In today’s modern world, any effort to improve our health and happiness is met with an endless supply of quick-fixes like diets, fitness plans, and workout DVDs. In the craziness of our lives, we don’t think we have the time for much else, so we find a diet or cleanse that makes the most attractive promises (e.g. weight loss) and we do the workout plans that are short, quick, intense, and — big surprise — make the most attractive promises (e.g. weight loss, ripped abs).
If we don’t see remarkable results quickly — if we don’t sweat our butts off during a workout, or “sweat” through a 10-day lemon-cayenne cleanse — it doesn’t seem worth it, so we don’t bother. No pain, no gain, right? We are sold the idea that positive life changes can come from drastic action in a super short amount of time and it’s exciting to think this because who wouldn’t want it as fast as possible? There’s only one hitch: the “results” from these quick fixes don’t last, and they don’t make us healthier or happier in the long run.
So what can we do to live healthier and happier in today’s world?
We need to move beyond the “no pain, no gain” idea and instead consider this: No pain, all gain. One can achieve true, sustained, health and happiness, by taking small, continuous, and, most importantly, gentle steps forward—the very opposite of any quick-fix paradigm. Small, gentle steps mean incrementally adding things into your life (healthy foods, movement, creativity, healthy relationships) in amounts that don’t add stress to our already stressful lives, and that can be sustained and only increased when we’re ready.
Approaching the quality of our lives in this way begins an actual transition to increased health and happiness (and all the associated benefits — healthy weight, clear skin, increased energy, decreased inflammation, but also increased self-esteem and confidence) and immediately shows us what diets and workout plans cannot: what it feels like to be a person who treats himself or herself well and deserves to be treated well.
This approach reminds us that what we truly want is what we think weight loss (or ripped abs) can deliver for us: to feel good in our bodies, and happier in our lives. By easing our way in with small steps we come to understand that health and happiness is a long-term pursuit and a much bigger picture than anything a quick-fix can deliver. The fact is that yo-yo dieting and unsustainable workout plans add stress to our bodies and minds, while small, gentle steps change our lives over time with minimal or no added stress.
We are a natural species living in an unnatural world. The concept of quick-fixes is as foreign to our natural design (there are no diets, workout schedules or calorie counting in nature) as the idea of “no pain, no gain.” Our bodies are designed to do the very best they can every minute of every day to stay alive and be alive. When we minimize self-inflicted pain, only then do we see what real gain looks like.
Here are 4 actionable steps for long-term change without the stress of turning your life upside down:
1. Instead of following a “diet” that you won’t stick with for the rest of your life, add healthy foods little by little over time.
Even having a stalk of celery or a few slices of cucumber with whatever you’re used to having for dinner is a great place to start. Once you’re used to that, you can add even more, or add some to lunch as well.
2. Take baby steps to exercise.
If going to a gym or a thirty minute jog seems like a grind, it’s OK to start with a five minute walk outside, or even in your house. Again, it’s a place to start.
3. Keep in touch with loved ones in a way that works for you.
In the craziness of our lives, we often don’t get a substantial amount of time to spend with friends and family. Try short video chatting, or call a friend to join up for the grocery shopping you’re already going to do. It may not be as “quality” as going out for coffee, but it’s something and it’ll enhance your life.
4. Leave yourself a phone alarm to take a deep breath.
Even listening to one breath per day is, in fact, meditation, and everyone has the time for this step. Like anything else, once you build this behavior into your “everyday,” you can build from there!