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Ask ten people to define “healthy” and you’ll probably receive ten different answers. One person explains good health from a physical perspective – eating well and exercise. Someone else interprets health as strong relationships. Another person determines health based on clarity and soundness of mind. All definitions are true.
We are holistic beings with many facets and the pursuit of wellness includes many dimensions. This is a beautiful design, reflective of the Designer, but it’s also complex. Complexity is an obstacle in most things, especially the pursuit of health. The reasons are a matter of biology; the body and mind are designed to streamline daily operations and avoid complexity. The brain’s goal is autopilot; the body’s is homeostasis. Following patterns without needing to think all day helps us conserve energy. This is a blessing. It’s also troublesome.
Scientists estimate humans operate in the conscious brain only 14% of the time. This means 86% of our movements, actions, choices, and behaviors are motivated by habit, reaction, and reflex. This explains why we scroll social media without realizing it, why we react to stress or fear in consistent ways, or why we rummage through the pantry at the same time each day. Long story short, we live by routine. Life happens and we respond – intentionally or not.
Routines fill a life; rhythms form a lifestyle. The Jesus-following life is a lifestyle – an adherence to rhythms and practices that bring us closer to Jesus. It is responsive rather than reactive, alert rather than passive. And the good news is it’s rooted in simplicity. Here are five simple tips for establishing rhythms of health you can commit to day after day.
Keep it simple. My early morning prayer practice began as a ten-day commitment to wake up, go outside, and pray. No agenda. No specific amount of time or number of prayers. No goal to eventually master prayer once and for all. Three and a half years later, this practice is a rhythm, a necessary part of my day and a large part of who I am. It’s not exciting or impressive, and that’s important. Rhythms aren’t extraordinary, they’re simple things we choose to do and continue doing because we value the intangible, interior effects of the discipline.
Know your why. I recently attended a funeral for a family friend. Every story shared about him was different, but each story captured the same essence: he had a patient, unwavering love for messy people. People of purpose know what they’re about and they live accordingly. John the Baptist pointed people to Jesus. Mary called herself God’s servant. David pursued God’s heart as both a shepherd and a king. What do you want people to remember about you? What facet of God’s faithfulness are you passionately reflecting? God writes your purpose from beginning to end, and He fulfills it. Rhythms keep you renewed, refreshed, and right in the center of that purpose.
Use easy cues. The brain creates cues that launch habits. This process happens with or without your conscious participation. (Read ‘The Power of Habit’, by Charles Duhigg for more.) Circumventing these metaphorical alarms requires a cycle of intentionality. 1. Create a new cue. 2. Follow it into the routine you desire. 3. Continue this discipline until your routine becomes a rhythm. I know, I know, what happened to the simplicity?! God created natural cues when He created rhythms of time, so use them. Every 24 hours you have a new morning and a new evening. There are days of the week, months, and seasons. Attach your rhythm to one of these cues. For example: It’s sunset, time to go for a walk. It’s Monday, time to reach out to a friend. It’s July, time to tighten my spending. It’s fall, time to learn a new skill. There’s no end to the cue/rhythm possibilities, bringing us to the next tip.
Be an eager scientist. Creating rhythms and following through means trying things and finding what works. It’s a process. You may create a rhythm that’s simple, purposeful, and cued, and it might not stick, or a rhythm that worked well in one season of life may not fit into another. Reevaluate and make adjustments. Become your own case study and observe yourself. Notice your strengths, weaknesses, common obstacles, past accomplishments, familiar patterns, and natural attractions (often a better observation than what distracts you). Paul says in Romans 7, the mind understands the good it wants to do, but all other parts of the person go to war against actually doing the good. The human will always gets its say, doesn’t it? There will be obstacles, mistakes, and stress responses of fight, flight, and freeze. Don’t get discouraged. Start again. Practice. Repeat.
Everything counts. Katie Arnold, mom and runner, didn’t have huge chunks of time to train for the ultra-marathon, so she focused on one training objective: everything counted. Her busy life offered small windows for training – walking the kids to school, jogging with the dog, a half hour before dinner to run a few miles. She made the most of every tiny opportunity and it paid off big when she won the ultra-marathon in 2018.
Our days are busy and our schedules are full. We want to live well and purposefully, but we often believe this requires big strategies and grand plans. It doesn’t. Ask God for the vision to see ordinary opportunities and regular rhythms right in front of you. He uses anything and everything done in obedience – whether big or small, overlooked or obvious – to restore health to mind, body, and spirit.
Trauma Specialist, Personal Trainer, Barre Instructor, married mother of four, plus two sons-in-law, and proud Mimi. Michelle writes about responsive faith through a trauma-informed lens at www.onemoretruth.com and a variety of other publications.