Changing behavior and sticking with it over the long haul is tricky. What I really mean is that modifying habits and having them stick takes equal parts of both effort and mindfulness. In the absence of these, many of my own positive health habits and routines have fallen off the rails. Despite many repeated efforts to get myself back into a healthy groove, the results have been short lived. On the bright side, I’m starting to see the pattern that has been setting me up for failure before I even start…
I’m an all-or-nothing girl.
Totally and completely.
If my nutrition is off, why should I bother trying to fit in exercise?
I haven’t really been on my fitness game, so I’m just going to have that heaping helping of ice cream after dinner. Sure, I’d love to help myself to a giant handful of crunchy, salty chips.
I often drink too much coffee. Rarely do I drink enough water in a day.
My irregular sleep habits are wreaking havoc on my body.
I’m kind of a mess.
I’ve been on a slippery slope to sloth-dom. I started to accumulate some extra weight in all the wrong places. (Why can’t I ever gain weight in my boobs? lol) I’ve been lacking energy and feeling uncomfortable in my own skin. I know with every part of me it’s time to make some important changes and get focused on my health. But there’s so much to do, and I don’t even know where to start, and it’s all so overwhelming…
Thanks in large part to my all-or-nothing patterning, I’ve repeatedly made the mistake of trying to make too many sweeping changes all at the same time in the past. As you might expect, this approach has only resulted in frustration when I inevitably fall off of the proverbial wagon midway through the first week.
From a growing understanding of the importance of self-compassion and the knowledge that lasting, meaningful changes requires time and sustained effort, I had an idea:
What if I set one small, manageable goal per day for seven days?
This one simple idea—that seemed almost too simple—might just be the golden ticket to getting me started with making the positive, healthy changes I want and so desperately need in my life.
One week. Seven days. Seven goals.
I could totally do that.
Here’s what that week actually looked like for me, and perhaps even more importantly, what I learned from it:
The Early Bird Gets the Worm
Monday – I decided I would wake at 6:00 a.m. instead of my usual 7:00, 7:09, and 7:18 sleep-snooze cycle. I set my alarm the night before, and to my surprise I woke up naturally, before then alarm went off, at 5:57 a.m. Also to my surprise, I didn’t feel overtired throughout the day. Instead, the extra hour in the morning gave me time to focus and get organized, which allow me to be more productive throughout the day as a whole.
My take-away: From this one day I could easily see how being an early riser offers many benefits. For me, the key to successful early waking is to ensure I get myself to bed on time. That means lights out at 10:00 p.m. This is definitely one healthy habit I plan to work on cultivating further.
Decaffeinating My Morning
Tuesday – I’ve tried, with mixed success, to eliminate coffee from my diet on a number of occasions. I even wrote a blog about it here. With that idea lurking in the back of my mind once again, I opted to swap out my usual morning java for a traditional home brewed yogi tea, which is made from black tea and therefore still contains caffeine. According to Ayurvedic medicine, though, the spicy brew is believed to offer a variety of amazing health benefits, including helping with digestion, strengthening the nervous system, increasing energy, as well as supporting joint health and mental health.
My take-away: I enjoyed the yogi tea both for its flavor and health benefits; however, it took quite a bit of work to prepare. I could definitely see myself making yogi tea from time to time going forward, but I think it might be more practical and realistic to consider reducing my coffee consumption to a maximum of two cups per day, limited to the stuff I brew myself at home in the morning, rather than eliminating coffee from my life altogether. I think that might be what they call balance?
Don’t Be a Hater
Wednesday – I chose no complaining as my change challenge and goal for Wednesday. I’ve done a lot of work over the past few years to steer clear of this dangerous habit, and since I knew I was going for a morning run with my friend and my husband would be away on a business trip, I would have had the perfect motive and opportunity to get sucked into a black hole of complaining. Instead, by setting the intention and staying mindful of the gravity of the ego’s desire to air grievances in front of a sympathetic audience, I’m happy to report I made the choice to lean into the positives.
My take-away: My life is better and so much happier when I do not dwell in negativity; when I don’t allow myself to indulge in the habit of complaining. Like everything else in life, this is a practice. But with focus and mindfulness, it gets easier over time. I’ve simply come to the point where I’d much rather build my positivity muscle with a focus on gratitude, rather than my negativity through complaining.
Ditching Devices for Zen Time
Thursday – Knowing it was a school holiday and my kids would be at home with me, I was looking to get a positive start to the day. In the morning, I invited them to put their electronic devices down and do some yoga with me.
