The basic tenets of good health are simple. Eat a lot of plants and exercise. It hasn’t changed much in 10,000 years. But as modern life pulls us further away from the habits that naturally led us to these ends we increasingly have to summon external motivation to get them done.
And that’s hard. Instincts and impulse are mother nature’s motivators, and in the moment they usually dwarf reason and long-term cost benefit analysis, even if you know on some level that’s what you ought to do.
I don’t have any papers in front of me, but I’d guess if you profiled the highly successful, remarkable self-control would have a strong correlation.
The roots of self-determination are probably genetic to some degree, but I think over time your environment can have a remarkable impact, particularly if you don’t have much of it to begin with. Lance Armstrong and Sam Walton were out doing incredible things as soon as they could walk, but for most of us good discipline is a self re-inforcing dynamic that spills over from one area of your life to another.
This morning I read a paper that studied the effect of enforced homework programs on health decisions. Despite having nothing to do with their health, the kids in the mandatory health programs routinely made better health decisions.
A similar effect exists for people who buy their food with cash. If you do, you’ll probably buy more produce and eat less than if you use plastic. The pain of physically parting with money causes you to think harder about what you’re buying, and corrals you into making more thoughtful decisions.
The religious usually have better health outcomes than the non-religious. Perhaps the benefits of spirituality have effects all into their own, but I think the rigor of regular prayer, church attendance, and being held to a strict moral code create an environment of self-regulation that the non-religious must go out of their way to produce.
Disciplined behavior is difficult, but given its recursive nature, I think an optimal plan of action for doing the things you want, but often don’t, is best accomplished with very small steps. All by their own they don’t do very much, but over the long run they behave like continuous deposits into a high-interest bearing bank account and create feedback loops that seep into the other compartments of your life.
So, do something good…….today. It’ll payoff down the road.