The ‘How To’ of Healthy Habits

 

I don’t think I have ever met anyone who has actually said to me, “I do not want to be healthy”. I’m sure they’re out there; just haven’t met them.

On the other hand, I have met plenty of people who say they want to be healthy but have too many bad habits and not enough good ones. Probably true for most of us; at least at some point or another.

So let’s talk healthy habits, and more specifically how to create them.

To begin with, it is important to define 2 words; healthy and habit.

Healthy means ‘possessing or enjoying good health’. Then what is health? The dictionary says it is the state of being free from illness or injury’. Therefore, we want habits that will help us stay free from disease or injury.

Back to habits. What is the definition of habit? ‘A settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.’ I really love the last part. We completely understand this when thinking about our bad habits, but what if we could develop regular tendencies and practices that help us stay free from disease and injury that are hard to give up?

Another dictionary definition says this about habit: ‘a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition’. What I take from that is that my regular tendencies and practices that help me stay free from disease and injury and are hard to give up, become so because through ‘frequent repetition’ it becomes a pattern of my behavior. It is ingrained in who I am. Think about that for a minute.

Aristotle said it best in the 4th century, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” 

I wish I could give you a magic formula for quickly developing or changing habits. Not quite so simple. We are all different, all have our own good and bad habits, and within the multitude of habits that exist, different strategies will work to create the habit or get rid of it.

But now that we know what healthy habits are, we have to take steps to get there. I gave you a general definition above but here are some habit helpers that I pull out of that definition:

  1. Decide. Decide you want to get rid of unhealthy habits or develop new healthy habits. It starts with a decision. I wrote about choices in my blog The Struggle to Choose Healthy.  I’m a firm believer that just about everything begins with choosing: “to decide on a course of action, typically after rejecting alternatives.” Decide you want to stay free from disease and injury. More specifically, when you know the choice will be there, decide before you get to it. I decide to take the stairs at the parking garage before I get to the parking garage. I decide on my way home from work that I will take a 15 minute walk when I get home.
  2. Name your habits. What bad habits do you want to give up? What good ones do you want to create? To change bad habits, you have to know what they are, so this is an important step. Write this on a sticky note and post everywhere: “My regular tendencies and practices that don’t help me stay free from disease and injury are:_____________. I will eliminate these today. “My regular tendencies and practices that do help me stay free from disease and injury are:_____________. I will do more of these today.
  3. Focus on the moment. Focus on making a healthy choice in each moment rather than looking at all the things you have to do in the long term. In actuality you are trying to get from here to there; to bridge a gap. I wrote about the action gap in my blog in December which will give you some helpful tips as well.
  4. Consider your behavior. Be aware of what behaviors drive certain good or bad habits. Some bad habits are easily tied to behavior. For example, if you eat a bag of chips every time you sit down to watch TV, the unhealthy eating behavior may be tied to your habit of TV. Maybe you smoke after a meal. Be aware of these linked behaviors, and then go back to #1. Decide to eat a healthy snack; or no snack at all when watching TV. Or better yet, limit the amount of time spent sitting in a chair watching TV!  Get up from the table after a meal and instead of smoking find a healthier replacement such as a walk or playing with the dog.
  5. Look for the small victories. Even though you are working on a long-term goal, a series of small victories is going to encourage you and keep you motivates. Each small victory trains your brain to succeed. Awareness of your behavior or habit is actually one of the greatest victories you can have to get started. Beyond that, celebrate each victory along the way; each time you choose fruit rather than cookies, when you take a walk instead of sitting and watching TV, and so on.
  6. Frequent repetition. Through frequent repletion, each healthy choice becomes a pattern of your behavior. This is creating habit. Before you know it you don’t even have to think about it.
  7. Stay Positive and encourage yourself. Each time you complete a workout, drink more water, take the stairs rather than the elevator, celebrate and experience the success! Pat yourself on the back and then do it again and again. Look back at the road behind you and see how far you have come!

As I wrote in The Gap Between Knowing and Doing, find someone who stands on the other side of the gap; someone who is a role model, someone who inspires you, encourages you, and holds you accountable. Find that person, and ask them to come alongside you during this journey. Now go walk that road towards the state of being free from illness or injury. Be excellent!

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