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Today we ask you to cultivate healthy practices in your life.

Cultivate healthy practices.

What does this mean?

It just means creating space in your life to do healthy things as a regular practice, rather than a once-in-a-while, temporary, or “special” thing.

This means moving away from the need to pursue short term goals.  It is not about losing ten pounds; it is about eating well for the rest of your life.

That is what a practice is.  It is about creating rhythms in your life that continue indefinitely, as predictable as the seasons.  You just do it.  Sometimes a practice may be interrupted for a time.  But there is always a movement to return to the practice.  The rhythm is integrated into your system, and given enough space it will reassert itself.

Healthy practices usually require some conscious effort, especially at the outset.  This is what differentiates a healthy practice from an unhealthy habit.  Unhealthy habits are also repetitive, but they tend to be unconscious and compulsive.

So eating well requires some conscious effort, especially when it is a new practice.  Snacking on sugary processed food happens as an unconscious compulsion.

The good news about healthy practices is that they are not all that difficult to maintain, once you gain some momentum.  The more you do it, the easier it is to do.  It is like having a house plant.  When you first get a house plant, you have to make a conscious effort to remember to water it.  After a while, it becomes a habit.  That is, if you wish the plant to live.

The problem arises when people have short term goals.  That is not about creating a practice.  That is about upending your life: you are going to lose ten pounds in a month, and will make a big push to do so.  You are going to finish a novel by the end of the year, and will make a big push to do so.

When most people set goals or make resolutions, it is generally counterproductive.  It is like, someone decides that their home would be improved by a house plant.  They are so enthused about the idea that they go out and buy ten house plants.  For a little while they are very gung ho about all these new plants.  But it is not sustainable.  It is too much of a commitment, they lose interest, the plants die.

Someone would be much better off starting out with one plant.  That way, you can see what works for you, and it is not so overwhelming.  If the first plant dies, you can try again with another.  That is how you create a long term practice.

When you make a big push to do something, it can feel very exciting — especially if you meet the goal.  You did it!  You lost twenty pounds!  You ran a marathon!  You feel very special.

Practices are not about feeling special.  When you do something as part of a routine, it is, by definition, nothing special.  You eat well, you get some exercise, you go to bed early.  You meditate for twenty minutes three times a week.  You water the plant.  Nothing special going on here.

That is what makes practices sustainable over time.  The person who makes a big push to lose weight usually gains it back after the push is over.  The person who eats well as a habitual practice may experience gradual weight loss, but also may never appear “thin” — that may not be his particular body type.  However, he feels better overall.

Practices are all about moderation.  They are not about extremes, they are not about pushes, they are not about ego gratification.  They are about setting up habits that you can sustain for the rest of your life.

So today look at the things you do in your life that are practices.  

Also look at the ways you have made big pushes in the past, perhaps with mixed results in the long term.

If there are positive changes you would like to create in your life, how can you make them a practice?  How can you make these changes nothing special — as ordinary and routine as brushing your teeth, or walking the dog?

How can you move away from the “big push” model?  There are times and places in life when a “big push” is required — babies are, of course, born with a “big push.”  But big pushes should be rare, the exception rather than the rule.  If you are always making big pushes, you will exhaust yourself — and in the long term, accomplish far less than you think.

In nature, things unfold gradually, over time.  Watching a tree grow is not exciting, day to day.  Watching a baby learn to walk and talk is not exciting, day to day.  It is all very gradual.  Some days there are big breakthroughs, but they do not come from a “big push.” The changes come from the gradual accumulation of a steady practice.  Baby steps.  On one hand, these processes are nothing special.  On the other hand, they are miraculous.

One reason people prefer goal-oriented pushes over steady practices is because, when a goal is achieved, people feel like they “deserve” a reward.  There is a celebration when you meet a goal, especially if there was a lot of struggle involved.

On the other hand, since there is nothing special about a steady practice, why reward yourself for it?  You don’t pat yourself on the back for brushing your teeth and walking the dog.

But really, if you think about it, brushing your teeth and walking the dog — these things are important, and worthy of celebration.

So it is good to appreciate yourself for your steady practices.  Just as you cheer a toddler’s baby steps, even if he falls, even if walking is still months away — you must appreciate and cheer on your own baby steps.

It is as important to appreciate yourself for choosing the healthy meal over the sugar snack, as it is to applaud yourself for meeting the big deadline.  It is as important to cheer yourself on for taking a walk as it is to congratulate yourself for finishing a marathon.

If you do not applaud yourself for the little good things you do on a regular basis, you will be less motivated to do them.

Your culture is oriented toward celebrating big things.  You applaud the person who loses 100 pounds on a radical starvation diet.  You applaud your champion athletes and your billionaires.  But you do not know how to applaud the small good things people do.  You do not know how to create steady practices, only the roller coaster ride of big wins and inevitable failures.

That is why your culture is unbalanced, your lifestyles unsustainable.

Build stable, healthy practices into your daily lives.  They are nothing special and not exciting, and yet they are worthy of appreciation.  It is important to go for a walk, it is important to eat your vegetables.  It is nothing special — and yet the whole world benefits when ordinary people make healthy habits a part of their daily lives.

 

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