitely a fun thing that we enjoy doing up here in Alaska and would love to have you join us if you’re ever in the area in the winter time.
Sarah Hays Coomer: I have no doubt that it is incredible skiing in Alaska. I would love to come sometime.
Amy Bushatz: Awesome. Okay, so we’ve done this before too, but you’re gonna remind us how did you become someone who likes to go outside and what is your own outdoor habit journey?
Sarah Hays Coomer: Okay, so, heading back to Los Angeles my outdoor, well actually it really started in New York City. Funny enough I was uh just outta college. I was deeply depressed, clinical depression, eating disorders really in a very, very unhealthy place and working temp jobs and cocktail waitressing and I found that. One of the only places that I could find relief and find peace was in Central Park. So I would just go to the park. Sometimes I would walk around the reservoir or I would go and just lay on the grass and look up and look at the sort of light between the leaves.
And I just remember thinking like, okay, I can breathe. I can breathe here. And that led me to move to Los Angeles, where I got a great job in a human working, human resources for the House of Blues corporate headquarters. And while I was there, I started hiking there, griffith Park was near me there. And it really became a form of therapy and it became the thing that I knew that on the days that I wanted to do it the least were the ones that I needed to do it the most. And I even on the days when I really felt like I cannot crawl out of this hole, I would go to the base of my little mountain and I would just stand there in my sneakers. And if that was as far as I got, then that was great. And if I needed to, you know, if I could try to get up the first hill is actually part of the steepest part. So if I could just get up that first little section, usually I found that I could go for at least 45 minutes to an hour, and sometimes I would just end up wandering up there for many, many hours on end. So it really became something that I turned to for peace, for clarity and it ended up leading to my whole entire career and my philosophy in life so, yeah.
Amy Bushatz: Yeah, it’s amazing how spending time outside or really letting something become nurture you, I guess is the word I’m looking for. Um, an experience really nurture you and become fundamental to how you feel then becomes fundamental to what you do and how you spend your time and how you approach life and all of these other things. It’s really wild to think about that, and I think for so often, for so many people, it doesn’t start that way. Right? You like, you don’t go out the door on your first hike or in my case, spend 20 minutes on my porch because I’m looking to fundamentally change my life or my approach to the world, right?
Sarah Hays Coomer: Right.
Amy Bushatz: I’m doing it because it feels good in that moment. It feels like what I need, but then to have this hindsight, to see this long string of effects is really kind of cool.
Sarah Hays Coomer: Yeah. Well, I mean, if you think about it, if you hadn’t started going outside 20 minutes, this podcast wouldn’t exist. You know? I mean, it’s, and I imagine your, your personal, you know, the benefits that you have reaped personally as well are enormous. So, yeah, you can see it later, but what you said is so important because, what you did was you found something that felt good in the moment. That felt good, right when you were doing it, rather than going, well, if I do this, then 10 years from now I’ll have a successful podcast and I’ll be, you know, like, no, that’s not what it’s about and that’s not gonna work.
You have, you have to find something that’s rewarding in the moment. That’s actually some of the research about habit change. That’s one of the most important things that you can look for.
Amy Bushatz: Mm. Oh, that’s so good. Okay, so now that we’ve already started talking about it, give us an overview of the how’s of forming a new habit. So, of course, this is another one of those things we’ve talked about before, but I think it’s the fundamentals are really important. So if I wanna start a new habit today, let’s say like going outside, I don’t know uh, how should I do that? Uh, What do you tell your clients about this?
Sarah Hays Coomer: Yeah, so this is a very long conversation that we could have about this.
But what, where we start is just by defining what is a habit and I have here the encyclopedia brittanica definition of a habit.
Amy Bushatz: No school, like the old school.
Sarah Hays Coomer: Right? Any regularly repeated behavior that requires little or no thought and is learned rather than innate. So this is important because it means that you’re going into autopilot with something that you have built where it requires no thought. So it’s, it’s important to know that because that kind of mindfulness piece, when you’re first starting to try to build a new habit, It requires a, an awareness and a mindfulness and a purposefulness that you don’t necessarily have or you’re not aware of with the existing habits that you have. So there is a moment where there has to be some very conscious, purposeful decision making happening, but eventually the whole point of this is that it becomes kind of thoughtless and it goes on auto repeat and autopilot, which is also why it makes it so hard to change one that you’re trying to quit.
