Forget building bigger biceps. Instead, concentrate on building your “awareness muscle” through a journal so that you can be the best version of yourself, writes Kathleen Trotter.
Most of us overestimate our healthy choices and drastically underestimate our unhealthy ones – the foods we mindlessly eat, the workouts we skip, the degree to which we rely on coffee, or the time we fritter away.
The problem is, you can’t create new healthier habits until you are aware of your current habits. You can’t decide to stop mindlessly eating a full dinner while cooking or swiping 500 calories of almonds off of a co-worker’s desk until you know you are a “nibbler” or a “swiper”. You can’t intentionally choose to spend your time in more productive ways until you know how you currently spend your time.
As the famous business adage goes, “What gets measured, gets managed”. You can’t possibly manage your time, food consumption, etc. if you don’t know where your time goes and what you are putting in your mouth. Awareness brings choice.
The solution? Build your awareness muscle. For at least two weeks, journal the way you spend your time, your food and exercise, and your mood pre and post exercise. Think of journaling as “biceps curls” for your brain.
Once you are aware of your current choices and habits, use the “data” from the journal to create realistic goals and a tailored action plan.
The Three Journals
How many times have you stated a wish to exercise, but then be “too busy”? How many times have you decided to eat well and then “something came up”? If you want to get on top of your health, you have to get in control of your time. Too many of us fritter it away, let emergencies dictate how it gets used, or have no idea how we actually use our minutes, hours and days. Time is our most valuable resource – we can’t make more time.
Journal your time and then analyze the data. Colour code or use graphs to sort your activities – meetings, creative work, time with clients, sleep, time with family, etc. You decide on your categories. They will obviously depend on if you have a family, what your job is, etc. Then analyze how you are spending your time. See where you are wasting 20 minutes on social media – with 20 minutes you can do five Tabata intervals and that is a great workout.
Food and exercise journal
You have two options: the “traditional” or the “X and O”.
The traditional: For two weeks, track your food (including your liquids) and your workouts. Is that after-dinner indulgence you thought was a “treat” really a daily occurrence? Maybe you think you miss one workout a week, when in reality you average skipping three. Is your “tablespoon” of almond butter really half a jar balanced on a spoon? Once you are aware of your choices, you can decide to make alternative, healthier ones.
The X and O food journal: This twist on the traditional diet and exercise journal helps build your intuitive eating muscle and connects your food choices to your emotional state. Create an “O” for each meal and snack. If you basically ate well – consumed nutritiously dense food, stopped when full, ate when hungry, stayed hydrated, etc. – place an “X” over the circle and move on.
It is only when you go off the rails at a meal or snack that you have to detail your food choices in the circle, as well as the reasons behind the less-than-ideal choice(s). Were you lonely? Sad? Tired? Then set up systems that will allow your future self to deal with the emotion in a healthier way. For example, phone a friend when lonely.
Track your mood and energy out of 10 pre and post workout. Why? Often the hardest part of being active is finding the ignition energy to start. Through tracking your mood pre and post-exercise, you see that you always feel better post-workout.
Then, use the data to convince yourself to exercise when you don’t feel motivated. Tell yourself, “Self, the data shows you always feel better when you move. Even if ‘better’ is only by 0.2, better is still better. Worst case, you work out and feel only marginally better, but you are fitter. Best case, you feel better and you will be fitter. Either way, it beats staying energetically low and being unfit.”
Health doesn’t “just happen”. We all need a way to disconnect from our daily “sprint” and objectively observe and become aware of our thoughts and actions. As you observe – picture stepping onto the balcony and observing the dance floor of your life – embrace a growth mindset. Don’t just observe what you do and how you think; use that data to make a better choice next time.
If you let yourself get too hungry and thus grab an unhealthy snack, decide to carry around a few almonds in your purse. If you note you mindlessly eat while cooking, chew gum so you can’t pick. Hope is not a viable strategy. You can’t “wish” your way to a fitter you. Reaching your health goals takes awareness and conscious planning. You can’t become a fitter, healthier, more productive version of you without first becoming aware of your current choices, thoughts and inner dialogue.