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Building Positive Habits to Stay Motivated

Current LUC Student and Development Intern at the World Resources Institute

Have you found it difficult to stay motivated, particularly during the cold, dark Dutch winter? When the sun is down, and the sky stays cloudy, it can be easy to hole up in one’s room, put on a Netflix show, and snack mindlessly instead of doing what might be best for you. I’m here to share a few ways to break out of any negative habits which may have taken root over the past months or years, and shed some light on how subtle lifestyle changes can profoundly impact your general health, academic success, and overall happiness!

To begin, it’s essential to keep exercise a consistent part of your routine. Studies have proven that exercise routines balance dopamine and serotonin levels, and can both combat negative mental health and promote physical well-being. Weight training is the most important type of exercise for sustainably promoting health, as higher muscle volume burns calories in one’s sleep and increases the body’s ability to engage in further physical exertion. In winter, it can become more difficult to go on runs, walks, and bike rides which are easier during the summer months. Changing one’s goals to include the gym three times a week, or starting to practice yoga can profoundly support weathering the winter blues.

Also essential for managing weather-related mental health is proper nutrition. Did you know that our gut biome is directly related to our nervous system, and impacts our mental health? Our mood and mental well-being are dependent on constructing our diet around varied, whole-foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, oats and grains, and healthy fats like olive or avocado oil. The health and fitness industry has long hounded average consumers with the all-or-nothing narrative that perfection is needed to see results. I argue that it’s better to set the bar at one homemade, non-processed meal a day, and to not beat oneself up over a good pizza or bowl of ramen. Actively thinking about the kind of food one eats is often enough to spark the awareness necessary to choose one healthy meal.

Some of my favorite meals include a gargantuan chickpea and spinach salad mixed with sliced cherry tomatoes, bell pepper, and cucumber, tossed with olive oil and vinegar. For extra protein, one can add a can of tuna. For breakfast, I’ve perfected an overnight oat bowl with milk, a diced apple, cinnamon, strawberries, cranberry nut mix, peanut butter, and yogurt. Oats are the second most satiating food behind boiled potatoes, meaning they keep one feeling full much longer than others. This bowl is full of protein, fiber, and no added artificial sugar.

It can often be so difficult to disengage ourselves from negative habits because it’s nearly impossible to see immediate progress when we change them. For example, one won’t typically be able to observe the impacts of eating healthily and going to the gym until roughly a month of semi-consistent change. According to James Clear in Atomic Habits, we can circumvent the frustration of not seeing change by not focusing on achieving goals, but rather on creating systems. Improving yourself by one percent daily is hardly noticeable, but by the end of the year, you will end up 37x better than where you started. We can apply this metric to any measure of improvement in our lives, but it can set a realistic framework to approach any area of improvement such as exercise, healthy eating, or procrastination.

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