Spring Clean your Life
Five Healthy Habits to Help You Flourish
“Habit is the best of all servants, or the worst of all masters.” Nathaniel Emmons
Spring is in the air, and for many of us the promise of longer, warmer days motivates us to take action and ignites a desire to “spring clean” our life. Sunny days and balmy temperatures have been shown to increase optimism and boost energy levels, bringing unhealthy habits, which may have increased over the winter months, into sharp focus. Spurred on by this positive frame of mind, spring is an ideal time to throw open the windows of your life and toss out old unhelpful habits that are hindering your growth. By replacing them with habits that enhance your emotional, physical and spiritual wellbeing, you are setting yourself up for personal success.
However, breaking old habits, and building new ones can be challenging. A habit is essentially a connection or neural pathway formed between a trigger (for example, stress) and a response (for example, eating), which is cemented through repetition and in this case, the pleasure that accompanies eating. The more frequently we eat when we feel stressed, the wider and stronger that neural pathway becomes, and the more likely we are to repeat the habit. The process of habit formation is a powerful neurological tool for survival and growth, but proves to be a double-edged sword when the habits that are laid down are unhealthy or even destructive.
So how can we use this knowledge to build new healthy habits? While unhealthy habits can put strong roots down in our life, with appropriate action and goal setting we can work to disconnect old connections, and lay down new healthy ones. Below are five scientifically-validated strategies to get your spring clean started.
1.) Get in Touch with Your Values: Identify your most important core personal values (e.g. Health, Integrity, Self Control) and pinpoint any habits that don’t fit with them (e.g. eating too much junk food, gossiping with colleagues, excessive spending). Research shows that when we know our values (or those we aspire to), but don’t behave in accordance with them, we are more likely to feel anxious or flat. Conversely, when our behaviour lines up with our values, we are more likely to feel empowered, calm and content. So, if you find yourself flicking through Instagram when you are at work, but are trying to foster self-control or a strong work ethic, log out of all your social media pages and set yourself a goal to leave your online socializing to half an hour in the evening. If you value integrity, but often find yourself gossiping about friends or workmates, set yourself a goal to say something encouraging about a friend or workmate next time in their absence. If you put these goals in writing and bring them to mind each time you are in these situations, you are on track to building new healthy habits that are authentic and value-driven.
2.) Declutter your thinking: Our thinking exerts a powerful influence on our feelings, and left unchecked, can hold us back from personal success and can contribute to anxiety and depression. Work to make your thinking consistent with your values. Identify any unhelpful thinking patterns that are holding you back from growing into the person you aspire to be. If you value kindness, but are constantly putting yourself down, make an effort to foster a more compassionate inner-dialogue. If you aspire to live a healthy lifestyle but are constantly comparing your success to others, or telling yourself that exercise is too hard, practice thinking like a healthier version of yourself. Rather than chastising yourself, work to replace unhelpful thoughts with more balanced and helpful ones like “Putting on my shoes and simply walking down to the beach will boost my mood” or “I am looking forward to feeling healthier and a swim will help with that.” If you find yourself ruminating on a disagreement with a friend, or a past hurt, take a deep breath, let the thought go and gently re-focus your attention on something you’re grateful for, something your looking forward to or simply bring your focus back to the here and now. Which leads to a third point:
3.) Practice being mindful: Research indicates that the more we are able to be present in the moment, the lower our anxiety levels and the more satisfied we are with life. When we rush through our day-to-day tasks, or find ourselves lost in thought during our activities, we increase stress, decrease efficiency and miss out on the positive benefits of our experiences. Set an hourly timer during the day, or alternately choose two daily activities (for example having a shower, or eating lunch) when you can practice being mindful. At these times take a deep breath and make a conscious effort to slow down, and connect with the here and now. If you are eating, put aside your phone or book and focus on the texture, taste and smell of the food you are eating, chewing slowly and mindfully. If you are talking to a friend, concentrate on their words and body language and try to empathise with them, rather than focusing on what to say next, or where you need to be.
4.) Practice gratitude: Once again, research indicates that people who regularly stop and reflect on aspects of their life that they are grateful for experience lower levels of stress and produce more mood-enhancing chemicals. By pausing regularly and writing down or talking about an experience we are grateful for we help shift our thinking and focus from the negative to the more optimistic, and help restore perspective and balance to our thinking.
5.) Move your body: Finally, and not surprisingly, make time each day to move your body. From a physical perspective, our motivation may be to lose weight or increase fitness, but psychologically, there are not many activities that safeguard our mood and create emotional resilience as quickly and effectively as exercise. When we exercise we rid our body of toxic stress hormones, and release powerful feel-good hormones. We also boost confidence and create clarity in our thinking. All of which will only help to kick start your other healthy habits and help you to focus on creating the success in your life you desire!