I want to kick off today’s post by introducing the Fit Habit series. There’s that word again: habit. For years, I’ve carried around more bad habits with me than I care to recall without making any kind of active effort to rid myself of them. But now I realize that they’ve been taking over my life and effectively eliminating any chance I have of achieving my goals I’ve set, both in and out of the gym. Below are just a few:
- Multitasking (I’ve gotten much better at this as of late but still have plenty of room for improvement)
- Being impatient
- Letting myself become attached to certain people and things
- Automatically correcting people’s spelling and grammar
If you want to live a fit and healthy life, it’s not enough to simply exercise often and eat right. You’re so diligent about getting in your workouts and tossing back your fish oil, but then one particularly stressful day, you find yourself wrist-deep in a box of donuts. You look solemnly at your powder-covered face in the mirror (yeah, you do look ridiculous like that) and vow to yourself that tomorrow you’ll be better. Tomorrow will be the first day of the rest of your life and you’ll never, ever have a slip up like that again. Ever. Until you do. Then you look solemnly at your chocolate-stained face in the mirror….
There was a short period of time when I lived in the suburbs of Chicago while growing up, and we had this beautiful, expansive backyard. The one problem was that there were always nasty weeds growing back there. My kindergarten self would prance around through the grass every day with a shovel in hand, pat-pat-patting at the tops of the pesky plants and pulling weakly at the stems. They’d be gone that day, only to re-appear the next morning. And then again, I would chop away only at the ugly parts that I could see above the ground. It wasn’t until my mother crouched down next to me one day and explained that to solve the problem and keep the weeds from continuously growing back, I’d have to dig deeper and pull out the plant by its very roots that I began to understand that creating lasting change required fixing the underlying problem. (Actually, that’s a lie. I didn’t grasp that until years later. I think I’m still figuring that out right now.)
So back to Fit Habits. Throughout this series, we’ll delve into self-awareness and understanding the reasons behinds why we behave the way we do. From here we’ll segue into mindset change and, consequently, behavior change. What does this entail on your part? I’ll be providing you with pocket-sized pointers that I believe are not only reasonable but also completely time-sensitive. I won’t be asking you to fork over your cash over to me; I won’t be trying to shove a product down your throat. I’m merely communicating my own beliefs, and I hope that you and I will be on the same page. I’m here to help, remember?
The first Fit Habit, as it relates to the title of this article, is meditation. (Coincidentally, this post follows closely on the heels of Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits Premium Membership, which includes the Create the Habit of Meditation mini-course). Numerous studies have demonstrated the benefits of such a practice, including alleviation of stress, anxiety, and even fear. You also become better at skills such as stress management, focus, and impulse control.*
If you’re anything like me, you may constantly feel overwhelmed with five dozen things to do everyday. In addition to channeling your energies onto focusing on just a few goals at a time (or even better, just one), meditation can help calm you down and set you off on the right foot for the rest of the day, allowing you to more effectively tackle each task. This is a habit I’ve been meaning to incorporate into my mornings for the past two weeks, but I’ve told myself that I was far too busy and that I’d get around to it later. Two things: 1) um, talk about irony, and 2) can we say “procrastination”?
The great news is that it doesn’t even take much meditation to start reaping the benefits. The meditation habit that I’d like to introduce is simply breath focus. Do you have 3-5 minutes in your day? Perhaps first thing in the morning or right before a particularly stressful task? Follow these simple steps:
- Sit in a comfortable place. Not too comfortable that you’ll fall asleep, but enough that you won’t be moving around restlessly. Try to stay still.
- Focus on your breath. Either with your eyes open or closed, concentrate your thoughts on your breath. Notice the physical sensations in your body as you inhale and exhale. How high do your shoulders rise, if at all? I know – you’re afraid your attention will wander. That’s completely expected. Simply notice that your thoughts have strayed and then come back to your breath. Breathe in. Breathe out.
Start with a minimum of even 3 minutes for a couple of days. Do it right now if you can. Consider this an investment in your long-term health.
This will be day 1. It will be mine, too. Are you with me? I’m excited to begin this journey with you.
Flustered self, be gone!
*The idea for this first Fit Habit came from the book The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. She’s teaching a continuing studies course here at Stanford, and this book is based off of that lecture series. I’m currently reading this now and it’s absolutely fascinating.