Self-discipline does not come naturally for me.
I’m a spontaneous, in-the-moment kind of girl. I’m also a busy single mom. Staying focused on my goals, and seeing them through to fruition can be challenging—especially in times of stress when my autopilot takes over. It’s taken some work, but I think I’ve finally figured out to keep my autopilot on course, so I don’t crash and burn when things get crazy.
This year, I’ve decided to participate in NaNoWriMo.
It’s a global event, in which you write an entire novel in the month of November. November, of course, is also the beginning of the holiday season and all its extra busyness, and I still have my corporate job and parental duties to maintain, along with my longstanding health and fitness goals.
In times of stress, I get hyper focused on the most pressing issue—whatever it is. Everything else goes on autopilot. This can be disastrous if my autopilot takes me in the opposite direction of my goals. In the past, my autopilot has taken me back to some old habits with disappointing results.
Just the thought of writing a whole novel in 30 days stresses me out a bit. I’ve been prepping for writing the actual book—thinking about the outline, the timeline, how to develop the characters, and so on. I’ve been connecting with other writers to learn from their strategies. I’ve been working to get ahead of things at my job as much as possible so I can take some time off to focus. And, maybe most importantly, I’ve been thinking about my routine and habits, and how I can make sure they support me through to the end of this challenge.
I have a long history with binge eating disorder. Most of my triggers are emotional—stress being the biggest one. Knowing this about myself gives me the opportunity to train my autopilot to be prepared when stress is on my horizon. With a little planning and some mindfulness, I can manage my triggers successfully and avoid falling into my old habits.
One important step for me is having a plan. If I wait until I’m stressed out and starving, my autopilot will totally crash and burn. But, If I make an agreement with myself ahead of time, and know what to reach for when I and stressed and starving, good choices become automatic. If my house is full of healthy foods and void of junk, it’s impossible to make a poor choice.
Part of having a plan means preparing healthy foods and having them ready to go when I need them. I have learned this the hard way, because my autopilot has the neighborhood pizza place on speed dial. When I start to feel like I’m “too busy to cook,” that’s a great indicator to me that I need to get my butt in the kitchen and feed my body well.
Cooking is the most basic act of self-love I can provide for myself. When I know a time crunch is coming, I plan my meal prep accordingly. Just a couple of hours in the kitchen can set me up with healthy options for a few days.
Another important strategy is practicing mindful eating. Before making a trip to the kitchen, I check in with myself to find out why I want to eat. If I’m physically hungry, that’s awesome. No problem. But if I’m stressed, tired, or bored—those are not problems food can fix. Instead of eating, I try to switch gears for a while and give my body what it actually needs. If I’m tired, I rest. If I’m stressed or bored I might do something active like take the dog for a walk, tidy up the house a bit, or get out and run errands.
In the past, the first thing to go when my schedule got too tight was my workout. Recently, I have switched up my routine so I’m working out early in the morning, before my brain can find an excuse not to. Obviously, I need to move to burn calories so that is important. But, the real benefit of exercise for me is the stress relief and the release of endorphins. Exercise makes me feel well, it lifts my mood, and it’s the best thing I’ve ever found to combat my triggers for emotional eating. When I’m exercising faithfully, I am much more likely to stick to my eating plan as well.
With a little work, we can teach our autopilots how to keep us well when life gets crazy. The process happens gradually as we replace our old habits with healthy ones. Being prepared for times of stress, and being mindful of how our little choices every day impact our overall health, can help us to create a routine that keeps us moving in the direction we want to go.
Author: Renee Dubeau
Image: Shawn Whisenant/Flickr
Editor: Catherine Monkman