Changing how your brain is “wired” is hard. Changing your surroundings isn’t. By changing your surroundings and setting yourself up for success, your habits will follow. And we all know that altering your habits is the only way to make long term, effective change. After all, “We are what we repeatedly do.”- Aristotle.
Here are 10 strategies to help you improve your lifestyle and transform your body, no brain power required.
If I asked 100 random people what does it take to be “healthy”, I bet that 100% of them would answer with something along the lines of “exercise regularly, eat well, and limit stress”. In fact, many of them would also have a good idea how to exercise correctly, what nutritious foods to eat, and how to reduce stress in their lives.
If this is true why are so many people, overweight, unhealthy, and stressed out! Why are they so sick from preventable diseases?
The WHO (World Health Organization) recently published that 1.5 Billion people are at risk of developing diseases due to physical inactivity. Worse yet, the study revealed that there has been no improvement in global levels of physical activity since 2001! What’s going on here? With access to the internet and all of it’s knowledge why haven’t we changed?
Again, many people know what to do, but knowing what to do often isn’t enough.
Knowing that organic kale has lots of vitamin K doesn’t change what we decide to eat when we’re rushed out the door for our kids evening hockey practice.
Just like knowing that 30 minutes of frequent cardio will improve our heart health won’t stop us from choosing the couch on a rainy day.
These decisions have a lot to do with what and who are around us — our surroundings.
One of the most impactful lessons I’ve learned as a coach is that of Viktor Frankl’s teachings in his famous book Man’s Search For Meaning.
If you’re not familiar with Frankl’s branch of psychology allow me to summarize the basis of his theories; “Between stimulus and response there is space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”.
In other words, we don’t have to live like animals, reacting to our surroundings and the environment. We can pause, reflect, and choose our response or action. Awareness of this principle holds enormous power and can move every aspect of your life in the right direction.
Unfortunately, the development and refinement of this skill is a tremendous challenge, one that few will master in their lifetime.
See, we think that we consciously make logical and informed decisions. But the reality is that many of our brains are “hardwired” to produce lighting fast reactions between what happens around us and our response to it.
The more often we react a certain way to our surroundings, the more our brain “molds” itself into producing those same reactions. It does this through a process called Myelination. Myelination essentially coats the neurons in our brain and makes them more conductive. And our neurons are what trigger actions and reactions.
Think of it like this; the thicker the coating, the faster the same reaction is triggered. In essence, an “autopilot feature” is turned on in our brain.
Turning off that autopilot takes discipline and deliberate focus. …In other words, it’s hard work!
Most of us are not putting in the work to make these changes. Worse yet, some of us aren’t even aware that work needs to be done!
That means what surrounds us is highly impactful; often shaping the majority of decisions we make in any given moment.
Most of us can’t help but binge watch Netflix. Think about the last time you skipped the gym and decided to start a new series instead. The next thing you know you “decide” to watch a second and third episode back to back. Before you know it you’ve missed several days at the gym and consumed the entire series in a mere 5 days. Was it really a “decision”? Not likely. Looks like autopilot was driving this action.
Most of us often eat an entire bag of chips while socializing. Someone offers you some chips at the party… they pass the bowl your way and start yapping about some juicy gossip. Your ear can’t get enough and before you know it you’ve emptied the entire bowl! You’ve been distracted by the gossip and your food regulating decisions were set on autopilot yet again.
Most of us can’t help but cheer for blood when viewing a UFC cage match. I think we’d all like to believe that the great majority of humans are relatively passive, non violent people. However, if you’re sitting front row at the latest UFC match and the crowd is cheering for blood, i’m betting you’re going to jump in on the bloodthirst.
Here’s a great rule of thumb to live by and get our surroundings in check:
Ensure healthy choices are easy to make.
Ensure poor choices are difficult to make.
A few examples:
Keep your biking gear and bike close to the front door. Instead of driving, consider biking.
Ensure your fridge is full of fresh and nutritious foods. When you reach for something and open the door, healthy options will be staring you in the face.
Get a new “best friend”, one of the furry variety. A dog that needs walking is a great excuse to get outside more often.
Use small plates and ditch the huge cups! Most will consume whatever is on their plate or in their cup. Having smaller ones helps you to eat or drink less.
Carry a water bottle with you wherever you go. When you’re thirsty you’ll have natures best option ready to quench you.
People are often caught saying “I’m trying so hard to change but it never seems to last”. I bet they are trying hard… a little too hard! Willpower has been scientifically proven to be finite. We only have so much of it to go around. And when it runs out… yup, you guessed it, back to the old ways.
Why not make life a little easier and focus on your surroundings. Utilize the power of autopilot and make small changes to your surroundings. Before you know it, you’ll be making healthier choices without even thinking about it!
I’ve laid out 10 simple techniques below; helping you change your surroundings immediately.
1. Step into nature. Just getting outside into nature can transform your life. All you need to do is take the first step! Next time you’re feeling unhealthy, tired, or lazy just go for a walk in the woods. You’ll be amazed at nature’s power to rejuvenate.
Pro tip: Find a body of water; being mindful of the sounds of a river or taking a swim in a freshwater lake has even more added benefit.
2. Eliminate the junk food in your house! Toss the cookies, ice cream, chocolate, and pop. It’s bad enough that one of these items will be in virtually every other location you visit throughout the day.
Pro tip: Start with a few options of vibrant fresh fruit around the house instead.
3. Try a meal delivery service. The convenience of these companies provides tremendous value and will help move your habits in the right direction.
Pro tip: Find one that provides an adequate amount of protein.
4. Turn off your phone and devices 30 minutes before bed. I can’t emphasize the importance of less screen time in our lives, it’s a blog post in itself. For now know that it will help you sleep better and that in turn will improve virtually every other aspect of your health.
Pro tip: Make it a game once a week to see how long you can go with your phone turned off.
5. Buy a chef’s knife accompanied by a huge chopping block. It’s the most important tool you’ll own in your kitchen.
Pro tip: While you food prep, make it more enjoyable by cranking up some of your favourite tunes on the stereo.
6. Connect with friends that are into fitness. Try meetup.com or come check out one of our latest LIVEFIT adventures.
Pro tip: Book your next holiday with a fitness travel company or join a club with health conscious individuals.
7. Make a list before you leave to go grocery shopping. Having a checklist to reference when you walk into the store will not only help you make better choices, it will alleviate stress. Two for one here!
Pro tip: Use Google Keep on your smartphone for easy note taking or get Siri or Google Assistance to set reminders for you.
8. Set a stand-up-and-stretch alarm. Everytime you sit for prolonged periods of time you’re doing your tissues a disservice. Set an alarm every 55 minutes and take 5 minutes to stand up and stretch.
Pro tip: Google “stopwatch” in a Chrome browser and a free timer will pop up for you instantly.
9. Stock up your freezer. Fill your freezer full of frozen fruits and stuff for healthy smoothies. Ensure you have plenty of protein for easy access.
Pro tip: Meal prep soups or stews and freeze them into bags for easy access.
10. Turn your family into your coaches. Tell your loved ones that you’re trying to improve your surroundings and better your health. Be specific in what you’re trying to change and improve. They don’t have to change but ask them to help by ensuring your surroundings are set up for success.
Pro tip: Tell your friends as well by posting it on social media. You’ll be held more accountable to your commitments and your true friends will be there to support.
There you have it, you now have 10 things you can change to ensure your surroundings are setting you up for success!
Wishing you the best,
Errol Clark, Professional Preventative Healthcare Coach
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