Incontinence in Older Adults

Incontinence is an issue of embarrassment among many older people.  According to a report from 2014, about half the population of older Americans experience urinary leakage or accidental bowel leakage.  And roughly 25% have moderate, severe or very severe urinary leakage.  That's a lot of people!  Perhaps because people are unwilling to talk openly about this condition, there tends to be a bit of misinformation floating around about the topic.  This can easily be corrected for the benefit of the sufferer in order that they might have a much less complicated life. 

Causes

There are many causes of incontinence in older adults.  The causes can range from poor posture, to inflammation or other underlying conditions.  Incontinence occurs when muscles are too weak or to active.  Prostate problems (in men) or nerve damage can also contribute to incontinence issues.  People often say is that it is normal to have urinary incontinence as you age.  Although older women are about twice as likely as men, this is simply not true.  Do not accept this as it is a common belief.  Perhaps your incontinence is caused by something that could be easily fixed.  Or it may be that you have a medical condition that needs to be addressed.  Regardless, determining the cause will allow you to move forward and possibly even find a solution.

Solutions

Poor posture is one of the least talked about but most common causes of a weak bladder.  For a variety of reasons, we tend to slouch or slump forward as we age.  It is somewhat natural, but what happens to your internal organs when you allow your body to slouch forward?  Your organs are arranged inside of you atop of one another.  And also supported by the spine in the back.  If you slouch forward the organs push forward and rest fully on top of your other organs.  Specifically atop your bladder.  Apart from causing terrible back, neck and shoulder problems, slouching will often cause weak bladder. Or, if left for long enough, incontinence.

Another common cause is inflammation in the lining of the bladder.  If you have an infection, it may be a simple matter of receiving a prescription for an antibiotic and you could be on your way to recovery!  Sometimes it really is this simple, and yet people will suffer for months thinking that they are just getting older and that incontinence is a natural part of that process.

Another way to prevent or reverse incontinence might be exercise.  Sometimes you may need to do exercises to help strengthen the pelvic floor.  And other times you may need to receive a treatment if the physician finds something more serious.  The main concept to remember is that if this problem begins or persists, you need to listen to your body and try to solve the problem by discussing with your doctor.

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Take Good Care of Yourself

If you need to wear adult incontinence pads or underwear, do your best to get the proper size and absorbency for your needs.  Some folks that are on a limited budget try to economize by getting a smaller size (there are generally more pairs in the smaller sized packages). Or by getting some that are less absorbent (because they are cheaper).  The result of this is that you can end up getting sores from ill-fitting underwear or end up in an embarrassing situation when the absorbency was not up to par.

Whatever your current situation with incontinence, if it IS an issue for you, do not be afraid to raise the question with your doctor.  Start the conversation so that you can begin the process of healing and return to a more active and less stressful lifestyle!

Personality Changes and Dementia

A Few Early Signs of Alzheimer's

  1. Lapse in memory that disrupts daily life
  2. Challenges solving problems
  3. Trouble making plans
  4. Mixing up time and places
  5. Problems using words in speaking and writing
  6. Misplacing things and then not being able to retrace steps to locate
  7. Overall decrease in judgement - trouble making decisions
  8. Withdrawal from social activities
  9. Change in mood or personality

 What would a change in personality mean?

Personality is something that we rather take for granted.  It is true that certain aspects of it are inborn, but there are other aspects of one's personality or at least of the persona that they portray, that are learned and practiced over time.  We come to depend upon how well we know a person because their personality remains consistent over time.  We know, for instance, whether they are generally polite or cranky.  We know if they are honest or tend to lie.  We know if they tend to be soft-spoken or loud.  All of these things help us to feel as though we are on solid ground when describing who a person is.  But once dementia or Alzheimer's enters the picture, the ground can begin to shift right under our feet.

