Simple, But Not Easy

In a conversation I was having with Mark recently he told me, “Living a healthy lifestyle is simple, but not easy.” So true. The basics of health are few. We can debate and elaborate on the specifics until we are blue in the face, but most aspects of living a healthy lifestyle are pretty straightforward. Yet for many people physical well-being is elusive.

Many things in life are the same way – simple to understand, yet not so easy to practice. As radio personality and personal finance champion Dave Ramsey explains:

The key to getting your money to behave is to bother. Caller after caller to my radio show have gotten themselves into financial messes because they were going through life like Gomer Pyle on Valium and not paying attention to what their money was doing. But people do smart things if they just bother! Get on a plan and stick to it. I learned through my own financial mistakes that the key to financial success was making the guy I shave with behave. Winning at money is 80 percent behavior and 20 percent head knowledge. It’s not about sophisticated financial theories; it’s about taking control. I won with money and you can too. Like Nike says: “Just do it!”

Now just replace any mention of money with ‘health’ or ‘body’ and you’ve gotten to the core of Mark’s point.

The difficulty most people have with losing weight and staying in good shape has little to do with knowing how to do so. The tough part is changing life-long habits. It is the 80% Dave Ramsey speaks of – the dreaded behavior part.

Changing behavior takes dedication, fortitude, resilience, strength, and resolve.

You have to have the courage to make the change. You have to have the fortitude to maintain the new habits. You have to have the resilience to constantly say no to the barrage of temptations you are faced with every day. You have to have the strength to not make excuses. All of this takes a lot of work. But if you are smart you will install ‘trip wires’ in your life and use tricks to help make your desired new habits become virtually automatic.

Productivity guru and author of Getting Things Done, David Allen, uses an anecdote to illustrate one way people intuitively act to make sure they behave in a specific way.

Have you ever taken work home that you had to bring back the next day? I mean, your job would be on the line if you didn’t bring it back. Where did you put it the night before so you wouldn’t forget? Did you ever put anything in front of the door? For this you got advanced degrees? Hey, what a sophisticated piece of self-management technology you have installed in your life. Actually, it is. You know why? IT WORKS!

That’s the idea. The act of bringing the important stuff to work the next day is simple in theory, yet not so easy to carry out at 7 am when you are still half asleep. Understanding the basics of leading a healthy lifestyle is just that – basic. Eat less, exercise more. Don’t eat Twinkies or drink soda. Make eating an abundant amount of fresh veggies a part of your daily routine. Get good fats and protein into your diet. Turn off Dancing with the Stars, put on your sneakers and get outside on a regular basis. These could be called ‘no-brainers’ for a reason. But for many people these things are easier said than done. What we need are things in place (like the work in front of your door) so that you have fewer chances to sabotage your good intentions with excuses, laziness, forgetfulness, weakness or all of the above.

With these trip wires and tricks in place you are making the not-so-easy part as easy as possible and thusly setting yourself up to succeed at developing new habits.

Put on the shoes. This is the ‘one day at a time’ trick. The idea of working out 5 days a week for months on end can be daunting and discouraging. Take baby steps. Remember what it was like to be a kid? Just putting on your exercise shoes can put you in the mood to use them.

Throw away all junk food. If you don’t have it in your house you are less likely to eat it. It might be difficult, but it must be done. Get a garbage bag and rid the house of all pantry indiscretions and super secret stashes. As the saying goes, “Out of sight, out of mind.”

Use smaller plates. If you don’t have satellite-dish-size dining ware you are less likely to eat satellite-dish-size portions.

Eat a healthy snack before hitting the grocery store. We’ve all been there. An empty stomach means a grocery cart spilling over with more food than we need. And the extra items are usually things we shouldn’t be eating anyway.

Set a bedtime alarm. Most people use an alarm to wake up, but few use it to signal time for sleep. If you are the type of person that finds it difficult to pry yourself away from work or the television in the evening you may benefit from this trip wire. Without adequate amounts of sleep people are less likely to exercise due to lowered energy levels, and more likely to take the easy (and usually less healthy) route when it comes to preparing dinner.

Bring bottled water and chewing gum with you everywhere you go. Filling your belly with water and chewing your favorite bubble gum throughout the day can help to keep those hunger pangs away as you get used to smaller portions.

Find a workout partner. The accountability factor is big with this one. It is more difficult to make an excuse to a friend over and over than it is to make an excuse to yourself. Working out with someone else can also make the process more enjoyable.

Shop the perimeter. Most grocery stores have the good stuff on the perimeter. Fresh fruits and vegetables, meats and dairy surround the frozen dinners, ice cream, soda and chips. Make it a general rule of thumb to stay away from the center in order to avoid these temptations and to surround yourself with fresh, nutritious fare.

Do things you like. Healthy food doesn’t have to taste like dirt, and exercising doesn’t have to be an hour on the Stairmaster every night. Find healthy food you love eating, and discover a type of exercise (basketball, yoga, swimming, martial arts, hiking) you enjoy. If you do things you love it won’t feel like a chore and you will be more likely to stick with it.

Trip over your multi-vitamins. Just like putting your work by the door, putting your multi-vitamins in a place that will require that you interact with them will ensure you remember to take your health supplements on a daily basis. This doesn’t have to be on the ground in the middle of your living room, but it could be.

Brush your teeth after dinner. Sweet and minty-fresh breath makes eating less appetizing. If you are the type of person who loves to snack after dinner, or finds Taco Bell’s “fourth meal” marketing campaign compelling this trick could help bring your late night binging to a halt.

Set a timer. Eating quickly typically translates to eating more. It takes about 20 minutes for your body to really be able to tell you if you are satisfied. Set a timer for 20 or 30 minutes and pace yourself. There is no rush or reason to gorge yourself. Slow down, enjoy your meal and consume fewer calories as a result.

If you follow these tricks you may find it is easier to get over the beginning hurdles of changing your behavior. And then, as I am sure many of our readers can attest to, you will find it difficult to imagine living any other way.

What are your tricks and tips for encouraging healthy behavior?

Speaking of good behavior:

7 Tips to Beat Stress Right Now

8 Simple Tricks to Improve Cognition, Memory, and Alertness

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