Homemade Sauerkraut: Quick and Easy Probiotics for Digestive Health and Wellness

We’re all seeing the ads for probiotics on teevee and in print: pills and pumped-up-yogurts, often full of artificial colors, preservatives and the like.

While I think there is certainly a place for probiotics in a pill form, and often recommend them to folks on specific food plans (I don’t like the word “diet”), I think there is magic in homemade fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, kim chi, fermented root vegetables such as carrots or daikon, and there is a complexity of good bacteria to be found there, that you just can’t get in a pill.

The big bang of health for your digestion and overall well being comes from the lactic acid, and nature, in all her wisdome, loaded root veggies with that remarkable health promoting bacterial ally. And as always, I am a budget-minded gal: if you do the math comparing the cost of an organic cabbage and a bag of good quality sea salt with a bottle of pills, the verdict is clear: homemade is the clear winner.

So… why do I want to eat fermented foods?

Humans have been fermenting foods since time immemorial. Our grandparents and theirs made kraut, kefir, pickles and the like for a variety of reasons. I doubt they were thinking about replenishing the bacteria in their guts and thus, improving their digestion and increasing the accessibility of nutrients from all the foods you eat, but that was the happy outcome. They likely fermented foods to extend the life of their harvests, to make those gorgeous summer veggies last through the harsh winters. They also likely knew that a pile of kraut on top of some fried eggs or a rich steak to be ridiculously delicious.

Sandor Katz, the great granddaddy of the modern fermentation movement in the US tells us:

"Chlorine is put in water to kill the bacteria and it continues to kill some bacteria after we drink the water. Antibiotic drugs – there are a lot of individuals whose lives have been saved because of them, and I may be one of them — but it seems that it is widely agreed that antibiotics are also wildly over prescribed. And even more so than the human population, livestock is continually being pumped up with antibiotics because it makes animals grow faster. There’s a residue of all antibiotic manufacturing and usage that accumulates in the water, so all of us are ingesting [antibiotics] everyday, no matter how pristine the source of the water we are drinking. If you compound that with all the antibacterial chemicals being used as soaps and cleaning products, we are all constantly being subjected to all of these chemicals that kill bacteria."

Tuohy et al (2003) report that “The human gut microbiota plays a crucial role in host health, both as a source of infection and environmental insult and, conversely, in protection against disease and maintenance of gut function.” That’s fancy-scientist-speak for what our grandmas all knew, that eating good bacteria helps fight off bad bacteria, and that maintaining a healthy gut keeps us healthier overall. If your digestion is a problem, if you have diarrhea or constipation, acid reflux or sour stomach, if you’re having trouble losing or gaining weight, or otherwise feel like your digestion could need a boost, simple homemade ferments could be a wonderful addition to your diet.

The benefits of probiotics and fermented foods are clear:

So much of your overall health is based on the health of your gut - without a healthy gut flora your immune system, mental wellness and acuity and overall mood are unlikely to be up to par.

Fermented foods:

  • Improving intestinal tract health
    • Leaky gut syndrome is a growing concern in industrialized countries. Without healthy gut flora, leaky gut and its symptoms will only continue. Fermented foods help build a healthy gut environment by providing the life-sustaining bacteria we need
    • Eating foods high in lactic-acid bacteria and their byproducts helps protect the gut, through their ability to neutralize harmful bacteria. (Katz, Wild Fermentation)
  • Enhance the immune system, synthesizing and enhancing the bioavailability of nutrients
  • Reduce symptoms of lactose intolerance, decreasing the prevalence of allergy in susceptible individuals
  • Reducing risk of certain cancers (Parvez et al, 2006)
  • Support proper metabolism and utilization of folate, pyroxidine, B vitamins, riboflavin and biotin depending on the strains of bacteria present. This is key to a balanced mood and energy, and to keeping cancers and heart disease away, by supplying the building blocks of the methylation cycle (a really important thing in the body!)
  • Fermented foods are rich in enzymes that improve and aid digestion, making all the nutrients in our food more accessible

It’s cheap and easy to ferment foods, and I myself am a big fan of the process, of turning a couple bucks worth of cabbage into a fizzy forkful of delicious kraut. The Kitchen Witch in me loves the magic of it all.

