Make it a Way of Life

With Nutrition Month in the rearview mirror, dietitians across Canada are sharing some great tips for a critical aspect of healthy eating: making it stick! I’d like to focus on one of my favourite tools for maintaining a new healthy habit, a simple app called Way of LifeWay of Life

Way of Life allows you to identify a habit (aka SMART goal) and then check a box every day to record whether you did it or not.

Updating the daily journal

(The blue arrow allows you to skip a day, resulting in the grey/blue box. For example, I usually do a cycling class on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so I give myself a pass on the other days, or, like this week, when I was away from home and went for a hike instead.)

There are a variety of ways you can look back at your patterns over time, from the past 6 weeks to as much as 2 years worth of data. If you’re a quantitative geek (like me!), you’ll enjoy the various types of graphs, but I’ll keep it simple here.

Hey, what’s going on with my meditation practice?

There are three reasons I use and recommend this tool:

  1. It’s objective. Do you eat fish twice a week? How about strength training? Are you sure? This is a great way to know for sure. IMG_0574
  2. It helps you get out of the “all or nothing” trap. I have an ambitious goal to eat 9 servings a day of fruit and vegetables. I don’t manage to pull this off every day, but if I can look back and see that I did it 4 days a week, I’m happy with that (okay, 5 would be better, but I’m getting there). IMG_0511
  3. It gets you back on track if you’re derailed. It’s easy to start a new habit, especially at New Year’s or during Nutrition Month, but at some point, you’ll inevitably lose focus, whether it’s a big project at work, a vacation, or a family crisis. The friendly reminder from Way of Life gently helps you refocus when you’re ready.

    Time change + good book = sleep hygiene derailed

Tips for using Way of Life, or a similar tool:

  1. Start just one new habit at a time. You’re more likely to be successful if you focus, really focus, on making one change. It will probably be harder than you think! Once you’ve mastered that, then you can consider adding another one. (If you want to track more than 3 habits in Way of Life, you’ll have to buy the premium version, currently selling in Canada for $4.99.)
  2. Set a daily reminder to update your journal. You can do this in the “setup” screen for the app. Updating takes than a minute, and doing it daily works better than waiting until the end of the week and trying to remember what happened.
  3. It’s a self-discovery and motivation tool, not a report card. If you keep missing your habit, don’t beat yourself up! Seeing it in black and white (or green and red, in this case), gives you an opportunity to have an honest discussion with yourself (and perhaps a loved one or coach). Is this the right goal? What about it isn’t working for you? Can you adjust your plan, or is this perhaps not for you right now?

Here are a few more examples of SMART goals I’ve set up with clients using Way of Life:

  • Bring my lunch to work at least 3 days a week.
  • Walk after dinner at least 3 weeknights, plus once on the weekend.
  • Have fruit or vegetables with my breakfast at least 6 days a week.
  • Eat processed meat no more than once a week.
  • Cook with pulses at least once a week.
  • Keep track of my food in MyFitnessPal at least 3 times a week.

You get the picture. Specific, measurable, action-oriented, time-based, and realistic!

Tracking your behaviour is one of the most effective tools for maintaining change. There are other ways to do it, of course. When I worked in cardiac rehab, we used paper forms. There are other, similar apps, but this is the one I’m most familiar with, and I love it’s simple, easy-to-use interface. (Unfortunately, it’s only available for the iPhone at this time.)

Have you tried Way of Life or another habit-tracking app? Or do you prefer a paper tool, like a good, old-fashioned calendar? As always, I’d love to hear what you think.

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