Because different types of dementia affect different parts of the brain, the disease may affect personality and behaviors in different ways.  If a person has dementia that affects the frontal areas of the brain, their personalities may seem to shift more drastically.  It's an important thing to ask about at onset so that you can begin to prepare yourself mentally for how you will deal with the changes you may encounter in the coming months and years.  Generally speaking, most individuals with dementia do not completely change their personality.  For instance, a person who was nice and calm would not become violent, unless there were other issues such as hallucinations or drug interaction problems going on, but it can occur.  Most often the changes that occur are an amplification of their former personality.  A soft-spoken person may become even quieter.  An angry person may become very overbearing and upset easily.

As the disease progresses into advanced stages, several of a person's learned behaviors begin to fade.  If they were a voracious reader, they may lose the ability to read.  If they wrote often, they will most likely lose that ability.  If these were important things to them, and particularly if they were activities that you shared with them, it can seem as though you do not know who they are anymore.  We often associate people and our relationships through hobbies and interests.  This can also, understandingly, cause a great deal of frustration on their part.  They are losing things that they consider to be important parts of themselves.  During their lucid moments, if they recognize any of this, it will be frustrating and disappointing to them.

While there is not much that one can do to prevent this from occurring in the advanced stages of the disease, we can begin to prepare ourselves by knowing the likelihood that these changes may occur.  We can also take time while we have it, to enjoy their true personality that we've grown to love over time.  Take every opportunity to spend time with them and support them through this scary time, assuring them that whatever happens, you'll still remember their true nature.  And as you speak of them to others, you'll emphasize who they are rather than the disease to others.  This will do more to maintain their dignity than anything else you can do.  Their life and personality is a gift to us while our love and care is our gift to them.

Hydration for the Elderly

The summer months are upon us!  And staying cool and well hydrated become top of mind especially for those in the Southwest.  In recent years fitness gurus have been touting how important hydration is for our health.  Water bottles are now common place.  You’ve probably even seen water bottles for sale in stores or on the internet that have times of the day listed on the side so that you’re sure to drink a certain amount of water throughout the day.  This helps to maintain proper fluid levels in your body for optimum health.  Few people, however, realize that it is even more important for elderly people to remain well hydrated.

Why is it more important for the aging population? There are many factors that contribute to dehydration in the elderly, and we’ll just cover a few of the major ones.  First, water levels in the human body decrease as we age.  There is naturally less water in us as we grow older, and we need to be replenished with water more often.  Secondly, certain medications may cause dehydration.  While medications can help with a number of ailments, many of them also have dehydration as a side effect.  Check with your doctor if this is something that you should be aware of so that you can be proactive in combatting a potential problem of dehydration.  Finally, as we age, our kidneys are often not able to function as well as they did when we were younger.  This is just a natural part of growing older, but it does contribute to dehydration.  Staying well hydrated will help our kidneys function.

What can we do to stay hydrated sufficiently?

  1. Find ways to increase water intake. Set goals for yourself to drink a bit more water several times a day.  The average person needs between seven to thirteen cups of water a day.  That is a lot of water to drink for many people.  Large quantities on an empty stomach can cause nausea, but try taking it in smaller doses several times a day and you might find it easier on your body.   If you do not like tap water, try filtered water.  If you need to, add some fruit into it for flavoring.  Lemon or lime sliced and steeped in water with a few mint leaves can make a refreshingly nice infusion.  If you prefer hot drinks, try hot lemon water.
  2. Herbal teas. If you prefer even more flavor, you can increase your water intake without the side effects of caffeine by making herbal teas.  There are so many options to choose from you will for sure be able to find something that you enjoy.  Replacing soda (pop) or other sugary drinks with an herbal tea or fruit infused water will help you stay hydrated and lower your sugar consumption.
  3. Eat fruit and vegetables. Both fresh fruit and fresh veggies have good amounts of water in them that will help contribute to your hydration.  They also have the added benefit of adding fiber to your diet.  Pay attention, of course, if you are a diabetic as some fruits (due to high sugar content) may cause issues with your blood sugars.
  4. Stay out of intense heat. Because it is so easy for an older individual to become dehydrated without noticing, it’s best to stay out of very hot environments whenever possible.  If you do need to be outside in the heat, make sure that you wear hats that block the sun, stay in the shade and bring along a water bottle to drink.  Force yourself to drink water even if you do not feel thirsty.
  5. Eat soups and stews.  Soups can be eaten hot or cold, depending on preference.  Broths can be sipped throughout the hour in the same way that you would sip tea, and if can increase mineral intake if prepared properly.  Soups and stews are a tasty way to increase our hydration levels - just be careful of adding too much salt!

