The Toastmasters speech I gave last week:
We all know we’re supposed to eat healthy and exercise, yet we don’t. It’s very difficult when there are constant temptations of ice cream and Law and Order marathons. New Years Resolutions, crash diets, any short term significant change is impossible to stick with. Living healthier requires a lifestyle change. The key is to create healthy habits, so we make healthy choices without even thinking about it.
Why are habits so important? Can you imagine what your life would be like if you woke up in the morning and you had to think about every single little decision you had to make? Should I shower or brush my teeth first? Should I wear shoes? How do I back out of my driveway? It would be overwhelming and you would use up all of your willpower just getting to work.
Willpower is a limited resource. The more you force yourself to do things you don’t want to do, the less likely you are to make good decisions later in the day. In one study, participants were given a choice between a healthy snack and cookies and then later on given an impossible puzzle to solve. Those who picked the healthy snack gave up on the puzzle sooner than the folks who chose the cookies.
So conserve your willpower. No, this doesn’t mean gorging yourself on cookies. It means removing the cookie temptation by not keeping them around. But don’t try to do to many changes at once.
Instead of completely cutting out junk food, start by limiting your soda intake. If you want to break your soda habit, you first need to figure out why you drink the soda. Habits are created when we reinforce an action with a reward. If your reward is something sweet, switch out the soda for a piece of fruit. If it’s the caffeine, try drinking tea instead, if you like the bubbles, try seltzer.
I recently gave up my gum chewing habit this way. I always had a piece of gum when I wanted something sweet, which as it turns out, was all the time. I removed the gum from my office and replaced it with tic-tacs. It didn’t take any willpower to reach for a tic-tac instead since there wasn’t any gum to tempt me. Fortunately, tic-tacs aren’t nearly as satisfying as gum, and I haven’t formed a tic-tac habit, but I no longer crave gum.
Forming an exercise habit was similar, though it was a much bigger change that required many small steps over a long period of time. After I graduated high school, I started walking around campus at Rutgers, and then doing yoga DVDs. When I started working I bought a treadmill and then weights. Ten years ago, I was a couch potato, now I exercise six days a week plus I take walks and go on hikes.
Small steps are the key. You won’t stick with an exercise program if you’re sore and miserable every day. You need to reward yourself, not punish yourself. This is my favorite exercise tool. It’s my pedometer.
A pedometer is an instant reward system. You take a step and immediately you’re rewarded with a higher step count as opposed to changes in your body that can take weeks to see. Just by wearing one, you’re more likely to be more active.
Just wear it the first few days without changing your habits and notice how many steps you take. Over the next week, try to beat your score by getting in 1,000 more steps each day. A thousand steps is about ten minutes of walking. Continue this pattern every week and before you know it, you’re taking walks down the hall during lunch and after work around your neighborhood because you NEED to reach your step goal. 10,000 steps a day is considered a good goal to work up to.
I also subscribe to an online exercise program: Tina’s Best Body Bootcamp. For $40, you get an 8 week exercise program, 3 days of strength workouts and 2 days of cardio each week. You also get a check in document to mark off when you’ve completed a workout or completed your two goals. The goals can be anything you’d like.
My current goals this week are to limit myself to one small treat and to reach 12,000 steps each day. When I complete a goal for the day, I mark an X on my checking document. 5 X’s for the week places me in a drawing for a weekly prize. 20 Entries and I get placed in the drawing for the grand prize at the end of the 8 weeks. She also has a beginner program if you’re new to working out.
There are a few great things about this program. I don’t have to think about what workout I’m going to do in the morning, it’s right there in the plan. I can do the exercises at home or at a gym. It’s also a good variety of exercises so it doesn’t get boring. The X’s act not only as a tracking tool, but as a reward to reinforce a healthy action which makes it easy to stick to and form habits.
No matter how healthy we are, there’s always ways we can improve. Make it easy for yourself by making efficient use of your willpower. Examine your life and your habits every few weeks and find one small thing you can change and go for it. It only takes a few weeks to form a new habit and once the habit is there, it’s easy to stick with it. In time you’ll be a healthier you.