5 Health-Destroying Behaviors to Stop Right Now
- When it comes to health, we’re our own worst enemies, but these 5 tips can help you become your health’s best friend.
- Negative thoughts are goal killers. If you want to behave differently, you have to think differently.
- Procrastination steals your future. And if you let that happen, the only person to blame is staring back at you in the mirror.
- Do you feel sucked dry by all your commitments? Then you’re suffering from Yes Syndrome and it’s time to make some changes.
by Dr. John Neustadt
Let’s face it, when it comes to health, we’re our own worst enemies. Whether is regularly exercising, eating healthy, making that doctor’s appointment you’ve been putting off, creating the changes necessary to reduce your stress and make you happier we all know how life can get in the way.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed and overscheduled so that suddenly you look up and three months have gone by and you’re nowhere where you’d hope to be with your goals. All your best intentions flew out the window.
What I’ve found is that there are five health-sabotaging behaviors that most commonly trip people up. If you merely focus on changing one of these, you’ll be more likely to start creating the live you really want and becoming a better version of yourself.
But if you feel like you can tackle more, then do it. The more of these health saboteurs you kick to the curb and get out of your life, the better off you’ll be.
1. Having an Inconsistent Bedtime
Fitbit sells one of the most popular wearable sleep tracking devices and the company made a discovery that could help you fix your sleep. People use Fitbit technology to record and track their sleep and how they’re doing from night tonight. And that means Fitbit has access to billions of data points. Six billion to be exact.
Fitbit tracked over 6 billion nights’ sleep of Americans. What they found out about our sleep habits is shocking, and how most people are ruining their health one sleep-deprived night at a time.
What’s not surprising is how important sleep is. We need restorative sleep to enhance our immune system, to give ourselves energy and vitality, to feel our best, to be able to interact during our day, and accomplish what we want. Sleep deprivation is a risk factor for depression, heart disease, diabetes, dying early and Alzheimer’s disease. Chronically being sleep-deprived, in a word, is bad.
What Fitbit found out, first and foremost, that’s not a surprise, is that the average night’s sleep for men and women is about six and a half hours. That’s not enough. We know that we all need at least seven and a half to eight hours of consistent sleep a night to be our best.
What Fitbit found out that is so surprising, however, is that most people are inducing their own sleep deprivation and health problems by a phenomenon they call, “Social Jet Lag.” They discovered that on average, people are going to bed at about 11:20 pm during the week, and on weekends they’re staying up later.
This inconsistency in sleep—not going to bed at the same time every night—really messes up our circadian rhythms. It makes it hard to fall asleep. And once you get to sleep, it makes it hard to have good, restorative, deep sleep. What they found out is the simple solution is consistency.
Now that shouldn’t be a shock to anybody out there, because consistency is key for almost everything we do in life. You want to build a business or really blow your career out of the water? Consistently doing the work and showing up every day is the only way to do it. You want to have good human interactions and intimate relationships with your partner, or have great friendships? Consistency is the key for that as well. Want to have phenomenal health? You have to consistently eat well. You have to exercise regularly.
Now, thanks to Fitbit, we know that it’s important to consistently go to bed at about the same time every night. You have to train your body that’s it’s time for sleep. And if you need a little extra help, as many people do, take NBI’s Sleep Relief.
2. Negative Thinking
Negative thoughts are goal killers. They’ll stop your progress and make you feel like crap about yourself.
That’s because your thoughts create your actions. If you want to behave differently, you have to think differently.
Researchers have looked at the question of how much of our thoughts are negative. It’s an astounding amount. While different researchers have come to different conclusions, a study summarized in Psychology Today concluded that 60-70% of thoughts are negative. I’ve also seen estimates as high as 80%! Whether it’s 60% or 80%, it’s a lot. Too much.
Imagine if more than half of all your thoughts about your partner were negative. I know if I had negative thoughts about my wife Romi more than half of the time, we’d have real problems. Or if you thought negatively more than half of the time about exercising. I guarantee you’d stop exercising. Or if you had so many negative thoughts about your job or career, you’d be miserable and wouldn’t perform as well.
