Let me ask you a question. Let’s say you’re a doctor. What’s the ONE THING it takes to be a successful doctor? Just one thing. You’re probably rolling your eyes and getting ready to tell me that no one thing can make you a successful doctor. It might take 10 or 20 things, or many, many years of experience. So, what makes you think that any ONE THING will help you live a healthier lifestyle?
For example, when it comes to losing weight for good – what makes you think that cutting out all carbs is THE answer to losing weight and keeping it off forever? Especially when you know that it’s not sustainable to never eat a carb again. And it’s certainly no fun to deny yourself pizza or a hamburger now and then.
Instead of focusing on one thing to bring more “healthy” to your life, like a diet or killing yourself at the gym, building small habits that turn into more lasting behaviors is the key to big transformation.
“Previous research suggests that people who are successful in controlling their behavior in line with their long-term goals rely on effortless strategies, such as good habits.”
Bonus: Building better habits also leaves you less time to perform alternative behaviors you may be trying to break. For instance, if your new habit is to brush your teeth after dinner, you’re less likely to perform the habit of eating before bed.
Did you ever stop to think how you began that habit of brushing your teeth or drinking coffee for breakfast that is now a consistent part of your day? Probably not.
But you can consciously start to build habits that lead to a healthier lifestyle.
Break it Down
What does a healthier lifestyle look like to you? Having more energy throughout the day? Becoming a more consistent exerciser? Having the strength to get off the floor when playing with your kids/grandkids? Living without disease? Eating more whole foods? All of the above?
Take time to analyze the big picture and keep it in mind when trying to break your habits into smaller chunks. Use what you know about yourself and your current skill set to determine what small action step you’re ready to try working on turning into a habit.
Always keep in mind that setting out to live healthier is a process. There’s no way around that. Get comfortable knowing that you’ll be experimenting with what works for you for many years to come. And you also might find that your healthier living priorities change. If at first you are trying for a lifestyle that can help stave off disease, you may find down the road that you want to add having more energy every day to your list of healthier lifestyle objectives.
The Wellness Trifecta
There are endless ways to begin creating habits that can shape a healthier lifestyle. I’m going to focus on what I call the wellness trifecta – mindset, nutrition, and fitness – as I think they are three of the main areas to put your energy into to get started on your journey. Many of the other areas (such as sleep or stress levels) hinge on how good you feel physically and mentally, so these three areas are a great starting point.
Shifting your mindset about healthier living can be a game-changer. Instead of approaching this kind of lifestyle as all-or-nothing, focus on what you can do in the moment and let the rest grow organically.
Practicing habits is exactly the way to get out of all-or-nothing thinking because it keeps you from expecting perfection or aiming too high and puts you more into the doing mode.
For instance, establishing the habit of moving your body in ways you like three or more days a week just because it makes you feel good helps you get out of the mentality that you have to push yourself to do exercise you don’t like but think you “should” be doing. And that, in turn, keeps you showing up.
Making a habit out of practicing mindful eating instead of doing the latest diet for three months takes the outcome of expecting to shed 20 pounds and turns it into something doable for a lifetime.
Nutrition differs for everyone based on their objectives.
Do you want to learn to listen to your fullness cues so you stop overeating? Find a simple step, like putting your fork down between every bite, to practice at every meal.
Do you eat out or buy frozen dinners full of preservatives more than you’d like? Maybe your goal is to eat more whole foods more frequently.
Is meal planning frustrating you? Perhaps watching a cooking show or two to get you inspired every week is manageable. Or maybe spending 10 minutes a week searching for healthier recipes to cook at home is something you’d like to try. What about planning 2 or 3 balanced meals for dinner this week and then working up to 5 or 6?
Fitness is also subjective, depending on your overall vision. Do you want to have the energy to do your day-to-day activities with ease? Or are you looking to become a world-class soccer player? Figure out your bigger fitness purpose, and then use your skill set to help you find ways to move that you enjoy and can make a habit out of.
Example of a small fitness habit: Put your workout clothes somewhere that will remind you it’s time to get moving. Get in the habit of putting them on (if you need to do it at a certain time on certain days as a reminder, go for it). Once you’ve got your clothes on, get started on your body movement of choice. If that feels good, keep going and finish your session.
You can also set a reminder on your phone to stop what you're doing at a specific time of day or week so you know it's time to get up and move your body (in whatever form that may take for you).
More Habit Tips
Make it simple!
Smaller actions can become habits more quickly, and conquering one small habit can motivate you to keep going. James Clear, author of “Atomic Habits – An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones,” suggests that a new habit should take less than two minutes to do. He also recommends “standardization before optimization,” or making the habit standard first and then doing it better later. (I signed up for James Clear’s “30 Days to Better Habits,” to see what it was all about, and it’s super helpful in getting to the nitty-gritty of setting habits.)
Tie it to something you already do
For instance, if you’re trying to add one piece of fruit every day, make it a habit to eat it with cereal or toast at breakfast. If you’re trying to floss your teeth once a day, do it after you brush your teeth before bed. To work on putting healthier meals on your table, you could try a small habit like writing out a meal plan while you’re having coffee, tea, or breakfast one morning a week.
If you stop looking for that one thing you think will make you healthier and work on forming and practicing habits, you might just find that healthier lifestyle easier to reach.
Perfection rejectionist Lisa Kiersky Schreiber is a nutrition and lifestyle coach who helps clients take a holistic and realistic approach to wellness. Lisa got off the diet carousel and can help you do the same.
Find other articles written by Lisa on her coach profile. Her philosophy will help you simplify your nutrition lifestyle so you can learn to trust yourself implicitly around food.