To this point in this series dedicated to health and wellness, I’ve detailed some of the motivation, habits, and rituals that I’ve adopted in my personal life. These have enabled me, at 38 years of age, to drop 30+ pounds and achieve the best physical condition of my life (and it’s not close). To this point, I’ve shared what I drink, how I eat and the exercise routine that I do my best to follow. Those are the big, important, unwieldy aspects to any successful plan for wellness at any age.
But the big stuff isn’t the only stuff that makes a difference. Darren Hardy does a great job of illustrating this point in his classic The Compound Effect. Daily habits (like waking up to a glass of celery juice can have long-lasting positive impacts. And, although it takes discipline to establish a habit, once habits are in place we can execute them almost on cruise control: they become a default setting (and that’s when the compound effect really begins to take shape).
We all have default settings. Whether we realize it or not, whether we want them or not, we all have a basic operating procedure that is seemingly hard-wired into our day. It’s how we live. Only it’s not hard-wired. Habits are malleable. And that’s the point of this entry: to look into some of the daily, seemingly inconsequential habits that you’ve developed and really put some intentional thought into the reasoning behind them. Does hitting the snooze alarm three times each morning benefit your sleep? Does performing this action each morning help you achieve your goals? Likely, it’s just something you’ve gotten in the habit of doing for no justifiable reason. You’d be better off to A.) simply set your alarm 30 minutes later for uninterrupted sleep, or B.) get your ass out of bed and do something with your life… Right? And yet most of us go on through our routine, without giving it a second thought!
My point is that ultimately, we all control our habits (even when it feels like they control us). The challenge is to identify habits – which are often subconscious – in our daily routine, and really think about how we could alter them in ways that positively impact our life.
We can go a variety of different directions with this, but this post is supposed to be dedicated to health and wellness, so I’ll share some examples from my life along these lines…
Eliminate the shit that you don’t want to eat from your home!
Simple, right? Out of sight, out of mind! I like to think I’m pretty disciplined. But you know what; occasionally after dinner I just want some ice cream. Or some Oreos. Just something – anything with sugar. Give me the chocolate! In that moment, if there is a box of fudgesicles in the freezer, cookies in the pantry, or a candy bar on the shelf, it’s gone! In fact, if I’m honest with myself the entire gallon or box isn’t safe in that moment!
So, what I try to do instead, is eliminate those options. The craving is still there. And I still could (and occasionally do) make the 10-minute drive to Dairy Queen and indulge. But I really have to think about it. It forces me to make the conscious decision: do I need to take time out of my day to indulge this craving that I’m ultimately going to regret? Most often, the answer is no. But if the option was simpler; where I didn’t have to be so intentional, and I didn’t have to give it a second thought… Yea, I’d eat the damn Oreos!
This is where it’s extremely beneficial if you can get your family members on the same page. Clean eating as a family is fun and rewarding; and even when it sucks you’ve got people to commiserate with! Clean eating when everyone around you is gouging Ding-Dongs? That takes willpower my friend. More willpower than I can often summon.
Get some sleep already:
I’m not going to get into the science of sleep; there are plenty of studies out there if you want to get into the weeds. But I can simplify all of it with practical experience that we all inherently know (even though our culture insists that we fight it, by inherently putting the workaholic on a pedestal with blatant admiration for the individual who “thrives” on 4 hours of sleep): you need sleep to function at a high level. More appropriately to this passage, your body needs sleep to function at a high level. Most trustworthy weight management and exercise plans put a significant value on sleep: your body needs it for recovery and rejuvenation, your stomach needs it for calm digestion. And let’s be honest, your mind needs it for your damn sanity!
The magic number for me personally seems to be right around 7 hours of sleep. I can function on less, but I’m at peak performance – physically and mentally – with 7 as a minimum. If that sounds insane and/or impossible, I’d encourage you to humor me and indulge yourself: become a sleep zealot for a week. Tell me it doesn’t make a difference.
Sitting is the new smoking:
There’s science behind this too if you want to get into the weeds, but here’s the overview: we sit far too much in America. Our bodies were built to move. Constant sitting weakens our muscles, makes us lethargic, and has wide ranging and long-lasting health effects. If you’re a white-collar worker like myself, this epidemic seems unavoidable. It’s not.
A little over a year ago, I invested in a standing desk. I was on the fence, but I can honestly say it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made for myself. My desk is adjustable, so if I feel the need I can sit at any time. Initially, I sat about half of my day and stood the other half. Then I realized two things: 1.) I felt better when I stood longer. 2.) I was MORE CREATIVE when I stood. I guess it’s just the energy of weight and movement; I feel more alive when standing. I have greater clarity. I make quicker decisions and I’m more confident in them. I cannot endorse a standing desk enough.
What this boils down to – all of it – is moving beyond our current standard operating system and actually realizing how specific decisions make us FEEL. Does it feel good to inhale a bag of chips on the couch? In the moment, typically it doesn’t feel bad. But what about when you get done… Greasy fingers, crumbs all over your clothes, and an empty bag staring us right in our guilty face. Then we get up and realize we feel like crap: lethargic, lazy, fat. Almost inevitably, the thought crosses our mind: “Why did I just eat all that junk? I feel terrible.” That’s self-awareness. The trick then, is to create mechanisms of accountability that trigger the memory of those feelings BEFORE we indulge!
If you’ve followed this blog or my related ramblings for any period of time, you realize that I fancy myself a bit of an experimenter. I read, listen, and try to absorb a lot of information. So I get a lot of ideas. Some of them work for me (I’ve shared many of those here). Many do not. The process of combing through both sides is all about self-awareness. I heard an expert talking about how the most beneficial form of sleep was in the first 3 hours – and how two 3-4 hours bursts of sleep was better for the body than one long one. This appealed to me: I have two young sons, and as most parents would attest, I can get a lot more done when they’re sleeping! So, for several days I set my alarm for 2:00AM, worked until my oldest son got up, then cooked him breakfast and dropped him off at school before returning home for a siesta. It didn’t work for me. The early morning productivity was awesome; but I had a hard time shutting my mind off in the morning, and just ended up completely worn down. It just wasn’t sustainable, for me. My body told me that (self-awareness).
The above schedule might work wonders for you. And some of the other stuff I’ve shared here that has benefitted me may not work for you at all. The only way to know it is to try it, and listen to what your body tells you in response.