We all know that we should drink lots of water, get enough sleep, and eat balanced meals. While we may start our mornings with the best of intentions, as the day wears on often times so does our resolve. It seems like it should be so easy – so why isn’t it?!? The internet is full of “hacks” for shortcutting our way to healthier living (confession: I absolutely despise the term hack). The problem is that these shortcuts often require extra time and energy, thereby lessening the likelihood of behavioral sustainability. Add in the real life temptations and distractions and forget about it.
So what to do?
Figure out what it is in your life that is preventing you from meeting these goals. When I started reflected on my own goals and identified my shortcomings in meeting them it became evident that there were certain choices that I was making that were preventing me from being my healthiest self.
In an effort to develop healthier habits (that would actually stick) I identified the following problem areas in my life. I encourage you to examine your problem areas with fresh eyes – and consider why you aren’t doing them now rather than creating more work for yourself by adopting short-lived “hacks.”
1. Drink More Water
Advice that I often find for “drinking more water” is to carry around some sort of pre-measured water bottle and set consumption goals throughout the day. For me this was great in theory – crappy in execution. In an effort to drink more water I initially invested in a 32 oz. Nalgene bottle and committed to drinking at least two bottles throughout the workday. This lasted about 3 days.
When considering why this trick didn’t work for me, I realized two important things:
- I wasn’t drinking enough water because I was drinking other things instead (read: coffee). I wouldn’t even touch the bottle until I was finished with my morning coffee.
- I will drink water if it is convenient (if it is readily available and easy to transport). A 32 oz. water bottle just wasn’t doing this for me because if I had to leave my desk, I didn’t want to carry it with me (I carry a lot of junk around already).
So what did I do to address this? I forced myself to start drinking water before I allowed myself to have my morning coffee and I invested in a smaller water bottle that would be easier to transport. Not rocket science by any means – but addressing the environmental factors unique to my routine that were preventing me from succeeding rather than trying to create a new “habit” made meeting this goal much easier.
Again, I recognize that this is easier said than done. Even with the best of intentions life seems to get in the way. While it may not be feasible to get 8 full hours of sleep every night (I have night meetings multiple times a week, sometimes lasting well beyond the time that I would need to be in bed in order to meet this goal), there are certainly some days where you can capitalize on an opportunity to get more sleep.
Aside from my work schedule (which I have little control over) I have come to recognize that there are things that I can control. I can make a conscious effort to unplug before bed. I can find days where I don’t have meetings where I can establish a mandatory wind-down time. I don’t have to stay up late to watch a favorite show and instead can try to go to bed early (isn’t that what On Demand is for anyways?) I realized that while my schedule is busy – there are windows of time that I could be taking advantage of that I don’t. I have also rearranged my running schedule so not all of my runs are early morning runs (allowing me to “sleep in” some days during the week). Getting more sleep has also made me less dependent on caffeine (and therefore able to drink more water –> see item #1). See a pattern?
3. Eat Healthier
I don’t naturally love healthy food. I wish I could say that I prefer veggies and hummus over kettle cooked potato chips, but that would be a downright lie. I recognize that there are some things that I cannot control (such as my taste buds) but there are many things that I can do to improve my eating habits.
There are a few obstacles I have identified in my effort to eat healthier. While spending extra time planning and grocery shopping would probably help – any major efforts to eat clean and meal plan have ended up overwhelming me and falling by the wayside. Instead, I have realized that I need to keep things simple (but not boring). I also need to be realistic with my expectations. While stocking my fridge with fresh vegetables seems like the right choice – instead of eating what’s there I often let the food go to waste and go out and buy something that I actually want to eat. This is why “carrying around healthy snacks” (common advice) isn’t always enough. Having a plastic baggie of carrots with me does no good if I really don’t like carrots. For the same reasons, this is why meal prep isn’t always a viable option. Even with the best of intentions – it ends up to be a waste of food, time, and money.
Instead, I’ve realized that I need to find a middle ground and look at my food choices more globally and not on a meal-by-meal basis. If I really want oatmeal for breakfast I’m not going to force myself to eat eggs (but I may choose to opt for a salad rather than a pasta dish when I am out to lunch later). There are some things that I know I can’t keep in the house (sweets) without overdoing it. However, only keeping healthy food in the house (that I don’t like but feel like I should eat) won’t cut it either.
My strategy has been to set myself up to make healthy choices but to recognize that sometimes eating a less-than-healthy snack or meal will keep me on a healthier path than an all-or-nothing mentality toward food. Because my office is always stocked with sweets, I make an effort to make sure I am full before I wander back into the kitchenette. I also try to pack my own food – but make sure that I’m packing things that I actually will eat (not just food that I wish I would eat).
What healthy habit are you trying to make stick? How do you address challenges in accomplishing this?