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How Long Do I Have To Practice Self-Improvement Until Self-Improvement Becomes a Habit?

So why is it that the people making a New Year’s resolution can’t stick with their habit? Is it something about January?

That looks like she has a lot of time, but they're just watch faces.

Every January, hope springs eternal in our heart that this year we might finally get into shape. We’ll shed the weight we don’t need, fit into clothes that we love, and maybe accomplish some other things we’ve been meaning to do while we’re at it. It’s a magical time when possibilities exist like no other time of the year.

The gyms and health clubs fill up with people who have made a New Year’s resolution to start a habit for fitness. For weeks, it’s crowded and you have to wait your turn to use a fitness machine. You see people outside running. There’s a charge in the air as we share energy with each other. You are convinced that, this year, it’s really going to happen.

But by the end of January, you notice that you’re not waiting quite so often for machines at the health club. The locker room is not as crowded as before. And by the middle of February, the rush is over and only the regulars remain at the gym.

Or so you guess, because you're not going to the gym to find out.

Why does that happen? Why do so many people give up on their well-intentioned resolutions.

What does it take to keep a good habit once you’ve started?

I prefer empty gymnasiums. You have to persist long enough to actually experience them.

The old way of thinking about habits

So why is it that the people making a New Year’s resolution can’t stick with their habit? Is it something about January? Did they choose the wrong gym and they just didn’t have the energy to go look for another?

If you’ve ever looked into it, the conventional wisdom about forming a habit is that you need to do something for 14-21 days in order to make the habit. That might work for some people, but if the anecdote about the health clubs emptying out in February sounds familiar, you probably agree that it’s a tiny minority that can form a habit in 21 days.

The rest of us give up and move on to something else.

Swimming is a great form of exercise. Bird is optional.

Why three weeks is not enough

I think it’s that three weeks (i.e., twenty-one days) went by and they didn’t feel their new habit take over, and they were distracted by something else and decided that physical fitness was not for them. That whatever they promised themselves as part of their resolution was misguided, and that agreement is now null and void.

What did they do wrong?

Should they punish themselves for breaking their promise? Should they feel bad, or that they aren’t worthy?

Of course not. But when they’re ready to try again, they just need to adjust their expectations about firmly adopting the habit.

This dog forgives you, but only if you forgive yourself.

How long will I have to do this to get the habit?

I think you need to persist for 250 days to get the habit. I got this idea from James Cleary, and my own experience bears it out.

About ten years ago, I made a drastic change in my habits, focused on fitness. I wanted to become someone who exercised every day, and didn’t take “time off” from that exercise for weeks or months at a time.

That was my habit, in fact. I’d start some exercise routine and it’d go great for a month, sometimes two, and then I’d skip a few weeks. Or a couple of months. By skipping, I turn my back on the good feelings I experience from exercise. When I’d finally restart, I’d restart from the beginning (not where I left off) and it was doubly frustrating.

When I finally made the change that led to a daily fitness habit, I decided that I’d spent 30 years (age 13 – 43) not doing it quite right, so it’d be okay to plan on taking two years to figure out how to do it right.

Somewhere around nine to ten months into it, I was confident the habit would stick.

This seemed like a good picture to indicate you have to keep showing up for a long time to learn a new habit.

Why so long?

You should read James Cleary’s article on the subject, but my explanation is that you have to show persistence long enough to demonstrate to your brain that you are going to be able to exercise through all the challenges you face during a year. If you are in a temperate zone, like I am, the four seasons are very distinct, and the demands on your brain are very different to get you the exercise in winter than it is in summer.

If you start in January, you have to persist right through spring, summer, and into fall so that you learn to overcome the different obstacles you’ll face.

If you have kids, you have to persist through all the different school and sport activities they will bring home.

If you have an extended family, you have to persist through all the holidays, birthdays, reunions, and visits that will challenge your schedule and your sanity.

If you have a job, you have to persist through the market phases and business cycles that impact your work life over the course of a year. There will be times when you have to travel for work, or work over time, or are so busy at work that you're exhausted at home. Any of those can blow up your routine, and break your exercise habit.

