The 52 habits of balance

You may have read my recent blog on what balance is and what it isn’t. In that piece, I included the three fundamental principles of balance, including the first…

You are the sum of your most frequent, recent behaviours.”

Essentially, your health, fitness and happiness is most impacted by your habits, the things you do day in, day out. When interviewed, highly respected American Cardiologist Donald Lloyd-Jones cited research showing that even people over the age of 65 with existing heart disease could reduce risk of heart attacks by 45% through healthy habits.

The analogy I often use when explaining this to clients is the bullet and the gun. Some people have a higher genetic risk for certain medical conditions than others, with illnesses such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes common in their family. What this means is that the bullet is already loaded in their gun. For the bullet to be dangerous though, someone has to pull the trigger. The triggers in this case are lack of exercise, a poor diet, stress, alcohol, inadequate sleep, smoking and other behaviours. Leave the trigger well alone and you have a much higher chance of remaining fit and healthy.

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Fifty two is a magic number

The number of white keys on a piano, the number of playing cards in a pack, the number of weeks in a year and now, the number of habits that make up the balance method.

I’ve spent years looking into all of the behaviours that could impact your overall wellbeing and as it stands, this is my total. They’re broken down across the four elements of balance; think, eat, live and move. Some are habits of the brain, some to do with eating and drinking, some from all aspects of your life from work to sleep, learning to socialising and some are exercise-related.

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i’m not saying without a doubt that there aren’t more than 52, that would be naive and set me up to look foolish in future if and when I discover one. I remember reading the Stephen Covey book, ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’, (which by the way, is an awesome book) and then being somewhat disappointed a few years later when a sequel entitled ‘The Eighth Habit’ came out. I’ll keep looking and add other behaviours to the method if and when I find them, and you’ll be first to know of course!

Go on then…what are they?

I figured by now that you’re thinking ‘come on, get on with it, tell me what these healthy habits are then’. So that’s exactly what I’m going to do; just not all in one go. Fifty two things is a lot to take on board in and you know me, I'm all for breaking stuff down into more manageable chunks.

Over my next four blogs, I’m going to provide you with a short quiz where you can score yourself against the habits for each of the elements of balance. As everything always starts with a thought, in this first one we’re going to look at ‘think’, the 15 mind habits I’ve identified; the thinking and planning behaviours that those who successfully make lifestyle changes use to great effect.

The scoring system is simple; give yourself the following points based on whether there’s lots to be done, you’re getting there or you’ve got it nailed:

  • Out of balance = 1 point

  • On the way to balance = 3 points

  • Perfectly balanced = 5 points

A score of 15-29 points means there’s a fair bit of work you can do, 30-55 points suggests you’re on the way to a good balance, and 56-75 points means you’re well balanced.

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Before you even decide to make a change…

1) Do you have a clear idea of your values? By this I mean the things most important to you in your life. You’re likely to be more successful with attempts to get fitter and healthier if you make sure that any changes you make are in line with your values. If they conflict then it’ll be much harder to stick with them.

2) Are you really sure that you want to change? Sounds like a daft question doesn’t it? Thing is, sometimes we do want something different, but part of us also wants to cling on to the habits we have now. We know we need to cut down our alcohol but we’re concerned we’ll lose our social life, we want to stop smoking but it relaxes us, or we want to do more exercise but we’re embarrassed about joining a gym. That’s why I made this one of the habits; it’s important to spend a little time weighing up the pros and cons of change and making an informed decision. It doesn’t matter whether you decide to change or not at that time, but you know the decision is the right one.

When planning for change…

3) Do you have a goal that is clear, challenging and exciting? Knowing exactly what you’re after and being excited about what it will be like to achieve are great for motivation. It’s important that your goal doesn’t feel too easy either; studies suggest that something we really have to work for pushes us to strive harder to make it happen.

4) Do you know where you’re starting from? Do you take some form of measurement that you can track over time; weight, shape, fitness, mood or something else that let’s you know how far you have to go and if you’re making progress?

5) Do you focus on the process? Many people will have a clear idea of what they want, but it’s equally as important to know the actions to take to make it happen. These are known as Process Goals, for example, Usain Bolt wanted to be the fastest man on Earth but his process goals were set around how many training sessions he should do a week, the foods he should eat, hours sleep required and the other habits he had control of that could ultimately influence the outcome.

And when you’re actually making a change…

6) Do you do one thing at a time? Knowing the actions you need to take is one thing, prioritising which you need to work on is another entirely. Often, especially at this time of year, we make all sorts of commitments to change. It’s easy to be overconfident or just want to change so much that we try to do too much in one go. Focusing on just one thing at a time is a surefire way to increase your chances of success.

7) Do you identify the challenges you might face along the way and plan ahead for how you’ll deal with them? Pre-empting what could go wrong and identifying solutions can give you confidence when it doesn’t all quite go to plan. Many will fall at the first hurdle, but if you know it’s coming and have a way around, under or over it, then it’s much more likely you can stay on track.

8) Do you create an environment for change? What do I mean by this? Do you set things up that make it easier to change and harder to stay the same? For example, if you want to do more exercise, do you get your gym kit ready the night before and put your bag right in front of the door so that you’ll definitely pick it up on the way out? Or do you make sure there are no crisps in the house if you’re looking to cut down?

9) Do you use nudges or reminders to keep yourself on track? This could be post-it notes, alerts on your phone, pictures on the fridge or whatever it is that keeps your goal and actions right at the forefront of your mind.

10) Do you check your progress regularly? I mentioned taking starting measurements earlier; do you also have a schedule in place for checking how you’re getting on? Weekly weigh-ins, monthly fitness tests, or apps to track your food or exercise daily?

11) Do you get by with a little help from your friends? Do you have a support crew in place? People who can assist, remind, cajole, motivate, encourage and sometimes kick you up the backside? It’s much more likely you’ll succeed when you don’t go it alone.

12) Are you accountable to someone? Much like having a support crew, having to check in with someone about your actions or progress can be a fantastic tool for success. None of us like telling someone we’ve failed and so having a little pressure on you can make a major difference.

13) Is there an element of competition? It could be against yourself or someone else but competing is another way of helping you to up your game when it comes to achieving your goals.

14) Do you have rewards in place for success? Regularly rewarding yourself for reaching milestones along the way is a great idea. It gives you a boost of the neurotransmitter dopamine, making you feel good and increasing your confidence and desire to keep going. It also helps to make a big goal feel smaller with clear marker posts en route. Just be careful not to reward yourself too much with tasty stuff; using food and drink as a reward can lead to a cycle where you feel you need them to feel good.

15) Do you have bouncebackability? For me, this is the biggest of all the habits. The ability to keep going even when it’s not gone as you’d liked recently, to adapt and try a new method should the previous one have failed, is the difference between success and failure. It’s going to take time, it won’t be straightforward but you will make it if you persist.

How did you do?

What are the scores on the doors? Whatever you’ve scored, is there one behaviour that you feel you could do more often, turning it into a habit that will make you fitter, healthier and happier?