Our greatest capacity to have influence over our health is with our habits.
If you wake up one day and realize that your routines are not doing you any good, and in fact they may be hurting you, it’s time to do an inventory on your day. We all get into rhythms, brushing our teeth before we go to bed, lemon water first thing in the morning, maybe a glass of wine at the end of the day. As we age, each of those choices, how we spend our moments, make a bigger difference in how we feel. It can be helpful to create a roadmap for making the most of your habits. Here’s how:
- Create a clear vision. Take some time and think about how you want to feel every day. Maybe you want to have more energy, or feel more connected to the people you love, or more connected to yourself. Perhaps you want to feel strong and healthy. The more specific you can be with your vision, the more powerful it is as a tool. Notice what comes to you as you fine-tune your vision. Is there a song that makes you feel that way, or a posture you can stand in to embody it? Describe that vision in words, paint it, create a collage, or choreograph a dance. The important thing is that it is meaningful to you, and invokes that sense of how you want to feel.
- Name your values. Spend a few moments and write down what is most important to you. It could be your health or your family. It could be your contribution to your community, or a sense of sharing love and feeling loved. Begin by writing down all the values that matter to you, and then choose three or four that mean the most to you, that make you say “yes, that is what I cherish!”
- Embrace your why. Once you have these two components clear, connect them so you know why it matters to feel the way you want to feel. If your vision includes you as a vibrant, healthy, energetic, powerhouse; why does it matter to feel that way? It could be that it connects to your value of family, and lets you keep up with your children or grandchildren, or maybe you’ve got a huge contribution to share with the world, and all that energy means you can make a bigger difference.
- Know your strengths. We all have a sense of what we are good at, but what are the things that come naturally to you, that energize you and feel effortless? You could be a social butterfly, pulling friends together easily, maybe you’re the queen of lists, and the one everyone asks to help get organized, or you could be someone who easily feels gratitude for the little things in life. If you feel stymied here, (after all, you may not be used to thinking of yourself in this way), consider asking close friends and family what they think your strengths are, or take an online test, (gallup has a good one.)
- Go small. It’s tempting to go big when you decide you want to get healthy/start meditating/ spend more time with family, but trying to do too much could backfire. Especially in the beginning, choose small actions that will lead you toward your vision. Once you build some momentum, you can up your game. If you know exercise is part of that path, add ten minutes of walking in the morning or evening, and check out a strength training class at your gym or online. Here is where your strengths come into play. Let your strengths help you get your habits going. If bringing people together is your thing, bring them together to go for walks every week. If organizing comes naturally, create structure around the habits, maybe a checklist you can mark off to satisfy that part of you.
- Make the most of add-ons. We know from research that trying to stop something is much harder than adding something on. Use this method by adding healthy habits to something you already do. Add your short morning walk after brushing your teeth in the morning, and reward yourself with your tea or coffee afterwards. Look at rhythms you have built into your day, and consider how you can add small habits to those already in place.
- Make friends with obstacles. It’s important to know that things will get in the way, after all, life happens. When you spend some time thinking about what might get in the way, and coming up with ideas for how to overcome those obstacles, you train your mind to not let things get in the way. Keep coming back to your vision and your why, and you’ll find the motivation to keep those habits moving toward the healthy side. Will you slide along the way, and choose a bowl of ice cream over an evening walk? Of course, it’s inevitable, but if you let yourself acknowledge your human-ness, and have some compassion for yourself, it’s much easier to quickly get back on track.
Our greatest capacity to have influence over our health is with our habits. We each have a genetic predisposition towards certain ways of being, but our lifestyle habits exert a huge influence over how those genes are expressed. If we choose to, we can build those habits so they support graceful aging, vibrant living, and, purposeful contribution. They are cumulative, so let’s point them in the direction we want to go.