Decisions, Decisions, Decisions...
I was teaching at a retreat in Morocco recently and a student reflected that the best thing about being on retreat is that she didn’t have to make a single decision the entire week. As a busy mother of 2 and the owner of a small business, this was quite a feat. It’s true. When you come on retreat, the daily schedule is already organized for you. And the daily schedule is actually more or less what I teach in my health coaching programs – awake early, exercise daily, meditate, eat lots of plants and take time to tune in and listen to what your body needs, go to bed early – nothing profound, but still seemingly difficult to incorporate into “non-retreat” life.
Decisions. How do we make them and why do we do what we do?
Our days are filled with literally thousands of decisions – from the very small and seemingly insignificant to the big ones that can have a ripple effect on our work, home, family life and health. We do this EVERY DAY, ALL DAY LONG – from when we awake until when we fall asleep. It’s exhausting just to think about it. It isn’t surprising then that taking care of our bodies’ needs – even the basic ones of sleep, eating, moving, and resting – are often an afterthought when everything else is done. How many times have you realized you haven’t planned what to eat for dinner or lunch until you are starving, and grab the easiest thing available – like a quick sandwich, pizza or a snack? Or maybe we decide at 6:30pm that we won’t make it to the 7pm yoga class because, well, the day has been so full already.
Why is that?? My students and friends often assume it is a willpower issue – that some people just have a lot and others have very little – doled out at birth like eye or hair color. What I have learned is that willpower or motivation is like a muscle. It gets fatigued through overuse. At the end of the day, after we have used it over and over, it’s easier to just say no to hard things, like going to that yoga class or making a healthy salad and instead go for the easiest possible decision. Decision fatigue. Our willpower and decision-making muscle are finally allowed a much-needed rest.
While that can happen to the best of us some of the time, ignoring our bodies needs for proper nutrition, rest, play and exercise over the long term can have long term consequences that aren’t pretty: poor quality sleep from eating too much, too late or going to bed too late, low energy, excess weight, addiction to caffeine or excitotoxins, poor physical fitness that put us at risk to injury, and lifestyle diseases (like sedentary lifestyle diseases or autoimmune disorders – depending on which end of the spectrum you lie) or just a general feeling of why do I feel so tired, bloated, low energy and lacking in vitality and passion?
If improving my willpower isn’t the answer, what is? For me, it’s all about creating stability through following daily routines.
Sound a little boring? I used to think so. I self-identified as a creative, go-with-the flow person. When I lived in San Francisco, I taught about 20 public classes a week, which had me biking, walking, running and flying to get from one side of town to the other. I taught during times most “regular” people were eating – lunch time, double evening classes and the like. Every day was different. I would awake anywhere between 5 and 9, and go to bed any time between 10pm and 2 am and had frequent insomnia or plain old poor quality sleep which I couldn’t explain. I ate at completely random times, and experienced regular +-2-4 kilo weight fluctuations that also confounded me at the time. I would grab an energy bar, a handful of almonds, chocolate or some dried fruits when I had a bit of down time between classes – just enough for my body to stop voicing its demands to me so I could get on to the next thing. I had no rhythm. No consistent routines.
When I found Ayurveda, I decided to experiment with what this 5,000 year old science had to say about the daily rhythm. After all, I had been so profoundly affected by my yoga practice in shaping both my body and mind, why not look to yoga’s sister science Ayurveda? What does the daily rhythm look like according to Ayurveda? First off going to bed early (around 10pm on most nights), so this meant engineering my evening for a light meal and easeful nightly activities so I could wake up after a restful night of sleep early. Hydrate -- drinks lots of water (warm is best). Move and meditate first thing, so when the day turns out different than your 7am self had planned for, you have already taken care of your bodies need to move and your minds need to center and calibrate for the day ahead. Eat meals at regular times, with the biggest meal at midday when the sun/bile production is highest (cataclysmic for me!!) and water fast between meals (avoid snacking). A good morning routine will not only prime your body, focus your mind and kept your energy consistent, but it will also set you on the path to make better health decisions all day. Lastly, meal plan. We all have the highest aspirations the night before or the morning of our day, but days rarely go as planned in my experience. Knowing that, make decisions about how you are going to feed yourself when you are tapped into how you want to feel , not what is convenient. Do any prep work you may need to do for a nutritionally dense lunch and a light dinner. Use a meal planner if this helps you to reset your habits. I do this in the morning and group it together with my breakfast preparation so I only have to cut, clean, prepare once. It takes far less time, the brain works more efficiently, and it is more likely to give you the result you want if you group like things together. Try it.
I don't want to rely on an overtaxed minds to make simple, mundane decisions about what to eat and when, whether to move or meditate. They were simply automated habits that happened most of the time. I don’t aim for perfection, or the part of me that loves spontaneity, fun and flow, would be unhappy. Instead I aim to follow these habits about 80% of the time. You know what the coolest thing I have found from automating health habits? When these (frankly) mundane daily care practices are automated, so much space opens up for things that really do– starting a new business, giving that new hobby/project/class a go, being a more happy, content and present version of you to your partner, family or loved ones, or knocking things off of your bucket list. If you have deliberate places you want to go, you need deliberate habits, not random ones.
I would love to hear from you! My next 10 week course Align to Thrive starts in October. And I also just started my pilot 10 month course which has both health and life coaching components for graduates of Align to Thrive. Things are getting sparky and interesting over here.. so reach out if you want in.