Like a lot of us, you’re probably here because you’re interested in becoming healthier. This doesn’t happen by accident. You need to develop healthy habits. Fire up the willpower, read enough books and stuff on the interwebs and you should be ok.
On two separate occasions, I’ve had clients mention the book, “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. The book talks about the importance of “keystone habits.” They are small changes, that when put into regular practice have a significant effect on other areas of a person or company’s life.
Information is great but I’m sure you know a lot of people at work or in your personal life who are well-informed but unable or unwilling to take action.
Exercising self control and willpower can literally exhaust us. You have to prioritize as you direct this scarce resource. Our brain even helps protect us by setting a lot of things we do on behavioral autopilot.Our relationship to food, other people, and even ourselves remains out of our conscious awareness. Would it surprise you to find out that many of these behaviors do not operate in our best interests?
Going on behavioral autopilot also keeps us safe from the fear that change causes. We get scared and the people around us get scared when there’s too much change too fast. If you start exercsing a lot, eating healthier, listen to different music, or stop wearing stockings in the winter, the people around you become uncomfortable. Your change is a reminder of their shortcomings and this can’t be allowed.
So before you choose your keystone habit, you may need to do a little groundwork. Look at who you associate with. Some of those people encourage you to be active and on the move. There are others, who by their mere presence, encourage you to be lazy and inactive.
The same thing happens with food. You’ve got the friend who eats mostly junk food; the friend who convinces you that you need to make every happy hour and that the sweeter the drink, the sexier you become.
Who do you think you should be hanging out with?
Eventually, you’ve got to shape your environment. For each of us, there are people and situations that need to be cut from our lives. Sometimes it takes a permanent change of scenery. This one may take a while.
Pick something small for your keystone habit. You might want to start with a food journal. Duhigg’s book talked about an NIH study involving food journals. A group of obese subjects was told to record just one day a week of the food they ate. This simple instruction led some study subjects to notice patterns in their eating and to record their food entries on a daily basis even though they had not been instructed to do this. At the end of the study, the people who kept daily food journals lost twice as much weight as the other subjects. One small change generalized into healthier eating.
So your job is to pick just one small change depending on your goals. It might be reading a chapter daily in a book in your profession. It might be stretching for ten minutes. It might be keeping a food journal, or it might be making a daily list of five things you’re grateful for or five things you love about the people in your life.
It also helps to set up an “action trigger”- a time, place, or situation that signals you that it’s time to begin your small action with the big payoff. E.g. you begin your activity after your morning cup(s) of coffee. Visualizing and mentally rehearsing the trigger will help set things up.
As always, remember that it’s not about being a thinner you. It’s about being a better you.
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