The Long Game - Making Health a Habit
I love how you can't really draw a clear line between body and mind, especially when it comes to health. It's like a chicken-or-egg situation. Helping the mind helps the body helps the mind. And by mind I mean both the physical brain and the mental states and thoughts that go with being human. Let's take habits, for example. Fundamentally, we couldn't function without habits and learned routines. We would stay babes in the woods and never learn to negotiate freeways and websites. We would never free up enough brain space to take on higher functioning.
Once a habit forms, we're relieved of having to pay conscious attention to each tiny step in a routine. We can think about philosophy and new ideas and other people while brushing our teeth. We can walk and chew gum at the same time. So how does this relate to health? Habits govern much of what we do that affects our health. Over the years, certain cues elicit routine behaviors that have certain rewards: we see the refrigerator, we open it up, take out and eat whatever, and feel a sense of satiety, all without consciously deciding anything.
The bad news is that this powerful mechanism is just that - mechanical, and we can become like trained animals, responding without awareness to environmental cues in a narrow way that feels "natural." The good news is that we can use this same mechanism more consciously to foster beneficial new routines that become lifelong habits of health. We don't need a lot of willpower and attention to maintain them.
How do we create new, more beneficial habits?
1. The first step is to notice a specific behavior pattern that is connected with undesired results. For me that was eating a big handful of nuts several times a day even if I wasn't hungry. I craved the crunchy, salty sensation in my mouth.
2. The next step is to determine the specific cues, such as a smell, time of day, or social setting, that trigger the routine.
3. Now begin experimenting with different rewards to try to learn the real craving you're trying to fill. Is it boredom, thirst, need for exercise, need for company or a nap?
4. Once you find the more fundamental need, you can create a new routine that satisfies it in a better way, such as going out for a quick walk instead of having a coffee to lift your mood. Consciously look for the reward this new routine brings. This is using the mind to help the body, which then helps the mind better direct the whole organism toward its natural state of vitality and health.
How have you worked with habits?
What was the the turning point that energized you to make a change?
Have you discovered a new key routine that is reforming other aspects of your life?
I'd love to hear your feedback and comments.
Verona Rylander is a psychotherapist with a degree from Naropa University in Boulder, CO. She grew up on grass fed beef and organic vegetables in Paris, TX and has a long history of curiosity about health, food, nutrition, cooking, and beyond. She's here to offer a broader perspective on Primal Living, changing habits, willpower, body image, and importance of your thoughts.