How to make your health goals stick

The new year bring with it the promise of fresh starts and new beginnings. In fact, many of us start to look forward to this time of year mid-December after one too many boozy Christmas parties, buffet tables bursting with cheese and sleeping way too little.

Come the first of January, we are bombarded with diets, cleanses, and detoxes on social media and TV (and you know my thoughts on those already – if not check out this post). It’s super tempting to use this motivation to set ourselves ambitious goals for our health and wellness however, it’s common to find that come February, all our promises have fallen by the wayside and old habits have crept back in. 

So how come some people seem to be able to maintain these goals whilst others are constantly ‘starting again on Monday?’. Let me ask you a few questions….

Have you ever made a New Years Resolution and failed within the first few weeks? – Yep, me too…

Have you set yourself a great health goal, managed to do it consistently for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday but fudged it by Thursday and decided to start again on Monday?… GUILTY

Did you forget to brush our teeth this morning?…. thought not.

So…What’s the difference? 

Habits

Habits make up 40% of our day, but how many of these are good for us? It takes you less than 10mins a day to brush your teeth. So, what else can you do for 10 minutes? We’ve all been there, scrolling though insta, and before you know it you’ve been down the social media rabbit hole for a good half an hour. Could that half an hour be put to better use (Clue: Y.E.S.)

Breaking down your ambitious goals into small daily habits is the key to success.  But the ‘goal’ itself is important too.

Clients at this time of year often come to clinic with a weightloss goal in mind. One too many mince pies (in their eyes), so they commit to a 30 day diet to hit their ‘dream weight’ by the end of the month.

Now, all the evidence shows that ‘dieting’ is the most ineffective way to lose weight long term and in fact, is often linked to overall weight gain! A meta-analysis (that’s a study of studies) revealed that a whopping 2/3 of dieters actually regain any weight they’ve lost and MORE. Unfortunately the more diets you add in over a lifetime, the more likely you will regain more than your original weight. 

This is due to something called Adaptive Thermogenesis & your Basal Metabolic Rate. When you diet your body can go into survival / resilience mode. At some point, it will try to defend your weight set point.

Lifestyle choice

A lifestyle choice rather than a purely a fixed goal is important here. That’s what sets the ‘maintainers’ apart from the ‘start again on Monday-ers’.

‘Maintainers’ make a lifestyle choice. They aren’t fixed to a diet, cleanse or detox with a final date attached. There’s no finish line to cross but instead a lifestyle to live. Weight-loss isn’t the goal but the way of living is. 

Now, there’s nothing wrong with having these numeric goals as short term motivators. We call them extrinsic goals  – e.g. loose X amount of weight, run X time in a marathon, fit into X size clothes, have X amount of drink-free days.

These are traditional ‘resolutions’ – often focusing on what is wrong with us, what we want to fix and based on a fixed outcome. However, when we fail at these we are faced with feelings of criticism and guilt. We have the ‘fuck it’ feelings, sabotage the whole plan and… yep, start again on Monday.

On the other hand, when you reach these goals then the joys can be fleeting. There becomes a pressure to step it up, what’s the next level?

Again, there’s nothing wrong with these goals or wanting to look a certain way but maybe they shouldn’t be the main focus 

Intrinsic Goals however are more based on personal significance. Your ‘WHY’. Intrinsic in Latin actually means ‘Goods for the Soul”. It nourishes you from within. It’s based on a mindset of something you want to create –  it becomes part of who you are. We are less critical of these if we stumble – it’s not the end of the road, it’s a bend in the road.

To find these goals, ask yourself – why. Why do you want to loose weight? Why do you want to cut out the junk food? Why do you want to quit smoking? Once you get to the very root of the reason, there in lies your valued goal – base it on a place of love for yourself and the life you live and you can’t go far wrong.

Small Changes

Now you have your intrinsic goal in mind then think smaller.

Make one small, teeny, tiny microchange, one habit at a time. This helps you build momentum. Start with the smallest easiest change and get it under your belt. You’ll find starting small boosts your confidence. Once that change or goal becomes a habit, then add in a new one.

Starting big sounds more exciting, but if you set yourself up for a failure you’re less likely to continue. Slow and steady is definitely less sexy but we all know what happened with the tortoise and the hare. Remember we’re aiming to sustain this as part of our life. Not just for January. Would you brush your teeth really well for a month then stop doing it for the other 11? Didn’t think so. Most PT’s would rather you go to a class once a week for 7 weeks rather than go 7 days in a row and never return.

Think carefully about when and where you might perform this new habit. Environment and consistency is important to the body. Does your environment encourage or inhibit you? Do you have a cupboard full of biscuits or a fridge stocked with veggies? Do you have a glass of water beside your bed to drink as soon as you wake up? Put reminders & cues everywhere to help you.

The next thing is to think about what will get in your way and plan for these eventualities. Are there any barriers to change you’ve experienced before or imagine may stop you? Common ones I see on the reg are: travelling, busy days / no time, family or friends not being on the same page.

You’ve got to plan for these times. When motivation has fallen by the wayside, you need fail proof plan to fall back on. Trust me, your mind will look for an easy out – as soon as you’re hungry and the fridge is bare, deliveroo will be knocking at your door before you know it. We all need a little help planning for these, Nutritional Therapists are ACE planners you know…

The easiest way to start a new habit it to stack it onto an existing one. I got my daily meditation practice down whilst stacking it with the time my morning coffee is brewing. 10 mins = DONE.

Final thought; CONSISTENCY IS KING not perfectionism. If you don’t perform your habit or loose sight of your goal that day, pick it up again tomorrow. It’s about most of the time, not all of the time that counts. Why did you ‘fail’? Learn from it and adapt your plan. 

Ready to set some lifestyle goals? Great! Ask yourself these 5 questions first

  1. Why is it important for you to follow this goal? What will it give you in life? 
  2. What’s the smallest change you can make today and for the next 7 days to go towards it?
  3. Look at that small change and rate it on a scale of 1 (not possible) – 10 (100% possible). If it’s anything less than a 7 then make the change smaller / easier 
  4. Where and when will you perform it?
  5. What will get in your way and what will you do during these times?

Go well friends,

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