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Varun Salvi and Daniela Hummel Of Little By Little Labs: Getting An Upgrade; How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus

…To get better sleep and manage stress, I would suggest breathing exercises. For learning new things, I suggest exploring how you learn best. For example, I retain and process information best when there are visual examples. YouTube has been an incredible resource for me. In high school I struggled with focus because lectures and textbooks weren’t the best way for me to learn. Now that I have a resource where I can learn better, I find my mind is sharper because I am constantly challenging myself to learn something new.

As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Varun Salvi and Daniela Hummel.

Married couple, Varun Salvi and Daniela Hummel are the co-founders of Little By Little Labs, the app development company behind EasyWellness. Little By Little Labs is dedicated to creating gorgeous, easy-to-use apps that help you achieve small, daily victories for your health and happiness. Our philosophy is in our name: “Little by little, that’s all it takes.”

After Daniela endured a back injury, which made traditional fitness programs impossible, having a healthy daily routine became a challenge. The couple focused on exploring gentle, foundational practices and effective strategies to build new habits. With Varun’s sixteen years of experience in software development, Daniela’s experience in ecommerce merchandising and a goal to help others overcome their own struggles with getting healthier, EasyWellness was born.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

Daniela: I grew up in Los Angeles, California. I had a very happy childhood. My father is Italian and my mother is Jewish. We traveled to visit my father’s family a lot while I was growing up. Language was a huge part of my childhood. I grew up bilingual; both my parents spoke to me in Italian and English and I attended a French elementary school. Eventually I taught myself Spanish by watching telenovelas. I also learned Hebrew in high school. I graduated Summa Cum Laude from UCLA with a Bachelor’s in Italian.

Varun: I was born and raised in Mumbai, India where I spent the first 22 years of my life before moving to California for graduate school. My father was an engineer and ran his own business and my mother studied law but never practiced. She was very involved in our education and always reinforced its importance and value which has led me to where I am today. I spent summers going to my father’s factory and loved learning how to use the various machines and tools. I also had a cousin who lived in the US. He would come to visit with the newest gadgets. His visits made me dream of coming to the US and sparked an interest in technology. After graduating from college I moved to Los Angeles and got my Masters in Electrical Engineering from USC.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

Daniela: Even though language was a huge part of my life, when I finished university, I won a contest to take a free course in CSS and HTML. I didn’t go down the development path, but it led me to start a fashion eCommerce website. Once Varun and I met, it became clear that we would eventually work together to merge our skills and talents. On our first trip together, we were driving to Morro Bay and somehow got into a discussion about how inspired we were by our parents and grandparents who were all entrepreneurs — and discovered that we had a shared passion to follow in their footsteps. Not long afterwards, we started writing down business and app ideas on a white board, which we still have today.

Varun: There were several people who inspired me to pursue my career path. My family was and is very supportive of my career. My father and grandfather were both engineers and entrepreneurs and I always wanted to follow in their footsteps. I pivoted from electrical to software mostly by necessity. When I finished graduate school, the job market was particularly volatile and I was, thankfully, able to adapt and love the work that I do now. Making the transition wasn’t easy without any software background but it taught me the importance of self study.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

Varun: My mother has always encouraged me to work hard and helped make sure that I stayed focused on studies. When I was in school, she would sit with my brother and I every day while we studied and prepared for exams. When you are a child you don’t realize how supportive that is as much as you do when you get older. Now in adulthood, she still shares her wisdom and advice with me.

Daniela: I was very fortunate to have so much support from my parents as well. They made it possible for me to receive a good education and supported me through school and afterwards while I navigated early adulthood. Growing up, they let me try so many different things: acting, art, athletics, biology, language, tech… hoping I would find something I loved that I could make into a career. I have been very privileged to be able to explore the possibilities and “find something I love to do.”

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

Varun: I wouldn’t categorize it as a mistake but a pretty significant event that has shaped my career. I was pretty burnt out around 2008–09 and decided to quit my job and move back to India. It was a very big decision to make considering how difficult it would have been to come back to the US.

I kept in touch with my previous employer with whom I had built a good relationship and they hired me back when I indicated that I was reevaluating my situation!

Lesson learnt: Trust your gut. Do what feels right for you. Things have their own way of working out.

I got to spend a full year back home with my family and friends and also a much needed reset.

The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?

Daniela: First, prepare. Learn as much as you can about the field you are going to go into. Second, genuinely try to connect with other people with the same interests and work ethic. In almost every field, so much of the journey towards success is built on the help and wisdom from the people around you. You can’t do everything yourself and you will need to rely on others.

