Nobody would ever accuse me of being the picture of health or a model of purely healthy behavior. There is room for improvement in my diet, exercise and sleep patterns. Still, one of the major takeaways of 2013 for me will be a renewed awareness of and emphasis on healthy behavior.
I was reasonably good about eating and sleeping and getting enough activity the first nine months of the year, but everything kicked up a notch once I started wearing a Fitbit Flex in September. Since then I’ve tracked activity, calories and sleep daily. I decided to lower my maximum weight another five pounds and now maintain that level. I’ve counted calories of everything I’ve consumed the past three months and am far more aware of the caloric and nutritional consequences of my eating decisions. I haven’t had a single day since getting my Fitbit of less than 10,000 steps, averaging at least 80,000 per week. I may not be doing all that I should for better health, but more health-related behaviors have become ingrained and an important part of how I live each day. I have new habits, and that is critical to changing one’s lifestyle.
It’s easy to make excuses not to make time for physical activity or not to take the time to track calories and nutrition of what you consume or not to sleep enough, but I’ve known for a long, long time that we always find time for what is really important to us. If watching the TV or eating certain foods or killing time with our favorite sedentary or unhealthy pastimes is what we value most, then we’ll choose those over more healthy options. Short-term gratification is a formidable foe of long-term better choices, and too often it wins the battle in many households.
Research varies as to how long you must do something before it becomes a habit, but there is no dispute that you can develop new, healthier habits if you choose to do so. What motivates one person to change behavior may be very different than what motivates another. How long it takes to get to the point where you can live the new lifestyle without hardly thinking about it may vary widely from one person to the next. But new habits can come to pass.
Let me offer an analogy from running to explain the point I believe I’ve reached this year…
When I first take out on a longer run, the first several miles are the toughest for me psychologically. After just a few miles I’m battling inside my head unwanted thoughts like “Why are you doing this?” and “Why don’t you just stop now and go home?” The temptation to call it a day is great and sometimes I’ve given in to that voice.
However, I have run enough times to know that for my body, for whatever reason, it’s at about the six-mile mark when something happens. After that distance and length of time, it’s as though that unwanted voice takes the hint and finally realizes “I guess he’s going to keep on going. I may as well go away.” At that point, I can keep on going literally for as long as the ol’ body will allow. I’ve never run a marathon, but I have run out on my own in such circumstances up to about 18 miles or so.
So it seems like this year has been when I’ve passed the psychological six-mile mark in creating new habits of eating and maintaining a regular routine of activity such that the temptations to do otherwise just don’t win the day any more. That’s a good feeling.
Unfortunately, you can’t build up healthy behavior like a squirrel gathering nuts for winter. It’s something you have to keep at year-round. That’s a good thing, really, because breaking the habit for a long period would not only be detrimental for the short term, but most likely for the long term as newer, unhealthy habits emerge.
Consider yourself fortunate if you are surrounded by others who set a good example of healthy behavior and who encourage you to do so as well. Consider yourself one of the lucky ones if your employer offers numerous health and well-being initiatives and incentives as does my company. Any and all external motivation and encouragement to live healthy helps pave the way to a better, longer future.
Ultimately, though, you have to make the decision to pursue a healthy lifestyle yourself. Nobody can successfully force you into it and keep you on the path against your will. I understand that in the absence of any external support and encouragement, the lone commitment to improve seems like a long, uphill climb. But it can be done! And it doesn’t all have to be done quickly. In fact, it can’t happen quickly. In pursuits like this, I like to take an annual or monthly view – not a daily or weekly one – and ask myself, “Am I in a better place today than I was a year or a month ago?” If the answer is “Yes,” then that’s good enough. At least I’m moving in the right direction.
My thanks to work colleagues, family, friends and my employer who encourage healthy behavior. You have helped make 2013 an important year for me in changing habits that should serve me well for years to come. Things are shaping up for some new healthy goals for 2014, but with the advantage of already having established a new baseline of healthy habits on which to build.
Being healthy isn’t automatic or easy. You have to want it and work for it. I am grateful that one of my major lessons learned for 2013 is to work at being healthy.