“Be the change that you wish to see . . .”
― Mahatma Gandhi

For many of us in healthcare, clinical practice is no picnic. Long hours, clipped patient visits, staffing shortages, electronic glitches and myriad insurance issues often curtail our ability to provide preventive patient education and counseling.

Over and over again, research has demonstrated that our lifestyle hugely impacts our wellness and longevity. Yet, typically, we do a suboptimal job addressing this area with our patients — and ourselves. How can we, even with all the constraints that currently constrict us, amp up our game and be the change we wish to see?

Regardless of our shape, size or status in the healthcare hierarchy, modeling healthy behavior not only serves us, it enhances our patient care.

We have more empathy for what it takes to make consistent change. We must find out-of-the-box, creative ways to accommodate an already crunched schedule. Ultimately, we become more believable and congruent — what we preach is actually what we do.

I am not advocating 4:30 a.m. bike rides, though I did do that once upon a time. It was the only way I could figure out back then how to get some exercise while working full-time as a single mom when my son wasn’t with me.

Cruising down the Coast Highway in Southern California in the dark with no traffic, listening to the waves crash and seeing moonlight cast across the ocean was my idea of nirvana. Endorphins flowed; it kept me sane.

These days, I’m simply encouraging us to shift into a healthier lifestyle in whatever small way we can. Here are 15 suggestions:

  1. Stand straighter
  2. Try a Meatless Monday
  3. Eat an extra vegetable
  4. Smile at someone (even if you don’t feel like it)
  5. Get outside at lunch
  6. Start meditating one minute every day
  7. Practice random acts of kindness
  8. Pay it forward
  9. Exhale slowly before picking up the phone
  10. Stop multitasking and focus fully
  11. Park farther to walk further
  12. Take the stairs
  13. Teach your kids to be self-sufficient after 9 p.m. until the morning
  14. Create coziness (hygge) — even at work
  15. Get enough sleep

This last one, “get enough sleep,” is the one I prioritize above all. At this stage in my life, not getting enough good sleep impacts everything I do.

There’s a pre-strategy to obtaining it, though – I can’t just jump into bed and expect to sleep well. Practicing good sleep hygiene is key.

It doesn’t always work out that I get enough sleep; yet, I keep at it. It’s a lifestyle and essential for me.

By selecting one small, doable and meaningful behavior to adopt, we can begin to establish consistent health habits — perhaps elusive to us before. Accountability is key and rewards along the way help.

The Stages of Change Model further details six components for modifying behavior: precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance and relapse.

Don’t wait for New Year’s or your birthday to get started. Choose one now and commit. Then help your patients with one, too.

Salute! To your health!