  • When digestion is improved, you can absorb more nutrients. It makes simple sense to me.
  • Cabbage is rich in L-glutamine. Glutamine has been known to play an important role in  gut function, immune system regulation, and other essential processes in the body, especially in times of stress. Glutamine has been used to treat gastrointestinal issues such as stomach ulcers, IBS, Crohn's, acid reflux and colitis. Naturopaths have historically treated a variety of emotional issues including depression, irritability, insomnia, anxiety, moodiness and ADHD with L-glutamine.
  • Fermenting is also fun and easy, and a jar of homemade fermented goodness makes a great holiday gift.

Let’s get to what you’re really here for, the How-To:

leo holding cabbage.jpg

Today we’re going to focus on making sauerkraut, and lucky for you, I have a very handsome butch assistant, Ms. Leo Wamsley, of Brooklyn fame.

I’m a busy gal, so I like to make lots of kraut at once. Use less cabbage if you want, just adjust the ingredients to suit. I also love to add things like shredded carrot, turnips, beets, onions and garlic (rich in healthy sulfur), seaweed (get your iodine on), greens. Mixing green and red cabbage makes for a pink kraut which is really pretty. Fruits are yummy: apples are my favorite and a fall classic. Herbs and spices such as caraway, dill or celery seeds are fabulous, and juniper berries or elderberrys all turn out great. I have done a lot of experiments and invite you to do the same!

Ingredients:

  • About 5 lbs of organic cabbage: white, red, napa, it doesn’t matter. Fresher is better, such as from your garden or the farmer’s market. If that’s not available, whatever, get yourself a cabbage and let’s get going
  • Around 3 tablespoons of sea salt for 5 lbs cabbage (Note: it’s super important to use really good quality noniodized sea salt. I love Celtic Sea Salt or Himalayan Pink Sea Salt. It’s more expensive, but well worth it).
  • Several very clean quart size wide mouth mason jars with the two part lids
  • A large ceramic or glass bowl - metal leaves a funny taste in my experience, and plastic has that whole yucky business of toxicity
  • You may need some room-temperature filtered water to top your sauerkraut off

How We Do What We Do:

1. Start with super-clean hands, cutting board, knife, mason jars. You don’t want to be introducing a bunch of yucky bacteria from your mittens into the kraut, right?

2. Take the two outer leaves off your cabbage, compost those, wash the cabbage well.

3. Cut it up in to the size and shape you like to eat. I like longer, thinner strands. I usually use a knife, but a mandoline is a good option. Cut the heart out or not.

4. Put the cabbage, and any yummy add-on like caraway seeds, in the bowl with the sea salt and mix well. I use my clean hands to mix!

5. Let the cabbage and salt mixture sit for at least 30-60 minutes. Don't have time to wait? Don't worry! Just add the cabbage and salt together in the jar, and add some filtered water on top. Done is better than some story about "perfect" - right?!

A little trick to keep the kittens out of it is to make an X over the bowl with tape and to then put a clean dish towel over that. Take that, kittenface!

6. The cabbage will get soft, but the salt should keep it from getting mushy. You’ll notice that water will come out of the cabbage, which is the goal of adding the salt and letting it sit. You can squeeze the cabbage with your hands if you need more water to come out.

7. With those nice clean hands put the cabbage in the mason jar in small layers, pushing it down with your fist or a wooden mallet as you go, packing it in tight.

8. Pour the water from the big bowl in, with the goal of having about a half inch of water above the cabbage, either from the veg itself or by adding filtered water as needed.  Leave 1-2 inches of head room between the top of the cabbage and the top of the jar.

9. Put the lid on tight with your hands and put it in the cupboard for 3-6 days. Once the lid gets hard, and doesn’t pop down when you press on it, it’s done. Open it up carefully, over the sink, as it’s likely to fizz over - which is a very good thing.

You can put it in the refrigerator now, which slows the fermentation. Finally, if you take a nice big forkful out of the jar and put it in your mouth, do NOT put the fork back in the jar! The bacteria from your mouth can contaminate the whole crock. Cleanliness is the name of the game.

I try to eat fermented foods every day. I love to put sauerkraut on a burger, with salad, on eggs in the morning. It’s easy once you get into the swing of it, and make fermented foods a part of your life. Other great ferments include kimchi, kefir, sourdough bread, fermented carrots, pickles, fermented coconut milk, Japanese natto, kombucha, salsa, beverages like homemade ginger beer and so many other yummy treats.

