Uncensored Money Season Five: Mel talks Developing Great Habits with Dr Gina Cleo

Melissa Browne: Ex-Accountant, Ex-Financial Advisor, Ex-Working Till I Drop, Now Serial Entrepreneur & Author, Financial Wellness Advocate, Living a Life by Design | 5/02/2024


Show Notes

Want to know how to develop great financial habits? That’s exactly what this episode is all about. Mel chats with Dr Gina Cleo, one of the world’s leading experts in habits. Gina has a PhD in habit change, is an Assistant Professor at Bond University, and is an Accredited Practicing Dietician.

Mel talks to Gina about sustainable habits, goal setting, and setting great habits for your finances (and all your lives). It’s a discussion travelling from the benefits of habit trackers, into the nitty gritty, like how when everything is a challenge, even setting a habit as small as brushing your teeth can be a win that sets you onto a path for recovery.

Books and resources mentioned in this episode

If you're on insta, come play over at @MelBrowne.Money and make sure you’re signed up to Mel's Money Musings for more tips, tricks and ideas on how to best work with your money.

Finally, if you love this episode please make sure you subscribe and leave us a review.



Mel: Hey everyone. I'm Mel Brown. I'm an ex-accountant and ex-financial advisor, so I have the theory, but I also have the life experience. I'm now financially independent in my own right after coming back from less than nothing in my early thirties. I want this podcast to be like a chat with your girlfriends about money. My aim is to help you discover why you're behaving the way you are with money, to suggest new ways you might behave that are a better fit for you, and to increase your financial literacy and financial confidence. I hope it inspires challenges, educates and empowers you with how you do money. So let's get into it. Welcome to Uncensored Money.

New Speaker: I am so excited about today's podcast guest Dr. Gina Cleo is one of the world's leading experts in habits and is passionate about translating scientific evidence into simple actionable strategies to help improve health wellness, mindset and lifestyle-related habits long term.

Mel: Can you see why I wanted to get her on <laugh>? But she doesn't just talk about habits. She has a PhD in habit change. She's an assistant professor at Bond University and she's got an accredited practicing dietician when she's not geeking out on new habit research. Gina's running courses through her Habit Change Institute and obsessing over chai lattes. She's also recently published a book, the Habit Revolution as someone who is so into figuring out better and more sustainable habits and goal setting. I was super excited to chat to Gina and our conversation did not disappoint. I know you are going to thoroughly enjoy this chat.

Mel: Thank you so much for joining me today. Now do I call you Dr. Gina? Dr. Cleo. Gina, what do prefer?

Dr Gina Cleo: Gina's Fine.

Mel: Love it.

New Speaker: Thank you.

Mel: I think if I study for a PhD, I'd want everyone to call me Dr. Browne <laugh>.

Dr Gina Cleo: Look, I milk it a lot. Even like I'll mick it up on an aeroplane when I'm doing hotel bookings and it's like, hello Dr. Cleo. I'm like, yes, that's right. But amongst friends girlfriend, you can just call me Gina.

Mel: I love it. Okay Gina, it is. There are so many reasons I wanted to talk to you today, some of which I talked about in the intro. But before we dive into it, tell me a little bit about yourself.

Dr Gina Cleo: So I live on the Gold Coast. I am married and live in my dream home, which I am so grateful for. I was born in Egypt. I grew up there. I speak Arabic. I'm a huge foodie and it's one of the reasons I became a dietician is like the start of my career. And then I've always been a very curious person. My mom's always told me I'm going to be a scientist. And I was very curious, which is sort of why my career has unfolded and folded and come back to where it is now. I love traveling, I love the beach. I can't decide whether I'm an introvert or extrovert and <laugh>. That's probably the nutshell of me.

Mel: Yeah, I love that. But you did start out as a dietician. You paused your practice and you went to study your PhD in habits. Yeah. I keep threatening with my husband that I'll do a PhD. He keeps saying Absolutely not <laugh>. I'm in awe of you for doing that. But I'm curious to why the move from dietician to habits because that's a big change.

Dr Gina Cleo: A huge, yeah, it makes really very little sense. But I was working in my own clinic and across various hospitals and I loved what I did and I was seeing results in people and it was great. But I was also noticing that those results were short-lived, that people would come back wanting to work on the same goals we'd already worked on. And I was also frustrated with my own self. I felt like I didn't have a lot of self-control or willpower and you know, here I am as a dietician and I'm in my clinic saying all the stuff and then I'd go home and ate a packet of Tim Tams on my way home. And so there was this frustration across the board and I wanted to understand why we do the things we do. Why is it some days I wake up and I'm motivated to go and exercise and other days I'm scrolling on marketplace for two hours. Like what is happening and how do I harness the ingredients that I need for sustainable change? That started my curiosity and this idea of the brain and neuroscience. So hence I did my PhD and I put everything to the test and every article I read showed that changing our habits is the only proven method to achieving long-term success.

Mel: I love your honesty of you would teach in the clinic and then be having that Tim Tam on the way home. I think too many people–

Dr Gina Cleo: I love my Tim Tam <laugh>,

Mel: You're a woman after my own heart <laugh>.