It can be really, really difficult to exercise outside when it's cold. But also fun when you figure it out.

That’s a crazy amount of time to persist

Yes, it may seem crazy to persist at an exercise routine for nine months or longer. You’re going to have to plan a lot of things to get through it.

They good news is that we’ve already discussed the importance of switching routines every six weeks to break up boredom.

But if you don’t plan, and don’t consider these very real challenges, you’ll be derailed and distracted within a month. You will not have considered what bizarre schedule conflict will arise near the end of your kids’ school year when a freak storm rolls in and you still have to figure out how to visit your uncle in Cleveland. When faced with that kind of conflict, of course you skip the work out.

And once you start skipping the work out, another distraction will appear. And another. And another after that.

Pretty soon, the only habit you know is the one to skip your workouts.And you’re right back where you started.

Unless you plan to persist for 250 days, at least. Because you’re worth it, and having a daily fitness habit can truly change your life.

Now get busy planning.

Next Steps

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What If I Don’t Want to Exercise? Then Do This

There are things that we all must do to take care of ourselves, but it’s not necessarily fun. It’s often like work, and occasionally it’s hard work.

My inner child, not in the mood to exercise.

Parents always try to trick their kids into doing things by telling them it's fun. "This is how we pick up dog poop in the back yard. Isn't that fun?" It's almost never fun, even when it's not picking up dog poop, and the kids see right through it. They don't want to do it if it isn't fun. 

This was my mother's technique. She would try to convince me to do everything because it was fun. I honestly think she wanted me to have fun, and she recognized that there is stuff you just have to do to keep the house running properly. But trying to trick us into doing it led to suspicion and, eventually, it was ineffective. We just wouldn't do it.

Some parents take a dictatorial stance and demand that kids do things just because the parents told them to. This may work for a little while, but their hearts aren't in it. Whatever they do, it's not done well, or with enthusiasm. They aren't giving 110% to that job, whatever it is, no matter how much the parents tell them they're doing it wrong.

This was my father's approach. At some point, he planted plum and apple trees in the back yard. As summer wore on, fruit would drop from the trees and rot on the ground. He'd tell me and my brothers to go pick it up, and pick up the sticks from the maple tree while we're out there, and then mow the lawn. He'd insist we do it just because he told us to do it. But we never picked up everything. We went through the motions, and hoped he would get distracted so we could quit and go play.

A few parents resort to various forms of punishment. That works worse than anything, and creates resentment or even hatred. Even if the chore is done, there will be a backlash at some point. Threats and punishment are never worth it.

But there are certain things that have to get done to run a household. You have to do the dishes. You have to wash and fold the laundry. You have to pick up the dog poop in the back yard. You have to mow the lawn.

I do stuff like this all the time.

You have to manage your body just like a family has to manage their household

There are things that we all must do to take care of ourselves, but it's not necessarily fun. It's often like work, and occasionally it's hard work. Finding healthy and suitable food to eat for yourself can be work. Exercising can be hard work.

So how do you get yourself to do the hard work of caring for yourself when it's not fun?

Find a fun activity that gets you the exercise you need

If you're enjoying yourself, you won't notice that it's hard work. For me it's biking. I can leave from home on the bike and return 20 or 30 minutes later with my workout complete. But I'm smiling.

I know some people that climb rocks (a.k.a. "rock climbing") and some people that use a stand-up paddle-board ('sup?!). Others join teams to play volleyball, soccer, or hockey.

But even if you find such activities, there's a strong possibility that you can't do it every day forever. Hockey is expensive and ice is cheapest at weird hours. Rock climbing and stand-up paddle-board requires good weather. If you rely on those for your every day activity, you may find yourself doing nothing more often than you are getting fit.

Pretty awesome but not gonna happen in Michigan.

Gamify the exercise

"Gamify" refers to turning the activity into a game with points, competition, and rewards. One website in particular, NerdFitness.com, has a huge following. Users can set their own rules and point systems to keep up their motivation. The feedback loop it creates can be a strong motivator.

