Changing Lifestyle Habits: Starting with What’s Already Available

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-by Bill Plake-

If you’re like most people, you’ve considered at one time or another the possibility of improving your lifestyle health habits. I know I have (and continue to do so).

Maybe you’d like to become more physically active. Maybe you’d like to start eating more mindfully. Or maybe you’d like to find a more helpful night time ritual to facilitate better sleep.

Often when we think of changing any kind of deeply ingrained habit, the first thing we do is think of the obstacles in our way. The reasons why we can’t make a change can feel overwhelming. Limitations of time, energy, finances, comfort, necessary information/skills, social support, current health conditions and more.

And as important as it is to consider and address obstacles to change, you don’t need to resolve them all before taking action.

In fact, you don’t even need to start there.

I remember my own life significantly changing for the better some years ago after reading this quote from the legendary collegiate basketball coach, John Wooden. Here he is encouraging his young athletes to shift their mindsets in order to optimize their skills:

Don’t let what you can’t do interfere with what you can do.

This is a simple but profoundly transformational concept that I sometimes share with my students at the college where I teach, as well as with my clients.

In essence, you can start changing your habits by accessing what is already available to you, what is already doable. This is a more constructive alternative to being stuck where you are. Much better than being unable to take a first step toward change. It’s a matter of doing something you actually can do that is different than what you’ve been doing.

For example…

Are you physically inactive and would like to become more fit, but are overwhelmed with the idea of starting a strenuous, time consuming exercise program?

See if you can take advantage of the opportunities in your day to walk a bit more. Even 10 minutes of continuous walking on a daily basis at a moderate pace has measurable health benefits.

Instead of “finding the time” that’s not there, maybe start by replacing some of the short trips you usually take by car (e.g., to the local coffee place) with a brisk, energizing walk. You can enhance your enjoyment even further by doing it with somebody you like.

Want to eat a healthier diet, but feel overwhelmed by the idea of completely overhauling your current dietary habits?

Start by adding a bit more fruit to your diet. Even adding an extra serving of fresh fruit every day with each meal can make a measurable difference in your metabolic health. Find things you love to eat. Enjoy more of them.

Struggling with falling asleep (and staying asleep) at bedtime but don’t want to (or can’t) take sleep medications?

Try “unplugging” (no electronic screens; make yourself unavailable for work related texts and emails) about two hours before your desired bedtime. You’ll most likely fall asleep faster and easier. You might also find that you sleep more deeply and efficiently.

If you like, you can replace that “lost” screen time by taking a warm bath, reading something light and easy, or listening to some soothing music. Indulge yourself in this nighttime ritual. If two hours of unplugging is too challenging, start smaller (maybe 30 minutes?) Anything that moves you in the desired direction is a victory.

You get the idea: To change a habit, begin with something small, something that is doable right now. Each small change you make can turn into a new habit over time.

Things to help you along your way

These are the elements you can be aware of and utilize to give yourself the best chance of making sustainable change:

Your Values-Aim the desired target behavior toward things you actually like (or at least things you think you could like), such as types of food, exercise activities, sleep rituals, etc. Also, see that your choices are in line with your personal values (for example, if you’re vegan, you’re not going to want to add meat to your diet to improve a niacin deficiency. A few more legumes, bananas, nuts and seeds in your daily intake will probably do the job just fine).

Your Strengths-Spend some time taking inventory of yourself. What are your skills? What has worked for you in the past? What have you done in the past to effectively manage similar challenges? What do you do with confidence and success? Again, access what is already available.

Your Support-How might family, friends, and work colleagues help support your efforts? Maybe you have somebody that would be happy to take that daily walk at lunch with you. Maybe there’s somebody else to exchange simple, healthy and delicious recipes with you.

And if you are challenged in finding social support, aim for giving yourself some support. For example, if you’re trying to lower your consumption of simple sugars, make a point to not keep sweets around the house. Instead, keep your favorite fruits and vegetables around the house to make a luscious, satisfying and healthy smoothie when your sweet tooth starts talking to you.

Taking that first step

So if you’re looking to change, take some time to clarify what, and how, you’d like to do it. Above all, begin with self-kindness, love and compassion.

It’s not a matter of doing huge things all it once. It’s just a matter taking that first, doable step. This will empower you and encourage you to move toward the self care you deserve. Each new habit you cultivate will give you both the confidence and the foundation to create more healthy habits.

And if you need a bit of help getting started, or with clarifying and effectively implementing health related behavior, a skilled Certified Health Coach can be a powerful ally. It would be my honor to help you.

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