Dr Gina Cleo: Thank you.

Mel: But I think that there's something about the realness of that to go what? I saw that in myself. So I wanted to figure out, well what's going on for me that I can then put that into practice. Yeah.

Dr Gina Cleo: Yeah. And I feel like, you know, my husband tells me you're such an artist and the way he means that is, you know how this sort of like the tortured artist who struggled so much in their life and it comes out by way of art and in a way, and I would say, you know, similar to you Mel, like you're an artist. You came from having $0 in your account to now a multimillionaire and it's a drive within you and it's a journey of self discovery. And I think that's what makes us so good at what we do because it personally matters to us. We care deeply about it. Yes.

Mel: I don't think as a financial advisor and accountant I've ever been described as an artist and I'm so taking that. But I love that you said that because I see that, I see there's creativity involved in so much of what we do as entrepreneurs. So the acknowledging that

Dr Gina Cleo: Yeah, and Innovate. And trailblaze and think about things differently and answer hard questions and find solutions to things that aren't status quo.

Mel: Yeah, no, I love that. Part of the reason why I wanted this chat now in the new year is not just because you have a fantastic new book out, but which we'll talk about, but also because there's research around how many people abandon their news resolution by first of Feb. And I think it's something like 80% last, there's a Friday near the end of Jan that they call Quiters Day. That's the day that 80% abandoned their New Year's resolution. I am so not a fan of them. I somehow imagine you are not as well and I'd love to hear your thoughts and maybe what you'd tell someone who's fallen off the New Year's resolution bandwagon.

Dr Gina Cleo: Yeah. Look, I'm not a fan of New Year's resolutions, but I am a fan of setting goals because I think when done effectively goals can be an incredible drive and a motivator. They help us to persist through setbacks and they give us a direction. And research shows that if we have a really clear goal and a plan by which to get to that goal, we'll be much more successful than just sort of willy-nilly hoping and manifesting for the best. Like goals are great. But I think part of the falling off the wagon with New Year's resolutions is I feel like the turn of the new year comes along with this myth that we are going to have all this motivation and so much more time and more energy and more willpower and all these obstacles that we had in December are just going to vanish and

Mel: Magically disappear. Yeah,

Dr Gina Cleo: Exactly. We're going to be like better versions of ourselves on the 1st of January. Yeah. And it's unrealistic. I also see that people are setting goals that are too big or they're setting too many goals. Our brains are only capable of making up to three changes at one time. Yet our list of resolutions often look like shopping list. Yeah. And our brain gets overwhelmed with that. So it is really hard. And the other thing I'd say is it's actually not if we fall off the wagon, it's when setbacks are part of the change process. Habit change is two steps forward, one step back. And it's not about trying to avoid setbacks because that will never work because life. Yeah. It's actually about planning for setbacks and how to get back up as quickly and as effectively as possible.

Mel: In your research, did you look at how men and women do that differently? And do you think we approach that differently? I know for women, I meet so many recovering perfectionists. Mm. Who they would hear that word setback or failure or two steps back and go, no, no, no. That's not okay. Yeah.

Dr Gina Cleo: Yeah. Women are definitely more self-critical than men. And there's even research to show like if there's a job, for example, even if a man is underqualified, they'll still apply for the job. Whereas a woman won't. We won't put our hands up or share our opinion as much in a board meeting compared with men. We definitely do have that imposter syndrome more than men. Yeah. Interestingly, women will take action more or they'll act on their desires if they feel supported by their family and their environment. Men don't need that as much. Men just need to know that it's socially acceptable and they'll just go out and get on with it type of thing. There are differences, which is super interesting for me because men and women have really similar brains. There's only like a tiny difference in our brains. But I think our social makeup in our society just does things to our, I guess, cultural acceptance that we do behave differently. Yeah,

Mel: That's really interesting around the community versus I just go for it. because I see that so much with the Yes, it's primarily women that I work with, but yes there are men as well and often it's the coming into the community and realizing they're not alone makes such a difference. Yes. Mm-Hmm.

Dr Gina Cleo: So true.

Mel: I personally talk a lot about the synergies I see with food and exercise and money. For example, I've used the example of chocolate and credit with me or when I wanted to control my food growing up, it was a binge and purge cycle, which I can see in the past I've done with money as well and I'm very open about that. Hmm. And if I save rigidly and I splurge extravagantly, which is kind of like that binge and purge food cycle or even dieting and strict budgeting, both of which don't work. And I'm very about the research as well and we know that the research tells us that doesn't work. Yeah. Do you see similar synergies or that mirroring of behavior when it comes to habits between money and food and exercise for example? Or is it different in those different parts of our life?

Dr Gina Cleo: In some people, yes, but not everyone. Some people are all or nothing thinkers and that might just be something that they do across the board. Like they're just perfectionists and it's everywhere. Or they're just radical people and they'll do these like impulsive behaviors. It's just in all the areas of their life. Yeah. Other people may be, you know, we're all all influenced by our mentalities, our attitudes, our values, belief systems, cultural backgrounds, social norms, our temperaments, all these things contribute to shaping our behavior. Mm. So it will be different in different facets of our life. I think it's so fascinating that you say budgets don't work. I've never known. Yes. I know it don't work.

