How do you find the motivation to live a healthy life? Great question. I don’t have a step-by-step guide for you to follow. My guess is that your life is probably pretty different from mine. What motivates me is going to be different from what drives you. We all have unique challenges, life situations and interests.
I read a book by a marketing guru named Seth Godin called Poke the Box. He had a great quote relevant to this topic.
“Please stop waiting for a map. We reward those who draw maps, not those who follow them.”
Seth Godin, Poke the Box
If you’re having a hard time motivating yourself to break unhealthy habits, my guess is that you’re waiting around for a map. My goal is to give you the tools you need to draw your own map.
Map drawing toolkit:
- Insatiable curiosity
- Knowledge of your habit triggers
- Believe that you’re worth it
- Be a badass
Knowledge is power. When you understand how your body works, you have a better chance of making healthy decisions.
For example, I have a sweet tooth, and that was one of my biggest downfalls to healthy living. I always had a personal supply of chocolate chips in the cupboard. Though I knew my sweets cravings were making it difficult to maintain my ideal weight, I couldn’t resist the temptation.
This spring, I discovered a documentary called That Sugar Film by David Gameau. It opened my eyes to the adverse effects excess sugar has on overall health. I didn’t realize that sugary foods trick my body into craving more sugar. And sugar overload can make stress skyrocket and energy levels plummet.
Knowledge is power. After watching this documentary, I was inspired to take my sugar intake seriously. Being aware of how sugar could impact my daily life made it much easier cut down on sweets.
Be curious about your bad habits. You need to do more than recognize what they are. Do some research to learn about all the other effects they have on your daily life.
Knowledge of Your Habit Triggers
After you’ve done some research, the next tool is to understand what triggers your bad habits.
In Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, he dives into the mechanics behind habits. All habits follow a cycle. It looks like this
Cue (Trigger) –> Routine (Action) –> Reward (Satisfied Feeling)
To break a bad habit, you must:
1. Identify the routine.
What unhealthy action do you consistently make?
2. Experiment with the reward.
The key to breaking a bad habit is to change the routine, but still find a reward you can look forward afterward.
3. Isolate the cue/trigger.
Almost all cues fit into one of five categories:
- Emotional State
- Other People
- Immediately preceding action
4. Have a plan.
Know how you are going to replace this bad habit with a good one. Have a plan of action and be serious about following through with it the next time your habit being triggered.
Back to my chocolate chip habit…
Cue (boredom & overwhelmed) –> Routine (eat a handful of chocolate chips) –> Reward (pleasant taste & momentary sugar rush)
In college, I would eat the most chocolate chips when I was writing papers or studying for important exams. My routine was to get up from my desk, go to the kitchen and sneak a handful of chocolate chips, then get back to work. After exploring the real triggers behind this bad habit, I realized it wasn’t hunger but boredom and the need for space to process my thoughts. The chocolate chips gave me an excuse to get up and walk to the kitchen, which gave some room for thought. The sugar rush would also give a short spurt of energy that motivated me to keep working.
I ended up replacing my chocolate chip eating routine with either making a cup of tea or going for a walk around the block. Both of these new routines gave the same rewards as the chocolate chips.
The reward part is one of the most important in changing bad habits. You can’t replace bad habits with good ones unless there’s a reward attached that’s desirable and something you can look forward to.
I’d highly recommend reading The Power of Habit. It’s well-written and has some interesting examples.
Believe You’re Worth It
You have to like yourself before you’ll put up a fight for a better lifestyle. It’s hard to change bad habits. It requires hard work and temporary sacrifices. If you hate who you are, how do you expect yourself to carry on with the fight?
Be honest. Are you willing to fight for yourself?
As you can tell by now, I’m a book person. Last winter a read a book by a woman whose career is devoted to researching shame. Sounds fun, right?
Shame is a topic most people don’t bring up very often. It’s hard to talk about the areas of our lives that we’re ashamed of. Many times, unhealthy eating and lifestyle choices stir up shame more than anything else.
Refusing to let go of shame is essentially like knowing you have curable cancer and choosing not to treat it. Yes, the treatment will probably hurt at first, but it will revolutionize your health, self-esteem and relationships in the long run.
In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown shares three things everyone needs to know about shame if they want to resist it: (p. 38)
- Shame is universal. We all have it.
- We’re all afraid to talk about our shame.
- The less we talk about shame, the more control it has over our lives.
What are you ashamed of? What don’t you like about yourself? What habits are you most embarrassed about?
The best way to get past those feelings? Tell someone you trust. Air out your dirty laundry. Once your shame is out there, you might realize that it’s not as big a deal as you thought it was. Or maybe it still is a big deal, but it’s something you need accountability and support for as you clean it up.
You are worth it. You might not believe it, but you are worth fighting for. Do yourself a huge favor and give you the best shot at creating a healthier lifestyle.
Be A Badass
Adopting a healthy lifestyle is counter-cultural. Our culture encourages people to indulge in whatever feels or tastes good in the moment. You only live once, so why not eat whatever you want? Why would you workout when you’d rather binge on Netflix?
It’s more convenient to live an unhealthy lifestyle. Fast food means less cooking. It’s easier to open a bag of chips than peel and cut carrot sticks. Greasy, salty, fatty foods taste good in the moment. It’s easier to find the closest possible parking spot than to walk several extra feet.
So why did I say you need to be a badass? You need to take the road less traveled if you want to be healthy. Take a trendy workout class, and don’t worry about how silly you might look getting really into it. Experiment with colorful vegetables.
Don’t be afraid of going against the grain.
The people with healthy, balanced lives are the ones who know how to laugh, seek help when needed, be creative, not take life too seriously, and try new things.
The path to a healthier lifestyle is a process. It’s something you must wholeheartedly invest in and say “yes” to every single day. So be a badass and draw yourself a map you’re excited to follow.
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