Change is Hard
Changing habits is hard. It’s very hard. It seems you only keep trying and failing, trying and failing. The old ways are just so set and so easy to go by. Well, what I’ve definitely learned over the last 6 years of setting on my journey is that persistence is key. Changing habits is not a linear road. You will have your triumphs and you will have set backs. Sometimes it’s two steps forward and one step back. Other times, it’s one step forward and three steps back. But the important thing is that you keep going. Try a new approach, try a new mindset, try a new routine.
When we set a goal for ourselves, often we just say “I want to do…”, but then the action part is totally missing. Just by stating and setting a goal, it does not mean that you will magically achieve it. You have to work. You have to put in effort. You have to be persistent. You have to set concrete action plans to help you achieve your goal. Accountability is key to following through with actions towards reaching your goals.
There are several components that can be manipulated to help you achieve your goals. While our own individual actions can be concrete steps toward reaching our goals, you have to consider social and environmental factors that can pose as roadblocks to our motivation, drive, energy, persistence and action plan. While you cannot completely change our environment or social circles, you can be proactive, plan and prepare to navigate these factors that continues you on the path toward your goals.
So, what actions can you take that can prepare and support you in taking on this journey of change to reach your goal? I’ve found a few strategies helpful in maintaining a steady path toward maintaining habit changes.
1) Food Journaling – I know! You’ve probably heard this one before and dread doing it. But it can be so helpful and eye opening. For so long, I would just eat whatever I wanted without thinking about the quality or quantity of the foods I was putting into my body. You can do you journaling any way that you like. You can use an actual notebook (I know! Old school), or any of the current food/calorie tracking apps or do a picture journal and photograph everything you eat. A few key points to practice with your record is the time and quantity of your foods. Often, when we eye ball serving sizes it’s easy to underestimate the proper measure. Until you get more practice and familiar with portioning, you may want to use a food scale or measuring cups to make sure you account for proper serving sizes. The reason you want to record the time you eat is to build the habit of small frequent meals/snacks (a method I live by and love!). Our days can get so busy with work and obligations and being stuck in traffic, sometimes we forget to eat and when we finally to reach food, we eat ANY and EVERY thing. I mean, I’m sure you all know that uncomfortably full feeling as well as I do. That’s why tracking meal timing helps to prevent you from getting to that super hungry or even “hangry” state.
2) Food Planning and Prepping – Once you’re comfortable with food journaling and serving sizes, it’s helpful to start the process of planning and preparing your meals as much as you can. You know your daily routine through and through, so you are the best person to plan out how you can navigate your day in terms of meals and snacks. A little planning can save you from having to get snacks from the vending machine (which are loaded with sugar, fat and sodium) or waiting in line at the drive through for a quick fast food meal. I typically plan my grocery list for Saturdays and spend some time Sunday evenings meal prepping for the week ahead. On a day to day basis, I pack up my snacks for the day and I’m ready for my day. I don’t need to order delivery, get fast food, or run to the vending machine. Not only do I eat higher quality foods that I prepare myself, I save time and money! Prepping food for the week is not going to work for everyone as some persons might tire very quickly of eating the same thing. I totally understand that. There are still some staples that can be prepared ahead of time like your chicken for the week or your rice and beans. Another strategy is to prepare extra portions during your dinner time cooking, so that you can take leftovers for lunch. Nowadays with meal services like HelloFresh, Blue Apron, Sun Basket and others, you can explore a variety of recipes in the comfort of your home with a convenient package containing all your ingredients and cooking instructions. That’s all fine and dandy, but where most people fall short is when it comes to social situations and dining out.
Social situations almost require even more planning and navigating if you truly want to maintain your routines. If you’re someone that goes out to a restaurant maybe once every few weeks or once a month, it really doesn’t cause too much deviation to just call it a “cheat meal” and move on. But if you’re someone who loves to go out on the weekends, from Friday to Sunday, eating at restaurants, going to bars and enjoying your Sunday ice cream dates, then you definitely will want to be more strategic about what you eat, how much and where. Just because it’s the weekend, doesn’t mean that calories don’t count. In that case, it would serve you best to adjust your exercise schedule and caloric intake accordingly to allow for those indulgences but still stay within your goal change path. Additionally, limiting alcohol intake or ordering lunch portions, sharing dishes, or asking for half your meal to be boxed up are other ways to prevent overspending on calorie intake during a social night out without missing out. If you know Saturday night you have dinner plans and a night out, earn those calories and do a few extra laps in the pool that day, or spend an extra 15 or 30 minutes at the gym, take your dog on the long rout for his walk. While the source and quality of your calorie intake certainly matters, maintaining a balance of calories in and out also does. And the best way to manipulate these numbers is by accounting for all calories coming in and increasing physical activity and exercise to counterbalance higher intakes during social events.
3) Activity Tracking – This is similar to food tracking. But while tracking your calories in is important, it’s also important to pay mind to the calories you expend. Whether your goal is to lose, gain or maintain weight, keeping track of your calories in and out will help you maintain the balance needed to achieve those goals. In order to do this, you can find a variety of nifty technology to do the work of tracking for you. Whether you wear a Fitbit, iWatch, heart rate monitor belt, using these aids is not an exact science, but still a useful indicator for your tracking purposes. But before you can even get to tracking, you have to be engaging in some kind of activity. It is so easy to get wrapped up in work, social and family obligations that committing to a regular work out routine can fall by the wayside. One strategy that has helped me keep up with my exercise routine is to schedule that time for myself. I like to use the calendar on my cell phone. Usually, I’ll take the time to plan out 2 weeks ahead. I plan out any social events, meetings, work obligations, and my exercise sessions. There is no rule that you have to exercise every day and that each session has to last one whole hour. Instead, start small and grow form there. If time is tight, start by scheduling 30 minutes three times a week. Once that becomes comfortable and manageable, you can extend your sessions to 45 or 60 minutes, or add more days of shorter work outs in. Thanks to many online resources, you don’t even have to waste time driving to the gym, but can workout in your garage, back yard, room, nearby park, where ever! But I find that intentionally setting aside time and scheduling your exercise routine provides a more concrete plan to taking true action. So, get out your calendar, planner, set your alarms, reminder, whatever- and get moving!
4) Connect with Others – Finding others on the same path can provide a supportive community and motivating environment to keep you on your journey to change. Tackling any lifestyle change can be daunting, difficult and isolating at times. Joining a community of people that are going through the same journey and challenges as you serves to connect you with others and keep you motivated to move ahead. This can be done in any form, whether you want to join an online group, social media community, local boutique gyms, cooking classes, recruiting friends and family for support, or weight loss groups. Not only will you be surrounded by a community that is understanding of the similar journey you are going through, but you also become accountable to yourself and the group to continue to show up. Another factor that boosts accountability is the financial cost or investment necessary in group programs. While motivation can often fluctuate and obligations can interfere with scheduled “self-time”, having made a financial investment that cannot be recuperated serves as an additional drive toward accountability and ensure success in making habit changes.
The listed strategies I shared are based on my personal experience and what has worked for me in the past to move me along my own journey. Some of these elements are supported by Theories of Behavior Change, but in this particular instance, I wanted to provide hands on strategies that I am still using to this day that may guide you on your path to change. Having accountability has been a major driving factor to keep me going despite many setbacks over the years You can recruit the help of friends, family, coaches, trainers, even doctors, but no one can take the necessary action to reach your goals but YOURSELF.