Our Habits=Our Lives

January is a great time to reflect on the direction we choose for our lives in the coming year and beyond. My process for doing that begins with a deep look at how my daily actions are serving my values, purpose, personal and business missions and vision for my life.

While each of those facets could be the subject of at least one blog post, my goal here is to explore the ways that our habits shape, direct and even create our lives.

“If I consider my life honestly, I see that it is governed by a certain very small number of patterns of events which I take part in over and over again . . . When I see how very few of them there are, I begin to understand what huge effect these few patterns have on my life and my capacity to live. If these patterns are good for me, I can live well. If they are bad for me, I can’t.” —Christopher Alexander

Dictionary.com defines “habit” as:

“an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.”

Thoughtful consideration of that definition illuminates the importance of habits in our lives. When our patterns of behavior, of nourishing and moving our bodies, of speaking, of consuming information, of treating humans and nonhumans in the world and of an almost limitless assortment of other possible actions are leading us in the direction we want to go in our lives, the path ahead of us becomes easy to follow. It no longer requires effortful resolve. It is just what we do.

Conversely, it is easy to be led mindlessly away, little by little, from our desired destination, if our habits do not serve what we truly want to create in our lives.

As we begin to move through this new year, Chris Brogan provides us with a winning strategy:

“My great years are built on keeping a bigger mission in front of me, but looking at my daily actions as the molecules of that mission.”

He clearly recognizes the necessity of attending to the small daily habits to achieve the bigger goal.

I make more effective choices when I approach my daily routine mindfully and stop to consider whether a choice of action or an ingrained habit advances either my personal or business mission.

As a journalist for National Geographic, Dan Buettner set out to learn the secrets of the communities in which the world’s longest-lived people thrive. His journey led him to write The Blue Zones, so that he could share the longevity practices he had uncovered.

The book made an impression on me when I read it several years ago, and I was reminded of it late last year when I came across The True Vitality Test, which offered a snapshot of my likely life expectancy, contrasted with my healthy life expectancy and my possible life expectancy.

Although I consider myself very healthy, and I have recently earned my certification as a health coach, I was startled by the 10-year gap between my life expectancy and my healthy life expectancy.

I recognized that, to serve my purpose and values, I needed to adjust my personal mission. It quickly became:  To close the gap between my life expectancy and my healthy life expectancy. (My next blog post will elaborate on this concept, as well as on related programs that I will offer through my coaching practice.)

My personal mission to close the gap between my life expectancy and my healthy life expectancy serves as a gauge to assess the foods I eat daily, the way I eat those foods, my stress level, the amount and quality of my sleep and other habits that govern my life.

If I determine that my habits are not carrying me closer to my mission, I am in a powerful position to choose actions that will and practice them regularly so that they become habits.

My mission as a health and habit change coach is to teach the lifestyle practices (habits) that help people live and age with power and purpose, while contributing to the creation of a healthier, more compassionate world.

The small actions, or “molecules,” as Chris Brogan calls them, that shape our days ultimately shape our lives.

Keeping our mission in the front of our minds enhances our ability to make positive daily choices.

One way I do this is by meditating on my missions in my mindfulness practice every day. For me, this is just a matter of reciting my missions in my head (along with other important guiding recitations) while I am in a state of focused calm.

Empowered movement is an important component of both my self-care and my coaching practice. Empowered movement means exercising from a place of clear intention and using the time and space that movement can create to speak to myself in an empowering way. Along with a quote or mantra that I choose for a bike ride, walk, yoga practice, or other form of exercise, I also remind myself of my missions and the other guides that help me stay focused.

I anchor my missions for myself by posting them near my computer at work and in my “organization station” (a closet I have claimed as my own) at home. I see these and other reminders frequently, and, in the case of my computer at work, somewhere that I may encounter stressors that threaten to steer me off course. These anchors help me persevere on the path that I have chosen.

My daily choices are not perfect, but I am much more likely to choose actions and cultivate habits that serve my missions when I remind myself of them frequently. Essentially, these practices that I have in place are, themselves, molecules of my mission, just as they guide the other habits that stack up to create the big picture of my life.

Will Durant summarized some of Aristotle’s teachings by explaining that the philosopher believed,

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

It is rare that a single act defines our lives or determines whether we live the missions we have discerned for ourselves. However, what we do repeatedly certainly does have a significant effect on the masterpiece we are creating through our lives.

When we hold our mission in mind and choose our actions based on a commitment to serving that mission, those actions will become habits, and those habits will add up to excellence.

See future posts for my practices around clarifying and honoring my values, purpose, mission, motivations and vision. In the meantime, pay close attention to your habits because they determine your life.

