The impact of helpful (and unhelpful) choices and patterns

I have been more reflective in life over the past few years. I write in my digital journal to think about what has been happening in my life and what it means. I share more and talk more with others: not only about exciting news but also about my challenges and struggles.

As a result of reflecting, I more clearly notice the impact of my choices and patterns. And so I offer a few of my observations here for you to reflect on with me.

Helpful patterns: When I eat well (e.g., a variety of vegetables, fruits, and proteins), I have more energy and feel mentally sharp. When I get adequate sleep, my mind is clear, my body recovers better, and I get more done. When I exercise, I feel a sense of accomplishment, my body has more energy, and I have a sense of wellbeing. When I meditate, I am more present for the rest of my day and better able to be present in my relationships.

Those helpful patterns impact my relationships, my tasks, and my body. I am more present with people in my day-to-day life, able to focus my attention on them, to listen, to ask better questions; similarly, I find myself able to be open about what I am really thinking, what's going well, and what's challenging me. And I share, I have a sense of being grounded and present.

With tasks, I have more attention and can use that attention on things that are interesting or even boring, staying focused for much longer because I feel good physically and mentally.

Unhelpful patterns: But through reflection, I am noticing the tremendous impact that my unhelpful patterns have. When I drink alcohol too near bedtime, I sleep less well, wake up tired, and feel less recovered--the negative effects intensify with the quantity of alcohol. When I eat too few vegetables and replace them with fried, processed, comfort, or other less-healthful foods, I can feel it physically in my body: I feel bloated, my breathing is tighter, my energy goes down, my cravings lean toward more of the same food that makes me feel less ideal, perpetuating these negative feelings. When too much relaxation or too much time sitting replaces my exercise routines, my energy goes down, yes, but the worst impact is the lower mental clarity and even a negative impact to my self-identity. When I sleep too little, my body doesn't fully recover from the drains of my previous day, my mind wanders easily, I find that I am more likely to distract myself with internet browsing or TV, because I have less discipline to focus on my important tasks and relationships.

The impact of my unhelpful behavioral patterns is remarkable. I lose motivation quickly for the things that I say matter most to me. It's so easy, after a bout of unhelpful behaviors, to keep doing more of those same unhelpful behaviors. Over time, I get less done, feel disappointment in myself, and have to climb back out of the negative loop.

Clearly, most of us prefer the way we feel when we choose behaviors that make us feel our best, yet most of us are likely prone to falling into some behaviors that lead us away from our best selves.

How might we spend more time feeling our best? For me, I try to notice, rather than ignore, the signals I am getting from my body and mind after a bout of unhealthy choices. I feel the disappointment, I notice the fatigue in my body, and I use those feelings to motivate my next choices: "When my alarm goes off tomorrow, I will immediately get out of bed and follow my healthy morning routine: make my bed, brush my teeth, make some tea, prep vegetables for breakfast, go to the gym, eat my healthful breakfast, and meditate, before I go to work." Once I follow my healthful pattern, the rest of my day falls into place--and I am more likely to get enough sleep that night.

What about for you? What healthy pattern helps you feel your best? If you haven't thought about it, you might try a few variations of "when X happens, I will do Y and experience Z outcome"; then, notice how you feel when you try your new pattern.

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