As a follow up to my last Tumblr post, I’ve started taking actions to clean up my life hygiene. The various health professionals working on my case have repeatedly told me that the secret to a more stable life as a Type II Bipolar-ite was to have a healthy lifestyle and a toolkit to deal with anxiety and stress.
Thing is, one’s life hygiene (diet, exercise, sleeping habits, social life, etc.) is mostly made up of habits. Humans are creature of habits. Creatives more so than many.
In fact, creatives are often collectors of tremendously bad habits:
- Self medication through booze and drugs
- Horrendous sleep patterns
- Diets that makes mothers cry
- Exercise routines that make the Couch-to-Fridge challenge look like a marathon
- Reclusive lives that make the average Otaku jealous
And so on…
I’ve long since known that. I’m a smart guy, I have a graduate degree in life sciences. Yet to this day I’m still about 30 lbs overweight, I go to bed at ungodly hours, I sometimes feel the urge to drink when I’m alone, and I’ve got bad romances with poutine and diet soda. I also like to blow my self-imposed gym appointments with the time honoured “I’ll go tomorrow, promise!”
Well, I turned 40 a few months ago, I can’t afford to do that much longer. Not if I want to keep my bipolar symptoms under control. (Not to mention my heart…)
I’ve tried many things to improve my lifestyle. And while a few of them have stuck (like biking and getting rewards for exercising), to this day, most of them have failed to significantly change my habits.
That is, until a few weeks ago. In the course of one of my projects, I read a short book on productivity called Zen to Done by Leo Babauta. The book has nothing earth-shattering. It’s a collection of 10 habits that, when applied, leads to a more productive and supposedly satisfying life.
One interesting thing the book does teach is that for an habit to truly “take”, one must commit to very few of them at the same time and focus on changing behavior over a set period of time, generally a month,
Looking back at my list of bad habits, I decided to pick the one that was Most Important to me. The one habit that would help me change others after it gelled in my lifestyle.
Turns out that habit is “Exercise at least 3 times a week for 30 min or more”. While scientific research is piling on that this can be as effective as an anti-depressant to treat/prevent mild to moderate depression, I have solid evidence that doing this for at least 2 weeks in a row increases my baseline mood significantly. It even stabilizes my moodiness to a point that my girlfriend notices it. I’m less likely to have depressive symptoms and my “happy go lucky” persona becomes my default one.
Looking back at the good habits I have developed over the last few years one does stand out: taking my meds to prevent another manic episode. Come rain or shine, high and low moods, I have not derogated from my pharmacological regimen. I have THOUGHT about it more than once, but I never quite did.
You know why?
Because I have a prescription.
I follow prescription… it’s like, you know, prescribed?
So combining the book’s “Change one habit at a time”, the positive impact exercise has on my mood and my already formed habit of following prescriptions, I came up with this concept:
I prescribed myself a minimum of 3 sessions of 30 minutes of cardio exercise per week, for a starting period of 1 month. No matter what happens to me, I commit to this. I told my girlfriend, I talk about it on Twitter and I’m sharing it with you now.
How will I ensure I see it through?
While it sounds like self-growth bullcrap, it really works. In my case I added multiple layers to motivate myself.
- I honestly consider exercising like a prescription now. It’s like a mantra that I repeat whenever my will to go to the gym or out on my bike wavers.
- I accumulate reward tokens when I exercise. Whenever I have 10 tokens, my girlfriend gives me a special gift, like a cool geeky t-shirt or a night out(1).
- I bought myself a TV show I really wanted to watch (The Legend of Korra) on iTunes. I can only watch while at the gym.
- I Tweet about my achievements to reinforce my commitment.
- If I make it for a full month, I’ll buy myself something I’ve wanted for some time but been holding off on on the condition I recommit myself for another month.
So how’s that been going for me so far?
I’m at the end of my 2nd week, and I’ve held onto my commitment and I remain motivated and focused.
What about your strategies to change bad habits in better ones?
(1) We’ve been doing this for almost two years now. It’s one of the reasons I never quite stopped exercising.