Varun: My motto in life — Always be learning. Things are evolving at an exponential rate and you don’t want to be caught up in work that is outdated. It really helps if you like learning new things and are happy to put in the extra time to continue your education on your own. With the amount of free information available today you can almost learn anything you want in the comfort of your own home.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

Daniela: I really like “Be impeccable with your word” from the Four Agreements. I think showing up for others is a reflection of a person’s character. However, you have to “be impeccable with your word” to yourself too. As the creators of a healthy habits app, EasyWellness, we discuss this idea a lot. If you repeatedly make promises to yourself to start new habits but don’t come through, it creates a very damaged relationship with yourself. We encourage our users to carefully weigh out the commitments that they make to themselves and take slower steps towards a goal.

Varun: “Every failure or mistake is a stepping stone to success” — there are many different versions of this quote by different authors but they all share the same sentiment. Over the years I have conditioned myself to abide by this phrase. There is no benefit in looking back at past events in a negative light.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

Daniela: Last year we started our app development company, Little By Little Labs and launched two apps. EasyWellness offers users wellness programs and helps build healthy habits that are accessible to all levels and lifestyles. Programs include stretching routines, breathing exercises, water tracking and a step counter. A huge portion of the US struggles with fitness and healthy habits. EasyWellness is unique in that it is built to support users on days when they might have low motivation and want to quit. It allows you to go at your own pace. It opens the possibility of starting healthy habits to those who have felt left out of the traditional fitness world.

Varun: The second app we launched is called Breethr. In learning about breathing exercises while building EasyWellness, we realized it is such a powerful tool and that we could create a standalone app that delves deeper. Breathing exercises are an ancient practice. Today, we are able to understand why they work through modern science. Breathing exercises are an incredible tool for stress management, lung health, energy and improved focus. With the COVID pandemic, we are realizing how precious our lung health is and some research suggests that breathing exercises can assist during COVID recovery.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to create good habits? Can you share a story or give some examples?

Daniela: Creating good habits is making a choice that’s good for you enough times that it becomes second nature. Creating good habits that work for your individual lifestyle is important because they set you up for short and long term success. One example that I love is having a regular stretching routine. Finding time for yourself is always a challenge but stretching for just 5–10 minutes a day, 3–4 times a week can help with posture and flexibility within weeks, which is pretty incredible. The best part, though, is how much it can benefit you later in life. Regular stretching helps a person prevent injury and keep up daily activities. It’s a small commitment to your body that has enormous benefits as you age. With that said, it’s never too late to start.

How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?

Daniela: Creating healthy habits has really helped me prioritize my wellbeing, which has a domino effect on success. One of the habits that has helped me most is breathing exercises when I get overwhelmed. Breathing exercises bring me back to a more balanced state and really put me in a good frame of mind if I begin the day with one. For a person who struggles with anxiety, breathing exercises are an incredible tool. Anxiety can cause fatigue, brain fog and high blood pressure, which makes the workday much more difficult. Breathing exercises can help calm your nervous system and bring you back to a more focused and clear-minded state so that it is easier to be efficient while working.

Varun: I start every day with breathing exercises and a stretching routine. Similarly to Daniela, I think that if you start the day off right, you are setting yourself up for success. Then in the middle of the day, we go for a 30-minute walk. If you are sitting in front of a computer all day, like we do, it can be your only chance to go outside and get in some movement. It seems simple but after a few days of not doing these things, your body and mind spiral in the wrong direction and you feel the difference.

Our habits are simple but still very beneficial in the long run. That’s what we want to promote with the apps we are building. The simplicity of life changing habits.

Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?

Varun: Within our app and its community, we promote starting slowly. Most adults have gone through the endless cycle of trying workouts and routines that might not suit their day-to-day lifestyle, which eventually leads to them quitting or trying another short lived approach. We have felt the same way at multiple points in our lives and wanted to build something to help us start slow and simple, something that we could be consistent with.

You have to choose habits and goals that are achievable in small steps. Trying to turn your lifestyle around overnight is the easiest way to set yourself up for failure. Also, we believe that doing something is better than nothing. You are not a robot and can’t expect yourself to perform the same way every day. When we start a good habit and then miss a day because we couldn’t go all in, it puts us in the “I can’t do it” mentality. It’s better to just do five minutes of said habit than nothing at all. One last way that I like to start working on a new habit is “habit stacking” where you do your new habit during or after one that you already have. For example, I start doing breathing exercises in the morning while my coffee is brewing. Now it’s more ingrained but it was a good way to start.

Daniela: Stopping bad habits can be a challenge. Bad habits are often our body and mind’s way of coping with something that we weren’t able to cope with in a healthier way. Some bad habits are encouraged by people we love and that can make them even harder to break. For bad habits that are hurting you physically or emotionally, I recommend working with a professional, for example: a therapist, a dietician or a trainer, when possible, depending on the habit.