The great news is that you can break negative thought patterns and create new habits to help you create the life you really want.
While a complete tutorial on how to create positive thought habits is beyond the scope of this blog, the first is to recognize your negative thoughts. Don’t judge them, as so many people do. Because that judgment is just another negative thought. Simply acknowledge the thought and become aware of them.
I was once given the assignment of simply counting the number of negative thoughts I had during the day. I couldn’t judge them. I wasn’t supposed to change them. The exercise was merely to count the number so I could raise my own awareness. It was eye-opening.
Give it a try. I bet you’ll find it as valuable as I did. Do this for an entire day, then email me the number of negative thoughts you had and the insights you gained from this day of self-awareness. If you do, I’ll send you a free bottle of Sleep Relief.
Another crucial mind shift is to view problems as challenges, not threats. When you perceive things as threats, it activates your neurological fight-or-flight response. Your body braces for what you perceive as an impending attack. You secrete more alarm hormones—cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine.
That increases blood flow to parts of your body and brain that respond to threats, such as your muscles to run away or stand your ground and fight. In your brain blood vessels constrict in the prefrontal cortex, decreasing blood flow to that area. The prefrontal cortex is behind your forehead and is crucial for integrating thoughts and stimuli to make rational decisions.
The fight-or-flight response makes you less able to think rationally and put things into a positive, larger context. It makes you more reactive. Anyone who has gotten in a heated argument and then steps back later and thinks, why did I say such a dumb thing. Or realizes that they made a big deal out of something that wasn’t really that big of a deal. Those are your reactive, flight-or-flight moments.
But the goal is to be proactive. When you’re proactive you’re in control. Of yourself. Of your decisions. And of your future.
One way to accomplish this is to think of problems as challenges, not threats. Don’t feel like going to the gym today? Not a problem. It’s not a threat to you failing to reach your goal. It’s a challenge. You could instead ask yourself, “How can I motivate myself to go to the gym?” Or, “If I don’t want to go to the gym, what else can I do to exercise today?”
Have something at work that’s difficult and you feel your blood pressure going up? Tell yourself, “This isn’t a problem, it’s a challenge. How can I overcome this challenge?”
Habits form by repeating behaviors over time. To help you develop the consistency, you need to pursue personal development every day. The goal is to create a virtuous cycle where you develop more helpful thoughts and habits that in turn create more helpful thoughts and habit, which then help you improve all areas of your life. For more information on this, read my article, “Create a Virtuous Cycle with Gratitude.”
There are many excellent sources of inspiration, tools and information to help you. I’m a huge fan of Tony Robbins, who is arguably the most successful personal development guru of our time. His books, workshops and coaching can help you push through any limitation you think you have. There are lots of resources for helping you develop a success mindset and get out of your own damn way.
The point is to pursue personal development every day. Even if it’s just reading a personal development book for 15 minutes a day. Longer if you’re able to. Or if you prefer listening to audiobooks, that works too. Or keeping a gratitude journal. Regardless of where you start, the important thing is to simply start. And to make it a non-negotiable priority, like brushing your teeth. Every minute you spend developing yourself and your mindset takes you one minute closer to reaching your goals.
The easiest thing in the world to do is to do nothing. After all, nothing doesn’t take work. Nothing doesn’t require us to get uncomfortable. And that’s exactly what procrastination is. It’s doing nothing. And it’s sabotaging your future health and happiness.
Working toward your goals is like putting money in the bank. You won’t be wealthy right away, but if you continually make deposits your nest egg grows. Every financial advisor recommends you make regular deposits into your retirement account, no matter how small those deposits are initially. Because even if they’re small, not only are you saving, you’re also developing the habit of saving. You’re developing another healthy habit, and creating the life you want is about creating the habits that will help you reach those goals.
Procrastination steals your future. And if you let that happen, the only person to blame is staring back at you in the mirror.
