Sunday afternoon – time to stock up on some eats.  Grocery list in hand, you set off for some grub.

Snap goes the seatbelt – reverse, drive, right turn, and you’re on the road.  As disco plays on the mix station, your eye catches the exit sign for the highway.  Turn signal engaged, you merge over and hit the gas.

A mile goes by as you pass the familiar landmarks of car dealerships and drive-thrus.  The Burger King jogs your memory of food and the grocery store.

Turning the radio off, you suddenly realize what you’re doing. The grocery store is 3 miles in the opposite direction – you’re driving to work.

This is what can happen when we let lower level brain functioning take over…

Brains love patterns.  To conserve mental energy, our brains operate by following a series of automatic scripts. These are our daily habits – driving to work, checking email/facebook, typing passwords, making coffee.

But they also operate in more deep and subtle ways – how you interact with people or how you view yourself and the world.

Our habits push us forward.  Some keep us idle.  Bad ones pull us backwards.  Unfortunately, because bad habits tend to satisfy our impatience, they become ingrained quickly.

Habits like staying up too late, eating junk, and procrastinating rob your mind and body of energy.  The worst part? You may not be aware of them.

The last habit in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is “Sharpen the Saw.”  This is where your total wellness regimen (not just “working out”) counteracts the dulling effects of poor habits.

Some people approach fitness with a chore mindset – something to drudge through because they have to.  Fitness should add energy and value to your life. That’s the reason it’s worth pursuing in the first place.  Many yo-yo exercisers never really get this idea.

Healthy behaviors feed back into habit #1 – being proactive.  Nobody magically wakes up fitter than they were the day before with zero effort. It takes a proactive mindset to make the necessary changes.  Pro-activity solves problems by preventing them – stocking your fridge with “safe” comfort foods for example.

Ironically, many important proactive behaviors (like diet and exercise) that ultimately give you more time on this Earth are written off for being too time and energy-consuming. Imagine if the attention given to the health-care crisis of an obese nation went into public school lunch and PE programs a generation ago.

Sheer determination may get you started, but only habits guarantee results. Here are 5 strategies to sharpen your saw:

Make Lists.

Don’t fly blind – writing things out will help you commit to a plan of action.  3 lists to start with today – Goals, Obstacles, Groceries.

Make Friends.

Turn your health journey into a social affair.  Befriend regular gym-goers (dragging your unwilling friends along is a major drain) and join in on group classes.  Post workouts on Facebook.  Send meal photos to an accountability partner.  The positive energy you get from others will come in handy when motivation is low.


Find any excuse to celebrate success. Lookout for ways to be better today than you were yesterday.  This can mean “more” of something – drink more water, lift more weight. “Less” of something – drink less soda, eat smaller meals.  Or It can mean “new” – try new foods or exercises.  Don’t worry about the scale – focus on the things you can directly control everyday.


If you can’t find five minutes to walk, you’re not ready for bigger commitments.  This is your chance to start daily accomplishments.


After our due time in the education system, many a brain is put out to pasture.  Learning new skills creates novelty and keeps the mind engaged.  Seek out new ways to move your body – yoga, sports, kettlebells, boxing, juggling, swimming….

Find a place for these ideas in your plan and use them as shortcuts to make habit change easier.