When we are getting ready to make healthy lifestyle changes, sometimes we get so caught up in the little details that we forget the two main things – Mindset and Environment. Making changes are a lot like a game – there are many pieces that need to be working together in order to be successful. Unfortunately, this is a game that we often set ourselves up to lose. We expect because we have decided to “play” or make a change and because we put some effort toward this change, that we should see results NOW and WIN! Haven’t we been told that the magic number is 21 days to form a habit? Well, if we haven’t seen major results by day 22, many of us are ready to throw in the towel.
A study published by Phillipa Lally in the European Journal of Social Psychology examined the length of time that it takes for a habit to become part of every day life. Do you know what the results were? It was 66 days on average! So, you can see how many people get a little annoyed when they try something new and they think it should take hold quickly. Instead of that easy 3 weeks as we originally thought, it’s closer to 9 weeks – and in some it actually took up to 254 days.
Buying healthy food or signing up for a gym membership is a very small piece to getting on the right track. I would even go as far as to say they are among the LEAST important things. Here are some ideas to get started on the right path to increase success. Before you buy any diet books or buy a treadmill, start by looking within and around.
Tips to start practicing for the game:
- Live what you have decided. If you are the person who has come to the conclusion that the donuts in the break room every Friday are bringing you down…..stop telling people “I can’t eat donuts because I’m on a diet” and tell them “I don’t eat donuts because I don’t like how they make me feel”. Take control and make choices that fall in line with your goals.
- Practice does not make perfect (in my humble opinion). It makes you better, but we all have room to keep growing. So, when you’re not constantly striving to be perfect, doesn’t that take some pressure off and make things more enjoyable? I think so! Now you are able to make changes and be proud of what you accomplish rather than constantly focusing on what you didn’t do.
- Get in the right environment. How good do you think a baseball team would be if they showed up for practice every day on a volleyball court? When you have a pantry filled with your favorite sugary or salty processed snacks that you love to snack on each night as you watch TV……how well do you think you are going to do now that you’ve decided you no longer want to eat snacks after dinner? Your environment is all wrong. You either need to literally get out of the environment, by getting out of the house and away from the pantry during your typical “snack time” or you need to remove the snacks from your environment so you are not tempted. You will not be successful if your environment is not conducive to your goals.
- I just need more WILLPOWER. Seriously, you want to sit in your house and use willpower while knowing there is ice cream in your freezer with your name on it? Wouldn’t it be easier to just get rid of it. Remember, we aren’t aiming for perfect, so eat some ice cream if you choose, just not at your house! Get in your car and go get a scoop at the local ice cream parlor. Why make things harder on yourself? You have a very limited amount of willpower and if you’ve had to use it up all day long on bypassing donuts, or not ordering dessert, or passing on the chocolates on your co-workers desk (10 times)… by the time you get home and that ice cream is calling your name, you may have exhausted all your WILLPOWER (it truly is like a muscle and you only have so much, especially if you’re flexing it all day). So forget willpower…use your brain power and find ways to set yourself up for SUCCESS.
Now that we’ve looked within and around, what do you think you want to change about your life? What is the smallest first step you could take toward that change?
Here is an example of a change that several of my clients mention and a first step, so you can see what it looks like.
“I want to cut back on my alcohol intake. I’ve noticed that I have more issues in general the more I drink. I’ve also started using alcohol as a crutch, it’s a symbol for relaxation and stress relief. I’ve also noticed I’ve gained more weight since I’ve started drinking on a more regular basis.”
“I don’t want to completely cut out alcohol, but I’d like to stop drinking at home in the evenings and only drink alcohol if I’m out to dinner or with friends.”
I will give away all alcohol in my house – set up an environment that is conducive to my goal. I will only choose to drink when I am at a restaurant or out with friends.
Notice the person didn’t cut out ALL alcohol. They may still be drinking 4 nights a week, so it’s not perfect, but it’s BETTER. If the only step this person makes it to keep alcohol out of their house, that is a good first step, but to make the plan BETTER, they could consider finding a healthy outlet for home that would help reduce stress and promote relaxation. By replacing an old habit with a new habit, it will make it easier to resist temptation if the going gets rough. Having a person in your household or a close friend that supports you is helpful as well – telling others your plan helps with accountability. If this person always buys their alcohol at certain store maybe the plan is to shop with a friend or significant other when they go to that particular store or use an entrance and exit that is no where near the alcohol. Make sure to identify “triggers” for buying alcohol as well as the triggers for consuming it. Thinking about the process from start to finish will help you to really set up an environment to help you live what you have decided.