Success, Redefined

“The secret of success is constancy to purpose.” Benjamin Disraeli

I have decided that constancy to purpose is also the secret to happiness and inner peace. After my wake-up call from stress-induced B6 toxicity and small fiber neuropathy, I realized that I needed to focus on the things that really matter to me and let go of other expectations whenever possible. There are so many obligations, options, opportunities, causes, people and ideas competing for our time and attention. Trying to keep up with all of them and stay healthy is just not feasible.

We each have to find our own best way to make a difference—to make the contributions we want to make to the world, while remaining as healthy and centered as possible. This requires focusing on our unique opportunities to be a positive force in the universe and spending our time and energy doing those activities that feel most right. These are some touchstones that I find helpful in striving for this focus:

Clear values. Compassion. Excellence. Integrity. Fitness. These are the ethical aims that drive me and the most basic characteristics for which I want to be known. When I am clear about what ideals are most important to me, they guide my decisions in the directions that reinforce and enhance those principles in my life.

A philosophy for living. It is my responsibility to use my strengths and maximize my gifts to ensure that my net contribution to the world is positive. I express my gratitude for the strengths and gifts I have been given by putting them to effective, positive use.

Awareness of my strengths.  Honesty. Love of Learning. Perseverance. Gratitude. Judgment. According to the VIA Survey, these are my top five strengths. I frequently check in with myself to determine how well I am utilizing these strengths. Focusing my energy, whenever possible, on activities that allow me to employ these strengths optimizes both my effectiveness and my ability to find personal fulfillment in what I do.

Acknowledgement of my gifts. This list could go on and on. I am aware that I have been given so many resources and gifts, ranging from a loving upbringing to robust health to a quality education to a love of cycling and a drive to be fit. As an undergraduate student doing both paid and volunteer work in the nonprofit sector, I felt guilty for having been given so much, when I regularly witnessed so much suffering around me. In the years since, I have transformed the guilt into a healthier ownership of responsibility. I strive to maximize, not squander, my gifts. To provide just one example, I celebrate and express gratitude for my good health by nurturing it through cycling; eating a whole-food, plant-based diet; parking at the far reaches of parking lots; taking the stairs—even to the tenth floor when visiting people in the hospital—and making responsible decisions to take care of myself. To do otherwise, in my opinion, would be to scoff at the universe that has given me so many wonderful resources and to neglect my responsibility to give back.

A mission. To contribute to the advancement of human evolution in the direction of compassion. Compassion is my cornerstone value. I strive to live a life of compassion and to structure my decisions and actions around this value.  I can’t magically change the world into the one I wish it were, but I can keep pushing the needle in the direction of compassion. I am encouraged by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” By living and modeling compassion, I hope that I am planting seeds that will grow and flourish in this and future generations, gradually improving the conditions of both humans and nonhumans.

Recognition of the intersection of my passions, my strengths and the needs in the world. Aristotle said, “Where your talents and the needs of the world cross; there lies your vocation,” and theologian Frederick Buechner wrote, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” I picture these ideas together as a Venn diagram that guides me to my own best way to make a difference in the world. (I created a cool Venn diagram in a Word document, but I absolutely cannot get it to paste here, so I am presenting it as an equation below.)

Passions/Gladness+Talents/Strengths/Gifts+Need=Vocation


And that leads me to where it all comes together . . .

A motto. Fitness is advocacy. This is where all of the above ideas come together in a concise, encapsulated statement that directs my actions and focuses my efforts. There are so many needs in the world, and there are so many ways to address them. We each have to find our own best ways to serve the needs that speak to us most urgently. Represented in the above Venn diagram/equation and summed up in the motto, “Fitness is advocacy,” my unique way of adding compassion to the world becomes clear. When I am fit and healthy and ride hard, while fueling my body with plants, I demonstrate that no one has to suffer or die for us to be well nourished. Being a vegan cyclist has allowed me to educate people in small towns across Kansas about eating well on plants, and it has allowed me to inspire others to try plant-based eating. I give my mind, body and spirit the freedom and movement of the open road while advocating in an upbeat, positive way for compassionate living. There are many other important ways to make a difference. I sometimes participate in other strategies, but I have become clearer and clearer that my signature style of advocacy is through the example I set in my own life. In this way, I feel balanced and at peace.

I started this post with a quote about success, and I will finish it with one of my favorite definitions of success. Mike Ditka said, “Success is measured by your discipline and inner peace.” I have come to a point where I really believe that. I am successful when I adhere to the habits, routines and strategies—the disciplines—that help me to remain consistently focused on my purpose. Deviating from that self-discipline for very long throws me off balance and disturbs my inner peace. When I keep my purpose in focus, I feel peaceful. That is my bottom-line determinant of success: Does this (way of life, relationship, job, commitment, activity, food, etc.) bring me more stress or more peace? Choosing the direction that is consistent with my purpose and nurtures inner peace is success.