Before you can successfully lose weight and keep it off, you have to learn what to eat for your body and how you can actually do it, consistently, day after day. That can be a lot of time, effort and energy.
But getting educated about nutrition, planning meals, prepping food ahead of time, packing and storing meals, that’s a freakin cake walk compared to the final piece of the puzzle.
The thing that makes it all come together – the thing that makes it STICK – is habit change.
If you feel like trying to change your habits is hard – it isn’t all in your head. Habit change is HARD for all of us – because we are HUMAN! Learning patterns or behaviors and then repeating them over and over is how humans have managed to survive for millions of years. It has protected us from making the same mistakes and from having to struggle over every little decision day in and day out.
So in order for you to change your habits, you have to do something enough times that it becomes automatic – it has to feel “weird” or “off” if you DON’T do it.
You are most likely to be successful if you stick to this new habit or routine for 21 days without fail. Any interruption of the habit creates a break in the chain, and disrupts the pattern you’re trying to create in your brain. And that can make it a lot harder to re-start the routine and try again.
To ensure you succeed in staying on track long enough to make it a habit, follow this five step process:
Step One: Determine your goal.
What is it that you want? Also, why is it that you want this? Write it down and be sure it is something that is very valuable to you. If you do not want it badly enough you will not make the necessary sacrifice.
Step Two: Create a tracking system.
You’re going to need some tangible way to mark your progress. When I first decided I wanted to lose weight and get health over ten years ago, I used a small notebook to keep track of my workouts. All I did was each day, I had to write the date and then “yes” or “no.” (Yes, I worked out that day or no, I didn’t.) After many days and weeks I had several pages worth of tracking, and far more yes’s than no’s. That was a visual reminder of my goal as well as the work I had put it and it kept me motivated to continue.
Step Three: Find accountability.
The tracking system you create keeps you accountable to yourself. But oftentimes that is not enough. We need other people to know about our goals and to help push us towards them. Tell anyone and everyone about what you are trying to achieve. Saying it out loud gives it power – and also makes you more committed if you know other people are watching to see how you’re doing. Ask a spouse, friend or co-worker to be your accountability partner. If you start to slip up, it will be there job to help get you back on track.
Step Four: Select a reward.
When I was a child my mom had my sisters and I do chores around the house. But since she knew we didn’t want to do them and were not likely to be very motivated, she wanted to teach us that with hard work comes rewards. She kept track of our chores on a chart, and each time we completed them we got a sticker. When the chart was full of stickers, we got to pick a prize from the prize bucket. It was a small toy or trinket, but we thought it was really cool and it made us want to do our chores and feel good about accomplishing them. As an adult you can use this same methodology. Think of a reward (not food related) that you want but would not otherwise treat yourself to. It could be purchasing something or even taking some time to yourself (like a nap!) Select a reward, then share with your accountability partner how you plan to reward yourself if and when you reach your goal. This person will help ensure you actually reach the goal and don’t cheat and reward yourself anyway.
Step Five: Do the damn thing!
Yep. That’s the really what it comes down to. Do it. Then do it again tomorrow and again the next day. Wash, rinse, repeat.
The biggest obstacle you will face in trying to develop this new habit is yourself. You will get in your own way constantly. But rather than get frustrated and give up, try to figure out why you make certain decisions. Is there a common trigger such as stress or boredom?
Keep chipping away at what is underneath the action. Once you figure out what that is, you can work to change your habit around that trigger.
Finally, give yourself some grace. Willpower is never going to be enough. We have to change our habits and that is harder than we realize.