The benefits of healthy habits are undeniable - increased energy, a healthier body weight, and perhaps best of all, stress relief and a better mood. Let’s not forget that when we’re practicing healthy habits, we look our best and feel our best. When we’re feeling like our best, healthiest self, success comes easier in all areas of life including work and personal relationships.
Pretty good deal, don’t you think?
So then why is it SO darn hard to make healthy habits stick?
Research suggests that successful change comes in small stages. Slow stages. Too often, we’re “motivated” to make changes by something (or someone) that creates a sense of guilt, fear or resentment. This creates a more negative tone to our goal setting (e.g. "I really should lose weight") and may not set us up for long-lasting healthy habits1.
I wish I didn’t invest in making my health a priority. Said no one ever.
If change is so hard, why make it even harder by going about things in an unrealistic way that you know you isn’t going to stick in the long run? Restrictive diets and other health fads that claim big results in no time with little effort are a huge red flag. While the allure is understandable, make a pact with yourself to forget the quick-fixes that leave you feeling drained, defeated, and discouraged. Rather, reflect on the following steps and then embark on creating a healthy lifestyle that is simple, realistic, and aligns with your goals and preferences.
Step 1: Ask yourself why you want to change
Do you want to lose weight? Have more energy for your kids? Do you want to prevent chronic illnesses like diabetes or heart disease that runs in your family? Or all of the above? Uncovering your true motivation for creating a healthy lifestyle will strengthen your commitment. Just remember that you are making a change for yourself and not for anyone else (i.e. make it about what is important to you not what your spouse, family member, or even your doctor is saying you should do). When it matters to you, you’re more likely to succeed.
Step 2: Acknowledge your barriers and ask if now is the right time to change.
It’s important to acknowledge the reasons why your attempts to lead a healthy lifestyle have been unable to stick. Perhaps your past efforts were unrealistic or it simply wasn’t the right time because you had too much going on in your life. Accepting what is reasonable and realistic at this point in time is an essential step for success. Often we feel we have to take the “all or nothing” route and this couldn’t be further from the truth. You don’t need a complete lifestyle overhaul to start feeling better. Every small, simple change to your lifestyle habits such as short bouts of physical activity or adding one extra glass of water each day goes a long way in improving your health. These small realistic shifts to your habits are what we focus on in our online From Fad to Fab – The Craving Healthy Habits program to ensure you set yourself up for success. So, take a deep breath, pause, and reflect on what truly is realistic for your life right now when it comes to your health.
Step 3: Make a plan
Setting goals are important because they give you something to strive for and spark your motivation. Best of all is the sense of accomplishment you feel once your goal has been achieved. Goals can be short-term (< 3 month) or long-term (> 3 months); they can be big or small. For example, committing to run a marathon when you’ve never ran before is a large and long-term goal, but deciding to run a 5km is a reasonable short-term goal (and the first step to work up towards your long term goal of running a marathon). Any type of goal needs a plan of action and a timeline.
It’s also important to recognize that goals such as “lose weight” are not going to get you very far. While this is a good start, it’s missing the key element (i.e. HOW to achieve this goal). We need to break down big goals into smaller, actionable steps. For starters, think about what steps you need to take to lose weight. Eating better and exercising more are likely top of mind. Let’s break this down even further into SMART goals – studies show that those who set SMART goals are more likely to achieve them. For example, in one particular study, 76% of participants who wrote down their goals and updated friends on weekly progress (showing accountability) successfully achieved their goals2
Use the following “SMART” plan when creating goals for yourself.
Step 4: Focus on the positive
On average, people have 50,000 thoughts each day. It is estimated that 80% of them are negative and 70-80% of our thoughts today are the same ones we had yesterday 3
This tells us that if we constantly focus on what we did “wrong” versus focusing on the things we did right or improved on, it’s bound to affect our healthy lifestyle efforts in a not-so-good way.
I see this happening all the time with my clients who have been making great strides to their eating and exercise habits yet are so hard on themselves. I take these moments as opportunities point out the positive. For instance, maybe you still have the tendency to overeat at meals but the truth is you’re overeating 50% less often than you were a few months ago before you starting making changes. This is progress!
Step 5: Seek support
Social support is a key element for success for most people who embark on healthy lifestyle changes. While it’s often easy to make excuses to ourselves for why we can’t keep to our goals, we are less likely to let others down when they are counting on you (i.e. if you make a pact to get to the gym with a friend at a certain day and time, chances are you’ll get there). So get reinforcement from a spouse, family member or friends – tell them your goals and become accountable to someone other than yourself. You can also join our Craving Healthy Habits online community for support. Besides being a place to share and reflect about your healthy lifestyle journey, we also host contests and challenges to keep you motivated and having fun. We’d love to have you!
WHAT'S THE BOTTOM LINE?
For true success, there are a number of ingredients that you’ll need, including uncovering your reasons for wanting to change, acknowledging your barriers, setting realistic goals, making a plan, and seeking support. Combined, these elements will set you up for success as you move forward towards making healthy habits that actually last so you can look and feel your best once and for all, for good.
Feeling inspired to get started but unsure what step to take next? We understand that getting started in the hardest part so we're sharing our secrets to healthy living success during our upcoming FREE webinar - Tip the Scale in your Favour: 3 Secrets you Need to Know for Creating a Healthier & Happier You. We'd love for you to join us!
1 - Harvard Health Publishing (2007). Why it's hard to change unhealthy behavior - and why you should keep trying. https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/why-its-hard-to-change-unhealthy-behavior-and-why-you-should-keep-trying
2 - Michigan State University (2014). Achieving your goals: An evidence-based approach. http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/achieving_your_goals_an_evidence_based_approach
3 - Financial Post (2013). How to manage your 40,000 negative thoughts a day and keep moving forward http://business.financialpost.com/entrepreneur/three-techniques-to-manage-40000-negative-thoughts