Have you ever heard or thought “creating healthy habits is hard”? There are lots of reasons people think this way – limited time and competing priorities, extra effort required to exercise and prepare healthy meals, existing not-so-healthy habits that have become entrenched.
Yet we all have strengths we can tap into to make changes so we can reach our health goals. In fact, using our inherent strengths makes it easier to shift our behavior, enjoy what we do and stick with it!
It makes sense if you think about it – doing things we’re good at is easier and more fun than doing things we aren’t good at, so why not apply that to improving our health?
Discover Your Strengths
Years ago I took the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment, which focuses on talent-based attributes, and one of my strengths is “arranger.” I love to arrange events, social gatherings, and travel. In applying this strength to healthy behaviors, I arrange bicycling events that raise money for charity, group hikes for friends, and trips that include hiking and sea kayaking.
Another strength I have is adaptability. In my past corporate job, I was constantly shifting priorities and tasks to address the latest “fire drill” (we need a video for a big meeting in 3 days!) or change in strategy.
When my husband and I are traveling, I’ll quickly create a plan B if our original itinerary has a wrench thrown in it. For example, when we went up to Glacier National Park several years ago, with visions of backpacking for a few days and reservations for an amazing lodge stay afterwards, there was a forest fire in the park. Several areas were closed and the air quality was terrible, so backpacking there was a no-go.
So we headed south and went to the Tetons instead. I studied the map and found a great loop route for backpacking there. We set out on the trail, and as we reached our planned campsite for the evening, it started to rain. Fortunately we were prepared and had waterproof gear and a good rainfly for our tent. But after it rained all night, and looked like it was going to continue all day, we decided that hiking in the rain and then setting up our next camp with wet gear was not our idea of a fun vacation.
No worries though, we adapted our plans yet again. We hiked out and got a hotel room in Jackson Hole!
I also leverage my adaptability strength for fitness. I plan out my workouts for the week – which days I’ll run or bike, which days I’ll lift weights, and which days I’ll stretch and rest. But sometimes on my “bike day” the wind will be howling, so I’ll swap it with an indoor high intensity interval training workout. Or on a strength day my legs will be tired from a run, so I’ll focus on upper body and core exercises.
Capitalize on Your Character
Another part of your personality you can use is character strengths. The VIA Institute on Character offers a free self-assessment (https://www.viacharacter.org/survey/account/register) that ranks how strong you are in traits like curiosity, creativity, teamwork and perseverance. Let’s say you score high on curiosity and creativity. And your goal is to be able to hike 5 miles so you can keep up with your spouse or your kids on an upcoming trip to a National Park.
As you think about how to reach that goal, you realize that finding different routes to walk suit you much better than getting your steps in on a treadmill or the same path every day.
Seek Others’ Perspectives
Still not sure what your strengths are, or how they may apply to reaching your health goals? Ask family members, friends and coworkers what they think you’re good at – you may not realize that something you do “automatically” is a strength!
Then brainstorm how you could use those strengths to create habits that help you get healthier and happier. Sometimes just a small adjustment in how you approach your goal makes it that much easier and more enjoyable.
It’s like walking with the wind against your back instead of into it.