Change is hard, even when the benefits are obvious and the path to bring them about is clear. When it comes to taking steps towards healthy living, this is especially pertinent. There are no deep secrets, no hidden obstacles that may prevent the implementation of well-known health measures. And yet, more often than not, failure is common, best intentions end in frustration, great efforts prove futile. Why is that?
There is nothing magic about eating right, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, or managing stress. We all know that those are crucial elements of a health-promoting lifestyle. So why are so many of us seemingly unable to make them a reality? As some experts suggest, it may all be a matter of thinking styles, of getting into the right mindset.
Much of what we do in life is not based on specific decisions but habits we acquired along the way. Why and how these become established is not always obvious, oftentimes someone may have them for no particular reason at all.
But that’s precisely the point. As long as we don’t understand how our habits form, we find it hard to break them, even if they do us harm or prevent us from getting what we really want, according to Wendy Wood, a professor of psychology at the University of Southern California, Dornsife, and expert on habit research.
One way to break an existing pattern of behavior is to avoid trigger events that set certain habits in motion, she explains. But that requires a conscious effort, a purposeful act to bring mindfulness to otherwise mindless activities, she says.
Mindfulness as a means to bring about change is not just limited to individual actions but also aims at the larger picture, how we think of ourselves, our way of life, our values, attitudes, perspectives, hopes and aspirations, says Pilar Gerasimo, founding editor of Experience Life magazine.
Starting a truly healthy lifestyle begins with taking stock of what achieving good health would entail for each of us, she says. Part of that is owning up to our shortcomings and realizing the obstacles that keep us from reaching our objectives.
We also need to redefine what constitutes good health, which is more than just the absence of disease. We need to go beyond treating illnesses or even preventing them. Instead, the goal should be to attain a sense of energy, vitality and life itself, Gerasimo proposes.
“If you are in good health, you should pop out of bed with a smile on your face,” she says.
So, thinking of yourself as a healthy person makes you work on multiple issues, not just your diet or exercise regime, your sleep pattern or your stress level. It requires you to address all the components that play a role in your well-being, including your outlook on life, your relationship to your surroundings, both social and environmental, your prospects and aspirations, and also your limitations and their acceptance. In short, everything that affects your whole person.
If you see your entire being as an expression of good health, your body and mind will cooperate accordingly. You will find it easier to maintain a healthy weight range, physical strength and fitness, mental and emotional balance, a functional social life, and so forth.
Those rewards will come almost automatically over time, perhaps unnoticeable to you at first, but very real in the long run. Eventually, you will perceive yourself in new ways, not only healthier but also happier, with a new lease on life you didn’t think you still had coming.
TIMI GUSTAFSON, a registered dietitian, health counselor, newspaper columnist, and blogger. She’s the author of “The Healthy Diner — How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun.” Her website is www.timigustafson.com.