If creating a healthy lifestyle is one of your goals this year, you’re in good company.
But now that you’ve started, does it feel overwhelming? You wouldn’t be alone in that either.
After all, “healthy lifestyle” sounds broad, and can feel decidedly life changing. While that may be true, it doesn’t have to mean hard. It’s important to understand that all change is a process that takes time, but healthier living is within your reach, starting today.
The trick to creating a healthy lifestyle is to make small, consistent changes over time. After about ninety days those changes will become routine and eventually a lifestyle. Small changes can include things like taking more steps each day, having an extra glass of water, going to bed half an hour earlier, or using real ingredients rather than packaged or processed food.
But a healthy lifestyle isn’t just about food and exercise.
Whole health means caring for your whole self: mind, body, and spirit. Each facet of who you are is inextricably connected, and the strength of one can be used to bring health and healing to the weakness of another. Socrates said: The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.
What do you want to build?
Instead of focusing on what you’re doing wrong, or how you want to change, take a minute to recognize where you are already strong. Are you strong-willed or stubborn? Do you excel at spreadsheets or organization? Do you love getting people together? Whatever strengths you possess can be utilized to help you build and achieve your new goals. Use them!
Your mental toughness can be called on when your body wants to quit. Your organizational prowess might be just what you need mentally to strategize and implement a plan for progress. Embrace the party planner in you to create fun, accountability and connect people with common goals. Creating a healthy lifestyle can’t be all work or it will never last. You already have something solid to start; you just need to name it. Harness it, and you will have a great foundation on which to build.
If your goal this year is a healthy lifestyle, here are a few ways you can start building on that strong foundation, right now:
1. Move more:
You already know that healthy people exercise. Maybe you don’t know where to start or how to do it, or you’re afraid you’ll get injured or look stupid. Time is limited and excuses are plentiful but I don’t need to tell you that. The bottom line is exercise is movement. Whether it’s going for a walk or running a marathon, every time you move more than you normally do, it counts. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, park farther away in the parking lot, or use resistance bands to increase your strength. Small changes add up over time. But don’t stop there. Make it fun! Go on a hike with friends, try kayaking or sunrise yoga, or take a dance or marshal arts class. There is no hard and fast rule that you have to run or tether yourself to the elliptical machine to count as exercise. Just move more than you did before. If you need help getting started, check out these personal training card workouts that teach you how to work out at home with little or no equipment.
2. Train your brain:
Developing healthy routines are one of the most vital components to long-term success. Henry Ford said: Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right. Once or twice a week, turn off the TV or computer and try something a little more challenging. Do a puzzle, read a book, take a class or learn a new skill. If you always do the same things, and think the same ways, you’ll never grow. Those patterns can become limiting or even debilitating.
Develop a habit of trying new things, challenging long-held beliefs, and expanding your realm of possibility. You’ll train your brain to see change as a challenge – a good and fun thing – rather than a punishment. I promise, you’ll be amazed at all the things you CAN do. You might even find something you love!
Speaking of something you can do: If you’ve ever wanted to run a half marathon but weren’t sure how to train or where to start, I’m training a team of first-time runners from the very start, all the way through the finish line. Literally! Find out more and how you can join the team here!
3. Prioritize sleep:
Two-thirds of people suffer from sleep problems. It makes sense that if you’re tired, you might not be getting enough sleep. But if you’re not sleeping well, it will be next to impossible to find the desire or energy to make positive changes in your life. Make sleep a priority by creating a sleep schedule. Turn off electronic devices two hours before bedtime, take a hot bath, drink a cup of non-caffeinated tea, or read a book. Try going to bed a half and hour earlier than normal until you are able to get to yourself into a healthy sleep cycle.
4. Choose your food:
When it comes to eating, no one is perfect and there are deeply ingrained patterns and belief systems connected to food. Instead of focusing on the overwhelming task of what’s bad and what’s good, aim for awareness. Replace “I should” with “I choose.” So instead of: “I should eat more vegetables,” it’s “I choose (or don’t choose) to eat more vegetables.” This language puts you in control of your choice.
Stock your pantry and refrigerator with healthy food options, prepare a few things like hard boiled eggs, roasted vegetables, or quinoa, and keep whole food snacks on hand so you’re prepared when you get hungry. Finally, slow down! If you enjoy your food and savor the flavors while you eat, you’re more likely to feel satisfied.
5. Manage stress:
In addition to food and exercise, a healthy lifestyle requires learning how to effectively manage stress. We all have it; it’s how you manage it that matters. For a healthy lifestyle, it’s important to develop positive coping mechanisms for routine stress in your life. This includes quiet time and visualization, and stress busting activities like yoga, strength training and cardiovascular exercise.
You must also find ways to handle the stressors that come up without warning. For example, after a frustrating phone call with a friend or family member you might need to run up and down the stairs or around the block to burn off the anger, or close your eyes and take three deep, calming breaths. Check your perspective. If it won’t matter six months from now, then it’s probably not worth getting worked up about now. Finally, keep a gratitude journal. When you focus on all the positive people and things you have to be grateful for, it helps limit the stress caused by wishing things were different.
6. Improve relationships:
I once read that you become like the five people you spend the most time with. At the time, that wasn’t exactly good news. I had a pattern of inviting critical spirits into my inner circle and a lot of work to do in myself to understand why. I learned first-hand that your social network is extremely important. If you spend time with positive, encouraging, uplifting people who love you and are for you – that positivity will translate into your life, beliefs and actions.
Look for people similar to you. They don’t have to necessarily be like you, but you want to look for a similar level of openness and depth. Social psychologist Nathan DeWall says you must “share a similar level of comfort in getting close to people.” If you crave a deep and intimate friendship, then someone who only desires a shallow or superficial relationship isn’t going to be a good fit. We’ve all been in a relationship that felt one-sided or off. Chances are they weren’t a bad person, they just desired something different than you did.
Similarly, make sure you’re building face-to-face relationships as well as virtual ones. Go meet your neighbor. Challenge yourself to meet a friend for lunch or coffee instead of only relying on Internet conversations or text messages. Spending time with people in real life should be refreshing and rewarding, and remind you that we are better together.
A healthy lifestyle is a lifetime process, but it’s not only about food or fitness. Whole health is about your whole self. If you can identify your strengths, and find the courage to start small, you can begin building something amazing today. Each day, push yourself forward in one area of life. Move more, train your brain, prioritize sleep, choose your food, manage stress, and improve your relationships. While there’s no one path to creating a healthy lifestyle, there is yours. And that is a worthy quest.