You may be surprised as you maintain healthy hydration levels at how many ailments are alleviated!  There can be corrections in blood pressure, headaches may go away, dizziness may cease, infections may be flushed out of your system and energy levels may improve.  It is certainly not a “cure-all” remedy, but sometimes the small and overlooked simple things in life can have long reaching implications.  So, start now!  Go and drink a glass of water (or eight) for your health!

Dealing with Fear

Fear. That’s probably something that a lot of us are feeling right now. We are living in a world full of unknowns since the recent outbreak of the COVID-19/Coronavirus. While there is reason to be concerned, we should not let fear overtake and overwhelm us. There are many ways to be prepared and to help prevent the spread of this virus. For the elderly, it is a very good idea to be extra cautious. Elderly are reported to be more at risk to complications from this virus then those who are younger than them.

 

 

Take the steps that the CDC has put into the place to keep yourself safe. Some of these steps are:

While it is good to follow the steps above, we need to make sure that we do not go into panic mode. That panic mode comes from a place of fear. It has been proven that living in fear can have significant impacts on your mental and physical health. Some ways that it can affect you are:

-changes in eating or sleeping patterns

-difficulty sleeping or concentrating

-worsening of chronic conditions or diseases

-increased use of drugs, tobacco or alcohol

 

There are many more ways that fear can affect your body. But I think one of the main things we need to focus on are ways to work through that fear and not to dwell on it. If you are living in an assisted living home, you are probably already being quarantined for your safety. Here are some ideas of how to not focus on the fear and to help with any boredom that you might be experiencing:

  1. Shut off the news, media or even Facebook for periods of time throughout the day. Constantly having your mind bombarded with all the chaos can really cause anxiety.
  2. Take care of yourself. Relax, remember to eat healthy, stretch, take a nap, meditate, pray or read your bible. Whatever it is for you that helps you feel peaceful.
  3. Don’t be afraid to talk to people about your feelings of anxiety. Verbally processing things can help sort out all the chaos going on in your brain. If you already struggle with issues of mental health, this is all the more important!
  4. Try to find activities that you enjoy to take your mind off of the current situation. Reading, doing puzzles, making crafts, sewing, playing games, etc.
  5. If you are living in an assisted living home or nursing home and are experiencing a time where you aren’t allowed visitors for quarantine reasons, this is a great opportunity to call people on the phone or even write them letters the old-fashioned way!
  6. Try to find things that you are thankful for in this season. Even if it’s small, try to find one thing per day. This really helps in changing our mindsets from negative to positive!

Above all else, try to reflect on this acronym for the word F.E.A.R. False Evidence Appearing Real. So many times, when we are afraid, it’s because we are constantly going over the what if’s in our minds. Try not to write the script before it happens. Most of the time, the what if’s that we spend so much time worrying about never happen anyway.

 

7 Simple Ways to Help Your Aging Loved One with Diabetes

Let’s talk diabetes. For many, that is a big scary word that most people never want to hear from their doctor. Usually when a diagnosis like this comes, it means that there has to be some dramatic changes in our lives. Most people do not like change, especially people who have gone through many seasons of life. If you have an aging loved one who was recently diagnosed with diabetes, you might be feeling overwhelmed about how to best care for them. Especially if they are living alone or in an assisted living home. How can you help them when you aren’t constantly there to check up on them? Here are 7 ways that you can:

 

 