To make it work, however, you have to have a variety of exercises — either going to a gym or a calisthenics routine — that you can call upon when needed.

Find an accountability partner

Shame is a strong motivator. I dislike using punishment as motivation (like with my father's dictatorial style) but if you set the right tone with an accountability partner it can be a positive experience. Look for someone with a positive attitude to work with you.

The basic technique is to agree to a schedule of either communicating to each other about your fitness activities, or exercising together. On a weekly basis, you tell each other your goals and plans. You may check in during the week on progress. Then you compare notes to see how it went.

Rinse and repeat.

This is not a good technique for me, but my friend used it to get into body-builder type of shape, working with a like-minded partner who met him daily at 5 a.m. at a gym as they helped each other train, eat well, rest and recover.

They're smiling too much for early morning workouts.

If you can't make it fun, keep it interesting

The technique that works for me is switching activities every four to eight weeks. I find myself switching — even without consciously planning it — every six weeks as new ideas present or old ones are recalled, or as the seasons change. I bike in the spring and summer, as the days grow longer here in Michigan. I do my best to make swimming a regular thing in the late, hot days of summer. I try different strength training routines as well, switching between calisthenics, high intensity interval training, and circuit training.

This fall, I'm pretty sure my wife is going to insist we take dance lessons. It's not an intense exercise, but it's an activity that goes on for an hour at a time. I'm interested in supplementing that with tap dance lessons, which will be more of a workout — also fun.

Do something with built-in variety

For the past four years, I've practiced yoga twice a week. My yogi leads the practice, and it's interesting because we never do the same routine twice. The same poses show up, but she offers variations to further challenge ourselves. That challenge keeps it interesting.

Studying martial arts would also offer a built-in variety as you progress in you abilities, spar with different partners, and branch out into different areas.

I think they're water bending, like Avatar.

What did we learn?

Let's review these thoughts so you don't have to do it yourself. First of all, we talked about the various ways our parents try to get us to do things as kids to help take care of the house. Taking care of our health with exercise can be like that, and we may need to find ways to motivate ourselves when we don't really feel motivated.

The best thing is to find a fun activity you love to do and that keeps you active. But that's not always going to be possible, and even a really fun activity gets boring if you over do it.

You may find an accountability partner to keep you working on your daily fitness habit. If they are like-minded and have a positive attitude, it can be a great way to stay active.

Keep it interesting by switching up activities and exercises. You can do this with the phases of the seasons, or just every few weeks look for something new to challenge yourself. Or find an activity such as yoga or a martial art that is interesting by design.

Finally, the ultimate secret to exercising when you don't feel like it

The real secret is to combine one or more of the above techniques to keep yourself active without resorting to threats or punishment. Remind yourself that your health is worth it, and that it doesn't have to be a bad thing. With the right combination of support and activities, you can grow as a person even as you improve your health.

If You Want to Improve Your Life But Don’t Know Where to Start, Start Here…

I spent 30 years on yo-yo diets, from the age of 13 until I was 43, gaining weight, using some gimmick diet to lose a few pounds, but then gaining more back.

I spent 30 years on yo-yo diets, struggling to control my weight, obsessing about foods, and very unhappy about all of it. From the age of 13 (which is too young to be worried about such things) until I was 43, I would gain weight, feel like a failure, pick some gimmick diet, lose a few pounds, but then rebound and gain even more back. I was exercising, but only inconsistently, skipping months at a time.

At the age of 23, which I should have been in decent physical fitness, I once pulled a muscle getting out of bed because I had spent so much time doing nothing that my muscles atrophied. I could just barely handle my own body.

When I started a family, I was trying to be a good dad by spending lots of time with my children, but I wasn't taking care of myself. I was on a cycle of eating the wrong things, guzzling coffee to stay awake, and not exercising.

At one point, I thought I was having a heart attack and checked myself into the hospital. It turned out to be too much caffeine causing heart palpitations. I was grateful I hadn't had a heart attack, but worried that I was relying on coffee so much.