We’ve all been there. Lord knows there were days I just knew I should exercise but sitting on the couch felt so much better. Or that I should clear the air with someone by having a good heart-to-heart talk. But I knew having the talk would be uncomfortable.
One of the most important things about starting to pursue any goal is action. If you truly want to accomplish something, don’t do anything else until you take a step toward reaching that goal. If you want to learn to play the guitar, and that’s your goal, take 3 minutes to call a local music store and ask if they offer guitar lessons.
If your goal is to go for a walk today to get some fresh air and exercise, take your walking shoes and put them by the front door (or whatever door you walk out of). Doing this will remind you of your goal. It also makes it easier for you to actually get outside and go for a walk.
I’m going to share with you two powerful tools that can help you avoid procrastination in any situation. I use them both nearly every day.
One is Shawn Achor’s “The 20-Second Rule.” Dr. Achor is a Harvard psychologist who was previously in the Harvard Divinity School. He’s made a career out of researching happiness and how people can create happiness in their lives. His book, The Happiness Advantage: How a Positive Brain Fuels Success in Work and Life, is excellent and I highly recommend it.
What he discovered in his research is that happiness doesn’t just happen. Happiness is created. The old saying, “Be happy” always seemed like a bunch of bull to me. But it wasn’t until I started digging into the research into positive psychology that I saw the studies showing exactly that. Happiness doesn’t happen by being. Happiness is created by doing. And, in fact, success doesn’t create happiness. Happiness creates success.
One of his tips for creating happiness is reducing the barriers to accomplishing goals. Sounds straightforward enough. One simple way to do this is “The 20-Second Rule.” What stops people from making change is their “activation energy.” That’s the energy it takes for you to get off your butt and get active. But if you make things 20 seconds easier to accomplish, suddenly they’re easier and you’ll do them.
If your goal is to go for a walk later in the day, put your shoes by the front door. Do it now. Seriously. Stop reading and do it now. Don’t procrastinate. By putting your shoes out, you make it easier for you to get out the door and off on your walk (or to the gym). Try it. It works.
The second tip comes from Mel Robbins. Interestingly, it also makes time work to our advantage. But instead of reducing the time it takes to do something, her “5 Second Rule” gets you off your butt and moving in the first place. She discovered this simple solution when she was in the depths of depression, staring at possible bankruptcy and drinking too much.
Laying in bed, not wanting to get up, the image of a rocket popped into her head. Like a rocket ship getting ready to launch, you simply countdown, 5-4-3-2-1. Then you get into action. The trick to succeeding with this is to have a positive anchor vision in your mind. An anchor vision is a benefit you’ll get when you do whatever it is you want to do. In starting toward your goal you’re working toward something positive, and that will help you feel great.
Want to get out of bed? First picture how great you’ll feel once you’re out of bed. Then count down, 5-4-3-2-1. And stand up. It’s that simple. Want to start a project you’ve been putting off? Picture how great you’ll feel when it’s completed. Or how great you’ll feel that you’ve started it. Then count down, 5-4-3-2-1. And get started. You can use this for anything in your life.
4. Passing the Buck
Not taking responsibility for your own actions, emotions or state of affairs is a sure way to stay stuck in a rut. If you’re sick. Or broke. Or lonely. You have no one to blame but yourself.
Let’s pause for a second here because I’m already imagining emails I’ll get from people telling me that they or someone they love has cancer. And how dare I blame them for their disease.
Let me be perfectly clear. I’m sorry people are struggling with such awful diseases. I don’t wish this on anyone. I fully understand that there’s a certain randomness to disease. You could eat healthy, exercise and do everything right but still get cancer. But too often I hear people complain about how they know someone who lived a clean life and still got sick with cancer. In my experience that refrain is more often than not a way for the person making the observation to justify their own crappy diet or lack of exercise.
