Making It Stick

A new year has begun and many of us reflect at this time on our current health, fitness, lifestyle, nutrition and wellness goals. Whether you tend to do this on a regular basis or are doing it for the first time, if you’re setting goals for the week, month, year or decade, you will likely forge ahead with enthusiasm.  Perhaps you’ll just set a few mental goals or perhaps you’re the kind of person who will make health to-do lists, write down your workout time in your calendar, spreadsheet meal plans and bookmark recipes, enroll in a gym or fitness class or hire a personal trainer.

Once you’ve decided on your goals and have organized yourself to set the ball in motion, you may find that you have a hard time actually starting the regimen, or you hit a plateau, are unable stay consistent with your plan or just find yourself faltering at some point.

Firstly, let’s think about why New Year’s has become a popular time for setting goals. A calendar year has ended, and another is beginning. At the start of any new cycle we tend to reflect and look at our past and current selves, and envision how we’d like this next cycle to go. Add to that all the pressure and reminders from media and hearing the talk from your friends and family about their new year’s resolutions and you may feel it’s unavoidable to think about. 

But fitness, wellness, and healthy lifestyle design aren’t holiday events. It’s an ongoing process, and as with any process it takes time, persistence, practice and a clever edit now and again. In other words, they key is consistency and the understanding that with time your routine will need to evolve as you evolve.

Here are a few considerations for keeping consistency with your new habits: 

Find your rhythm

Often the first misstep for those of us with ambitions of improvement is setting our expectations too high or too low. It’s great to want to make several changes to your lifestyle and some of us may have the time, focus and determination to make several changes at once. For others, the best way to create lasting change is not to take on everything at once but rather focus our energies on one major change at a time. When you set goals for yourself, be realistic about how much time and energy you have to make these changes.  If it’s a big change, such as altering your diet permanently, then perhaps it’s best to dedicate your focus to acquiring recipes, purging your cabinets of unhealthy foods, learning to cook with better ingredients, and planning meals throughout your week.  Maybe you want to simply increase your exercise routine from two times a week to four and you have room to also focus on getting to bed an hour earlier and switching out packaged snacks for fruits and vegetables with healthy dips. Remember that your lifestyle design needs to uniquely fit you, and any change is great—whether it’s large or small—so long as you can stick with it.

Ferret out what’s preventing your progress

Many of us find ourselves dreaming about positive change but find that time and time again we hit various walls along the way that keep bouncing us back to our previous unwanted habits. Take time to consider what these walls are, and how you can remove them. Are you staying up too late and are therefore day after day unable to get up to do your workout or make your healthy meals for the day? Can you instead set an alarm to go to bed and drop everything when it’s time to go to bed? Can you pre-cook your lunches and snacks on Sundays and Wednesdays so you don’t have to get up so early to make all your meals in the mornings? Can you schedule your run for right after work instead of 6am? Are you prioritizing scrolling through your phone over a home yoga practice? Could you instead plug the phone in to the charger and walk away from it as soon as you get home in the evening? There are often simple solutions to these barriers, but it does take self-awareness to discover what the barriers are and then a bit of discipline not to get stuck by them. Once you identify the wall, plan for a work around so it doesn’t keep preventing you from making progress.

Visualize your new habits

While planning, scheduling, spread sheeting, researching and enrolling in classes are all very important steps to take…the next step is the follow-through. If you’re good at the planning phase but you’re faltering on execution, take a few moments each evening before bed to actually close your eyes and see your next day going the way you’d like it to. It sounds hokey but it really works, and you’ll get excited about implementing your plan the next morning. Also visualize what your successes will look like in a week, a month, six months or a year. This will help you stay motivated to stay on track. You can even do this by making reminder lists to hang on your wall or creating a vision board with motivating images if you’re more visual.

Built in accountability

For some of us, if the only person we have to answer to is ourselves, that’s not enough to keep us focused. Some of us are so accustomed to disappointing ourselves that it becomes a habit and an expectation. Give yourself a measure of accountability by joining forces with a friend, partner or family member. Personal trainers and fitness, dance or yoga instructors will usually be happy to help keep you accountable if you ask them. Commit to cooking or working out, to going to the gym early in the morning or taking a bootcamp class on Wednesday evenings. Even better—get several people to commit with you on various things. You can have a running partner on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, you can sign up for a 6-week Pilates series that you have to pay in advance for, have a stress-reducing evening with your partner once a week, and then have a meal plan at home with your family.

Change it up

Some of us thrive on routine, but we still need a change once in a while to avoid plateauing and to maintain momentum with our gains. For others, monotony will kill any habit we’re trying to maintain—we need to have new exciting things to look forward to all the time! Regardless where your personality lies, our bodies and our brains actually thrive on change. It’s good for us. How much change you need depends on you, but be sure to change it up once in a while. If you’re a runner, try different routes and different terrains, and be sure to include intervals to keep increasing your time. I love having a smoothie every morning that incorporates fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds and healthy fats but my ingredients change every single day (and yes, some smoothies are winners and others are…well…learning experiences). If you are practicing meditation, try slowly increasing your time and try meditating in different environments. If your goal is increasing strength, try a variety of weight lifting and bodyweight-based exercises, use heavier weights one day for bulk and lighter weights with higher reps the next day to keep your stabilizers strong to prevent injury.  Be sure to change up your routine to include pushing, pulling, and static holds for all major muscle groups. Whatever your routine, keep it fresh and fun to keep your body challenged in new ways and your mind engaged!

Beware expiration dates

Some goals have an end built in. The marathon will eventually happen and then be over. The photo shoot or performance or competition or game will come and go. The weight loss goal will be reached. These are truly mountaintop experiences that are totally worth the effort and should surely be rewarded, but as mentioned before, health is an ongoing process. Many of us will be tempted to fall off the wagon once we complete an event or reach a goal and it’s difficult to get started again—the longer you wait, the more difficult it becomes. So be aware of when an “expiration date” is coming and set a new set of goals for afterward before you reach your current goal.

Keep moving forward

Every day is different. Some days you’ll exceed your own expectations and other days you’ll have three cheat meals instead of one. It’s okay to go with the flow and its better not to beat yourself up. So let go of the labels “good” and “bad” when it’s in the past…keep that inner voice positive and looking ahead instead of ruminating over your previous failures. [CHEEZE ALERT] What you think about you really do bring about. If your mind is focused on the negative, you won’t make moves toward the positive because your thoughts and energies are pointed elsewhere. Fix your gaze forward. Regardless what has happened today, tomorrow is a new day.  

The process doesn’t have to be a wrestling match. View it as exciting, fun, and rewarding…and totally worth the commitment.