Seeing Healthy Habits Is Believing
I caught myself being obnoxious last week when I pulled out my phone to take a picture of my salad before I dug into it for lunch.
Surely someone in the restaurant noticed, rolled their eyes, and muttered something about our self-absorbed culture and obsession with documenting our lives. That’s fine, because I know something they might not: snapping pictures of the healthy things we do each day actually makes the world better.
Yes, the entire world! That is why I encourage my clients to take a picture each day of something they do that promotes health and well-being in their lives. In a healthy living group that I run online, we have adopted this habit as our challenge for the month of June. Each day folks post pictures of treadmill screens, sneakers on pavement, healthy meals, yoga mats, morning coffee, and more.
But I have to be honest and confess that suggesting this exercise is somewhat self-serving, because seeing the healthy things that other people inspires me to do something healthy, too. So I do, and I share it, and someone else is inspired. It’s a whole thing.
And, it’s proven. In its simplest form, positive psychology research shows us that happiness is the catalyst for success, not the result. When coupled with optimism, happiness fuels success. You can read more about it in, “The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work,” by Shawn Achor, one of the designers and teachers of Harvard’s famous happiness course.
We also know that sometimes we have to create our own happiness, and we can do that by intentionally looking for the good in life and simply acknowledging the productive things we do each day. Even the little things count, like drinking more water, going for a ten-minute walk after work, turning our phones off when we’re with other people, and ordering the steamed vegetables instead of the french fries. Notice those things. And take a picture.
When you do, you’ll trigger a chain reaction of goodness. First, you will have the benefit of having done the healthy thing. Ding! Then, you will see evidence of having done it when you see the photo, which fuels a sense of pride and increases confidence that you can do more good stuff later. Ding ding! If you take the next step and share it with someone else, you further ingrain the habit as part of your lifestyle and personal identity. Ding ding ding! Three benefits in one healthy action - that’s a bargain!
While you’re basking in the glow of your healthy habits, an inventory of examples is being created in the background. Scroll through your photo roll once in a while for a highlight reel of how you’ve spent your time. You’ll see the evidence of a healthy life being lived by someone: you!
The best part is the impact that your actions have on others. How often have you been inspired by a photo, quote, or meme posted by a friend? Guess what? You are that for someone else, too. Your positive actions have an effect on your friends and family, paying it forward in a powerful way.
Author and pastor Mark Batterson is famous for saying, “show me your habits and I will show you your future.” It’s a great reminder of the observation that is often attributed to Aristotle but is actually a paraphrase of Aristotle written by Will Durant in his book, The Story of Philosophy, that, “we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
I propose one more step: show yourself your healthy habits. Look at them when they happen, after they happen, and on the days when you convince yourself that they don’t happen. Especially on those days! Look them in the eye and give them a fist bump of appreciation.
And let the naysayers roll the eyes and mutter about how we’ve become a society obsessed with ourselves. You bet we have. Let’s use it for something good.
“If you see the red barn, you went too far.”
Have you ever gotten directions from someone who includes signals that you messed up and need to correct the course?
“If your soup is too salty, add a potato.”
Learning from the experience of others can help us correct mistakes with solutions that someone else has already tested.
“It’s all fun and games until your jeans don’t fit.”
Oh yeah. Been there! Party time is over.
Life is a constant cycle of learning new things and, if we’re smart, adjusting our behavior as we do. In fact, I often encourage my clients to, “do the best you can until you know better, and then do better.” But this week I wondered how often we pay attention to the signs that things are going well, instead of looking for signals that they are not.
It happened in a conversation with someone who enjoys endurance running but has a habit of being so enthusiastic that she over-trains and either gets injured or experiences burnout. We discussed her life being like a pendulum swinging from one extreme to the other, and she said she wants to keep her pendulum closer to the center.
As we discussed how she could do that, I asked how she knows she is letting her pendulum swing too much. “I don’t sleep well even when I am tired,” she replied. “I don’t look forward to my runs, and I wake up starving in the morning like I didn’t eat enough the night before.”
Then we switched gears, and I asked the other side of the question: how do you know when you are doing things well? That was trickier for her to answer. The signs that life is in balance are quiet, calm, and subtle, so we don’t notice them as much as the loud, frantic, obvious signs of imbalance.
I wonder if we could rewrite those pieces of advice so they are proactive instead of reactive.
“If you see the red barn, you are almost to where you will turn left.”
Staying on track with health goals requires a bit of multi-tasking. You need to know where you are going, where you are, and what is coming up all at the same time so you don’t miss your turn.
Apply this to your life by knowing what daily activities you need to thrive. For one client, when she does at least fifteen minutes of yoga or walking each day and drinks her water, she knows she is on her healthy path. The first sign of progress is that it’s been a long time since you’ve made a u-turn.
“Follow the recipe, and season to taste.”
Popular culture would have us believe otherwise, but there is not really anything new to healthy living. Eat lots of vegetables, drink water, exercise daily, and chill out. There is a recipe to healthy, balanced living, and it only really gets messed up when we think we know better and start adding in our own ingredients.
The second sign of progress is that results are pretty predictable, and that happens when we follow life’s recipe and season to taste, rather than improvising and then having to correct it later. For my clients, that often means reducing the medications they take or not needing to add new ones because their lifestyle has improved. What a great signal of progress!
“It’s all fun and games until your jeans don’t fit.”
I know, I know….swinging on the pendulum is fun sometimes. Some of life’s best discoveries are found when we throw away the map and just go. If we always follow the recipe, we will never invent new ones. All of that is true.
Let those exceptions apply to your creative outlets, cultural perceptions, political debates, social interactions, and other ways that you live. Definitely break the rules of conventional thinking! But keep your body intact.
Signs of healthy, balanced living are all around us. Are you paying attention? Notice them this week, and enjoy a new pace.
About This Blog
Each week, I write the "Healthy Heather Blog" in the Tallahassee Democrat. It is republished here in case you are not a subscriber (what???). Sometimes it is really good and other times it is just okay. Thanks for reading it regardless of your opinion!