It’s a tough question to answer. What is the difference between a good habit and a bad habit?
I like to define it like this: the cost of your good habit(s) is in the present, you're putting off the immediate rewards like eating a cookie or making a better choice at a restaurant so you can be healthier in the future. The cost of your bad habits are in the future, if you choose to eat the cookie, eat the bad food at a restaurant, etc..the bill will come due in a few years and you will have to pay it with your high blood pressure, metabolic disease and diabetes. It can be summarized like this: you can willfully make harder choices now and “suffer” a little in the present or in the future you will be forced to make choices and “suffer” a lot.
So what is the trick? How can you make the good choices now that will lead to a healthy and productive life? I think it has two parts. The first thing is you have to figure out a way of pulling the rewards of your good habits that won't be seen until the long term to what you are doing now. The second part is you have to pull the long-term consequences that will cost you in the future regarding your bad habits into the present. Sounds easy, right?
Like any behavior change this comes down to shifting your mindset so you can see that things will pay off in the long term if you change your current behaviors. This doesn’t have to be all on your shoulders. It can be having accountability built into your life, like meeting a friend for a work out or reporting to a coach each week. Built in rewards at certain intervals can motivate you like a new pair of shoes after two months of working out 4 days a week or a trip when you hit a certain number on the scale and you worked out 5 days a week.
Ultimately you have to reframe how you think of the situation. Ex. Old way of thinking: “I’m missing out on eating a free donut”, new way of thinking: “I’m saving myself from the energy crash and an upset stomach by not eating the donut. Now I can be more productive and I’ll have a better body composition.” This is pulling the rewards of your good habits into the present by changing your thought process. These type of immediate choices are what we all encounter on a fairly regular basis if not every day. But what about the hard work it takes to build muscle, eat healthy, get enough sleep, etc.. Sometimes it can seem like a lot of work with very little pay off. This is where your long term mindset comes into play. Here is a common scenario, you start working out 3-4 times per week and eating healthy. After 3 months you can barely tell a difference. Nobody has said how good you look, you can’t see abs, and you have only lost 12 lbs. This is where you have to trust that the work is not wasted; it's just being stored as long-term energy to hit that potential phase transition. So don't complain about not seeing results after a few days or a few weeks or even a few months but focus on the long term. It’s like compound interest. The earlier you start, the more it builds and the greater the long term return. This is also where a mindset of months and years is necessary so that it becomes a lifestyle and is sustainable. The process is forming new habits and it’s the way you succeed long term. Embrace the process and it will become your lifestyle.
Being healthy and improving your nutrition to ultimately achieve your goals is not an endpoint; it's an ongoing journey. There's not a destination. When you lose 30 or 40 pounds you're not done, there's not an end to the process. So we just have to focus on our habits and our behaviors right now and the outcomes will happen over time. If you only focus on the outcomes then it will hamper your ability to perform the everyday habits and behaviors necessary to achieve them and truly be healthy.
Life is a journey. Being healthy, strong, happy and fulfilled is a lifetime pursuit. Make it your lifestyle and you won’t feel like it’s work, it will just be who you are.
Live life and love who you are.