I was watching the Today show a few weeks ago. There was a competition brewing between Matt, Willie, and a group of viewers -- they all vowed to give up something unhealthy for 30 days. From what I surmised, Tamron was also part of the challenge, but only lasted 10 days before her sweet tooth got the better of her. While I applaud the idea of challenging yourself to become healthier, I found myself wondering why we feel the need to approach our healthy habit creation with negative reinforcement vs. positive. Taking things away from ourselves for a period of time is like punishment; it's as if we are giving ourselves a "time out" for being bad. Sure, after 30 days, there is a very good chance that behavioral change is made, but at what cost to our sanity?
But that's how we roll. We beat ourselves up daily because we aren't perfect. Work an extra two hours on a project because good isn't good enough. Deprive ourselves of that special dessert because we want to lose that last five pounds. Commit to another engagement because giving to others is "better" than giving to ourselves. Constantly taking things away from ourselves, whether it's time, desire or energy, is our way of being better, healthier people. Hmmm. Sounds somewhat medieval and sadistic if you ask me.
I would like to propose a decidedly more fun (and sane) way of enjoying our lives and creating healthy habits. Give yourself something! Let's turn all of this negative reinforcement on its head, and try some positive reinforcement. How about we add some great stuff to our everyday routines, and see if we can't create some new habits that will last a lifetime. For example, instead challenging yourself to give up soda for 30 days, challenge yourself to drink an extra glass of water every day for 30 days. Give yourself 30 minutes every day to move your body in a way that feels good to you -- walking, stretching, playing with your kids. Maybe, just maybe, you could give yourself 10 extra minutes of sleep every night for 30 days.
After a few weeks of giving yourself healthy habits, you'll begin to feel something wonderful happen -- you won't need, or want, those bad habits any more! The theory is called "crowding out." As you add more good stuff to your life, you need more room in your life, so inevitably you'll have to get rid of some old, bad stuff. Like buying new clothes. After a while, your closet won't be able to hold all of your new clothes, so you'll have to go in and get rid of some of the old stuff -- the clothes that don't fit you any more and the colors that just don't look good on you. Sure, maybe you keep a few things around that you just can't part with, a soda here and there, an extra glass of wine on weekends, or that nasty habit of checking your email on Sunday afternoons. That's OK. We're human. And, you are much healthier now than you were thirty days ago. Health is a journey, not a destination.
Let's be nice to ourselves. We only have one body, one mind, and one life. Why not treat them with care and respect? Eat to feel alive, not guilty. Exercise because you love your body, not because you hate your body. Live because you enjoy your life, not because you have to exist. Positively reinforce the good, and eventually you'll crowd out the bad.
Maybe by treating yourself well, you'll have better luck at creating healthy habits.
If You Do Nothing Else...
Try replacing one soda with a bottle of sparkling water. Same bubbles, a refreshing taste, and much better for you!