003: An Apple A Day
We’ve all heard the saying ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’. It’s something I remember from growing up and always associated it with eating healthy. I never quite understood it though. I knew apples were good for you, but there had to be more too it than that. All I have to do is eat an apple and I’ll be healthy? Seems too good to be true. It wasn’t until recently that I came to understand what this saying was actually all about. It was a light bulb moment for me and took a shift in perspective. Here’s what I figured out - it’s not about the apple you’re eating, it’s about the bag of chips or Snickers bar that you’re not. It’s not about the good habit you’re creating, it’s about the bad habit it’s replacing. It’s a metaphor for habit forming. So let’s figure out what your Snickers bars are and replace them with apples! An Apple A Day Keeps The Doctor Away.
About a year ago I made a decision that I needed to start eating healthier. The pizza, chicken wing, dairy heavy diet wasn’t cutting it anymore. I knew completely overhauling my diet overnight wouldn’t work, so I picked a few things to focus on. During my typical work day I would take a mid-afternoon break, step outside into the world, walk down to the local coffee shop and get a double double and a sugary treat. I’d then sit back down at my desk and wonder why I couldn’t focus for the rest of the afternoon. I knew I had to address this habit. On the surface it was about a coffee and a danish, but at the core (pun intended) this habit was about something else. If you only focus on the surface aspect of the habit, you’ll never break it. Simply deciding to stop having an afternoon coffee would fail, because I’m not addressing the core issue. I needed to understand what the habit was truly about. For me the habit was about needing a break and I needing to step outside and see other humans. The reality is that I could accomplish this without the unhealthy result. So I reframed the habit, when it came time for the afternoon break I didn’t create an excuse that I needed a coffee and cookie. I grabbed an apple, and went outside for a walk around my neighbourhood. The end result was that this satisfied the needs I actually had and replaced the unhealthy manifestation with a healthy one. This wasn’t an instant success, but over time it became easier.
So what are your unhealthy habits? Junk food, smoking, binge watching cute kitten videos on YouTube? How are these affecting your work and your day to day life? Do you want to break them? If you do you must first realize that we use these things as crutches and avoid the root cause of the habit. In order to break them you need to take an honest look at the ‘why’ not the ‘what’. When you find yourself an hour into a YouTube binge when you meant to just take a short break from writing that grant, you need to ask why. Maybe you hit a small roadblock and needed a moment to think about it - your instinct was to step away. But if you haven’t created a good habit to follow when this instinct comes up, you’ll keep falling into that YouTube vortex time after time. Taking breaks are important, but plan ahead based on what your tendencies are. Decide in advance what you’ll do when you need a break, and how long you will take. A 15 min walk around your neighbourhood. Get out a book that inspires you and read 10 pages. Or simple shut the laptop, sit comfortably, close your eyes and just focus on your breath for 5 min. Set yourself up with a healthy habit to follow when the moment hits, plan ahead to avoid the unhealthy. Decide what your apple is or you’ll end up eating a Snickers every time.
It’s true that bad habits are hard to break, and good habits are hard to form. But when you combine the two you’ll have better results. Take an honest look at your bad habits, and find the ‘why’. Decide on the good habit you want to add into your life - reading more, meditating, exercise, and make that the ‘what’ instead. This must be a conscious decision you make it advance, otherwise when temptation hits you’ll default to your bad habit. The upside to this is over time these things become second nature, they truly become a habit. You will stop having to consciously make the decision to reach for the apple instead of the Snickers. When I finally made this connection I started eliminating bad habits and replacing them with good ones. In the end it was true - an apple a day does keep the doctor away.