Mel: Yeah.

Dr Gina Cleo: But say budgets don't work. It's actually so nice to hear because I'm awesome at saving money. But you tell me you put that in a spreadsheet and stick to it, not going to happen. Yeah. Like I just can't stick to things like that. It's too rigid and it doesn't feel very nice. Mm-Hmm. But I think it comes down to temperament a lot of the time. I'm also someone who has been very radical in binging and purging and very all or nothing with my eating in the past. But I have never been so much like that with finances. I'm very balanced with my money. I'm a tight when I need to be and I am like a splurger when I want to be and it all balances beautifully.

Mel: Yeah, that's interesting. I really like what you say about its temperament and certainly as an all or nothing person or a recovered all or nothing person. Yes. Perhaps it's a nice way <laugh> say that. I can definitely see that in there. And I also see it a lot for other recovering perfectionists. Yeah. Is that all Nothing thinking And I think that's where habits really come into play. because When you said you were surprised that budgets didn't don't work, the professor Elaine Kempson, who's a emeritus professor out of Bristol in the UK discovered that and what do work are habits and automating. And it's really interesting that that's the thing. Like it's not a silver bullet, it's actually having a series of great habits that can actually be the key. Which is why I'm so interested in this conversation today.

Dr Gina Cleo: I love that so much. I love that. You know, there's research around habits and finances and I always say that to people, you need to automate the things that you want. Like automate your saving, automate paying bills. Don't depend on your self-control. Don't wait for payday. See all that money and be like, oh, I will just like manually put this money here. You are not going to do it because the new shiny shoes are going to be calling your name. <Laugh>.

Mel: <Laugh>. Exactly. Your bank manager doesn't do that for your loan. Yeah. Right. It's acting like the bank manager for you.

Dr Gina Cleo: So true. And when we look at willpower, it's a fleeting resource. It's up and down like a wave. It's kind of like a friend who sometimes will show up and sometimes going to ghost you and you just don't know what day it is. So I think depending on such a fleeting resource is a terrible idea. So that's why we reduce the decision making necessity and we create automation. So they're done for us. It's funny though, how many people almost see that as a fail. They're like, no, I want to have the autonomy to make the decision.

Mel: Oh no <laugh>.

Dr Gina Cleo: I don't feel like I can't make the decision. It's like, well you can because you can cancel that automated statement anytime you want to. Yeah. And the autonomy comes in making the decision to do that. It's actually a liberation. Yeah. You can think about other more important things. Mm-Hmm.

Mel: <Affirmative>. No, absolutely. And automation for me is a huge one. It removes that willpower. Yeah. And I know my willpower is shocking. So that if I can remove that, that's just so helpful. <Laugh>, for me it's exercise, it's chocolate. Like I look at that lack of willpower across my life. For me it's creating great habits. And one of those habits for exercise is I don't get out of my gym gear on a Monday until I've exercised with my investing. Every time I spend a dollar on clothes and shoes, I have to invest a dollar. So it's these little habits. But what can you suggest when it comes to willpower? Like how do you break a bad habit? How do you set up a good habit? What's the neuroscience behind that?

Dr Gina Cleo: When we think of willpower, like willpower, self-control, sort of using the similar language, think of it like a muscle. And the more you use it, the more exhausted it gets. So say you're at the gym and you're doing a set of dumbbell curls for your arm, eventually your arm's going to get sore and you need to put your dumbbell down and rest your arm before doing another set of lifts. Mm-Hmm. And willpower works in much the same way. The things that deplete our willpower are things like being hungry, not having a very good night's sleep, decision making, taking initiative, self restrictions. So if there's things around that you are having to be like, oh I better not do that. Things that frustrate you, like traffic or screaming children or a bunch of emails, deadlines. There are things in our day that are constantly depleting our self-control. They're like debiting away from our tank of self-control. Mm. And the things that replenish that are things like meditation, taking periodic breaks throughout the day, having some carbohydrates. <Laugh>. Yes.

Mel: I love that. Yeah.

Dr Gina Cleo: Yes, it's true. Getting a really good night's sleep and feeling positive emotions like gratitude or love or peace. That's why our motivation, our willpower, it's up and down because there are so many factors in our day that are taking away from it and then replenishing it. And the reason we shouldn't depend on it, but with habits, the beauty of creating habits is that they don't require our willpower or motivation. No matter how tired, exhausted, or stressed you are, you'll always put your seatbelt on in the car because it's a habit. You'll always brush your teeth in the morning because it's just part of your morning routine. Yeah. And that's why habits are the only thing that help us to achieve long-term outcome. So to achieve habits, firstly we need to have really strong intentions. We have to really want whatever it is that we are changing. Our brain doesn't really like change our brain's. Like well it takes way more energy to make a change than to not make a change. So let's just hang out here and like routine hand. We know

Mel: It's bad for us, but let's just

Dr Gina Cleo: But it works. Yeah, exactly. We make 35,000 decisions every single day. Oh. So our brain creates automation so that we don't have to consciously make each and every one of those decisions, which is why we have habits.

