Year after year, when 1st January rolls around an estimated 25 million people go on a diet and/or begin an exercise program. Within less than two weeks three quarters of those people are firmly back on the couch flexing their biceps with a return to mindless hand to mouth action as their bum slides sideways wondering what its purpose in life is.
Have you too heard yourself proclaim that you don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions whilst secretly deciding that this year WILL be the one whereby you really do look after yourself better, lose those pesky extra kilos once and for all or sign up for that 5km run and actually do it this time?
To make long-term positive change there are many steps to take that are often stunningly simple, however that doesn’t make them easy. Reading what to do isn’t going to make it happen. We as adults habitually underestimate what it takes to create change. In order to achieve anything in life be it run quicker, eat healthier, jump higher, earn more or procrastinate less we need to make many, many decisions repeatedly and on a regular basis so that we may gradually adjust and recalibrate our habits and behaviours until we form new, more automatic ways to function and behave. It takes the same process to develop and adopt poor habits. Just as excess fat does not suddenly appear on our bellies and the scales, nor is there any miracle way of losing it quickly regardless of anyone’s marketing budget.
Watch a child learning to clean his or her teeth. For the first weeks or months there is more toothpaste on their face than in their mouth and then slowly their coordination improves and they learn what movements are required to do the job well enough to keep mum and dad and the dentist happy. Fast track a year or so and the whole process is now much more automatic and the brain power and thought processes required to complete the task have shifted and adjusted.
Each day we subconsciously make hundreds, nay thousands of decisions that were at some point all conscious choices made at the forefront of our minds. These lead us to behave in certain ways, to move and eat in a particular fashion and to travel through life accordingly. As those layers of decisions gradually become compressed around our beliefs, emotions and habits into subconscious intentions we often cease to question ourselves and our actions until something happens to bring us up short and force re-assessment. Or not.
Learning any new skill means everything is going to be a little fugly for a while. It is going to be slow, messy and will require extra energy and focus – boring? No way. Extra energy requirements mean more calories burned, greater focus means sharpening the mind. Ding, ding. So don’t wait for all the planets to align and for the perfect moment to start because it will never happen. Simply begin. Then repeat.
9 steps to creating long term change:
1. Start small
The main reason we fail at New Year’s resolutions or improving our diet for example, is because we try to change too much too soon. Make one dietary change for the week, e.g. include green, leafy vegetables in your daily meals, and one movement , e.g. take the stairs not the lift. Stick with these for a couple of weeks until they become automatic responses rather than issues to tackle and then gradually add a couple more new changes.
Spend some time visualizing what it is that you want to achieve and, importantly, what it will feel like to be at that point of success. Prepping your brain and connecting to your emotions is half the battle and will help give you the confidence to believe you can accomplish anything.
3. Broadcast your goal
Write them down and tell people about them. This will help you take ownership of them and responsibility for them so they don’t slide the same way as that flabby bum.
4. Identify any stumbling blocks and think of ways to overcome them
For example, maybe you eat well until mid afternoon and then get stuck into the biscuit jar or buy quick fix sugary snacks on the way home. Acknowledge this is an issue for yourself and plan how to manage it, ie always travel with alternative, healthier snacks that you will feel good about eating both during and afterwards or get up and move about for 10 minutes and see then if you really are hungry or not.
5. Allow for slip-ups
Life is messy. It will never ever zip along smoothly like the purr of a Jaguar without unexpected meetings, sick children, punctures or freak floods rapidly bringing said Jag to a limping halt. So with that full stop, accept it for what it is, adapt and move on.
6. Celebrate the success
When striving for new things we can often focus purely on the carrot dangling just out of reach. Now I’m all about the carrots but sometimes it’s good to take the time to reflect on what you’ve already sown, how far you have come and acknowledge just how much you have achieved thus far. Round of applause…….and move on again.
7. Plan ahead
The biggest reason for falling off the wagon is lack of preparation. Work out your meals, training, yoga into your schedule and write them down so they are as non negotiable as the daily dog walk. This also saves a whole load of head space for other productive things.
8. Be consistent
Travelling down a new road will be sunny and fun sometimes and at others a source of abject misery. Stick at it. Talent only gets you so far, consistent hard work wins hands down.
9. Find your why
“I don’t have enough time!” We will always, always make time for the things that are important to us. If squeezing in a massage/movie/drink with your mates/game of golf matters to us we find a way to do it. Make the focus of your change matter enough that, regardless of messy, unpredictable old life, you will find a way to factor it in. In other words, find a non-negotiable reason for why you are making the change you’ve chosen.
All that is left now is to begin!
Photo credits: Pieter Vanhaecke, Fred Seibert, Geralt, Bryce Glass, Tumisu
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