Kansans received disturbing news recently when the United Health Foundation showed our state had the single largest DECLINE in overall health rankings in America, falling from 12th to 29th since 1990. The report was chock full of disturbing trends – rising cancer and cardiovascular deaths, low vaccination rates, more uninsured citizens and skyrocketing obesity and diabetes rates among others.

Just as we hope our state’s lawmakers will use this data to make sound choices for the overall benefit of fellow Kansans, we owe it to ourselves to make wise self care a personal priority.

You likely already know the basics: Get eight hours of sleep a night, spend 150 minutes exercising each week, drink eight glasses of water a day and consume a balanced diet made up of one-half fruits/vegetables with the remaining half made up of a variety of proteins, low-fat dairy and whole grains. (Obviously finding the diet that best suits you and doesn’t trigger allergies is key within the suggested guidelines).

But how do you make these time-tested fundamentals stick and become habits?

Maybe in January, like many others, you made a resolution to drop a few pounds or to get back to a regular exercise routine. Laudable and achievable goals, right? But perhaps by now they’ve fallen by the wayside, and if you’re in that group, you’re in good company.

Before you start beating yourself up, it might surprise you to learn that it’s more nuanced than just a lack of willpower. In fact, research would suggest that willpower has little to do with it.

A deeper look at how we form habits and make positive change is revealed in landmark research described by Dr. Wendy Wood in her new book “Good Habits, Bad Habits.” She describes how science has looked at habits and finds that willpower alone is inadequate. We all strive to live by motivation and willpower, but we’re not really made that way.

A stunning 43% of our waking hours are spent on auto-pilot, according to Wood’s research. Or put another way, nearly half of our actions aren’t intentional choices but instead occur as a result of our unconscious mind. They’re really done outside of our awareness, out of habit!

Spoiler alert: creating the lifestyle changes you’re seeking centers around heightening your awareness and then unlocking your habitual mind to incorporate the habits you’d like to add to that “43% auto-pilot” part of your lifestyle. Or put another way, become more observant and then harness that awareness to:

• Create context. For example, make walking or another form of exercise part of your morning routine along with brushing your teeth, showering, etc.

• Reduce friction. Take away any identifiable barriers to creating this habit, such as setting your exercise clothes out the night before or even sleeping in them.

• Make it rewarding. Find something about the desired habit that you truly enjoy, such as listening to a fun podcast you only listen to while you’re exercising.

• Repeat it until it becomes automatic.

While lawmakers continue to weigh options on health policy, it’s up to each of us to recognize the power we have as individuals to shape the life we desire and the kind of health we wish to enjoy.

Or as Lizzo puts it, “To feel good as hell!”

Kathy Damron is a former public policy advocate who currently studies wellness & teaches yoga in Topeka and Lawrence. Reach her at Kathydamronyoga@gmail.com.