Sometimes, the not-so-smooth flow of our everyday life begins taking its toll on us. Between juggling work, school, parenting, managing the house, and whatever else there may be in your unique equation, we are functioning under stress and leaving little to no room for healthy habits.
What are healthy habits? To put it simply, the Medical Dictionary defines a healthy habit as a behavior that is beneficial to one’s physical or mental health, often linked to a high level of discipline and self-control. We choose healthy habits that help us perform optimally in our responsibilities and for our well-being. When we are functioning on autopilot, completing all the tasks in a mindless way to check off our mental list rather than being present as we engage in each task, we lose the opportunity to assess ourselves and adopt healthy habits.
Adopting healthy habits does not have to be a headache or yet another square to check off in your to-do list. Occupational therapists are very skilled at helping their clients adopt healthy habits to improve, restore, or maintain a quality of life. To talk about how to effectively do this, Cynthya Cantu, OTR, shared her input and what works with her patients.
“Adopting a healthy habit requires change. For change to happen, it is important for us to understand the reason we want this change in our lives,” she said. “This can be as simple as, ‘because I feel mentally unsettled,’ or ‘because I’m constantly getting sick,’ or even ‘because I’m ready to start on my new year’s resolution!’ This reason will be the motivation that you will go back to if or when you start going back to your old habits. After finding this reason, set and write down a realistic goal.” Small, consistent changes make a difference in the long run. Start with one doable habit and add a new one every other week or every month — whatever works for you. As these add up, they make a huge difference in overall health.
Healthy habits can address different aspects of our lives such as rest, exercise, diet, organization, mental health, spirituality, and more. Whether you are trying to wake up earlier, de-stress, improve your diet, meditate regularly, or be more organized, the following tips can help you choose goals and stick to them.
- Make it Visual
When you have your goal written down or drawn out in a place where you will see it frequently (like the bathroom mirror, window by the sink, or nightstand), your chances of completing that goal increase. If you can see your reflection while looking at your goals, even better. According to psychologists, we are more likely to stick to our ideals when we become self-aware, as when we look at ourselves in a mirror. Motivational quotes and affirmations work wonders, too. On Post-It notes, write down quotes or affirmations to remind you of your goal such as, “I am in control of my actions,” “One day at a time,” “I am healthy in body and mind,” and place these in places you see throughout the day. Your mind is your best coach and cheerleader.
- Break it Down
So maybe your goal is big: You want to eat clean but up until now, pizza, chicken nuggets, and other frozen foods make up your menu. Break up your goal into doable objectives. “Ask yourself what is the smallest change you could make right now, where you are, with what you have?” Cantu said. “Setting a realistic goal would make it easier to achieve because it requires the least amount of effort. Last but not least, execute that goal and modify/adapt as you go on your road to change.” For example, a new habit: to eat whole foods and zero packaged or processed foods by the end of two months. Great! Now we have some time to prepare for that huge change.
The first week, drop the pizza and add fresh, organic veggies to your grocery shopping list, and make it your objective to eat one serving of veggies a day. The next week, maintain that first objective and add a new one: drop the chicken nuggets and add organic chicken to your grocery list; now you get to cook chicken and fresh veggies for three meals a week (or what feels right for you). Each week you drop an unhealthy habit, and you add a new healthy one. See how they accumulate? Before you know it, you will have dropped most of those negative habits that were making you live in guilt and shame, you will feel better about yourself, and your health will have begun improving since day one. You will come across roadblocks, and even steps backward. Don’t dwell on these. Let it go. Tomorrow is a new day, and you pick up where you left off.
- Find Your Tribe
Find friends and groups of like-minded people. People who practice the kind of lifestyle habits you want to adopt will validate your efforts and inspire you to keep going. Also, knowing other people who have gone through their own journey of improving their habits will help you see that change is possible and attainable. Even in the current physical isolation practices, you can find groups online in social media. Whatever the lifestyle habit your desire, there is likely a group for that. Find your tribe so you feel surrounded by like-minded people who motivate you.
No matter what your lifestyle situation is right now and regardless of your age, change is possible. If you have identified habits that are not serving you and even be harming you, drop them. Habitual practices can be difficult to change when we have become accustomed to them, and our life fits our current practices.
Change can feel daunting and insurmountable, but in order to improve your wellbeing, it is important to adopt healthy habits. Healthy habits can encompass all aspects of your life, such as exercise, diet, rest, organization, spirituality, mental health, quality social connections, and more. No matter what aspect of your life needs tending to, sticking to small, doable changes that add up over time can help you achieve that big change you desire. Be consistent, be strong, and surround yourself with people who inspire and motivate you.