How To Have The Healthiest & Best Year Ever – This Time, For Real
The funny thing is that change is relatively simple: do something different.
The real question is always the same though: what do I change, and how do I stick with it – especially when it comes to health?
To tackle this, there’s an exercise that I call the “inner genie” exercise.
Rather than googling for help with how to stay consistent with exercise, eat better, or be happier, ask yourself this: What does the “perfect” version of myself do? What does the fit, energized, well-rested Alex do? What would the rich Alex do? The fulfilled Alex? The happy Alex? The great boyfriend Alex? What does the ideal version of myself do (regarding habits) that the current version doesn’t do?
This inner genie exercise has literally been one of the biggest game changers in both my health, and my life.
Here are some things I commonly see for myself, and some common answers I’ve heard from many of you.
Rather than me just leaving you with a list of 25 questions you probably won’t answer, here are specifics.
Q 1-5: At The High Level, What About Myself Seriously Needs Changing? (Personality Traits)
First, the dirty work.
What are the consistent, crappy health habits I have that I repeat EVERY YEAR expecting them to magically change?
Jot down the top 5 – here are a few I see a lot:
Thing #1: Setting health goals that I never follow through on, and my follow through strategy. Do you tend to follow this cycle of aggressively pursuing new health goals each year to have the best year ever, then it just ends up sucking? If so, that’s not a goal-related thing, that’s a personality trait. So if we find ourselves repeating the same on-off-on-off cycle when it comes to getting things done, put it on paper.
Thing #2: (Or, the fact that I never set health goals and put them on paper). This one is actually sometimes more common than setting goals altogether. We tend to informally give that typical speech around thanksgiving, “I’m going to get fit this year, just you fools watch!” but we rarely make it anymore official than that. Maybe you think about your goals, but they’re still cloud-like blobs of thought in your brain. Well, put them on paper.
Thing #3: Being more deliberate about taking care of my health. For some of us who don’t put down goals on paper, or who don’t really think much about what we want from life, what might need changing is a broader, higher-level personality trait: not really being that conscious about life and what we want. If you find yourself kind of drifting, wondering why you aren’t where you thought you’d be by now, it’s often a symptom of a lack of deliberate living.
Thing #4: Procrastinating on the stuff I said I’d do. I know I need to exercise more, I know I need to eat better, I know I need to stop drinking six coffees a day, I know I need to see the doctor more often…
Thing #5: Consuming lots of information, articles, and inspirational videos without actually exercising or making food. Whenever I find myself getting off track with my health, my first instinct is to google <how to get toned | how to get fit | how to lose weight > and I end up at square one: with more information, without taking any action.
Q 5-10: Specifically, What Habits Do I Need to Stop Doing?
Next, what things do you currently do – that you already know you need to stop doing – but you keep doing anyway?
For a lot of people, it revolves around what we eat, and the time we waste. In other words, it’s about stopping the stuff we already know we need to stop doing.
Bad Habit #1: TV – Re-invest my TV time. One of my clients told me that she found herself plopping down on the couch for 2-3 hours after work, which is something that all of us can resonate with after a long day. But there were a couple problems – she felt like crap, and in her words, she looked like crap. So she knew that even setting aside 30-60 minutes a day was not a big sacrifice to make her life better by walking or cooking. She could still tune in to watch the latest episode of Kim Kardashian’s boob jobs.
Bad Habit #2: Eating out every day. Some friends that I have in big cities find it virtually impossible to cook, since “nobody cooks here” and thus find themselves eating out every day. Besides the fact that eating out every day is outrageously expensive, you can’t always control the amount of calories or the food quality you get when you are eating out.
Bad Habit #3: Eating white bread and sugar constantly. For some of us, our primary snack when we get hungry involves flour or sugar – granola bars, sandwiches, cookies, or other snacks.