Get fermenting!

To your health,

Victoria


ps: If you don’t believe me, check out the evidence base:

“Probiotics are usually defined as microbial food supplements with beneficial effects on the consumers. Most probiotics fall into the group of organisms’ known as lactic acid-producing bacteria and are normally consumed in the form of yogurt, fermented milks or other fermented foods. Some of the beneficial effect of lactic acid bacteria consumption include: (i) improving intestinal tract health; (ii) enhancing the immune system, synthesizing and enhancing the bioavailability of nutrients; (iii) reducing symptoms of lactose intolerance, decreasing the prevalence of allergy in susceptible individuals; and (iv) reducing risk of certain cancers. The mechanisms by which probiotics exert their effects are largely unknown, but may involve modifying gut pH, antagonizing pathogens through production of antimicrobial compounds, competing for pathogen binding and receptor sites as well as for available nutrients and growth factors, stimulating immunomodulatory cells, and producing lactase. Selection criteria, efficacy, food and supplement sources and safety issues around probiotics are reviewed. Recent scientific investigation has supported the important role of probiotics as a part of a healthy diet for human as well as for animals and may be an avenue to provide a safe, cost effective, and ‘natural’ approach that adds a barrier against microbial infection.”  (Parvez et al, 2006)

Check out this NYTimes article: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/14/health/human-microbiome-project-decodes-our-100-trillion-good-bacteria.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

References

Parvez, Malik, Ah Kang, Kim (2006) Probiotics and their fermented food products are beneficial for health. Journal of Applied Microbiology. Volume 100, Issue 6, pages 1171–1185, June 2006

Tuohy, Probert, Smejkal, Gibson (2006) Using probiotics and prebiotics to improve gut health. Drug Discov Today. 2003 Aug 1;8(15):692-700.

Gut-healing, Money-saving, Easy, Nutrient Dense Nourishing Bone Broth!

While it doesn't have a particularly engaging name, Bone Broth is one of the most nourishing, mineral rich things you can add to your diet, and is a key part of healing diet protocols such as GAPS, SCD and a candida cleanse. It’s both cheapish to make and an amazing protein sparer, as it allows you to use less protein at each meal that it is served with, saving you money on expensive grass-fed meat and organic poultry. Bone broth is a fabulous way to nourish your whole body, without costly supplements, and with lots of extra Yummy.

The go-to for colds and flus, broth also helps heal the lining of the digestive system, improving digestion, reducing allergies, supporting immune health, brain function, remineralizing teeth. It makes sense that an infusion of bones and ligaments would provide what we need to build bones and ligaments! The calcium in bone broth is a beautiful and bioavailable supplement for kiddos and their growing bones, women seeking to shore up their bones for menopause and everyone in between and beyond. I also think bone broth is a Perfect first food for a baby transitioning from breast milk to other foods.

Broth is chock-full of proline and glycine, two amino acids needed for DNA and RNA synthesis and proper digestive health, as well as wound healing, detoxification in the liver (through glutathione) and also helps regulate blood sugar by managing gluconeogenesis, which is when the liver makes new glucose, or sugar, from proteins. Glycine also regulates creatine and Human Growth Hormone secretion (from the pituitary gland), and thus pumps up the volume on muscle growth and repair. Finally, glycine plays a vital role in central nervous system function, which provide feelings of calm, systemically. In the brain, glycine is converted into serine, a neurotransmitter which reduces stress, improves mood and memory, and gives an overall sense of increased mental alertness. Bone broth also contains proline, which can help the body reverse the build up of cholesterol from your veins, which can reduce the chance of a nasty little clot blocking your heart or the blood vessels around it.

Wait, can’t I just buy a box of that?

The difference between homemade bone broth and a box or can or cube (gasp!) of store-bought stuff is like night and day. Homemade broth is full of the good stuff listed above, plus gorgeous gelatin, a serious health-booster. Store bought broth is likely full of MSG, chemicals and whatever BPA or other junk is in the packaging itself.

Gelatin is released into the homemade broth solution from cooking down bones and cartilage in a moist environment over low heat, for a long while. Gelatin is a hydrophilic protein, attracting water and digestive juices to it. Thus, having stock with a meal helps with digestion by bringing more digestive enzymes and fluids into the alimentary tract. Finally, three powerhouses in arthritis treatment are glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate and hyaluronic acid- all found in homemade bone broth. You’re unlikely to get gelatin or any of these healing nutrients from a box of factory-made broth, and are certainly not going to get it from a cube of MSG-laden broth-flavored yuck.

