Sure, you might be used to celebrating birthdays and relationship anniversaries. But I’ve just hit a major milestone – one that greeting card companies don’t promote – that I’m excited to shout from the rooftops. Thirty years ago this week, I started making wellness a priority.

Ever hear of the Freshman 15? I doubled that in college with drinking and midnight-pizza deliveries. After graduation I started working a demanding job, and it only got worse. By early 1992, I was fifty pounds above my natural weight. I felt bad, sluggish, and constantly tired.

However, going to therapy had awakened a desire to feel better and start treating myself like a friend. Right after Labor Day 1992, I decided to accompany some friends to a step aerobics class, which was the big fitness trend at the time.

I didn’t have any workout attire to wear, opting for my boyfriend’s sweatpants and t-shirt, and I was the least fit person in the class. However, those self-imposed excuses, which previously would have held me back, didn’t matter anymore. I adored the music, doing the steps in sync with everyone else and how good it felt to move my body. Joined that gym to take step classes before work and started eating better. Slowly but surely, I got healthier, and the extra pounds came off.

Most importantly, I’ve maintained my wellness throughout the ups and downs of the decades that followed. Or perhaps I should say, my wellness helped me ultimately prevail over whatever obstacles came my way.

At the time, I had no idea that going to that one fitness class would end up transforming my life for good. What worked was just focusing on taking one step forward to feel better.

The truth is that anyone can make wellness a priority. Whatever shape you’re currently in, whatever challenges you face, know that you can become more adept at building your capacity in this area.

Practice and repetition are essential. Richard Davidson, PhD, a neuroscientist and the founder of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, agrees.

In this Greater Good magazine article called “The Four Keys to Well-Being,” Davidson noted that, “Well-being is a skill. All of the work that my colleagues and I have been doing leads inevitably to this central conclusion. Well-being is fundamentally no different than learning to play the cello. If one practices the skills of well-being, one will get better at it.”

Here are 4 ways to make wellness a priority in your life

  1. Gain Awareness.

The first step toward prioritizing wellness is becoming aware of what areas in your life need to be refueled before you completely run out of steam. Often, people tend to focus their attention on some areas while others drop by the wayside. Choose the area where you have the greatest deficit to concentrate on first. Once you get that down, come back to tackle the next area in need of improvement.

For example, you may already prioritize good nutrition, but you constantly skimp on sleep, and it is impacting your energy levels and concentration. I recommend starting small and going for manageable improvements. If better sleep is your priority, perhaps you go to bed fifteen minutes earlier each night for a week and then increasing it by another fifteen-minute increment the following week. Pretty soon you will build a positive long-term habit.

2. Become a morning person.

If you’re looking to make wellness a foundational behavior, I do have some strong advice about when to incorporate it into your schedule: become a morning person! Get up an hour earlier and take that “extra” time to focus on the areas of your wellness that need attention.

You might be yawning just reading those words, feeling skeptical about breaking your habit of bingeing the latest streaming sensations until way past midnight. But even if you don’t naturally rise before the crack of dawn, you can learn how to become one of those early birds that gets the worm.

That’s what I did thirty years ago to ensure exercise was completed before starting my workday.  It was painful setting the alarm clock an hour earlier at first. But the burst of energy and self-esteem, and the way I felt after exercising, more than made up for it. Now working out in the mornings feels as natural as breathing for me.  

3. Schedule your wellness.

Analyze your calendar and choose a regular time when you can ensure that your wellness activity remains a top priority. If waking up early doesn’t work with your schedule, select a different time. It can even be your lunch hour, depending on your goals.

For example, if the activity you choose is exercise, maybe go to a nearby gym for a spin class, where you’ll have access to a quick shower. If you’re trying to build a meditation habit, shut your door, pause all smart devices and electronics, and let yourself get recentered.

If completely breaking away won’t work for you, get creative and find healthy ways to multitask your desired activity. For Kathy Higgins, the chief executive officer of the nonprofit Alliance for a Healthier Generation, that means taking walking meetings. An avid fan of early-morning walks, Higgins often covers five to seven miles while catching up with team members during virtual, one-on-one meetings.

4. Seek accountability.

There are numerous ways to hold yourself accountable for your well-being. If you’re the kind of person who likes consistent recognition in the form of badges and inspiring messages, check out apps that track desired behaviors and receive those electronic kudos in return—plus, you’ll get to chart your progress.

There are numerous free apps that provide this kind of accountability with sleep, nutrition, exercise, mindfulness, and more. You may also consider finding an accountability partner to share in this journey, someone like a friend or a partner who’d be delighted to check in with you daily on mutual accomplishments and challenges.

How have you made wellness a priority in your life?