All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits.
— William James
When you woke up this morning, what was the first thing you did? Did you roll over and hit the snooze button? Did you grab your phone and check email, hop in the shower and then start coffee? Did you go for a run? A doughnut or oatmeal for breakfast? What did you say to your significant other on your way out the door? Which route did you take to work, the park, or grocery store? Salad or pizza for lunch? When you returned home did you go for a walk or eat dinner in front of the TV? What did you say to your kids before they went to bed? What time do you normally go to bed?
There are so many choices we make every day that we never even think about them. It may seem those choices are products of well thought out decision-making, but research shows that 40 percent of the actions people perform every day aren’t actually decisions. They’re habits. On their own, each habit could mean relatively little, but over time the foods we eat, how often we exercise, what we say to our loved ones, and the way we organize our daily routines can all have a significant impact to our health, productivity and happiness.
Despite my best intentions to improve my lifestyle, I sometimes struggle to get rid of some habits. For example, in the The Art of Being Mindful, I wrote about the hyper-connectivity (iphone, ipad, computers, etc.) most of us experience everyday and my desire to quiet the internal urge to keep in constant touch with the outside world. Well, that’s easier said than done! I still sometimes find it challenging to slow down, quiet the mind, and work on other priorities like eating well-balanced meals, exercising daily, making time to read, sleeping a healthy number of hours, etc.
In the same post, I also wrote about experience-dependent neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to adapt and rewire itself. This phenomenon suggests there are benefits to exercising the brain. Like any muscle, attention can be strengthened with exercise. This means there’s still hope for me! Thank goodness! To help develop greater control over my attention, and thus reshape my brain and mind—focusing my attention on good habits I want to strengthen and bad habits I want to break—I’m going to start a Health and Fitness Challenge soon. I would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it if you would join me.
I will tell you more about the Challenge in an upcoming post, but until then think about your daily habits. Are there any habits you would like to break? Are there new habits you’d like to begin? Think about it. In the meantime, I will repost the Nine Lessons from the Blue Zones I wrote about a little over a year ago. I’ll update each of those, including a recipe. Hopefully, the lessons will get us all to rethink about lifestyle, health, happiness, and habits we might want to practice in our lives.
French Lentil Soup
Serves about 6-8
2 cups French lentils
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ large yellow onion, diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced or at a slant
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon dried tarragon (or 2 tablespoons chopped fresh leaves)
1 teaspoon dried thyme (or 2 sprigs fresh thyme)
1 teaspoon dried oregano (1 tablespoon chopped fresh leaves)
1 teaspoon paprika (I used Hungarian paprika)
1 cup plum tomatoes, seeded and diced (fresh or from a can)
6-8 cups water or low-sodium vegetable broth
1-2 potatoes, peeled, halved lengthwise and sliced thin crosswise
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetarian miso paste, optional
thyme sprigs, for garnish, optional
tarragon sprigs, for garnish, optional
Sort, rinse and drain lentils. Set aside.
In a large pot over medium heat, add oil and sauté the onion and carrots until onions are translucent and carrots have slightly softened. Add the garlic, tarragon, thyme, oregano and paprika, and sauté for about 2 more minutes. Add the tomatoes and stir, cooking for about 3-5 minutes.
Add 6 cups of water, lentils, potatoes, bay leaves, salt, and pepper. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 1 hour, or until the lentils are tender. If the soup looks too thin, uncover and simmer for a couple more minutes. If it looks too thick, add a little more water. Taste and adjust salt. If using miso, remove some of the soup broth or use warm water to dissolve miso paste in a small bowl. Remove soup from heat and add the miso liquid.
Ladle soup into bowls serving bowls, garnish with thyme or tarragon, if using. Sprinkle with black pepper and serve with crusty bread.
Notes: This soup is really simple to make. I’ve made several versions in the past, often using what I have on hand. I’ve tried it with shallots, leeks, and celery; with and without potatoes; and, with and without miso. I use mild miso paste so the flavor is not dominant. It just gives a mild depth of flavor. If you’re not sure about using miso, you can sample a portion with the soup before adding it all to the pot.