So How Do I Make It?

It’s actually simpler than it may seem. Your broth will only be as good for you as what you put in it, so always start with the best quality bones you can find: bones from grass-fed cowsor bison, well-loved lamb, chickens that were pastured, or fish that was wild-caught (never farmed). I’m all about making quality food without spending a billion bucks, so I save all of my leftover bones from roasting chickens, ducks, turkeys. I also save every little scrap of veggies that I would otherwise throw in the compost - the tops of carrots, broccoli butts, onion skins, etc and I throw them in the freezer. Once I have a critical mass, I throw those bad boys right in the stock pot. Bam. Money saved.

I am also often short on TIME. My favorite broth work-around: organic rotisserie chicken. For under $10 I have meat for several meals, and a nice little bundle of bones to make soup from. It's become my Friday night ritual on the way home from work, to pick up a chickadee, which I clean the meat from. I throw the bones right in some water with apple cider vinegar and I'm on my way. Easy. Peasy.

I also buy bones from my local butcher, right from the farm or farmer’s market. There are also some online companies like US Wellness Meats or Tropical Traditions that have great stuff.

 How to Make Bone Broth:

What you need:

2-4 lbs of healthy bones: cow, chicken, deer, goat, T-Rex

If your goal is Super gelatinous stock, throw a few chicken feet in there

Bits like chicken backs and necks can also be cheaper and are a great part to use in addition to the bones you’ve been saving up

My math is to use about 2 lbs of bones per gallon of water I’m using, but usually just make sure that the bones are covered by 3-4 inches of water at the start.

Most importantly: Don't get nervous about doing it Perfectly. It's soup. It'll be okay. There is no Perfect. Just get it done.

2-3 Tablespoons raw, unpasteurized Apple Cider Vinegar or other mild vinegar

Medium organic onions, including the nutrient rich skin

Good-sized carrots, with the skin
Stalks of celery -or- 1 stalk plus all the little flowery bits from the top plus the heart bit that’s all bitter and you likely wouldn’t eat anyway

4 or more quarts of filtered water or spring water, again, enough to cover those gorgeous bones by a few inches

1 bunch of parsley and thyme (technically optional, but wow do they add nutrients and a rich herby taste)

A cookie sheet and some parchment paper that fits it

A good-quality stainless steel stock pot. You can get one from 6-10 quarts in size. It should have a lid, which you will use for the chicken stock, but not for the beef stock.

A really nice knife makes life more pleasant.


The Doing:

1. Roast those yummy meaty bones for about 20-30 minutes (or until brown) at 350 degrees, on a piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet. This will add a beautiful color and a meaty yumminess to the stock. It’s not a medicinal step - it’s an aesthetic one that I find well worth it. If adding a step like this means you won't actually make the broth, then skip it. Again: in my world, done is way better than "perfect" if perfect means Not Done... right?!

2. Put all those browned bones in your stock pot, fill with water to a few inches above it. Add apple cider vinegar and set a timer for an hour (or, seriously: whatever. If you're in a rush and this is a make it or not moment, forget the waiting, throw it all in off you go!). The vinegar will start to draw the minerals out of the bones and into the water. Snap the chicken bones to get all delicious marrow and minerals out of them. Do not attempt to snap TRex bones with your hands! You will hurt yourself. I may or may not be speaking from personal experience here.

For beef stock: ½ cup vinegar

For chicken stock: 2 tablespoons vinegar

3. While the bones are soaking, chop up your veggies. A coarse chop will do, and remember to leave the skin on if you’re using organic vegetables. Make sure to wash them first!

For beef stock: 3 each of carrots, onions, celery

For chicken or other: 3 stalks celery, 2 carrots, 1 onion

4. After the hour has passed, add those vegetables and the bunch of thyme (only needed for beef broth) to the water and bones that are in the stock pot.

5. Put the pot on the stove at the highest heat, and bring it to a big ole rolling boil, allowing it to boil vigorously for 5 minutes.

