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Everyone wants to be “that girl.” You know who she is, the one who “has her life together,” who wakes up early, works out in a chic set, drinks colorful smoothies, has pretty, shiny hair and glowing skin — all effortlessly of course. I’m sorry to tell you that this is not actually a tutorial on how to be her, in fact, I’m here to tell you instead that you can’t be her. She isn’t real! But you are, and you can be just as happy as her.  

Social media is full of trends: things that rapidly gain popularity and lose it just as quickly. It seems weekly, sometimes even more frequently, there is something new that we absolutely must try. Alarmingly, lifestyles have become part of these trends. The two are almost antonyms, making it unproductive to turn a lifestyle into a trend — or a trend into a lifestyle. Trends are fleeting, something that comes and goes almost too quickly to keep up with. A lifestyle, however, is something holistic, a way of living that influences everything one does, every day. A lifestyle cannot be adopted as quickly as or as fleetingly as trends are. 

Influencers all over social media masquerade as “that girl” for millions to see. Instagram is full of men and women alike carefully posing in their expensive gym outfits to show off their fit lifestyle. This is problematic as a second captured in time, with contorted angles, flattering lighting and subtle editing, is presented as a perpetual state of being. Tik Tokkers post 10-second videos of the best 10 seconds of their day, and YouTubers 10-minute videos of the best 10 minutes of their week. This is problematic because that’s all those videos are: their best moments represent their entire lifestyle. It sets unrealistic standards of not just how to look, act or be, but how to live.  

That isn’t real life. In reality, people struggle, and that’s okay. The lifestyle that is presented is not the problem, but the way in which people try to achieve it is. It is great to have goals of eating well, of taking care of your body through exercise, of maintaining a good schedule and other healthy things. However, it is important to realize that these types of significant changes don’t happen overnight and that it is not realistic to maintain such a “perfect” lifestyle all of the time.  

I might have misled you a bit. While I can’t tell you how to be “that girl,” I can help you to implement the lifestyle characteristics that she represents — with science. Leading a stable lifestyle is all about forming consistent habits. In “Atomic Habits” by James Clear, he notes that “your habits can compound for or against you.” He explains that productivity compounds, but so does stress. Completing one small task a day, for multiple days will result in lots of things accomplished. However, the opposite is also true. Multiple stressors can come together to create high-stress situations. If these situations persist for weeks, months or even years, they can create serious health and happiness problems. 

Knowledge and relationships can compound as well, but so can negative thoughts and anger. What all of this means is that everything you do must be done intentionally. Habits are most successful when there is some level of commitment behind them. Now, your situation is not going to change immediately because you decide it will — but over time it might. Practice the life you want, and it can become the life you have.  

This may all sound very exhausting, and honestly a lot of work. But, habit forming doesn’t have to be a burden. In “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg, he describes the way habits are naturally formed. First, there is a cue, a desire for a result. Following that cue, a routine develops and finally, a result is obtained. The result is like a reward, it’s what was desired. This in turn provides subconscious motivation to repeat the routine or habit to continue getting the result or reward. Studies have found that it is the reward part that makes us continue the habit. If you are struggling to form a habit, you can accelerate this process a bit by rewarding yourself for completing the behavior you are trying to turn into a habit. 

For example, if you want to start waking up earlier, you might reward yourself with your favorite coffee or breakfast. This teaches your brain that waking up earlier results in something yummy. If you want to start studying for an hour each day, you could reward yourself with some television time afterward. I like to reward myself for cleaning my apartment with fresh flowers to put in the kitchen. If the result is sufficiently rewarding, the habit will form. While not perfect, habits are consistent and will deliver results. This can make change much easier and less of a chore. 

Being “that girl” is unattainable because it suggests that people live incredibly productive, healthy and well-balanced lives effortlessly. The truth is that none of those things are effortless. They require commitment, dedication and persistence, but they are achievable with good habits. If you start today, you can be anything you want.

Amy Edmunds is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at amyedmun@umich.edu.