Health Dec 21, 2022
How small habits can make a big difference to your health
“New year, new me.”
As 2022 is winding down, have you been thinking about making major lifestyle changes and self-improvements? This is no coincidence.
Studies show that entering a new chapter in life – be it moving houses, changing jobs, or starting a new year – can have a ‘fresh-start effect’ on us. Thus, both physiologically and symbolically, the start of a new year or the month of January is a great time to pick up a new habit or two.
Did you know that nearly 1 in 4 Americans (and 1 in 10 Brits) make New Year’s resolutions – and that health and fitness is their top focus? However, only 12% are likely to make it through to the end of the year.
This is not a sign to abandon all your plans for a healthier new year. Rather, it’s a reminder to find small but effective ways to make your life better, long-term. Here’s how you can get started:
Set your sights on a goal that will affect your everyday lifestyle
“I want to be healthier”
“I want to lose weight”
“I want to be fit”
These are all worthy aspirations, but also quite ambiguous about what they mean specifically for you. What if you set goals connected to your daily lifestyle instead?
“I want to take the stairs to my apartment without running out of breath”
“I want to wake up in the morning feeling rested and refreshed”
“I want to feel energetic and fuller for longer after eating lunch”
The simpler and more concrete your goals are, the more likely you are to follow through. You understand why you’re putting in the work and exactly what you get in the end. Which also makes it easier to keep going.
There are, of course, many health aspects you can focus on, from physical stamina to mindfulness and nutrition to sleep. You can do a quick health check, for instance, with Livit by Nightingale Health, to understand your starting point. Then, you can combine these findings with your experiences and aspirations to decide which direction to take.
Make a step-by-step plan of small things you can actually do
It’s not uncommon for people to take on bold challenges like ‘Dry January’, ‘Veganuary’, or ‘3-Miles-A-Day-For-30-Days’ during periods of transition, like the dawn of a new year. However, there are more effective and enjoyable ways to drive your health.
Radical interventions, at best, can be consuming, and, at worst, make you burn out. Whereas, small and clever tweaks to your daily routine can develop into unconscious habits that significantly improve your life in the years to come.
Here are a few ideas to get you thinking:
“At social events, consider opting for mocktails (or non-alcoholic drinks) in addition to your usual drink of choice”
“Go to bed 15 minutes earlier than your normal bedtime”
“Hop off at the second closest public transport stop and walk the rest of the way home”
Create a system of checks and rewards to encourage repetition
When it comes to developing new habits, ‘having a strong will’ is only one part of the equation.
There’s also ‘measuring progress’ – are your efforts actually working? Apart from the changes you can see and feel, regular health tracking can help with that.
Then, there’s ‘encouraging repetition’ - think cues and rewards. If you’ve made a pact to go for a short morning run, lay out your running clothes and shoes the night before. Reserve the latest release of your favorite podcast or musician to keep you company. Your natural endorphins will take care of the rest!
Be patient and compassionate with yourself
Your quest to turn a healthier chapter in life is not free from the circumstance that you are in. Even with a fierce attitude and relentless efforts, some things can throw you off course.
Going back to the example of a short morning run – What is the weather like where you live? Do you have easy access to a gym or a running path? Can you afford to spend money on running gear? How early does your work start? Can you find a running buddy?
So, remember to take one small step at a time, and leave space for circumstances beyond your control. If you find it hard to keep going – give yourself some grace, adjust your goals and plans, and try again.