  1. Open up communication with the staff of the assisted living home and your loved one’s doctor. When you keep communication lines open, it will make you feel reassured that your loved one is getting well looked after, even when you aren’t there.
  2. Go along to their appointments and take notes about anything that the doctor says. Research the disease beforehand, that way you know which questions to ask. If you can’t make it to an appointment find someone that they can trust to take them instead.
  3. Make sure to talk to the nurses at the assisted living home about your loved one’s medication regimen, any diet changes that are needed, and about the level of exercise that the doctor says your loved one should be getting.
  4. Encourage your aging family member in any changes that need to be made to help improve their overall health. This could be as simple as learning how to use a daily glucose test and showing them how to do it. Or helping them understand which medications they need to take and when.
  5. Ask their doctor about which exercise regimen is good for them and either drive them to their exercise classes or PARTICIPATE in it with them. Exercise will help lower stress levels and in turn bring down blood sugar levels.
  6. Another way to help is to get creative with them in the kitchen. With diabetes, doctors usually recommend that they have a good diet full of a variety of vegetables and proteins. Sugary foods and lots of carbohydrates can really hurt a diabetic. This can be a hard one to change, especially if your loved one has spent most of their lives eating processed food. Share the journey of getting healthier with them so they don’t feel like they are all alone in it. Make new recipes together or help them modify some of their old favorites to make them healthier. Another way to help with food is to help stock their kitchen with good healthy snack choices for them to eat throughout the day.
  7. For diabetics having wounds or blisters can really be a cause for concern, especially on the feet. Because their nerve endings are damaged it could be hard for them notice if there is any damage to their feet. If it goes on for a while without treatment, this could lead to serious problems like infection, gangrene or amputations. So please teach your loved one how to regularly check their feet. Also encourage them to wear shoes or slippers that will prevent them from stubbing their toes or falling.

Overall, just try to be there for your loved one. They might not show you that they appreciate it, in fact they might show you the opposite. But try to keep encouraging them that you are only trying to help them keep their independence longer so that they can live the rest of their lives to the fullest.

Water! Why It’s So Important

Our bodies are made of approximately 50% water. It is a well-known fact that in order to keep our bodies functioning properly, we need to constantly be replenishing that supply. On average, we lose about 2-3 quarts of water a day. This can vary depending on the time of the year, your activity level, and if you’re on medications. For seniors, it is especially important to be maintaining good hydration. As we grow older, it becomes easier to forget to drink water, one of the reasons is because our sense of thirst diminishes. Dehydration is actually one of the top reasons that the elderly end up going to the hospital. That’s why it is extremely important for the elderly to drink, drink, drink! Let’s look at more reasons on why drinking water can better your health.

 

  1. Prevent Sickness and Disease

Being dehydrated can actually be a major contributing factor to a lot of the diseases that those in their later years suffer from. Kidney problems, heart problems, diabetes, arthritis, joint pain, headaches, and asthma can all stem from not drinking enough water. Water lubricates the body, which would help your joints. And it also keeps your digestive and urinary systems running smoothly so you won’t suffer from things like constipation, UTI’s, and kidney stones. Water helps your body flush out the nasty toxins that create the health issues listed above.

 

  1. Gives Your Brain and Emotions A Boost

One of the things that happens when our bodies are dehydrated, is that our cells shrink. When this occurs in your brain, it can cause you to have a foggy mind, memory problems, and not be able to make decisions easily. So, drinking plenty of water can help keep your brain sharp! It will help you feel better mentally and emotionally. Studies show that those who drink more water are often in a way better mood!

 

What if you don’t like drinking water? What are ways to keep your body hydrated? I think we have all been there, where we are just sick of drinking plain water. I totally get it! Here are some tips to stay hydrated in other ways!

 

When living in an assisted living or nursing home, it can actually be harder sometimes to stay hydrated. Different things can contribute to this. If the facility is short staffed, it could be harder for the workers to meet everyone’s drinking needs. Or if the resident has any physical impairments that could cause them to need help to eat or drink, it could be harder for them to get enough fluid intake throughout the day. If you do have a loved one in an assisted living or nursing home, please keep checking up on them to make sure they are staying hydrated. Ask the nurse about how they are doing when it comes to their urine output. And about how much they are eating and drinking each day. The nurse should have it all in their charts. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions and stay proactive in your loved one’s life.

