The Joy of Healthy Habits
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” —Will Durant, American writer, historian, and philosopher
I was fit, active and healthy – until I wasn’t!
Life issues and compression in my lower back changed everything. The sofa sounded pretty good instead of walking and riding. My comfort foods made me feel so much better that I convinced myself they were healthy!
Suddenly I was on a new journey after lung cancer surgery. I had many periods of overwhelming sleepiness. At times it was all I could do to make it to the bedroom!
Once the brain fog started to lift, I knew I needed a complete health makeover. I started bringing up my system and the newsfeed was filled with articles and blog posts focused on healthy habits. The Next Big Idea Club Facebook feed had posts on books about habits.
Healthy habits? No question the universe was sending me a message!
So, I decided to start working on healthy habits. Much easier said than done! According to Charles Duhigg, there isn’t one formula for developing habits. Individuals and their habits are all different. To be successful you need to know your current habits — good and bad.
I: Develop an Awareness
My first steps involved trying to develop an awareness of what I regularly did. This took a long time. I started researching habits. This helped me dig deep into what I was like before surgery and what had become my new “normal.” In the process I started to identify my healthy habits and the unhealthy habits that I wanted to change.
II: Develop A Sustainable Plan
I soon realized that I needed to create sustainable change for the long-term if I wanted my efforts to last. I identified my 4 key healthy habits:
- Eating a healthy diet
- Moving and exercising regularly
- Reducing stress
- Deep breathing meditations
III: Start with Small Steps
B.J. Fogg says that behavior happens when motivation, ability, and a prompt all come together at the same time. In his book Tiny Habits he shows what you’ll get by going tiny:
- More consistency without relying on willpower or motivation
- Faster feelings of success
- More reliable rooting of the habit in your life
- Natural growth of the habit to be bigger, broader, or more intense
- A shift in your identify as you feel successful
- Ripple effects of your new identify which fosters many new habits on their own
IV: Learn Not to Rely Solely on Motivation
I had all the motivation in the world to develop and stick to healthy habits. Before my lung lobectomy surgery, my thoracic surgeon said if I got fit I had a good chance not to rely on oxygen or a respirator for the rest of my life. Yikes! But, I’m self-critical, and any day I didn’t excel at my four key healthy habits I was convinced I was doomed. I realized I needed to anticipate and set up strategies in advance to help me cope.
V: Track Your Progress
I know we all work harder when we’re accountable to someone. I learned very quickly that had to be me! This meant setting up a system to track my progress. I started with a daily journal that tracked what I ate, how many hours I slept, how much exercise and movement I did, and how long I practiced deep breathing/meditation. I also tracked how much water I consumed and if I was having any issues from my supplements and food choices.
I know this sounds like a lot of work, and it is! By being focused on getting and staying healthy I brought a lot of joy into my life!
I’ve created a list of links to the major resources I used to develop and sustain healthy habits. I hope they help you on your healthy habits journey:
- Good Habits, Bad Habits, by Wendy Wood, PhD
- Tiny Habits, by BJ Fogg, PhD
- Atomic Habits, by James Clear
- The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg
- How the brain controls our habits, Anne Trafton, MIT News Office
- MIT Researcher sheds light on why habits are hard to make and break
- Following five healthy lifestyle habits may increase life expectancy by decade or more, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Bring joy into your life by developing healthy habits!