We met with our financial planner last week. First, let me say right out of the gate that dealing with numbers is as appealing to me as a plate of dried rattlesnake meat.
In other words: NOT AT ALL (unless you include a kickbutt BBQ sauce, then I may be on board).
When it comes to facts and figures, I fall on my “artsy” sword. My right brain is active enough to compensate for my snoozing left brain, and most of the time I can fake my way around it.
If someone starts talking statistics, logarithms or uses any other mathematical nomenclature I nod politely while my eyes glaze over and my brain vacations in Palm Springs until it’s assured the conversation has returned to more interesting (a.k.a. anything other than numbers) ground.
But here’s the worst part about financial planning: You’re forced to discuss death. Yours, in particular.
So our planner whipped out a series of graphs and columns and columns of graphs and checkerboards all in triplicate so we can “follow along.” He took great pride in telling us how he added a cover page with a photo of a roadway that seemingly ended on the horizon — or the edge of the earth, for you flat earthers.
All I wanted was to hire a stunt double for this entire encounter.
At this point I’m already mentally in Palm Springs, thinking about cats (why are they so uncooperative?), eyeshadow (is there really such a thing as “too many”?), and why the same brand and size jeans fit completely differently depending on the style… until I hear him say, “… and here’s what you’ll have at the end of your predicted life expectancy.”
Now I’m paying attention.
“That line, right there? That’s when we die?” I ask, pointing to a an indicator that comes to an abrupt and complete stop. That’s my life? A straight line that dips and just like that, it’s over?? I wanted to shout.
“Yes, but of course you could live longer, that’s just an average life span…”
At this point I may or may not have called him the Grim Reaper and walked away from the table.
“I don’t think your wife wants me here,” he said, turning to my husband, as I go to the restroom and check myself in the mirror to be sure I still cast a reflection.
My point is this: I have things to do, and currently “leaving this planet” is not on that list. So I’d like to skip that part for now.
But I get it: Planning is necessary in order to know how you’re going to get to your goals.
And, to be honest, if you’re striving to make healthy changes so you don’t have to consult the Grim Reaper any time soon, you’ll need a plan.
The thought of doing anything for the rest of your life may sound like a program concocted by the angel of death, but with the right attitude (not mine, apparently) it’s a way for you to live longer and healthier.
And I’m here to tell you, there’s a way to do it that sounds so easy, and makes so much sense, you’ll think I must’ve read it elsewhere and am about to tell you about it.
Which I did.
It’s about creating a “keystone habit,” from the book, The Power of Habit: Why We do What We Do In Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg.
The idea of creating a keystone habit combines one important piece of wisdom I’ve bestowed upon you in other blogs more than once: START SMALL.
As I said in last week’s post, so many of us want that magic potion, a fast-acting tactic as life changing as winning the lottery, discovering the cure for a worldwide pandemic or a pair of pants that makes you look slimmer, taller and smarter.
And as you run around spending wheelbarrows full of money on ab devices and diet plans that end up in the garage under an inch-thick pile of dust, you usually end up right back where you started.
When, in fact, the key lies in a much less sexy, non-newsworthy action that… wait for it… actually WORKS!
This concept differs in that this keystone habit doesn’t end with the one action.
In other words, one small change creates a domino effect by influencing you to make other, healthy changes that eventually become ingrained habits.
For example, starting an exercise program often makes people take a look at their diet. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to work out hard and then stop off for an Oreo Cookie Blizzard on your way home.
I’m not saying people don’t do this exact thing, but the sane ones will at some point realize the sabotaging effect of burning off 300 calories and then consuming 1,140 (yes, for real, I looked it up) as a reward for doing so.
Consider this: More than 40% of the actions you take every day require no actual decision making on your part, according to Duke researchers in a 2006 study. You simply do them out of habit.
Think about it. You’re literally on autopilot for about half the entire day. Like a self-driving car. And we know that’s not exactly working out, lately.
If you normally get up in the morning and brush your teeth you don’t, for example, debate as to whether you’re “in the mood” to brush your teeth or decide to switch around your whole morning routine for no reason.
You just do it. When I get up each morning I first brush my teeth, then feed the cats, and pour a cup of coffee.
I am not the least bit tempted to, say, pour coffee, skip brushing my teeth and wait an hour before feeding the cats.
That’s just crazy pants. Plus, the cats would have be in a headlock well before the hour was up.
Imagine incorporating any new change — eating fruit and yogurt for breakfast, heading to the gym, etc. — so thoroughly that it’s also no longer a decision.
That, my friend, is the ultimate goal of any healthy change.
In Duhigg’s book, he talks about how one woman quit smoking, which set off a series of other healthy changes that radiated through every other part of her life. Within six months of quitting smoking she began jogging, changed her diet, saved money, started running half and then full marathons, went back to school, bought a house and got engaged.
That’s some serious domino effect.
Researchers discovered that one set of neurological patterns in the woman’s brain was overridden by new patterns of behavior. Her brain literally changed as she incorporated these new habits.
Her one change, quitting smoking, was the keystone habit that, in essence, reprogrammed her whole life.
Here’s how to create your own lifelong, healthy habit once and for all:
If your goal is to get fit, for example, this may be to take a 10 minute walk every evening or morning.
This may include sleeping better, feeling more mentally alert, energized, etc. Keep this list in mind and add to it as you see the spillover benefits of your new habit.
Keep in mind it takes an average of 66 days to create a new habit, although this varies anywhere from a couple of weeks to more than a year. Give yourself time and keep chugging along. It gets easier with time, trust me.
We tend to underestimate how far we’ve come, especially when we make small changes. It can be easy to toss it all aside when you don’t see massive results. I suggest keeping some sort of diary or calendar where you can readily see how much you’ve done. For example, when I was working on a book (which was two years in the making and not ever published for a number of reasons), I gave myself a smiley face for each day I wrote at least 500 words. I love seeing the calendar fill up with smiley faces. Sounds childish but it works.
This is easier said than done, but extremely necessary. Every person I’ve ever talked to who’s lost a large amount of weight (100+ lbs) tells me they took it a day at a time. Focus on TODAY. When you go for your walk, smell the fresh air, focus on your steps, think of how good it feels to be alive, for cripe’s sake! The results WILL happen and eventually become part of what you do without thinking about it.
Once you’ve established a routine, add another action. Now that you’re in the habit of walking nearly every day, try adding a salad to your lunch meal, adding a couple days of weight training, etc. Keep going and “stacking” these habits until they become part of that 40% of the automatic rituals you do without thinking.
What do you think? Do YOU have a habit you do regularly that started this way? Or would you like to start one? Let me know in the comments section below…
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Your Ageless Body Coach,
Linda Melone is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, certified trainer and award-winning health and fitness writer. She specializes in helping women over 50 get in shape and lose weight.