The research is clear about what behaviors do and do not support health. We know that health is not supported through tobacco use, drugs and alcohol use, sedentary lifestyle, poor nutrition, and risky sexual behaviors. On the flip side, we know that health is supported with exercise most days of the week, eating a balanced and varied diet with a plethora of fruits and vegetables, getting enough sleep, not smoking, limiting alcohol to seven drinks a week, keeping your blood pressure down, cultivating and improving your relationships with others, developing and engaging in new interests and hobbies.
At the beginning of the year people make resolutions, set intentions, and write down their visions to engage in healthy behaviors such as these and yet so many people end up giving up by February. My fitness instructor said it is always packed at the gym in January but come February you can shoot an arrow through the place and not hit someone. Among the reasons that people fail is that too often we are motivated by the wrong reason, we make goals that are unrealistic, and the pain of not changing is not bad enough to make us do something different.
To be fair, it is not so clear how to start and maintain healthy habits. But, it helps if the changes are self-motivated and if you have a good attitude and open mind. In addition, I have found that people will become motivated if they discover ways of being healthy that are uniquely suited and intrinsically motivating for them. This is where mindfulness comes in.
The ideal conditions for changing behavior can be cultivated through practicing the skill of mindfulness. Mindfulness refers to having a nonjudgmental awareness of what’s happening in the present moment. This type of awareness can help you better self-regulate your behavior, monitor the barriers to your success, and design your own personalized health plan.
In my Eat for Life class, I help people to re-evaluate their goals in any area of their life through the lens of mindfulness. Sometimes this requires changing their beliefs about what changing their behavior would entail. For instance, if you want to increase physical activity, instead of having visions in your head about sweating a lot, gym fees, buff bodies in latex, and a lot of time, I encourage people to think about ways that it would feel delicious to move their bodies. One woman went from believing it was impossible to exercise, to discovering how a daily walk with her daughter after work and before preparing the evening meal both improved her health and the health of her relationship.
The key is to notice how you feel when you engage in healthy behaviors and let that be your guide. If you really pay attention, health-promoting activities feel GOOD! That’s motivating. And, if you aren’t able to be perfect at them (by the way, that makes you human!), then you don’t beat up on yourself about it. In fact, you tell yourself it’s okay and you’ll get back at it tomorrow. By not judging yourself, your ability to keep your motivation high is much improved.
So, go ahead and decide on one or two activities that would enhance your life this year and enjoy how it feels to be taking care of yourself a little bit better. Have a fantastic 2017!!