Then my cholesterol reached a dangerous level and my doctor prescribed statins for me.

I've discussed in other articles how I had an epiphany about taking care of myself, and most of that was focused on exercising to improve my fitness. I made one decision in particular that provided for me the most benefit: I decided that, if nothing else, I would find a way to exercise every single day.

I don't remember exactly how I came to this, but I know I'd read other books that talked about it (especially Covert Bailey's Fit or Fat). Rather than choose a huge goal for myself like run a marathon or swim across Lake Erie, I just wanted to be consistent. Once a day, 365 days a year, year after year.

That was my goal.

What Happened When I Focused on Daily Fitness

Over the course of the next year, I lost 40 pounds, improved my cholesterol dramatically, re-started my creative writing passion, took up accordion lessons, and — best of all — began to believe that so much more was possible for myself.

Fitness didn't help with all of those things directly. Some of them came about because I also began to eat better, cutting out lots of sweets and processed foods. Some of them came about because I was sleeping better, and cut back on caffeine and soda pop.

Most of all, once the habit for daily fitness became ingrained, I realized I could exercise and do other things with my life without risking the exercise habit. I truly had more energy for other activities, and enjoyed doing things because I felt better overall.

I am convinced that starting a habit for daily fitness leads to other life-improving habits once your fitness habit becomes second nature.

Why is Fitness the Best Place to Start Improving Your Life?

Why start with fitness when the reason dear to my heart has nothing to do with fitness? Like what if what you really want to do with your life is to learn to play the clarinet well enough to join the local symphony orchestra?

Improved fitness leads to other habits such as sleep, nutrition, and daily planning. Your body will respond in several ways to these combined efforts, putting you on a positive cycle of good feeling and satisfaction in your accomplishment. The energy boost is noticeable after just a few weeks of daily activity. And once you have been doing it for a few weeks, you begin to believe in yourself that you really can stick to it. That confidence can be leveraged for other activities.

Why a Fitness Habit Can Be the Easiest to Acquire

Fitness culture pervades the larger culture we are in. There are fitness centers in most communities that are affordable for most people (Planet Fitness, for example, has $10 per month memberships).

Your fitness habit doesn't have to be a big thing, like training for a marathon. You can walk or jog or do calisthenics in your house. Fitness activities can be fun — and should be — and expand your social connections.

The best thing to do is whatever is the most convenient. For instance, jogging is one of the best exercises and is also one of the most convenient. You need shoes and proper clothing for the weather. It might take you five minutes to get dressed. You take a 20 minute jog around the neighborhood. Then cool down and stretch for ten more minutes. That's it. You're done for the day.

What might not be as good a choice is to decide that ice hockey is the best habit for you. The skates are expensive. The equipment is expensive. You have to share in the expense of renting the ice. You have to coordinate the schedule with nine other players. And to have a decent game, you'll also need two goalies, which is probably the most difficult thing to find of all. That's an extreme example, but I'm just making the point that as awesome it may be to play hockey, it may not be the best choice for you to acquire a daily fitness habit.

How to Use Your Fitness Habit to Acquire Other Good Habits

As the fitness habit becomes truly habitual, you free up mental energy to improve other areas of your life. What I have found out is that I plan a fitness activity without stressing myself. I have several options that I enjoy — biking, jogging, calisthenics, yoga, walking and swimming — and I look for the simplest one to do each day. The habit is now so ingrained that I do it automatically, noticing gaps in my schedule each day and inserting the simplest activity to accomplish into the available time.

Remember, I had at one time gotten so out of shape that I pulled a muscle getting out of bed. I had gone months without exerting myself. Now, I rarely go 24 hours.

The planning and scheduling skills can be applied to the other areas. I've gotten so good at identifying available gaps in my daily schedule that it is no-stress to pick out a slot of 20, 30, or 60 minutes to use for music, writing, or managing my finances.

Granted, I'm not perfect about it, but I get to these things as needed and I don't have to halt all other life activities to get them done.

