Have you ever said this:
“I just want to be the kind of person who naturally eats right and exercises. I wouldn’t even have to think about it and make all this effort. It would just be automatic.”
That does sound good, doesn’t it? I’d also like to be fluent in Hebrew without ever having to work at it. Do you think that’s realistic? Probably not. To become fluent in a new language you need to practice it, right? Likewise, to become this natural eat right/exerciser person, you have to practice being just that.
It all boils down to habits.
When a client says to me “I want to lose 20 lbs”, my job as a coach is to unpack this desire into actionable steps. So I ask, “what kind of person weighs 20 lbs less than you? How does she behave on a daily basis? What are her habits?” The habits that my client then lists are the ones we generally start working on. For instance,
- She exercises every morning (or evening, or lunch hour) without fail.
- She plans some meals ahead and even cooks some things in advance so that healthy food is ready when she comes home starving at the end of the day too tired to cook.
- She gets all the junk food out of the house so it can’t derail her when she experiences cravings or the drive to emotionally eat.
- She learns to eat only when hungry and stop before totally stuffing herself.
- She constantly remembers her goals and stays strong in the face of temptations.
So how can you get these habits (or others you’d like) going in your own life consistently?
Step One: Decide on ONE habit to start with
I know, the desire to change EVERYTHING all at once is overwhelming and you are so sure you can handle it all! Well, you probably can for a little while. But then when you start to slip on this momentous change-everything-all-at-once reformation, you’ll drop ALL the habits, as they are all linked together, and be right back at square one, feeling like a failure. You aren’t a failure, darling, just an over-achiever! And in this case, over-achieving isn’t a helpful thing to be.
How to know which one habit to pick? Pick the one you are certain you can do with an at least 90% success rate. Where’s the challenge in that, you ask? (There you go again, being all over-achiever-ish!) Trust me, science bears this out. Change is harder than you think it will be. That’s why you haven’t succeeded at it yet.
You will keep going with something that you are achieving. Start with the one habit you are most confident you can actually do consistently and long-term.
Step Two: Link your new habit to a trigger
During a normal day, we react continually to triggers all around us. The alarm goes off and you get up and brush your teeth. You weren’t born doing that. Your parents taught you to do it. The clock strikes 4pm and you start roaming the office for chocolate or sweets to help you power through the rest of the day. Again, not a natural habit, but one you developed over time. (and you can un-develop it too!)
One of my long-term habits is daily exercise. For me, the best time to work-out is first thing in the morning before I can talk myself out of it. When my kids were babies, that meant waking up before they did and getting it done. Now, I get up early to make them breakfast and lunch – a task that I adore – so while I am doing that, I am also getting myself ready to head out to the gym. They walk out the door for school and I walk out the door to the gym.
Here are some other trigger ideas for you:
- You hit the gym right after work, before you even get home.
- You pack yourself a sandwich and an apple and when the 4pm munchies hit, you eat what you brought instead of the chocolates and sweets in the office.
- Every Saturday night right after Havdalah (or Sunday night during your favorite TV show, depending on what country you live in), you sit right down and plan out some meals for the week.
- When you start to feel hunger pangs, you set the timer on your phone for 30 minutes. You can eat your next meal when it rings. (this helps you get back in touch with hunger and allow your body’s natural signals to guide you).
- Right when you sit down to eat, push about 3 bites of food to the side of your plate. Challenge yourself to leave those bites uneaten. (This helps you stop that habitual over-eating. You can eat them later on for a snack if you are still hungry).
- Use a food tracking app like MyFitnessPal and enable notifications. This way, you will get a reminder to your phone that you will break your streak if you don’t log into the app.
Step Three: Track it
I make each of my clients a personal habit tracker in google drive. You can easily make one for yourself. Just write the habit(s) you want to work on across the top, and the days down the side. Check off the days you get it done.
You want to keep working on your one habit until you are doing it for at least a week continuously at no less than a 97% success rate. When you feel solid in that one habit, you can add the next habit, following these same instructions. Honestly, the longer and stronger you can lock in each habit before adding in a new one, the better.
If you can’t get more than a few days going in your success streak, then your habit needs to be re-formulated. It is probably too hard. (see number one). If your goal is to get to the gym each morning, but you are feeling unsure of what to do when you get to the gym, or terrified of people judging you, you probably won’t go. You need to break this one down into smaller steps. The first habit might be to book 2-3 sessions with a personal trainer or find a friend to go with you to raise your confidence. If you are in the Facebook group, or working with me privately, you will get the support and accountability to work through these sorts of fears and obstacles.
Step Four: The Reward is the Result
If you engage in any of the above habits consistently for two weeks, you will definitely be feeling healthier, slimmer, less stressed, and more confident. Pay attention to these rewards. Reward yourself further in ways that support the continuation of your good habits – new workout clothes, a trip to the sauna or jacuzzi for those sore muscles, an expedition to a gourmet food market to buy the prettiest berries or the greenest kale, a new healthy cookbook…
Step Five: Get support
Consistency, consistency, consistency. Even though things are going great now, it’s all too easy to get thrown off course by a special event, holiday, trip, work deadline, or family calamity. How will you be able to stay on track or get back on track if you’ve fallen? They say your level of success in anything is mirrored by the people you surround yourself with, so if you current circle isn’t practicing healthy habits, you’ll need to add some new folks:
- Form an exercise group or healthy habits group with friends (Just know that when one person falls in these groups, everyone seems to go down like dominoes!)
- Pair up with someone who already has the habits you want down pat. Ask your friend the marathoner if you can send her daily emails of your running progress. Ask your friend who has successfully maintained her weight loss if she will support you in a few changes you’re trying to make.
- Hire a health coach, especially one who has accomplished what you want to accomplish.
Making habit changes isn’t easy. If you are like most of us, you will feel all kinds of resistance to change. But by following the above steps, you can sneak up on yourself a little. Practice the habits of the person you want to become for long enough, and you will become that person it just comes naturally to!
(If you find yourself totally unmotivated to make the changes you know you need to make, check out the 5 Stages and Change post.)