 

 

 

Five Superfoods for the Elderly

Our entire lives we hear about how important it is to eat healthy. For most of us, it’s something we hear and always wish we could improve on, but struggle to have the motivation to do so. Instead of thinking of how hard a lifestyle change can be, start thinking of how much better you will feel when you eat food that will actually fuel your body. This is especially true for the elderly. The common mindset among the elderly is that as you get older, you get weaker. While this is true to an extent, it also has to do a lot with the foods that we are putting in our bodies. It is possible for those who are aging to have strong, energetic bodies. I have a great aunt who lives in the Colorado Rockies, she is 86 years old and still hikes them frequently. I can guarantee you that she did not remain fit by frequently indulging in the processed foods that we commonly eat today. Here is a list of five superfoods that can help you maintain a healthy physique as you age:

 

  1. Avocados

Avocados are probably one of the best superfoods on the market. For the elderly they can help with digestion, as they are full of fiber. Avocados are known to be a heart healthy food that contains potassium which can reduce the risk of heart problems, stroke, kidney failure, and can even help lower blood pressure. They are fat soluble, which means that they help your body absorb the nutrients in other healthy foods that you eat with them. There have also been studies that show that the nutrients in avocados can help prevent cancer, relieve arthritis pain, and promote eye, skin, and hair health. You can eat these plain or in soups, salads, and smoothies.

 

  1. Blueberries

Blueberries are another great superfood! They are full of Vitamins C, A and K. They are another heart healthy food that can help in lowering cholesterol. Blueberries also contain flavonoids which can help your night vision and keep your brain sharp! They are yummy to just snack on, put in oatmeal/yogurt, or to use in smoothies!

 

  1. Quinoa

This is one of those superfoods that is lesser known. Quinoa is a grain and is a good source of iron, calcium, fiber, magnesium and protein. These nutrients can help relieve constipation, build strong muscles, relax the muscles, increase blood flow, and is good to help your body eliminate disease causing toxins. Quinoa can be used as a side dish, in salads, as a breakfast cereal, in soups, or in baked goods.

 

  1. Pink Salmon

Pink salmon contains lots of Vitamin D, which is good for bone health. And is a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids which can lower the risk of heart attacks, irregular heartbeats, and lower blood pressure. Omega-3 fatty acids may also reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Make sure you get salmon that is wild caught. It is way healthier and doesn’t contain lots of the toxins that farm manufactured fish do. Salmon can be baked in the oven with olive oil and whatever seasonings you prefer.

 

  1. Broccoli

Broccoli is good for us for many reasons and it’s simple to make, which is a win! Broccoli is full of fiber, helps with metabolism and lowering blood sugar. It can also lower the risk of high cholesterol, osteoporosis, certain cancers and heart disease. It is stocked full of vitamins A, C, B9, and K; all of which will boost your immune system and bones. When you cook broccoli, it is best to steam it so that you don’t lose the nutrients in the boiling water.

 

Whether you are living independently, in an assisted living home or nursing care facility. It is up to you to set the standard for your health. Just making simple changes in what you eat can really help you maintain a more enjoyable lifestyle. If you are a family member reading this with a loved one in an assisted living or a nursing care facility, try to encourage your family member by helping them buy healthy foods and coming up with creative ways to eat them.

Let’s Talk About…Incontinence

This is a subject which many people shy away from because of embarrassment.  Bladder leakage or uncontrolled bladders is not exactly a topic for great dinnertime conversation, but it is a topic that ought to be talked about in a less hushed way.  It is a common problem, especially in the elderly population.  It’s a topic that many people know about, but don’t know seem to know how to solve it.

Incontinence occurs, in most cases, when the bladder muscles do not tighten as they should to move the urine or when the muscles around the urethra relax unexpectedly and cause the urine to leak out.  It is a muscular issue, and since we lose muscle tone as we age, it can be a very regular & disconcerting occurrence.

