Ahh, January, the month where we all decide to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Maybe lose some weight? Start a new fitness regime? Get better sleep? Meditate?
It can be overwhelming trying to decide where to focus our efforts. We know we want to feel better, but there are so many different options out there it can quickly lead to analysis paralysis and we end up doing nothing because we don’t know where to start.
On the other hand, it is possible to take on too much at once. Starting a fitness program, cooking all your meals at home and trying to get 2 more hours of sleep every night, when you previously weren’t doing any of these things consistently, probably isn’t the recipe for success that you’re hoping for.
Extreme or time-consuming changes to your daily routine may be overwhelming when piled on top of all your regular responsibilities and commitments, to the point that you’ll likely end up abandoning your new healthy habits before you have time to reap the benefits.
So what are we to do? I recommend choosing one new habit or behavior that feels manageable right out of the gate. On a scale of 1-10 where 1 is ‘never gonna happen’ and 10 is ‘I can do this all day long’ it should be at least an 8, otherwise you need to scale back.
When we are successful at improving our habits and behaviors, we get motivated to make more changes. I know if feels like radical change will be the most effective, but it rarely is. Small, manageable changes will lead to lasting results.
You’re also more likely to keep doing something you enjoy, rather than grinding through something you hate; even the most disciplined person in the world will crack eventually if they don’t enjoy what they’re doing.
Let’s say you decide you’d like to get in better shape; going to the gym 5 days a week for an hour will surely get you results – right? Well maybe, but it will also probably get you injured and discouraged if you don’t really like going to the gym.
What if instead you signed up for a fun weekly exercise class, or tennis lesson, or set up a standing date to meet a friend for a walk? Seems like it wouldn’t be nearly as effective to get you to your goal as the gym option, but guess what? If you stop going to the gym after 2 weeks, you’re never going to reach your goal.
But maybe, after doing the exercise class for a month, you find another one to add to your week, and then you meet some like-minded people in the class and decide to get together on the weekend to go for a hike…you see where I’m going with this.
The same principle goes for your nutrition – if your eating habits need an overhaul, think about what small changes you could make easily. Do you eat out too much? Set a limit as to how many meals a week you’re going to eat out.
Don’t eat enough vegetables? Set a goal of trying 1 new vegetable a week or eating a certain number servings a day. Don’t buy 10 new vegetables at the grocery store with the expectation that you’re suddenly going to be eating them all day every day, chances are at weeks end you’ll be staring at a fridge full of rotten produce.
If you’re still tempted to bite off more than you can chew, try to narrow down your priorities – what single behavior change or new habit would have the biggest overall impact on your health and lifestyle?
If you’re struggling with injury or pain, working on your mobility would be a great place to start – if you’re not in pain, you’ll sleep better, feel more like exercising, and probably not be cranky all the time.
If you’re always low energy and tired, then improving your sleep would be beneficial – you’ll be less tired (obviously), keep your hunger in check, and have more energy to exercise more. Lots of benefits from one doable change.
So pick something you can start working on tomorrow, and make sure you’ll nail it. Define what you’re going to do, how often you’re going to do it, and how you’ll measure your success.
Once you reach this goal, then, and only then, will it be time to add another. Maybe it’s something you can master in 2 weeks, or maybe 2 months, it doesn’t matter. I’ve said it before, but it really bears repeating: small, incremental changes are so much more effective and sustainable over the long term than big radical ones.
They may not be as exciting (for sure no one else wants to hear about your goal to eat 6 servings of vegetables a day for the next 4 weeks) but who cares? What is exciting is that you’ve set yourself up to reach your goals and still enjoy life while getting there.
Kristin Ames is a certified Nutrition Coach, Personal Trainer and Health Coach living in North Vancouver. Her company, Fit Life Coaching, helps people achieve their best body and health with personalized nutrition and fitness programs. If you would like to learn more about the programs she offers, contact her on her website or Instagram.