6. If any white frothy scum floats to the top, skim it off and throw it out. It's impurities from the bones.

7. Lower the heat to a low simmer, just hot enough that there is a little bit of movement in the liquid. Movement is key for drawing the minerals and gelatin out of the bones. The goal here is to condense down the liquid, allowing some liquid to boil off. Cook covered.

** I mostly use a crockpot! The broth is rarely as magically gelatinous as when it cooks on fire, but again: it gets done. And it get done while I'm at work. And that is Complete Magic, because it means I'll actually Do It. **

8. Cook broth for 24-48 hours, total time. I keep a little notebook by the stove, and every time I turn the stove off and on, I note the cooking time. I make sure to bring it to a rolling boil every time I turn it back on, and I skim the scum and simmer again. Add this time up until it adds up to 24-48 hours. The longer you cook it, the more medicinal it will be. Some folks chose to leave the stock boiling while they go to work or sleep, some find that too scary. You get to decide what feels right for you. You can also do the rolling boil on the stove for a solid 5-10 minutes, and then carefully pour it in to a crock pot and leave that bad boy on when you go to sleep or to work or whatever you're comfortable with. The crock pot can help make life a lot easier for folks...

If you find that your lousy apartment range doesn't have a flame low enough for broth making, and your broth just won't stop boiling on the lowest setting (my life!), get one of those flame reducing thingies. Here's a link to buy a cheap and decent one - it's what I use and is well worth the few bucks: Simmer Thingie.

9. About 10 minutes before you’re done cooking the broth, throw that parsley in there - it adds some really valuable minerals and is great for the liver.

What now?

1. Pour the stock through a strainer in to a glass or ceramic bowl or pot, and leave it on the counter to cool down. And there's no reason not to eat all those yummy carrots and bits of meat that are left over. Eat them yourself or feed them to pups, but remember to take the onions out for dogs and to be Very careful to take all the tiny bits of chicken bone out before serving. I love eating the gorgeous bone marrow you find in those big old beef bones - heaven.

You can also save the bones and reboil them with new vinegar and new veggies - a great tip when cash is tight!

2. Once the liquid is coolish, put it in the fridge to cool down all the way - if the broth is in jars at this stage, leave the lids off or the glass could break! Hopefully the liquid will be gelatinous with a nice layer of fat on the top. Pop that good fat off and save it for cooking veggies in, which is not only delicious but nutrient rich. Or leave it in the broth for a richer taste.

3. I freeze mine in glass mason jars, the kind with straight sides. Please make sure to get Freezer Jars! I get so sad when I get that call "Umm... Vic... All my broth jars exploded in the freezer..." 

I leave a little inch or so of head room at the top and freeze it with the lid off. Once it’s frozen, I put the lid on.

4. You’ve got about 6 months to eat your yummy frozen stock. It stays good in the fridge for about 5-7 days. After that time you can reboil it to buy you a few more days of goodness.

Awesome. Now what do I do with it?

Any time I’m cooking up beans or grains, which I always soak overnight, I cook them up in bone broth for added nutrition and to allow me to use less protein in dinner when using broth to boost overall nutrients. I use broth as the base for all kinds of yummy soups, stews and when roasting, steaming or sauteing vegetables. A favorite trick of mine is to freeze it in tiny jars or an ice cube tray, and then I can just pop out a cube or two to throw into a pan to deglaze it or for making a sauce or gravy.

I make a habit of drinking 1-2 cups of broth a day, as a way to get minerals and all the nutrients above. If there’s a cold or flu going around I’ll drink a little extra, and I’ll squeeze some fresh garlic in as I warm the broth up, along with a little good quality sea salt. Growing up, by dad Jorge would scramble an egg in to some bone broth - heaven! With this regimen, I don’t get sick very often. If the bugs get me, there is nothing like homemade chicken soup to set right what’s wrong, especially in the case of a stomach bug, barfing or a yucky flu.

I hope you have as much fun making homemade broth, and find as much good health from as I have found in this affordable, easy nutrient boost.

How to Handle Social Eating in a Way That Works for you!

"Come on, just ONE piece of cake!"

"Have a drink - it's Friday night, and we're all drinking..."

"Seriously, that gluten stuff is BS - how could a piece of toast hurt you?"