Let’s talk about creating good habits in three areas, Wellness, Performance, and Focus. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum wellness. Please share a story or example for each.

Daniela: I am of the opinion that wellness, performance and focus are so interconnected and that habits which are created to improve one of those three areas will generally improve the other two. The four most foundational habits that I believe almost anyone can do to improve wellness, performance and focus are stretching, breathing, walking and staying hydrated.

Varun: I agree. These habits are foundational because they are easy to do and you can build on them. For example, if you are trying to improve your overall wellness by losing excess weight, you can start by walking. It’s a low impact exercise that is so underrated. Eventually, you’ll be able to hike or jog. I also find that once I start focusing on my wellness, I unconsciously ease into healthier eating habits as well. Wellness does not have to be complicated or a struggle. Keep it simple and be consistent.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

Daniela: Of course, my number one recommendation would be to download EasyWellness. EasyWellness sends smart reminders and contains features which can be customized to help you reach your habit goals. EasyWellness offers stretching routines that can fit into any lifestyle or schedule. For example, the app offers two stretching routines for your work day that can be done in an office or home office setting. Setting a reminder makes it easier to remember to do any of your habits is super helpful. You also want to really listen to your body on days when you feel overwhelmed or tired and not push too hard.

Varun: If you are trying to create a habit of going on walks, having a step counter is awesome. EasyWellness makes it easier to develop the habit because it encourages you to start small and incrementally build up to your goal.

If you are trying to build the habit of drinking more water, I suggest setting reminders, as Daniela mentioned but also keeping some water by your desk, bed, car, or wherever you spend time so that you won’t put it off.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal performance at work or sport? Please share a story or example for each.

Daniela: I would say that for the average person, the best habits you want to have with something like becoming more active is 1) practicing patience with yourself, 2) prioritizing form to prevent injury and 3) resting. For some people, meaningful rest is a habit they neglect. When I was practicing yoga regularly, I found that if I stayed patient with the level I was at and prioritized form, I was able to improve much faster. It also makes the practice more enjoyable. Additionally, those rest days were key!

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

Daniela: A lot of this has to do with mindset. If you are taking a class and always comparing yourself to the person next to you, it is so easy to get derailed. If you keep your focus on doing something properly and keep your goals small, you notice your improvement more often. For example, one week you may not be able to touch your ankles but rather than push into a stretch which can hurt you, you keep breathing through it. Eventually, you will touch your toes, which is very motivating.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal focus? Please share a story or example for each.

Varun: Getting good sleep, managing stress and always having something new to learn, which can even be a hobby. Not having good sleep or being overly stressed clouds the mind and can also cause us to make emotional decisions. These are non-negotiables when it comes to optimal focus. Learning something new keeps the mind sharp and open to new information.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

Daniela: To get better sleep and manage stress, I would suggest breathing exercises. For learning new things, I suggest exploring how you learn best. For example, I retain and process information best when there are visual examples. YouTube has been an incredible resource for me. In high school I struggled with focus because lectures and textbooks weren’t the best way for me to learn. Now that I have a resource where I can learn better, I find my mind is sharper because I am constantly challenging myself to learn something new.

As a leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?

Daniela: Yes! I think being in a state of Flow comes from discipline and dedication to mastery. When I was in high school, I took my first figure drawing class. At first, of course, I didn’t know what I was doing at all. My teacher kept me after class and gave me a book with images of the body and muscles to take home. He showed me how to convey perspective and scale. Then he explained how to show dimension with shadow and light. With continuous study, it all started to simply work, almost without effort, when I put charcoal to paper. That is a state of Flow: when all the components you have learned start clicking together in a mysterious, wonderful and natural harmony.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Daniela: I feel like Varun and I are at the beginning of that journey right now. With our app, EasyWellness, we really want to help more people achieve better health through foundational habits. The movement is that you don’t have to be a hardcore fitness junkie or a gym rat. You can do simple things like stretch regularly, take walks, drink more water, manage stress and sleep better. Even that is easier said than done for most people, but it is attainable with a “Little By Little” approach.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them :-)

Daniela: Oprah Winfrey. She has been so successful and is always of service to others. In our own way, that is our goal as well. We don’t want to take, take, take and deplete people or our environment. We hope to enrich and give with the work we do.

Varun: I would want to have breakfast or lunch with Wim Hof. I recently read “The Wim Hof Method” and was inspired by his groundbreaking techniques. The habits that he has developed and promoted are helping people connect to their bodies and health in a completely new way to those outside of Northern Europe.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can check us out at the Little By Little Labs website: https://www.littlebylittlelabs.com/. Also, our apps are available for download in the App Store at the following links:

EasyWellness App: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/easywellness/id1579425482

EasyWellness Instagram: @easywellness.app

Breethr App: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/breethr-breathing-exercises/id1565078313

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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