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Monday, August 12, 2013

Monday Morning Check In: 8 Simple Habits for a Better Life

Last week I wrote about designing the perfect life, and as you can imagine, I am still in the process of thinking about that. Designing a perfect life is serious business and should not be done quickly. I have spent a week thinking about the things in my life that I want to keep, eliminate, add, or limit. This may take a while, but that is alright. A perfect life is worth the time spent designing it. After I design my perfect life, I will need to build in some options from time to time to allow for flexibility. Life does not remain stagnant.

Today I want to discuss simple habits. These simple habits are those little routines, rituals, or "traditions" that we perform on a routine basis. These simple habits are important because from the culmination and totality of the habits we perform are created the results that we experience in our lives, whether we welcome these results or not. Lack of fitness and good health due to poor exercise and eating habits may have devastating effects on our quality of life over time. The simple habits of poor time management or the inability to say no to over-scheduling leads to stress that affects every part of our lives: physical, mental, social, and spiritual. I think of stress as a pinpoint prick in the bottom of a bucket that allows the good things in life to leak out, slowly perhaps, but inevitably. Because the pinprick is so tiny, we often ignore it, if we even realize that the hole is present. Over time, however, the effects become obvious as the bucket level diminishes. Another way to think of stress is like a termite or the creature in the Pac-Man game. Over time the little devil chews away at the good things and leaves us with tunnels and empty spaces.

Simple habits are important for everyone, adults and children alike. Teachers and parents need to build a life of simple habits in order to role model these good life habits and skills to students and children. I am referring to the good habits, not the habits that lead us down the path of impaired quality of life. I think habits are good things if they are done with reflection and intent. Here is my brief list of 8 simple habits that would lead to or enhance a pleasant life:

Take a daily walk. Exercise is important and what simpler exercise is there than walking? Start with 10 minutes or a jaunt to the corner intersection. Add a few minutes or additional distance every few days until you reach the time limit that you are comfortable with and that you can sustain over time and a busy schedule. One benefit I noticed in my own walking program is that over time I took less and less time to walk the same distance, so I added distance to my daily walks and kept my walking routine within the same time frame. If you have a dog, then a daily walk is a great thing for your pet. Walks are also aids to good thinking. You will be amazed at the thoughts that visit you and the solutions to problems that will reveal themselves on a daily walk.

Get some sleep. This will always be something I have to work at because I have never been a terrific sleeper. What I have found that helps me is to get up at the same time every day. This daily alarm helps me to be more mindful of my bedtimes. Sleep is a necessary function for good physical and mental health. If you build up the daily walk habit, you will have an easier time getting to bed on time. Nothing helps your body to remind you to go to bed at a decent hour than a regular daily exercise routine.

Drink plenty of water. This is another area that gives me trouble. I know that I need to drink water, but unless I feel really thirsty, I tend to gloss over this requirement. I have an iPhone app now that reminds me to drink water. For sure I drink a glass upon rising and at meals. I find it helpful to drink some water before bed or with an herbal tea, although others may not enjoy this same ritual.

Eat food that is good for you. Food is fuel, Tony Horton of Beachbody and P90X fame tells us. "You are what you eat" is another expression that tells us the same thing. Our bodies and minds will perform better if we are more mindful of what we eat. We should eat a decent breakfast, watch our caloric intake, and make sure we have adequate sources of protein, nutrients, and other minerals and vitamins in our food choices. We should eat a big salad once a week or a smaller one on a regular basis. We should eat more vegetables and perhaps go meatless for a meal or two. We should avoid fried foods, and for sure, stay away from fast foods. In fact, the closer to the source of our food we can go, the better for us ultimately. This means that fresh food is better than packaged or frozen or canned. Whatever diet lifestyle choice we make, the best habits related to food in any program are to eat breakfast and to watch how much we eat.

Plan your day. I have written about this many times before because the benefits are so spectacular in terms of time management, scheduling, and priorities (More Productive DaysWhat's in Your Toolkit?Got a Moment to Spare?). Looking at our next day's schedule before retiring takes a few seconds. Pulling out our clothes and making sure our meals and other takeaway items are ready to go will take a minute or two at most. The savings in time and stress level the next morning will be priceless. I also find that this habit easily spills over into a "plan your week." I like to sit down on Sundays and look over the week's calendar. This larger view of my upcoming time helps me to do a better job of managing my daily schedule.

Do something creative every day. I recommend a daily writing habit. Visit Other people may enjoy some sort of craft hobby, such as yarn crafts, painting, sewing, model building, car restoration, gardening, listening to music (or attending concerts), or pets and animal husbandry. This type of activity draws on different areas of the brain and may well involve social aspects as well.

Stimulate your mind every day. Read a book, spend 10 minutes learning a language, work on a crossword or Sudoku puzzle, take a class, learn a new skill, or take up a new venture or hobby. Research suggests that these activities have a beneficial effect on staving off deteriorating mental issues that visit us with time and aging.

Talk to someone every day. This is an especially important habit for me because I have a tendency to turn into a turtle if I do not have social interaction. I especially have difficulties during holiday times when I may go for several days in my home and not see anyone other than my husband or animals. If I do not make an effort to "get out and about," I begin to lose the ability to actually converse with others. I have a 3-day limit. I must talk to someone outside of my home before my three-day window expires, even if it is merely a trip to the local feed store and a conversation with the helpful folks who run the place. Research also shows that social interaction leads many to experience greater longevity than those individuals who lead more isolated lives. I am talking about "in person" interaction, not the kind that comes via a computer or a letter. Actually get out of the house and talk to someone. Even a phone call will suffice.

Eight simple habits. Simple because they are easy to do. Simple because not much thought is required to do them, yet the results from each of these simple habits are great and worth the small effort required to implement them.

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