It’s 2013, right at the beginning, and you know you have some changes to make (if you didn’t, you wouldn’t be here).
To be quite honest, so do I. I have not made the progress I’d hoped for since starting this blog. But this year is going to be different. For both of us.
The secret to success this year isn’t a magic pill or drink.
It’s not a specific diet program, fad or otherwise.
Think about it – you’ve done enough research into what works and what doesn’t in fitness. And quite frankly, you’ve gotten tired of hearing conflicting stories. Some people will swear that whole grains are the way to go, and others (like me, for the record) think that grains help keep people fat.
Yet people lose weight just fine eating whole grains, just like people lose weight eating meat and vegetables.
On the other hand, there are people who eat whole grains who don’t lose weight, and there are people who eat meat and veggies who don’t lose weight. Even though they try.
So the secret isn’t even in the specifics of your weight loss program. Where is it then?
I hear it all the time.
“My biggest problem is staying consistent with my food and workouts.”
“It’s my lack of motivation that keeps me from reaching my goals.”
Let’s be honest: we know what we need to do (if you actually don’t, here’s a refresher). We know exactly what to eat, we even know what to do to work out. We know, because we’ve started it before. You probably even have it written down somewhere (it might even be hanging on your fridge since August).
It’s been driving me nuts. If I know what to do, why the heck can’t I be consistent enough to let all that work start to accumulate some real results?
Then it hit me: these things aren’t habits.
I’m biting off more than I can chew.
Consistency requires willpower, and I just don’t have enough. Turns out you might not either.
Willpower is finite
Did you know there’s research that heavily suggests that our willpower has limits, and it’s not necessarily our fault if we can’t say no every time?
Researchers put people in a room. There was chocolate and radishes. One set of people were told they could eat as many radishes as they wanted but couldn’t touch the chocolate. The other group was not given a restriction on what they could eat. After a time, they were all given a puzzle to solve (they didn’t know it was impossible). The people who had to exert willpower not to eat the chocolate quit significantly faster than the other group (abstract here).
The big problem we have with our willpower is that weight loss isn’t the only thing we exercise it on. Especially this time of year, when we have a bunch of resolutions we’re trying to keep. It’s no wonder most resolutions never make it to February.
And the truth is, you make time for what’s important, and the least important gets left for last. For many of us, that’s fitness.
Obviously you aren’t supposed to accept the fact that your willpower is finite and throw in the towel. So what are you supposed to do about it?
The one thing that’s ever worked for me before: make it automatic.
Change your habits
I’ve talked about automating your fitness before, but even I need a refresher. I think I’ve tried to do so much that I remained consistent with nothing.
Before my daughter was born, I tried an experiment. I just wanted to get some form of exercise every day, only for 5 minutes. The trick was the 5 minutes part. I always exercised longer, but I knew I only had to commit to 5 minutes. And it was the only thing I tried to work on that month.
I actually kept it up for 3 months! When Sofi was born, things got all out of whack, and I’ve kinda had to start over.
But the point is when I started to change one habit, it started to stick.
That’s what the key to your (and my) success will be this year: changing one habit at a time. (click to tweet this)
All you need is a dozen
Here’s the challenge for the year. Each month we’ll regroup to see how things are going and encourage one another.
(By the way, that accountability helps way more than you think, so I’m counting on you, and I hope you feel you can count on me.)
The challenge is simple: pick 12 habits, and work on one a month. At the end of the year you’ll have an arsenal of habits you’ve changed that will make a lasting difference in your life. No more yoyo-ing.
I don’t know what habits you need to change, so I’m not going to say “this month we’ll do this one, next month we’ll do that one” and so on. But I will give you some ideas to get the juices flowing:
- eat a solid breakfast every day
- walk 5-10 minutes a day
- take a walk during lunch break at work
- plan my food every week and eat from the menu
- make extra dinner so you have a healthy lunch
- eat one serving of vegetables at every meal
- drink a large glass of water upon waking and one before bed
- get to sleep 30 minutes earlier
- no computer/cellphone/TV an hour before going to bed
- remind yourself you can cheat on Saturday (but only on Saturday)
- encourage someone
Avoid negative words, like “no more chocolate” or “no more fast food”. Instead say something like “I will eat only one small piece of chocolate a day” or “freedom from fast food”. Keep it positive, and it’ll be easier. You’ll never stop seeing the pink zebra if all you think about is not looking at the pink zebra.
How not to forget your plan
There are three things you can do to make it more likely you’ll stick to your plan:
When you’re accountable to someone, they’ll make sure you do what you’ve promised to do. As humans, we don’t like to let people we care about down, so find someone who cares about you and tell them you want them to keep you accountable this time. They should ask you periodically how you’re doing. This is the single most important reason I don’t eat chocolate from my coworker’s bowl anymore; I know my wife is going to randomly ask me about it, and I can’t lie to her.
To get some visual motivation, make yourself a chart to track your progress through the month. It could be as simple as marking an X on the calendar every day you comply with your plan. As you see how often in the month you were successful (or how little), you’ll be motivated to keep going (or start again). Bonus points for putting it in a very open place so that it serves as a form of accountability.
At the end of the month, when you see how well you did what you said you’d do, make sure you reward yourself. Determine beforehand what the reward will be. Maybe you want to run every day, so at the end of the month you buy yourself that pair of running shoes you’ve wanted. Maybe you take yourself and some friends to Cheesecake Factory for that delicious piece of heaven you’ve been purposing not to have. But remember, you only get your reward if you’re satisfied with your performance that month. (My wife’s letting me set up a fish tank when I complete my goals in January!)
Make it happen
Your job right now is to take 2-3 minutes to come up with the habits you want to change this year. Chances are you already have a couple in your mind. You don’t need to plan your whole year, but give yourself a good head start. Put them in the comments below to start the accountability!
This is going to be a very successful year for us! Go forth and be victorious (and don’t forget to add some of your habits to change in the comments).
(photo by Horia Varlan)