Amy Bushatz: Right, right.
Sarah Hays Coomer: But, but the and then the other thing, the other important thing to understand is the structure of a habit, which um, one of the greatest resources for this is a book called The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, which is now a decade old, but it’s a remains like one of the first sort of pop culture, pop psychology explanations of what a habit is, and it’s just thorough and an easy read.
But what he talks about in there and based on the research coming out of Harvard and a bunch of other establishments, is that habits have three parts. They have a cue, which is the trigger or the thing that makes that habit happen. For a lot of people, that trigger might be, you know, I put the kids to bed, or I’m home from work at night and now it’s 9:00 PM and I’m sitting in front of the TV and I’m having my drink and I’m having my snack, and this is my habit that I’m in.
And maybe that’s a great habit and you’re eating something that really feeds you and feels great and feels also fun. Or maybe it’s something that not feeling very healthy for you and you wanna change it, but identifying that cue. What is the trigger, the thing that makes it happen in the first place?
And then what is the routine, which is the habit itself, the thing that you’re doing? And then what is the reward? So what are you getting out of it on the back end? So once you know what those three things are, you can start tinkering with them.
Amy Bushatz: Mm-hmm. that makes sense. So to say for going outside. The thing that we wanna do is go outside the reward is how we feel when we do it. And, and the third thing is what I’m, I’m now I’m blanking.
Sarah Hays Coomer: The cue is that the, is the first thing. The cue is the first thing, yeah.
Amy Bushatz: Okay. So the cue is
Sarah Hays Coomer: when and how is it gonna happen?
Amy Bushatz: Yeah, so putting it into your schedule would be the example of that, right?
Sarah Hays Coomer: Yeah, it’s timing, but it can also be like maybe there’s a certain person, like maybe your boss triggers you to go do something that’s not so healthy at work, or, you know, it doesn’t have to be time. It can be, you know, any, anything that happens right before the habit happens. Maybe going home to visit your parents triggers a certain, so maybe that’s a place or the relationships that are around you that are triggering a certain series of behaviors. So just identifying what that is.
Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Your dog has to pee ,
Sarah Hays Coomer: Right, dog sratching at door. Yeah,
Amy Bushatz: Right exactly. Or time for my cup of coffee. Oh, hey, that means I’m gonna go on my porch for, for a little bit. I find caffeine to be a good habit driver.
Sarah Hays Coomer: Right,? Yeah, no, that’s called habit pairing. And it’s one of the most powerful tools you can use, is to find, identify something that you’re already doing every single day, whether that’s your morning coffee or you know, brushing your teeth at night.
I have a client who was having shin splints and she didn’t used to have shin splints, and she didn’t know why. It had stopped her from then doing her workouts, that was then making her more sedentary. That was, you know, messing with her energy and she was getting weight and it was like this whole, you know, talking about snowballs.
So what we did was we started having her do heel raises or calf presses while she was brushing her teeth at night. So that’s a two minute window on brushing your teeth. And then she was also doing the calf presses. And within a few weeks the shin splint started to go away. And then all the other things started building back on top of that. So if you can pair some kind of new habit that you’re trying to do, like going outside with your morning coffee, that is the best and easiest way to do this stuff.
Amy Bushatz: That’s especially powerful for something that you just, for some reason, like for some reason there are things that you just can’t remember to do. I don’t know if you find this for yourself, but like my physical therapist wants me to do some hip strengthening exercises. Okay. They’re not hard. They’re not even that annoying. They’re just extremely difficult to remember. And I remember them when I’m already in bed at night. And so I have found that I, this is just something that’s hard to remember. So if I was to do this when, like every night, okay, it’s dinner time, I’m hungry, five minutes of my hip exercises and then they’d be done. But I have the, that the trigger. And then doing it. So for going outside, I think coffee’s a great example. Your dog needs to go for a walk is another good example. Maybe I ate lunch and now I go outside or something like that. Would that work?