Bad Habit #4: Sleeping 5 hours a night. I’ve been trying to convince myself that I can work 12 hours a day on 5 hours of sleep per night. And honestly, the coffee consumption has been catching up with me, messing up my G.I. tract, bothering my stomach, and in general I know its something I need to scale down on.
Bad Habit #5: Pretending that I’m going to workout 5x a week. It’s easy for any of us to say that we’re going to start becoming a regular exerciser, but trying to workout 5x a week if you have done zero days a week for the past decade is about as realistic as your work being closed due to a freak sloth stampede. I guess it’s possible, but I don’t see it happening.
Q 10-15: What New Habits Do I Need This Year?
Ultimately, having the best, healthiest year ever just involves one, very painful thing: Change.
And if we don’t sit down to figure out what needs changing (specifically – like which habits) how are we supposed to have a year worth remembering?
Here are some ideas to think about, but make sure to write down what new habits you need this year (that you haven’t done before, or you didn’t stick with).
I realize change can be about as fun as laying down in a bed of cockroaches, but bear with me here:
New Habit #1: The morning ritual Alex talked about in his book. One of the things I talked about in my book was the story behind how I had one of the best years of my life – it was through a daily ritual of several tiny habits (some in the morning, some at night) which I called: Master The Day: The Million Dollar Daily Ritual. I found that by literally writing out what I wanted in each aspect of my life, then just reading (or visualizing it), I naturally changed certain aspects of my life that needed changing. Maybe a quick morning ritual is something you need.
New Habit #2: Green juice for breakfast. If you took time to review last year, and you realized that breakfast is where you often find yourself getting something fast with coffee on the way to work, then this year you could try the morning green juice habit. It’s fast, and it’s pretty easy. Here are some steps on getting started on a detox.
New Habit #3: Make dinner once a week. For example, you might’ve watched the Modern Health Monk case study – Shannon – on how she and her husband lost over 70 pounds by using the bulk cooking ritual I talked about in a course. You might also, however, hate the crap out of cooking. So rather than setting a goal to cook every night, set a process goal to cook once a week.
New Habit #4: Take a 10 minute walk each day at lunch, then progress. If you fell into the classic New Year trap of trying to workout every day, and you realize that after paying three months worth of gym membership while only going three times, it’s time for a new habit. Try going for a 10 minute walk at lunch, not only because it’s so easy that anyone can do it (anywhere, anytime), but it’s also creating the habit of exercise.
New Habit #5: Read 10 pages of a health book each day. A big concept I talk about is the idea of cultivating a “health focus” – just like if we want to get out of debt, we need to have a financial focus – tracking expenses – the same works of health. If you read more health books, you subconsciously tend to change behavior since you’re thinking more about your health. One habit this year could be specifically to learn more about health – to emphasize that this is your primary goal – by reading 10 pages, or listening to an audiobook during your work commute.
Q 15-20: What Did I Said I’d Do Last Year… And Didn’t Do? Why Not?
Achieving health and weight loss goals is (unfortunately) more simple than other complex goals in life, like having a great marriage, being successful, or finding work you love.
We tend to know all the advice, so there isn’t a whole lot of “new information” related to tactics, tips and strategies. It’s just a matter of doing it.
Because of this unique fact of the health space, what things did you said you’d stop doing… but you didn’t? And why didn’t it work?
Said I would quit sugar. Unfortunately, all too often we say we’re going to quit sugar for life, which flat out doesn’t work. In my book, I call this an “outcome” goal and not a process goal. Saying you’ll never eat sugar again is like saying you’ll never eat food again – it’s impossible, and plus it’d make life suck. What was it about this strategy (if we had a strategy) that didn’t work?
Said I’d exercise 5x a week. Last year, I said I was going to exercise every day of the week for 30-60 minutes, but I did it for three weeks, and then stopped doing it. Why? Did it take too much time? Did I hate the exercise? Did I feel like crap every day when it came time to exercise? What was going on here?
