Having just returned home from my Christmas holidays with my extended family, I am reminded of how important habits are to my health. I’ve spent the past couple of days lazing around, not eating enough (great food), barely exercising, and discomfort through bizarre sleeping schedules. I feel terrible and am dreading my first training session back in the gym. Why? Because all the habits I have developed (sleep in, have a big breakfast, training in my favorite gym in Toronto, eat a healthy dinner, and get to bed on time) were abandoned to have a terrific time with my loved ones and sit around eating crap daily. It would not even have been hard to keep up the healthy lifestyle I have figured out for myself while away from home, but the simple fact is that I lacked the willpower to do it.
Away from my routine, I just gave up. And this is coming from a man that goes out for drinks on a Friday night and has one beer because he does not need to be slowed down to Saturday’s workout. The difference between the motivated healthy man I’m 51 weeks out of the year along with the idle, chocolate devouring slob over Christmas is just habitual.
When I am at home I get up and eat a huge healthy breakfast not because I am hungry for some fruit and oatmeal, but because, well, that is what I do each morning. I do not train for two hours each Tue/Thur/Sat/Sun since I really like the 30-minute commute every day and the feeling of sweat running down my face, but since… that’s exactly what I do each week. It is not willpower that cooks a healthy breakfast or tears me away from the computer screen and on the subway to go work out, or perhaps interrupts that drink or plate of biscuits. It’s only the healthy habits I have developed working for me.
Closing in on New Year’s, we could anticipate gyms worldwide to see five-fold increases in attendance, the vegetable sections of the supermarket stinks, and Acai juice sales to triple. But, within a couple of weeks, everything will return to normal. Why? Because that burst of motivation and enthusiasm spurned by settlements will have faded, and everyone gets back to their regular patterns of skipping breakfast, working late, catching a TV dinner, and staying up late watching Letterman.
Do not belong to the masses – do not try to repair everything about your lifestyle daily. Doing this is just dooming you to failure. Instead, begin by changing your habits the only way they could be: gradually. Begin a workout routine a couple of days each week. If you cannot be motivated to get out to the gym initially, hire a personal trainer. Make 1 improvement to your diet each week; begin with something simple and go from there.
Are you always purchasing a bagel with your daily coffee? Forget the bagel and bring a piece of fruit from home. Consistently eating junk food in front of the TV at night? Throw out everything you have and stop purchasing more (and do not let your partner/roommate purchase any either!). Not eating enough vegetables? Buy some candy peppers and roast one with dinner every day or two.
The secret is to make every alteration something you can keep for (within reason) that the rest of your life. Parceling out these changes lets you make them your customs, and as the months and weeks go by you will stop even thinking of them as activities requiring any particular motivation. You will just pack your gym equipment when snacking on an apple, reading a novel, and practicing meditation before considering it!… ok not all of those things.