Anyone who has visited a nursing care & assisted living facility or an elderly ward knows that incontinence is an issue & the accompanying smells associated with these places can turn away even the most stalwart of volunteers.  No one wants to have those types of smells associated with them!  But how do you keep that from happening?  Especially if you’re senior citizen on a very limited and fixed income?  Many people in this situation cannot afford to buy disposable diapers and many more prefer not to fill up landfills with diapers that take decades to decompose.

I’ve heard of people who are just discovering this as an issue to roll toilet paper to help absorb leakage.  This may work for a small amount of leakage, but will do nothing to stave off the smell or hide the issue if a larger leakage occurs.  Some people go so far as to not drink when they go out because they do not want it to be an issue when they’re away from home!  If you’re an elderly person, this can cause a whole host of much worse health problems than the leakage!  Dehydration in elderly is common enough without intentionally withholding the fluids that your body needs for proper functioning!  Please do not do this!  If you know someone who does, please warn them of the dire consequences of intentionally dehydrating themselves!

In recent years, many companies have been developing products that can be used repeatedly for absorption of urine because of incontinence and then washed again and again.  This seems to be the best option for all involved.  Those who use them can then have freedom from embarrassment from leaks & also from having to buy the diapers in the store.  They’re also more economical in the long run than buying diapers every time they run to the market.  In addition, they’re a better option than disposables when it comes to landfills.  They still involve manufacturing, but because they’re re-useable, they have a smaller environmental footprint than the disposables.

Look online for things called “re-useable incontinence pads”, “re-useable pantyliners” or “period underwear”. There are lines of products that sell pads of chairs, men’s incontinence briefs, and even swimwear options. While this may be incredibly difficult for an elderly person to face and talk about, you’ll notice a greater confidence and more willingness to be out and about once this issue is dealt with.  Most of these products can be used with a wet bag  that is waterproof and tightly sealed if traveling so that the washing only needs to be done every few days.  It is impossible for them to feel confident or even comfortable if they have bladder leakage problems always on their minds.    Give them the gift of freedom and security from embarrassment!    Then take them somewhere they’ve been longing to go!

Malnutrition in the Elderly

 

Have you ever noticed how little some elderly people eat?  Even if you meet those who are elderly that have great attitudes, often their food intake is very little.  A small amount of one kind of food and they seem satisfied and move on with their day.  Is it really that older people need fewer calories or are there other issues that cause decreased appetite?  How does that suppressed appetite affect them over time?

There are many contributing factors to a shallow appetite in older adults.  There can be psychological factors, physical & even financial factors affect how much elderly people eat.  You’ll first need to determine what may be causing them not to eat before even being able to offer the help that they need.

Psychological factors might include anxiety, depression, or even something as fixable as not being in social situations very often.  People who are accustomed to being with others often but end up in a new situation where they have less contact socially can enter a slump that is hard to climb out of.  Setting a date for lunch once or twice a week can be a great help.  If they have issues with anxiety, check to make sure that their nervousness is occurring because of their diet.  Often people feel extreme nervousness or anxiety if they are lacking the correct balance of protein & carbohydrates in the diet.  Their blood sugar spikes or crashes & this can make them feel anxious.  If you can increase social contact & ensure that they have balanced meals, you may find their anxiety waning.  Social get togethers need not be always surrounding food.  You can arrange card games or other board games evenings.  You could also arrange for crafting/hobby times that would be enjoyable for several people to attend.  Pay attention to the things that they talk about, especially if they are feeling lonely.  Some people do not know how to cook for themselves & need to attend a cooking class.  Some people have cooked for others for so long that they see it as silly to cook for only one person.

Physical factors could include lack of absorption because of digestive issues.  If a doctor can diagnose what is going on, it is best.  If they have a problem with alcohol, it will interfere with their absorbsion of nutrients, so getting them help for the alcohol would be the logical first step.  Ask about their teeth and whether they are bothering them when they eat.  A trip to the dentist could be all that is holding them back from eating a healthy diet.  Ask if they’re trying to follow a certain diet that the doctor recommended.  Sometimes something as simple as a doctor asking them to cut out salt is enough for them to change their diets drastically and end up not eating enough because they don’t know how to cook or eat in this new way by adding in other herbs to make their food more appealing.  If they have many dietary restrictions, ask at the hospital or at a nursing home to see if they have a nutritionist you could consult with to help them come up with meal ideas and plans.

