Create keystone habits to be healthier and happier
It is the beginning of spring. People are thinking about getting fit for the summer season. This time of year, many people ask me to build them a program or ask what they should eat. There is always more complexity to a specialized program so lets start with three simple, effective strategies that can help all of us.
I own a fitness training center and we run group training programs for hundreds of people. So I am invested in sound training programs and nutritional counseling. But the best programs and scientifically-based diets don’t mean anything if the person doesn’t follow through. For those things to work, there needs to be consistent adherence. There needs to be engagement. There needs to be keystone habits.
You are not going to hit all your fitness goals overnight. You won’t go from zero to hero in self-improvement in a week. But if you create a few sound habits, they will lead to other small wins and each day, you will get a little fitter, a little less sporadic and a little more disciplined in the process.
A keystone habit is one that you consistently employ. It has a chain reaction leading to other positive, process habits. The important aspect of this is that keystone habits are simple and are in-line with your stated goal. For example, if you have a fitness goal to improve your cycling; before getting deeply concerned with your full training program, you can create a keystone habit of winding down and getting in bed at 10 p.m. every night. This by itself will lead to you waking up recovered and refreshed, lowering cortisol levels, helping you have energy for good training sessions.
Below are three simple keystone habits I have found to dramatically help dozens of clients. They are simple, but require discipline. Try them and you will be amazed at the positive change in your health and mindset.
Get off your phone first thing in the morning
Sixty-one percent of people check their phone first thing in the morning. Is it coincidental or correlational that in 2018, Americans scored the lowest on a happiness index? Stating increased levels of anxiety and depression and decreased feelings of wellbeing, sense of purpose and connection to one’s community.
The fix: Before reaching for your phone and starting the dopamine hit hijacking of your brain for the day, take just five minutes of “day priming” time. Whether you want to call it meditation, mindfulness or breathing techniques doesn’t matter. Just do it consistently. It’s only five minutes. It’s hard to say “no” to five minutes. But the impact on you leading a productive day by design instead of reactionary default is incredible. Don’t put your phone on your nightstand. A lot of people will rationalize this. Do yourself a favor and get a $10 alarm clock. You will also unwind at night better without the phone in the bedroom. Learn about morning breathing technique that will prime you for a great day at https://youtu.be/veR3PAMirHc.
Before getting concerned about this diet or that nutrition plan just start paying attention. Pay attention when you are buying your food at the store. Pay attention when you prepare your food. And most importantly, pay attention and slow down when you eat. Watch most people as they eat and it looks like they are prepping for the Nathan’s Coney Island hot dog eating contest. Barely chewing their food, never setting down utensils — full speed ahead. Slow down.
The fix: Make meals with your family enjoyable. Make the eating of delicious, nutritious food a key part of your day. Put your utensils down between each bite. Drink a sip of water between bites. Engage in listening to others. You will allow your brain and stomach to communicate the way they are designed to. Eating slower often decreases calorie intake for lunch by 150 calories. And people feel more satiety and go into dinner with less hunger pains. Eating slower at dinner often decreases calorie intake by 200 or more calories with less temptation for after dinner snacking. If you are consistently taking in 350 to 500 calories each day, just by paying attention, you will lose weight.
No Booze Sunday through Thursday
It is not my place to tell you to drink or not drink alcohol. That is your decision. I love pairing a nice wine with a meal. But if you do drink and you’re looking for a key habit for increasing your health and fitness goals then refrain from drinking Sunday night through Thursday night.
The fix: Eliminating the habitual daily wind-down glass or two of wine or beer every evening has positive cascading effects. First you will make better food choices, you will sleep sounder with better deep sleep cycles. You will eliminate sugar and alcohol calories that go straight to body fat stores. You will wake up with a lower resting heart rate and better heart rate variability so you can attack your morning workout. You will also save yourself some money, and the weekend nights when you’re social will feel a bit more special.
Try these three simple keystone habits to unlock your potential for a healthy spring and summer. They will lead to other positive patterns and over time, this transforms everything.
Rod Connolly is an exercise physiologist and the owner of Dogma Athletica and Live It Group Training. To contact Connolly or enroll in the Live It Group Training program, call Dogma Athletica at 970-688-4433.