We’ve all heard this kind of often well-intentioned cajoling around food, alcohol and jumping off bridges. This kind of social pressure can be Really Hard, particularly if you’re just starting on your journey to healthier eating. Those of us working to eat healthfully (whatever that may mean to you today) face this all the time. Those of us trying not to jump off bridges best check our parachute lines before climbing to the top of bridges with daredevils!

And so the old adage, What Other People Think of You is None of Your Business comes to bear. It’s a hard one to internalize, and the key is getting clarity about your own goals around your health and the steps you are taking Today to get yourself there. If people judge, they judge. There is nothing you can do to stop that, you can only work to take care of yourself the best way you know how. If eating pizza, drinking a beer, nomming cookies or pies, or smoking a cigarette or twelve is not in line with your best health, then it’s vital to find the language to explain that to the people at your office, in your social circle, or to family who may be pressuring you to make other decisions.

Take a few minutes (you can do it right now) to sit and write about your health goals, large or small, and how you want to talk about them. The script will likely be different in different situations. And remember that a polite “No, thank you”, said with a smile, is often enough. Be prepared for questions about your choices, and know what you do and do not want to explain. You owe no one an explanation, but might feel the need to proffer one. Practice these words, in the mirror or with a trusted friend or health coach, so that they roll off your tongue. That will help alleviate any icky feelings when a gooey, frosting covered cupcake gets thrust in your face.

Be Nice To You.

So you had a bite of birthday cake. Okay. Great. What is done is done. You may still be at the point on your path where you WANT THE CAKE. And that’s okay. Eventually your taste buds will change (I promise) and the things that once called you like a siren beckoning you to crash upon rocky shores will no longer hold sway. But that’s gonna take a minute. In the meanwhile, please, be nice to you. Guilt is a nonstarter. It gets you nowhere but back in to the cycle of feeling lousy about yourself.

If you’re gonna do it, DO IT.

If you’re going to have the cake, sit your butt down. Pour a cup of tea. Take a deep breath. Center yourself. Ask yourself if you Reallllly want it and if you’re ready for the inevitable sugar crash. If the answer is still “YES!” then commit to that. Own it. And tell yourself that you are Not Going To Feel Guilty about the choice you’re making. And savor each bite. Maybe one bite is enough, and you can toss the rest before you go over the edge into full sugar high/sugar crash. Maybe you have the whole piece. But at least you savored it. You licked the spoon. Maybe you licked the plate. Maybe you licked your neighbor’s plate. But the point of it all is that you brought some mindfulness to the situation. And that, my friend, is a damn good start.

How to Make Space to Stick to Your Plan: How to Not Feel Deprived

I find that hunger and low blood sugar fuel some of my worst decisions. If you know you’re going to a birthday party, work function or happy hour, eat before you get to there. Good choices include homemade bone broth, steamed veggies with coconut oil, or a big salad with fat and protein (think chicken or beans and blue cheese, walnuts, yummmm). Chose something fulfilling, emotionally satisfying and nutritious so that when you walk into Sugary-Gluteny-Boozey-Crazyland, you’re not meeting it with CrazyHunger. Maybe pick up a gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free paleo-style yummy treat, or make some paleo cookies or a savory side dish to share. Have something ready at that holiday or office party to eat so you’re not the only one with an empty plate while everyone else is destroying the buffet line. Remember to order the vegetarian option if you know the only meat that will be served will be hormone-laden, factory-farmed scariness.

Being prepared is the best way to beat this kind of social pressure. Pre-game it. It's always worth it. It’s a tough world out there. Remember to be kind to yourself, and take the time to focus yourself on Your Own Goals for Your One and Only LIfe.

Remember that not eating the cake is not depriving yourself of a treat, it’s saving yourself from a sugar and gluten meltdown. And that is a gift that only you can give yourself.

Why 15 is the Magical Number in the Face of Procrastination and Stress

It’s really hard to scale Mt. Everest. I should know, I read a book about it. And they don’t do it in one day. They take their time. Slow and steady progress is the name of that game. Or you’re likely to lose a toe. Or four.

What I have learned in my time as a health coach and semi-professional graduate student is that the key to getting Seemingly Impossible Things Done is giving yourself permission to put one foot in front of the other, and to take small steps up the side of that mountain, not to leap to the summit in a single bound. Procrastination is a plague upon most of us. If you’re the kind of person who sets your mind to 47-thousand-things and instantly gets them done, then Bravo to you, you may move along to another blog post, get out of jail free and collect your $200. If you’re amongst us super busy masses with pages long to-do-lists that likely never get done, overwhelmed with tasks and short on things crossed off the list, this post is for you.

