Personal Reflection and Building Sustainable Habits

Do You Reflect?

Well-being, wellness, health. What do those all mean?

It’s an interesting debacle that we find ourselves in, always striving for more, looking forward to tomorrow yet ignoring both the past, and even more commonly, the present. 

I was recently told that I was impatient; not in my personal relationships, but with my professional and recreational life. I wanted my business to grow faster, so I was trying to cram in 10 things a day. I wanted my knowledge to increase exponentially, so I was continuously listening to audiobooks (not a bad thing but wasn’t taking the time to reflect) I wanted to squat 100 more pounds in one month. The funny thing is, this “not being satisfied,” and trying to “grind,” and work as long and as hard as possible was causing me undue stress which was leading to poor sleep, eating, and lifting habits. This lack of patience was literally doing the opposite of what I wanted. I was trying to push a string. 

Upon hearing and reflecting on this comment from someone near and dear to me, I also thought of a recent book I read, Atomic Habits. The author, James Clear, talks about how we “fall to the level of our systems,” and that to truly improve over time, focus on getting “1% better everyday,” versus trying to cram everything into one day, or one week, or one month. By improving just a little bit each day, the amount that you will have improved over the course of a year will be monumental. 

My experience is also a parallel experience of many of my clients. After working with clients, hearing their stories, getting to know and understand how they think, and then reflecting on my own thoughts, i’ve found that many people never, ever take the time to sit still for 10, 15, or even 30 minutes and just reflect about past experiences, how they feel about their life, if they’re satisfied with relationships they have, why they behaved a certain way when certain words were said to them. The TV is always on, music is always on, they are always rushing to the next thing, and this goes on and on and on, for years, until a situation comes up and they’re forced to reflect. 

Why do we wait? Is this because we are afraid to delve into our own mind, fearful of what we might find, or is it because we have a lack of awareness, a lack of time? I suppose it’s likely a combination of all of these factors. 

I have an absolute fascination with reflection, human resilience (both body and mind), our ability to cope with challenging situations, how our experiences often create a reality we are unaware of, and how all of this plays into our overall relationship with pain, and well-being. 

Well-being is a combination of several key factors…

  • Relationships and Social Networks
  • Sleep
  • Exercise
  • Nutrition
  • Spirituality
  • Mental Health

Each of these plays a part in how we see ourselves and ultimately how “well” we feel. 

I’ve put sleep and relationships up at the top of the list as I think everything else stems from these two things. If we aren’t sleeping and are constantly in a brain fog, it’s hard to “be ourselves.” It’s also challenging to muster up the energy to maintain and build healthy relationships when we’re chronically sleep deprived. There are not many things in life that feel as refreshing as a good night’s sleep. Don’t you agree?

As Matthew Walker, PhD said in a recent podcast and in his best-selling book Why We Sleep  and i’m paraphrasing here… 

“…if sleep were not biologically essential to our existence, it would have been selected out of our genetics as it puts us at a GREAT disadvantage when having to fend off predators who would want to eat us. It must be there for a good reason.”

Similarly there have been several studies that have came out in recent years, looking into what the most important factors in well-being are that make people feel as though they lived a life that was meaningful and purposeful. Turns out a huge part of that is feeling like you have support from loved ones, and not feeling isolated. Isolation and exclusion is one of the worst things that can befall us as we are social creatures. It doesn’t matter if you are an extrovert or introvert, you need that social connection, it’s essential to our well-being. It makes us feel like we matter, like we have connected with another human on a profoundly deep level. For a look at a brief breakdown of the 70 year study from Harvard, check out this link.

Building Habits

Everyone knows they need to exercise more, eat better, practice healthy spiritual and mental health routines, but it seems as though people just don’t care, aren’t aware of what that looks like, or struggle to create the time and space for these various habits to be formed. 

In the past, I would just assume people didn’t care. I would say things like “how could they NOT take care of themselves, it’s so irresponsible for them and everyone they love.” Then I came to realize it’s much more complicated than that. 

Behavior change is hard. Forming habits is hard. Which is why I love the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. As a rehab professional, I don’t view my job as only helping people learn to exercise more, choose better foods, improve their sleep, focus on their relationships, and prioritize mental health; I view my job and mission as helping people learn to develop and maintain habits that will long outlive the time they are spending with me. 

Atomic Habits provides numerous strategies that one can implement today, that will make a huge impact over time. For example, one strategy or system that you can implement is instead of just trying to use your will power to accomplish to go to the gym more or wake up earlier, why not instead change your environment? 

What does changing your environment mean? Put your alarm clock across the room, forcing you to get up in the morning so you can’t hit snooze. Pack your gym bag the night before and place it at the front door. Put your exercise time on the calendar with exactly what you are going to do. This will not ALWAYS be successful, but i’m all about odds. What are the odds you will hit snooze if you’re tired and the alarm is right next to you? Probably almost 100%. What are the odds you will crawl back into bed if the alarm is across the room and you turn your light on? Probably much much lower. 

Being successful 50% of the time is much better than being successful 0% of the time. I work with many people who experience a “failure,” and immediately lose the motivation and drive to continue. The loss or lack of self confidence, self efficacy, and self determination, seem to often be driving factors of this all or nothing mindset.

For good habits, there is short term immediate discomfort and long term pleasure. For bad habits, there is short term pleasure and long term discomfort. Humans tend to not think of their future selves when making decisions. We have a disease called “it-won’t-happen-to-me-itis.” It’s probably the most prevalent disease in the world and is likely a cause of much of our pain that comes on later in life. 

The Take Away?

Well-being and wellness are a combination of the below items:

  • Relationships and Social Networks
  • Sleep
  • Exercise
  • Nutrition
  • Spirituality
  • Mental Health

I rank relationships and sleep highest as everything else will fall into place if you get those right.

Habits are less about willpower and more about controlling and optimizing your environment. Make your environment work for you, not against you.

Do you have strategies that have worked for you in building good habits and breaking bad ones? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!

Dr. Nathan Kadlecek, PT

Is a physical therapist committed to providing high quality health information, largely focused on lower back pain and the gross overuse of diagnostic imaging, medication, surgery, low quality treatment methods, and the over-diagnosis of pain conditions. He’s also a powerlifter, pain nerd, macro-scale thinker, and wants to help you think differently about pain, healthcare, and life. ​Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.