“Things that matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
When it comes to the number on the bathroom scale or the size of one’s beltline, willpower is but one of many factors involved. However, willpower and proactivity are massive contributors to the consistent performance of healthy behaviours. Fortunately, as we have stated here many times before: as it pertains to your health, what you do is much more important than how you look.
One of the most common reasons for not being physically active or preparing your own healthy food is a perceived lack of time; the all too common 21st century badge of honour among working people of “being too busy.”
I recently read the classic book by Steven Covey “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” which has some important insights to share in this area that I thought our readers may appreciate.
In this book, Covey discusses “putting first things first”, as in scheduling our life around the key priorities we have set for ourselves. When describing the ways in which our time is used up, he refers to a “Time Management Matrix” – a 2 x 2 table of activities that are either important/ not important and urgent/not urgent. The table below illustrates a few examples of each of the following types of activities.
The key, according to the author, is to avoid all unimportant activity in order to free up more time to pursue activities that are truly important to our life goals, but are not necessarily urgent.
Many people who readily admit to being “too busy to exercise” often spend their work days dealing with urgent matters, some of which are important (putting out fires, managing crises), many of which are not (last minute meetings, urgent requests from others). These folks are so worn out by dealing with these never-ending emergencies at work, that when they leave work, the only potential relief they can seek is through turning off their mind in activities that are neither important nor urgent, such as watching television or playing games.
Based on this description, which type of activity tends to get the least amount of attention in our frenetic society? You’ve got it – the important but not urgent.
Exercise and developing healthy cooking habits falls into this 2nd quadrant of clearly important, but not that urgent of activities. Unfortunately, that type of negligence often leads to yet more emergencies – this time, of the chronic (and preventable) disease variety.
My PhD supervisor, Dr. Bob Ross, used to frequently reference a quote that is very applicable here:
“We are too busy mopping up the floor to turn off the faucet.”
In other words, we spend so much of our time running around dealing with one meaningless task after another that we never get the chance to look after the most critical goals.
So what’s the easiest way to utilize this information in your life? For most people, cutting back on quadrant IV activity – the time wasting, mind numbing stuff most or us do on typical workday evenings.
If you watch television for a couple of hours every evening (the average American watches more than five hours of live television every day), but claim to be too busy to find the time to exercise, you need to face the absurdity of your assertion. If exercise is something you know you should do, and you’ve actually decided you will make it a priority, it’s time to hold yourself accountable to that goal.
For me personally, some form of daily physical activity is simply a non-negotiable part of my day. But don’t get me wrong: I am not in the gym for over an hour every day. My work schedule can be intense and involve considerable travel. However, I still manage to do something on most days – whether that’s a 30 minute yoga session in my hotel room, or a 20-ish minute Tabata workout using only bodyweight exercises in my living room.
I have prioritized being physically active over other ways of spending my limited free time. And what’s the major sacrifice that I’ve had to make to align my actions with my goals? Well, I can’t tell you what happened on the most recent episode of Game of Thrones.
So as we move into a new year and you start considering resolutions, why not ditch the typical “lose some weight” goal and aim to evaluate and re-align your priorities in life. Only when you do this can a healthy behavior change become a true habit that you will maintain well into 2017 and for decades beyond.