Learning from Cats

When we try to do it all at once, whether we’re talking about applying for jobs or school, starting to exercise, eating healthy or simply getting your apartment to look less like the Pit of Despair, we are bound to fail if we start by taking it all on at once. In coaching I often reference my tiny cat Moxie, who, while full grown, prolly weighs all of 5 pounds. (that's her with a broken leg!) She’s my role model. Whether it’s catching flies (she has a gold medal) or destroying my flowerbeds one by one, she takes her time and never seems rushed. She takes Moxie-sized-steps, which are notably smaller than Baby Steps, and divides her work in to Moxie-sized-chunks-of-time. I urge us all to be more like Moxie, and here’s how.

 15-Minutes-to-Fame-and-Fortune

 This is not a new concept. When we say to ourselves “I’m going to sit down and write that great American Novel today,” we tend to succeed more at checking FaceBook, organizing the sock drawer and watching online videos of cats like Moxie.

The human psyche rebels when too much is demanded of it, when our brain fears that if you start this project you may never finish. You may die in the middle of it. And that evokes a sort of deep anxiety that often keeps us from starting something that simply has to get done, or whose completion will be deeply and greatly fulfilling. Sometimes procrastination is based on a fear of failure – if you don’t start, then how could you ever fail? Sadly, we all know in our logical minds that not starting Is the failure. And I’m all about helping you find the way to Success.

I hereby give you permission to get started on that daunting task, by committing to working in 15-minute chunks of time. Let’s say you want to write that novel, or do something more mundane and vital, like organize your closet:

Start by clarifying your goal, the tasks that will lead you to that goal, and your intentions around it. For example: It is a goal of mine to lead a less cluttered life. The tasks that will lead to success around that goal are taking everything out of the closet, sorting it, trying it all on, sorting it again, washing the things I’m going to keep, donating or selling the rest, and put it back in the closet in an organized manner. Panicked yet? The thought of having to do all that in one day, in one sitting, gives me hives. But starting by sorting all this out mentally, before you get started, will give you the motivation you need to put the following techniques to work.

Schedule 15 minutes a day toward this task: put a strict time limit on the work. It’s 15 minutes. You can spare that. I promise. And it won’t feel as overwhelming as spending 6 hours locked in your bedroom. Start with pants. Do sweaters tomorrow.

Schedule 15 minutes each day so that you can get visible work done on it and feel accomplished. Put it in your calendar. Don’t expect the time to magically show up. Commit to it.

Set a timer. Preferably a loud one. Stop when the time is up. Even if you’re mid-task. You promised yourself to only do 15 minutes. Are you really gonna lie to your own brain? But seriously, when we make a commitment to a do-able amount of work and give our psyche the rest it needs when that time is up, our brain will believe us tomorrow. This is brain training.

If you skip a day of work, that’s cool. See #4: Don’t do 30 minutes tomorrow or your brain won’t believe you when you tell it 15-minutes the next time.

No need to beat yourself up, but get back to it as soon as you can. Little, steady bits of work equal big pay off. Ask any ant.

Decide when you’ll work on your task and what the reward is. For example, you are not allowed to take your llama for a walk if you don’t get your 15 minutes done on the task at hand. Once you get the pants sorted, give yourself 10 minutes to check FaceBook or watch pandas farting online (you already watched all the kitten videos while trying to write your novel, remember?). Best not to make it a food reward.

When you’re done with your reward, you can choose to go back to your task if you were feeling good about it, setting another 15-minute timer. Start in on the sweaters. If it has a moth hole, put it in the freezer for two weeks to kill the eggs or throw it out. For reals. Moths will take over your life. They are not a joke. Those cedar blocks don’t really help, and Naptha/moth balls are crazy toxic.

Make a chart to memorialize your success. Stick to it. Your brain will start to recognize that you’re getting things done when you check them off a list. Everyone loves checking things off a list! It feels amazing. Give yourself that gift, and in this example, the gift of a less cluttered life and a clean, easy to manage closet. Trust me, it feels Great.

You can start back on the novel next, and Everest after that. Badda Bing.

I invite you to give this method a try. It really works for me. Feel free to write and let me know if this technique works for you. Good luck out there