Labor Day weekend marks the unofficial end to summer, as the kids go back to school, and the memories of summer vacation are posted on our Pinterest boards. My mom used to sing “Happy Days are Here Again” on my first day of school. She was so happy to get back to familiar routines and schedules, regular wake up times and meal times. Even the challenges of my afterschool activities seemed easier for her to manage than the wide opened book of summer vacation.
This transition from the casual but chaotic days of summer to the more structured schedule of fall is the perfect time to examine and tweak our habits and routines. If you’ve been promising yourself that you’ll exercise more or more regularly, or prepare more home cooked meals, now is the time to work that into your daily calendar and create a new habit.
A habit is a routine of behaviors that requires very little thinking or analysis, and is based on repeating the same sequence of activities over and over. Habits form their own neural pathways in the brain, more or less bypassing consideration and decision making. We find good habits comforting and bad habits hard to stop.
If you are a true creature of habit, pay very close attention to exactly how you execute those neural pathways each day. You probably don’t pay much attention to your morning routine, for example, but you never forget to brush your teeth or lock the front door when you leave. Wouldn’t it be great if your morning exercise commitment and healthy eating plan could be baked right into your habit pattern so you never had to think about it, or allow yourself a chance to make up excuses or get distracted?
Maybe there’s a spot in your day when you stop doing one thing and move on to the next task, like dropping off the kids at school and returning home for the next phase of your day. What do you do when you get home? Do you make coffee and read the paper or watch the news or a morning show? Do you rush into the shower to get ready for work? Instead, could you squeeze in 15 minutes on an exercise bike immediately when you walk in the door? Could you park the car and walk around the block a few times before you went inside? Could you swap out some part of your habit pattern for something that supports your health goals, so that you are still following the same basic pattern, just doing one thing differently?
For some of you, mornings are out of the question. What about the rest of your day? When I was going through a particularly stressful time at work, I found myself heading to the cafeteria every afternoon around 3:00 for a snack. The cafeteria had an ice cream bar, and even though I’ve never been an ice cream junky, I was eating it 3 times a week. 5 pounds later I realized that my afternoon break was hazardous! The next time I found myself on the elevator I hit the button for the ground floor instead of the cafeteria floor, and walked around the block. I really just needed a change of scenery, a distraction, some stress relief, and I needed to move after sitting at my desk for several hours. I gave up the ice cream, walked off the 5 pounds, and found that I enjoyed the walk even more than the ice cream.
I didn’t really change my habit pattern. I just substituted a good thing for a not so good thing.
The beauty of habits is that once they are fully engrained in your brain, they are easy to stick with. It takes a lot of effort to get started, but less and less effort to maintain. So, before the holidays come and wreak havoc with your schedule again, get those healthy habits in place to see you through.
If you’re looking for supportive assistance to get going and establish some good health habits, please contact me for a free consultation at 908-913-0508.
And check out my website www.crossroadsnutrition.com for information about the ‘Women and Food’ support group that I’m excited to be starting on September 19 in my Fanwood office. The affordable small group workshops will provide critical information on weight maintenance and healthy nutrition in a supportive and sharing environment. Hope to see you then!