Small Choices That Lead to Healthier Habits for Life

 

You know there is a saying now that 100 is the new 80, that people are expecting to live to 100 years of age. Of course, we want to live a long life, but we want to live a life of health. We want to be healthy physically, mentally and emotionally. We also want to be healthy spiritually and have a strong sense of meaning and purpose in life. We want to wake up each morning and know why the day matters.

Believing You Can Change

A couple of things are important to remember. One is, to have that life, the first step is to believe that your life can be that way. You need to believe. If you can believe that, then you can begin to plan for that healthy life, one day at a time.  There are no guarantees for how long we are going to live. For some people they have already developed certain conditions, others are concerned about preventing the development of conditions in the future. Whether you have diabetes or heart disease or you are overweight or you are concerned about developing those conditions it’s never too late to begin to try to reverse the conditions that you may be suffering from and its certainly never too late to begin to put into place the habits, the lifestyle needed to both prevent or treat the chronic diseases that have become epidemics in our society and that sometimes keep people from living longer. On the flip side, living longer with these chronic diseases will zap our quality of life, including our energy, ability to connect with people and have the meaning and fulfillment in our lives that we want.

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It starts with making choices, small choices, one day at a time.

This includes choices around the foods you may eat. Choices around how or when you might exercise or be physically active. Choices around how you might choose to connect with others in your life.  When you look at some of the research on longevity, like the research around the Blue Zones, these areas in the world where people tend to live longest, there are some commonalities there. They don’t necessarily go to gyms or take a lot of medications or supplements, but what they do –  is eat a healthy diet (sometimes there is a little more meat than others) but their diet typically consists of fresh vegetables and fruit, they remain physically active throughout their entire lives,  they connect with their community and loved ones on a regular basis and finally, they have a sense of purpose in their lives. Purpose around their work and family.

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Finding the Time

Social connections and relationships are so critical to having a life that we want but it need not feel overwhelming. Sometimes the things that hold us back from the life that we want are subtle things that we over miss.

For example, I was talking to someone the other day and overall they were feeling pretty good. They were exercising, eating well and they felt well mentally. The one issue he was having was a lot of stomach upset. He just couldn’t figure out where it was coming from and had spoken to his physician and after talking it through it turns out that one of the habits he had was chewing a lot of gum. Well, guess what? Gum can have Sorbitol in it and that Sorbitol can affect the stomach. Just look at the label.   That Sorbitol can cause stomach upset. So this seemingly innocent habit that he had was the issue. He since switched to a gum that has Xylitol in it which is just a different type of additive. If you weren’t aware, Xylitol and sorbitol are sugar substitutes commonly found in foods labeled “sugar-free” or “no sugar added. Once he started chewing this sugar-free gum with Xylitol his GI issues got better. It was such a “small” thing with such a profound impact on him.

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We don’t need to think in terms of what overwhelming life shift that we have to take, but what are some small, new or revolved habits you can make to make sure the trajectory of your life is headed in the direction you want along with the quality of your life. Ask yourself, Is the quality of your life where you want it to be today? Are you doing what you need to in order to assure that the quality of your life will be what you want it to be tomorrow?

How to Be More Mindful with My Friend Marty

My friend Marty recommended I read The Voice of Knowledge by Don Miguel Ruiz.  It got me thinking more and more about mindfulness, which I do think about a lot and try to cultivate in my own life. It feels like there tends to be a lot of confusion nowadays about what mindfulness is, people sort of equate it with meditation.  I think it is the ability to be present, to be awake and aware in this “moment”, not to have our mind wandering all over the place.  Meditation is one of the ways to cultivate the ability to be present in a more formal way but not the only way to strengthen your ability to be present.

Marty explains, “Don Miguel Ruiz talks about meditation as being a great tool for some people to get to that point, but he ended up creating a life for himself where he is constantly living in the present moment. He had a glimpse of eternity by living with an awareness of what is around him, being fully consumed with what is around him and loving every moment of his life. Who wouldn’t want to get there?

For most of us, we are unlikely to reach that level of self-actualization or whatever you want to call it, but I like thinking of being mindful as Jon Kabat-Zinn talks about honing in on this innate quality that we all have that can be cultivated. Meditation is one of the most researched ways that people cultivate mindfulness but I think of mindfulness as like a muscle. A muscle that can be strengthened by meditation.  I equate it to the idea of getting in better shape through exercise.  I could do formal exercise by going to the gym or I can do more informal physical activity that would also strengthen my muscles and physical condition.