Fitness activities boost endurance, increase your mental capacity and relieve stress — all of which leads to abilities in other areas. Once the full effect of improved fitness kicks in, and finding time in your daily schedule becomes second nature, you will notice that you get more things done.

All you have to do is focus your attention on things you care about, and other areas of your life begin to improve as well.

And it will all be thanks to having acquired a daily habit for fitness.

Next Steps

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What If Nothing Matters To You Enough For You To Do Something About It?

How to figure out what will improve your life when you don’t know what matters to you.

What if you really have no dreams or plans for the future? Are you really stuck, or doomed, to keep living just as things are?

There is a lamp that has been lost on a beach somewhere. It’s like Aladdin’s lamp because when you rub the lamp it releases the genie trapped inside. But this genie is different.

The genie inside this lamp will grant you a wish, but he can’t just give you piles of money or great power (like the genie in Aladdin’s lamp). This genie grant’s wishes of the sort that you can actually achieve yourself if you put in the hard work.

The only trick is that you have to choose what it is you want.

You could be a strong and well-trained athlete who competes at the highest level, or become a talented and beloved musician entertaining people, or be a wildly successful business owner who delivers valuable products to the market for profit.

All you have to do is tell the genie what it is, and then he will tell you where to find your treasure.

Release the genie, sure; but what will you ask for?

But what if, when you released the genie, you didn’t know what to ask for. Instead of happily asking the genie to show you how to make your dream come true, this happened:

The lamp flashed red hot and then smoke poured out of its top. The genie appeared before you, seven feet tall, wrapped in fine silk, his skin glowing with the light of a blue flame. “What is it you seek,” he says. “I will grant you one wish allowing you to do anything you want in this world. But it has to be a thing dear to your heart.”

You look around to see if anyone is watching, stalling for time, because you’re not sure what to ask for. You no longer remember what it is you wanted to be when you grew up.

“Well,” the genie says. “What is it you want?”

You scratch your head and then say, “Honestly, I’m pretty busy already. I have my job. And I watch television after work so my evenings are full. Some weekends I go to the casino, or I go to the outlet mall to shop.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” you say. “I guess I’m good.”

Would you be able to tell the genie what you desired?

The amazing thing is that we all have a genie who will grant our wish. It may not seem like it from where you’re standing now, and the path may not be an easy one to travel in order to find your treasure. But the genie is there for almost every single one of us. He (or she) is waiting for us to answer the question.

Some people don’t know what they want.

The world can be a demanding place and many of us spend our entire lives reacting to circumstances. That’s how it was for me, even though I thought I was in control, I was just reacting.

My genie was there with me, the entire time, waiting for me — decade after decade — to answer the question. In the meantime, I was working a few jobs, solving problems for other people. And I started a family, which brings up a lot more things to react to, and there can be so many things in your life that you don’t believe for a second that you get to do what you want to do with your life. Your life seems like someone else’s life.

I know what you’re thinking: what if my job is exactly what I want to do?

Many people have their dream job, and there’s nothing more to say to you except go to it and enjoy.

But for the rest of us, what do you say to the genie?

If you don’t know exactly what your dream job is, or even in what general area of activity where your dream job exists, how do you tell the genie what you want?

We have to sit a while and think. And it can’t be the type of sitting that you’re accustomed to. You can’t watch television and call it thinking. You can’t play video games on your smartphone and call it thinking. And you can’t click through social media feeds on your computer and call it thinking.

The type of thinking you need to answer the genie is to sit quietly for extended periods of time and wait for you subconscious mind and conscious mind to agree on what it is you want to do.

Where your dreams are buried.

The subconscious mind is the part of your brain that remembers your dreams as a kid, or your plans as a young person for what you wanted to do with your life. It keeps those things that are dear to your heart and never lets go of them. But most of us have spent so many years reacting to circumstances that we’ve piled tons of useless information on top of our dreams and plans, and we need to spend some quiet time to sort through it all and remember.

