I’ve been talking a lot about good, healthy habits.
This is because I’m on a journey myself about finding these little sneaky things that play with our brain. Let’s call them habits, shall we? I’ve been seeking habits that stick since I’ve struggled with this topic all my life, like almost 90% of Earth’s population. So I’m also determined to find ways to create them for you while I experiment on myself. You’re welcome.
I’ve been in a two-year self-learning process of deep observation, sometimes leading to me freaking out (doctors know too much about the body when it comes to our own personal health – read massive fear breakdown), and other times leading to great findings which have brought me to understand the most simple and well-known holy grail of health (and life): the basics.
I’ve been, and will be sharing my own findings through my Dr. Mariana’s health journal here, hopefully useful to you too. But let’s keep going to what really matters here today.
So, good habits, uh? What are they anyway?
Well, we all know what good means, right? But what does habit mean?
I could tell you all the boring medical definitions there are for the sake of science, but I won’t do that. Boring will take you away from this page, and that’s the opposite from what I want!
A habit is, in simple words, something that we do regularly.
Most of the times we do them without noticing. This is called routine. However, this doesn’t differentiate good habits like having breakfast daily, from bad habits, like smoking or complaining on daily basis.
As we grow up, no matter our circumstance, we grow into a routine.
Society needs routines and that’s okay. I’ve learned it the hard way after being on an afternoon/night job during almost two years, thinking that it was fine to have dinner at 11:00 pm and go to bed at 4:00 am, because I was going to sleep eight hours anyway, until noon when I’d wake up, have breakfast, shower quickly and run to work at 4:00 pm.
Turned out I was wrong. So wrong. I tried to play with my brain and guess what? He sent me a strong memo.
You think you can trick the body…of course, why not! You think things such like “Blah, I’m still doing the same healthy things, you know, having three meals a day, sleeping eight hours, eating my vegetables and fruits, and having a social life.” But even as a doctor myself, what I didn’t consider back then was all the biology happening naturally in my body dictated by thousands of years of evolution, which means that it knows better, having wonderful ways, substances and systems working all together at once, 24/7 to keep our bodies within good functioning limits.
And not just that! Did you know that biology includes the outer world too, as in sun and moon cycles every day, telling our brain when to wake up or when to go to sleep? Fact. This happens thanks to a little substance produced by our brain called Melatonin, among some others working together. The body is one kick a** team-work example. Go figure!
The problem is we keep avoiding these wonderful basic body facts by sleeping utterly late while scrolling down on our phones in bed. We’ve all done it, we all know how it goes.
I was once on a meditation retreat in Thailand, and boy, was it revealing on how the natural cycle goes of we actually let it! I must admit I’ve never felt better in my life. So light, so soft and tender, so relaxed and calm. My body agreed all along. That’s when I decided to keep observing some more. And more. And more.
Trying to build good habits is not easy, but trying to break old bad habits in order to make new good ones is the real challenge.
Or should we call it struggle? Let’s be honest, it’s difficult as hell.
However, there’s this point in life where many of us seem to understand and suddenly seek a better feeling of life. That’s why we live these days in a world where we can access, and actually incorporate, good routines from different parts and cultures worldwide. All the new mindful lifestyle is a thing, and it’s real, simply because it has become a basic need in our accelerated routine modern world.
Just this morning I was writing on what I like to call my “Philosphiary” (my diary to philosophise!) about this topic. About the way we certainly need routines and habits, but not in the way of excess. I was thinking on how excesses of any kind can lead into confusion, doubt, anxiety and depression. You name it: work, exercise, social life, alone time. Any of these in excess can turn into a really awful downward spiral taking us on an unforgettable trip to the Land of Our Own Fears and Insecurities. Or issues as they call them now.
That’s how, after my two-year experience on an inverted working shift and after having so many patients suffering from the difficulty of a stressful routine no matter their age, I’ve come to realise on how we need to go back to basics. As simple as this.
We need to know them, but we also need to go further.
We need to understand them, to call them by name.
We need to remind the world about them.
We need to see that our routine doesn’t have to be a synonym for stress.
Why has the word routine become such a boring, even fearful, evil word? Just like the C word…(cubicle, that is). And there’s seriously no need to put fear where it doesn’t belong.
On another example, I really enjoy and promote the decision of people leaving a life they know for a different one when they find that it’s their true and actual need. Not necessarily an unknown life though like many are preaching. I’ve changed live circumstances twice and in important ways. But it took a good and long thinking session followed by a focused stage of planning.
We can’t confuse this act of change with the act of “leave it all, run away and change your life.” I’m sorry to break it for you! But whatever you think you’ll run away from won’t really stay at your cubicle, except your boss. I read this article by The Everywhereist (great people I’d love to meet someday btw) on how these changes are a matter of luck more than bravery. Sounds confusing but trust me, a good reality check point. Mainly because even such changes – the so called dreams or passions, clearly take a ton of good habits in the first place.
A good routine begins in a good mindset. And it begins in you and only you.
