How to Create Healthy Habits
Spring cleaning doesnt have to be about garages and gardening—create a healthy life for yourself by understanding how habits can make or break your success.
I’ve spent a good deal of time the last 22 years of my life studying people. My background is in exercise physiology and biology, but rather than work in a hospital or lab setting I decided to work in a healthier one—or as I like to say, I chose a proactive approach to health rather than a reactive one. This has taken me on a marvelous journey from personal trainer to gym owner to lifestyle coach to author and student of all things wellness.
As far back as I can remember I was always interested in human behavior. At 19, I accepted my first official job in the fitness industry and, much to my surprise, I began understanding the complexities of human behavior. Within a couple of months I realized something that was incredibly fascinating: Most people had a routine (habits) not just for their workouts but also for their behavior in general, and most of the time there was a direct correlation between it and success.
Psychologists have long studied the effects of habits and how they shape our lives. Psychologist and philosopher William James once wrote that our lives were nothing but a mass of habits. I couldn’t agree more! (If you think about it carefully, our lives can be summed up into a handful of habits.) For some, these habits can be as healthy as flossing, preparing the right breakfast, and getting in a good workout, while for others they might not be as ambitious or healthy. Sometimes it’s quite complicated, and our habits often conflict with one another. For example, do you know someone that works out habitually but also eats recklessly? How about someone that rarely has a steady job but is constantly spending? How and why are these habits learned? Like many things we do in life, much of it begins when we’re children and continues through adulthood. We learn behaviors and after a while they become automatic, whether they help or hinder us.
Over the years I’ve watched countless people work out on a daily basis but yield very little or zero results. But how could that be? While our genes play an important role in our lives, their expression is ultimately regulated by our actions (and therefore our habits). Success is all about consistency, and habits are a great way to ensure consistency—after all, where would your teeth be without habitual brushing twice a day? Whether teaching fitness classes, training clients, or working on myself, I’ve realized that personal commitment and intent play a very important role in overall success. Getting through a workout is an achievement in and of itself, but is only part of the formula for optimum health. It might surprise you to find out that it really is quite simple to find success, and we all have the answer right in front of us. But first, let’s understand how our brain creates habits.
Imagine a field of tall grass that’s never been touched. Then imagine walking across it for the first time. It’s probably be a bit challenging at first, but as you cross it you clear away some of the grass and create a walking path. As you continue to walk that path, eventually it becomes wider and clearer and ultimately the grass on it is gone and the path is there for good. This process is similar to what occurs in the brain. We learn a new behavior and repeat it and much like riding a bike, it becomes a path that remains forever. The first time you jumped on a bicycle it seemed as if the path was too difficult, but, as repetition works its magic on the brain, the once impossible becomes a reality. It becomes as easy as riding a bike. That’s the answer to ultimate wellness! If we use consistency and determination as tools to create healthy habits, successful living becomes effortless.
I’ve found that the areas in our lives we struggle with are the ones with the greatest need for automation through habits. Research has shown that it takes approximately 21 days to make or break a habit. Whether you’re trying to eat more greens, incorporate more exercise into your week, or kick cigarettes for good, take the next 21 days to create a healthy habit. Not only will it lead to a healthy life, but you’ll also stumble upon the best version of you!
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