Sarah Hays Coomer: Yeah, absolutely. We have a, a thing at our house where like every night we go in my son’s room and he’s in the bath and we’re just sort of hanging out in his room, kind of chatting with him from a distance. And I’m in there doing my physical therapy. I’ve got little things, I got a little toe problem happening, which oddly requires all kinds of hip strengthening and, you know, all kinds of things like that.
But and also doing just like a one set of pushups every night while my son is in the bath and it just becomes, now it just, it’s automatic. Like we said, it becomes a habit. You’re not thinking about it, and you feel kind of weird and incomplete if you’re not doing it. Like if I was just sitting in a chair talking to him, that wouldn’t feel right to me at this point.
Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Yeah. And that, I think you just said on something very important, you feel weird and incomplete. That’s how I feel if I haven’t gone outside during the day that maybe it gets to the evening and I haven’t made that happen yet or forgot or got busy. Not forgot, but got busy. Right that I feel weird and incomplete. Like so there is a missing puzzle piece. It’s just the same feeling as if I was to get into bed without brushing my teeth. I, I’m so tired, I’m just gonna go to bed. Well, you know, you get in bed, let’s say you’ve give into this, you get in bed and you’re like, oh gosh, I can’t even sleep cuz I haven’t brushed my teeth. And you get back up and do it. And that’s the same, that’s the same kind of thing. Weird and incomplete. Zero stars. Zero stars.
Sarah Hays Coomer: Yes. And that’s how you know that you have established a new habit. Once you hit that spot, you’re there.
Amy Bushatz: Awesome. That’s the, that’s the goal.
Hey humans, just a quick break to remind you that if you wanna build your own outdoor habit, the Humans Outside 365 Challenge is a great way to get started. Cool and exclusive Challenge swag, including a finisher medal and decal is waiting for you. All you need to do is visit HumansOutside.com/challenge. Don’t get left out. Go to humansoutside.com/challenge to learn more now. Okay, back to the show.
Okay, so we’re talking about habits. We’re talking about maybe even this idea of a challenge because many habits start as resolutions where you’re trying to do something for a certain period of time, but there are some pretty big extremes when this comes to that. And I know that because I myself am given to extremes, it is something that I am likely to do.
I love the Whole 30 diet for example. I had to talk myself out of doing the 75 hard, which for those who don’t know, is this program with like this laundry list of wellness focused, but slightly extreme things that you do for 75 days in a row, because I didn’t think it would serve me well, but man, was it tempting.
Whew. Okay. But the problem with all these extreme things is that they’re not sustainable. But. Then again, I do see people doing extreme things as a lifestyle. Like I have, I’ve met people who do 75 hard iteration of it every 75 days, which frankly seems a little bit crazy to me. Okay, so tell me, do you see sustainability in picking a new habit or challenge as being important?
And how do you balance that? Why is it important? How do you balance it? .
Sarah Hays Coomer: So this is a wildly individual answer. Everybody is different. Some people really thrive on setting these huge goals and striving for them day after day after day. Often, you know, if you’re gonna do that in the, in the context of a challenge. So you’ve got the third whole 30 or the 75 days. You know, some people really enjoy, you know, like I’m gonna just, just pedal to the metal for this period of time. And then, most of the time they kind of just fall off and just go and do something else after that, which is fine. Some, like I say, like you can jump from thing to thing to thing, or like you just said, people can do the 75 days and then they can decide another 75 days.
And then at that point it’s almost like, is this actually a lifestyle? Like is this just how you wanna live or are we doing a challenge? What’s happening here? So, I think that the question that people can ask themselves is, like you did with, with the, what is it, 70?
Amy Bushatz: 75 Hard. Whew.
Sarah Hays Coomer: Yeah. So like you came to that and you were like, oh, this looks interesting.
