Habits are incredibly powerful. Without even recognizing it, there is an unconscious influence exerted on our daily activities and general actions. Habits are the behaviors that have become latent to our conscious thought process. We are simply going through the motions. I no longer have to remind myself to buckle my seatbelt when I get in a car. My mind and body have been habitually programmed to repeat the same action over and over again every time I sit in an automobile. This is a beneficial habit to have, one that has the potential to save my life in an auto accident. We develop habits because there are things that are worth repeating without expending the energy and concentration that new tasks require. It is a manner of creating efficiency and allowing our mind and body to address new tasks without distraction. Habits are worth having because they simplify the process of living our daily life. But inadvertently they may also be decreasing the quality and longevity of that life if we are repeatedly and mindlessly performing behaviors that collectively will be detrimental to our health and wellbeing. Fortunately we can break bad habits and initiate new behaviors that over time will become habits themselves, supporting us on our journey to health. So where do we start?
We start with breakfast! Our mornings are full of habits. We hit the alarm button and kick it into autopilot to get ourselves and the family out the door. We tend to trade our long-term wellbeing for convenience with our morning routine. Making changes here are difficult, especially in the beginning. But with consistency, our changes transform into new habits and a new morning ritual that benefits ourselves and our family. After constant application it is no longer a burden to wake 30 minutes earlier, it is simply what we do on autopilot every day. An extra 30 minutes in the morning is likely all you need to tackle the biggest challenge for the majority of the population in the morning… actually eating breakfast. Preferably this is done within the first hour of climbing out of bed while still at home. Even if you don’t typically feel hungry when you wake up, it is important to consume a protein focused meal to jumpstart the body’s metabolism for the rest of your day. Eggs are ideal. If you are worried about the time to prepare them, simply hard boil a dozen on the weekend. Protein provides a more lasting energy throughout the morning and has been shown to support weight loss when compared with a similarly portioned and caloric breakfast comprised of grains and cereals. Individuals that eat breakfast have been shown to regularly consume fewer calories throughout the rest of the day. This may seem too simplistic to actually provide significant changes, but that is the beauty of healthy habits; over time the synergy of the routine creates an improvement that exceeds the results of the actions from any one day.
Sandwiching the “rest of our day” in between a healthy morning and a healthy evening is an effective way to improve our overall wellbeing and build momentum towards making other improvements and habits that normally require more effort simply because the middle parts of our day tend to have less routine and consistency. Things just always come up at work or at home that will tend to interfere with our best intentions. But if we can start the change with a focus on the morning and on the evening, the middle portions inevitably fall more in line with the standards we are creating for ourselves around the “rest of the day”.
A healthy habit routine at night should primarily focus on preparing for sleep. Begin by turning off the TV or computer at least an hour and a half before your desired bed time. Television, the news, the internet, etc. are not relaxing and do not help us decompress before bed. This is an ideal time to connect with family and friends through conversation, board games, or maybe a shared yoga practice. It is also an excellent time to read a chapter from whatever book you are interested in, or maybe write down your objectives to accomplish for the next day. Use this time to be productive and present with yourself or your family. Parents will be amazed at the how quickly this practice of unplugging at night improves the children’s bedtime routine. Even though the children may fight this new routine more at first, the changes are ultimately harder on the parents. Breaking habits is more difficult the longer we have been practicing them. Don’t sell yourself short and plug back in after the kids have gone to bed. Commit to this changed behavior for at least a month and see how much better you feel. If you are still suffering from sleep issues, it would be worth the effort to look into natural sleep supports that can be used short term to help reset the body’s natural circadian rhythms. Prescription sleep aids do not help the body recalibrate and instead create a cycle of dependency and continued poor sleep. I know the stories are amusing, “so and so was raking leaves in their underwear at 3:30 in the morning”. The reason this happens is the most commonly used medications are hypnotics, not sedatives. They create an unconscious individual with an active mind. This is a bad combination in general and a real detriment when we should be resting at night.
It is still early in 2011 and we have this entire year ahead of us to begin creating healthy habits that will ultimately improve the health of ourselves and our families. What are you waiting for? Start today.