Mel: Mm-Hmm.

Dr Gina Cleo: And when we are creating automations, we do that through consistency, through strong intentions, through aligning with our values, using a habit. Trackers actually ticking off every time we've done the habit that we wanna do. But the first part is that strong intention. We can't just be willy-nilly and be like, oh, I'd like to save a little bit of money this year, or I'd like to go to Europe at the end of the year. It's like, no, I will be doing that. The word decision comes from the Latin Decidere, which means to cut off or to strike out all other options. It's creating a binding commitment to the goal that you are trying to achieve. And because change, although the steps are simple, change isn't necessarily easy. You have to want it so that when you do have setbacks, you're going to get back up again. You are going to push through, you're going to persevere. There are going to be days Mel, where you don't wanna exercise or stay in bed and stop exercise

Mel: Yep. <Laugh>.

Dr Gina Cleo: But if you have a strong intention and a really good reason why you are doing it, you will get up. Yeah. And that's really the foundation of creating new habits. Consistency is the secret sauce to creating new habits. You really,

Mel: Which is so boring. I don't want consistency.

Dr Gina Cleo: I know, <laugh>, I'm with you. I'm actually not a routine person. Very ironic for habit researcher. I love spontaneity. But this is how

Mel: Do you force consistency for yourself?

Dr Gina Cleo: I'm consistent with exercise. Yeah. But when I go to the gym, I'll do something different every day.

Mel: Yeah. I love that.

Mel: I might be boxing. Who knows what I'm going to do. I'll only decide that morning. Yes. So that's how I can create that variety in my life. I like that you, when people go, what do you do on a Sunday? I am like, I don't know, it's different every week. That's an outrageous kind of question. <Laugh>. Whereas my husband loves routine, like thrives on that. But you can create consistency with having sort of consistent things that you do. Consistent values that aren't like strict routines.

Mel: I love that example of the consistency, but I still don't know until that morning what I'm going to do when I show up. I can imagine some people finding that so liberating.

Dr Gina Cleo: Yeah, yeah, yeah. because that rigidity doesn't work for everybody. No,

Mel: No. Whereas Lawsie, who has worked for me for a long time, she wants rigidity. I call her. But you said, you said on next Thursday, this is what you were going to do. I'm like, oh it's killing me. <Laugh>.

Dr Gina Cleo: Love it.

Mel: That different things for different people. Yeah, yeah, yeah. You mentioned a habit tracker. So what's that?

Dr Gina Cleo: You know when you give a child a gold star for doing something good and they feel fullsome and motivated, they wanna do it again. And there's that positive feedback loop. Well, we don't grow out of that as adults. It's called reward learning. And it's essentially how habits are developed. So when you do a habit and then you tick off on a habit tracker. So habit track is essentially you write down the habits that you wanna create. And so just

Mel: Did any list or a notes on your phone or Yeah.

Dr Gina Cleo: Yeah. There's apps. There's heaps of apps. I've dropped heaps of 'em on my website or these fantastic based ones. Yeah.

Mel: Need that

Dr Gina Cleo: We'll tick off every time you've done it, you give yourself a tick. We get a hit of dopamine when we do that and which makes us feel good. It gives us that reinforcement that, well that felt good and now I wanna do it again. And it actually strengthens the habits in our life that those habit loops. The routine, the reward habit trackers also a really beautiful way of tracking your progress because we don't always see results straight away. Yeah. So you start, I don't know, saving a dollar a day. It's not going to feel like anything until it's been several years time or investing. Yeah, it's been years. And then you're like, oh wow, look at that. Like that's awesome. Mm-Hmm. But there's no immediate reward. When you are tracking your habits, you get that immediate reward, which helps the habit reinforce. But you can also look back and go, I've been doing this for a whole year and look where I am now compared to where I was before. Mm-Hmm.

Mel: Oh, I love that.

Mel: I don't know about you, but sometimes I wish there was an easy way, a silver bullet, a magical unicorn, a fairy godmother ready to grant me three wishes. I mean, think of all the miracle diets, fitness fads, promising a six pack in six weeks, or finance bros promising riches by following this easy formula. Do you believe a word of it?Well, the part that longs for a quick fix might be taken in, but you are smarter than that. Personally, what I believe in is consistency, educating myself, finding an expert to help me, surrounding myself with a community who are going to motivate me to keep going and make me feel like I can do it because they're doing it too or are further down the road than I am. That's exactly what we've created inside the My Financial Adulting Plan. If you feel like you're on top of your finances, you have a plan for this year that you're super comfortable with and have everything you need to make that happen, then just ignore this ad. But for the rest of you, make sure you check out my life-changing 12 week course or for less than the price of a cup of coffee a day. Head to the show notes to join the wait list for the next round. Or you might be lucky enough to find that the doors are open and you can join now.

