Keep your wits about you!

DSC_0013Danger can lurk in even the most mundane situations, as you can see here. More seriously, everyday things have an effect in the long run, so it’s worth making sure they’re healthy.

I haven’t always thought this way. Not that long ago, if I noticed I was slouching – especially at the computer – or about to eat something with all the nutritional value of a lump of coal, I’d shrug and carry on. After all, I’d reason, the work I’m doing or the energy boost I need is important, whereas the contribution this one decision will make to my health is minuscule. I also used to think, “I’m in my 20s! I don’t need to worry about the long term yet!” Then I turned 30. D’oh!

These days my attitude’s almost the diametric opposite. It’s true that the consequences of one case of bad posture, unhealthy meal or unwise purchase are minimal, but if I do these things day in, day out for decades, they will add up. Everyone’s bad habits are different – maybe yours are slouching while you’re driving, or drinking too much, or spending a bit more than is sensible. Very often it’s our daily habits that make the difference, not the things we only do once in a while – quite a reassuring thought at this time of year!

Here’s a nice, tangible example of what I mean: €2 is a tiny amount, but if you spend that every weekday – on a cup of coffee, say, or a doughnut – then over a 48-week working year it adds up to €480, probably enough for a holiday. Similarly, one doughnut’s not going to make you flabby or rot your teeth, but eating one every workday for a year probably will. So it pays to get out of the habit of buying a €2 doughnut on your way to work.

Apart from the direct benefits, thinking this way has another advantage: it’s an ongoing lesson in self-discipline, always a useful skill to have. That’s why I think this mentality’s helpful even when its direct benefits are negligible. I try to switch off unnecessary lights, for example, even though the electricity used by a low-energy lightbulb in an hour wouldn’t even show up on the monthly bill.

This is NOT self-deprivation! Paying attention to your posture prevents (hopefully) the aches and pains you get if you don’t, eating well makes you feel better than highs and crashes from sugar and caffeine, and knowing your finances won’t be thrown off-course the next time an unplanned expense comes up (and they always do) is a huge relief. It’s just that the rewards aren’t instantaneous, which can make us inpatient in this electronic age.

An unexpected benefit of being self-disciplined is that you appreciate treats – or vices – all the more. I now limit my tea and coffee to two cups a day (more because of tannins and iron absorption than to avoid caffeine), and I savour them much more than the six or seven I used to gulp down. The occasional sugary dessert I do eat now tastes amazing instead of run-of-the-mill. Plus you have none of those pangs of guilt from having stuffed down another cream bun or bought yourself a shiny new toy you can’t really afford.

Of course, we all fall short of our intentions sometimes. Twice in the last week I’ve fallen off the wagon and had a third cup of tea, and this morning I spent an hour sitting and reading with terrible posture. My excuse for the latter? It was a great book and I wanted to finish it. How ridiculous is that? Would I have enjoyed it less if I’d been sitting in a healthy position? The result was an aching neck for hours afterwards.

If I compare myself now to two years ago, though, my habits are immeasurably healthier despite the lapses. Thanks to those changes I now have more energy, a better sleeping pattern, a healthier-looking silhouette and better cashflow despite shorter working hours. If I made one new year’s resolution, it would be to stick even more strictly to the rules I’ve set myself.

This is my last post until the new year, so happy holidays and thanks for reading this new blog of mine!

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