So what is something more informal than meditation that you could do to become more mindful? It really is as simple as deciding on the present moment. Whether you go sit on a park bench and with intention you tell yourself “I’m not going to let my mind wander, I’m going to think about the beautiful breeze today, the sun on my face, the trees, the flowers, those sorts of things.”

Marty continues. “The analogy to working out is exactly perfect because if you haven’t worked out for a period of two to three months, and you start bench pressing you feel you can’t do a lot of weight, you feel sore after it, you don’t really believe it’s worth the effort, but if you stick with it for two to three weeks then all of a sudden you’re bench pressing hundreds of pounds and you are feeling good about it. Mindfulness is exactly the same thing, the more you practice it the more you see yourself doing it and you start to really try to create a reflexive response to mindfulness vs. okay, now I am going to be present,  now I am going to pay attention. The more you do it, the more it will just naturally occur.”

I totally hear that. I think the other thing I found personally and I know others have said to me that it can be frustrating too. Part of the frustration can come from the recognition that your mind is wandering. Maybe there are Buddhist monks that can keep their minds focused but I know for me and for most human beings the tendency is that our mind will wander.

What was really helpful to me was this understanding that the noticing is what it is all about. It’s not that I need to keep my mind from wandering, or I “should” keep my mind from wandering, it’s every time my mind wanders and I notice, I bring it back to what I intend to focus on – that’s like another rep. That’s the rep that is going to strengthen my mindfulness. Then over time, there is this natural capacity to be more present in the moment and all the things that, that leads to in our lives.

The great thing about the Voice of Knowledge is that he teaches you not to judge yourself,” continues Marty. “You are trying to be present but you go to bed at the end of the day and realize you weren’t present the whole day.

Marty explains you realize that you were thinking about something bad in your past or scary in your future. Then you start beating yourself up because you weren’t present. That is exactly the opposite that Don Miguel teaches. He says we are made perfectly, whether or not we know it, or whether or not we will believe it about ourselves, we are part of a perfect plan and we are made perfectly and we need to live in that truth. Now that doesn’t mean you won’t get mad or you won’t fail and it doesn’t mean you won’t stumble, but forgive yourself and just know that the only thing you can do is the next moment and try to be better.

Adam continues – Of course, when people are feeling stressed out, it’s so hard to remember that and it’s hard to know where to start. We often get to this place of “how can I remove all of this from my life”, you know, remove the wandering mind or remove the stress.

You know I heard this saying the other day that I love which is “Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.” It isn’t about trying to remove struggle from your life. I mean almost anything that is meaningful has a component of struggle associated with it.

We both might think of our families, things like that, they are wonderful, but who has a family that never had any struggles?  Most of us live in this bell-shaped curve,  living with different challenges day in and out. It’s not about creating a perfect life, it’s not about eliminating struggle, but it’s how we face it and how we find support. Religion is one way, while some find they need a therapist or a close friend they can speak to – we all need these resources – and these resources may shift during different phases of our lives.

 

 

 

Finding Your Purpose, One Moment at a Time

So many people think “okay I want more purpose and meaning in my life”.  They say, “I heard this was important and it was mentioned on this podcast. . .” So, what do they do? They go out and buy the Dalai Lama’s book or the biography of Gandhi and they make it all seem so overwhelming.

A smarter approach is to ask yourself, how can I bring more purpose and meaning to this next moment in my life. To this encounter, task or meeting. It really often starts these seemingly small moments we have in our day. The better question is, “What purpose do I serve in this moment?”

You know I have been into exercising for a long time and I practiced martial arts when I was younger but we didn’t eat well. At one point I finally decided that I wanted to begin to eat more healthfully. I started really small. I use to put three sugars in my coffee and the first thing I did was to cut it down to two. I can almost remember the day. I would go to Dunkin Donuts and almost order three sugars and stop myself and say “nope, I’ll take two sugars” in my coffee today, please. I kinda worked my way back down. I just kept going from there. It has been those seemingly small changes that brought me to building healthy habits.

It is the small changes and small habits that we evolve over time and then we begin to string together these series of behaviors that hopefully leads to this life that we want for ourselves that is consistent with our purpose or goals or whatever feels meaningful in our lives.

 

But it starts small and builds from there.