By Soji James, CPT, CSCS
If you are waiting for all of the stars to align between your health and the rest of your existence, you might be waiting around forever if you don’t change your mindset. The truth is, no two days are the same. Life is constantly evolving. It is a complex screenplay packed with many moving pieces—most of which you don’t have control over.
Do any of the following scenarios sound familiar? You finish a work project and unexpectedly get blindsided with two more. A child or family member gets sick and you need to step in to provide care. You get burned out from work, decide to take a leave of absence to South Beach, and have to adjust to the challenges of this new environment. Maybe travel isn’t just a luxury, and you have to catch multiple flights a month for your job. Maybe something even worse happens: the world experiences a global pandemic and everything is forced to shut down.
During all of this constant shuffling that you will experience, expecting to maintain healthy habits 100% of the time is not only stressful, but it’s nearly impossible. Changing your mindset on balance is important. The key to long-term success is understanding that perfect balance will be unachievable at times. Preparing for these periods and navigating these as efficiently as you can is what will allow you to continue to progress toward your health goals in the long run.
Just like change, stress is a constant of life that you can always expect to be present to some degree. Not all stress is bad, either. Take training, for example. If you don’t stress your body to a point slightly beyond its current capabilities, it won’t be forced to adapt, and you won’t grow in strength and skill. What you need to understand is that your body doesn’t distinguish between the types of stress. And some periods of time will undoubtedly be more stressful than others. While reducing cortisol levels and managing your stress is important, there will be moments where you are forced to perform at levels that may normally be deemed unhealthy.
Maybe one of those scenarios above is in play, and you are forced to take on longer “work” hours or sleepless. It’s important to change your mindset about the ideal situation and instead focus on doing the best you can under the circumstances. That may involve temporarily accepting this reality and pushing through despite it. The real key is to focus on adapting habits that allow you to build a solid foundation to withstand heightened periods of stress.
Marathon runners train to run a highly impressive 26.2 miles, but the truth is that this athletic event probably isn’t the best for you when it comes to your health. Luckily, this isn’t something that a person does every day; it’s a one-time high-stress event that they hopefully have adequately prepared their bodies for. This same view should be implemented into your life. Maintaining a healthy baseline allows you to perform when your “marathon” arrives. When these high-stress periods come knocking, one thing you have to do is to quiet your inner perfectionist.
An “all or nothing” mindset is the fastest way to fall off track when it comes to your wellness. Life has no pause button. Unexpected situations will continue to arise, whether you are ready for them or not. Sometimes these “marathons” will come at you so hard that it may be difficult to catch your breath, let alone get to your weekly workouts. Trying to stay balanced and maintain your healthy habits at 100% while juggling life during these rough patches can be extremely taxing.
When you take on a perfectionist mindset, you are setting yourself up for feelings of shame, guilt, and overwhelm. A lot of people throw in the towel at this point and decide to pick things back up when life settles down. But stopping every time a roadblock appears only makes you better at ducking out when things get tough. Instead, the key is to adopt an “always something” mindset so that you remain in motion.
If you’re an individual who is used to getting to the gym five times per week and working out for an hour, you may have to accept that your priorities may shift for certain periods. Getting to the gym three times that week for 30 minutes may be all that you can muster. And that’s okay. Maybe you are a student cramming for midterms, or you are closing in on a deadline at work and you can’t manage to get a full eight hours of rest. If you can’t get one long monophasic sleep block, maybe you can sneak in naps throughout the day or experiment with multiple sleep blocks to accommodate a hectic period of life. Being able to change your mindset is a stress reducer in itself. When you quiet your inner perfectionist, you can make the best of any situation.
When you try to have everything, you may end up with nothing. It’s important to realize that, with so many things grasping at your energy and attention, you may have to be flexible when it comes to your health habits. This may not even involve a “marathon” period of high stress—it may simply be a time when being less routine is just better for your sanity.
Fortunately, you don’t need to hit every single healthy habit at 100% to reach your wellness goals. It’s time to change your mindset to prioritize balance in your pursuit of health. If you are enjoying your journey, you are much more likely to stay the course until you reach your end goal. That may involve snacking on our favorite flavor of Ben and Jerry’s or ordering pizza while spending a weekend with friends. Sometimes giving back to yourself with these moments is exactly what you need to keep going for the long haul. The funny part about occasionally being “out of whack” is that it brings a sense of balance to your wellness journey. The people who are successful long term are ones who look at balance a little differently.