There are many ways to accomplish good habits. But I’m afraid none of them begin with the words “Magic 3-Day Weight Loss Plan”, or similar. You get the idea.
A good routine will take time and purpose. You have to want it. Until you come to that realisation yourself, there’s not much you can do to force yourself into anything really. But you can certainly try many times and for different reasons without being able to stick to it. Until you finally really feel like it.
You have to want to feel better. To feel healthier.
And don’t take me wrong when I say it’ll take time and effort. This is not a painful statement. Is simply a statement of truth. Because that’s how it works and it’s wonderful when you get the sense of achievement, or as I like to call it, the RAAAAAAAR!
What are examples of good, healthy habits?
It doesn’t have to be overwhelming either, no. Change takes time, as so does the body. That’s why making silly fast diets don’t stick after a while. The clue (like glue) is making habits that stick with us, through time, and ones that work for us. We need to start simple and easy or we’ll grow tired and exhausted too quickly. Little daily things are your best first bet, for example:
- Read 30 minutes in bed before falling asleep at night. Preferably an actual book.
- Go for a 30-minute walk every day. Groceries don’t count. It’s meant to be “me-time”.
- Don’t complain for one entire day and see what happens.
- Say “Good Morning!” when you walk into work every day.
- Set one hour before bed to disconnect from all devices.
- Let electronic devices sleep in their own separate room. Why not get an actual clock to wake up?
- If you’re a thoughtful, sensitive person, why not trying to write on a little journal? It works for me!
Just to give a few examples anyway. This is certainly a massively important topic that can be taken to many levels, as well as learned in different ways. This New York Times article on how to design thinking for a better you is a nice example on one way of doing things for a start. If you’re more of the experimental kind of person like me, then you’ll enjoy reading about this little device that helps work on better habits as well. Quite interesting!
All of these are things you can learn and have them through my email course on healthy habits to tackle stress – Don’t Stress It!.
What are good habits? Things that we do regularly to feel better. Meaning more focused, energised, less tired. Basically, wanting to wake up every day, grab life by its horns and ride it with a smile on the face no matter what.
Do we need them? Yes, we do. The way our body works is pretty clear and we can’t trick it no matter how hard we try. We probably need to be more like babies and children in general, having a sleep time, wake up time, food time, playing time, and homework time. Imagine if all adults could stick to that…oh the world would be less complicated! Don’t you think?
How do they impact our health? Let me give you an easy example, if the brain could talk:
If you sleep way too late many weeks in a row, your brain detects a lack of restful time. The brain then will sigh and turn its eyes around because he’ll have to go and work extra hours – ugh! He will activate the collateral compensating system button – as in “I NEED MORE COFFEEzzzzz” or “I need that 3-hour nap NOW. Can’t keep my eyes open”.
After a while of not making a change, you’ll start craving certain foods so that everything can keep running. Unfortunately, these are usually unhealthy sweet, fatty foods
Your digestive tubes will notice this and sometimes won’t be able to keep all the junky stuff from sticking through the walls. Cleaning is hard work, you know!
-“Hey, Brain, are you even working up there? Give me another hand, would you!”
These walls, luckily, can normally grow a layer of hardcore little fighters that help run the place, which we call immune defences in medical terms. If the walls aren’t clean enough, they won’t be able to grow hardcore little fighters, leading to make you prone to flus and more, in case you’ve noticed.
In the long term, compensating systems won’t be enough, so the brain, once again, will have to go a few more extra hours to call the emergency team. And I won’t tell you what happens next because hopefully, I’ve just started to make you understand why we need good, healthy habits before something goes really wrong!
How can we start building good habits? Glad you asked! Top thing we must do: a list of the not-so-good habits that we currently have. This list can change within time and it’s fine. We’ll need to reassess eventually, but that’s a lesson for next time. (On my upcoming email course.)
After you’ve done your list, give it a good think for a few days if necessary. Take your time, it’s okay. Make a plan of what would be a realistic routine for you. Start with one item of the list at a time. They say it takes 30 days of action in a row to finally stick to a new habit. I’m not sure about this because I’m still trying, but I’m certainly on it. Might be very personal but trying is your first step.
What I do know is that it takes more than just making a list and thinking on a 30-day challenge.
It takes a real change of mind. A true desire and understanding on how you want to improve your life. So make the list first, think on it for a few days until it feels like it has sunken in. And then, you’re ready to start thinking on a doable plan that works FOR YOU. Be your own superhero.
The good news?
I’ve launched a simple, practical and awesome email course so you can learn all this. I’m not bragging about it but honestly, it’s the best of me poured into 8 amazing lessons and for a ridiculous price ($30…seriously!). Because it’s not about the money but about you learning, preventing and living the life you want and deserve! Read about the course here.
I’ll also be sharing more tips on how to hack and improve your own health. Little prompts and challenges via my Instagram or sign up to my newsletter today. You’ve got this. And most of all: you’re not alone. We can do this together.
Ok, ready? Let’s do this!
Love, Dr. Mariana
Image Credits: Pixabay