If you’re like most Americans, you don’t feel quite as healthy as you wish you did. It’s not hard to see why. Many of us eat poorly, exercise too little, and fail to get the vital nutrients we need. And while we’re lacking good habits, we’re indulging in bad ones: eating too much junk, lying around watching TV, and failing to consider our body’s nutritional needs.
These habits – the missing good ones and the existing bad ones – are the reason that we’re unhealthy. And that means that changing our habits is key to improving our health.
Pinpoint your bad habits
You probably already have some idea of what your bad habits are: you eat too much, you exercise too little, and so on. But habits are a bit more specific and complicated than that. Spend a few days writing down not just what you do wrong, but when you do it. You may be surprised to find that your habits have specific triggers and patterns.
For instance, you may eat too much ice cream. That’s a bad habit, for sure. But your bad habit may be more specific than just “eating too much ice cream” – after all, you don’t have ice cream for breakfast, do you? By tracking your habits, you may see that your habit of eating ice cream is actually a habit of eating ice cream after dinner on the nights you can stay up later because you don’t have work in the morning. Our habits are specific and connected. Some of us drink more on some days than others, then eat more of a bad food because we are drinking. Some of us unwind by watching TV, and eat unconsciously while we watch. These habits are related.
Changing your habits
If you can identify the links between your habits, you can start to change them.
For instance, if you’re only eating ice cream while watching TV after dinner, your answer might not be to quit the ice cream on its own – you may find it’s way too difficult to watch TV without your ice cream. What if you read a book instead? You may find that your new book habit isn’t as connected to ice cream as your old TV one, and that your ice cream eating disappears when your TV watching does. Alternatively, you can identify the habit trigger and try to replace only the second part of the habit loop. You can choose something new and try to do that while watching TV – munching on carrots, for instance.
Gaining good habits
Habits aren’t always things you can make disappear. They’re often things that you have to tweak or replace, as we discussed in the section above. So what are some good habits to develop?
Consider adding a new hobby that makes you more active. If running or weight-lifting seems too boring, try something a bit more structured, such as dance or yoga. A healthy hobby can steal time from your low-mobility ones, like TV watching – and your low-mobility habits, as we discussed, may be connected to other unhealthy habits, like overeating or smoking.
You can also add habits to your existing routines that will help you stay healthier. Add a multi-vitamin to your morning routine, for instance, and you’ll be getting more essential vitamins and nutrients every day. Other supplements – from antioxidants to fish oil – can be added into other routines, until you take them as a matter of course. You can do the same with good – an apple for your commute, a carrot with lunch, and so on.
If you focus on your habits, you’ll likely find that transforming your life is a bit easier than you thought. The keys to our future – whether it be healthy or unhealthy – are in our habits. So find the right keys, and turn them to unlock your healthy future!