What are your healthy habits? What do you do to take care of yourself that requires very little consideration or intentionality? The pandemic disrupted my healthy habits for a while, but over the last several months, I’ve been able to create new routines, and I feel like I’m in a pretty good spot right now.
What makes something a habit or routine? These are the things I do just because “it’s what I do.” If I were to place intentional behaviors on a scale of zero to five, zero meaning they require no thought at all (brushing my teeth in the morning), five meaning they require a conscious effort and a fair amount of discomfort to follow through (signing up for a new activity I have no experience with, like joining a rock climbing gym), habits fall in the levels of 3 or less. I like to keep my healthy habits in the 0-2 range on this scale, as I am far more successful when they require very little thought or discomfort. Although those 3 level habits are a place of growth, so I don’t mind that they show up now and again.
I also think of habits as having layers like those Russian nesting dolls–foundational habits create the space to hold a lot of smaller, supporting habits within them. The stronger my foundational habits, and the less effort they require, the more supporting habits can fit within them and help me build a healthier lifestyle overall. If you struggle with creating structure and healthy habits, these would be the habits you need to find for yourself–it’s the “big rocks” that make a greater impact on improving your overall health. Here are some examples of what works for me.
Under the category of eating well, the big foundational habit for me, and this has been true for many years, is sitting down on Saturday to plan my meals for the week and make a grocery list. With this habit in place, there are many other food-related routines and habits that I give very little thought.
Sunday: Food prep day. I prepare breakfasts, lunches, and afternoon snacks for the week. It matters to me to make sure there’s plenty of washed, prepared fruits and vegetables, and I cook protein (eggs, chicken, and turkey most often) to make prep of the individual meals fast and require very little thought. I cook a big dinner Sunday night, and we eat the leftovers for the next 2-3 days. Sometimes I prep desserts and place them in the freezer so they’re available when I decide I want some.
Any day: I like 4 meals a day. I eat my meals at pretty much the same time of day every day. I rarely snack or nibble outside of meals. When Sunday dinner is eaten up, it’s my husband’s turn to cook. We rarely eat “out” anymore. I eat most meals either at the table or on the kitchen island.
I think the foundational habit for this one for me is scheduling my lifting sessions into my calendar for the week. I look over when I have meetings, and I make sure I have 3 lifting sessions scheduled in addition to the session with my trainer on the weekend. I choose the date and the time in advance (before work, in the middle of the day, or possibly afterwards). When I have them scheduled, I don’t have to decide to lift that day, which really helps on days that I’m tired or feeling especially busy. I also schedule a run on whichever weekend morning I don’t work with my trainer.
When I lift, I log my workouts in a little paper journal. I track the exercise, weight, and reps. I try to pick up more or do more reps each workout. I find it very rewarding to see the numbers go up over time!
In addition to these activities, I take a walk nearly every day. This has become an essential part of my wellness during the pandemic, and it is so rewarding, I’d call it a 1 on my “intentional activity scale.” I stop work, put on my shoes, download a podcast or two onto my phone, and out I go. The route is habitual, too, more or less. I walk pretty much the same neighborhood streets each time. I like going on autopilot, spacing out, listening to my podcasts, getting some time in my head at the end of the day.
Foundational for me is getting enough sleep. I try to go to bed within the same 30 minute window each night (9:15-9:45). I get not quite enough sleep during the week, waking up at 6:30 most weekdays, and I “sleep in” to maybe 7:30 or 7:45 oftentimes on weekends. My daily walks could just as easily fall into the rest/recovery category, as they serve as much-needed introvert “alone time” in this era of constant homeboundness. I make the bed and journal every night before I turn out the lights , and then I put earbuds into my ears and listen to an audiobook set on a timer. I use a sleep mask to cover my eyes.
Early in the pandemic, I lamented the disruption to my healthy habits. I rely upon these habits and routines to take care of myself without having to use much “motivation” or “inspiration” to get things done. Now that working from home has become the norm for me, my habits have been reestablished, with some tweaks to address changes in the times. I feel so much more at ease these days, knowing that I’m taking care of myself in so many important ways without much conscious work. It really helps me feel more like myself and better taken care of.
What habits have you established/reestablished in these challenging times? Which ones would you consider foundational to building a healthy lifestyle for you? I’d love to hear about it!
Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found cooking shredded chicken in her crockpot, picking up heavy things, and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon.