This article is written by Chad Alexander from Fitness Minimalists.
When you live with a chronic illness, how might you summon the energy to consistently embrace your healthy habits? Let’s jump in to see if we can discover some mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical strategies to up your energy levels and make those healthy habits happen consistently.
Many chronic illnesses come with physical pain, but they can also lead to unforeseen mental, emotional and spiritual challenges. Research refers to some of the emotional and mental challenges that people with chronic illnesses experience as illness distress.
Even without a chronic illness, mental chatter and disempowering self-talk can lead to exhaustion. Resisting to accept how life is and constantly wishing for something different can also sap our precious energy. Drs. Hudson’s and Moss-Morri’s (2019) findings indicate that the way people perceive their chronic illnesses impacts their emotions, energy levels, as well as how they cope with those emotions.
So how do you summon the energy to carry out your healthy habits with all this going on?
Mental Strategies to Summon the Energy to Embrace Your Healthy Habits
In the video below, Byron Katie, author and creator of a self-inquiry process called, “the Work,” has a conversation with a woman, named Maria, who is suffering from a chronic illness that leaves her experiencing physical pain and low energy. Maria asks Byron Katie the following question:
“I have a chronic illness and I’m in physical pain constantly. My whole body is in pain; this is wearing me out. I am also very weak and therefore, not able to do all things one has to do in daily life. Can you help me? I want to move on and I do not want to add suffering through resistance against the pain.”
Watch as Byron Katie uses the self-inquiry process to help Maria discover some perspectives and tools that appear to leave her with more energy, hope, and self-empowerment to do those healthy activities she wants to be doing:
Contemplative Strategies to Reclaim Energy and Embrace Healthy Habits
Many chronic illnesses leave people with not only low energy, but also physical pain. How might one regain some energy and perhaps even find some inner peace when experiencing physical pain?
Dr. Kathy Bean’s et al. (2006) research indicates that spiritual practices may lead to improved quality of life and reduced illness distress in people who received liver transplants in order to treat chronic liver disease. Is it possible that contemplative practices could help improve the quality of life for people suffering from other chronic health conditions?
In the video below, spiritual teacher, Ekchart Tolle, provides Victoria with some potentially re-energizing and life-affirming ways to deal with the pain and suffering caused by lupus, a chronic illness:
Physical Strategies to Summon the Energy to Embrace Your Healthy Habits
Now that we have explored some potential mental, emotional, and spiritual strategies – let’s take a look at some habit-starting tools provided by best-selling authors and habit experts, James Clear and Charles Duhigg.
Charles Duhigg, best-selling author of ‘The Power of Habit’, advises us to make use of the following specific cues that can almost automatically put us into action with our healthy habits.
- Preceding habit or routine
Best-selling author of Atomic Habits, James Clear, encourages us to create a plan that will make our healthy habits easier to stick by making them:
So how do you implement this habit-starting information in your daily life? Let the following 7 action steps guide you.
Step #1: Determine some life-enhancing healthy habits
What is the one healthy habit that you feel is most important for you to start?
Perhaps this will be a habit that trickles down to make many other areas of life seem to click into place. Charles Duhigg refers to this type of habit as a ‘keystone’ habit, because it may result in you making other small changes that lead to more energy along with improved health and well-being.
Grab a piece of paper or open a digital tool and brainstorm a list of possible healthy habits that you might be ready and willing to commit to. Some common keystone health habits to get your brainstorm started:
- Drinking x cups of water per day
- Going to bed at a set time
- Waking up at a set time
- Scheduling your day
- Keeping a food journal
- Eating vegetables with each meal
- Following a nutrition plan
- Stretching or yoga
- Regular appointments with a professional(s) such as a physiotherapist, doctor, nutritionist, counselor, chiropractor, dentist, and/or others
Step #2: Determine one life-enhancing healthy habit
The next step is to prioritize your list of possible habits.
Put #1 beside the habit you want to stick to the most. Choose the one habit that you really want to start and stick with…even if you might have some uncomfortable emotions around it. Charles Duhigg explains that this can sometimes be a sign of a keystone habit.
Why only pick one habit? Duhigg and Clear suggest starting with just one habit because they have found people too often pick multiple habits which can lead to overwhelm and inconsistency with carrying out the habits. It turns out many people are more likely to see results by only choosing one habit.