Or they simply shrug it off to genetics, as if they have no control over their own health. For information on the topic of genetics and why blaming your genes is like blaming your parents for your adult problems, read my article, “Stop Blaming Your Genes (and Your Parents).”
The fact is that the research tells a different story. And you can control your cancer risk. And heart disease risk. And diabetes risk. And _________ (fill in the blank with whatever chronic, generative disease you want).
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concluded that more than 60% of all chronic diseases are caused by poor diet and lifestyle. Research suggests that lifestyle factors are responsible for 80% of the most common cancers in the US (breast, prostate and colon) as well as 1 in 3 cancer deaths.
And a 2018 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine concluded that those who frequently eat organic foods lowered their overall risk of developing cancer. Those who ate the most organic food were 25% less likely to develop cancer. Specifically, they were 73% less likely to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma and 21% less likely to develop postmenopausal breast cancer. And it’s not just diet, exercise has also been linked to lower cancer, heart disease and diabetes risk too.
So, yes, there is always a bit of chance going on in life. Even though the probability of you getting killed in a car accident is exceedingly small, I bet you’re still going to wear your seatbelt and drive responsibly. Taking responsibility for your own health is living responsibly, can reduce the chances of you getting sick and increase the likelihood of you making a full recovery.
So live responsibly and take responsibility for your all areas of your life.
5. Having Poor Boundaries
Boundaries are important for helping us maintain a sense of self, dignity and pride. It’s also important to help keep us from feeling totally overwhelmed and losing the sense of who we are and what we really want.
But too many people struggle with maintaining healthy boundaries and suffer the consequences. They end up feeling overextended, overwhelmed and resentful. And if you’re not sure whether or not you’ve got healthy boundaries, ask yourself this question. Do you feel sucked dry by all your commitments? Then you’re suffering from what I call “Yes syndrome” and it’s time to make some changes.
Yes Syndrome is the inclination to say yes too often and to too many things. Yes Syndrome is often the result of wanting to be a people pleaser. Of feeling that other’s needs are more important than your own. Yes Syndrome is a sure way to experience burnout.
But don’t fret, because the cure to Yes Syndrome is simple. Say No. Say No to those things that don’t serve you. Say No when you hear your inner voice say, “I should say yes, but I really don’t want to.”
What I’ve found in my work with thousands of people is that too often people are suffering Yes Syndrome because they don’t believe they’re worthy of getting what they want. They’re not worthy of more. That they don’t deserve more. But you do deserve more.
If you have kids and want to be the best possible role model, you have to show them how you create healthy boundaries and that it’s OK for them to do the same. Otherwise, most likely you’re raising kids that will grow up to act and feel exactly like you do.
Feeling like you’re not worthy is essentially a self-esteem issue. So here’s an exercise to help you treat yourself better. Do this every day for at least two weeks. And if takes you longer to do it and to believe what you’re going to start telling yourself, do it longer. Once you do, you’ll realize that you are worthy of setting healthy boundaries.
Ready? Here we go. I want you to look at yourself in the mirror every morning and tell yourself, “I love you.” It’s so easy for most people to tell their or partner they love them. But do you truly love yourself? You’re about to find out.
While facing the mirror, look yourself in the eyes. Not at your forehead. Not at the wall behind you. Look into your own eyes and say, “I love you.” At first, it’s going to feel strange. You may even be thinking, “That Dr. Neustadt. What a crackpot.” But do it anyway. Everyday.
Repeat “I love you” five or ten times. When you do this consistently, day after day, you’ll start to relax into it. And you’ll start to believe it. And when you truly love yourself you’ll be more likely to know you’re worth more and it’s ok for you to set healthy boundaries.
In fact, loving yourself is a prerequisite for accepting your limits, giving yourself permission to create healthy boundaries and knowing that you are enough and don’t need to be all things to all people.
Anxiety is emerging as a significant influence on cardiovascular disease. And that’s important because, in the U.S., one-quarter of all Americans suffer from an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. And in turn, cardiovascular diseases continue to be the leading cause of illness and death in the United States.
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