And then you thought, is this going to serve me? Is this going to suit my life? Is this going to feel good to do this? And here you’re making a face. And it was like, no, it’s not. It’s too much. It’s not gonna feel good. So if people can just get realistic with themselves, how have these things felt in the past?
Would, would it feel good for me to pursue this? Or is it something that feels like, like, are we, are we setting ourselves free by doing this thing, or are we putting ourselves in prison. If we are putting ourselves in prison, then it is probably not the best choice. So it’s really people have to ask themselves as they come to each, whether it’s a small habit or whether it’s a big challenge that they’re trying to conquer, just really asking themselves, is this going to serve me and my life?
Amy Bushatz: I think there’s something else important here, which is removing making this you focused and removing any sort of, I don’t moral imperative almost of whether it’s good or bad to do this because it is so easy to have self-judgment when you decide something’s not for you, that everyone else seems to think it’s for them, and why can’t I do it?
Well, it’s not that you can’t, it’s that it doesn’t serve you and that it’s not for you. And that’s not a, that’s not a judgment thing or a shame thing. It just is who you are, and that’s okay.
Sarah Hays Coomer: Yeah, absolutely. And I, I find, I mean, I have a, I sort of specialize in working with non-conformists and that because I am one myself, like I, if everybody’s doing something, I’m like, no, no, I don’t want any part of that.
And sometimes that doesn’t serve me either, cuz like, oh, well, what if. It could actually feel really great if I did that. So, yeah, I would just say kind of spend a little time leaning into your inner non-conformist when you’re trying to make these decisions, and then you’ll know more truly whether it’s suited for you or not.
Amy Bushatz: Mm. So how do we ease into a new habit, focusing on that gentle guiding ourselves to success or the things we need? How do you, how do you lean into that?
Sarah Hays Coomer: So, yeah. So again, and for some people this sort of gentle small habit thing can also be frustrating because they wanna make big progress really fast and that makes sense.
And so I think it’s important to have an idea of like, what am I actually aiming for? What does wellness really feel like to me? What would that mean in the rhythm of my day? What would that mean as far as the, the sort of challenges that are now getting in the way of that, whether that’s like time and scheduling and work and family, or whether that’s more like physical ailments, chronic pain, you know, indigestion, insomnia, things that are, that are physically taxing, that are preventing me from doing what I wanna do. So, if people can identify, like this thing feels like it’s going to improve my quality of life. Then that thing can become the base of what will ultimately be a really solid pyramid where you can build the things on top of each other.
So it’s not that this tiny gentle habit is the be all and end all, and that’s where we’re stopping. But what it can do is begin to improve your energy, your focus, your quality of life, reduce your pain, creating space for you to be able to see what layers you can build on top of it to ultimately achieve that goal that you’re looking for. So you’re ending up sitting at the top of that mountain or at the top of that peak of the the pyramid that you’re building. So it’s a solid baseline to first think about that. So you’re identifying what is urgent for you. And then you’re coming up with what I call a menu of options. So you are just gonna throw some paint at the wall, like if this is the problem that I’m having, you know, I’m, I’m snacking every night before I’m going to bed, and it’s really feeling like wildly unhealthy. Then what are the other things that I could be doing during that time that I can just throw onto a list? It could be anything. It could be take a bath, it could be call a friend. It could be eat, you know A giant bowl of popcorn with a smaller bowl of ice cream.
Or you know, like it doesn’t have to be that you’re restricting yourself. It’s really like, what would feel good? What am I curious to try? What’s interesting to me? And then once you have identified what one of those is, then you can just kind of play with it and see that’s where that awareness piece that I was talking about earlier comes in.
And I find it’s helpful. I have a tool called the AID approach. It’s a little acronym that stands for awareness interruption decision. So you wanna, when you’re approaching, you know when the cue happens, right? You know what the cue is, and then you have, you need to physicalize awareness, and that’s what the interruption is.
