All it takes is an image in an advertisement or a conversation with an old friend to begin comparing yourself with others. The slim figure in a commercial might elicit questions like, “Am I eating healthy enough?” Seeing a fitter version of a friend you reunited with after a long time apart may make you wonder, “Am I exercising enough?
These are the type of questions that plague the common person daily when they feel unsatisfied with their lifestyle. By eating more fruits and vegetables, being more consistently active, going for a walk in favor of turning on the television or leaving the sweets on the grocery store shelves, you give yourself a boost of confidence and self-worth that leads to a more positive outlook on life.
Except, you may still feel like something is missing in your life until you stop to think about the reasons behind your routine behavior. Eating and exercise are certainly healthy behaviors that should be rewarded in your everyday life. In order for them to become long-lasting, positive habits—staples in your lifestyle—you need to have a clear answer to one question:
You’ve likely heard of the psychologist Sigmund Freud before, who used a classic metaphor to help describe the way our minds work. Freud believed that the mind is organized in three layers and most of what we are aware of when we make decisions is just the tip of a great big iceberg of deep-rooted influences on our decision-making process.
When deciding whether or not to exercise, you usually only consider how it will impact your day. Should you go before work or after work? Do you need to pick the kids up from school or be there when they arrive home? Maybe you will go for a run or walk after dinner. Do you have a friend who will join you? Is he or she going to be available?
All of these questions present real concerns as to how you can expect to enjoy your time spent being active and make it fit within your existing lifestyle. In fact, if these questions become too complicated for you to answer, you may be prone to scrap your exercise routine altogether, to relieve yourself of unwanted stress. Yet, the questions of when, where and how only scratch the surface when it comes to understanding how to make your exercise routine become a sustainable habit.
Another example of this is to consider the questions that you ask yourself when deciding what to eat. How long will it take to prepare? How many calories does it have? Is this going to be tasty or am I just eating it because I know it’s good for me?
Again, while these are all legitimate questions that factor into the average person’s daily dietary decisions, they have little impact on whether or not your will successfully adopt new healthy eating habits in the long run.
What you need to ask yourself, first and foremost, is why you are choosing to make a change to your lifestyle. Just beneath the surface of your decision-making is an expanse of thoughts, dreams, aspirations, anxieties, fears and consequences that impact your behavior. There are so many great reasons why you may feel compelled to live a more active lifestyle or maintain a healthier diet. What is yours?
Your “why,” or purpose, might be similar to another person’s, but it will never be the same. With the inquisitiveness of a child, continue to ask yourself why you want to change your lifestyle until you reach an undeniable conclusion.
Katherine Keller, a self-starter and contributor to Entrepreneur, recently challenged herself to find the why in her personal and professional life. She wrote about it in a touching and insightful column. Keller created financial and parenting goals for herself, though she soon found that they weren’t motivating enough to be as successful as she knew she could be.
Here is an excerpt:
“Again, I asked the question, ‘But why is it important for me to provide that safe environment for the kids?’ That is when I realized that, up until that point, I had felt like a failure of a mother. I had not been the best that I could be. I believed that providing my kids with a safe and fun environment would make me feel like I was a successful parent.
“Once again, I asked myself another question, ‘Why was it so important for me to be a successful parent?’ And that is when I began to cry. My son was 10 and I knew the clock was ticking. In eight years he was going to be out of the house and on his own. Never again would I have the opportunity to give him the childhood that I wanted to give him. There was a countdown going on, a limited-time opportunity. It was now or never.”
While it’s impractical to access deep, underlying emotions found in the recesses of your mind to make daily decisions, it is important to remember that the reasons why you behave the way you do are more complex than simply deciding how many servings of vegetables you eat or how many miles you run each day.
Determining why you want to live a healthy lifestyle ahead of time, will lead you to a lifetime’s worth of happiness.
Studies about human behavior confirm that when you add meaning to our daily routine in the form of your “why,”—also known as “affective appraisal”—we markedly increase our chances of following through with our intentions. It is for this reason that the Caterpilly program specifically asks you to attach personal and emotional meaning to your Long Term Goal and remind you of this throughout the process of forming healthier habits.