For me, I wanted to be a novelist, and that’s what I’m working on now. But in the meantime I took jobs working with computers. Although I made a living and raised a family that way, I never fully embraced that career. It always felt like something was missing. It was that computer work was not dear to my heart. I was solving other people’s problems.

I did write novels all that time, but I was not in the field and heavily distracted by my job. I may have done better working in publishing, or teaching, or maybe I just needed to take more classes.

Instead, I kept working on computer problems because they were interesting challenges and paid good money. They just weren’t dear to my heart.

How do you sit quietly and think?

There are a multitude of distractions that will conspire to keep you from thinking. The basic principle is to get away from the distractions long enough for your mind to be assured it doesn’t have to react immediately to the stimuli. Give it a chance, instead, to think about your memories, your life, and your dreams.

Step 1: Make the time in your daily activities to do this. Trust that it will be okay to not respond to email or social media for an hour each day. If your phone rings, you will call them back, whoever it is, in a little while. I presume you make time to eat, sleep, and go to the bathroom. Make time for this, as well.

Step 2: Find a comfortable, quiet place. You’re going to sit or lie down for a while. Don’t distract yourself with the discomfort of the chair. If you have to get out of the house and do this to protect your time, choose a library or a church rather than a mall or a coffee shop. If you’re new to this, you’ll need to truly minimise distraction.

Step 3: Spend the time in this place, every day, day after day. It may take several days, weeks, or even more than a month to clear your head — even for a few minutes — of the distractions of modern living. More than anything, you are establishing trust with your subconscious to go ahead and discuss what is dear to your heart.

Tips for successfully thinking.

Reserve all judgment. This is a time to explore your memories, dreams, and aspirations. There is no use in complaining about circumstances or criticising yourself. Things just are. Let them be. Find what you want, then go after that.

You can sit still and do nothing, or you may want to use your hands a bit for writing or drawing.

Journaling is an excellent way to get in touch with your subconscious. I used this technique, and the first several months of journaling involved releasing a lot of anger through writing. I was mad at the world, but mostly mad at myself.

You may start with recording daily events, and then expand on thoughts and ideas that pop up into your head. This will eventually lead to memories and your dreams that are dear to your heart.

Doodling is another excellent way. It’s a lot like journaling, but you scribble and make pictures. If it seems like a fun thing to do, get yourself a thick book of drawing paper and a set of pens or pencils, and go doodle.

Colouring books seem like they would work, as well, to engage the mind without becoming yet another distraction. I think, especially, the repetitive nature of colouring may be useful for thinking.

How to know when you’ve spent enough time thinking.

At some point, you’ll discover the thing you always wanted to do or to be. Once rediscovered, that thing will rise up in your consciousness, and appear before you in conversations, dreams, and will want to stay with you.

You will have a choice, then, because the genie will be ready to tell you what you need to do to achieve that dream.

You can either tell the genie and begin this next journey. Or you can allow the distractions of life to bury those dreams, again, until some other day.

The choice, like your dream, is your own.

Next Steps

Sign up for my newsletter to get the next articles when they are published.Or visit Boomers Rock for books and training that will help you improve your life.

How to Renew Your Energy Levels and Renew Your Life

Out of shape? Not eating right? Too busy and too tired to care? Don’t know where to start? Try this.

Out of shape? Not eating right? Too busy and too tired to care? Don't know where to start? Try this.

Not that long ago, I was out of shape, eating food that was lousy for me, and I was too tired to care. But it all changed because of my father's dog.

The dog's name was Mr. Peabody, and the dog was morbidly obese. My father took the dog out for McDonald's sausage sandwiches every morning, and went back for ice cream every night. That dog was double a healthy weight, and had diabetes. The vet gave him just a few months to live unless my father could take better care of him.

My father loved that dog and immediately began changing their habits. Instead of going out for McDonald's sausage sandwiches, they went for a walk. Instead of ice cream every night, they went for another walk. And my father carefully administered insulin shots for the dog. Within a couple of months, Mr. Peabody was down to a healthy weight, his youthful energy returned, and we thought it was a miracle.

