This past week I was invited to speak to the Mount Pleasant Rotary Club on any topic relating to health and wellness that I’d like. Having been an active Rotarian in the past, I knew it would be a tough assignment because my audience of intelligent, middle-aged men already knew the basics of staying healthy. What could I tell them that’s new?
I opened with a brief description of my own bout with breast cancer, how I won that battle and what I was doing to maintain both my physical and mental well-being. Obviously, I explained, my health wasn’t as great as I assumed it was 11 years ago. I got cancer even though I wasn’t overweight, did not smoke and exercised regularly. So, I had to get extremely honest with myself. What was I doing or not doing in my life that caused me to get cancer? I had to move past my fear, learn all that I could about the disease and make the necessary changes if I wanted to have quality in my later years.
What I learned was that preventive maintenance is by far the most important step to take to shield oneself against chronic ailments; in fact’s it’s 80% of it. Not genes, luck, or bad luck in this case, but how I chose to live my life day in and day out. This was something I could control and wanted to control through making healthy choices and doing away with some of my bad habits. My focus last week with the Rotarians was on how to do the latter.
Here are 5 tips I shared for breaking bad habits regarding health:
Tip #1: Notice When Your Habits Are Automatic: Most habits occur thoughtlessly. Our minds are pre-occupied with other things. Lighting up a cigarette, gobbling down a bag of chips, consuming too much alcohol and staying put on a comfortable couch rather than going out for a walk are all mindless habits.
Tip #2: Practice Mindful Awareness: A few of us can quit bad habits cold turkey. For everybody else, it requires a conscious awareness and an abundance of determination. Mindful awareness is the ability to take notice of when and what we are doing habitually without becoming upset when we realize it. The goal is awareness, not action. Be conscious that you are smoking a cigarette or eating a whole bag of chips or lying around for no good reason. Engaging in your bad habit with full awareness lessens the frequency and duration of unhealthy patterns. Know what you are doing but don’t beat yourself up. It’s counterproductive.
Tip #3: Identify Daily Triggers: Habits are often tied to things we do on a regular basis. Do you automatically grab a cigarette after a meal or when you get into your car? Do you eat more than you are aware while in conversation or standing up? Do you become a couch potato every evening after dinner and click on the television? Note your triggers and think about them.
Tip #4: Mind Your Emotions: In addition to habits being tied to everyday events, they are often tied to emotional situations. We eat when we’re sad, stressed, depressed, lonely or bored. We order another drink when we’re happy and having fun. You get the message.
Tip #5: Ride the Urge Wave: Being aware brings to light a worrisome urge to engage in a bad habit. Be aware of this. Understand the urge before it starts, and be prepared to ride the wave of discomfort when it comes. The mind seeks pleasure and avoids pain. It’s a survival mechanism. Problem is, the mind focuses on short-term pleasure but not the pain that comes in the long run. However, most urges last only from one to five minutes. So, learn to ride it out. And the more times you ride it out the less often and intense the urge will be when it repeats itself.
Need some accountability to help create lasting healthy habits? Let’s talk…