The winter months are a very strange time for the human psyche. The holidays give us an excuse to throw healthy eating to the wind and to put fitness goals on the backburner. One or two social events can quickly turn into one or two weeks of excessive eating and reduced activity. In turn, guilt rears its ugly head and New Year’s Resolutions run rampant. Although borne from good intentions, guilt is a fleeting driver that dissipates quickly, along with the hopes of eliciting any semblance of permanent change.
Should you find yourself motivated for self-improvement this January, forget resolutions. Instead, buck the trend and make your motivation count by slowly changing important aspects of your lifestyle. By using the right blueprint not only can you get some early results, but you can change your life forever.
Before discussing the path to lasting results, here are a few red flags to avoid when attempting to make a change:
30-day challenges (or any “challenge” that has an expiry date) - Will doing “the right” things for 30 days help you lose weight? Although possible, after 30 days you’ll revert back to old habits and your 30 days of progress will be for naught. Cleanses are crap and real change doesn’t occur in mere weeks. Pass.
Expecting to be perfect - We are all human and perfection isn’t attainable. When approaching change, go into battle with the understanding that life happens and that you’ll never stick to any plan with 100% adherence. Give yourself some wiggle room and long-term change becomes far less daunting.
Going in alone - Although your goals are very personal, don’t underestimate the power of support and accountability. Find a friend to check in with daily, even if your goals are completely different. Use social media to share your progress and struggles with others. On top of that, don’t hesitate to use things like meal service or enlist the help of a coach. The more people you include in your journey, the easier it will be.
Fearing failure - If you view failure as anything other than an opportunity to improve, you’ve already lost. If you watch children, they are not afraid of failure. They understand that they need to give effort to accomplish something and if they fail, they try again without fear. Failure is the greatest learning tool we have as humans and if you don’t embrace it as such, you’ve peaked. Change your point of view, change your life. By accepting failure as a building block for success, you can accomplish absolutely anything over the course of time.
With these common errors in mind, the blueprint to lasting success is as much an exercise in human psychology as it is physical challenge. Long-term results don’t just come from taking action, but from having a plan that considers both your mental wiring and surrounding environment.
Perception is Reality
Step one is as critical as anything else: If you believe that you’re destined to fail and that it’s completely acceptable to do so, that’s the path you’ll follow. Although social media can be a great tool for accountability and support, platforms like Instagram can have the opposite effect. Scrolling through memes depicting how typical it is for people to procrastinate and be lazy have made the concept of self-improvement a farce. If you surround yourself with people who constantly joke about failing (virtual or real), your mind will always see this as a viable option. Your actions get you to your destination, but your mindset is your GPS. When in doubt, remember that you are an adult and in total control of your actions and outcomes.
Surrounding yourself with positive influences and positive self-talk cannot be underestimated.
Set Your (One) Goal
If you remember nothing else from this article, the biggest take-homes is to set one ultimate goal. It’s ambitious to set several goals, but this ensures that you’ll struggle to accomplish anything at all. Multi-tasking is the art of doing many things inadequately and when you put energy into more than one goal, the others will suffer. Even if your goals seem like they don’t overlap, it’s absolutely paramount that you have one goal that takes precedence over everything else.
This goal should be long-term but realistic and on a timeline. Losing 30 pounds as a goal needs a timeline. Losing 30 pounds in 2 months is unrealistic. Losing 30 pounds in one calendar year is spot on. Once you have your goal, write it down and make it visible daily. A constant reminder of this goal will keep you on track. Post-it notes around the house are a great idea to help hone this mindset.
Once your mindset is ready and your goal is in place, you need to create the plan. The best way to do this is to work backwards from the timeline of your goal. If you want to lose 30 pounds in a year, what do you need to do every month to make this happen? To lose 2-3 pounds every month, what do you need to accomplish every week?
Examples of this can be exercising for X hours per week or committing to eating sugar no more than once per week. Much like with your goal, it’s important to start with one major habit that you think will give you the most impact. If you try to overhaul your entire life in one fell swoop, you’re bound to become overwhelmed and feel like you can’t keep up. Start by incorporating one important habit to your lifestyle and you’ll feel in control and on track. It might not seem like much at first, but over time this habit will become second-nature and can lead to a domino-effect of success.
Create An Environment For Success
You have your plan, but if you don’t blaze the path you’ll hit unexpected obstacles along the way that will test your will. If your plan includes limiting sugar, set the environment by purging all sugary treats from the cupboards and refusing to buy junk food when you’re grocery shopping; if the food isn’t in the house, you can’t eat it. Should your plan include exercising at least 5 hours per week, set daily alarms and use social media to hold you accountable. Think about your lifestyle and where you find it the hardest to succeed. If you can eliminate small triggers or temptations, building one new habit becomes even easier.
You can plan for success but if your environment encourages old behaviors, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle.
Discipline vs. Habits
Most people think you have to be super disciplined to make a lasting change, especially when it comes to health and fitness. The truth is that although you do need a period of discipline, you only need to be disciplined enough to engrain a new habit into your lifestyle. Once you’ve created a habit, you’ll eventually elicit this behavior naturally without effort. The best part? Once you’ve been disciplined and created a new healthy habit, other new habits become easier to build. As with most things in life, the more you do something, the easier it becomes. Some people may seem super disciplined but they just built the habits they needed for success, which gives them wiggle room in other areas of life.
So how long does it take to build a habit? Although this will vary from person to person, a 2009 study from the University College of London demonstrated that 66 days is the magic number. Again, there is variability here, but if you can be disciplined with one major habit for at least 2 months, things will then start to get easier and you’ll feel more in control day-to-day.
It takes a long time to gain bad weight and can take an equally long time to lose it. By starting small and creating habits that work for your lifestyle, you’ll get the change you want without the anxiety of “falling off the wagon” and losing your progress.
Take home points:
- Avoid trendy resolutions, especially those promising quick fixes
- Understand that you can’t be perfect and embrace failure as an opportunity to grow
- Surround yourself with support and positive self-talk
- Set one goal
- Work backwards from your goal and build one habit at a time
- Create an environment for success to facilitate discipline
- Habits take roughly 2 months to build, at which point things start to become natural and easier
January is a great time to make goals and focus on self-improvement, but don’t get caught up in the hype. Health and fitness will make your life better but this doesn’t have to be your entire life. By being realistic and having a solid plan you can incorporate a few healthy habits to your lifestyle that will facilitate sustainable change without feeling like a chore. Believe in the process, take your time and in just a few months you can make some significant, life-improving changes.