And that’s where I use something called a gap ritual, which is literally just a physical gesture. It can be anything from, you know, just putting your hands together and kind of taking a deep breath. It could be I have somebody who hangs upside down on the sofa, like she hangs her head upside down, um, just to kind of put herself in a position where like, oh, I’m gonna pause here and then I’m gonna make a decision about what I’m gonna do. I have somebody who does a set of pushups or a plank position. You can go outside and take deep breath. You can, you know, run your hands under cold water. A million different things that you could come up with that allows you to take a breath, think about what you wanna do, and then if you wanna do the old thing that you’re trying to quit, then you can do that and actually perceive, do it on purpose, really enjoy it, and then decide if you, if that actually feels good or not.
And if it doesn’t, then you can start sort of picking from your menu of options. And what I find is that once people get, they, they get bored or they get curious, eventually if they keep giving themselves this opportunity without the guilt to choose one of these other options, then they can start to do that.
And then once you do that, you’re starting to teach your nervous system that there are alternative ways to get the reward that you were getting from the other thing before.
Amy Bushatz: Hmm. So, Let’s say you have decided that you want to go outside every day and, but you have a problem, which is that when it, the weather is terrible- raining would be my pick. I don’t like rain. When it is raining. Not so much with going outside. Instead, you are very tempted just to sit on the couch. In this, in this example, you would have a decision point where you said, I’m gonna do this every day and now I don’t want to because of the rain. And you would disrupt that by doing one of the gap things that you just mentioned, or, or some other example of that.
And then you would give yourself some options for completing the task that are maybe more pleasant. So let’s say going outside, you were gonna go for a run today to do your outside time, or you were gonna go for a hike, but it is pouring rain. Zero stars. I hate running in the rain. Okay, so now you say, okay, I still want to do this thing which is going outside.
What are my other options for making that happen in a way that is more kind to my nervous system? So I’m thinking like you have a range, you have an umbrella. One cannot run with an umbrella. I’ve tried. So you have an umbrella and you whip that, you know, you bundle up and you whip that bad boy. And you go for your walk under the umbrella for just your 20 minutes instead of going for the torture run. I mean beautiful rain run. So that would be, that would be one example, right? Or you take your umbrella and a cup of coffee and, or you better yet, I like coffee. You go to the coffee shop with your umbrella, get a cup of coffee and walk around, you know, your town or whatever for a more pleasant experience. Anyway, those are just some examples that jump to mind. In fact, maybe I’ll do some of them next time it rains.
Sarah Hays Coomer: Yeah. Yeah. That’s the key though, is to have some examples, some ideas about how you can do that. Even if it’s just like what kind of chair? If you’ve got a little tiny porch right outside your apartment and that’s all you’ve got as far as out outside space, what is a way to put some kind of chair there that’s comfy or doesn’t hold the water. Or like what are the things that are like, do you have cushions outside that are holding water that’s making you less likely to wanna do that? Like what are the obstacles that are getting in the way? How can you identify, you know, alternatives for those to make quick, easy shifts?
And I also think it’s really important to recognize like, If you’re wanting to make a new habit to go outside and you’re running into the problem, that rain is stopping you and you’re describing this situation of going outside in the rain as a torture run, then that is definitely not the habit that’s gonna keep you, keep you doing it when there’s rain. So, I mean it’s, you know, there’s, there’s actually really interesting research about like sitting by a house plant with an open window is also like you’re getting fresh air, you’re getting that kind of visual stimulation of a plant. You’re putting your attention into a different spot. So technically, does that count as being outside? I don’t know. You can experiment. You can try.
Amy Bushatz: Well, I would say if a covered porch counts, then maybe that counts. Although I like a side note for anybody who’s new on this, I do not tell people what counts is going outside. You gotta decide that for yourself, y’all. There are no rule. There are the rules you make for yourself. Now, for me, would I count sitting by with a house plant by an open windows going outside? Probably not. But I live in a place that I can, that I rarely. Very extreme weather events, for example, that would preclude me from safely going outside.
If I lived in a spot where there was some sort of tremendous hurricane happening, I would maybe change my tune on that a little bit, right? So it’s just depends on you and your, and your goals and what you’ve decided as your own parameters. I can only tell you what I do, but I know this is a very, very common question. What counts as outside? Well, you know what? You’re gonna have to decide that for yourself. I hate to , I hate to loo, like, throw you into the wilderness without any guidance on that. But I can only tell you what I do and 20 minutes if that’s something you wanna do, this is your challenge. You figure out what counts for you.
