At some point in one’s thirties, you become aware that you cannot rely on your body to bounce back as it once did after your poor decisions. It becomes harder to ignore the signals from your body telling you that not sleeping enough, not maintaining healthy maintenance habits, and indulgences cause harm to the body. It’s as if your body used to quietly repair the damage but now it makes sure you know what you are doing is stupid and bad for you in the long run.
In response to these signals, I started making small adjustments to my day that aims to improve my health in targeted areas. Here are a few that I’ve tweaked recently.
After my wife noticed I was snoring really badly at night, I scheduled a sleep study through my doctor. It was a long process because of the pandemic, however I was eventually diagnosed with sleep apnea and I was prescribed a CPAP machine to improve my sleep quality. I am currently in the trial period, so it’s too soon to have an appreciation of the fix, but the stats from the machine are showing a dramatic drop in my nightly breathing issues, and I generally feel less tired during the day (though I still feel groggy in the morning). I still have a problem with going to bed too late at night, but getting my sleep quality back on track is a first step.
I am among the people who picked up some weight over the last two years of being at home. Between having a toddler and trying to maintain some semblance of work and life balance, I’ve found it difficult to keep a regular exercise routine – it just becomes too easy to put it off to tomorrow. I took a leaf out of BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits book to shrink the action of exercise down to slowly build up a regular practice. I’ll have more to say on this topic in a few months after I give it an honest try, but so far I have kept my commitment through the experiment.
I had poor dental habits through my twenties. While I always brushed my teeth at night, I was terrible at morning brushing and never flossed. While my dentist has noted I have good teeth generally, because of my sleep apnea, they’ve noted some effects of grinding my teeth at night. And I have a tendency to brush too hard, causing damage to my gums. Also, I chipped one of my front teeth while biting my nails – turns out 30 years of grinding the teeth together to bite my nails will eventually wear the corner out. During my last visit, the hygienist asked if I used an electric brush. I didn’t realize it would be a gentler option for my gums, so I asked for their recommendation and bought a Philips Sonicare unit specifically because it will alert you when you apply too much pressure while brushing (this is not an endorsement; it just happens to be what my dentist recommended to me). So far, the novelty of the electric brush has been a good change in my routine, and I’m more diligent with brushing. I also combined the wisdom of Fogg (see above) and John Call (Jujimufu) and addressed my flossing habit by buying a better quality floss (a stronger but softer floss that hurt less to use), and put it right next to my electric brush instead of the drawer as I used to do. I enjoy using the electric brush, so I’ve used it every night. And because I see the floss next to the brush, I grab it first and floss before brushing. I even tried using a mouth wash, though stopped when I noticed that it really dried out my mouth in the night.
These aren’t perfect solutions, and they won’t undo all of the damage of my neglect. They also aren’t fast solutions, but I see them as sustainable changes. I didn’t get into this problem overnight – it was years (now decades) of steady poor choices that lead to issues in my health, and so it will take small steps to correct these issues.
The lessons learned so far that have helped:
- Be ruthlessly intolerant of friction points. If something is causing you problems, if something in the behaviour you want to change is making it difficult to stick with it, sit down to define the problem and make an adjustment to address it, whether it is a physical change (like moving the floss out of the drawer to beside you brush) or a financial change (like buying an electric toothbrush instead of thinking you’ll do better).
- Shrink the change. Fogg’s book is probably the best I’ve seen on the topic of habits that actually sets out a plan for change. It’s the most comprehensive but comprehendible book I’ve seen on the topic. Instead of making grand sweeping changes, focus on the tiniest thing you can change towards the positive.
- Look for resources to support your wellbeing. I’m fortunate that my Province supports people with sleep apnea. If you are in a position to take advantage of these supports, make sure you do it. Get the doctor’s referral, commit to the trial period and sleep studies, and get the financial support to buy the equipment you need. Not everyone is in a position to do this, but do it if you can.
- This will take time. Don’t look for overnight solutions, and expect to not see results right away. Trust the process and give it a fair chance to work.
- Be kind to yourself. You can beat yourself up over past bad choices, but it won’t help change your behaviour. Start fresh on a new day, forgive yourself, and try again. Try different things; see what sticks. Treat it like an experiment. You aren’t a failure, you are just testing what works best for you.