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Create Healthy Habits by Reducing Friction

5 A DAY for better health
5 a Day for Better Health

How many times have you been told you need to eat more vegetables? That regular exercise is good for you? Or that you should get more sleep?

In 1991, the National Cancer Institute found that only eight percent of Americans knew they should eat five servings of fruit and vegetables a day. They organized a national campaign called “5 A DAY for better health.” It was a simple message meant to teach us how to eat better.

The campaign worked... sort of. In only six short years, 39% of Americans knew that 5 servings a day was the minimum target. But what Americans were actually eating, barely changed at all.

fruits and veggies - more matters

A new campaign was tried in 2007. It was called, “Fruits & Veggies – More Matters.” Millions of Americans saw the message, but over 10 years later, actual eating habits remained poor. Only 12% of Americans ate the minimum two servings of fruit a day and just 9% ate at least three servings of vegetables.

We know quite a bit about what's good for us. We're just not acting on it. The problems seem to be in the habits that control our lives.

From the moment you wake up, a large part of everything you do is determined by ingrained habits. Do you use the bathroom first or pick out your clothes? Will you lay out a breakfast or just grab a cup of coffee? Even the route you drive to work or the grocery store is part of a deeply ingrained set of reflex habits.

Make Healthy Actions EASIER (Frictionless)

The key to overcoming those habits, is by changing our environment. You've got to introduce friction into the old way of doing things and reduce friction for healthier alternatives. For example, I had a client that avoided breakfast, because he said it took too long to prepare. He grabbed coffee and headed out the door.

I had him replace his ground coffee with whole beans. Then walked him through every step of the coffee preparation. Grind the beans, fill up the coffee pitcher, measure it out and start brewing. The entire time from beginning to the final cup of coffee was five minutes and 20 seconds.

Then I had him prepare a bowl of oatmeal with fresh berries and orange zest. It took him only four minutes to make, including the time to heat everything up. I made it easier to do the healthier thing (eat breakfast) than his habit of just grabbing coffee.

At the end of the day, my client said he felt more alert at work, was less tempted to binge eat during lunch and he had more energy to hit the gym at night. Instead of relying on will power, I helped him remove friction from the healthier choice.

Knowing how to make meaningful changes in our lives isn't enough. For some people, just the act of confronting poor habits can seem insurmountable. Procrastinators often don't put off doing things because they're lazy. Dealing with a problem often involves some suffering. Procrastinators avoid suffering by putting off things that appear difficult. To break thru that fear, try these three simple steps.

Beat Procrastination

Don't approach changes to your health as an all-or-nothing deal. Changing everything in your life is neither realistic or advisable. Instead, choose one healthy action to concentrate on. Then find a way to reduce friction around the better behavior.

Do the easier stuff first. Jumping into a six-day intensive training program can be daunting. Instead, look up some healthy recipes and try making a couple of healthy meals a week. Hire a trainer to build a workout program for you. Replace cans of soda with a pitcher of water in your fridge. Those little things will add up quickly.

Quit striving for perfection. Some people get so wrapped up in the tiny little details, they forget the big picture. Set time limits when you work on changes. That may mean limiting yourself to only 30 minutes of searching for healthy recipes, then go with the top two that interest you. Once that 30-minute alarm sounds, quit looking. Good enough, when acted upon, is better than being perfect but never starting.

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CAUTION: Check with your doctor before
beginning any diet or exercise program.