Five Small Steps Towards Healthy Habits
Well the first month of 2020 has blown by! Did you make a New Year’s Resolution? Are you struggling to maintain your momentum? Around this time of year, many people struggle to maintain resolutions to eat healthier, be more active, and reduce stress. Whether you are looking for ways to reinforce resolutions you made, need re-direction after wandering off the path, or are using February as a month of self-care and love, here are five small steps you can take to incorporate healthy habits in 2020.
1. Schedule a Physical Activity Meeting. Often, we don’t make it to the gym or for a walk around the neighborhood because we worked late, the kids need help with homework, or some other event has created what one client called “spontaneous urgency.” The problem is often we make physical activity something we do “if” we have time or after we take care of everything else. Physical activity helps with stress, keeps us mobile as we age, and helps prevent a variety of chronic diseases from diabetes to cancer. It needs to be placed on the same footing as other important activities in your life. To start, make at least one meeting with physical activity a week: place it on your calendar, give it a meeting-like title, and don’t stand it up. Also, no one needs to know your 4pm “Meeting with Doug and Anthony” is a pick-up basketball game at the gym. Tips from Practice: I had a regular faculty meeting moved from 9am to 10am because my Pilates class doesn’t end until 9:30am. No one even asked why I could not meet at 9am. I just told them that time did not work for me.
2. 15 Minutes of Quiet. Mindfulness, Centering or Contemplative Prayer, Meditation … Whatever the name, more and more research shows that taking time to rest our minds has mental and physical health benefits. It is estimated we have tens of thousands of thoughts a day and many of those thoughts are repetitive, negative self-talk. Mindfulness is the act of clearing the mind of thoughts while focusing on the present. The breath or other centering focus, such as sounds, help you stay present and notice when thoughts emerge, while not becoming attached or creating a narrative around such thoughts. Setting aside time each day for mindfulness is believed to help moderate emotions, improve mood, and protect against burnout. Tips from Practice: There are lots of mindfulness curricula, programs, and techniques popping up. I enjoy the 10% Happier podcast, which evolved from a book of the same name written by Dan Harris. Martha Beck’s The Joy Diet provides practical tips for incorporating a time of quite. The granddaddy of them all is the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) curriculum by Dr. John Kabat-Zinn, which encourages 45 minutes of mindfulness a day.
3. Eat Five Fruits and Vegetables a Day. Forget the diet of today and restocking your entire refrigerator and pantry. It is amazing how eating five fruits and vegetables each day can change the way you think about food and approach meal planning. How many fruits and vegetables do you eat now? If you are like the average American, it is one or two a day so building up to five can be a big change. It means at a minimum: a fruit with breakfast, one fruit and a vegetable at lunch or for a snack, and two vegetables at dinner. In all honesty, I struggle to get five in if I don’t count the raisins in my raisin bread. Focus on whole foods, not juices, to get the full benefit of the fiber, vitamins, and minerals that can help you feel full and lower calories. Check out the MyPlate website for details on what counts as a serving and other tips. Tips from Practice: When I buy a frozen meal kit, I buy an extra bag of frozen vegetables to add. This extends the meal and increases the vegetable content.
4. Pack Your Lunch. Not only is it cheaper, but packing your lunch helps you control what you eat versus being at the mercy of what is available and having the will-power to order the salad versus the hamburger. If you are on the go during the day or don’t have a refrigerator and microwave, pack food that will travel (e.g., hummus and pretzels, nuts, sandwiches, fruit, vegetable slices, popcorn, cheese and crackers) and don’t forget your ice packs. Tips from Practice: I don’t just pack a lunch. I also pack a selection of snacks for mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Having healthy snacks on hand keeps me from searching for a vending machine or making a coffee run when energy levels start dipping.
5. Practice Self-Compassion. You will stumble and your first few steps into a healthier lifestyle may not work, which is okay. When we start to make behavior changes, we have a tendency to self-sabotage in several ways: We take an “all or nothing approach” so any minor failure is cause for giving up, We set high expectations for ourselves instead of taking small steps towards bigger goals, We compare ourselves, our lives, and our journey to those around us and on social media instead of focusing on what we want and what makes us happy. During my coaching training, an instructor told us “You can never be behind on your own path,” which I still have as a post-it on the refrigerator. Treat incorporating health into your lifestyle as an evolving process not a yes or no statement. Keep a mindset of trial and error and be kind to yourself when things don’t go according to plan. Tips from Practice: Every few months, I evaluate my habits. Am I sleeping in versus running in the mornings (9 times out of 10 this is a yes)? Is one serving of ice cream turning into 2 or 3 in the evenings? Then I ask what is driving these changes. Maybe I am staying up too late, which is contributing to late-night snacking and needing extra sleep the next day. Maybe I’m stressed and dealing with that stress in unhealthy ways. Maybe I’m just bored with my current routine and I need to buy ice cream that isn’t quite so tasty. Whatever the response is, I honor where I am at and try out new strategies. Your body isn’t the enemy so work with it towards the lifestyle you want.
I hope these small steps help you work towards the healthy habits you want. I am always available for questions or wellness coaching sessions just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.