Cultivating a fit and healthy lifestyle can be pared down to this simple recipe:
DEVELOP GOOD HABITS
Each morning at the ballet studio I’d do a little stretching, core work, and light foot strengtheners to prepare for class and a long day of rehearsals and performance. Not only was it an appropriately gentle setup for all the physical activity to come, but it also went a long way towards getting me mentally poised for a day full of sweaty unpredictability.
The payoff of doing small things that are good for us is twofold. First, addressing our physical health–with a glass of water, a walk around the block, an extra hour of sleep, stretching, mild exercise, or meditation–makes us incrementally more prepared, relaxed, alert, etc. At the same time, small acts of self-care accumulate into the habit of “doing well” for you! Over time, showing yourself a little TLC at regular intervals activates a self-reinforcing feedback loop in which feeling good incentivizes more good choices.
LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
Do you ever “push through” for your kids, your boss, the PTA, or someone else only to find yourself run down, overwhelmed, and irritable? Me, too!!! Whenever I find myself feeling “less than” I stop to ask myself these simple questions:
- Did I get enough sleep?
- When was the last time I had water?
- When did I last eat and what did I eat?
- How long have I been sitting?
- How long have I been staring at a screen?
Agnes de Mille said, “Bodies never lie.” It’s truly amazing how checking in with the senses to assess fatigue, thirst, hunger, mobility, and and eye strain can uncover meaningful clues to your well-being. Knowing how your body feels also gives you rather accurate information about how to get back to a better state. These are some refresher remedies I go to again and again:
- 20-minute cat nap
- 10 deep breaths
- A glass of water
- An apple, some cheese and crackers, or a protein bar
- A “body break” to get up and stretch before sitting back down in front of the computer
- Closing my eyes and listening to a song
LET JOY BE A PART OF YOUR ROUTINE!
Doing things that naturally interest and inspire us makes it easier to come back for more! Time and again, I’ve seen people equate their fitness and diet routines to torture. If you want to stick with a healthy lifestyle, it’s worth assessing your true likes and dislikes. You’ll want to bring the pleasure principle into the equation as much as possible!
Make diet and exercise choices you can stick with, especially in the beginning. Start with smaller changes–You can always add to your program as you go. It may also help to pair something you love (e.g., listening to music) with something you find less engaging or extra challenging. Rewarding yourself with small positives along the way can help you better acknowledge your progress and build momentum.
Be especially careful not to get stuck being hard on yourself if you don’t always stick to the plan. Guilt and self-flagellations take a heavy emotional toll that leaves less energy for what really matters. Holding onto feelings of disappointment or failure can cause discouragement that begets more guilt, disappointment, etc. Break negative loops as early as possible! Take time to acknowledge your upset feelings and then try your best to set them down. Remember, you can ALWAYS begin again! Dropping emotional dead weight and realizing there’s another opportunity already available helps integrate those “bad days” as expected parts of the much bigger picture of your health and well-being.