From Big Picture to The Small Things
Do you, when the New Year rolls around (or at another key time of year, like your birthday) find yourself thinking: “THIS is the year I’ll ‘get my health on track’?”
Those “big goal” thoughts are frequently over-generalized, and almost always lofty. But they are not usually the ones that get us to better health. Instead, the small, simple changes—the ones we do every day—are what get us there.
We all know this, intuitively. It just makes sense. After all, big change is made up of the simple, the everyday. But my goal is not to give you a list of possible ideas. That can easily be found through an Internet search.
Instead, I want to look at what “simple” means, and then share with you some of the simple but big-impact changes I’ve made.
“Simple,” which comes from the Latin word “simplus,” was originally a noun, a medicine made with one ingredient (typically plant-based). It has evolved into an adjective, one that means easy or uncomplicated, but still maintains its original meaning, when used in botany or mathematics, to describe a single element. When we look at the word this way, we can see that “simple” is one thing. It’s not multi-anything. So we can toss any notion of changes that involve multiple steps or stages. We’re talking one, singular action.
But can one, singular action make a difference in your health?
Four years ago, when I was in the throes of Hashimoto’s, I wondered if I would ever feel better. I did not yet know how to take charge of my health and healing. I also had not implemented many of the changes that would help me heal. It all felt overwhelming.
Now I wish I could tell you that I made one simple change that made it all better, but that was not (and almost never is) the case. Still, several small changes and several years down the road, and I am feeling amazingly better.
If prompted, I would point to sleep—in consistent and longer amounts—as one of the key changes that has made the biggest impact. Many of the issues I faced—the crankiness, fatigue, night time anxiety—all diminished and eventually went away when I started going to sleep and waking at the same time each day. Now, if I start feeling off in any way, going back to that early bedtime routine is a must. And, within a day or so, I begin to feel righted again. There is little surprise in this: According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, sleep pretty much affects every single aspect of our health. From hormone regulation to growth to immune system regulation, getting sleep of sufficient quality and quantity is vital.
Now, while that change may be simple, implementing it was initially challenging. In fact, making the change required a mental shift, a determination to do whatever I needed to feel better.
But even before that shift, I had to realize that my behavior was creating the problem. I would stay up till close to 10, trying to watch some show, and then lay in bed, heart thumping, unable to relax, wondering why. “Why couldn’t I stay up like I used to?” “What was wrong with me?” Once I changed those thoughts, to accepting that, for the moment at least, I could not stay up that late, and that there was nothing wrong with me, I could change my behavior.
The point is, change, no matter how simple, begins with our thoughts.
Take yoga, for instance. When my sleeping improved, so did my energy, and in turn, my desire to become stronger. Back and neck pain made me set aside thoughts of being supermodel fit and instead led me to embrace a vision of myself as strong and flexible. So I turned to yoga. And I decided (there’s that mental shift again) that I needed to become a “morning person” if I wanted to make yoga a daily practice. Because I had the energy, I began getting up at 6 a.m., before my toddler could jump into my bed and wake me. This small change has meant I’ve been practicing yoga on a near-daily basis for over a year now. My husband, who always used to tease me about my ability to snooze the morning away, has been genuinely amazed.
This is how change works. Like a stone rippling across the water, one simple change leads to more;, some seen, some unseen. For example, the confidence that I can accomplish what I set my mind to is the result of that simple decision to do morning yoga.
This too is what the relationship between simplicity and our health is like. Very circular. Mental health. Emotional health. Physical health. When you change one, you change the others. And in this way, simple change isn’t really all that simple. Yet, it begins with one small step, a daily intention.
One that sets so much else into motion.