“The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”
— Albert Einstein
Stephen Covey uses this thought-provoking quote in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, to illustrate that our beliefs are “the sources of our attitudes and behaviors”, and those attitudes directly influence our ability to solve problems. Covey’s approach further describes “inside-out” thinking, which requires us to exam our own attitudes, perceptions and beliefs before we can effectively influence change in others (i).
During the last few years in my private practice as a board certified Nutrition Consultant, I have noticed common behavioral traits among my clients who successfully implement the significant, and often challenging, nutritional and lifestyle changes required to get their health back on track and improve their chances of living a long and productive life. These traits very much follow the inside-out approach – attention to self and independence – that Dr. Covey teaches.
I believe these habits are fundamental to the success of any health strategy and wanted to share them with you.
The 7 health habits common among highly effective people are:
1. Take responsibility for their health and healthcare decisions. You “own” your health, no one else. You wouldn’t invest (well, most wouldn’t) large amounts of money in a property without first inspecting it, reviewing nearby comparisons, and considering the long-term financial impact on your portfolio. Your health deserves the same consideration. Know your options and alternatives when choosing practitioners or procedures. Understand the pros and cons of major medical procedures, recommended medications, especially when it comes to pharmaceutical drugs and their sometimes negative side effects. Make informed decisions when it comes to what you’re putting in or doing to your body.
2. Are physically and mentally active. Staying active becomes increasingly important as we progress through life. Highly effective people are usually busy people. They continue to contribute to society or their communities. They stay involved in moderate
physical fitness activities and hobbies, socializing and interacting regularly with friends, family and co-workers. Retirement is often post-poned until later in life, or a second career is started after retirement in order to remain active and engaged.
3. Do not smoke, use recreational drugs or consume excessive amounts of alcohol.
In Dr. Bowden’s book, “The Most Effective Ways to Live Longer” he outlines the four main biological processes that cause aging (ii). They are:
1) Oxidative damage – damage from excessive production of oxygen-free radicals
2) Inflammation – chronic internal injury or irritation to tissues, organs, cells
3) Glycation — inability of the body to properly regulate the use of sugar
4) Stress – biochemical and hormonal reaction to physical, mental or emotional tension
Smoking, using recreational drugs or drinking excessively, exacerbate most of these damaging processes. Highly effective people recognize these vices as catastrophic to slowing down the aging process and living longer.
4. Use stress reduction and/or relaxation techniques on a regular basis. Stress is not a mind-over-matter issue. Although the stress response starts in the brain, it unfortunately doesn’t stay there. Highly effective people understand the damaging effects stress has on their health if it is allowed to go unchecked. Science proves that brief but regular routines of meditation, deep breathing, or relaxation reduces those negative consequences on our biological, hormonal and metabolic systems(iii).
5. Listen to their body. Highly effective people have learned (sometimes the hard way) that ignoring signs of seemingly minor health issues can lead to bigger problems. Instead of brushing annoying health issues aside, these people address them head-on, modify their behavior, sleep schedule or diet, and look to experts for help to get back on track. An example of listening to your body might be someone who is getting frequent colds, flu or sinus infections, which can be a sign of a sluggish immune system. Highly effective people know their body is giving them a warning and a more focused approach is required; they want to get to the root cause. They may consult with a health care or nutrition professional (or both), but will create a plan and make the necessary diet or lifestyle changes required until they are back on track.
6. Have a diet that is “clean”. A “clean” diet is one that includes:
* little or no processed, packaged or fast food
* is made-up of mostly fresh whole foods
* is 80-90% from organic food sources
* contains little or no gluten- and sugar-free
* adequate hydration everyday with filtered, distilled or purified water
Changing habits is tough to do especially for busy professionals, but my clients find with a little advanced planning, very doable.
7. Have a plan or vision for staying healthy. Much like taking a vacation, if you don’t have reservations, a roadmap or itinerary, you may not get to your destination. Highly effective people are typically goal-oriented, they “plan”. Having goals for how you want to live your life as you age will help you stay on track, which in turn will help you maintain yourself physically and mentally.
Achieving improvement in our health and longevity requires much more than just eliminating a few extra pounds of weight. A successful health strategy demands a broad, consistent application of all 7 of these health habits. Before you begin, do you a quick self-assessment of your own internal beliefs. Challenge yourself to think differently. Like Albert Einstein said, you won’t solve any problem – health or otherwise — with the same type of thinking you had when the problem first began.
i Covey, S. PhD (revised 2013). “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Simon and Schuster: NY
ii Bowden, J. PhD (2010). The Most Effective Ways to Live Longer. Quarto Publishing Group USA: Beverly, MA
iii Martín-Asuero, A., & García-Banda, G. (2010). The Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program (MBSR) Reduces Stress-Related Psychological Distress in Healthcare Professionals. The Spanish Journal of Psychology, 13(2), 897-905. doi:10.1017/S1138741600002547