By Kathleen Trotter
It is hard enough for families to be active and make healthy choices at the best of times. COVID has been anything but the best of times. Most of us were swimming against a current; it took tremendous effort not to be swept backwards.
The scaffolding of our lives changed.
Routines were broken.
We all adopted new unhealthy habits by default because we were stuck at home, divorced from our usual physical and social activities.
Enough is enough. It is time to hit the reset button. We need to consciously reboot our mindset and design new habits that serve ourselves and our families better.
Athletes don’t expect that every practice will go smoothly, that they will perform perfectly at every game, or that they will never lose. Athletes work toward mastery, not perfection.
Teach your kids that they will have good and bad days, and that they don’t have to be “perfectly active” to adopt a healthier lifestyle.
Remind your kids that successful careers include bad seasons and that an elite baseball athlete will make the Hall of Fame with a batting average above .300, which means they strike out seven out of 10 times. Peyton Manning will go down in history as one of the greats; his completion rate was 65.3% — he doesn’t complete a third of his passes.
Share this data with your family. Tell them that if Peyton Manning could miss a pass, all the members of the family can miss a workout without letting that missed workout throw them off their health path. Something is always better than nothing. Consistency—not perfection—is what matters.
Model a healthy attitude toward health. Communicate. When you make a choice that you are not proud of, walk them through the choice and what you learned. Model for them the power of a growth mindset. Show them that we live, we learn, and we grow.
Model what it looks like to move daily and make healthy food choices. Let them see that being active makes you more energetic, happy, and focused. It starts with you.
If it’s not in the schedule, it won’t happen. Schedule in park time, sports you and/or your kids will play, gym time for you and your spouse, and even after-dinner family walks. Get the family involved in planning and prepping healthy meals and organizing fun family activities. Health is a family affair that needs to be scheduled.
Roughly 95% of what we do in a day happens automatically. This is a good thing; our brains can only sift through a certain number of stimuli. We need habits and rituals to survive. We only have so much cognitive energy and attention.
Habits allow health to exist mostly within the realm of the unconscious. Habits and rituals are the actions, thoughts, emotions, etc., that we repeat regularly; they happen relatively seamlessly — automatically — below the level of conscious decision making.
To paraphrase F.M. Alexander, we don’t determine our future. We determine our habits. Our habits form our destiny.
The thing is that, to create healthy habits, you must first be intentional. To do this, you must improve your “systems.” A system is something/someone/an environment that constrains the future you so that you take the actions you desire. Once you take that action enough times it becomes a habit!
Be careful not to inadvertently attack anyone’s identity. Feedback regarding the body, nutrition, and physical activity—no matter how well-meaning—is typically hard to hear. Talk about your children’s actions, not who they are as people.
Ask for everyone’s input. Use a loving voice. Humans want to feel seen, heard, and valued. Make sure they know this all comes from a place of love. To paraphrase Maya Angelou, no one cares what you say until they know how much you care.
In his book, Letters to A Young Athlete, the former NBA basketball player Chris Bosh writes: “I can tell you all about being a champion and how to reach your goals. I can try to inspire you … but I can’t do it for you. What comes next is up to you.”
This holds true for you and your family. You can inspire. You can model that “practice makes better.” You can register them for activities and make healthy food choices (like fruit) convenient and unhealthy food choices (like Doritos) inconvenient. You can demonstrate what it means to live a vibrant and active lifestyle. You can teach them that we must design the habits we desire, so that we end up with a life that we love. You can tell them what I tell my clients: “You don’t have to be great to start, but you do have to start to get great.”
The rest is up to them! You can’t do any of it for them.
Kathleen Trotter, MSc, is a fitness expert, media personality, personal trainer, writer, and author of Finding Your Fit: A Compassionate Trainer’s Guide to Making Fitness a Lifelong Habit and Your Fittest Future Self. Making Choices Today for a Happier, Healthier, Fitter Future You. She has been a personal trainer and fitness expert for almost twenty years. She has appeared in a variety of media outlets, including Inspire Health, Shape, and Sharp. Kathleen holds a master’s degree in Exercise Science from the University of Toronto, a nutrition diploma from the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition, and a nutrition certification through Precision Nutrition. She is a C.H.E.K. Level 3 Trainer, a Level 2 Fascial Stretch Therapist, a Level 1 ELDOA practitioner, and a certified Pilates Equipment Specialist. Kathleen is currently working to become a life coach.