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Work Smart, Not Hard, To Achieve A Healthier Lifestyle

If you feel like you are constantly worrying about your health, yet never achieving your goals, analyze if you're using 'right effort' or 'busy effort.'

Adopting a healthier lifestyle often feels like an interminable uphill battle. I get that. "Adulting" is hard, and "healthfully adulting" is even harder.

The thing is, there are two types of "hard:" unproductive busy work, often fanned by damaging, shame-filled self-talk; productive, forward-moving, growth-oriented "effort." This second type gets you closer to a goal; it is a "full hard" — full of joy, self-awareness, and right effort/right action.

When it comes to health, too many of us fall into the self-perpetuating trap of the first type of "hard;" we spin our wheels, yet go nowhere (except up frustration creek) fast. We feel like we are constantly working — because we're constantly engaging in damaging self-talk and unproductive non-actions — yet we stay fairly "stuck."

Photo of the author.

Cheesy metaphors aside, if you feel like you are constantly worrying about your health, yet never achieving your goals, analyze if you're using "right effort" or "busy effort."

Right effort/action is effort that is purposeful and productive.Right action is not romanticizing your discomforts and unhappy thoughts. It is not giving into, or worse, feeding, anxious ever-turning thoughts, that I call brain propaganda.

I think of "right action" versus "busy action" as analogous to treading water versus swimming: I can work furiously to tread water or I can glide powerfully forward. Furiously treading water may feel productive — and, yes, the positive is it keeps you from dying — but if your goal is to swim, it doesn't get you there. You survive; you don't thrive.

To paraphrase Stephen R. Covey from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, "being busy is different than being productive." Set realistic goals, outline an individualized action plan and work on positive, productive self-talk.

Every moment and every day is a lesson and a journey.

Living even in a "stuck" state takes effort; spinning your wheels in anxiety and useless thought is often more exhausting than doing something. When I started my health journey almost 20 years ago, I held a false illusion that someday it would no longer take work. I was both wrong and right.

There are different types of work. Being an unhealthy, unhappy teenager was excruciatingly hard, but I was almost too unaware to own my deep sorrow and the inherent "hardness" of every day. I ate my sorrow away — or probably more aptly, ate my sorrow down into myself. Now, in some ways, every moment is "harder" because I have embraced that every moment is the only moment I have direct control over. Every moment and every day is a lesson and a journey. I am acutely aware of the privilege of learning that life offers, which in some ways is "hard," but it is "happy" hard, it is productive hard, it is conscious and it is fruitful.

Basically, you can't skip the "hard" piece of life — the question is simply which type of hard do you want to live? There is no quick health fix. Anyone who says they have found one is either trying to sell you a product or fooling themselves. The journey is not linear. It ebbs and flows. You will fall. Make your goal to trend positive and to learn.

I fall daily, but my falls this month are smaller in scale than 10 years ago, or even two years ago. I course correct faster. Plus, I aim to learn from every deviation. In many ways I wish a few medium, non-destructive slips on you, because when you slip or fall in the muck, you have the opportunity to get up and learn from that fall.

More from Kathleen Trotter:

  • Here's How To Re-think 'Resolutions' For A Better 2018
  • Tight For Time? Make Your Minutes Count With These Anytime Workouts
  • 8 Ways To Survive The Health Minefield That Is Winter

Think of life as a giant feedback loop. Try something. If it works, great — do it again. If it doesn't work, possibly even better; what a great opportunity to learn why. If you historically resorted to "busy action," great — learn from that. Work to understand your particular self-sabotaging narratives. Note what health strategies worked in the past. Do those. Note what didn't. Figure out why. Make continually more informed decisions each day. When possible, make mistakes of ambition and curiosity rather than fear or inaction.

Main take-away: keep going. Don't give-up. No matter what, you can't jump over all effort, but you can jump over the useless effort. Why spin your wheels to get nowhere? Exert effort — right effort!

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