It is easy to get reflective at the end of each year. Did you accomplish what you wanted to or did things pop up that you didn’t expect that made you get off course? Have you taken care of your own health while you have worked hard to help others take care of their own?
It is easy to get off track and set our own needs and goals off to the side. And let’s face it; making changes in our life is hard work. It takes time and constant effort to stay focused because what we do now – even if it is not healthy – is automatic and easy. Whether it is going to the vending machine every afternoon when we hit that energy slump, not setting aside time to exercise, or reaching for a cigarette when we get stressed it is a practiced behavior.
To change any of those behaviors we have to find something else to take its place to get the same results. What else can we do to perk us up when we are tired instead of food? What can we do when we are feeling stressed but is as easy as reaching for a cigarette. Here is the tough part, we need to practice those new behaviors long enough that they become our habit. I often ask people I am working with to write their name over and over for a minute. After the minute I ask them what they were thinking as they were writing their name. Common responses are that the task was “easy”, “natural”, “they didn’t have to think about it”, and they “knew what to expect.” Then I ask them to put the pen in their non-dominant hand and do the same thing. Often, they don’t even make it a whole minute before they put their pen down. Common responses now are “it is hard”, “I really have to think about it”, “I can’t even read my own name” , and they only write their name a fraction of the times as they did with their dominant hand. This is a simple, but effective way to discuss the challenge of changing our behaviors. We do have to really think about what we are doing because it isn’t a natural action anymore, it takes more time so we aren’t as productive, and we don’t know what to expect initially.
So often when we are trying to change our lifestyle, I think we are on the right track but because it takes so much thought and energy we often stop trying. And let’s face it, especially as adults, we don’t like to struggle or feel like we are failing at something. If it feels like hard work then you are probably doing it right.
Here are some tips to help you get started…
¨ Set realistic AND flexible goals for yourself. If you want to run a marathon you aren’t going to run 26.2 miles right away. Have a back-up plan for days you can’t run outside or get to the gym. If you find along the way you don’t want to run a marathon then reset your fitness goals. There are lots of ways to get and stay fit.
¨ Write down your goals and how you are planning to achieve them. Just like you wouldn’t set out to drive to California without a map or GPS, you shouldn’t set out to lose weight without having a “map” of what you can change to get there. If, along the route, some roads are “closed” then you find another route. It may take longer to get to your destination, but you will still get there.
¨ Ask for help if you need it. If you want to stop eating when you are stressed you may need to see a counselor to help learn other behaviors instead.
¨ Expect to struggle. Very few people have a smooth transition to new behaviors. Just as the seasons change, daylight hours change, our jobs may change, we have kids or our kids grow up - we have to continue to adjust our behaviors. If you are struggling more it doesn’t mean you “don’t have the will power,” it likely means something in your life or even in your support system is different so old behaviors aren’t as effective anymore.
¨ Believe in yourself. You are your common denominator. There is not just one way to eat healthy, stop smoking or cope with stress. There is the way that works for you, and if you believe that you will find it then you are more likely to keep trying.
¨ If life gets in the way of your goals try to keep doing what you can. And if, unfortunately, something major happens have a plan to get back to your goals when you have the energy again. We don’t have control over so much of what happens in our lives, but we do have control over how we react to it. Remember, you only fail when you quit trying.
¨ Practice being more mindful – more simply put – keep yourself in the moment. If we spend our day thinking about everything else our actions and responses are on autopilot. If we stay focused on the present we will remember our goals and practice new responses.
Read Past Nutrition Notes HERE