Mel: As someone who adds things to a list so that I can tick them off. Absolutely. No I'm going to enjoy that. I'm going to go looking for those trackers and I'll link them on the show notes as well so that people can easily find them. Oh, that's fantastic. When you mentioned the weights as well. So when I hit perimenopause, I started to lift weights and I remember starting with low weights and not doing very many reps and feeling like it really wasn't worth it. And my husband who's a physio saying to me, you actually shouldn't go heavier. A, it's going to hurt you that B, you're physically not capable of it. And I was really interested when you said you wanna start small and it's like you're lifting a small weight. So do you think it's problematic New Year energy that we actually want to do too much and that we're almost setting ourselves up for failure with that?

Dr Gina Cleo: Hugely. I actually think it's one of the main reasons we tend to fall off the wagon is that we are trying to achieve goals that are too big. And look, I'm a big fan of ambition. I think it's awesome that we wanna do all this stuff, but realistically, life is life and we, we still have all these responsibilities. And I give this analogy in my book, Mel. Say, you and I are having a hit of tennis together and we are the same fitness level, the same skill. It's your serve. Last time we played together I won. And the time before that you won it's point for point now. And you know that if you just gave a really good serve, you could totally kick my butt. Like your motivation level at that point is

Mel: It's so high.

Dr Gina Cleo: 10 outta 10. Right.

Mel: <Laugh>.

Dr Gina Cleo: Whereas say I was to get off the court and bring out Serena Williams and now it's you and it's,

Mel: I'm phoning it in at this point <laugh>

Dr Gina Cleo: Exactly like you feel defeated. You're just like, what's the point of trying? Your brain actually goes into a state called hyper arousal and it's a state of fight or flight where we procrastinate, we put things off, we don't want to sustain it. Because our brain's like, look girlfriend, realistically not going to happen. So why try? And that's what happens when we've got these big ambitions and we are trying to fit them into a lifestyle that isn't conducive to them because they are too big because someone on Instagram has done them. Or you know, someone at work said it was a good idea. Yeah. So I think it's a really big issue and part of it is actually humbling ourselves and going, I'm trying to start an exercise habit. For example, if all I do is just put on my exercise clothes and that's all that happens today, then that's all I need to do for the first week. And maybe that's just where I'll start. And then next week I'll do a two minute walk and then the week after that I'll build on that. Yeah. Because our brain just wants to create the start of the habit and the rest will just flow. Yeah. We don't need to create a habit of working out. We need to create a habit of getting dressed and getting out the door. Mm-Hmm.

Mel: And the rest will flow. Yeah. I really like that. How do you then reconcile that to, for example, my story was age 33, gave my divorce proceeds to charity and really wanted to, by my late forties have the choice to work or not like super ambitious aims. And I'm sure you have been in that spot where you've gone from where you potentially haven't had a lot to where you are now. Yeah. How do you reconcile that? I want to give myself a break essentially with my goals through to having that ambition. Mm.

Dr Gina Cleo: Yeah. I mean I have a very similar story, although I wasn't as noble as you and none of my proceeds went to

Mel: Oh I wanted to ring them the next day. Yeah. <Laugh>,

Dr Gina Cleo: Can we reverse funds please?

Mel: <Laugh>,

Dr Gina Cleo: I have $15,000 to my name after my divorce. And now in a place of very close to financial freedom, which is an amazing transition in a few short years. But you know your question of what? Like giving yourself a break in that period of time. It's about capacity. When I went through my separation, I had actually found out my husband had cheated on me. Like he was going to like brothels and my world fell apart. And I went from running a very successful business to being too scared to leave my own house. I developed agoraphobia and I had panic attacks and I knew that if I tried to bounce back to be who I was again, it was impossible. It was the Serena Williams goal. I couldn't do it. Yeah. And I had to break it down and I started literally with Gina, all you need to do today is brush your teeth.

Dr Gina Cleo: That's all you have to do. Just do that. Because even that was a huge effort. You know, my brain cracked and I went through a really horrible traumatic time and the all or nothing me, the high achiever who's done a PhD and you got three other degrees and is running this global habit change institute and I'm giving myself a tick for brushing my teeth. Like what in the world. But I had to do that. I had to take the process because I appreciated that my capacity at the time allowed me for that. And that to me was a win. And I was doing my best and that's all I could do. And that was okay. And I think that's part of this process of change is that throughout the year our capacity will change, our kids will get sick, work will get busy, the weather will change. Like yes, things will happen. Yeah. And it's really about having the minimum viable, like the minimum acceptable amount of the goal you wanna achieve. Yep. And if you have to go back to that baseline, you are still winning. Because It's still on your like acceptable list. And sometimes it's going to be nothing. And that's totally okay. Just pick yourself up when you can.

Mel: Thank you so much for sharing that because I think there is that seasonality isn't there and there's those moments where it really is just about, well what's the bare minimum that I can do? And there's other moments where it's actually I can do all the things. Yeah. That should I be doing all the things. Yeah. And what's the most important thing that I should be putting my attention and time into? because The 35,000 questions a day has still struck me <laugh>.

