What do fast food, TV remotes and Facebook have in common?
They all provide quick and easy ways for us to get what we want! (food, entertainment, and social connection)
We humans are wired to prefer easy solutions. Scientists believe that this preference was designed to help our ancestors save energy for important things like protecting themselves and raising offspring. Obviously, life is much easier for us than it was for them. Nowadays, our preference for ease can actually work against us.
It's not that there is anything inherently wrong with easy solutions — but sometimes the easy way isn't the healthiest way. Take the earlier example of fast food, remotes, and Facebook. If we only ate fast food, never got up off the couch, and restricted our social connections to Facebook friends, our health would obviously suffer!
The good news is that you can use what we know about our human preferences to build greater wellness. Here are five ways to engineer a healthier lifestyle.
- Plan Ahead - The first step in making any change is getting clear about what you want. So, make a specific goal and then create an action plan. The act of planning focuses your intention, guides your attention, and harnesses the power of "pre-decision". Pre-decision supports your willpower by reducing unknowns and limiting the number of times you have to make a decision. For example, if you decide that you are going to walk every day after work and then put it on your calendar, you don't have to decide everyday whether or not today is a day that you will walk.
- Go Along with the Crowd - The people in our lives have tremendous influence over our choices. When the people around us are making healthy choices, it makes it easier for us to do the same (and vice versa). Notice which of the people in your circles are supporting your well-being and be intentional about using them as resources. Let them know how they can support you and offer to be a support to them, too. If you find it difficult to get support among your current circles, consider reaching out to a support group or a coach.
- Be a Detective - As you work to make healthier choices, notice what cues in your life are helping you stay on track, and which ones are pulling you off track. Use your curiosity to explore the healthy and unhealthy triggers and explore which of the healthy ones you can strengthen and which of the unhealthy ones you can diminish. For example, if you notice that evening snacking is interfering with your healthy eating plan, explore how this happens. Are unhealthy snacks easier for your to access than healthy snacks? Are there feelings associated with your choices (fatigue, stress or boredom)? How could you set yourself up for a more desirable outcome?
- Measure What Matters - You may have heard the phrase: "What gets measured, gets managed". There is a reason for that. The act of measuring something increases our awareness about it, and allows us to use our problem-solving skills to alter our approach and change our result. Research studies in fields like physics and psychology have demonstrated that the very act of measuring something changes the outcome. So, use this phenomenon to your advantage. Track habits or outcomes that are important to you so you can start moving them in a healthier direction. There are lots of ways to set up a tracking system from low-tech (a handwritten log or calendar) to high-tech (wearable technology that interfaces with online tools). The key is to find a way that you will use — and then use it!
- Celebrate your Results - As you track your progress, don't forget to pat yourself on the back! Our culture tends to be impatient and always strive for "the next thing". Acknowledging and celebrating results plays an important role in your success. This practice allows you to notice what you've accomplished, incorporate important learnings, build your confidence, and increase your momentum. It primes the pump for your future success, so don't skip over it!
Which of these approaches have you used? Please share about what you've learned in the comments below!