Said I’d start running. Along the lines of exercise, I also said that I was going to start running a few times a week. But after doing it for a week, I stopped. Why? Well, I realized that I hate running, I hate running in the area that I live, and I hate running indoors. What do I need to do this year? Maybe pick a new kind of exercise I actually like, run somewhere scenic, or run with a friend.
Said I’d cook more. Ever find yourself getting home from work around 6 or 7, feeling exhausted and stressed, and realizing that the only thing you want to do is flop down on the couch, go into a coma, and watch Netflix? Yup, I feel you there. If you said you’d cook, and you didn’t, why didn’t you? We’ll talk more about this below.
Said I’d start meditating and doing yoga. Maybe you’ve been crippled from back and neck pain because of your desk job, and you decided last year to commit to doing yoga. Whether it’s because you’re a guy and you think yoga is for women, or you’re a woman, and you think it’s for already fit/hippie/granola women, why did you not end up doing it? Ponder that below.
… So why didn’t these happen?
This insight process is the most important part of anything we do. It could be due to a lot of factors that you’ll have to figure out, but here are the biggest barriers for me each year.
The big question here is: WHY NOT?
Once you’ve thought about this, the last step is to write down the specific barriers you had last year.
Q 20-25: What Were The Biggest Barriers to Getting Healthier Last Year?
Once you’ve sat down and had that honest talk with yourself, what trends did you spot?
Why didn’t you cook every night?
Why didn’t you do yoga for your back pain?
Why didn’t you take more time to go for walks?
Here are a few things I often spot:
Barrier #1: Time. It’s not really surprising that plenty of people nobody on the planet wants to sit down and take time to cook. If I can eat without cooking, why wouldn’t I do it, right? But what was the reason for that lack of time? Were you rushed in the morning? Did you not know what to cook (for example)? Was it something else? Can it simply be fixed by planning better?
Barrier #2: Feeling like crap after work. Most of us get home and want to veg out on the couch after work. And that’s fine. But when it comes time to do anything, and the call of American Idol is strong, we need to figure out some way to cope with that.
Barrier #3: Having zero interest in exercise. Every year we hear the same thing – eat right, and exercise – but doing it is infinitely harder. Ever find yourself “so close” to actually getting to the gym today, and then you magically want to finish one last episode of that favorite show? You’re going soon – you promise – but every night it’s the same empty promise? Maybe you’re A. doing exercise you hate, B. doing too much of it to start, and C. doing it at a crappy time of the day. Or maybe you think you should be running, but like me, you find it about as fun as Chinese water torture.
Barrier #4: Not really being clear on what to do. I googled “how to lose weight” and got 93 million search results. 93 million. That’s pretty friggin absurd. So I can’t really blame you for not really knowing what to focus on.
Barrier #5: Overall laziness, lack of motivation. Some days it just takes a lot of energy to do just about anything. But if that’s the trend every day, there’s a problem.
Remember the point of this exercise: if you can spot the most common barriers, you can work around them this year, and most of all, be ready when they show up.
If two weeks into this new year you’re already seeing the “I don’t have time” barrier creep in, then you know what to do about it.
Making This Year (And Every Year) The Best (Worksheet)
I consistently see a few trends among the people I know that regularly achieve what they want regarding their health and live awesome lives all the same:
They are deliberate in taking care of their health, and in every aspect of their life, in as specific ways as possible. This means that they don’t just wake up and think, “alrighty… another day, let’s get some health stuff done.” They literally have written down and mapped out what exactly that stuff is, and what outcome they want.
They review their health progress regularly – as much as every night. It’s not necessarily about being neurotic and getting on the scale, but it’s more about keeping tabs on the general direction in which they’re going.
They course correct if off track, and adjust as much as possible. Okay, so you aren’t doing the five workouts a week you said you would? Then do one. You aren’t eating at that bland health food place you planned? Just cook at home once a week, and make it 1% healthier than you’re used to.