Dr Gina Cleo: Yeah. The decisions. I know

Mel: It's overwhelming. Yeah.

Dr Gina Cleo: Yeah. It's, and we do, we get decision fatigue. It actually depletes our mental resources. And especially for business owners, we are making so many decisions, but it's also costly decisions or they're meaningful decisions and they impact our brand. They don't just impact our, yeah. It's a responsibility, but we also have to decide to switch off and do life. Like there's so much into it. Yeah. And the more we are activating our cognitive resources, the less we have of them for other things. So I think book launch week was two weeks ago for me. And oh my Lord, I sat down with my husband, I was like, right, you can forget that I'm going to do laundry, cook clean, like, and I'm just being really honest with you that I have to prioritize my resources. Yeah. And he was like, I got you. Like it's fine. Yeah. Something has to give sometimes.

Mel: Yeah. And I think as women, we think we have to be superhuman sometimes and do it all and it just doesn't work. Yeah. Doesn't, so it's giving yourself permission, which I love hearing. How did you go from brushing your teeth to, was it just a, every month I'm putting something else in Like how do you move your habits from that bare minimum or someone that's listening where they are at that bare minimum and they wanna add the next thing?

Dr Gina Cleo: Yeah, I'm a very stubborn person and I was just like, you know, he's taken and off. I don't want him to take like the rest of my life type of thing. And so I came to a place of going, okay, what do I want my life to look like? And so that's going to be this and this and this. And I'm like, okay, this is the end goal and I need to somehow work towards that. And it started with, there's a comfort in our routines. There's a sense of safety in the things that we know. I started just to create a sense of safety. Brushing my teeth every day is a good idea. Having a shower is a good idea. Probably getting out and some sunshine is a good idea. And it was all just very like cognitive, like very logical. Yeah. But more I did it, the more I was like, oh well that was easier today than it was yesterday and it was easier the next day than the two days before that.

Dr Gina Cleo: And I noticed that I was rewiring my brain and it became extremely empowering. And I wrote this quote down in the front of my diary is you are not stuck with your brain that every single habit we have, we have the power to change. So I sort of plucked out the things from my previous life that I wanted to do again, which was to cook myself a meal and exercise and learn to drive again. because I'd really lost capacity to do pretty much anything. Yeah. Because my brain said if I was so wrong about that, like I was like, there's no way he's cheating on me. Like hello. He like love bombs the hell outta me. So there's no way that's happening. If I was so wrong about that, what else am I wrong about? Yeah. And that's when my brain was like, do you even need to shower every day?

Dr Gina Cleo: Like who said the sky is blue? Are your parents even your parents? Like show me that birth certificate. Yeah. And so I had to be really intentional about what I wanted to bring back in my life and do it very gradually and with a lot of self-compassion with accepting that this isn't a process of take one step at a time and you'll get there. It's like no, there's two steps forward and there's one step back and then something's going to trigger you girl and you're going to be back in bed for three days and that's okay. Like I was just really sober about the experience that it would be. Yeah.

Mel: Which I think not enough people are, I loved that you are not stuck with your brain. I think that's just such a beautiful reminder that this is where I am now, but actually I'm not stuck with this.

Dr Gina Cleo: And I think there's something so beautiful about that because as well, I think when we feel like, oh, this is who I am now and, and when we realise no, this is just who I am in this season. I wasn't this person last season and I certainly am not going to be in the next season. We can accept that this is just the journey that we are going through and that there's light at the end of the tunnel. And I think it just gives us this feeling of I'm going to be okay and this is going to be okay and we can change all the things. We just have to journey through it. Focus on rituals, not results. That's what I kept saying to myself as well. Just focus on the process. Don't worry about the outcome. The outcome will happen with consistency.

Mel: I'm seeing a lot of people at the moment with what's everything that's happened in the last 12 months or even the last few years. Let's not even mention covid, but we've had these rising interest rates, we've had rising inflation. So many women I've met have had relationships split because Covid was just like a pressure cooker for that. And I feel like there is that they're pressing pause either financially and with other areas of their life because certainly with money we don't have the education, so we're not quite sure what the next step is. So we are just stopping. And I guess I'm curious, and I'm sure, I think I know what the answer is from what you've just been saying, but how do you deal with setbacks when it comes to habits? How do you put that next step in front of, put in front of the other? Because a lot of people when it comes to brushing their teeth personally, I guess it's thinking about what's the financial equivalent of that.

Dr Gina Cleo: Yeah. And I think it's coming back to not being all or nothing and expecting that set back to happen. It's not, we can't avoid the setback, but it's plan for it. And so that might look like if I can't earn an income for a certain period of time or if my investments go bust, what is that going to look like? Like what am I going to put in place to get into a better financial state? Mm-Hmm. And it still comes back to that consistency and the self-compassion. What's the smallest thing that I can do? This is out of my control and I've lost that. But what can I do to move forward and focusing on the forward steps And the difference between people that succeed and the people that fall off course entirely is how quickly you get back up and how as much self-compassion you have along the journey. Yeah. Self-compassion again can help you see that setback as it's just a setback. It's not, I've completely failed and I can't do anything moving forward. And it's like, no, everyone has setbacks. I think financially it's really unique when it comes to divorce or separation because I think there's something that happens, especially in women and you would notice more than me, Mel, where we almost hold on to everything because we don't know how secure we are going to be. And I know I became really frugal. I mean I was the breadwinner anyway in the relationship.