Financial factors often occur for elderly adults.  Assisted Living on social security alone is very difficult, but it is a reality for many senior citizens.  If they are struggling to buy healthy foods on their budget, try to help them figure it out.  There are many state & county programs available to help seniors with meals.  Meals on Wheels is a reputable one, but there are others.  Also, any time that there is a function that offers a low cost or free meal for the community, make sure that you invite them and find a ride or bring them.  It can be encouraging for them to be out and about and part of things in the community, and it can also provide their meal for the night.

All of this may seem a bit daunting at first when you’re delving into it but rest assured that once you start tackling the problem, they will most likely become more enjoyable people to be around.  Malnutrition can affect people in different ways and is almost always accompanied by health problems.  Iron deficiency can be caused by malnutrition.  Fatigue, dizziness and weakness can also be caused by it, even in early stages.  Once it is more advanced, there are a plethora of ailments that can come of it.  Do your friend or loved one a favor and get them help with the specific area that they need help so that they can go on to live a full and happy life!

Beginnings

It is a new year.  With all things new, we tend to have our hopes set very high.  It is common, especially when the year is at it’s start to have high hopes for the things that will change in the coming year.  The bad habits that we’ve formed over the past years, we hope to discontinue.  We also hope to somehow work our way toward a healthier & happier life in the year ahead by forging new habits with some sort of immense willpower which has, until January the first, alluded us.  Our expectations may be unrealistic & our efforts laughable, at times. After having no exercise routine for years we suddenly hope to run 5 miles a day, 6 days out of the week.  After drinking soda daily since we were teens, we hope to drink only water, herbal tea and probiotic rich drinks.  But, just because we sometimes set unrealistic goals for ourselves does not mean that new habits are futile to try to attain.  On the contrary, new  & wholesome habits are important and worthy goals set.  There are better ways to go about it, however, than strictly by grunt-force willpower.

1. One at a time. Habits are formed through doing them, not by resolving to do them. For this reason it is best to choose one habit at a time to work on.  It takes a great deal of energy to make the decision to do something new each time you must do it. For instance, if you do not have the habit of walking each morning, it takes just as much effort to decide to put on your gear and get out the door as it does to actually do the walking.   Once the effort of decision is less, you can move on to more habits that you’d like to form, but not until then, lest you abandon the progress you’ve made on the first habit.

2. Specific, Measurable, attainable, reasonable, trackable. You’ve probably already heard of making goals that are “S.M.A.R.T”.  Remember to make your goals each of the things listed above.  It is better to say, “I’m going to eat at least 2 green vegetables a day,” than “I’m going to get healthier this year.”  If you can measure a goal, you’ll know whether you’ve reached it or not.  If you cannot measure a goal, you can easily fool your own mind into believing that you’ve attained it, even without evidence.

3. Once your goals or habits have become easier, move on to solidifying them in such a way as it will be difficult to break them in the future.  Try to be sure you do them 21 times in a row, without pause.  Notice how much easier it is each time.

4. Wagons & Trains. You’ve probably heard habits described as ruts in a road that makes it easier for a wagon to find its way with ease. They’ve also been described as putting down track for a train to later follow on easily.  Whichever way you look at it, habits are the pre-cursors that we follow on, often without thought.

5. Good or Bad. Because it would require too much effort to think through each action, habits are actually little blessings throughout our day. If you had to pay heed to things like tying your shoes each time that you did it and decide to do it a different way each time, your mind would be full of that action & unable to think ahead to some of the heavier decisions that had to be made throughout the day.  One thing is certain, we are forming habits all throughout the day, every day.  Not making your bed each morning is just as much habit as making your bed.  Eating sugary cereal and coffee is just as much habit as eating veggies and eggs.  You are laying down rails through habits.  Is the railway taking you where you want to go?