From Mindful to Mindless: How to Engage in Healthy Habits That Last for Life

by Liz Stovall, Fitness and Wellness Division Manager, Department of Human Resources

Exciting as it is, the idea of embarking on a new healthy way of living can be overwhelming. We know how much physical and emotional effort lasting change requires. If you have attempted change and stumbled in the past – and who has not – even just the act of aspiring to change and risking failure can feel exhausting.  After all, most people assume that to achieve their feel-great weight, they will have to practice herculean feats of willpower that make healthy eating and exercise so very challenging.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could just flip a switch in our brain that would force us to eat the healthiest foods in the healthiest amounts and get the most effective workouts? That may not be possible, but creating habits is the next best thing.

Once you become aware of the emotional and environmental triggers between you and your goals and get some perspective on your own desires and temperaments, you can use that information to create habits that set you up for success. By setting up a series of carefully crafted habits, you can put your healthiest eating and most effective training practices on autopilot.

The term habit has an austere connotation; it implies servitude and obligation. It sounds downright unpleasant, but habits can liberate us from fretting about what to eat, when to exercise and how to reach and maintain our feel-great weight. Habits are freeing and energizing. They save us from the draining and difficult work of making decisions and exercising our self-control. What is more, each time you practice a healthy habit, it gets stronger and more automatic, so you do not have to muster up as much willpower to do it.

Here are some keys to effective habit creation that can help you make your own eating and exercising life more successful than before.

  • Respect yourself: You are who you are. You can be yourself. Change is possible, but personality transplants are unlikely. So, as you are setting up habits, do so with honest understanding of your own nature. If you are a night owl, do not vow to start daily 5 a.m. workouts. Focus on changing the situation to suit your desires and inclinations.
  • Show a little compassion: Do not say anything to yourself that you would not tell a good friend.
  • Convenience matters: It is important to make anything you do not want to do inconvenient, and anything you do want to do as easy as possible. If you do not want to indulge in cookies, do not buy them.
  • No man is an island: We are influenced by other people’s habits. If you want to form a habit, think carefully about what people around you are doing. If they are engaging in healthy living, that is helpful. If they are not, or they are actively sabotaging your goals, plan how you are going to contend with them.

Need motivation to begin your healthier habits? Participate in the July 21-Day Intermittent Movement Challenge to move more and decrease sedentary behavior with minimal interruption – a manageable way to get fit without designating an hour per day for exercise.

Visit the Health Trip page on the Power Henrico website for additional information.