Have you heard of the resolutionaries? They’re the people who go balls-to-the-wall in fitness and lifestyle change right at the start of each year. The intentions are usually great – ‘new year, new me’, right? Except most resolutionaries don’t last past February.
I suppose I should probably tell you now so you don’t get disappointed: changes in your physique, health and energy levels will take time to acquire. Your belly isn’t going to magically disappear after two workouts. A healthier you has nothing to do with crash diets, ‘pain is weakness leaving my body’ t-shirts, miracle detox potions, $200 running shoes and scouring instagram for the best new sweaty abs and butt pictures. What actually works isn’t quite as sexy.
The key to happy and sustainable healthy living is developing habits that you appreciate and actually want to do. Although that isn’t the quick-fix answer you’re probably hoping for, the process of change can be quite enjoyable (and less guilt- and shame-fueled) if you learn to focus on the right things.
1) One habit at a time
Play the long game. One small change that you can stick with forever is incalculably better than the 12 changes that last for a miserable three weeks, that you feel guilty about for the rest of the year (until you renew that guilt next year). It doesn’t really even matter where you start – maybe your first change will be to stop drinking soda, maybe it’ll be to go for long walks every evening before dinner, or maybe you’ll decide you’re going to make it to the gym twice a week. Think about a healthy habit that seems moderately challenging but still achievable and realistic and do that. Then give it a month. Then sustain that change as you incorporate the next one. It doesn’t sound like much until you realise that if you do this each month, you could have 12 sustainable, enjoyable lifestyle habits weaved into your day-to-day life by the end of the year.
2) Keep yourself accountable
Make your intentions known. I’m not saying you should plaster it all over social media and make a big deal of it – what I’m suggesting is to let a couple of close friends or family know about each new habit you’re trying to develop and sustain. The simple act of saying it to someone will reinforce the desire and keep you disciplined while you’re learning to appreciate the new change. Also, they can help to encourage you when you’re struggling.
3) Find things you can vibe with
Whether you’re looking for healthy restaurants to eat at regularly or a new gym to join, it’s important that you enjoy and appreciate the people, their product and the environment. If you’re going to be spending a good amount of time there, you want to make it as pleasant, purposeful and enjoyable of an experience as possible, so you actually look forward to going there after a long day at work instead of dreading it.
4) Be consistent
Acknowledge that consistency, above everything else, is key. It’s got far less to do with how much you can smash yourself today, and more to do with whether you can do a reasonable, manageable amount of exercise consistently each week. More important than getting the ‘perfect workout’ at every single session is being able to get safe, regular training in whenever you can. Generally, the same concept of consistency applies to eating – making better (and not necessarily perfect) food choices consistently will get you much further than stressing out about 1 perfect meal jammed in between regular doses of pizza and fried chicken.
5) Make it difficult to make excuses
Everyone’s busy and nobody is safe from distraction. The more inconvenient your gym or healthy food options are, the less likely it is that you’ll choose them over something else. Make it hard for yourself to find reasons why you shouldn’t go. Whether this means filling your fridge with healthy options or joining a gym that you can walk to in a few minutes, the important part is being able to be realistic with yourself about whether you’re actually going to use a service.
6) Think about the 23.5 hours when you’re not at the gym.
Your personal life does not need a complete overhaul right now. But you should definitely start to try and develop an awareness of what you do in the 23.5 hours a day when you’re not in the gym. How’s your posture when you sit down at your desk? Do you move around much and choose to take the stairs at work? What are you snacking on throughout the day? How much sleep do you get? Again, it’s not about changing everything right now. It’s about developing an awareness of how you currently live, and learning to accept that your movement, eating and lifestyle habits all have an impact on how you look, how you feel, and how healthy you are.
7) Appreciate the little wins
Change takes time. Instead of obsessing over your waistline, body weight, and comparing yourself to the hot bodies on instagram, appreciate the little wins. Perhaps you’ll find that you sleep better and that your energy levels are great throughout the day now that you exercise regularly. Maybe you’ll find you aren’t out of breath at the top of the stairs, or that you have better control of your movements and that you’re more athletic. Maybe nutritious food is now delicious to you. Maybe people around you are starting to get inspired by your actions. Perhaps you’ll find yourself wanting to read more and more about the human body and nutrition. All this just means you’re learning to take charge of your health, and this puts you in a better position than most. Appreciate it.
8) Do no harm.
You’re going to be tempted to do as much as you can, at all costs. You’re really motivated to change, and you might be inclined to rush it. Don’t. The deeper intention is to work on your health so you look and feel better. The part of you that wants it now might feel like motivation, but it’s probably more impatience than anything. Don’t let impatience get in the way of your progress. First, decide that you will do no harm to your body. Choose to approach exercise rationally and purposefully. Challenge yourself without getting your ego involved. Put your effort into mastering the basics, not the fancy move that looks cool. Build yourself a strong foundation.
9) Be patient.
How long is it going to take to undo 10 years of sitting with bad posture? What do you need to do to undo 15 years of drinking 5 cans of soda and day? The answers to these questions are so subjective and depend on so many variables that there’s hardly any point in trying to answer them – but you get my point. This ‘get healthy’ thing is going to take a while. However, it doesn’t mean you need to suffer through it, and it doesn’t mean it needs to be a miserable experience. There’s a lot of positivity that can come from your patient pursuit of a healthier you. Think about this: every single day can be an opportunity to experience a better version of yourself. If you look at your journey like this, it’ll be much easier to stay positive and motivated.
10) Be Brave.
Change is hard. Exercise is hard. You’re going to want to stop. It’s way easier to eat ice cream in front of the TV than to drag yourself to the gym. Mindlessly cruising from one youtube video to the next might sound like more fun than getting your 8 hours of sleep tonight. If it were easy to make positive change, the resolutionaries wouldn’t fall off the wagon year after year. The world is filled with access to excess, so the odds are stacked against you. These tips may help, but you’re going to struggle. So… Own it. Acknowledge it. Face it head on, and keep moving forward. Fight your own fight at your own pace. Remember why you’re doing it, and learn to appreciate it. Be brave enough to stick to the plan, to seek help, and to work for what you want. Be brave enough to play the long game.