Dr Gina Cleo: My mentality still change. And I became so frugal with my spending probably the first year after my separation when I realised I was saving more money than ever before and making more money than ever before. because I wasn't in this stressful environment. Yeah. And then I was able to sort of balance it out a bit more. But I do remember that sort of hoarding feeling of this keeps me safe. I'm more secure like this. So I wonder if that's also got something to do with it.

Mel: Yeah. I see it. People either do that or they try to maintain like, oh no, no, nothing's wrong. Mm-Hmm. This is how I was living and I really shouldn't have to give that up.

Dr Gina Cleo: Okay. And I wonder if that's also like contributing to the feelings of dopamine because

Mel: Oh yes. Yeah.

Dr Gina Cleo: Yeah. We know like in America for example, at the moment the interest rates are really high, but people are spending more now than ever before. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. And it's some evidence to show that it's actually because it makes them like we know spending gives us dopamine, it makes us feel good. Yeah. Which is also the reason why we tend to online shop more when we are PMSing or we got these hormonal fluctuations we spend differently. We just want a quick, it's like sugar. We just want a quick head of feeling good.

Mel: Yeah, I agree. I find these as well. I'm holding up my phone like this isn't a phone, this is a mobile shopping device now. Yeah. And I guess for a lot of people we, oh, most of us, my grandparents didn't have to deal with this. Like shops were closed overnight. They were closed on a Sunday. You couldn't get yourself into that financial trouble. We didn't need to rely on the willpower that we had, I guess habits around dealing with this mobile shopping device. I would be curious to know. Yeah.

Dr Gina Cleo: Look, it's really about boundaries. I mean, I have no phone zones in my house. I won't have my phone say at my dining table or in my bedroom. And I also have no phone zones if there's another device on. So if I'm watching telly, I'm not scrolling on my phone. Mm-Hmm. So I wanna be really intentional then with my phone use. So when I'm using it, I'm not just distracting myself from whatever else is going on. I think also using things like tech prohibiting apps. Yes. Be helpful. I think monitoring screen time can be helpful. Don't make it easy. Don't have your password and your email address saved in your phone. So all you have to go is like, yep. Add to cart and then PayPal so the rest covered for you. Make it hard. Create barriers. Yeah. So that you have to put in your credit card every time or like make it annoying. I think that really helps a lot. Yeah. It's

Mel: Not breaking

Dr Gina Cleo: It. Or even create a rule like you only do online shopping on your computer that you won't do it on your phone. Love. Oh, I love that. Are some things I don't do on my phone. Yeah. Because I don't want it to be reflexive. I don't wanna be bored and be like, oh I'm just going to do this. Yeah.

Mel: Yeah. You're intentional about sitting down then and this is a thing. Yeah. I could talk to you for so long. I've got two more questions to go. And one of them is one that I'm hearing a lot and I hear a lot from people where they talk about money and even I guess it would be exercise or any sort of new habit, but it's often time is the big thing. I don't have time to do that. I've got the best of intentions, but I am just so busy. What can you do when it comes to changing habits or starting new ones if you feel like you don't have the time or the energy to start something new?

Dr Gina Cleo: I mean, lack of time, energy, and motivation are the three most commonly reported barriers for change.

Mel: Ah.

Dr Gina Cleo: And I always say, what is the most micro habit that you can do off that big habit that you wanna do? And here's the thing though, Mel, like we are spending, Australian adults are spending on average two and a half hours a day scrolling on social media. Yeah.

Mel: <Laugh>,

Dr Gina Cleo: Do we really have,

Mel: We've got time.

Dr Gina Cleo: Yeah, I agree. And I do wonder this, like if your boss said to you, I need you to spend an extra hour today at work, or I need you to do this, you'd make the time. I actually think it's a value issue. Yes. Yeah. Do you value it enough? Do you have competing interests? It's like, yeah, sometimes I wanna exercise and sometimes I wanna sleep in. Like what's it going to be? I think it's more that I think our brain also tells us that we don't have time, we don't have energy, we don't have motivation because change requires energy and our brain wants to preserve energy for those 35,000 decisions it needs to make. So it literally will create barriers that it convinces us that actually that change isn't all that necessary. And we need to just come back to the reason why we are doing it.