And then, and then I think the more important thing actually is figuring out what counts for you and then sticking to that. Because it’s very easy to have something that you wanna do and then let it slide. Right. I’m sure this is a problem with people who have um, who have nutrition goals. I mean, Okay. I know it’s a problem with people who have nutrition goals cuz I am people. For me, I have a much easier time with things like this if I just say, this year Amy is not eating Halloween candy, the end, I don’t like it that much. It doesn’t serve me. And having one piece isn’t gonna make me happy. It’s going to make me want three pieces. And so I’m a happier camper if I just don’t eat any Halloween candy. But that’s for me, that’s not for anyone else. So same kind of thing.
Sarah Hays Coomer: Yeah, but that’s tied to your authentic feeling about how it feels to eat the Halloween candy. It’s not, you’re not should-ing on yourself. You’re just, you have observed like a scientist, I have observed this thing . I have done an experiment many times and this does not observed me.
That is a wonderful place to start. Yeah. And like with, with, you know, going out and running in the rain, for example, if you live in a place where you hate running in the rain and it rains all the time. You live in Seattle, right? So like if you force yourself to do that, you know, there’s this misconception that do something for 30 days and it’ll stick forever, right?
Which is based on very, very old research, like 200 year old research and what they have found that is the consistency does matter, but the piece of consistency that matters is that the result of what you’re doing feels good. If it feels bad, then all you’ve done in those 30 days is cement your connection with how much you hate doing this thing, cuz you’ve now forced yourself to do it 30 days in a row.
Finding those alternatives that you can do in the rain that allow you to get outside, maybe even finding, like you said, a coffee shop. Maybe there’s a coffee shop with a covered porch if you don’t have one where you can go and sit outside and drink your coffee and there’s your 20 minutes. So looking for those options that actually do really feel good for you is really important.
Amy Bushatz: Yeah. And in defense of running in the rain, I do actually run in the rain. I do not love it, but, but I do in moderation because as you just mentioned, maybe you find that you, it makes you feel good or not. Right. I actually find that, a, some running in the rain does make me feel good and it has benefits outside of that momentary reward or the fact that I’m cold you know, the detractors that I’m cold in the middle.
It has benefits of me feeling like I’m better prepared for tough situations outside of that. And so there are lots of reasons to do things that may not feel super good for you right then. And if that wasn’t the case, no one would ever exercise or run really fast or anything like that because of the pain in the moment, . But we know that it has rewards after the fact. And so that is something to think about too, as you are embarking on a habit journey is thinking about what are the, why am I doing this? Do the things that I know I’ll feel later outweigh the sadness of doing it right now. You know, going back to even just brushing your teeth, if you’re very, very tired and you just wanna be in bed, those two minutes of brushing your teeth might seem like an eternity, but you know that after you do it, you’ll be glad and then you’ll sleep better. Same kind of thing.
Sarah Hays Coomer: Yes. Yeah. Yeah. And you know, it sounds like what you’ve done with, with is that you had an assumption about what running outside actually meant, and you kept it on your menu of options and you have continued to try it. It sounds like when the conditions were manageable and you have started to learn now that you actually don’t hate it as much as you thought you did, and that sometimes you actually enjoy it. So that really starts, like we were talking earlier, it starts to change those associations and those neural pathways and then you’ve got another option that makes you feel amazing. So it’s, again, it’s up to you in that moment, on that day based on the weather, about what’s gonna be best.
Amy Bushatz: So I wonder how these wellness schools just in general, but you know, and any specific habit builds on each other, how those things become building blocks to getting you to bigger wellness goals or to helping you learn to listen to yourself in the future.
What do you find about that? Is this a muscle that you grow?
