184: Dr. Kara Graziano O’Leary | The Psychology of Changing Your Behavior |

When we go out and start a new fitness program, diet, practice program, we are ultimately trying to change our behaviors. This boils down to the habits we create on a daily basis and what we can stick to, which is why I’m excited to have my personal friend Dr. Kara Graziano O’Leary, Ph.D on today. Dr. O’Leary, is a clinical psychologist with a research background in social psychology and neuropsychology and she joins me today to talk about clinically what is working the best and how we can relate her background to what we are seeing in the fitness world and what you are personally experiencing during your trials and tribulations of trying to obtain your goals. We cover everything from the importance of sleep, how to best stack your goals, creating habits, and the idea of “decision fatigue.”

Dr. Kara Graziano O’Leary’s Background

  • Her training includes a bachelor’s degree from Boston College, a master’s degree from Columbia University, and a Ph.D. from Long Island University in clinical psychology.
  • Her professional experience includes work at the New York State Psychiatric Institute with Bradley S. Peterson and Andrew Gerber on brain and behavior research in relation to impulse control disorders, especially substance use and eating disorders.
  • Previously, she worked in the Bay Area as a counselor for sexual assault survivors and later for homeless families at San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury Free Clinics.  Upon moving to St. Louis, she continued her work in the field of eating disorders at Washington University, serving as a family therapist with Denise Wilfley’s interpersonal psychotherapy-based study on weight loss.
  • She later completed her clinical psychology internship and post-doctoral training at the St. Louis Veterans Administration Medical Center, and now practices at the St. Louis Veterans Administration Mental Health Clinic, working with veterans recovering from a wide range of diagnoses, including PTSD, anxiety, depression, eating and substance use disorders.
  • Her practice focuses on integrating psychology research to help patients with behavior change. She is a member of the VA’s Cultural Competency Council and serves as the Diversity Specialist for its Training Council.

Highlights from this Episode 

  • Kara dives into the science of sleep, how she approaches sleep with different patients, and  how to start taking steps towards implementing good sleep habits. From charting your sleep to defining a “natural sleep rhythm,” Kara goes into detail on not only the importance of sleep but also how we can start to treat it differently.
  • So often we set goals we really want to achieve (be it personal or fitness related,) but often struggle to achieve them. Dr. O’Leary shares insights from Daniel Kahneman, often called the father of “Behavioral Economics,” about how we experience life through two different lenses: The Experiencing Self (moment to moment in daily life) and The Remembering Self (Orders and Catalogues the day in retrospect.) Using this model, she explains how we tend to over-value our shortcomings and failures and undervalue our success’ and small victories.
  • The importance of starting small when setting goals. We tend to try and shoot for the moon when setting an objective to reach, but always end up kicking ourselves when we naturally fall short.
  • The importance of keeping your goals SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely.) How to balance thinking positively and not being too hard on yourself, with being realistic in attaining goals.
  • Tips and tricks to fighting “Decision Fatigue,” the idea that throughout the day the many decisions we make drain us mentally leading us to make impulsive decisions or to avoid goals altogether. She provides some tips to help us reinforce our intentions and achieve our goals. Things like having healthy alternatives on hand, leaving bigger decisions for the morning, and letting your brain rest at night, and tackling your most important goal after being well rested.

Parting Questions . . .

Caddy Shack or Happy Gilmore?  Happy Gilmore

What is your “walk-up”  song?  Respect by Aretha Franklin

If you could play golf with anyone in the world, who would it be and where would you play?

Barack and Michelle Obama and it wouldn’t matter where.

Any parting advice for the 18Strong Community?

All the things that are getting in your way of achieving your goals are completely normal, and it’s important to have self-compassion. The data doesn’t support being tough on you in making sustainable and lasting changes.

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