Dr Gina Cleo: Why is this important for me? Why is it more important than all the other reasons of why I don't want to be doing it? But I think this concept of micro habits is really powerful and it's one of the ways that I was able to get back up on my feet again. Micro habits are essentially a smaller, simpler version of the habit that you're wanting to create. So if the goal is to exercise five times a week, you might start with just once a week. But you might start with 10 minutes twice a week and that's all you do. Because again, the brain just wants you to start a habit. Mm. And once you're in the rhythm of that, that's when you can go more and do more. I mean, I say to people, just get to the gym. Like don't even do anything. Like just get into the habit of getting to the gym. I've yet to have someone get to the gym and drive straight home and not actually do a workout. Yeah. Like you going to get into it. Yeah. Yeah. And don't depend on your motivation. Action comes first. Yeah. And motivation follows. Don't wait to feel like doing it. I think it's really important to go, this is not going to be easy. I'm not going to really want to do this, but I want the outcomes of that really badly. I

Mel: Feel like you're reading my mind every time I work out. I don't really wanna do this. It's not going to be easy. You're going to hate it, but you are going to want the outcomes. Yeah,

Dr Gina Cleo: Yeah. But don't you feel like, say like you're 10 minutes into the workout and you're like, I'm so glad I'm here. Like have you ever regretted a workout? No.

Mel: <Laugh>. So 10 minutes into the workout, I'm hating every minute of it, but as soon as I'm finished, I'm always glad that I did it. Always.

Dr Gina Cleo: Yeah. Yeah. Maybe we need to find you a workout that you really enjoy

Mel: <Laugh>. I absolutely agree. I think part of my problem is not that this is a session for me, <laugh>. I played netball when I was younger, so for me exercise was play. So I've gotta find play again. Yeah,

Dr Gina Cleo: True. I like it. Like a Wii fit or something fun like that. Yeah,

Mel: Yeah, definitely. Yeah. Something that doesn't feel like exercise. Yeah. Then I'm fine if someone's listening, you know, we're at the start of the second month of the year and they really want this to be their best year. Yet we've talked about so many things from micro habits to intentions to what's a minimum thing and giving yourself a break and so much other incredible thing. What would be three things you think they should be doing when it comes to habits to set themselves up to success? So someone's going, yep, I love all that. Give me a few things.

Dr Gina Cleo: <Inaudible>. Yeah. So I would say definitely starting small. Do not try to do your full habits straight away. Research shows over and over that small changes make big differences. And actually when we focus on something small, we are not only likely to initiate it more often, but we are much more likely to maintain it long term. It is the compounding effect of starting small and then just doing that gradually is going to result in lifestyle outcomes so much more effectively than trying to do the big things and it doesn't feel good. You're just like, what do you mean 10 minutes? Like working out for 10 minutes seems really dumb. It's like, yeah, I know that. Yeah. But also all our small is going to be different. For someone, it might be an hour for someone else, it might be two minutes and just find your small, but start small.

Dr Gina Cleo: Just think if I'm tired, can I see myself still doing this in six months time? Realistically, that's going to be your sweet spot. I would say focus on rituals, not results. Focus on making that small habit a ritual embedded in your life. Try to do it at the same time or the same place every day so that it becomes triggered and it's part of your lifestyle and the results. They'll work themselves out, the results will happen as a result of action. So just focus on the action. And then lastly, track your progress to and using that habit tracker. Because when you do that and you take a moment to acknowledge your win, it's like a mental hug. Your brain's like, oh, like I just got hugged that felt really good. I wanna do it again. I love that. So you take that moment to go, I didn't wanna work out but I did and I'm really stoked about that and just tick it off and that is going to strengthen that habit and make it automatic much quicker than if you didn't do that.

Mel: Yeah. I am absolutely downloading a habit tracker tonight. I love that. And that idea of the micro, those small compounding habits, you are absolutely speaking my language, 20 bucks saved every single day over 30 years is over a million dollars. Yeah. Like it's those small things, we don't realise how they compound. So it absolutely makes sense to me that the same is true for habits.

Dr Gina Cleo: Yeah,

Mel: I have absolutely loved our chat. Thank you so much for spending time with me. Any final thoughts or something perhaps that you want to leave people with or that we haven't covered?

Dr Gina Cleo: We are not stuck with our brains <laugh>. Yes. The more you repeat a habit, the more ingrained it becomes in your brain. And in the same way, the less you repeat habit, the weaker those neural pathways become in your brain. An old dog can learn new tricks. Our brains are constantly rewiring every single habit you have. You completely have all the power to change it, whether it's to create a new one or to replace that one with another one. We have the power of our own habits. That's the beauty and the power of neuroplasticity, which is in our full control. So you can change your life in any way you want to and your habits come into that.

Mel: Gina, thank you so much for spending time with me today. As I said, I'll put all your details in the show notes and I know I highly encourage, if you're listening to go and look at Gina's sites, grab her book and look at the habit tracker when you are there as well, and give yourself a dopamine hit and a little gold star as you do things.

Dr Gina Cleo: Thanks Mel. Such a pleasure to speak with you.

Mel: If you enjoyed this episode, we would love it if you subscribed and give us a review, then make sure you come and play with me on Insta. I'm at @melbrowne.money Remember there's an E on the end of Browne. I'm one of those fancy brownes, and don't forget to check out the show notes for even more ways you can work with me to transform your finances.



Get the podcast at all your favourite locations, or jump through here:

You deserve everything you put your mind to and I'm going to help you get there.