I don't know about you, but I'm tired of seeing articles that focus on what you're doing wrong with your health. Articles that share what you need to give up to be healthier, what mistakes you're making with your health or the little things you do that are causing your health problems. Yes, I know, we all need to be realistic about our health and our health isn't always sunshine and lollipops, but when was the last time that you were motivated by these messages?
So dammit, if no one else will say it, I will say it.
Here's what you are doing right with your health:
You care about being healthier. You try to implement your healthcare provider's recommendations. You genuinely try. Yes, it can be hard to know where to start or how to make it stick. But you can start small and build on your goals. In fact, that is one way that change can be more sustainable. Commit to doing just one new thing that serves your health today, tomorrow and for each day to come. Before you know it, you won't even have to think about it doing it anymore. Then you can add another healthy habit in the exact same way. Take a stepwise approach to your health. Change takes time. It doesn't come overnight or quickly as many promise. But it can be done and it can stick.
You are aware of your body's signals
When something doesn't seem right, you go get it checked out. You recognize how foods make you feel. That cheeseburger you ate from the fast food drive through may have given you a stomachache. Or the sushi you tried for the first time with a friend gave you a nice boost in the afternoon that you didn't expect. Or maybe you don't notice a food-mood connection. Maybe you notice the ache in your calves after you took a long walk through the park. Or maybe you didn't exercise the last few days because your work schedule had you feeling worn down. You chose to honor the stress you felt in your body and not add to it, rather to rest and relax. Self-awareness is a key health skill that can be learned, and leveraged to accomplish the things you seek to accomplish.
You're doing the best you can
So maybe this week, you only dedicated an hour total to physical activity. Maybe you had a busy week this week. But, if that was an hour more than last week, you have made significant progress. Maybe you really wanted to do your meal planning this week, but time got in the way and you had to get takeout again. But, you chose the grilled chicken instead of the fried chicken. Progress is what matters, not perfection.
You're not willing to deprive yourself
Food is meant to be enjoyed in the company of good friends and family. No one wants to deprive themselves of these meaningful times in life. I like to ask clients who are interested in improving their eating habits to consider what they might need to add into their diet, before they remove anything. We are not meant to walk around hungry and unsatisfied. We are meant to feel nourished and sustained by our food.
You talk about your health with others
Social interaction is another health skill that can be developed. Humans are wired for connection. We are meant to be in life together. One of the key health behaviors of those who live to 100 and beyond is being an active part of a community. Talking with others about your health offers the chance to see new perspectives on your challenges, meet people who have "been there", and can give insight into how you can derive meaning and purpose from your experience.
You listen when others talk to you about their health
Empathetic listening is healing. Being present for another person is a sign of love. When we feel emotions associated with empathy, our physiology responds. Did you know that your heart has an electromagnetic field around it and that penetrates up to 3 feet from our bodies? Science tells us that our thoughts and our emotions affect the the heart's rhythm and therefore its electromagnetic field, so our emotions can significantly influence those in our immediate environment. When we are talking to someone, our emotions directly influence their heart's electromagnetic field. Showing love and compassion can induce love and compassion in another at conversational distance.
You believe that your health can improve
Even small steps can make a big impact. But the biggest impact is made just by believing that your health can be improved. Having a growth mindset (the understanding that abilities and intelligence can be developed) regarding your health can be invaluable. Maybe you aren't exercising quite enough YET to meet the recommendations of 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week (the operative word being YET). That's OK. We're all on a journey. And we all have ups and downs. Maybe you'll meet it next month, or even next year. Again, it's all about making progress.
Research on brain plasticity shows that our brain can adapt to new behaviors and the more we continue to be aware of and honor our progress, the more your brain will form new networks of neurons that will reinforce these behaviors. Our brain can learn new things, and change over time. When you do something new that matters to you, your brain can build new connections around these behaviors, which will make them easier and more automatic as time goes on. All it takes is for you to just start with one simple thing.