Of course it wasn't a miracle.

My father cared about that dog but he realized in the nick of time that he also had to care for the dog.

So it was for me

I spent many years slowly putting on weight until, at the age of 43, I was in a very unhealthy shape. I wanted to make a change and already I had tried every gimmick diet I could find. Nothing worked beyond a couple of months before my old habits crept back into my life. It was frustrating to the point of despair. I wanted to have energy to be an active part of my family, especially my kids' lives. Instead, I was risking my health.

In fact, my cholesterol had spiked and my doctor wanted me to go on statins. Things were not looking good for me.

Then I remembered Mr. Peabody

I remembered my father's dog, Mr. Peabody, and it hit me that my father took better care of that dog than I was taking care of myself. I decided I needed to care for myself the way my father cared for his dog.

I was able to lose weight, improve my physical fitness, and improve my health overall. I had more energy, slept better, and was able to work on passion projects in addition to doing well at my career.

Of course, this didn't happen overnight. It didn't even happen in a couple of months (not at all like it was for Mr. Peabody the dog). It took over a year. But knowing that it took me 30 years to mess up my health, I decided I would give myself two years to restore my health. And when I was able to declare it a success in less than two years, I felt like I'd really accomplished something.

Keeping up those routines for that long wasn't easy. So how did I do it?

The One Thing

The key for me was to connect my goal — improved health — to what I cared about — my family. With that, I was able to establish a healthy pattern of better nutrition and regular exercise.

I shed the weight I didn't need, lowered my cholesterol, and really adopted a habit for healthy living. Ten years later, that habit is still a strong part of my life and I'm happier than I ever have been before.

Not that I don't have challenges each day in keeping that habit. But I keep a firm hold on the source of my motivation — taking care of myself so that I can be a part of my family — to help me overcome obstacles as I find a way each day to keep taking care of myself.

Enough about me. What about you?

So how do you do this? What if your situation is entirely different than mine? What are you going to do?

The first thing is to identify what it is that you care enough about to want to change your life. It doesn't have to be about your own family. It could be a goal entirely of your own choosing, such as learning to be an artist of some kind, or taking up a sport, or starting a new career.

You can even have goals that have nothing to do with health or fitness. But I promise you that health and fitness have everything to do with achieving any goal because our bodies and minds perform better when we are in good health.

Still, the key is to pick your goal. Think about it, write it down, then sleep on it.

In the morning, if you are sure it's the right goal, then you can take the next step.

Once you have your goal, this is the next step

Congratulate yourself.

That's right. Take a moment and acknowledge how you have taken the first step in a journey towards doing something amazing for yourself.

Celebrate.

That's right, not only are you to congratulate yourself but I want you to celebrate. Buy yourself something nice, like a new outfit, or go see a movie, or some token of appreciation that will be meaningful to you.

Why?  

Because one of the most important things you must do to break free of your old, self-destructive habits is to replace them with new, self-improving habits. And the way to do that is to reward your good actions. Choosing the reason you are going to take better care of yourself is the most important action to take, and you must convince your own mind that it is a worthy endeavor.

And Next?

Find a place to keep that thing you care about close and familiar. You can write it down in a journal every morning. Or write it down on a card and read it to yourself every day. Or, better still, build a vision board about that thing and hang it on your bedroom wall.

This sounds very elaborate but you are going to be struggling to overcome a lifetime of resistance to achieving your goal and changing self-destructive habits. Remember, the human brain is actually wired for efficiency, and so the easiest thing for your brain to do is nothing. Don't go get healthy food from the store. Don't get dressed and exercise. Don't go to bed on time but stay up late binge watching whatever the television plays.

You will need a reason to care for yourself that is near and dear to your heart. You will also need to remind yourself of that reason as you struggle to adopt self-improving habits and reach for your goal.

Finally, this is what you do with that thing you care about…

If you can do all that, you can use it to take the next step in your journey to save your life. Which I will talk about in my next article.

Next Steps

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