5 Strategies for Making Lasting Changes Towards Your Health
January is usually the month the diet industry, health clubs and health professionals see the biggest jump in sales and interest in healthy living. It seems most people who acknowledge the need for change in health habits have an interest in eating well, exercising and making positive changes towards personal wellness. In fact, the diet and health industry capitalize on this new year interest with offers like “$1 to join” or the various cleanses and diet plan “specials” claiming weight loss and a “new you”. The problem lies down the road a few months when motivation wanes and plateaus are reached. When we inevitably fall off the “wellness wagon”.
It is normal and expected to become derailed on our path to health because our goals and expectations are often lofty, inflexible and, sometimes, unrealistic for the reality of our life. Is leading a healthier life by exercising regularly, eating cleaner and more mindfully and sleeping better a wonderful and obtainable, sustainable goal? Absolutely with the right motivation, strategies, support and self-awareness. For example, starting a diet requiring limited and specific foods or doing a juice or food cleanse can often backfire. You usually lose weight (mostly water weight) the first week or two, and often feel ‘good’ after, but once you are off it, you go back to previous eating habits- namely mindless eating and disconnection to food as fuel for the body and mind. That is why I created the Mindful Eating Reset. It is meant to help people reconnect to their food and eating habits, understand cravings and prepare for inevitable snack attacks in a healthy, energizing way. This plan, much like weight watchers and other successful eating plans, has you eating a variety of real, whole foods, recording the foods as well as hunger scales and moods to connect you to habits and develop awareness and accountability. This is how lasting, sustainable habits develop.
Sometimes ‘resets’ and ‘challenges’ can create a sense of purpose and motivation. I like to run fitness challenges to get people motivated to exercise with the support of a group and accountability. A two-week challenge can help people see results and stay motivated as well as help push through plateaus. To create habit formation and more sustainable change, 4-6 months is said to be the magic number by many behavior researchers. This is enough to work through barriers, limitations and figure out how to make the behavior work in real life. The key is knowing what your individual needs are, what your obstacles/resistance are as well as what you ideally need for support and action to occur.
Here are my 5 Key Strategies to successful habit change in the acronym G.O.A.L.S:
- G= Get clear about what you want- what are your specific GOALS. These should be measurable and track able so you can see changes occurring. For example, I want to fit into my favorite pants by x time/date. (Figure 1-2 lbs. /week). I want to Run a 5K on x date, or I want to be able to do x# of crunches or burpees in a minute.
- O= What are the Obstacles in your path to reaching your goal? For example, your busy life- time, kids activities, fatigue, energy, access or hate cooking, hate to exercise, not motivated…
- A= Have a clear Awareness of self- your needs, personality and what are your self-sabotage tactics? Most important, what stage of change are you in? What motivates you and what will help you stay motivated and consistent? Can you fly solo, or do you need group or coach help?
- L= What are your Limitations and likely time frame? Do you have an event you are working towards? Is there a vacation or something that can interfere with your goals? Are there certain days of the week that are harder for you to plan around? Planning is key to success as well as a clear understanding of limitations and times that can be challenging to maintain your goals and healthy habits.
- S= Strategies For Success that are clear, specific, and written down. Studies have shown that people who are successful achieving their goals are those who have written them down and shared them with others. The strategies are the action part of the goal- the “how do I achieve this goal” part that is vital to success. Writing down the steps to achieve the goal makes it clear, concrete and helps you be accountable.
Be realistic in your goal setting as well as specific. Small, measurable changes are often most attainable, build self-confidence and trust and they are easier to stick to. The small changes you make can crowd out the negative habits and ripple bigger, more lasting change. I wish you a happy and healthy new year. We are here to help you spread your wings and fly into health.