Do you currently feel healthy? Do you feel like it is difficult to remain healthy? Are unhealthy habits and temptations continually challenging your self control and motivation? Almost everyone I know wants to live a healthy life. We all want to eat well, exercise, sleep well, minimize stress, and have healthy relationships. But is it even realistic? You may know someone who seems to live a healthy life with ease. Without effort, they seem to eat well, workout at 5:00am and live stress-free. In comparison, we often contrast our ideal with the realities of working late, demanding children, rushed meal choices and relationship pressure. Is our life designed to be unhealthy?
Designing a healthy life happens when we understand, prioritize, and automate the important. We don’t accidentally become healthier. It doesn’t come naturally. In fact, society actually pushes us in the exact opposite direction. We have consistent pressure to complicate our lives. Do more. Make more. Spend more. Life moves health to the bottom of our priority list- often until we reach a crisis. If you have the right tool, the project is easy. However, without the right equipment (physical or mental), trying to make progress is an uphill battle. We never get traction. So, until we realize popular society (and the marketing power they exhibit) does not have our best interest in mind, we will be stuck with the mentally exhausting task of trying to live a healthy life. The solution is actually pretty simple. It involves a little planning; but all we really need to do is make healthy choices easier than unhealthy ones. That is when progress actually happens.
Food seems really rushed these days. Quick, instant, disposable, fast, convenient- the primary driver for our food decisions is often speed. In an unplanned life, food becomes an added responsibility to our already busy life. We don’t really give food the attention it deserves. And corporate food production bails us out. Quick and easy processed foods have become the go-to for busy people. While we mostly know that processed and fast foods are not the healthiest, they are convenient and serve their purpose. Society has deigned plenty of ready-to-go foods that are inexpensive and tasty enough, but often at the expense of our health.
We all eat. That’s good news. For designing a healthy life, it is almost always wise to begin with food. It takes no additional time to eat healthier. Eating healthier is simply substituting better food for what we are currently eating. We simply need to do a little planning. A little time upfront actually saves us time, makes us healthier, and reduces our overall stress. So, slow down. Evaluate and plan ahead.
The candy bowl? Ice cream in the freezer? Look in your pantry and drawers, what does it look like? Lots of processed foods and refined grains? Sugar, salt, fat? If I have to reach past the chips, chocolate and cookies to get to the apples, I’ll find myself eating a lot less fruit. Our food patterns are surprisingly habitual. The book Mindless Eating is all about the psychology of our eating habits. It talks about the subconscious ways we are influenced to eat in unhealthy ways. You probably do not even realize how much your environment dictates what you eat. We need to design a healthy environment that encourages healthy food consumption.
Exercise never really feels like a priority. Especially if our calendars are already full and we don’t enjoy discomfort. Our jobs seem increasingly sedentary, and incremental convenience seems to be the mantra of life the more we earn. In addition, we are now surrounded by elevators, parking lots, fancy vehicles, and activities best enjoyed sitting. Our houses are filled with huge flat screen televisions and extra comfortable couches and recliners waiting for our tired bodies. Most of my peers live in places where vehicles are need to get anywhere. Walking or biking to work/school/fun is simply not considered when looking at different places to live. Consider your health when planning where you reside. What about your environment encourages movement?
Sitting is the new smoking. My job suggests that I sit behind a desk and look at a computer screen most of the day. My brain can handle it, but I’m not really sure how long my body will. I think we are all starting to recognize the detriment of inactivity. For the near term, I will simply have to develop some strong exercise habits. If I can exercise early, my sedentation at work is a bit more palatable, but my current life is designed with way too little activity.
We try to do too much. Stress can take many forms but the worst type of stress is when we do not have enough time to fulfill all of our obligations and still make time for the important. We design our lives to be unhealthy by trying to pack too much in. Secondly, we often ‘misprioritize’ our life and end up overvaluing a stressful occupation due to the income it provides. Address work. Address spending. It may take a paradigm shift to really eliminate or reduce the work related stress we face. Changing occupations may really be the only option for many individuals feeling stuck in a stressful job. In our financial world, debt and overspending puts pressures on our budgets and our relationships. Having lots of outgoing expenses and debt payments defines a life that is financially stressful. Developing margin, both with our time and money, is the first step to really trimming back the stress in our lives.
Sleep is the missing link. Prioritizing sleep is pretty difficult. Especially when it can easily be masked (at least for short time periods) by socially acceptable drugs and beverages. In fact, our society seems to reward less sleep with greater ‘productivity’. I like to think about sleep just like I think about savings. I start my time allocation with sleep and exercise. Once those are allocated, I fill in the rest with family, work, hobbies and entertainment. I recognize that my body will not function well without quality sleep and consistent exercise. What are the systemic issues in your life that keep you from getting a good night’s rest every evening?
Changing the Design
Slow Down – that is the answer to almost every question. Time deficiency and tiredness make fools of us all. When we get behind in life, it feels like we can not catch up and all areas of our life start to struggle. It begins with making hard decisions. We are forced to make hundreds, if not thousands, of micro-decisions each day. We all suffer from decision fatigue. We understand that it is difficult to tell ourselves ‘no’ over and over again. That is why we must begin by strategically designing our life so that our overall health and well being are priorities. Society has designed our life to be stressful, busy, and unhealthy. But, if the end goal is to be happy and healthy, we need to spend our time designing a healthy lifestyle.