Let’s face it - changing ingrained behaviors is not easy. In fact, some days it might feel like we will never be able to change a behavior that we know we should for optimal health. Hanging in there when the going gets tough requires the qualities of patience, perseverance, and self-compassion. However, if we want to reach our health-related goals yesterday, and we feel change isn’t happening fast enough – or at all those qualities may fly right out the window.
Here are 3 key tips for helping you to keep your head in the game when it comes to shifting out of old, rooted ways of being and into a new, healthier way of living:
1. Let go of Perfection.
Many people get into the mindset of being ‘all good’ or ‘all bad’ with their choices, and since eating patterns tend to mirror our exercise patterns – these patterns may pendulum swing between all or nothing. Yet, whether someone is trying to shift a coping mechanism (i.e. emotional eating) or trying to change a comfortable habit (mindlessly eating at night while watching TV) - or BOTH, there will be inevitable slip-ups along the way because perfection doesn’t exist in behavior change. Why? Because we are human. But, often the primary reaction to ‘slip ups’ is to completely give up instead of chalking it up to the learning opportunity that it is. The key here is to expect that slip-ups will occur, and instead of being hard on ourselves and reacting with an ‘I’m out!’, instead we need to try and bring a curious mind to the situation and evaluate what happened, and what factors led to the same behavior, and then simply try to choose different next time.
2. Evaluate How You Are Defining and Measuring ‘Success’.
Ask yourself: When it comes to your health-related goals, is success or failure defined solely by a number on the scale and/or a clothing size? This is the most common trap I see and ends up being a DE-motivator for hanging in there when change isn’t happening fast enough, or at all despite the many other indicators that the body and mind are beginning to come alive and thrive. As Bob Wright, our Director of Education here at H3 teaches, “weight follows behavior, but not always right away.” That ‘not right away’ part is typically when people bail on their program, and this is even the case if there are other signs that one is moving the needle toward better health and vitality. While it’s effective for some people to use the scale as a measurement², the usefulness of this tool really depends on the person. I’ve worked with those who see it simply as one of many data points to help measure their success along the way, yet for others, it becomes an obsessive distraction. Here at H3, we provide a checklist for guests to self-monitor their successes related to eating behavior, physical health parameters, mental well-being, overall vitality, and fitness abilities. For example, some items on this checklist may be an increase in mobility, more stabilized blood sugar levels, enhanced mood, fewer aches and pains, better digestion, increased physical strength and endurance, and a feeling of empowerment. Evaluating how you are measuring success along the way and acknowledging all the subtle (or not so subtle) ways in which a change in habits are impacting the body and mind is crucial to staying inspired.
3. Solidify Your Support.
Self-sufficiency is an admirable quality, but we ALL need connection with others along with positive support. Even the most independent and autonomous among us do not thrive without allowing another into our inner world, even if at times that one person is a paid mental health care professional. Having at least one ally on the journey toward better health and well-being is a game-changer. Of course, the more people who can provide support the better, but I recommend being selective on who to let into this part of your life. Create solid boundaries with those who want to tell you what new diet they are on, and for sure with those who are obsessed with their own or your weight and weight loss goals. Even if it’s from a place of concern and good intent, that type of support rarely works for anyone. Here at H3, we have created a letter for family and friends that helps our guests communicate to their ‘circle of trust’ supporters how to better support them at home.
It is also important to evaluate your own inner dialogue and to check in with how well you are a support to yourself. Are you self-critical and judging or compassionate, patient and forgiving? Often self-criticism is mistakenly used as a motivator for change, however, this tactic only keeps us stuck, not inspired¹. Let’s be real – if self-criticism worked for creating positive change, it would have worked by now.
When it comes to creating and/or maintaining a healthier lifestyle, often we need to re-evaluate what is working, or not working and then adjust as needed. So, check in with yourself and see if these 3 key components are solidly in place.
- Warren, R Smeets, E., Neff, K.D., (2016) Self-Criticism and Self-Compassion: Risk and resilience for psychopathology. Current Psychiatry , 15(12), 18 – 32.
- Burke, L., Wang, J., Sevick, M. Self-Monitoring in Weight Loss: A Systematic Review of the Literature. J Am Diet Assoc. 2011; 111:92-102.