If you follow me on social media, you know that at nearly 40 years old, I had my first “real” surgery on March 15th. It was a diagnostic laparoscopy that resulted in a diagnosis of endometriosis, a disease that affects an estimated 176 million women worldwide. I will write about my story eventually because I think it is beneficial to share. But right now, I would like to share a bit of what I took from this experience - not uterus and ovary related.
When the alarm went off at 4:45 am, I flipped the switch to silence it and reached for a glass of water that wasn’t there. "Right, no drinking anything," I thought. Next on the morning agenda: take a shower with that awful antimicrobial cleanser. After drying off, I reached for deodorant. Nope. Lotion. Nope. After dressing, I walked to the kitchen where I opened the cabinet for the coffee filter. NOPE! Until we got into the car to drive to the hospital, I had to actively and repeatedly remind myself I couldn’t do what came so automatically.
This experience perfectly demonstrates the power of habits. Habits are patterns of behavior we do without much conscious thought. Helpful or harmful, habits are hard to change. When you try to change habits overnight, it is like fighting with yourself. It is not easy and it's not pleasant. The reason for not performing actions that come so naturally must be extremely compelling. It is much easier to do this behavioral 180 when those reasons are surgical complications and it’s just for one morning. It is a much different situation when those reasons are not fitting into a pair of jeans and it’s more than a 24 hour time-frame. Get where I’m going?
Sustainable change in health and fitness is due to cultivating healthy habits; essentially making a lot of those behaviors almost automatic. It becomes harder to NOT do them. On the flip side, harmful habits (or even habits that aren’t conducive to our goals) can be quite challenging to change. It requires self-awareness, effort, consistency (and likely some failures) to change behavior patterns, especially when they are tied to behaviors that you need to keep doing (like eating and going to work). A rock-solid reason, a plan for making small changes rather than attempting a 180, and setting up the environment for success is absolutely critical.
When I talk about the environment, I mean where we spend our time. Usually this means home and/or work. The spaces where we spend the majority of time should be set up to support our goals, otherwise they become another obstacle we must overcome.
My husband went to the store last week while I was recovering. I appreciated it big time! However, he brought home foods I don’t usually purchase, including cereal and plain potato chips. I don’t buy foods like these very often because I tend to overindulge. Sure, even higher-processed, higher-calorie foods exist, but “resisting” any foods for whatever reason isn’t fun. Those foods aren’t off limits for me by any means but why keep an abundance of them around? They aren’t a necessary part of a healthy diet and they don’t support my goals. I don't feel great when I eat them. Why make eating well harder than it has to be?
If I can’t keep my hand out of the cookie jar, I should get rid of the cookie jar…or at least replace the cookies with another food I don’t find so easy to overeat.
I have to add that my husband did a great job of also getting the fruits, veggies, and other whole foods I requested. I had plenty of nutrient-dense meals last week because they were easy to obtain. It definitely goes both ways!
Chips, cereal, cookies, and doughnuts aren’t going to magically disappear from the stores. (Thank goodness! Sometimes a warm chocolate-glazed doughnut and a hot cup of coffee is pure bliss!) But by using the power of habits and recognizing the importance of setting up our surroundings for success, we can create a healthy balance.
Two Lessons Reinforced
-Helpful or harmful, habits are hard to change. When you try to change habits overnight, it is like fighting with yourself. It isn’t easy or pleasant.
-The spaces where we spend a good portion of time should be set up to support our goals, otherwise they become another obstacle.
If you feel like you could use some insight and guidance in developing new habits or changing old ones, send me a message.