The time has come where new year’s resolutions are upon us, and not even a month into the new year, some of us are already beating ourselves up for not adhering to our strictly set health goals. Why can’t we just make up our minds and implement a significant change to be healthier? Why do healthy living and the habits that make for a healthy lifestyle sometimes seem so far out of reach?
As we begin this new year in a powerful place of intention and change, I want to address some simple tips for unlocking your ability to more easily follow a healthy daily routine.
While we often believe we solely are in control of the choices we make with regard to healthy living habits, our susceptibility to being influenced by the chemistry of our brains and our past conditioning can hardly be resisted.
From the moment of our very conception, our bodies, brains, and energetic systems are being influenced both by our mothers and the world in which she exists. Even before birth, our biology is informed about how to respond to the environment in which it will grow (and hopefully thrive). As we exit the safety of the womb and begin to gain our own experiences of the world, neural pathways develop in the brain, largely determining how we respond to different stimuli. This patterns us for a lifetime and ensures that we get happy, good chemicals when things feel like they are going well; consequently, it also ensures that we get the appropriate chemicals to help us avoid possibly dangerous situations when things aren’t safe, like stress-response chemicals such as cortisol. This means that our choices are primarily programmed responses to our environment.
Our decisions are generally based on two things: pleasure-seeking and pain avoidance. These behaviors were developed quickly and unconsciously but have taken a lifetime to be reinforced. This biological and behavioral programming can make changing your habits and decisions into more healthy ones a difficult proposition.
But take heart, I have good news to share.
While these neural pathways and patterned chemical responses run deep (so to speak), the good news is that the brain is neuroplastic; we CAN learn how to reprogram ourselves in the direction of observing more healthy habits to sustain that healthy lifestyle we all desire. The brain can learn to process old information in new ways, and we can, in fact, act ourselves into a new way of thinking. Forming new healthy habits is entirely within the realm of possibility.
Guilt is the lowest form of energy on the planet. Guilt paralyzes and leads to apathy (it’s also very egocentric, and who wants to admit to wallowing in that?). These energetic states are designed to summon aid when we feel like we cannot possibly help ourselves. But that kind of hopelessness and helplessness can lead to a perilous downward spiral.
If you see that you have already “failed” at observing your new year’s resolution, I would invite you to recontextualize that process to make it work for you instead of letting it work against you. Do not sabotage your pure intention and goodwill! I often like to think that learning how not to do something is as valuable a piece of information as learning how to do something. After all, if I know what doesn’t work, I am one step closer to discovering what does work. That is a step in the right direction!
When I think of health tips, I like to keep them in appropriate perspective; these aren’t commandments, directives, or mandates…they are TIPS. Tips are in the category of helpful information, like how to wash a blouse best to keep it looking great, or the ultimate cleaner to keep your pots and pans in like-new shape. The result of observing a tip should not be life and death, sink or swim, pass or fail.
Remember that while healthy lifestyle habits and vitality are important goals, we can’t be too hard on ourselves or take it too seriously. It’s counter-productive to enter the place of being riddled with guilt for not flawlessly applying each and every health tip we have ever heard.
Is there a solution?
For every single one of us, the solution will look slightly different. Some of us might require the assistance of a coach or accountability buddy. Some of us might be just fine to set measurable goals and work towards them on our own.
I have two specific items for your consideration as you approach living a healthier lifestyle in 2022, regardless of whether you want to do it alone or have a partner to help you along the way.
1. Know that awareness is the first key to change.
Often, when I have set a goal to stop doing something, I will just observe my impulses and desire to do that very thing. I will note the environment, the precursors (emotional or otherwise), the triggers, and most importantly, my response. Watching my action without judgment as I learn why I do what I do is ultimately the first step to changing my behaviors. When I am aware of the initial impulse, when I can see how the pattern will play out, I am in a much better place to rationally move in a manner counter to desire and begin creating a new and healthier habit.
2. It is imperative to set small, measurable goals that we feel are achievable and can be noted as milestones on our journey.
This is the time to set your intention, to find a way to document your goal and shape your path toward it. This process will look different for each goal, but it’s imperative to make sure that your daily steps in the right direction are small and achievable.
You may wish to create a checklist, keep a journal, or note your achievements somewhere you can see them to keep yourself feeling motivated and accomplished.
I have noticed about my own growth that I tend to focus on the full shovel I have in my hand rather than seeing the heap of muck I have already moved. I have to remember to give myself credit where it is due and to resist the desire to punish myself when I fall short of a goal.
It’s never too late to start your day over. Even if you had a morning where you felt like you failed, you now have an afternoon to infuse your determination with vigor and to begin again.
If you grew up with parents who demonstrated healthy living habits and who effortlessly lived health-filled lives, and they passed along those health-centric traits to you, you are likely not reading this.
This is for those of us who may have struggled, but we want to do the work. We see the opportunity for change, and we dare to grow and have the determination to get back up and start again, even when things seem like they might not be working. Just as ocean waves follow the pull of nature, your journey toward new habits will likely ebb and flow. You have to remember that this is a natural phenomenon of living in this earth suit and that you needn’t thwart your goals, throwing them away because of bad days, lack of inspiration, or a scarcity of resolve.
Every step we take, either in the “wrong” direction or the “right” one, is grist for the mill of change and growth.
Here’s to you and your new healthier self: one step and one moment of awareness at a time.
Be well and Happy New Year,