What’s the one best thing I can do for my health? This question tends to come up around the new year. In my clinical practice as a primary care nurse practitioner, I see this annual uptick in interest around healthy behaviors begin (and fade) like clockwork. People are ready to make changes — quitting smoking, losing weight, getting to the gym — and they want to start right now. Media and social feeds give them plenty of new things to try. Many of these so-called hacks are fine ideas for the right person at the right time. But are they the right thing for you, today? Often, the answer is no, and that’s likely part of the reason that roughly half (at best) of new year’s resolutions related to health fail before the year is up.
Now, back to the question my patients are asking. The best thing you can do for your health is something that you won’t find on a magazine cover: it’s simply to think deeply about it. Look at your life — your values, your purpose — and see what you need your health for. Sink your teeth into that. Sit with it for a while. Think about it, talk about it, write about it. What are you really looking for? Channel your inner toddler and ask “why” until you hear yourself answer something deeply true. This process doesn’t yield immediate, jaw-dropping before and after pictures, but it does help to establish a meaningful, sustainable relationship with your health and goals.
Step away from your smartphone
Now, stop googling for health hacks (or double-tapping them on your feed). Hacks are solutions in search of problems. They are created to capture your attention. Hacks are things you can do with as little effort as possible. If you are looking for ways to exert no effort, though, I wonder why you are trying to improve your health at all. Is your health not worth doing well? Is it less important than other things you’ve chosen to spend your energy and resources on? Don’t shortchange your commitment to your health. Dream bigger! Once you’ve established your own internal reasons for pursuing health, you can work on identifying goals and steps to meet them. You might find it helpful to work with a healthcare provider, coach, or even a like-minded friend to build informed, manageable steps that are appropriate for your life.
The problem with hacks
I get it, hacks are fun. They’re immediate and full of promises. You can start something, buy something, sign up for something, and it feels like you’re going somewhere. But. . . where? Whose road are you walking down, and why was it built? Where does it lead? Who is it designed to serve, and whose values is it based on? Maybe, there’s something for sale, and the purpose is to make money for another person. Maybe there are embedded assumptions of white supremacy, misogyny, transphobia, or fatphobia, and the purpose is to perpetuate a power imbalance. Maybe there are other values underlying the hack that are not in line with the reasons you need your health. Woah. Suddenly those ten weird tips don’t seem so cool.
So slow down, step back, and take a deep breath. You can find small actions that will improve your health, but they won’t come from clickbait, they’ll come from within. Stop hacking. Start healing.
Elizabeth Knight is a scientist, nurse practitioner, educator, and coach. You can find her at www.flowerpower.health.