I was driving a friend of mine home and we were talking about the benefits of meditation. She asked me a question that I found very insightful. It struck me as such because I don’t think a lot of health professionals ask this question enough (or at all) which then leads to frustration with clients. “So we know what is good for us, why don’t we (as in people) choose to do it?” She then used several examples including sleeping enough, eating well, exercising, and meditating.
The first and primary reason I think this is, is that humans like immediate satisfaction. Health behaviors usually require setting aside something that has immediate gratification for a future gain. For example “I should go to bed but I don’t want anyone to spoil this episode of GoT,” or “I should get up and go workout…but my bed is so comfortable.” These non-healthy behaviors provide immediate gratification and often we don’t have to exert any kind of extra effort to pursue them.
So how do we do what’s best for us anyway? I have a few recommendations. I use working out as my example in most of the following, but I feel they can be applied generally as well.
1) Make it part of your daily plan. Ie, dont just fit your workout in “wherever.” That is the quickest way to make sure it becomes ‘never.’ The time you go to work (for most of us) is non negotiable. When someone wants to make plans your exercise time should be just as static. This is one of the reasons that group classes can be helpful. Those classes are only held at specific times on specific days. This same mindset for your personal exercise can be very helpful.
2) Write it down. A journal, a planner, an exercise tracker, or even a blog (🤗) can be a good way to track and give some tangible record of your health habits. Having an end product will add to the satisfaction you feel and help keep you motivated. I recommend recording what you do as far as workouts and the results you see/measure. For example if you realize your jeans have gotten a little big, write that shit down! That’s awesome, celebrate! You can also record bodyweight, body fat, strength gains, or just how you feel.
3) have some patience and forgiveness. Habits don’t form overnight and sometimes you will choose the unhealthy option. Beating yourself up and going into a negative mindset does not help. Acknowledge your choice, and then make an effort to make a different choice next time. It is important to learn from our successes, not just our failures. So consider what you did right then or in previous circumstances and try to apply that. When we wallow in failure there’s no joy, and it becomes all too easy to associate the behaviour we are trying to adopt with guilt or negativity.
4) Practice mindfulness. With continuing practice in mindfulness it becomes easier to say no to short term hiccups that will detract from your goals. You realize that the craving you are feeling is transitory. The wish to eat that extra pizza, stay out late with that person or sleep in on your alarm is temporary and soon will be replaced with guilt. Knowing what your habits are and adjusting for them is key.
5) Last but not least, enjoy the moment. Find the enjoyment in what you are doing and acknowledge it. This sounds hooky I know but bear with me. Too much of our time is spent experiencing the past or anticipating the future. When we are exercising or eating a healthy meal we are often not actually present doing that thing but rather daydreaming or planning to do precisely the opposite. How can we make disparate behaviors into a lifestyle without actually experiencing that lifestyle? I would argue that that is unsustainable. Enjoy what you are doing, otherwise it’s wasted breath.
Obviously I’m far from perfect but these are some strategies that work for me. Maybe you will find them helpful. If so, or if you have some advice to share, I would love to hear from you.