Small Changes Still Count
However persuasively sold to us, it simply isn’t true that we need to radically change everything about our lifestyle and somehow becomes a new, ‘better’ person to be healthy. You would certainly be forgiven for thinking that was the case, given the plethora of advice, books, programmes and media noise surrounding health and wellbeing. Yet so often, grand gestures of renewal end up with a dejected retreat back into our old ways and we enter that familiar cycle of feeling like we have somehow ‘failed’ at the diet or regime we had so positively set out to maintain. Then the shame, guilt and need for comfort can creep back in and we find ourselves right back where we started.
So firstly, I would like to offer a collective wave of compassion to anyone and everyone who has ever been in this position. It’s tough, it’s confusing and I want you to know that you are most definitely not alone. Secondly, I would like to make a plea that this dichotomy we’ve inadvertently created, between being ‘good’ and ‘bad’, on-a-diet or off-a-diet, being entirely healthy or being wholly indulgent, is unrealistic and certainly unsustainable for the long run. We exist in shades of grey – where some parts of our days, myself included, are inevitably slightly healthier than others. Some whole days are more balanced, with more movement, more vegetables and more sleep. Others are a rollercoaster of stress, eating-on-the-go and late nights. That is real life and I would suggest that no restrictive or rules-based lifestyle will ever really be able to flex enough to meet all of these inevitable challenges.
There are, however, certain aspects of healthy living that are important not only to our current sense of energy and wellbeing, but also to our longer-term health. Whilst in the broadest terms, many of these factors are important for all of us (not smoking, restorative sleep, connection to others, a nourishing diet, stress reduction etc.), the combination, nuances and degree to which we need to be consistent, will vary between us and over time. We don’t need to do it all, and especially not in one go, in fact just making some small habit changes can add up to achievable and sustainable lifestyle improvements.
Instead, I am an advocate of taking mini steps. And if those mini steps are too big, then make them micro ones instead. You want to feel like it is laughably easy to instigate the change you’re proposing. And even with my (pretty full-on) support, I would never ask a client to make more than 3 small changes at a time. If you’re doing it without professional input, I suggest that just 1-2 changes are enough. We are all busy, with numerous other things taking up our time and headspace.
But don’t be lulled into thinking that these little shifts are not important. My colleague, Rozzie, talks about the power of ‘1-degree course corrections’. If you set a ship just 1 degree off-course, it will end up in a completely different city by the time it crosses an ocean. The same principle applies to our wellbeing: shifting behaviour just 1 degree, maintained over the course of decades, can lead us into a completely different health space than if we’d stayed on the same bearing. One extra serving of vegetables per day adds up to 3650 more portions over a decade (and that’s a lot of fibre, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals). Just 30 minutes extra activity per week is 520 hours more heart-healthy movement over 20 years. Micro changes do add up. The fable of the hare and the tortoise come to mind here – big changes that burn out over weeks will ultimately be overtaken by incremental achievable changes that we just keep plugging away at.
I guess this could also be expressed as an equation, for those who are mathematically minded, that would look something like this:
Size of lifestyle shift x length of time change is maintained = degree of potential benefit
So remember, you don’t have to do it all to be healthy. You just need to do enough, on a relatively consistent basis, to feel well.
Little Shift Ideas
- Meditate or practice some mindful breathing for 2 minutes every morning, before getting out of bed
- Eat one extra portion of vegetables per day
- Drink a glass of water before lunchtime
- Always take the stairs when you can. Park the far side of each car park.
- Switch off your mobile phone before going to sleep
- Have some protein with breakfast (nuts, seeds, nut butter, eggs, natural yoghurt etc.)
- Avoid drinking caffeine after 3pm
- Have three alcohol-free days per week
- Eat a portion of oily fish once a week (mackerel, salmon, trout, sardines)
- Have a small portion of (unsalted) nuts or seeds once a day – they are packed full of various essential vitamins and minerals. A portion is roughly 30g / a small handful.
- Arrange one phone call per month with a friend who makes you laugh, rather than just texting
- Briskly walk for 10 minutes at lunchtime
- Sit down to eat your evening meal, leaving your phone and TV off
Other articles you might enjoy reading: Non-Food Treats; The Power of Positive Nutrition; Is Joy a missing piece of the healthy puzzle
This article was commissioned by Natural Health Magazine
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