Most modern cultures are increasingly driven by achievement. While having a performance-driven mentality has its benefits, it also has its pitfalls. Today, people are more stressed than ever. Did you know that for young people the rates of psychological distress have increased by 70% in the past twenty-five years? And that in the workforce 76% of employees experience burnouts? Stress is the ultimate well-being and energy killer. It slows the production of new brain cells and reduces serotonin and dopamine — which are critical to our mood. Stress also fires up the amygdala (the part in the brain where we experience emotions) while simultaneously decreasing hippocampus function (the part in the brain that regulates memory)—making us tired and less capable to remember.
Protect the assets
Our body and our mind are extremely valuable assets that we utilise throughout our daily lives. It is mind boggling what they can do. But if our body and mind are not in good shape, our lives can be pretty tough. Indeed, we should treat these assets very carefully. Just like we properly fuel and service a car to ensure it transports us safely and comfortably, we should nourish and care for our body and mind to ensure it transports us through life safely and comfortably. An ancient principle may apply here: “mens sana in corporo sano” — a healthy mind in a healthy body. We should aim to achieve a balance of physical and mental fitness by following accepted principles.
In this blog, we suggest four habits that have proven to help people achieve that balance. They are not rocket science and — of course — you’re probably already aware of these strategies, so simple mentioning their benefits wouldn’t cut it. Therefore, we go a step further and recommend habit strategies to make it easier for you to adopt these new habits.
What to do to achieve balance?
Habit #1: Regular Exercise
The evidence is irrefutable: exercise is very important. A large number of studies demonstrate that exercise improves stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms. It also helps to cultivate a stronger resilience. Exercise can enable healthy coping, reducing the likelihood of resorting to drugs, alcohol or other negative behaviours that ultimately only make symptoms worse.
Habit #2: Healthy nutrition
Besides regularly exercising, it’s essential to nourish the body properly. A constant flow of unhealthy food and drink is a little like pouring diesel into a petrol engine. Minimising intakes of alcohol, refined sugar, refined oils, meat products, and instead, consuming more plant-based wholefoods provides better nourishment. Exploring cooking can help improve eating habits.
Habit #3: Regulated sleep
Sleep is essential to our well-being. During sleep, your body repairs itself — if we get enough sleep, we perform and feel better. Sleep affects mental health. Maintaining a high sleep quality and proper sleep duration, increases health and happiness. Adopting a shutdown routine can improve sleep quality. For example, avoiding screens for 90 minutes before bed can significantly decrease anxiety and increase happiness. Also, exercise helps to improve and regulate sleep patterns. Exercises improves overall sleep quality, sleep latency and apnoea. It has certainly provided similar effects as sleeping pills for many people. Another technique that helps to improve your sleep is mindfulness meditation.
Habit #4: Mindfulness mediation
Mindfulness is generally referred to as moment-to-moment awareness — being aware of what’s going on around you but not being overwhelmed by it. Countless numbers of studies show that mindfulness helps to reduce anxiety, depression, stress and increases positive emotions and improves emotional well-being. Besides that, Mindfulness also improves concentration (sustained attention). World-wide, academics, entrepreneurs, engineers, and athletes are all taking on a mindfulness practice to remain steady while the world spins around them.
Yes, we know all this already.
But, how to succeed with these new habits?
We realise people probably already know what to do to improve your health. Most people know they should exercise regularly, eat less pizza and more green leafy vegetables; to limit alcohol and drink more water instead.
Every day, millions of people attempt to make positive changes in their lives. For example, we decide to exercise more, eat healthier, get quality sleep. For a while, we work out, we swap refined sugar for fresh fruit and we go to bed early. And we feel like we’re on top of the world – perhaps not immediately but after a few days. However, after some time, our new healthy habits start slipping. We miss a day, or two, then three, then a week, and before we realise it, we’re back at our baseline – and often that baseline gets even worse.
Why is it so difficult to make lasting changes in our life?
One of the answers is that we can be too ambitious and take on too much at a time. We choose a 2-hour gym regimen instead of starting with a 10-minute daily fitness routine we can do at home, or we cut out all refined sugar in our diet, instead of just eliminating chocolate.
The problem with this approach is that it’s tough to sustain in the long-term. That’s why 88% of our new year’s resolutions fail. After some time, our initial enthusiasm fades away, and our motivation drops, and it becomes harder to stick to our strict habits. When we fail once, or twice, we don’t hesitate and drop the new habit altogether.
The solution: Tiny habits
Instead of starting with lofty goals, one strategy is to start small and build tiny habits.
Popularised by behavioural analyst BJ Fogg in his book Tiny Habits, the idea is that starting small makes it easier to complete the task. The more often you complete a task, the more accomplished you feel. In turn, you create a feedback loop that “wires in” new habits. Another benefit of tiny habits is that when you decide to do something for just one or two minutes, you generally end up spending a little more time on task anyway — the problem often is to just get started.
Using this approach, the next time you want to eat healthier, you could try meat-free Mondays instead of turning vegan cold-turkey (pun intended). Rather than meditating for 20 minutes every day, start with 2 minutes, and try to make it a daily habit. Then, you can increase when you feel like you have mastered the 2-minute ritual. The key to making a behaviour habitual, is to make it easier for you to stick to the behaviour on a regular — ideally daily — basis.
Environment beats willpower every day
Willpower is like a muscle that gets tired after long use. If our environment is not set up to support our new habits, we find it exhausting to maintain the required willpower, and revert back to our old habits. It can help to set up your environment so that it is easier to perform the desired behaviour. For example, start with your groceries. Consciously making the effort to avoid purchasing sugary foods at the supermarket makes it easier to avoid eating them when you are less motivated at home–if you don’t have it in your home, you can’t eat it. If you want to work out more, place your fitness gear or outfit in a prominent place in your home so you are reminded to work out when you see it. If you want to eat more fruit, place the fruit in a fruit basket on a table or kitchen counter instead of in the fridge where you see it less often.
Be accountable together
Another strategy is to find an accountability partner. An accountability partner can help to coach you and provide feedback on a regular basis. If you have an accountability partner, you can have regular feedback sessions in which you share wins and talk about your current challenges. Having a good accountability partner can help you make serious progress toward any of your goals.
Check out the infographic below for a guide to find a good accountability partner.
We hope that these insights will enable you to stick with your (new) healthy habits. To leave you with an encouraging statistic: James clear, Author of the New York Bestseller Atomic Habits, found “if you can get one percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done.” So, consider selecting one thing you want to improve, and take a tiny step toward it.
Author: Yannick van Hierden