Go ahead and choose that #1 healthy habit that you feel ready and willing to commit to.
Step #3: How to make your healthy habit stick
Once you have chosen your healthy habit, your next step is to break down your habit into something that can be completed in a 5-10 minute increment. For example, if your habit is to walk for an hour each day, you will start small and only walk for 5-10 minutes.
Why start small? When you are first starting your habit you will be relying mostly on willpower and energy to get yourself going. Once this action has become a habit, it won’t require as much energy to get yourself into action. Enjoyment, motivation and other positive endorphins will be more likely to fuel you to make it stick.
On the flipside, starting with a huge habit that takes 1-3 hours can leave you mentally and physically drained. This will require you to summon way more energy and can make it much less likely that you will want to make it happen next time.
Take a minute now and write down your 5-10 minute version of this habit.
Step #4: Choose an energy-giving time for your healthy habit
Since your health may be one of your top priorities, why not set aside a time when you have the most energy for this healthy habit?
If you have a chronic illness, choosing a time when you have the most energy may automatically make the habit more convenient for you as it will be tailored to your needs, can make it more accessible, and may seem to require less energy or effort.
When do you typically have the most energy…soon after you wake up? After lunch, in the evening? Or some other time of the day? Choose a time that you think you will be likely to have more energy for your healthy habit.
Step #5: How to follow through with your new habit
Make this healthy habit obvious by linking it to something you already do (a preceding habit). For example, “after waking up and drinking my glass of water, I will go for a walk.”
Other ways to make this habit more obvious might include setting a digital reminder with a tool like Google Calendar, placing a reminder sticky note, or setting a daily alarm on your phone.
Use the following prompt to make a plan to make your habit even more obvious so you will be more likely to follow through for months or even years:
“After [insert one of your already established habits] I will [insert new healthy habit].”
Step #6: Make it even easier to stick with your new habit
Put your habit plan together by forming an implementation intention. Dr. Milne et al. (2002) found that determining when and where you will perform your health habit can double your chances of success.
In Milne’s et al. (2002) study consisting of 248 people, participants who used the following prompt were 91% more likely to exercise each week (while only 35% of people in the control group and 38% of people in a motivation group exercised at least once per week).
Take the time right now to complete the following prompt provided by James Clear:
“I will [behavior] at [time] in [location]”
Step #7: Turn your habit into a bundle of joy
Make your habit more satisfying by using temptation bundling. Dr. Milkman et al. (2014) defines temptation bundling in the following way:
“Bundling instantly gratifying but guilt-inducing “want” experiences (enjoying page-turner audiobooks) with valuable “should” behaviors providing delayed rewards (exercising)”.
Dr. Milkman and his team of researchers (2014) conducted a randomized, controlled trial and found that those who used temptation bundling exercised “51% and 29% more frequently than control participants”.
Brainstorm some things that you love to do that you could potentially bundle with your new healthy habit. Make a plan to include 1-2 of these activities with your healthy habit.
Step #8: Add some emotional oomph to your new healthy habit
Summon the emotional energy to carry out your new healthy habit by writing down a list of all the reasons why it is important for you to carry out habit.
By linking this habit to all the things that matter most to you, you will summon even more energy to make it happen for the long term.
You may even want to put these reasons in an easy-to-access place so that you can review your ‘why’ whenever you need that extra energy boost. Bonus points if you do this while listening to one of your favorite inspiring songs.
Step #9: Bring your friends with you!
Who are the people who energize you? Is there a way you could include these awesome people to give you that extra boost to make this healthy habit adventure even easier for you?
This could be as simple as contacting one life-affirming friend to see if they would like to join you on this adventure. They might either physically join you or you could simply check in with that person each week or each time you complete your habit.
Come up with a way to include an energy-adding person to your habit plan.
We have gone through the mechanics of setting healthy habits as well as some mental and emotional strategies to live a more active life. To take your self-care to the next level in ways that can lead to increased energy, improved relationships, and more inner peace, I encourage you to check out Jennifer’s action-packed post on the love languages.
Author bio: Chad Alexander BSc, MEd, BEd is a personal trainer and blogger at Fitness Minimalists. He is on a mission to educate and empower people to level up their fitness with only the essentials to live more confident and adventurous lives.