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One of the keys to making a change stick and forming a habit in the early stages – like brushing your teeth or showering – is monitoring.
We manage what we monitor. You watch your investments and your bank account closely but rarely zero in on the exercise you do, the food you eat or how much sleep you get. Monitoring brings a higher level of self-awareness which can strengthen our self-control. Think of the digital sign in a neighbourhood indicating how fast you’re driving; it reminds us, and usually gets you to slow down.
The first step is to define what you are going to monitor. Athletes do this all the time. You can’t evaluate what you don’t track. Athletes track every single detail to determine the effect and to motivate them to keep doing things right.
The secret, though, is to not make it burdensome. Pick what you want to focus on and a method of tracking. Gretchen Rubin in her book, Better Than Before, said if we want something to count in our lives, we should figure out a way to count it. I recently met with a client who said, “I just passed 10 thousand minutes of meditation on my app.” This opened up discussion on how this changed her mental and physical health which is related to moving toward her purpose.
This is also important as we have a tendency, as one of my colleagues calls it, to romanticize the past. All of us overestimate how much exercise we did and underestimate the calories in that burger. Has it not been an eye-opening experience with restaurants putting the breakdown of their food on the menu? Many places you can eat your whole daily caloric limit in one meal and sometimes your allotment for the whole week! In one study, people estimated they walked about four miles when really, they only averaged about two miles.
Accurate monitoring helps determine whether it’s worth it. Take your fast-food meal as an example. Is that quick meal worth messing up a week when you realize it has 3,000 calories? How about when smokers start to add up the amount of money spent on cigarettes in a year? This is why I am always pushing people to keep their resilience high. You are more likely to make the right decision when it is high. Read some of my other articles on this topic.
Let’s look at the big three: sleep, exercise and nutrition. How are you going to monitor these to know if you are being effective? Begin to contemplate how much time you want to put into this.
- Exercise: There are several different tools on the market you can wear on your wrist or put on your phone to provide help with this. These apps can take a lot of the work out of your hands. They will track how much you get around and the amount of exercise. They are becoming very smart and typically have dashboards you can log into that give you a ton of information. Just do a search on the best apps or wrist bands and pick one.
The other option is to “keep it simple, stupid.” I work with a high-performance coach who still just puts a chart on the wall and the athletes fill out how many kilometres they do daily for the whole fall. Old school, but it works. Start with a piece of paper beside your bed and simply write down how many minutes you did that day. Tally it up at the end of the month and reflect on what it meant, how did it help and how do you get more the next month, if that is the objective.
- Sleep: As with the above, there are apps and wrist bands that can support this. You can put your phone under your pillow or wear a band that will tell you lots of cool info. This is an awesome advancement considering the importance of sleep. Sleep in the best way to miss out on the cold and flu season, have more energy, improve your mental health and more. Do a search and get a band that does both physical activity and sleep.
If not an app or band, make a second column on the sheet beside your bed and add hours of sleep. Simple. You will start to notice how much sleep you need to feel rested and recovered, and to reduce the likelihood of a cold. Also notice how it correlates with stress.
- Nutrition: Nutrition is so tough because you simply can’t ignore it – like alcohol, tobacco, etc. We must eat. Like many drugs, it can also give us a high but then a big crash. It becomes an up-and-down cycle.
Decide what you want to monitor. What is important to you? Is it fruit and veggie intake, calories, sugar, water or anything you feel is important? Do not make it complicated. Start small. Try something like fish three times a week, two vegetarian meals a week, 40 mgs of caffeine prior to noon, two litres of water or no eating after 7 p.m. Add a third column to your paper beside your bed and write what you have chosen at the top and simply put yes or no, whether you did it or not. Reflect at the end of the month on why you did – or didn’t – hit your target on most days of the month. Learn from it.
I am a scientist, so I am biased. I love monitoring and figuring out effects. If you saw my spreadsheets you would chuckle. Pick something that works for you and fits into your overall purpose. Keep it realistic for your life and do not make it burdensome.
Darren Steeves is the owner of VenduraWellness.com, a company dedicated to improving organizational health one step at a time.