My take-away: Have you ever heard the saying: You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink? Similarly, you can invite your children to do yoga, but you can’t make them stay and do it with you. This endeavor was a serious exercise in patience for me. I think my daughter lasted about four minutes, and, surprisingly, my son stuck around for about 12. It didn’t take long for me to remember it’s best for everyone if I don’t have any expectations around their participation. After all, they are 10 and eight years old, and they have their own personalities, agendas, likes, and dislikes. And that’s ok. This yoga momma will let it go and maybe try again another time.
It Ain’t Easy Being Green
Friday – I’m a food lover and breakfast ‘eater’, through and through. Those who know me well will probably have heard me say I prefer to eat my food vs. drinking it, but I had a few different reasons for wanting to try a smoothie bowl. Of course, I wanted to see what all the hype was about, plus I’m always looking for ways to get more vegetables into my diet. And finally, I recently came across an article that basically touted the breakfast smoothie bowl as a healthy sundae, so I figured I couldn’t go wrong.
My take-away: This was a good idea, in theory, but the execution was definitely lacking. The recipe I used called for a frozen banana, so I used one of the many I have on standby for making banana bread in the freezer. This, in a nutshell, was the problem. The smoothie bowl tasted like freezer burnt banana. EEEEEEWWWWWW! I am happy to report I have since tried again with a non-freezer-burnt frozen banana, and thankfully it made a world of difference. The fun toppings are where it’s at and are what will bring your smoothie bowl to life. Using a variety of different flavours and textures for toppings is a great way to add interest, so go ahead and get creative! (I used fresh berries, shredded coconut, Chia seeds, and sliced almonds.) Green smoothie bowls have already become a once per week staple for my husband and I at breakfast.
Expanding Dinner Horizons
Saturday – This was the day I wanted to try a new recipe for dinner, and One-pan Honey Mustard Chicken and Potatoes was just the thing. This sweet and savoury dish offers the added bonus of being cooked all in one pan, which makes preparation and cleanup way easier. Yay!
My take-away: Sometimes I get stuck in a rut of making the same meals over and over again, which gets boring and tired. It’s nice to try new recipes from time to time, and if they turn out to be a crowd-pleaser in my house, they might just make it into a regular rotation. My husband and I both enjoyed this recipe, but unfortunately my kids were not as enthused (who knows why: they’re kids, they’re weird, they don’t like mustard?). Sidebar: taking time to meal plan and ensure you have all the proper ingredients on hand can be a lifesaver, particularly for busy nights, which is pretty much every night when you have kids.
Drink More H20, Yo
Sunday – My intention for Sunday was to get on board the train at the Hydration Station first thing in the morning and then ride that train all day long. I actually don’t mind drinking water, but my greatest barriers to doing so are 1) remembering to actually do it, and then 2) ensuring I’m never far from a washroom. So I filled up my water bottle and drank, and drank, and drank as much as I could throughout the day. I estimate drinking about three 17 ounce bottles of water, which still falls a little short of the suggested daily intake.
My take-away: I know how much better I feel when I drink water and how yucky I feel when I don’t (tired, headachy, sluggish digestion, etc.). I still have quite a bit of room for improvement when it comes to drinking enough water each day, but I also need to cut myself some slack, because drinking some is better than drinking none, or worse yet, filling up my bladder with coffee and other liquids instead. I will continue to focus on drinking water, and planning to be within 50 metres of a washroom at all times. And if I don’t quite reach my water quota every day, that’s ok, too.
Reflecting on both the successes of my seven-day change experiment, as well as acknowledging the areas that could still use improvement, the following points seem to form a smart blueprint for developing healthy behaviours (both for myself and others):
- Pick somewhere to start and just do it.
- Start with small, manageable changes.
- Avoid overwhelm and maximize success by choosing only one or two things to focus on at a time.
- Wait until changes are well established into your routine before adding more to your plate.
- Be gentle with yourself, and remember that progress is more important than perfection.
- When things don’t go as planned, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start over again. A good sense of humour and lots of self-compassion are huge assets.
After this week-long experiment, I can literally see how change is a process that inherently contains both progress and setbacks. Change isn’t all or nothing and it doesn’t need to be. But starting small and focusing on only one or two manageable things at a time, instead of getting swept up in the all or nothing mentality, is a great way to build positive momentum and set the foundation for success.
Truth be told, I’m hoping I’ve stumbled onto the secret-sauce-for-me mindset that will help me foster healthy, lasting changes (at least until they don’t and I have to start again). With that, here’s to getting plenty of rest, reducing my caffeine dependency, focusing on the positive, releasing what I can’t control, eating plenty of veggies, trying new things, and drinking all the water…forever and ever, Amen. And most importantly, to remembering there will be days when I simply can’t do it all, for one reason or another, and on those days I will remind myself that I’m ok and I can try again tomorrow.
What changes would you like to make in your life? What have been your successes, setbacks, and learning? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.