The Only Sustainable Motivation for Living a Healthy Lifestyle

Do you struggle to eat right, sleep well, and exercise hard? If so, here are a few choices you can make that will make a major difference.

The Only Sustainable Motivation for Living a Healthy Lifestyle

Workout. Eat better. Sleep more.

It feels like every health improvement plan I've ever seen is a variation of these three concepts. And in the back of my mind, I know this is what I should do. But that gap between knowing and doing is tough. Perhaps you agree.

Maybe you're ten, fifty, or a hundred pounds overweight and you feel hopeless. You know you should live a healthier lifestyle, but each year your body trends in the wrong direction.  

A brief personal illustration.

I'd always been active in high school and college. But after I got married, had a few kids, and hit my thirties, I found it tougher to stay in shape. For years, I tried to just grit my teeth and force myself into a healthier lifestyle. I'd set these grand six-month goals but fall off the wagon after a few weeks and slip into some poor habits.

Finally, I stumbled across three simple hacks that made all the difference.

First, I combined my focus.

Instead of separating my physical and spiritual goals, I decided to focus on combining the two and make taking care of my body an act of worship. Sound crazy? Maybe. But here is why I found it helpful.

When I separated my physical from my spiritual, I found it easier to abuse my body. I wouldn't miss my personal time with God, but if I was stressed, I would overeat. I was OK with being a few pounds overweight, even though I knew this made me more sluggish. If I didn't feel like working out, I didn't. But when I linked the two, something changed.  

Second, I focused less on goals and more on systems.

James Clear often says, "You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems."

When I eat right, sleep well, and exercise hard, I feel better. These three practices provide clarity. And when I'm falling short in one area, I'm more likely to confuse physical problems with spiritual oppression. I over-spiritualize everything and think the devil is fighting me when my body is paying the price for that extra donut.

Third, I changed my motivation.

Instead of saying "I'm going to eat right, sleep well, and exercise hard so I can have a six-pack in nine months," I said, "I am going to live a healthy lifestyle so I can better hear the voice of God."

I can't tell you how beneficial this switch has been.

To be clear, I'm not trying to set myself up as the model of perfect health. I still eat pizza and like the occasional can of root beer (which I may or may not be drinking as I write this). These hacks have just worked for me. And if you're someone who has struggled to live a healthy lifestyle, here are a few choices I'd recommend you make.  

Choice #1 | Make Eating Right, Sleeping Well, and Exercising Hard Acts of Worship 

Seriously. Acts of worship.

Think about it. If I were to ask you why you love your significant other and treat your coworkers well, you'd probably say something like, "Well, I just try to love others as God loves me." A solid Biblical response.

Now, just apply the same rules to yourself. Just as you wouldn't abuse others out of love for them and love for God, draw a line in the sand and resolve that you won't abuse your body.

Instead, view seemingly minor decisions such as going to bed on time, opting for salads instead of macaroni and cheese, and evening jogs as acts of worship.

Choice #2 | Embrace the Spiritual AND Physical Disciplines 

I love Richard Foster's The Celebration of Discipline. He and others like Dallas Willard have taught me so much about establishing healthy spiritual rhythms.

But it's important to remember the connection between the physical and spiritual. The Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:27, "But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

I hate to go here because this isn't meant to be a judgy post. But I'm just trying to be like Paul. How we treat our bodies sends a message to others. Practically speaking, we have no right to speak to others about alcohol abuse, drugs, or smoking if we're consistently abusing our bodies through poor eating and lack of discipline.

Choice #3 | Keep Re-Calculating and Focus on Your Why

Sometimes I'll be on a roll. I'll be eating right, exercising well, and getting enough sleep. But then life happens. The kids are awake all night and I only get three hours sleep. Because I'm off track I hit a drive-through on the way home from work. And then I get home and think what's the use? I already blew it today and I'm too tired to workout.

In those moments, that's when systems work better than goals. Instead of thinking about all the ways I'm now off track, I think to myself, how can I regain control of my body so I can best position myself to hear God's voice? Sometimes this involves sucking it up and hitting the weights. Other days, I'll go to bed early and reset for the next day. But the key is to avoid beating myself up because I got off track and focus on bringing my body under control.

And in the words of leadership author Simon Sinek, I remain focused on my why. Why should I eat right, sleep well, and exercise hard? To better hear the voice of God. That's it.

And as a Christian, I believe that is the only sustaining motivation that matters.

What do you think? How do you discipline your body? Login below and leave a comment.