Change your Habits, Change your Life

By January 21, 2015Blog

This is not another New Year’s Resolution article. Well, at least not in the traditional sense. I am not going to talk to you about long-range goal setting today.

In fact, I did not actually set a New Year’s Resolution this year.  Actually, I guess you could say that I did. I resolved to change some of the bad habits that were creeping into my life. Think about it, traditional resolutions are often results-based goals that have you working to reach something, but most likely do not lay out a path to get there. Focusing on changing your habit(s) is a process-based behavioural change that will allow you to continually see positive transformation, even if you’re not seeing results in the mirror or on the scale (or elsewhere).

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

— Aristotle

Today I would like to give you some ideas to get your brain thinking more about habits and less about results-based goals. I know I have written some content on goals before, but I am really starting to believe that habits are the key to behaviour change. Once you create a habit, it is much easier to stick with that behaviour. Before you have engrained it into your life and schedule, however, it can be so difficult to fit it in and most often is the first thing dropped from the itinerary.

Remember that if you want to add a new habit into your life, you will probably have to remove an old one. An example from the habits I have provided below would be adding more reading time. That may mean you have to skip a television show you’ve been watching. Or you could get some audio books and maximize driving time!

Here are just a few general habits that tend to need a change in most people’s daily lives (mine included).

HABIT #1: Increase pillow time

Isn’t this everyone’s crutch? Not enough hours in the day, never seem to be able to shut the lights off before midnight, and so on. But what if you just made it a priority?

The more research I do into the importance of sleep, the more concerned I become with my former and sometimes current sleep habits. Sleep is the part of our lives where our bodies recover and rebuild any broken down tissue. It keeps our brains sharp and our metabolic processes (i.e. those that give us energy to get through the day) working properly.

Remove adequate, high quality sleep over a few nights and you will begin to see a lack of “sharpness” in your thought processes and a foggy brain. So, how do we manage to maximize our time spent drooling on the pillow? Try these 3 things…

Zero caffeine after noon. No coffee, caffeinated tea and of course, no pop.

Replace evening screen time with reading (see habit #4)

Eliminate electronics from the bedroom. Not only will this enhance sleep quality, it will also allow you to fall asleep quicker. Bright screens do NOT belong in the bedroom, especially 5 inches from your face.

HABIT #2: Take time to prepare your meals

The majority of people who made New Years Resolutions have resolved to eat healthier. First of all, let me say that if you can actually stick to that resolution, you will see incredible results over time. But lots of people have trouble sticking to it once the initial excitement wears off. Why?

Eating well takes planning and preparation. The easy way out is to pop through a drive-thru or order your lunch. The healthy way is to plan and prep your meals the night before (or on the weekend). While this can be time-consuming, it allows you to “pop” through the fridge and not have to order in. That way, when you’re completely frazzled and overwhelmed with a busy day, there’s your healthy meal or snack, just ready to be eaten. Here are 2 tips to make this process easier:

“Batch” all of your meal planning and shopping for the week into a couple of hours on the weekend (or when you have days off). This allows you to add variety and helps with budgeting.

Take some time the night before to prep and pack your lunch. 90% of people take the evening to “unwind” and end up getting nothing accomplished. Maybe you could pack your lunch while watching your favourite show or sports event?

HABIT #3: Move, every day

This one seems obvious but many people do not understand the power of consistency when it comes to weight loss or any type of success in fitness. As long as you’re doing something active, then you’re moving along the path to success. Also notice that I’m not telling you to overtrain or go hard when you feel crappy. I’m just saying make a point to dedicate at least some time every day to doing something active.

Research has shown that 10-minute bouts are enough to have positive results on our overall fitness levels. I guarantee you can find 10 minutes each day to do something for yourself.

“When it comes to physical transformation, consistency trumps perfection every single time.”

— Dave Dellanave, owner of Movement Minneapolis

HABIT #4: Less screen time, more page time

This may be one of the biggest changes I’ve made in my life in the past year. I was regularly watching garbage TV before bed and found that I wasn’t sleeping well and wasn’t getting as much continuing education as I wanted. Books would sit on my nightstand half finished for months. So I decided to replace that screen time with reading. This did 3 things for me:

Improved my sleep quality. I fell asleep faster and felt more rested in the morning.

Allowed me to actually shut down the engines before bed. Something about reading and the repetitive nature of moving through the lines makes you feel tired, whereas watching a screen actually stimulates your body to wake up.

Increased my continuing education time by about 3 hours a week. This isn’t necessary for everyone, but even reading raunchy novels is better than watching raunchy TV.

If you like these suggestions, I should tell you that trying to change all 4 habits at once will most likely end up in a disaster and have you questioning your “habit” of reading my blog and, more importantly, your self efficacy for changing your behaviour.

Take some time and think about one thing that you’ve had in the back of your mind that you’ve either wanted to stop doing or wanted to start doing and follow the steps below.

Write down your new habit in a positive manner. For example, instead of “stop eating junk food”, your habit may be more successful if it states, “Prepare snacks for the week on Sundays with healthy, real foods and take one to work every day.”

Print off or create a calendar for the next month. At the top, write down your habit as something that can be completed daily (i.e. eating a healthy, prepared snack) and every day that you are successful in completing it, you can mark your calendar. What this does is create a visual for you and allow you to try to get on a streak. I find that once someone gets the ball rolling and sees 4 or 5 X’s or check marks in a row, they do not want to break that streak and continue with their habit until it’s just a part of their day.

Once you feel like you’ve made that a habit that no longer needs close monitoring, move on to another habit. I find that after one month of marking off the calendar generally hardwires the habit into your daily routine.

*** IMPORTANT NOTE:

YOU MAY NOT SUCCEED IN YOUR FIRST MONTH… THAT IS OKAY!

Start the next month with a new, more achievable and realistic habit and get after it!

Good luck with your new habits! I hope to hear from you all or receive pictures of your streak calendars!

To your continued health,

GM

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Gavin McHale

Author Gavin McHale

Online training and nutrition coach, retired semi-pro hockey goalie, and ex-skinny kid. Currently a beer league superstar, and lover of lifting heavy things, Gavin will help you reclaim that athletic, dead sexy body, and shrink your clothing budget. Because tarps are always optional.

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