We human beings are creatures of habit. Sometimes consciously, but more often than not we just go through the motions without thinking about it much.
This goes for our health habits as well as our daily self-care. For example, if we’re waiting for someone and we decide to lean against the wall and cross our arms, we will do so in a predictable fashion. If we purposely decided to switch which is the upper arm and which is the lower, we might have to actually place our hands and arms in the proper position. Any way you go about it, it will feel “different”. Why? Because we’ve been folding our arms the same way since forever.
With health affirming routines we must be mindful of what changes we are engaging in. Change is not easy. It takes time to acquire the same familiarity.
As John Wooden once said when training his new players on routines they would use going forward, “First we form habits – then they form us. Your mind is a muscle and you must strengthen it.”
There are four key components to changing health habits so that they stick. Doing things mindfully is a shift in and of itself – and so we should begin with practicing “mindfulness.”
1) Mindfulness is a simple enough concept. It means that we are consciously attentive to the “now” moment – and – purposely “experiencing” the action, behavior, observation or thought process we are engaged in. Multitasking immediately nullifies mindfulness, so a singular focus is key.
To be “conscious” we must be aware of both our mind and body and the now moment. Our mind is uniquely capable of “time travel” and can shift from a memory to future think in seconds. The key is to sync our mind and body so that we are mindfully engaged in the “NOW” moment. Hence, mindfulness.
2) We must remember that our ultimate goal is to have routines in place in our life that are life-affirming routines: oriented to a healthy body, a healthy mind, and healthy habits that are in and of themselves life affirming.
That doesn’t mean that they’ are so much fun that you think, “I can’t wait to go do that again!” But they are the kinds of behaviors that remind you of how valuable our health is in our life, that it’s our only body and we best take care of it.
Merely observing someone struggling with a life threatening disease or situation can snap us out of that “sleep state” of indolence where we become numb to our health and good fortune. Our goal is to love ourselves enough to purposely care about how we live and what we do to invest in our being.
Imagine if we dedicated ourselves each day to: more joy. better health. improved performance. That intention might help us maintain a mindful intention with doing the things we can to further our good health and a positive attitude toward living.
3) If we are to have any hope of maintaining a health affirming routine, it must incorporate a balance between training and recovery. We feel joy when we challenge ourselves to push beyond our limits. To do so, we must have a healthy attitude toward pushing ourselves, stretching our goals, exercising beyond our previous level of strength or flexibility, study to acquire more knowledge and improve our process of living, and work hard enough to feel a sense of satisfaction that we accomplished a fair amount.
This balance must also incorporate purposeful recovery. Consider how sleep, proper rest, nurturance, physical intimacy, relaxation, day dreaming, massage or other healthy indulgences can keep us happy and restore our health.
4) Laughter and joy are things that come from a healthy balance in developing our sense of humor. Actively seeking out experiences that are spiritually restorative is highly underrated. Watching comedy, learning to tell a joke and bring a smile to others, singing a song without it having to be worthy of the Metropolitan Opera House are all activities that support our connection to others in a way that nurtures joy.
Reading stories and watching heartwarming movies and participating in gatherings that bring like minded people together are all Health Affirming Routines. They help us build a sense of belonging, purpose in living, and responsibility to nurture ourselves to be our best. These things are made possible by living mindfully and noticing those things that encourage us to thrive.
Dr. Stephen Walker is an award-winning sport & performance consultant whose clients have reached the Podium in world championships, the Olympics and, performed in the Kennedy Center Philharmonic, in their chosen endeavors.
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