It’s hard to believe that five years have passed since I resolved to overhaul my lifestyle and establish daily exercise, eating, and reflection habits. My ‘why’ has been critical to maintaining my resolve.
What is my ‘why’? The people in my life.
I have a wonderful life partner and seven amazing kids. Sadly, I’ve experienced many of my extended family dying from heart attacks and strokes well before their 60th birthday. I want to minimise the risk of dying prematurely. I want to be around as long as possible to experience and enjoy the people I love: the people who make me a better human. My motivation is as simple as that.
Fourteen months into my journey, James Clear published Atomic Habits and put a name and framework to what I had been doing. Atomic Habits describes how “goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress” and that building habits is about becoming the version of yourself you want to be.
My goal was clear: stay alive, stay healthy. However, as James Clear detailed in his book, making progress requires systems for building toward that goal. Consequently, I developed and continue to tweak simple routines and approaches that help measure my learnings and keep me on track.
“The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game.”James Clear, Atomic Habits
Systems also provide data.
The data tells me over the past five years:
- My weight went from 93 kg to 73 kg and plateaued at 76 kg (which, according to the Heart Foundation, is my optimal BMI).
- I’ve exercised daily: only missing the occasional session (less than 2%) due to illness, injury, or travel.
- My current reflection (prayer, gratitude, and mindfulness) streak is 498 days.
- I’m maintaining a balanced (mostly whole foods) diet.
- I’ve drastically reduced my alcohol intake from weekly to occasional and only in moderation (a glass of wine less than five days out of every month).
While the data is mostly positive, it also tells me I’m not sleeping or resting enough. (The dark rings under my eyes, and my cynical state of mind confirms the data).
Increased energy, mental clarity and reduced illness have meant that I can get away with resting less and pushing myself more. While that may be true, it has a cost. I need to bring the same discipline that I’ve demonstrated in other areas to my daily sleep schedule because it’s impacting my sense of wellbeing, mental resilience and thought patterns.
I need to replace the ‘urgent’ with the ‘important’ because they’re often separate and competing activities.
Just because I can do more doesn’t mean I should. Life is busy, and distractions abound: I want to be more deliberate with my time, energy and focus, directing them where and to who is most important.
Five years of consistent, healthy habits is a better than average performance. And because a habit is, by definition, “a routine of behaviour that is repeated regularly and tends to occur subconsciously,” they’re hard to break.
I’m conscious that my capacity and choice to form new health-related habits is a privilege many aren’t afforded. Whether I am gifted another 5, 20 or 40 years, I have much for which to be thankful, and I don’t take it for granted.
To paraphrase James Clear, it’s about ‘process over product’.
We can find more contentment and meaning in the journey than in the fleeting moment of happiness when we achieve our goal. And that’s what staying alive and healthy is about: an opportunity to enjoy each moment.