When you hear the expression lifestyle change, most likely you’ll imagine a personal scale as part of it somehow, but does the interpretation have to be this narrow, so focussed on body and appearance? Or could we perhaps acknowledge that the mind needs to be in it, too? What if you’re already in great shape physically, yet feel out of place, miserable even where you are right now in life? Maybe the thought has occurred to you that there should be something more to life, whatever more might be?
Often when we hit a wall and have enough, it’s easy to become eager for immediate results on the newly chosen path, but the danger of this is that we run out of steam very quickly. Change can be painfully slow at times and combined with no plan, no thinking on deeper level, what you are headed for is the typical fate of New Year’s resolutions. If you also happen to have a tendency to guilt trip yourself when thinking you have failed somehow, starting afresh might become too hard and so you give up before you had a chance to build momentum. But what if I say that at least part of that could have been avoided by increasing your awareness, and careful planning? Let’s take a look at ideas for first steps of lifestyle change, how to build a new existence.
If you say yes to too many things too often, and are already aware of this behaviour, you’re in good company. While simply saying no all of a sudden may be too drastic a change, it’s still valuable to recognise when you feel inclined to agree to do something even when you know there isn’t enough time to get it done.
If you habitually say yes without being aware of it, the next steps will be a bit different, but the solution will still be to say no more often. Ask yourself whether your standard reply is yes, whether you say yes regardless of person asking you a favour, and whether it may be beneficial to say no in some of the situations. No matter what, figuring out the chain of events is necessary to create lasting change.
Many people, myself included, feel they’re a bit selfish for saying no and it can take a surprising amount of practice to get less uncomfortable with this teeny, tiny word.
My suggestion is to simply try it a few times even when something inside keeps protesting, and maybe seeing benefits such as more time available or less stress will convince you there’s something to it after all. Because decreasing stress levels will make room for more yes.
It’s a cycle really, and as such all right, as long as you recognise where you are in it. If adjustments are necessary to regain balance and control, so be it.
How to start a physical lifestyle change
The time freed up I mentioned above could be used on self-care, if you are about to embark on a lifestyle changes with focus on nutrition and exercise.
In fitness forums, it’s typical to read seasoned lifestyle changers reply that the beginner should quit complaining and making excuses, and instead carve out the time needed for walking, going to the gym, learning how to count calories, meal planning, and more.
While it can come across as quite brutal, it’s also true. Everyone has only 24 hours at their disposal each day, and while I’m not suggesting you sleep less (because I absolutely do not, proper and regular sleep is of utmost importance), if you go to work, what’s left is approximately the same amount of hours as everyone else has at hand.
If you keep saying yes to various projects that are completely irrelevant to your health project, then it’s rather obvious you lost the game before it began. As hard as it is to admit, we do need to set aside time for when and how to manage energy input and output.
When you say yes to something else, it means no for the lifestyle change, so the question is what matters more. The intention isn’t to make anyone feel bad here, but if we aren’t honest at this point, trying to create new habits will be extremely challenging.
But I’m not ready yet – or could it be a willpower thing?
Not being ready yet is a wonderful thing to understand about yourself. Habit changes most likely fail because you think you were ready to commit, but turns out you weren’t. Yet.
This part actually has two components the way I see it, the truly not being ready for new ways of doing things and the willpower part. I’m still learning more about willpower, but suffice to say there are limited amounts of it to use each day.
What this means in terms of a lifestyle change is that if you’re awfully busy at work and have something going on at home, there’s a real chance you simply don’t have enough willpower left to pull off habit changes. So when you start beating yourself up, it is possibly not even possible to drag yourself out for a run.
An example from my own life is launching this website. What happened was that I ended up completely drained for several weeks and haven’t run in all that time. I’m still in the phase of establishing running as a habit, so it’s been one too many things on my plate. My younger me would have been devastated about this, but now when I know how physiologically it would have been impossible, I accept facts and look forward to when I can get back to it again. No bad conscience as a result.
What if I don’t want to change?
Change is treated like a curse word sometimes. If you want to improve your body to become stronger, have more endurance, or less fatty tissue perhaps, you might consider becoming a regular at the gym. The complaining bank account could prevent a membership, so instead you contemplate options free of charge.
At some point in your plan you still include actions to do something out of the ordinary. You also envision an end result different from status quo, which you realise depends on some kind of change taking place. Most people don’t question this at all.
When it comes to improving your mind, however, has it occurred to you to draft a strategy for your routine? Maybe you wouldn’t exercise regularly such as the three weekly sessions included in your strength-training regimen to increase muscle mass, but have you viewed for instance meditation, journalling, or habit-changing challenges as actual mind training?
If I write change, do you think my message is to say that something is wrong with you? I definitely hope not.
Mind training as part of a lifestyle change
To me personally, it’s all about agility of mind, increased stress tolerance, improved skills to deal with unexpected hardship, decreased need to complain about things I can’t change and instead increased desire to find something actionable in any given situation.
It’s also about staying in the moment more often, because who knows whether we have the privilege of enjoying tomorrow at all.
One of the best analogies for mental strength that I’ve found is the tree, which keeps standing no matter what happens. Its strong roots anchor it firmly to the ground yet the trunk is flexibly adjusting to both wind speed and direction. And it stands through all weathers and temperatures, often outliving us all.
So to go back to physical exercise as being something completely normal, why aren’t we talking more about strengthening our minds the same way? Why is there no five-step plan for mind building the same way as you could outline a five-phase plan for becoming a strength training, yoga-practicing marathoner?
We measure all things bodily performance, but where’s the tool or theory for growing a mind as adults? The closest I’ve come is Stephen R. Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which is on my current reading list and about to appear here on the blog in a few weeks as a commentary.
In this context, change isn’t about discarding our core personality but instead something related to personal growth. Maybe we should talk about life growth instead of lifestyle change? Ah, that becomes too elusive.
But the essence is to cultivate the mind we were given, so we can act rather than react when our surroundings acts in a way that affects us.
Like I wrote earlier, resistance to shake in the foundation when shocking or stressful things happen sounds rather appealing, as does knowing how to adjust when circumstances change and remain in control, don’t you think?
Next up when discussing lifestyle changes is how to plan one and execute successfully, once we’ve passed these first few hurdles.
How about you, are you amidst a lifestyle change yourself? Is it one of body or mind, or both perhaps? Do you have tips to share?