Sarah Hays Coomer: Yeah, so, absolutely. And you know, like we were talking about that pyramid earlier where you’re starting with something small, there’s something called self-efficacy, which is a psychological term that means knowing like a deep, knowing confidence that you are capable of doing something,, without a doubt. So that is one of the most important things that you can acquire early in a habit journey is the knowing that I, oh, I can set this goal or try this habit and follow through with it for a period of time, and discover that it actually does increase my quality of life and makes me feel better.
And now it’s become a habit. Okay, well, I guess maybe I’ve built that baseline level of my pyramid. Now I can build on top of that and see what else is gonna make me feel good. And over the course of a lifetime, if you build that confidence and you start building these habits on top of each other, you’re gonna be in a drastically different place in you know, five years, 10. 30 years than you would be if you had spent those 30 years beating yourself up for not being able to follow through on anything and, and just learning over and over again that you’re not capable and then giving up and then just saying, forget it. So that’s really, really important and I, it does get stronger and stronger. The more things you build into your life that feel good and that are new, then you really do start to get that knowing, oh, I can do this! .
Amy Bushatz: Yeah. Yeah. And I, you know, I think that’s true in habits and, and as you said, in any new thing, that’s one of the things I love so much about spending time outside is that it’s given me sort of this gentle on ramp to trying new things, which is not something that I myself, before this journey was likely to do.
Like, I don’t, I eat the same thing for breakfast every day. New things, not my jam. But when I’m outside, sometimes trying new things seems like not just a good idea, but just a reasonable part of being outside. And so now I’m trying new sports or learning to ski as we mentioned. Like that’s something I said I’d never do, and now I do it all the time.
That’s because I was already spending time outside and all of a sudden skiing seemed like not an unreasonable idea. But because I had built that muscle, and to now know that I, well, you know, I can do new things. I did this other new thing that one time, so I could do a new thing today and get, then give myself permission to maybe not love the new thing.
Just cuz I tried it doesn’t mean I have to do it again. But hey, I could try it. So I did a outdoor um, it’s a program, it’s called Becoming an Outdoor Woman. It’s a nationwide program and it’s run in partnership often with like a fish and game department in your state or in Department of Natural Resources.
And so here in Alaska, they have this retreat becoming an outdoor woman, and they offer all of these classes over this three day retreat where you can pick this menu of trying new things. For the most part, they’re probably things you’re not proficient in. We’re talking hunter safety, that kind of thing.
And so I took a class there in dog mushing, which was super fun. Not something that I’m regularly do, but I’m so glad I had the opportunity to try it. I also took a class in skinning and hide prep, which I’m gonna go ahead and say is not something I will be doing regularly ever on purpose. No, but you know what I learned?
I can totally do that. Totally can. I can do it. Okay. If, if we were to be stuck in the wilderness and have an emergency situation in which we needed to stay warm through some skinning and hide prep, I. I’m your girl, but it’s not gonna be beautiful . That’s right. It’s not gonna be great, but I know how and I can, I can totally do that.
Wow. And that is woo outside my comfort zone. Right. But, but but I tried that new thing and that’s what I learned from that is that. Yeah, check the box. Tried that. Don’t need to try it again. We’re good. But I can, and that has taught me, I think about that all the time because that’s taught me to try new things in other areas that maybe are pretty much on the periphery of things that I really, truly wanna be doing. But I can. I can.
Sarah Hays Coomer: Yeah, that’s exactly right. That’s like that wonderful spirit of adventure and exploration and just a willingness to say, I’m gonna try it, maybe I’m gonna hate it. And that’s okay. And maybe I’m gonna love it. And you know, I’m in Alaska, and why not try skiing and look at that. Now you’ve got a new sport, now you got a new sport.
Amy Bushatz: Several sports. Skiing has so many different periphery sports. It’s become this out of control situation where I own a lot of equipment. That’s what’s happened. So , it’s, it’s fine. It’s, I’m sure it’s fine. Okay. As a final thing, can you give. Three or four tips, just sort of in that nutshell, if you will for gentle and habit and wellness practice?
Sarah Hays Coomer: So, like I said earlier, I think it’s really important to identify for yourself what are the pain points, right? What are you feeling right now that is really detrimental to your wellbeing and is making you feel unwell? And then what are the things that you can do about what are the, what is that menu of options that you can do?
And then looking at identifying the cue when is that happening? And then we’re gonna have that awareness using a gap ritual to put you in a position of power. So instead of making a rule that you’re supposed to follow later in the day, you’re just putting yourself in a position to say, okay, here are the many options that I have in front of me, and which one do I wanna do today?
Right. So that is, you know, like an exciting and curious and adventurous mindset rather than an obligatory, frustrated, restricted mindset. So, and then just picking, just picking a few. And trying some things and seeing if you can identify one little thing that’s gonna improve your life and then try to come back to it, and back to it, and back to it.
Because when we’re stressed out, right, and our sympathetic nervous systems are all fired up and we’re in fight or flight and we can’t, like, there’s just too much stress and we can’t manage it, we go back to our old habits, because they’re coping mechanisms. They’re not flaws, they’re just, they’re just things that we have used to relieve that pressure in the past.
And that makes a whole lot of sense. So what we’re trying to do with this process is to identify alternative coping mechanisms that are gonna feed us and nurture us a little bit better. So picking what those things are, playing around with your options. And then once you find something that you genuinely like, no matter how small it is, I don’t care if it is a single pushup right before you brush your teeth, just to get that rhythm going and to convince yourself and show yourself that you’re capable of following through, you know, stepping outside.
We’ve talked about this in our past, past podcast before, like if you’re outside ritual, Is to simply step outside and take three deep breaths first thing in the morning. That is an outside ritual and it can truly change the trajectory of your day and ultimately of your life. So it doesn’t have to be, you know, I mean, it’d be great if we all had 20 minutes to go outside, but if we starting somewhere, let’s start with you wanna, if your goal is to go outside, just go outside.
And then you can come back inside , you know? So finding, when is that gonna make a difference in your day? Getting into that ritual, teaching that sympathetic nervous system, that this thing feels good to you, and that it’s an alternative coping mechanism. And then it becomes, like we started with at the very beginning, the definition of a habit. It just becomes thoughtless and effortless. And once you’ve got that, you can build on top of it
Amy Bushatz: That is the goal. Sarah, thank you so much for your time. As a final thing, since we have been having this beautiful conversation on your porch with you , can you describe for us a favorite outdoor moment that you have something that you just really like to go back to and envision? Envision yourself there and, and let us envision ourselves there with you.
Sarah Hays Coomer: Yeah, so I was thinking about this before, cause we’ve talked about this before and I think one that I haven’t told you all about was I was in San Francisco on book tour for my first book and I have a habit of going, using my all trails app to just, whenever I’m on book tour, anywhere else for work or whatever, I’ll just kind of poke around and see what’s a trail that I’ve never seen before. And so I was south of San Francisco and I did this book signing that was terrible. It was like four people came to this thing. And uh, one of the women was like, do you do this for a living ? And I was like, yeah. I just, you know, those, those happen sometimes. But I was really in a head space. I was like, oh. So I got my All Trails app out and I went and I went to Mori Point M-O-R-I Point just south of San Francisco and it is these, those cliffs that look over the Pacific Ocean.
And I’m wandering up this trail, just randomly picked this one. And I see this kind of marker sign that says that this is where the film Harold and Maud was filmed, which is an old cult film from the, ooh, maybe the 70s I don’t know, but it’s one of my favorite films. And I was like, what? And I got this just like full body chills and went up to the top of this incredible cliffside overlook.
So just stumbling around the world, kind of exploring the outside just inevitably brings these wonderful surprise moments. So that was one.
Amy Bushatz: Love it. Sarah, thank you so much for joining us on Humans Outside today. We sure value your expertise and time. Thank you.
Sarah Hays Coomer: Absolutely. Thanks so much for having me.
Amy Bushatz: Thanks so much for listening to this week’s episode of Humans Outside. Help me out by leading a five star rating or review wherever you get your podcasts. It really does help other listeners find the podcast. Now go get outside. Until next time, we’ll see you out there.